HL Deb 27 January 1992 vol 534 cc1134-60

House again in Committee.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

moved Amendment No. 115: After Clause 24, insert the following new clause: ("Period for making valuation appeals Where regulations made under section 24 above include provision for an appeal to be made to a valuation tribunal for the alteration of a list compiled in accordance with section 22 above, the period during which such appeals may be made shall be between 1st April 1993 and 31st March 1995."). The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to discover what length of time the Government have in mind for allowing a person to appeal against his council tax band. In this amendment I have suggested a period of two years. I suspect the Government will say that is too long. I believe the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, wanted a period of only two months. The rumoured time is six months, and I believe that to be too short.

I have several reasons for wanting a longer period. Under the former rating system, there was an unlimited right of appeal. As the original valuation was carried out in 1991 —two years prior to implementation of the provision—by comparatively inexperienced persons and was not carefully checked, there will inevitably be the odd mistake. Further, there is already an organisation to deal with appeals. I believe that organisation comprises the successors to the former local valuation courts.

Despite what was said when discussing Amendments Nos. 97 and 101, I have been told that the individual will not receive notification of his banding in writing until after 1st April 1993 at the same time as he receives his first tax demand. The individual should be given time to consider his banding. I hope my noble friend will confirm what I have said is correct. This tax will be resisted as it is a new tax. All new taxes are resisted. However, if we want it to work more efficiently, we must ensure that it is seen to be fair and that adequate time is given to an individual to appeal. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Clause 24(5) (c) already provides that the regulations may prescribe the period within which a proposal to alter a list may be made. We do not intend that appeals against the valuation list compiled on 1st April 1993 should be possible two years later. Although we are still some way from making regulations under Clause 24, our view is that householders should have the right to make a proposal to alter the list for a period of up to six months after 1st April 1993, or the date at which they were first notified of their banding if that is later.

As valuation is based on open market values, it should not be difficult for householders to decide whether their homes have been placed in the wrong valuation band. There will be plenty of local evidence. We would expect any householder who wished to make a proposal to alter his initial entry on the list to be in a position to do so well before the end of that six month period. A time limit on initial proposals would not of course prevent a householder making a subsequent proposal on the grounds that he considered there had been a material reduction in the value of his home since the valuation list was compiled.

My noble friend has made some specific points. The lists will be available for inspection from 1st December 1992. Information from the lists will not be posted to the individual at that stage. Nevertheless, the liable person or householder will be notified of his band during—my noble friend has already pointed this out—March 1993 prior to the council tax coming into being. However, that notification will occur simultaneously with the bills going out to individuals. One cannot of course guard against some local authorities being late in sending out their bills as some local authorities are more efficient than others in that respect. However, the six month period will count from when the individual receives the bill. I hope that with that explanation my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I am pleased with that reply. I was fearful that the notification might not have arrived until the middle or end of April, and in that case the six month period would be only five months. However, I understood my noble friend to say the period of six months would start from the date the individual receives his bill. I should have liked a longer period than six months, but my noble friend has given me a helpful reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Powers of entry]:

Baroness Hamwee

moved Amendment No. 116: Page 17, line 11, at end insert: ("(2A) A local assessor when exercising his power under subsection (2) above shall provide the occupier with the option of a visit out of normal working hours if the occupier so wishes."). The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 116, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 143. This amendment is a vehicle for enabling the Government to acknowledge that the practical arrangements for site visits—I hope I may refer to valuations in that way—will take account of the needs of the householder as well as of the requirements of the valuer. This is a Citizen's Charter kind of amendment. I hope emphasis will be put on providing a service in a manner and at a time that is convenient to the customer.

I am sure we all have experience of being forced to lose days at work because of having to wait in for appointments. Some people may lose income and suffer financially through having to sit at home waiting for appointments which are not specific as regards time and are thoroughly inconvenient. This is a simple amendment designed to enable the Government to give us assurances on how the system will be run. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

This is a most worthwhile and essential amendment. After all, many people commute to London from as far away as Southampton, Folkestone or Peterborough. Even if assessors were able to visit such people at nine o'clock in the morning or 25 minutes past five in the evening—that is clearly statistically impossible, apart from in a few cases —the commuters would still lose half a day's work. For most people appointments would have to be made further into the middle of the day. That would entail those commuters losing a whole day's work, and in most cases a whole day's pay in consequence. The economy will also be the loser if this amendment or something like it is not accepted.

The Earl of Balfour

While I have much sympathy with this amendment, I am afraid the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has not drafted it correctly. Instead of the words "local assessor", she should have used the words "valuation officer". The other point which is worth mentioning is that the valuation officer has to give at least three days' notice in writing before he comes. That is an important point.

Earl Howe

The amendments provide that a local assessor exercising his power of entry under the clause should provide the occupier of a dwelling with the option of a visit out of normal working hours if the occupier so wishes. No doubt it was intended in Amendment No. 116 that "local assessor", which is Scottish terminology, should in fact read "valuation officer" which is the equivalent for England and Wales, as my noble friend pointed out.

The clauses were amended in another place. Originally it had been intended that a minimum of 24 hours' notice of exercise of the power of entry would be required but that was extended to three clear working days. The Government also gave consideration to amendments proposed in similar terms to those of the noble Baroness but concluded that they were unnecessary.

Given the nature of the valuation exercise, where dwellings will be placed in one of eight broad valuation bands, it is likely that only a small minority of properties will have to be inspected internally. However, it is important that valuation officers and local assessors should have the power to do so for the difficult cases where it is necessary.

Nearly all inspections made by valuation officers and local assessors will be arranged to suit the mutual convenience of the parties involved, as has been the case in the past for domestic rating. Where it is necessary to use these formal powers every effort will be made to give as much notice as possible, and where it is impossible for occupiers to be at home during normal working hours every effort will be made to make arrangements which accommodate those circumstances.

However, if all occupiers are given a statutory right to insist on an appointment outside normal office hours that may lead to inordinate difficulties in some cases. Given the responsible attitude of valuation officers and local assessors I see no need for the amendments and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw them.

Baroness Hamwee

I thank the Minister for that reply. I was aware of the extension of the 24-hour period to three days. However, that does not meet the point covered by the amendment. It is a question not of having advance notice but of the time taken out of the working day.

I am not sure whether inherent in what has just been said was the suggestion that the property might change within the relevant period and therefore it would be important to carry out the valuation speedily. I do not believe that that can be the case.

I am grateful for the assurances that have been given. It is useful to have them on the record. It is sad that noble Lords in this Chamber feel that it is necessary to suggest such an amendment as a result of experience of other forms of officialdom. However, on the basis of the assurances given I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Information about lists]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 117: Page 19, line 4, at end insert: ("(4A) A requirement under subsection (1), (2) or (3) above shall not include the giving of access to any information if—

  1. (a) it was not obtained by the listing office or the billing authority for the purpose of carrying out their functions under this Part of this Act; or
  2. (b) it is personal information
(4B) For the purposes of subsection (4A) above personal information is information which relates to an individual (living or dead) who can be identified from that information or from that or other information supplied to any person by the listing officer or billing authority; and personal information includes any expression of opinion about the individual any indication of the intentions of any person in respect of the individual."). The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 117 raises important issues of confidentiality of information. It follows comparable amendments which were moved in another place. The reason for raising the matter again in the same form is the response given by the Minister in another place.

When the matter was considered in another place the view was expressed that under the Bill as drafted it was possible that information relating to people's Financial circumstances might be released, that information gathered for the purpose of operating the discount scheme might be released and that information as yet to be specified by regulation (we are back to that theme) might be placed on the list and access gained to it. In response to those anxieties the Minister said that the matter was being discussed with the Data Protection Registrar. I cannot resist quoting the Minister's statement in full. Mr. Key began by saying: Oh, what a treat! I have corresponded with the Data Protection Registrar for some months on the matter. My officials have met the assistant registrar to discuss the point raised by the hon. Member for Dagenham, and those exchanges will continue". He went on to say: However, it is not our policy that whole valuation lists should be sold to companies that compile data bases of personal information. We shall give further consideration to how to achieve that object".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee A, 28/11/91; col. 661.] The purpose of the amendment is to establish how that further consideration is progressing and whether Ministers in this Chamber are able to give assurances that there will not be access to information obtained other than by the listing office or the billing authority, and nor will there be access to personal information. We define personal information in the amendment as: information which relates to an individual (living or dead) who can be identified from that information or from that or other information supplied to any person by the listing officer or billing authority; and personal information includes any expression of opinion about the individual any indication of the intentions of any person in respect of the individual". In order to discover more about what consideration is being given to the matter I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Strathclyde)

The amendment proposes to exclude the entitlement to access to information in the valuation list which was not obtained by the listing officer or the billing authority for the purpose of carrying out their council tax functions or which is personal information.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that this is an important amendment. I add that the object of the amendment is admirable, but I hope that he will understand that it is unnecessary. Members of the public will be given access to copies of valuation lists and schedules of alterations where applicable. These will not contain any information about individuals. Information to be shown in respect of each dwelling will include the address, the valuation band, a reference number and the effective date of any alteration, but the names of the owner or occupier will not appear other than in the wholly exceptional circumstances of an occupier's name forming part of the postal address of the property.

The wording of Clause 28 is not without precedent. It follows very closely the wording of paragraph 8 of Schedule 9 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which is concerned with rating lists for non-domestic rates. The provisions are therefore well established. I hope that the noble Lord will understand that there is no need for the amendment and will withdraw it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am very intrigued by that response. What does the Minister mean by the name being part of the address? Was he referring to "Mag and Den" of Dulwich, or to the seats of some noble Lords? I thought so. Strathclyde Castle will be included, as no doubt will Howe Castle and Blatch Palace.

That is an interesting response. No doubt the Minister tried to be reassuring. However, can he give me any further help on the specific matter which I raised relating to the further consideration which Mr. Key said was being given to the matter? Is there any contact between the Data Protection Registrar and either the department or the council tax technical sub-group, or both, and what progress is being made?

Lord Strathclyde

The contract with the valuation office will include a provision that the information to which the noble Lord referred in his introduction cannot be sold. The keeping of large amounts of information on individuals on a computer has repercussions in relation to the Data Protection Act. I hope that that information helps.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful. That helps. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 118: Page 19, line 16, leave out (" (5) or (6)") and insert ("(5) (b) or (6) (b)"). The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 119. These are non-controversial technical amendments. With these amendments we want to make clear that charges can only be made for photocopies of entries in the valuation list and information about appeals.

The Bill as drafted means that charges could be levied only when an individual notes down information about the banding of his property on a piece of paper, because the word "facility" in Clause 28(7) is not defined and relates to the whole of subsection (6). In the interests not only of freedom of information but of commonsense access to information about one's banding, I believe that the Government would wish there to be no charges for the simplest of all possible inquiries about the banding of an individual's own property. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

I thank the noble Lord for introducing those amendments and his explanation of their purpose. We all agree that it is right that a reasonable charge should be made for facilities that are made available to people seeking information. The Bill provides for such charges to be made and I do not believe that the restrictions in these amendments are necessary. It is not our intention to have a charge for access to information; indeed, on the face of the Bill pure access is free. However, it is right that local authorities and listing officers should make charges for photocopies or similar facilities which they provide.

Where a person merely transcribes some information onto a piece of paper or into a notebook, it would be hard for a local authority to contend that under those circumstances any charge would be reasonable; but quite obviously there will be cases at the other end of the spectrum. Someone might want to transcribe the whole list and may require the use of a room for a week in order to do it. In those circumstances it should be open to a local authority to make a charge if a real cost were involved, as would very likely be the case in such an instance.

Although the amendments seek to clarify the circumstances in which charges can be made, I hope the noble Lord will agree that they are not necessary and in the light of my explanation will feel able to withdraw them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have mixed feelings about that response, for a very particular reason which no longer applies. Many years ago I drew a sampling frame of non-domestic establishments from the valuation lists by going to the local authority offices around the country and transcribing large chunks from those lists for the purposes of getting information about the name of the occupier, address, rateable value and so on. I wanted to draw a sampling frame for surveys of industrial and commercial establishments. It was very successful. Unfortunately, it came to an end as records were computerised. The names of occupiers were no longer available and those lists are no longer so valuable a source of information for sampling.

I wonder whether the noble Earl could be a shade more helpful. He said that it would be hard for a local authority to argue that it was reasonable to make a charge for simply transcribing. Presumably he meant transcribing not just one's own band but the bands of a few comparable people around. Could he put that a little more strongly? Could he say that it is not the Government's view that it would be reasonable rather than that it is hard for a local authority to argue the case?

Earl Howe

I could go that far—that it would not, in the Government's view, be reasonable for a local authority to make a charge when it was simply a case of transcribing onto a piece of paper one or a few pieces of information; a process which did not take up too much time of the officers involved in the local authority department.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I am not very happy about that answer. Time is money to local authorities. Most local authorities have facilities whereby, if one wants to look at a planning application, it can be viewed; but to photocopy it one must put one's own coin in the machine. There is nothing unreasonable in that. It is no matter if one person uses the facility but quite different if thousands do so. I am somewhat concerned. I am not quite clear whether, without the amendment, local authorities would or would not be entitled to make a minimal charge.

The Earl of Balfour

Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may cite my own case. If I want to know most of the valuations in my parish in order to have an idea of the banding of some of the houses on the estate, I imagine that I should probably have to pay for a photocopy.

Earl Howe

In answer to my noble friend Lord Balfour, such a person would be able to look at the information free of charge and have access to it without charge. To answer my noble friend Lady Gardner, if photocopies of the details are required, a charge would be involved. It is a matter of degree. It is important to recognise that local authorities have the power to make a charge where it is reasonable to do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I suspect that the amounts of money of which we speak are relatively trivial and I do not want to pursue this discussion. It is important that it should be absolutely clear to everyone from the outset that there will be no charge for information basically about their own property and perhaps a few others. That is the fundamental point. People must not be deterred by the prospect of charging. On the assurances that have been given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Information about proposals and appeals]:

[Amendment No. 119 not moved.]

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clauses 30 to 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Calculation of basic amount of tax]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 120: Page 23, leave out lines 19 and 20 and insert ("R-P-A/T"). The noble Lord said: In rising to move this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 121, 122, 123, 124 and 125. This issue may not seem to justify the amendment or the addition of new formulae to the Bill. I apologise for that but we are concerned with one of the Government's obsessions about the expenditure of district councils in particular and the possibility of them transferring expenditure to parish councils in order to avoid capping.

Clause 32(6) has taken the local precepts as part of the district's budget, even though the district is not responsible for setting the parish precept. In this Bill there is no proposal—perhaps I should not raise this issue because it will put the wrong ideas into Ministers' heads—to cap the budgets of parishes. But at the moment there is a very complex arrangement. Clauses 33 to 35 relate to district councils and Clauses 44 to 46 to county councils, all of which have extremely complex formulae and proceedings for setting taxes.

For district councils, unless there are no parishes or levying bodies, no one will ever pay the amount calculated under Clause 33, which is the average amount of council tax across the whole district area. It is not a basic amount of tax, as described in the Bill, because special amounts such as parish council precepts have to be deducted from different parts of the districts. In effect one has a three stage calculation when one needs only a two stage calculation.

It may seem a relatively trivial matter; I am aware that some Members of the Committee may believe it to be so. However, I wish to emphasise that the additional complexity is caused by the Government's obsession about people making up their minds on how much of their own money they should spend on their services. That obsession extends apparently to the relatively minor expenditure of parishes. It causes the Government to make this unnecessarily complex provision. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may answer the noble Lord's question about parishes first. There is a reserve power to cap parish councils. It has been included in Clause 54(6) to allow us to bring a district council's expenditure on meeting parish precepts within its budget for the purposes of capping.

Those who are mathematically inclined—I know there is at least one person in the Chamber who is —will have realised that algebraically, the formula in Amendment No. 120 is the same as the combined formulae in Clauses 33(1) and 34(2) which it seeks to amend. I accept that this amendment might at first sight seem attractive. But I should tell the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that if we had adopted the approach envisaged in his amendment, authorities' basic amounts of council tax—in effect the average tax for their whole area—would no longer be on a comparable basis one with another. It would also mean that certain key provisions elsewhere in the Bill would no longer work, as I shall seek to explain.

As to comparability, Clause 33(1) of the Bill currently provides that an average council tax is to be calculated by all billing authorities on precisely the same basis. That basis is that the whole of the authority's budget requirement—including special items—is considered applicable to the whole of its area. The basic amount so calculated is analogous to an authority's average community charge which we shall use for comparison purposes. There would be no universally comparable figures of council tax if this amendment were to be adopted. With this amendment the amount calculated would in some cases take account of an authority's total budget requirement, while in others it would not, since it would exclude special items.

Adopting the approach in the amendment would also mean complicating the provisions dealing with the calculation of the amount of council tax income which is to be transferred from a billing authority's collection fund to its general fund to meet its expenditure. Currently those provisions are simple. They are set out in Section 97 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, as substituted by paragraph 22 of Schedule 10 to the Bill. The provisions simply require a billing authority to calculate an amount by reference to its Clause 33 basic amount, that is its average council tax. Those provisions would not work if in some cases the basic amount did not reflect the whole of the authority's budget.

I hope that the noble Lord was able to follow my explanation. If he is happy with it, I hope that he will not press the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Let me first acknowledge that there is provision for the capping of parishes although I do not believe that it is a reserve power to cap parishes. The district is capped for parish expenditure over which the district has no control. That is a matter that we shall come to at a later stage of the Bill. The parishes cannot be capped directly.

I accept that the Minister has set out her stall with all the clarity possible. I do not believe that even she would agree that the result is clear. If I am told that I have to relate an earlier Act to a provision of Schedule 10 of the Bill, then she is requiring something of me which is beyond my humble power.

I shall read carefully what the Minister said. She has not convinced me that what is proposed in the Bill is the simplest possible way to achieve what she wishes to achieve. However, perhaps that is a technical rather than a political point and should not be dwelt on at too great length at Committee stage.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I inadvertently referred to capping parish councils. The noble Lord's interpretation of what I subsequently said was right. It is bringing district councils' expenditure into the regime to take into account parish precepts in the expenditure.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That is an explanation but not a defence. We would have been opposed to the direct capping of parish councils. We are opposed to all capping but we are even more opposed to the idea that a district council should have its budget capped for expenditure over which it has no control. That seems to me to be reductio ad absurdum the capping part of the legislation. It is a matter to which we shall return in due course.

I am grateful to the Minister for the further gloss on the situation as the Bill provides it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

Lord Desai

moved Amendment No.121A Page 23, line 28, leave out from ("as") to end of line 32 and insert ("the number of standardized units of band D properties in the area using as a base section 5(1) to convert properties falling in other bands to an equivalent band D property."). The noble Lord said: It is either a completely trivial matter based on my misunderstanding of simple prose or it is important.

Clause 33(1) lays out the formula for "the amount" referred to in the Bill, beginning at Clause 10(1). My difficulty with the formula is that if one follows it through step by step it does not give the amount that a council can charge. I tried to clarify the issue at Second Reading; I believe that I confused more people than I helped.

I have no problem with R and P. They are straightforward; I have some reservations about the way in which they are defined. R-P would be the amount of money that a council has to find. My problem relates to the way in which T is defined. If one takes T seriously, it also refers to an amount. Let us say that R-P is £30 million. With the way in which T is defined the amount might be £40 million or £20 million. It would be some proportion of the calculation. It might be half; it might be twice the figure. The figure will not be £300. If "the amount" is £300—that is the only meaning that "the amount" has — R-P/T cannot give one an amount if T is defined as in the Bill.

Let us suppose that the Secretary of State lays down that a band D dwelling in England will be charged £300. If each local authority calculates how many dwellings are standard band D dwellings that calculation will give the number of houses which can be charged the standard amount. If it is done in that way, R- P/T will give the amount that can be charged per band D dwelling in a local authority. The figure cannot then be more or less than £300. The way in which the Bill defines the formula does not allow for such a calculation.

In a rather clumsy way, my amendment redefines T. It does not define it as an amount but as a number of houses. Since houses are in different bands, one cannot add band A to band B, and so on. The proportions are referred to in Clause 5(1). The lowest band to the highest band is a ratio of 3:1. That will give you an amount of money; say, £400. Unless something else is intended by the provision, I do not know how one can escape those problems.

There is one interpretation that perhaps I should put forward. R-P/T would not give the amount but would merely give the poundage in the old fashioned way. R-P/T will give the fraction by which you multiply whatever the Secretary of State lays down. That could be an interpretation, but it is one that I have not been given.

Frankly, I am puzzled by the provision and I believe that an amendment similar to mine may be needed. But perhaps I have it all wrong! I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, mentioned the problem on Second Reading. He also said that the rating and valuation system was so easy that he would not bother to teach it to his first-year economics class. That was in response to me saying that as a former schoolteacher and mathematician I found it difficult to teach the average person—indeed, even the above-average person—to understand how the rating system worked. After listening to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I understand why he did not teach the system to his first-year economics class—because he did not understand it either!

The system is simple. Superficially, it looks like a ratio but the top line, or to be mathematical—perhaps that is a little beyond a professor of economics—the numerator, is in pounds sterling whereas the denominator is in pounds of valuation. Therefore, they do not cancel each other out. The ratio is in pounds sterling per unit of pound valuation.

That was one of the most difficult calculations to teach the average child in the arithmetic classes, at least in the schools in which I taught. I hope that my simple explanation will assist my noble friends on the Front Bench.

Baroness Blatch

The opening line of my speaking note reads, "As the noble Lord has made clear"! Well, as the noble Lord has made clear, his amendment seeks to introduce onto the face of the Bill details of the council tax base to be used for the purposes of calculating an authority's amounts of council tax. The definition which he seeks to introduce is, indeed, broadly that which we ourselves are proposing to establish by regulations which are to be made under the provisions of Clause 33(5) and certain other clauses. However, as I shall explain, his definition omits a number of significant if perhaps somewhat technical elements. I hope that my explanation will be consistent with what was said by my noble friend Lord Mackay.

It is precisely because the definition will necessarily be complex and technical that we believe it would have been inappropriate to include it on the face of the Bill. That is the kind of technical accounting issue which is best dealt with by regulations.

Before I explain how we propose that the council tax base should be calculated, I should mention for the benefit of any Members of the Committee who have not yet seen them that we have already issued draft regulations on the calculation of the council tax base and that copies are in the Library of the House. The local authority associations had previously been made aware of our intentions through a paper submitted to the settlement working group, a limited number of copies of which I have made available for the Committee. I should be happy to send a copy to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and to any other Member of the Committee who wishes it.

Our proposals are that the council tax base for an authority's area for the purpose of setting amounts of council tax should represent the estimated full year equivalent number of chargeable dwellings in the area, expressed as the equivalent number of band D dwellings, after allowing for discounts and disabled relief, adjusted for any allowance which the billing authority considers appropriate for non-collection. It is clearly important to take account of exemptions —we do that by referring to chargeable dwellings—and discounts, which I am not sure the noble Lord's amendment addresses. We also believe that the tax base must take account of any allowance which an authority considers appropriate to make for non-collection. This reflects our strong view that above all it is essential that the calculation of the council tax base for the purpose of setting taxes should represent the authority's best estimate of the taxable capacity of its area for the year.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, must be congratulated on broadly anticipating in the amendment what we are proposing. But I trust that I have made clear that his amendment would not be adequate to provide the best estimate of an authority's council tax base for a year. We believe that an adequate definition is that set out in our draft regulations. I am certain that Members of the Committee, having studied our proposals, will agree that it would not be right to attempt to deal with this on the face of the legislation but that the right course is in regulations as the Bill currently provides. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that explanation and not press his amendment.

Lord Desai

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. The problem is not my knowledge of mathematics but my inability to read a legal document. In no way could I imagine that what is written in the Bill refers to the number of dwellings. I must study law in my next life. I am grateful to the Minister and I am more than happy to beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 122 not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Additional calculations where special items relate to part only of area]:

[Amendments Nos. 123 and 124 not moved.]

Clause 34 agreed to.

Clause 35 [Special items for purposes of section 34]:

[Amendment No. 125 not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clauses 36 to 38 agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 125A: After Clause 38, insert the following new clause:

("Non-domestic rating

The Secretary of State may by order introduce a scheme of non-domestic rating under which a billing authority shall determine the multiplier for the properties in its area.").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment seeks to enable the Secretary of State to bring non-domestic rating back into the local arena. It does not seek to proscribe a particular scheme. Indeed, in earlier debates in Committee I made clear that Members on these Benches believe that land value rating is a good way of achieving that. However, I do not attempt to deal with the detail of that now.

It is ironic that the only provision for consultation with the payers is with non-domestic ratepayers under Clause 65. Yet it is they who are outside the Bill. We are all aware of the danger that the council tax may turn out to be as short-lived as the community charge. I do not attempt to cast a curse on it by saying that. However, an anxiety felt by many Members of the Committee relates to gearing; that is the amount of central government grant that will be required and the large amounts of money that will need to be raised by local authorities in order to make any difference at local level.

One of my anxieties—and I have heard it expressed on many occasions—is that as there is so much central support the effect of gearing will lead us inexorably to demands that local taxation should be abandoned. In introducing the amendment, I hope that we can at least direct our minds a little in the other direction. Returning the determination of business rates to local control would do that.

The abolition of the national non-domestic rate is advocated by many professional organisations; for example, the Institute of Directors—that may sound unlikely, but it is the case—local authority associations, the Audit Commission, the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation and the chief executives and county treasurers associations. Returning to locally set business rates would not only reduce the gearing effect by spreading a council's tax base, without attempting to define what T may be for that purpose, but it would also re-establish a relationship between businesses and local authorities. It would help local authorities to act as autonomous tiers of government, which is what many of us would wish to see. That raises the question of accountability. To be accountable, a local authority needs to raise finance as well as deal with its spending.

The changeover to the UBR system halted any meaningful consultation between local authorities and local industry and businesses in their area. The provisions are still there. The consultation takes place. However, I cannot believe that it has much substance to it. Certainly, my experience is that it is seen as something of an empty exercise by those who take part.

I have said that the Institute of Directors takes a slightly unexpected view on this matter. One might have thought that it would be happy to keep its members off the scene of controversy. But that seems not to be the case. In its response to the Government's consultation paper, it said—and the Minister will know this better than I—that the abolition of the link between what non-domestic ratepayers pay towards local government has already resulted in a shift to non-domestic ratepayers. It is unhappy about that state of affairs. It says bluntly that the business community would like to know what it is getting for its money. It wants to pay only for what it is receiving from local authorities.

The Association of British Chambers of Commerce has easily identified that support for UBR is ebbing away extremely swiftly. The Audit Commission too has pointed to the needs and value of local links between taxing and spending. It has said that restoring local authority control over changes in the non-domestic rate levels would extend the local tax base and give more meaning to consultation and partnership between local government and the business sector.

At present the national non-domestic rate goes into a central exchequer pot. It bears no signals for local authorities about spending or what should be the attitude of local authorities to business and industry in their areas. It seems to me that one must not let the occasion of a Local Government Finance Bill go by without addressing the serious issue of meaningfully extending the tax base to encompass all within its area. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It will not be any surprise when I say that we entirely support the amendment. Indeed, we shall discuss other amendments on the same subject when we come to the clauses immediately after Clause 100, where the matter is dealt with in detail.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly referred to the view of the business community, which I suspect is spreading, that although it might have been relieved in certain areas of the country to be taken out of the local rate-setting scene, it has not done it any good. The effect has been that businesses are now rather on a treadmill. Of course, they have the assurance that rises will not be above the level of inflation. That must be reassuring to any business. It certainly is to me, as one who pays the national non-domestic rate. However, it is curiously at variance with the way in which the Government treat not just the business community but ratepayers in other ways.

When referring to any other aspect of taxation, the Government talk about responsibility, accountability and incentives for economies and efficiency. And yet, suddenly, when one comes to the national non-domestic rate, simply because the Government want to take more and more local authority expenditure away from local authorities, to reduce them more and more to the position of being agencies rather than an independent level of democracy, all talk of responsibility, accountability, efficiency and incentives goes out of the window.

The national non-domestic rate is levied on an arbitrary basis by central government. It is allocated to local authorities on an arbitrary basis. It bears no relation and can bear no relation to the services provided by local authorities for businesses in their areas. Indeed, it is explicitly based on population, which is a totally separate consideration.

In every way that one can imagine, except as regards the vendetta against local government, the national non-domestic rate is an aberration from the Conservative Party's principles on taxation. The opportunity should be taken in this Bill to get rid of it.

Lord Henley

This amendment would pave the way for the abolition of the national non-domestic rate. It would return businesses to all the vagaries and uncertainties of the old rating system. The noble Baroness said clearly that it is merely an enabling amendment which would give the power to the Secretary of State to bring in such a scheme. I assure the noble Baroness that were the amendment to be carried against my advice to the Committee, it is exceedingly unlikely that a Conservative Secretary of State would consider making use of that power. However, I recommend that the Committee reject the amendment as a precaution against the very unlikely possibility that there may be a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for the Environment or, almost equally unlikely, the possibility that there may be a socialist sitting in Marsham Street.

To allow local authorities to set their own rate poundage or multiplier would give them the power to raise an additional source of income from businesses but without their being accountable to businesses as to how that income was spent. That is why such a change would be popular with some local authorities but would be bad for business.

Perhaps I can remind the Committee why we did away with local rates. Non-domestic rates are one of the largest taxes paid by business. Most business costs are fairly uniform across the country. Clearly, some differences in rates liability are inevitable. Indeed, they are necessary as economic signals to indicate the relative benefits of occupying different types of property in different localities. Such differences are reflected in the rateable values of the properties concerned. But on top of that, under local rates, the rate poundages levied on each pound of rateable value varied widely from authority to authority. This meant that the burden of rates could differ dramatically from one part of the country to another for reasons which had little to do with local economic activity but much to do with the spending policies of those local authorities.

Coupled with this was the fact that changes in local poundages could happen almost overnight, with little or no warning. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for reminding us that under the national non-domestic rate, increases are limited to the rate of inflation, that is RPI. Although, in the longer term, businesses might be expected to pass on at least some of their increased costs, they could not easily adjust in the very short term. The result was either higher prices, inflation and reduced competitiveness, or reduced investment, lower activity and fewer jobs.

The uniform business rate tackled such problems as those head on. By setting the same rate across the country, businesses were freed from the economic distortions I have mentioned. And by keeping the burden constant in real terms, businesses can now plan ahead with certainty. That should be compared with the 37.4 per cent. rise on top of inflation which businesses in England suffered during the 1980s.

The 1990 revaluation has blurred the message for some businesses. Revaluation was essential, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would be the first to argue. We simply could not go on using values based on the market as it was in 1973. There have been those who suffered from the inevitable shift in burden, and that is why we introduced transitional arrangements to ease in the changes. But there have also been many who gained. That is particularly true in the North. The idea that a return to local rates would bring some sort of utopia for business is therefore nonsensical, and the halcyon days to which noble Lords opposite often harp back exist in their collective imagination only. If businesses have been beguiled by their arguments I can only suppose that the memories of business are short indeed. In our view such a change can only mean higher costs for businesses and no improvement in accountability.

For those reasons I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. If not, I hope the Committee will feel able to reject it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the noble Baroness makes up her mind what to do on the amendment, I wonder whether the Government would care to share its thinking with us about computer-based records and about amendments to legislation.

I understand that the second item on the nine o'clock news a few minutes ago was an announcement that the Government intend to bring in legislation to amend the power of magistrates' courts in civil proceedings to take account of computer-based records in evidence in this Bill. If I am right in the thinking about this Bill, that would have to be in Schedule 4 to the Bill which is due to be considered tomorrow. It would be enormously helpful if the Government would share its thinking with us because it affects in many respects the way in which we approach the Bill.

I am bound to say that I am surprised that the Government, having made announcements which have reached the press and the television, have not seen fit to share their views with this Committee.

Baroness Blatch

I have signed a PQ today. As far as I know, it has been registered in the House today and the reply to the Question will be available for the noble Lord to see.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That is all very well. But we are considering tomorrow's business and the possibility of major changes to that business. I cannot see a PQ now, and I should not have to ask for it. The Government's intentions in relation to the future of the Bill, and particularly to a major new addition, which is quite rightly of great public concern, should be communicated to us voluntarily. It should not have to be dragged out of the Government.

Baroness Blatch

I thought we were discussing the amendment before us on the Order Paper tonight, but if the noble Lord is asking whether this will affect tomorrow's business I can give him an absolute assurance that it will not. There is a written Question to which I have replied and there will be an amendment coming forward at Report stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for that. I can be forgiven for thinking that that information should have been volunteered.

Baroness Hamwee

It was interesting to hear the news of a major problem to which we shall have to address ourselves. It is a newer problem than the uniform business rate, but that problem still remains. For a moment I thought that the noble Lord was going to suggest that the reason for rejecting the amendment was simply because of the horror scenario of there being a Secretary of State not of the same political persuasion as the noble Lord. However, he took a breath and carried on.

Lord Henley

It would have saved me a great deal of time if I had taken that line, but I thought that I had better continue and argue the case in more detail.

Baroness Hamwee

I am grateful for that. I was just waiting for that to be said. The noble Lord referred to vagaries and uncertainties. In proposing an enabling provision vagaries and uncertainties are not inherently a part of the proposal. The arrangement, such as the limitation to the retail prices index, is not by any means ruled out by this proposal. We are accused of harking back to Utopia and halcyon days and that we have beguiled business with our arguments. I have not set out to beguile business although I wish I had that ability. It is business which is asking that the UBR provisions should be reformed. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, we shall return to this matter later during the Committee stage with other amendments. Before then we shall look at what the noble Lord said. For the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 79 [Discounts]:

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 127 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 [Reduced amounts]:

9.15 pm
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

moved Amendment No. 128: Page 53, line 17, leave out paragraph (d). The noble Lord said: This is the first in a number of technical amendments. It comes from the Law Society of Scotland. The Minister may be aware of the contents of the argument which it puts forward. The amendment deletes Clause 80(8) (d) which ensures that the Secretary of State's regulations may not include provision preventing an appeal against the termination of a reduced amount by a valuation appeal committee.

The Law Society of Scotland has looked at the matter very carefully. It informs me that in allowing an appeal from the decision of the valuation appeal committee in respect of the termination of reduced amounts is in the interests of justice. That should not preclude such an appeal. I am sure that the Minister will be fully conversant with the views of the Law Society of Scotland. I believe that it has put its views to the Minister but the society would like the matter to be dealt with by the Committee.

Lord Strathclyde

This amendment would delete the provision which allows regulations to be made which would prevent appeals in relation to any prescribed decision concerning a scheme under Clause 80 being made to a valuation appeal committee. I can assure the noble Lord that that conceals no sinister intent.

The schemes which are likely to be prescribed under Clause 80 are schemes for transitional reduction and for a reduction for dwellings with disabled residents. We fully intend for there to be appeal provisions included as part of those schemes. What we still have to decide, and can do so only as the schemes take shape, is whether in either case an appeal to the valuation appeal committee is necessarily the most appropriate arrangement.

Under the community charge relief scheme there has been provision for decisions to be reviewed by the review board appointed by a levying authority and constituted in accordance with the Community Charge Benefits (General) Regulations 1989; the same board that reviews benefit decisions. Whether or not we shall adopt similar arrangements for either of the council tax schemes I cannot say at present, not least because we still have to consult local authorities and others on the matter. If we did adopt that arrangement it would be necessary for obvious reasons to ensure that only one route of appeal was available. Clause 80(8) (d) would enable us to make regulations which would ensure a single appeal route in those circumstances.

If we decided that it was more appropriate for appeals under these schemes to go to a valuation appeal committee we would not be making regulations under this provision. On the basis of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister. He will realise that his remarks will need some study. I am willing to accept his assurance that there is no hidden menace in the paragraph, but I am sure that he also realises that I shall need to take advice on the matter. Perhaps it will be helpful to both of us if I take advice before the next stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 129 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 80 agreed to.

Clause 81 [Appeal to valuation appeal committee]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

moved Amendment No. 130: Page 53, line 42, leave out subsection (3). The noble Lord said: This is another rather technical amendment which could be very important. It deletes Clause 81(3). The subsection provides that appeals to a valuation appeal committee may be excluded where it falls within such category as may be prescribed in regulations. The objection to this particular subsection is that it appears to be contrary to natural justice to provide for the removal of a ground for appeal by regulation, particularly where the criteria for the inclusion of the regulations of a precluded ground of appeal are not set out on the face of the Bill. Therefore, as it stands the subsection seems to me to be buying a pig in a poke. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that there are no hidden possibilities in it, although I would prefer him to accept that this simple amendment would clear up matters completely. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde

The noble Lord is quite right in saying that this amendment is technical. It is also important, and I shall try to clarify the point. Our intention is to use the clause to make regulations to prevent a person making an appeal on the ground that he anticipates a change in his circumstances which may affect his liability. Perhaps I may give the noble Lord an example. A mother might live with her adult daughter and nobody else. With two adults in the house the mother, as liable person, would receive a standard bill in respect of the whole financial year. However, she might know that her daughter intended to become a student nurse in three months' time, which would have the effect of reducing her liability from that time by 25 per cent. She might thus, if we made no provision to prevent this, claim that the annual bill she had received was inaccurate in that it failed to take account of the forthcoming discount. Regulations will of course make provision allowing the amount payable under the bill to be adjusted when the anticipated circumstances come to pass.

Members of the Committee will appreciate the administrative chaos which would result if local authorities were to bill on the basis of anticipated changes which might or might not come to fruition. They can only bill on the basis of the circumstances as they find them. We therefore intend to use the power to ensure that appeals cannot be made in the kind of circumstances which I have described. I hope that that is useful.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister's reply is useful to an extent but it does show the sheer complication of including the individual as well as the property value. The Minister gave a very neat example of a daughter going away to become a nurse, but I am sure there could be much more complicated examples than that which would lead to very great difficulties. The Minister said that the exclusion of the clause would lead to great complications. I think that even with the clause there will be great complications. The Bill will prove to be just as complicated and just as unpopular as the Act that it is meant to replace.

However, I appreciate the effort by the Minister to give examples and to explain the matter. I shall pay great attention to his reply when it is printed. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 131 to 136 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 81 agreed to.

Clause 82 [Appeal procedure]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

moved Amendment No. 137: Page 54, line 32, leave out ("Court of Session") and insert ("Lands Valuation Appeal Court"). The noble Lord said: This again is a question as to why the Court of Session is to be used for the appeals instead of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. The Minister must be aware that the Lands Valuation Appeal Court already contains three judges of the Court of Session and it is, in Scotland, the customary court of appeal from decisions of the valuation appeal committee. I find it difficult to realise why this court is not used by the Minister, because in my view it is the repository of the expertise in the valuation area. The judges of that court have very great experience in valuation matters.

It is unnecessary to insert the Court of Session in place of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. In moving the amendment I should have said that I was speaking at the same time to Amendment No. 138. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde

I shall speak to the same amendments. I listened carefully to the noble Lord's arguments. We considered the issue most carefully. We decided for two reasons that it was more appropriate for appeals from valuation appeal committees to go to the Court of Session than to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court.

The first is that VACs will, under the council tax arrangements, be hearing appeals not only in relation to valuation but also, in terms of Clause 81, other non-valuation issues. In particular, they will deal with questions as to whether a dwelling is a chargeable dwelling, questions as to liability, and questions as to the calculation of the amount of liability. The latter function may include hearing appeals about entitlement to discount. In view of this range of subjects we decided that it was more appropriate for appeals to be heard by the Court of Session rather than by the specialised Lands Valuation Appeal Court.

The second reason is that valuation appeals under the council tax will essentially be very simple, relating as they will only to questions of capital value. That is a very different matter from some of the arcane and complex rating issues which are the special responsibility of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. We do not, in other words, envisage that the specialist knowledge and experience within the Lands Valuation Appeal Court will be required in order to determine council tax valuation appeals. I said at the beginning of my remarks that we had considered the matter carefully. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that answer.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

For many years I was a member of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court and spent many hours listening to cases involving the valuation placed on properties by the local assessor. Where we were dissatisfied, which did not occur very frequently I am delighted to say, it was always in the Lands Valuation Appeal Court that the decisions were ultimately made. I am not sure why the Lands Valuation Appeal Court is now considered inappropriate to deal with the kind of matters with which it has been dealing for more than 30 years. I am not even sure whether anyone who appeals to the Court of Session does not incur substantially more expense. It is said that the only people who can take cases to court nowadays are the very wealthy and the very poor, the very poor getting legal assistance. There is something about the Court of Session that almost indicates that immediately one goes there one is in for a very large legal fee. I wonder whether the Minister has considered whether it is worth changing the existing procedures, which operate very successfully and behind which there is a wealth of experience, in order to achieve this Court of Session reference.

Lord Strathclyde

The noble Lord brings tremendous experience and knowledge to this debate. However, I think he has missed the point of the legislation. It is based on a simple concept. Therefore, the comparison with what happened before under the rates is not particularly useful because we are dealing with valuations under bands.

Initially, any problem will be dealt with by the assessor. That will allow mistakes to be resolved at an early stage. The aggrieved person may subsequently appeal to the valuation appeal committee. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, we spent quite a lot of time thinking about this matter and wondering what was the best way forward. We have come to the conclusion that in the light of the essential simplicity of the Bill what we have proposed is the easiest way to deal with the problem.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe made a strong point based on his own experience. I can see that the Minister is trying to make a clear distinction between the old system of rateable values and the new system. However, despite being a Scot himself, I am not so sure that he will realise that the Court of Session is quite a terrifying thing for many people. It is a real holy of holies in the legal profession and in the legal hierarchy. Therefore, if an assessor makes a decision which does not please, or which seems to be unfair to the person involved in the appeal, the person concerned may be willing to go to the valuation appeals committee. But the very suggestion of going to the Court of Session would, I think, thwart even natural justice.

We must look at this issue more seriously and closely. I do not know the number of appeals that there will be to the Court of Session. That may be an item in itself. If it proves to be anything like the situation that we had with the poll tax, there may be many cases going to the Court of Session.

However, in the meantime we shall read the Minister's reply in which he gave an assurance that he gave serious consideration to using the Lands Valuation Appeal Court and that he ultimately decided that the Court of Session was the correct place. I am not wholly convinced, neither I am sure is my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe. Moreover, I do not believe that the legal profession in Scotland will be convinced. However, once we have the Minister's words in writing, we shall test it out on the members of the profession so as to ascertain their opinion on the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 138 not moved.]

Clause 82 agreed to.

Clause 83 agreed to.

Clause 84 [Compilation and maintenance of valuation lists]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 139: Page 55, line 38, at end insert (", and ( ) the person liable to pay council tax in respect of any chargeable dwelling in terms of section 75(1) above."). The noble Lord said: I wonder whether the Minister would find it convenient if I did not move this amendment and concentrated instead on Amendment No. 139A, which contains all of the issues covered in Amendment No. 139.

Lord Strathclyde

Yes, that would be convenient.

[Amendment No. 139 not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

moved Amendment No. 139A: Page 55, line 38, at end insert (", and ( ) the name or names of the proprietor, tenant and occupier of the dwelling, together with their designation as such"). The noble Lord said: The amendment before the Committee takes us back to a famous series of debates which we had while discussing the community charge Bill.

The purpose of the amendment is to include the names of owners and occupiers on the valuation list. It is essential that assessors should be given statutory powers to call for a return of proprietors, tenants and occupiers and to include such information in the valuation lists to enable them properly to discharge their functions under the council tax legislation.

While it must be said that assessors could, most assuredly, compile and maintain the valuation lists as currently proposed under Clause 84 without such powers, it must equally be stressed that a lack of such powers will undoubtedly seriously inhibit, if not stifle, many of their associated duties and responsibilities. It is also vital to realise that the information obtained from the valuation lists by the other methods would almost certainly be out of date without these powers. In other words, assessors would be lucky if they received some of the information six, nine or 12 months after the date upon which it was due.

As currently proposed in Clause 87, it may be prescribed by regulations that the assessor shall alter the valuation list in any case where there has been a material increase in the valuation of a dwelling and the dwelling has subsequently been sold.

The position in England and Wales is that the particulars delivered system is used extensively by the valuation office agency as a source of information on property sales and will be utilised in the re-banding exercise. The use of the particulars delivered system in Scotland is extremely limited and in any event is not available to assessors. The equivalent source of information North of the Border is an extract from the register of sasines and the registration of titles with which there is a persistent problem over delays. As I said, it may be six months or longer before the information is received. I understand that it is currently nine months to a year in arrears.

Clearly, in the absence of a much more expeditious means of notification a major delay will occur in the identification of house sales which will in turn generate an unnecessary financial imposition on the person liable to pay the council tax in arrear which will not be in the taxpayer's best interest.

This is a subject that has been discussed thoroughly. I am sure that the Minister, his father and grandfather must have been familiar with the old valuation rolls which were of inestimable value to anyone involved in business, building or almost any other occupation in Scotland. When we were discussing the community charge Bill I repeatedly asked the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, why we could not have that system. I never received a satisfactory answer. That is why I am once again returning to this matter. I do not see why we cannot have valuation rolls showing owners and occupiers if we are to keep up to date with who is liable for the council tax. I do not know how many times I have tried to get this provision through. I hope the Minister will now consider the proposal and try to convince those who draft such matters that this is an obviously sensible way to handle the issue. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

While I have some sympathy with the amendment, I object to the words "and occupier". I am the proprietor of various properties. Where I have a tenant under a definite agreement, there has been an exchange of letters. It would be comparatively easy for me to inform the local authority or the local assessor as to who was a tenant. That is fair enough. When it comes to an occupier, I should be in difficulties. I might let someone have a cottage for a short time, and then they might move away. The proposed system would be too complicated.

Lord Strathclyde

Amendment No. 139A seeks to provide that the valuation list should contain individual information about proprietors, tenants or occupiers of dwellings. I do not feel that there is justification in terms of the council tax requirements for adding names to the valuation list. That list is effectively a public record of the property base for the tax and will include information on the address of a dwelling and the band into which it has been placed. It is then for the levying authority to determine who is the liable person in respect of such dwellings. The amendment would not assist that process. The terms it employs—namely "proprietor, tenant and occupier"—are taken from rating law and do not correlate properly with the terms in Clause 75(2), the clause which establishes the rules for determining liability. We have already indicated that we are considering the powers which should be available to local authorities to assist them in determining liability with a view to coming back on Report.

The noble Lord indicated that the inclusion of this information on the valuation list would improve the usefulness of the document as a source of information for other schemes; for example, neighbourhood notifications of planning applications. He went on to say that my father and grandfather would have understood the principle of valuation laws extremely well. I am sure that that is the case. I remember the noble Lord and the late Lord Ross of Marnock debating for hours with my noble friend Lord Glenarthur various points on the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill in 1986.

However, here we are legislating for the council tax, not for a general information power. I feel that it would be inappropriate for us to include in the council tax legislation provisions for the inclusion of information on valuation lists which is not specifically required for the purposes of those lists. Information on proprietors, tenants and occupiers certainly falls into that category. Thus I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am not surprised at that answer; it is what I expected. There must be something wrong with me. If the levying authority has to decide who is responsible, what better way for it to do so than to have a list? And who will know those occupying a property? The occupancy may change three times in a year. Who better to know than the owner of the property if it is let by a factor on behalf of the owner? That was the reason for the old valuation rules. One could see who was likely to know those involved in paying the rent for the property because it was their income. Therefore, they would be keen to keep up to date. Also, their factors would be forced to keep a close watch on who lived in the property at a certain time.

I do not know how it would be possible to find out who owns rented property, and who rents it from month to month or from quarter to quarter. I may be missing some desperately important point but I do not see why there should be great complications when the old laws on valuation did such a good job. As well as those that I have already described, there were planning regulations. One was able to notify all the people in the vicinity of any new building being put up, even a garden shed. One always let people know because it could cause them great disadvantage if a large garden shed or a garage were to be erected next door. With the old valuation rules one had to notify all the proprietors of adjoining properties. The easiest way of doing so was undoubtedly by the valuation rules.

I have a feeling that we shall not get anywhere and at this time of night the best solution is to withdraw the amendment. I am sure we shall come back to the matter. I shall read the Minister's words carefully and perhaps find another way of expressing my desire to have this simple amendment included and so make the Bill marginally more acceptable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 84 agreed to.

Clauses 85 and 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 [Alteration of lists]:

The Earl of Balfour

moved Amendment No. 140: Page 59, line 10, after ("payments") insert ("or repayments"). The noble Earl said: Clause 87(8) states: The regulations may include provision as to financial adjustments to be made as a result of alterations, including — provision requiring payments to be made". I argue very strongly that we should insert "or repayments" before the words "to be made". I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My noble friend has taken a keen and critical interest in the Bill. That has been plain to everyone who has been present during our discussions in Committee. I am grateful for the way he has kept an eye on our proceedings and for the way he has studied the Bill in tremendous detail. My noble friend has found an example of incorrect drafting. I welcome his amendment and I wish to accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 141 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 87, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 88 agreed to.

Clause 89 [Powers of entry]:

The Earl of Balfour

moved Amendment No. 142: Page 60, line 11, at end insert: ("( ) In a case where a person authorised by a local assessor proposes to exercise the power, that person must, if required, produce his authority."). The noble Earl said: I am fed up with various officials, representing a variety of bodies, going round my estate without saying who they are or what their business is. I have a number of elderly tenants who become upset when such persons knock on their doors and seek entry without saying who they are. Amendment No. 142 relates to Clause 26(3). However, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde was good enough to write to me about this matter. I was relieved when he informed me that local assessors in Scotland do not have the power to delegate their functions to outside bodies. Therefore this amendment is unsuitable as regards its drafting. Although I am grateful for the information which my noble friend gave me, I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to page 57 of the Bill where Clause 86(7) states: A local assessor may appoint persons to assist him". Therefore, to discuss that provision, I wish at this stage at least to move the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Would it not be the case that the local assessor himself should produce authority before imposing on a tenant of the noble Earl?

Lord Strathclyde

I appreciate this amendment has gained some sympathy within the Committee. I am again grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour for bringing this matter to our attention. I stand by the letter I wrote to my noble friend in which I said this amendment was not required. I am aware that the equivalent English and Welsh provision to Clause 89 requires a person, who must be a Crown servant authorised by a valuation officer to enter a dwelling, to show his authorisation on request. That means effectively that when another person wishes to enter a dwelling, to value it, he must be able to show that the valuation officer has authorised him to do so.

However, the position in Scotland is rather different. There is no power for assessors who are responsible for valuation in Scotland to authorise anyone else to enter a dwelling for valuation purposes. I know my noble friend has referred to Clause 86(7). While the assessor is given a power under Clause 86(7) to appoint persons to assist him in undertaking his general functions, it would not be possible, as Clause 89 is drafted, for such a person to exercise the power of entry under that clause. I believe that is what my noble friend wished to hear.

The assessors or their deputes (who under the terms of Clause 84(10) can carry out an assessor's functions under the Bill) are the only persons empowered to enter a dwelling to value it. Before they do so, they are required to give three days' written notice. Those provisions give more than adequate safeguard against the anxieties which my noble friend quite rightly expressed.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asked about assessors showing identity cards when exercising the powers of entry. It is standard practice for the staff of assessors' departments to carry identity documents. The noble Lord may be interested to know that in Lothian and Fife there is a standing instruction to staff who call on members of the public to show their identification without first being asked to do so. That is obviously helpful.

I hope that in the light of that explanation my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tordoff

It is all very well to say that people who are authorised to enter dwellings are instructed to produce identity documents; but there is no obligation for anyone to do so. Surely my noble friend has a point and in the Bill there ought to be some obligation to produce authorisation.

Lord Strathclyde

My point was that all staff have to carry identification. In Fife and Lothian they have to show their identification to the public before they are asked to do so. In other parts of Scotland they are not required to show their identification until asked to do so. However, it is a point which is worth bearing in mind, and I shall certainly consider whether they should be compelled to show identity documents before asking for entry.

The Earl of Balfour

I am satisfied with the answer. I am also obliged to noble Lords opposite who have contributed to the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 143 not moved.]

Clause 89 agreed to.

Clauses 90 to 93 agreed to.

Clause 97 agreed to.

Earl Howe

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at eight minutes before 10 o'clock.