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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees a very simple question in relation to Standing Order 69(1) which refers to a report on a draft order from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. However, it gives no time limit. Surely it would be appropriate to allow at least a few sitting days for such reports to be considered before the House goes on to deal with the deregulation to which that report refers.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for raising that matter. No doubt he will be aware that the order to which he refers is dealt with in the second report of the Procedure Committee. The particular point that he raises is not dealt with.

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However, a close watch will be kept on it. Perhaps I may pass on to the Procedure Committee, which is due to meet on 24th January next year, the points the noble Lord made so that they can be borne in mind against a possible need for further action should that prove necessary.

Lord Cockfield: My Lords, when the new edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders is issued, may we have an assurance that copies will be sent to your Lordships?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, they will certainly be available as usual in the Printed Paper office. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, will allow me to look into the point that he has raised. I am always conscious, as I know are your Lordships, of the costs involved in additional procedures.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Environment Bill [H.L.]

11.40 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clause 1,

Schedule 1,

Clauses 2 to 12,

Schedule 3,

Clauses 13 and 14,

Schedule 4,

Clauses 15 to 19,

Schedule 5,

Clause 20,

Schedule 6,

Clauses 21 and 22,

Schedule 2,

Clauses 23 to 60,

Schedule 7,

Clause 61,

Schedule 8,

Clauses 62 to 66,

Schedule 9,

Clauses 67 to 73,

Schedule 10,

Clauses 74 and 75,

Schedule 11,

Clauses 76 to 87,

Schedule 12,

Clause 88,

Schedule 13,

Clause 89,

Schedule 14,

Clause 90,

Schedule 15,

Clauses 91 to 94,

Schedule 16,

Clauses 95 to 97,

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Schedule 17,

Clauses 98 to 105,

Schedules 18 to 20.--(Viscount Ullswater.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Consolidated Fund Bill

11.42 a.m.

Brought from the Commons, endorsed with the Certificate of the Speaker that the Bill is a money Bill, and read a first time.

Then, Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 15th December):

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, perhaps I may ask once again--and, indeed, I have asked the question more than once--why the Second Reading of such an important measure is denied as an opportunity for noble Lords to debate the whole of the economy which it affects. Why do the Government persist in obstructing the opportunity for your Lordships to debate these very important matters?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend raised the matter yesterday with my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal; and I suspect he has raised it on a number of previous occasions. As my noble friend knows, this is the convention regarding such matters. I have nothing to add to what my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal said yesterday.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that another place passed the Bill yesterday in all its stages formally.

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived; Bill read a third time.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, perhaps we may have the Government's assurance--which has been given to us on previous occasions in response to questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and indeed by me--that, notwithstanding the convention in such matters, the House can still ultimately assert its rights to debate the Bill if it so chooses.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, knows, it is quite clear in The Companion to the Standing Orders that it would be within the rules of the House to do as he says. But, equally, it is the convention to do as I have just done.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, when the convention has been

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defended by himself and his predecessors, it has always been defended on the grounds that other opportunities for debating the economic situation will be made available? Is my noble friend also aware that, in the light of the very recent financial statements made by Ministers, both noble Lords opposite and those on this side of the House pressed for a full-scale debate on the economy? Will that undertaking be met?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I believe that only yesterday my noble friend made the same point to my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal. My noble friend answered, giving a list of the number of occasions upon which such matters can be debated. If further debates are desired, that is a matter for the usual channels.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, that is the trouble.

On Question, Bill passed.

High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction (Amendment) Order 1994

11.44 a.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction (Amendment) Order 1944 laid before the House on 29th November 1994, be approved. As the draft County Court Remedies (Amendment) Regulations 1994 are closely connected, I shall speak also to that Motion and move it formally later.

The draft High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction (Amendment) Order 1994 makes two amendments to the High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction Order 1991. The first amendment will enable higher value cases to be dealt with in the Central London County Court Business List. That list was established in June 1994. Its aim is to enable commercial cases to be dealt with in the county court in a way which is more suitable for the subject matter of such cases and the kinds of issues which arise.

At present, there is a presumption that cases worth £50,000 or more should be dealt with in the High Court. Article 4 of the draft order amends the jurisdiction order so as to provide that, where the High Court or a county court is considering whether to transfer proceedings to or from the business list, the presumption will not arise unless the value of the action is £200,000 or more.

The effect of the second amendment is that judgments given in proceedings arising out of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 may only be enforced in a county court, whatever enforcement method is chosen. It is inappropriate that such judgments should be enforceable in the High Court because this creates problems of "interest on interest".

The draft County Court Remedies (Amendment) Regulations are also connected with the establishment of the Central London County Court Business List. They amend the County Court Remedies Regulations 1991 so as to specify that, in business list cases, a circuit judge

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nominated by the senior presiding judge may grant a Mareva injunction. The possibility of obtaining a Mareva injunction in the Central London County Court Business List will significantly increase the attractiveness of that list.

I believe that the changes made by the two instruments represent welcome improvements to the civil litigation process. I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

County Court Remedies (Amendment) Regulations 1994

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move the Second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Non-Domestic Rating (Chargeable Amounts) Regulations 1994

11.46 a.m.

Viscount Ullswater rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th December be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the above regulations, I shall speak also to the other orders and regulations standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The orders and regulations are necessary for the implementation of the revaluation of non-domestic property which takes effect from 1st April next year. There are seven sets altogether. Five of the orders prescribe new rateable values for the railways, electricity and water industries, British Gas and certain docks and harbours. The sixth revokes the existing order which prescribes rateable values for the telecommunications industry and British Waterways. From 1st April, those industries will no longer have their rateable values prescribed: instead, they will be determined in the same way as for most other businesses. I will say more about the six orders later.

Perhaps the most wide-ranging instrument, however, is the Non-Domestic Rating (Chargeable Amounts) Regulations. They contain provisions for phasing in the effects of the 1995 revaluation where changes in liability would otherwise be significant. Rate rises for small properties--those with a new rateable value of less than £15,000 in London or less than £10,000 elsewhere--will be limited to no more than 7.5 per cent. next year, after allowing for inflation. For larger properties, rates will rise by no more than 10 per cent., after allowing for inflation. For small business properties with living

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accommodation, increases will be limited to 5 per cent. in real terms. The regulations provide for the same limits to apply up to the date of the next revaluation.

Revaluations do not affect the overall yield from business rates. Their purpose is to ensure that the burden of rates remains equitable. If the national total of rateable value changes, the law requires the poundage--that is, the amount per pound of rateable value which ratepayers have to pay--to be adjusted accordingly. In fact, however, the 1995 revaluation will make very little difference to total rateable value in England, and the poundage is likely only to increase in line with inflation. In Wales, total rateable value is set to increase, so the poundage will come down.

For individual properties, however, the picture could well be different. The revaluation will reflect changes in the rental values of property since the 1990 revaluation, and some businesses will therefore find themselves facing rate increases, while others might expect reductions or else see little change.

Without phasing provisions, changes in bills could be significant, for two reasons. First, the economic cycle has affected businesses quite differently in different parts of the country. In 1988, which was the base year for setting rateable values for the 1990 revaluation, rental values were still rising in many parts of the country. In some regions, particularly the North and Midlands, values continued rising for a while and then levelled off. But in others--notably central London--they soon began to fall as the recession took hold. The 1995 rateable values for these properties will therefore be based on their rental values at the very bottom of the market. Many losers from the 1990 revaluation are therefore likely to be gainers from the next one, and vice-versa.

Rate bills might also be expected to change significantly because some ratepayers are still receiving relief under the 1990 transitional scheme. In some cases, their current rate bills are well below what they would have been had the effects of the 1990 revaluation been allowed to work their way through in full. Even without a revaluation, these ratepayers might have expected another large increase in bills next year: the revaluation could make the increase even greater.

The Government accept that businesses need time to adjust to changes in their rates burden. That is why we have introduced the phasing provisions in these regulations to reduce the impact of the changes. The limit on increases will benefit nearly 1 million small properties and nearly 350,000 larger properties in England and Wales. A quarter of beneficiaries will be small shops. Almost half a million offices, warehouses and factories will also benefit.

Some 170,000 properties will see reductions in their bills as a result of the revaluation. Since many of these will have benefited from relief under the 1990 transitional arrangements, we think it right that owners or occupiers of these properties should take their turn to help fund the new arrangements. The regulations therefore include provision to set the rate reductions to a maximum of 10 per cent. for small businesses and 5 per cent. for larger ones next year, after taking account of inflation. Similar limits are likely to be needed in the

16 Dec 1994 : Column 1485

following year. However, as ratepayers who are being phased upwards reach their full new bills, so the cost of supporting the scheme will fall. This means that, in 1997-98, reductions should come through much faster, with reductions of up to 20 per cent. for small businesses and 15 per cent. for large ones looking possible. For the last two years before the next revaluation, further reductions of up to 35 per cent. for small businesses and 30 per cent. for large ones should be feasible on current predictions. These estimates are inevitably provisional, and the Government will need to review them before the start of each year, but it is likely that the great majority of gainers will see their full gains before the next revaluation in the year 2000.

Even with this level of support for the cost of the scheme from gainers, there would be a shortfall in rates yield next year. That is why, as announced in the Budget, the Government are putting over half a billion pounds towards the cost in England and Wales. This sum will be used to top up the non-domestic rating pool so that billing authorities are no worse off as a result of the scheme.

Noble Lords may have seen stories and comments in the media suggesting that these measures will be particularly unfair to London. But to say that London will be "robbed of millions" is a travesty of the facts. As I hope I have made clear, gainers in London will see some pretty large reductions in their rate bills over the coming years. Those who complain about our plans for 1995 conveniently forget that the boot was on the other foot in 1990. Then, many central London ratepayers received generous help, financed by deferring other ratepayers' gains. Those parts of the country facing steep increases in rates would find it incomprehensible if London did not return the favour.

In any event, it would be wrong to think of this as a case of London versus the rest. About half the ratepayers in inner London will actually receive help from the scheme. And London authorities will not suffer from the scheme--as I have said, we will top up the national rate pool, and every London authority will continue to get the same amount per head of population as every other authority.

Noble Lords may find it helpful if I said a little more about the content of these regulations. They are inevitably complex because of the variety of different cases which can arise. However, the arrangements are broadly similar for all cases. The new rates bill (known in the regulations as the notional chargeable amount) will be compared with a notional bill--the base liability--for the current year. Any existing transitional relief will be taken into account. If the year on year change is more than the limit (known as the "appropriate fraction") allows, ratepayers will pay the limited amount, subject to any other reliefs which may be available.

As under the 1990 scheme, properties newly constructed after 1st April 1995 will not be subject to phasing. But properties created by the division or

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merger of existing properties will do so. In addition, the regulations include rules which will apply the downward phasing provisions to properties wholly or mainly reconstructed from existing properties. This is to prevent ratepayers who are helping to meet the cost of the phasing arrangements from escaping their obligations by undertaking refurbishment or other reconstruction works.

The regulations also apply phasing to the large network industries, which are the subject of the other six orders to which I now wish to turn. Prescription of rateable values for these industries is necessary because of the difficulties of conventional assessment. This may be because of the highly specialised nature of the property or because its sheer size and complexity has meant that the resources needed to value it conventionally have simply not been available.

Since rateable values for conventionally assessed property have changed little as a result of the revaluation taking Great Britain as a whole, we have based the new values for most of the centrally assessed industries on their 1994-95 values, adjusted only for changes in the property they occupy. In other cases, such as the railway networks, the extent of changes since the last revaluation has been so great that we have valued the industry afresh.

The orders also contain formulae to allow for the annual adjustment of rateable values to take account of any further changes in the amount of property these industries occupy. The changes which the formulae measure are a proxy for those which would trigger an alteration in the rateable value of properties occupied by other ratepayers. The water undertakers order also contains a method for determining rateable values when water companies merge.

The prescription of rateable values is not an ideal way to determine the burden of rates on industries, especially now that many of the former public utilities are having to compete against private sector companies whose properties are assessed conventionally. For that reason, timetables for gathering the information necessary to assess properties have already been drawn up for some industries and discussions are to start early in the New Year for others. For British Waterways, British Telecommunications and Mercury Communications, prescription will end from next April and one of the orders before your Lordships therefore repeals the existing orders setting rateable values for those industries. The Tyne and Wear Metro and the Docklands Light Railway will also be conventionally assessed from next year and so no longer appear in the Railways Order. Likewise, the 1989 docks and harbours order has been amended to reflect the fact that ports with relevant incomes of between £50,000 and £1 million will be conventionally assessed in 1995. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th December be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].--(Viscount Ullswater.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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British Gas plc (Rateable Values) Order 1994

Docks and Harbours (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994

Water Undertakers (Rateable Values) Order 1994

Railways (Rateable Values) Order 1994

British Waterways Board and Telecommunications Industry (Rateable Values) Revocation Order 1994

Electricity Supply Industry (Rateable Values) Order 1994


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