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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. As an Australian, I was always impressed by the statement that "an Englishman's home is his castle". People very much resent anyone intruding into their home. With the deferment of the revaluation and the new Bill to abolish necessary revaluation, will the Minister confirm that at the moment any improvements you make to your home do not affect valuation and that only if you either sell the home or the properties are generally revalued might you move into a higher council tax band?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness's supplementary question. I ought to remind her of South Australian legislation. I did a bit of research and discovered that Section 26 of the South Australia, Valuation of Land Act 1971 provides that the valuer-general may,
We have a good Australian precedent there. However, the noble Baroness is right in her assessment of the current situation. The position is as she described, and it should remain so. It is worth reminding ourselves that these powers go back to 1992, when the noble Baroness's party was in power, and there were parallel powers for the earlier and rather unpopular poll tax.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that, while a householder can stop a valuation and ask a valuation officer to leave, if he does so, under Section 26 of the Act he is then liable to a level two fine for delay and obstruction?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, Valuation Office Agency officials act extremely sensitively. They do not enter a person's home forcibly; they do not have the statutory power, or, perhaps, more importantly, the desire to do so. They would only ever enter a home with the prior agreement of the householder and, under the standards set in their own council tax
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charter, would give seven days' notice wherever possible. For the noble Baroness's information, I can confirm that no new powers of entry are being sought for the Valuation Office Agency. So far as I can make outI have asked officials to research thisno one has ever been fined, or had proceedings taken against them, under the current powers of the Valuation Office Agency.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me. How many Acts of Parliament and pieces of secondary legislation permit a government official to enter someone's property without permission?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is an estimate I am not prepared to make off the cuff over the Dispatch Box. I know that the noble Lord has a great interest in powers of entry and that he has a Bill on that subject, so perhaps that is a debate for another day.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the Government have taken a very pragmatic view about the necessity for revaluation under the circumstances of Sir Michael Lyons's review. Are they likely to take a similarly pragmatic view about the rebanding of council tax and abandon that for the length of this Parliament as well?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we made it clear when we announced last year that we were not anticipating a revaluation during the lifetime of this Parliament. No doubt Sir Michael Lyons's review will be complete by the end of this year and his report will be prepared. We thought it pragmatic and sensiblethe noble Baroness's party agrees with thisto approach the matter in the way in which we have. That is why we have made it clear that revaluation is extremely unlikely to take place during the lifetime of this Parliament.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister assure me, then, that the stories in the papers, which report that people are terrified that their council
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tax will be affected if they put in a do-it-yourself new bathroom or make some minor improvement, are just scare stories?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes, my Lords, I can give that reassurance. However, I do not think that the situation has been greatly helped by Conservative Party press releases, in particular one dated 5 January this year, which makes it quite plain that the Conservative Party believes that there are new powers to conduct inspections and that fines of £500 will be imposed on people who object to this. I believe that Mrs Spelman MP said that things were so bad that the valuation officer's powers to enter people's homes should be abolished. However, those powers were put in place by the previous Conservative government. I completely agree with the noble Baroness. Perhaps she would like to have a word with Mrs Spelman about the matter.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, decisions on the commissioning of complementary and alternative therapies, including homeopathy, on the NHS, are matters for primary care trusts. The Government consider that clinical decisions on the use of complementary or alternative treatments should be left to clinicians. However, there is further scope for the National Institute for Clinical and Health Excellence to include assessment of complementary therapies in its guideline work. The Department of Health will discuss with NICE how we can ensure that clinical guidelines work includes complementary therapies where appropriate.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, is it not the case that the national homeopathic hospital is publicly funded? Is it not rather a scandal that scarce public funds for the National Health Service should be devoted to something that has no scientific basis; and that homeopathyI refer to homeopathy, as opposed to herbal medicinecannot work other than as a placebo, because the original substance, by the law of infinitesimals, has been diluted trillions upon trillions of times? Secondly, every authoritative study over more than 150 years, as the Lancet has pointed out, has shown no evidence that it works other than as a placebo. If the Government support placebos, why will they not support funding coloured water, or witchcraft, which is likely to be just as effective and has as much scientific basis?
Lord Warner: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that there are homeopathic hospitals in the NHS. They have been around for a long time, including when the noble Lord was a Minister in the Treasury, as
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I recall. On the other point, I made clear that this is a matter for clinicians to decide when they see patients. There was some evidence in the NICE review guideline on cancer and complementary and alternative therapies that recognised that they did not provide a cure for the disease but did offer some help and hope to patients who used them.
Lord Peston: My Lords, how can the department duck out of the fundamental question: if chemistry is a valid science, as most of us were led to believe at school, then homeopathy is surely rubbish? In additionand I speak as an honorary member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Societypharmacists, who have a superb training in science, notably chemistry, also seem to be in a position where they can sell such rubbish to make money. Surely the department, the body most responsible for laying down standards here, cannot just duck out of this by referring to "decentralisation" to clinicians. This is not an interference with clinicians, but a matter of upholding the standards of our whole country.
Lord Warner: My Lords, homeopathic medicines are covered by the same European legislation as all other medicines. Under European law, homeopathic medicines are required to be registered under a simplified scheme. Demonstrations of safety are required, but proof of efficacy and effectiveness, as required of other medicines, is not. Homeopathic medicines are, therefore, not permitted to make medical claims. That has been the position for some time. As I have said, we leave decisions in these matters to clinicians, but we use the good offices of NICE to look at these issues in relation to guidelines on particular treatments.
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