HL Deb 15 February 1999 vol 597 cc539-40

7.55 p.m.

Lord Sewel rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st January be approved

[6th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a straightforward draft order which prescribes rateable values for the year 1998–99 for the operational lands and heritages occupied by ScotRail, and other franchise operators which are now in rateable occupation of property acquired from the British Railways Board.

When the ScotRail passenger rail franchise was acquired by the National Express Group on 1st April 1997, the British Railways Board (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which had prescribed the rateable value of property occupied by British Rail, ceased to have any effect. A new order was therefore required prescribing the rateable value for the new occupiers for 1997–98, and for each subsequent financial year until 1st April 2000.

The rateable value figure prescribed in the 1997–98 order was taken from the British Railways (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, but adjusted to take account of the disposal of a number of properties. For the 1998–99 draft order, this figure has been further adjusted to take into account the acquisition of new station leases. The rateable value has been apportioned among the franchise operators on the basis of rental evidence from the current regulatory and charging regime and between local authorities on the basis of the locations of the properties concerned.

The draft order has been subject to consultation with local authorities and the franchise operators concerned. All are in agreement with the proposal. A further order will be required for 1999–2000 in due course. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st January be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].— (Lord Sewel.)

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister about this order. First, I believe I am right in saying that the rateable values proposed here are what are called "agreed valuations" in that they are not objectively assessed. In the days when the property was owned by British Rail that was quite understandable, because it was simply one public body paying other public bodies public money. Therefore, one did not need to be particularly precise about it.

However, with the advent of privatisation I do not see how this system can really be justified as continuing year in year out—though, if I detected the Minister's words correctly, I believe it comes to an end in the year 2000. I can think of many businesses in Scotland which would love to have agreed valuations rather than those imposed upon them. It seems to me that we are really continuing a rather privileged category of private businesses which have these so-called "agreed valuations". Perhaps the Minister can clarify the position.

Secondly, I am really a seeker after advice and guidance here. There is a habit now of private operators, particularly those owning station property, to let out more and more of the property for shops. Indeed, stations are becoming shopping arcades. In the particular case of Waverley Station in Edinburgh, a huge development scheme is being proposed. Can the Minister say whether these non-railways functioning premises—that is to say, these retail shops—are included in, and subject to, these orders? In other words, are they gaining any advantage over other shops which have to have their valuations imposed upon them and not agreed as in the order? That is a simple question to which I should like an answer from the Minister.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, the noble Lord is right in saying that these values are the result of negotiation, discussion and work on what is called thecumulo figure of £605, 100 that goes back to 1995 and has been varied since then. I do not think we should take this as a kind of soft option valuation. The fact that it has been subject to variation and change over time seems to me to indicate that it is a matter that is examined. On the particular point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, of where this valuation stops and other kinds of valuation take over as regards shopping arcades and other such matters, if the noble Lord does not mind, I shall write to him in order to give him a precise and detailed answer.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at eight o'clock.