HC Deb 11 November 1980 vol 992 cc278-81

Lords amendment: No. 23, after clause 25, in page 26, line 27, at the end insert: F. After section 26 of the 1967 Act there shall be inserted—


26A.—(1) Neither of the following—

  1. (a) land;
  2. (b) buildings (other than dwellings),
shall be liable to rates or to be included in any valuation list or in any rate if used solely for or in connection with fish farming.

(2) The gross value for the purposes of section 19(2) of this Act of a house occupied in connection with land or buildings used solely for or in connection with fish farming and used as the dwelling of a person who—

  1. (a) is primarily engaged in carrying on or directing fish farming operations on that land or in those buildings; or
  2. (b) is employed in fish farming operations on that land or in those buildings in the service of the occupier thereof and is entitled, whether as tenant or otherwise, so to use the house only while so employed,
shall, so long as the house is so occupied and used, be estimated by reference to the rent at which the house might reasonably he expected to let from year to year if it could not be occupied and used otherwise than as mentioned in this subsection or in section 26(2) of this Act.

(3) In determining for the purposes of this section whether land or a building used for or in connection with fish farming is solely so used no account shall be taken of any time during which it is used in any other way, if that time does not amount to a substantial part of the time during which the land or building is used for or in connection with fish farming.

(4) In this section— building" includes a separate part of a building; and fish farming" means the breeding or rearing of fish or the cultivation of shellfish (including crustaceans and molluscs of any description) for the purpose of producing food for human consumption or for transfer to other waters but does not include the breeding, rearing or cultivation of any fish or shellfish—

  1. (a) which are purely ornamental, or
  2. (b) which are bred, reared or cultivated for exhibition.""

Mr. Fox

I beg to move, That this House cloth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Lords amendment No. 24.

Mr. Fox

This new clause, which the Government accepted during progress of the Bill in another place, extends derating to fish farming. Opposition Members may be surprised to know that this is a serious matter. When certain people started to produce fish it was felt that they were for stocking rivers, but this process is now a major source of food. Amendment No. 24 relates to Scotland. We have never rated this process in England. A case was challenged on this point, and the amendment is designed to put it right. I know that Opposition Members were not laughing from any amusement in relation to fish farming.

The new clause generally follows the corresponding provision for agricultural derating in the General Rate Act 1967. This is right, because in almost all other respects fish farming is treated in the same way as other agricultural pursuits. The farming of fish, either for human consumption or for sporting purposes, will be exempted from rating, but the rearing of ornamental fish will not. Nor will the exemption extend to research establishments or further down the chain to food manufacturing.

Amendment No. 24 relates purely to Scotland and will bring Scotland into line with what we are proposing. As I said, certain people in Scotland are already paying rates.

Mr. Oakes

What is the present position in England and Scotland with regard to fish farms? Presumably they are now rated. What is now happening is that another category of derating is taking place. We have had agricultural aerating for some time, and many hon. Members worry about its effect. Is this the thin end of the wedge, and will another industry, which could become a large industry, escape rates?

Mr. Dobson

Does not the Minister consider that under these circumstances it would be better to start rating all farming property, rather than have this additional element of derating for fish farmers? I know that the Minister and his colleagues are dedicated to cutting down the number of local government staff, but how many does he suppose will have to be deployed in verifying that no ornamental fish are being bred, because, as I understand, they will be distinguished from those that are bred for sporting or food purposes. The Minister may have failed to consider the staffing implications of this measure.

Mr. Cant

Not having react with my customary diligence through all the amendments, the announcement just made by the Minister has shocked me. The Government stated—I think during the recess—that they had reluctantly reached the conclusion that they could not abolish the property tax called rates. Irrespective of what they had said previously, it was such a large source of income and, as they were also dedicated to lowering income tax, they would have to retain it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said, if we are retaining rates as part of the tax system, why erode the tax base even further? It is essential—whatever we may feel about the Lords, shire counties, and so on—that we should appreciate that the farmers of the country are a highly privileged group of operators. They do not pay rates. But then to say that the fish farmers should not pay rates is ludicrous. As my right hon. Friend also said, this is one of the growth industries of the future. We talk a lot about micro-electronic processors, silicon chips and so on, but the real scientific revolution that will take place is in the area of biotechnology. That is the industry of the future. Fish farming may be part of that revolution one day. We may be feeding ourselves on a greater scale from protein from that source—not from the sea, but from our fish tanks—than vie ever believed would be possible.

But the Minister, with his usual charm and courtesy, says that because of pressure from the Lords, who now see a method of revitalising the countryside through fish farming, he is prepared to concede that fish farmers need not pay rates. I hope that he will reconsider that decision, and, for once, have enough courage to change his mind. I do not feel that this amendment is acceptable.

Mr. Fox

This is not the occasion on which to debate whether fish is food. I find it difficult to argue that the provision of fish should not be treated in the same way as any other food. It was said that at present agriculture is derated to a certain extent, but that is a different issue. All other types of food production are derated, and yet there is a divergence of opinion as to whether we should extend that derating to fish farming. In the other place there was considerable discussion on the matter. I point out to the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) that no fish farms have yet been rated effectively in England, although a number have been rated in Scotland. This decision results from the decision of a court of appeal, where it was made clear that rating should take place. The argument that carried conviction in the other place was that fish farming was a new industry, seeking to increase production in line with others. On those grounds I am happy to support the Lords amendment.

Mr. Cant

This is an important point. The Minister is not saying that this is a struggling industry with a future and that we should try to encourage it. In effect, he is saying that in the standard industrial classification fish are regarded as a food, and therefore the operation should not be rated. After the war the brewers in Burton on Trent were able to build massive new factories, plants, operations and so on, and when people asked why that building should take place in order to produce beer, when people could not get houses—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is making his intervention into a speech. I hope that he will reach a conclusion.

Mr. Cant

They were able to do that because technically beer is regarded as a food. I would not contest that for one moment. But the Minister should be wary.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 24 agreed to. [Special Entry]

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