HL Deb 29 January 1976 vol 367 cc1120-74

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Baroness TWEEDSMUIR of BELHELVIE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Rating of caravan sites in England and Wales]:

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 13, at end insert— ("( ) Except in the case of a site not previously rated as a caravan site the valuation officer shall not exercise his discretion to treat all or part of a site as a single hereditament less than two months before the beginning of the rating year in which that discretion is to have effect.").

The noble Lord said: This small Bill is perhaps more complicated than appears on the surface. Together with my noble friends, I have tabled a number of Amendments the principal object of which is to give an opportunity for Her Majesty's Government, in the person of the noble Baroness, to explain the operation of the Bill and to show good reason why the ends which our Amendments seek to achieve cannot be achieved by the Government accepting them or by some better means. We shall therefore be in a better position on Report to judge what should be done. My first Amendment also relates to Amendment No. 6, and the noble Baroness has agreed that it would be convenient for me to speak to both at the same time. The object of the Amendment is quite simple; it would avoid the effect of retrospection in the Bill, firstly in Clause 1, where the valuation officer is to exercise his option, and secondly in subsection (6), where an option can be exercised to alter the valuation list.

It is common practice for site operators to collect rents at the beginning of the year. They are, by this Bill, required to incorporate in the rent demands they send out an apportionment of the rates which are to be charged on the whole site, where the valuation officer exercises his option under Clause 1(1). If that option is to be exercised after the beginning of the valuation year, then site operators will not know how much the bill should be that they will be sending out to their tenants. They may in fact not know until after the letting season is over, by which time the caravan site occupants will have gone back to whatever smokey and wintry fastnesses they occupy in the unsunny months of the year. The operator will be required to pay the rates on their behalf, not having had an opportunity to collect them. I hope the noble Baroness will not feel that I have broached this subject too precipitately at the beginning of the debate and that she will be able to help us. I beg to move.


As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, explained, the purpose of this Amendment—and I am grateful to him for taking Nos. 1 and 6 together—is to ensure that the option which may be exercised, at the valuation officer's discretion, to rate caravan sites as a single unit must be made at least two months before the beginning of the rating year in which it is to take effect. The noble Lord is suggesting in a later Amendment that the Bill should not be effective until 1st April 1976. He will have seen that there is an Amendment down in my name, Amendment No. 7, more or less to the same effect. When we come to it, I shall explain why I think that the drafting of the Government Amendment is preferable. As we now agree with this, this means that the valuation officer cannot exercise his discretion until 1st April 1976 at the earliest.

If the noble Lord's Amendments are accepted, any proposal resulting from the exercise of this discretion made during the 1976–77 rate year would not be effective until April 1977. In addition, for procedural reasons, the second Amendment could cause a year's further delay, which will bring us to 1978. Thus, the rating authorities would have to continue to levy rates on all of the 250,000 separately assessed holiday caravans for the whole of the 1976–77 rate year, since the provision of the Bill could not be put into practical effect until 1977–78.

I agree with the noble Lord that this is a much more complicated Bill than I thought at the beginning. I think that we should stop calling it a little Bill. So far as contents are concerned, it is a large Bill in small clothes. In this case I am sure that the noble Lord would not wish to press an Amendment which would delay for a whole year the large savings in local authority expenditure which are the primary purpose of the Bill. I appreciate that site operators who have already collected rent for 1976–as we know the collection is usually some time in advance —may need to ask for an additional payment in respect of the caravans which are included in a single assessment. Nevertheless, as I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, site operators have been aware that this legislation is impending, and most will have ensured that any agreements would take account of the proposed changes. I have a copy here today of what I understand is a typical agreement. When it refers to the necessity to increase the licence fee, et cetera, it goes on to say: Since no decision has been arrived at regarding individual rating assessments of caravans, any adjustment brought about through Government legislation will have to be made at a later date as and when a final conclusion has been reached. Therefore, I think that one can assume that most of them are taking this into account and are already acting on it.

Any site operator who is about to enter into an agreement for the next year would be advised to ask his local valuation officer if he intends to apply the provisions of the Bill; so that is a further step that he can take. This information will help both site operators and caravanners to determine their commitments. Site operators are all fully aware of their opportunities to discuss matters with the valuation officer, and from our information there is usually a fairly constant to-in and fro-in and discussion between them. I should have thought that this would take care of the matter. The deletion of the words on page 2, line 25, from "it"—Amendment No. 6—to the end of line 27, would mean there is no date.


As this is a complex subject, would the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? Although we are considering these two Amendments in relation to each other, might it be helpful if we have an exchange on what she has said so far before we go on to the next half. I am in her hands. If she would prefer to extend her line of concentration further, I am willing for her to do so.

Baroness BIRK

No; this is onlya simple point. I was not going into an argument about it. I was going to say that, as Amendment No. 6 is drafted, it would mean that there is no date from which the deletion would have effect. There is a date crossed out altogether. I think that this hangs together, and I have now dealt with all of the difficult stuff. Finally, I think it would be inequitable to delay this because of the number of caravans which have already been separately assessed, and for the reason which we discussed. I explained at Second Reading that we have a situation in which some have been assessed separately and some have not, so there is a certain injustice. This would be perpetuated. It is complicated, I agree, but I think it is the core of the first part of it which is most complicated.

4.15 p.m.


I am indebted to the noble Baroness both for the lucidity of her reply and her concurrence with my view that this is a complicated Bill. What the noble Baroness seems to be smiling upon is a piece of legislation which can require a site operator to deliver to the Government monies which he has not been able to collect unless he has been very fortunate. Can the noble Baroness assure me that at the time when site operators customarily send out their bills, every site operator will not only be aware of the intended legislation, will not only assume that the intended legislation will pass both Houses of Parliament in its present and intended form, but that he will also be aware of the firm intentions of the local authority and of the valuation officer as to whether or not their options will be exercised under Clause 1(1)? Furthermore, will he know how much that option is to amount to. If not, we are asking him to make provision for an unknown quantity, which may not yet be required of him.

I accept that a person of great prudence will make provision in contracts entered into for Acts of government which have not yet come to fruition, but to assume that they all will, and to imply that they all must do this, could be inequitable. I think, also, that perhaps one ought to know more than I precisely do—I hope that my noble friend Lord Wakefield of Kendal will put me right on this—about the degree of transits of these site occupiers. If one is to have the sort of condition written into a contract to which the noble Baroness alluded earlier, it implies that the person who has not paid the first time round will be there to pay the second time round.

I ought to make two other points, one of which I hope is implicit from my opening remarks. None of these Amendments is intended to be perfect, and would not be pressed, as such at this stage. The other point is that I do not quite follow the noble Baroness's reasoning on the specific and, as she put it, simple point that a date had been deleted in Amendment No. 6, line 25 after "it ' to the end of line 27, because the Amendment specifies a date "less than two months before the beginning of the rating year ", so a date exists. It is in effect 1st April in any year, as I understand it. I do not think that there is a lack of precision. I do not think it matters too much whether or not we have some imprecision. because it is the principle of this and the mechanics of putting it right that we are after.

I should not be happy to save time at Committee stage by leaving this without a clear idea of how the difficulty can be overcome, because I think then we should quite possibly waste a good deal of time at Report stage. I accept, if the noble Baroness wishes to go away and think of that up to Report stage, that would be perfectly understandable. We are then in the procedural difficulty that Report stage is only seven days hence, and we could not reasonably expect her to reply to us before Wednesday or Thursday of next week, and she could not reasonably expect us to make up our minds on her reply by this day seven days. That is why I am anxious to discuss this coolly and at length at the present time.


I should like to support what my noble friend has said. This presents a great difficulty not only for the site operators but for those in occupation of caravans because of the uncertainty. We all know that where there is uncertainty there is bound to be difficulty. We appreciate the information already given by the noble Baroness in this complicated situation, but further information or, if need be, further exploration of the intentions behind this clause would be very acceptable, The important thing is to try to get this information over to the people concerned—that is, to the site operators and the quarter of a million occupants and owners of caravans who may be affected. There is not much time in which to do it and it will not he easy, but I suggest that it is important that whatever information is conveyed to these people is conveyed in very clear terms indeed so that there can be no uncertainty. We want no disputes or arbitration or other matters of that kind if they can possibly be avoided, so I strongly support what my noble friend Lord Elton has said.


I wonder whether I may intervene at this stage to raise a matter which has been put to my noble friend Lord Amulree by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I apologise to the noble Baroness for not having given notice of this point but it has only just come to my attention. As she knows, I am not by any means an expert in the province of pleasure caravans, although I have always taken a great interest in the problems of residential caravans. The point which has been raised by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities is that, although the Bill provides for the collection of rates by the site owners, it does not specify how the owners will allocate the rates to the individual lessees. Nor does it include any provision that the site operator must notify the tenants of the amounts he will charge.

As the debate so far has made clear, the site operator would be in no position to do that at the moment because, until the valuation officer has exercised his discretion to treat the site as a single hereditament for rating purposes and the site operator has had the opportunity of considering how the amount is to be apportioned among his tenants, there will be no figures which he can impart to them. Because the noble Baroness has referred to an Amendment which she is to move later to ensure that the provisions of Section 1 do not come into operation until 1st April, I believe I may point out that it may be some way into the 1976–77 fiscal year before the valuation officer has exercised his discretion, the amount of the rateable value of the heraditament has been approved and the site operator has made his calculation of the apportionment among his tenants and finally notified them of the amount for which each is liable. I am not quite sure what will be the contractual position.

Perhaps the noble Baroness can explain what will be the position if the site operator charges in advance for six months or a year and finds that there is an additional amount which has to be recovered by way of rates. In the event that the contingency is covered in the agreement there will be no problem and, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, there is a clause in the model agreements provided by the site operators which enables the operators to recover any rates for which they later find themselves responsible. However, as we discovered when talking about residential caravans, there are many site operators who belong neither to the National Caravan Council nor to the National Federation of Site Operators. Such people can adopt any agreement they please and it may or may not contain a provision such as the noble Baroness read out. I believe that it would be for the convenience of the Committee for it to be told what would be the contractual position as between the site operator and the tenant if there were no clause in the agreement to cover this eventuality. Perhaps the noble Baroness could at the same time discuss the notification to tenants, which I agree is not a matter for this year, since, until the discretion is exercised, there is nothing which tenants can be told. Does she not, however, think that in future years there should be some provision in the clause requiring the site operator to inform the tenant at the beginning of the financial year what amount of rates he will be liable for separately from any other charges which are to be imposed on him?

One further point occurs to me as a result of the second intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. It is that in many cases the tenancy of an individual pitch may change part of the way through a year. If the tenant is entitled to pay his rates by instalments as he would be under a residential agreement, and if, to take an example, he is present on the site for the first six months of the financial year 1977–78 and is paying the rates on a monthly basis, the site operator, assuming that he does not immediately re-let the pitch, will be saddled with the liability for the second half of the year without having a new tenant from whom to recover the amount. I should like the noble Baroness to explain how that would be dealt with under the provisions of the Bill.

4.27 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

The question of being aware of the situation already applies to some extent. It is clear from the form of contract that the site operators are reserving their position on the amount of the rates and, in any case, they already have to pay rates on the site itself. All that is new about this is the introduction of the leisure caravans and the pitches on which they stand. The rates for the rest of the site and the common ways and paths have anyhow had to be paid until now. So each year the site operators have had to wait to see what is the amount of rate from the relevant local authority. They appear to have managed quite successfully, considering the amount of business which is done and the increase in the number of caravans used in this country, and, to put it mildly, to make ends meet over this.

It is quite clear from what I read out from the model form that, as the decision has not been arrived at, any adjustment will have to be made at a later date. That is accepted by the caravanner who will have had to sign his contract and pay in advance and whose caravan will be in situ anyway. He will have committed himself to paying any additional amount which may arise. I should also point out that it is possible that the amount of rates may come down. It will be interesting to see what arrangements will be made for that to he passed on. In adopting a discretionary approach at this point, we are here following closely the provisions set out in Section 24 of I he General Rate Act 1967, which allows the valuation officer discretion to assess certain hereditaments as a single unit. The same discretion and the same problems exist in many other fields, but they seem to have been surmounted.

On the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, came back, it might be easier if I wrote to him about it as it is very technical but, as I see it, taking Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 together, he takes out the discretion. We have the following wording: … such a deletion shall not be made less than two months before the beginning of the rating year in which it is to have effect ", and we have no date at all. So this comes out altogether. There is no criticism of drafting here. Drafting is extremely difficult and I am bringing forward drafting Amendments myself.

The core of this Bill is concerned with facilitating matters for the rating authorities and it is to be of benefit to the caravaners. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, does not agree about this, but having had an opportunity to look into this matter since the Second Reading I cannot see that the site operator will be at this great disadvantage. I say this because up until now there have always been included in what we now call the site charges charges for electrical supply, insurance, water and services, and these have had to be collected with the rent. All one is saying is that there is this other slight extra ingredient, and proceeding in this way should be of benefit all round.

A point has been raised about a tenancy changing through the year and how this change will be known. The valuation for the single assessment will have regard to the rent which the site operator would pay on a year-to-year basis. It would also have regard to the average number of caravans on his site. He also has the right to make a proposal for a reduction at any time; a reduction in the number of caravans would be a ground for this. I believe that problems such as those which have been raised would be very unlikely because the same position would apply to the site operator obtaining rent and other charges. But if he is able to show—certainly in the first year—that through no fault of his own he has great difficulty in collecting what he considers is the rate contribution, he would be at liberty (and indeed it would be to his own benefit and it would be his duty) to discuss the matter with the valuation officer. This discussion between the site operator and the valuation officer must not be overlooked. Perhaps noble Lords are inclined to overlook this very important stage of the negotiations in the early part of the change-over. This discretion and this change affects so many things when something comes within the rateable area or goes out of it.

This brings me to another point which I shall deal with only briefly now, because I intended to refer to it in relation to a later Amendment. It is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about how the caravaner will know what is the rate ingredient in the payment he is making. I am very exercised about this point. It was not possible to bring forward an Amendment at this stage, because in the Department we were formulating our proposals on this matter. My line of thinking at present is that we should take steps, at any rate in the Bill, to ensure that the caravaner will at least be able to obtain information about the rating of a site as a whole and the number of rateable caravans. Speaking personally, I should like to be able to go further than that and, if possible, find a means of assessing the rate contribution for each separate caravan and have that stated on the notice or demand.

However, there are tremendous difficulties involved here, because we return to the main point, as expounded in Clause 1, which is that it is rated as a single hereditament. The result will be a lower rating for the individual caravaners—the general contribution should benefit the site operator as well—due to this rating as a single hereditament. Here the single should be smaller than the accumulation of the parts. I am entering into some form of pseudo-mathematical language on this point, but I am very concerned about it. If noble Lords are agreeable, I should like to come back on this at the Report stage.

I will take a careful note of the other points raised and I shall be able to examine them with greater care when I read them in Hansard tomorrow. As the noble Lord rightly said, this has been a probing Amendment, and it is important that the matter should be very carefully and fully discussed at this stage. But, having aired his views, I hope that the noble Lord will not withdraw the Amendments.


I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her remarks about the problem of information for the individual tenants on the site. This will go a long way to reassure the Association of Metropolitan Authorities about the general principle it has raised that a ratepayer is entitled to know what is the just amount of the charge. As I understood the noble Baroness, the Amendment which she is contemplating will require the site operator to give the tenant information about the total rate charged on the hereditament and the number of caravans to which it refers; so that, presumably by a simple division, he will be able to calculate what is the proper amount of rates chargeable on his individual pitch. But that does not quite get round the other point which the Association of Metropolitan Authorities made; namely, that there is no requirement in the Bill for the apportionment to be determined in this specific manner.

The implication of the remarks by the noble Baroness is that normally every pitch on a site would bear an equal portion of the total rate charged, and one would agree with that in most circumstances. But one can imagine certain sites, and indeed I know of some, where some caravan positions are far more favourable than others. For example, on holiday sites some pitches will be more adjacent to the beach than others, while some will be more remote than others. In such circumstances it might be quite proper and reasonable to have a different rate contribution according to where the caravans are placed.

I do not know how this point can be got round in drafting, and I can see that the noble Baroness has a difficulty, particularly as there are, I understand, only seven days before the Report stage. I certainly would not push this point at the Committee stage, knowing that the noble Baroness has it under consideration, but if she could say what general principles she thinks ought to be applied in determining the apportionment, it would be helpful to those of us who are considering whether or not we should put down Amendments before the Report stage.


I am much obliged to the noble Baroness for what she said. On the whole, we are friendly to the aims of this Bill. It reduces the cost of both administration and tenancy, and we are in favour of that—I see that the noble Baroness looks surprised. But the noble Baroness has not altogether answered the points which I put forward, as she will find on reading through what I said earlier. I am encouraged that she has already met a point I was going to raise later, and which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has now raised, about the information being given to the tenant, which bears on the related matter of an appeals procedure. I take it that she has in mind some sort of printed form on which the necessary information on the breakdown of the charge made to the tenant would be shown by the site operator. May I ask that it should not be a hideously complicated piece of paper, but a very simple one, when everybody's life will be both happier and longer.

Perhaps I may revert (so that the noble Baroness can consider this when I withdraw the Amendment) to the matter of the uncertainty in retrospection introduced by this provision in the Bill. The noble Baroness has said nothing to enable us to suppose that the site operator may not be faced with the duty of filling in this form, which we do not yet know about, when he does not know what is to go on it. Obviously that must be attended to in the drafting of the Bill. But the noble Baroness said that this is only a small part of site charges and that the operator is accustomed to collecting a number of other items and putting them into the whole. If that is so, would it not be possible, at the point at which she says there should be discussion with the valuation officer, for there is to be a procedure whereby a site operator who was unable to meet his commitment under the Act, as it will be, to collect the money for reasons beyond his control, could have a remission, if it is such a small amount, of the rates? This would avoid an inequitable charge or the man being compelled, in effect, to commit a misdemeanour.

4.42 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

Before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment, as he has indicated he will—and I am grateful to him—I should like to say another word on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and, again, by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as I pointed out, this is at a formulative stage, and some of the remarks I am making will, I fear, fill the lawyers in my Department with horror. So when I am speaking on these legal matters I am speaking on my own, and am just feeding it in to see how it works out.

The big problem here, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is probably aware —and I have been through this myself in discussion—is that the site operator is for these purposes the ratepayer. It is a single hereditament. It is extremely difficult—and I have been arguing with lawyers over this for three days to try to find a way in which one can really get an apportionment of that part of the rate. The noble Lord put his finger on some of the difficulties when he pointed out that some caravans may have a better position and, also, some will be bigger than others. There is also the whole question of the mixed hereditament, which again is of advantage to the caravanners, because it gives them the domestic ingredient. Because of these really extremely difficult problems, at the moment I am advised that it is virtually almost impossible to apportion separately what would be an individual caravan's contribution, if you like, to the general rate of the single hereditament, short of going back to the system which we are trying to depart from because it is so costly and needs so many personnel at a time when we are trying to reduce costs and personnel that is to say, without going back to a separate assessment. So we are between the two.

So the line we are following at the moment—and this is without prejudice to anything I may say at Report stage—is really to use a rather rough yardstick in order to give an indication, so that when a caravanner is told, say, that the charges have gone up by so much because of the rate ingredient in them, he has some idea by means of, for instance, a notice posted on the site or a leaflet, which he can be given on demand, explaining what the situation is in broad terms. I can promise the Committee that if we can find a way to be more detailed and also practical about it, certainly we shall do so, and I shall be only too happy to come forward with an Amendment which covers it as far as possible.

Then the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made the point that, if we are able to propose a form, it should not be hideously complicated. He is pushing at an open door there because I feel very strongly that we should explain things as simply as possible. At the moment, on an Amendment, I do not think I can discuss the question of remission. We are now getting down to individual cases; and, in any event, not only in the case of caravans but with all sorts of rating problems, arrangements are made between the ratepayer and the valuation officer. I think that at this stage I must leave it at that. I do not think it would be possible to write into this Bill something about a remission without it being not only extraordinarily complicated but also inapplicable.

I would say finally that if a site operator is quite prepared to go ahead—and these are the lettings for the 1976 season —and to say that, since no decision has been arrived at, any adjustment will have to be made at a later date as and when a final conclusion has been reached, then one must accept that the site operator is going ahead with his business, is making arrangements and is arranging contracts with caravanners, and is content to do so. If not, he would not be proceeding in this way.


If I may take the noble Baroness's points in reverse, I think she should not assume, because she has encountered one prudent soldier, that everybody's powder is dry and we are concerned with the less prudent. She also said, as I expected, that a remission would not be something she would smile upon; but she further said that discussions could be held between the person who had to pay the rates and the valuation officer. When she originally raised this matter it was in the context of the person who had to pay the rates not having received the money with which to pay them. Therefore, unless the valuation officer had some authority to vary his activities as a result of those discussions—because he will already have made the valuation—the discussions, it seems to me, would be of little value. However, I hope it will be possible for there to be a communication from the noble Baroness before we come to Report stage, which would make it easier if we are to take the Report stage early, though I recognise that this will place a great burden on her and her advisers. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.49 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 15, leave out (" including ") and insert (" excluding ").

The noble Lord said: We are probing again. Here, what we are saying is that where a caravan is not on a site valued as a single hereditament the caravan site occupier should be rated and the the site operator should be only the agent for the collection of the rates. This relates to the new clause tabled as Amendment No. 9. It is only probing. It looks straight at the basic concept of the Bill, and in fact bears very strongly on the remarks made by the noble Baroness at the end of the last Amendment. Case law has established that a caravan can be rateable if it satisfies given conditions. This places the rate burden fairly on the owners of caravans, and this principle has not been objected to by caravan owners in general experience, provided that the level of the rate is reasonable.

If the method now proposed by this Bill is adopted, it would distort the appeal court decision by transferring the liability for the rates on the caravan accommodation from the caravan owner to the park owner. It could be preferable to see the individual caravan owners continue to be rated and the park owner made responsible for the collection of the rates. This could in part answer some of the difficulties already encountered. This could be done under Sections 55 and 56 of the General Rate Act 1967. The purpose of this Amendment is to make way for the later new Clause 9, and I think that I have said enough now to give the noble Baroness good cause to say where she stands on this approach to the problem.

Baroness BIRK

As I understood when reading it and from what the noble Lord has said, it does not seem to make such difference which way round it is put; so at this point I would say that, subject to any second thoughts between now and Report stage, I accept this in principle; but I should prefer to redraft it because it could be drafted in a slightly tighter way and bring it back on Report. This is provided that some awful, knotty, problem is not shown to me in between. At the moment it would appear that there is no objection in principle to this.


I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. We will not press it at this stage, and I hope that no thorny problem will arise. It is something that we can discuss outside the Chamber before the Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.52 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: May I speak at the same time to Amendment No. 10? We here broach the difficult matter of the basis on which the decision is made whether a site is commercial, mixed or domestic. The effect of the Amendment is to leave out subsection (4), and I hope that it will also have the effect of giving the noble Baroness the opportunity to explain in some detail what will be the effect of subsection (4) if it is left in. It seems to me that most caravan sites will have the option exercised upon them. There are factors which could make them mixed, more in favour of the commercial than the domestic part of the mixture. If on a mixed hereditament a large proportion of the caravan owners opted to become individually rated under Clause 1(7)—and I know that the noble Baroness has assured us they will not and that it is intended this shall be done only by people suffering from a disability which will enable them to claim benefits they would not otherwise get—it remains the fact that if they are not satisfied with the opportionment of rates they receive and if there is no clear appeal procedure between them and the site operator (that is, nothing more clear than that existing in the Bill), the recourse for anybody who feels hard done, anybody in the position, as Lord Avebury suggested, who is paying the same rates at the back of the park next to the sewage works as does one who is at the cliff edge, his simple recourse is to say:" This is not fair. I don't trust you. I will have myself rated individually ". If a quarter of the site did that, the remainder could be deemed to be commercial for the balance would be changed and even the caravan owners who do not opt for individual rating would become commercially rated to their disadvantage. It is not dear whether these consideration; are taken into account in the drafting. This is in the nature of a probing Amendment to discover the Government's intention and to ensure that caravans are subject to the domestic rate. Later, we approach this in another way and if the noble Baroness could lead us through this particular thicket now we should be much obliged.


I would support my noble friend in objecting to the involved wording of this particular subsection. This subsection must be understood by the Inland Revenue, and they can understand anything. It must also be understood by the valuation officers, and I suppose they can understand it; also by the rating authority, and I think they might understand it. But it must also be understood by the fellow who owns the caravan site. I defy the noble Baroness to tell us that more than one in ten of those will have the least idea of what it means.

Baroness BIRK

I shall attempt to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, what the subsection means. I am grateful to them for finding this rather hard going. I thought that I was the only one who did so and it is nice to find others, obviously highly intelligent, who find it difficult. I learned that our rating law is very difficult to express in simple language. I had believed that anything, however difficult, could be expressed in simple language; but I think that rating foxes me; it is the exception to the golden rule. I believe that if the noble Lord, Lord Elton, looks again at subsection (4) he will find that it has the same objectives as he has and is trying to insert by means of his Amendments.

The aims of this clause are to ensure that the impact of rates on the caravanners will be less than would have been the case of the partly domestic and partly separately assessed and they continued to be liable to the local authority for rates. He raised that point when he made the distinction between the hypothetical case of the partly domestic and partly commercial site. First, we have allowed for the hereditament to be valued direct to the net annual value. I have already written to the noble Lord about this. I hope that he now appreciates that this provision in the clause ensures that a lower and more realistic net annual value will be proposed than if the hereditament was first assessed to gross value, which would be the approach if it were not for this clause and this subsection.

Secondly, it provides that all caravans in a single assessment occupied by anyone else than the site owner should be treated as private dwellings. The affect will be that in the majority of cases that the new single hereditaments will be classed as mixed hereditaments and will qualify for half domestic rate relief. That is one of the points the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned. To qualify as a mixed hereditament, the value attributable to the domestic part of the property must be greater than the value attributable to the rest of it otherwise there would be no benefit. If Clause1(4) is deleted, the new single units will be automatically classed as commercial and in that case they would not get half the domestic rate relief. Furthermore, they will be valued initially to gross value and this means that the resulting net annual value will be higher than it would be under this clause.

The noble Lord also spoke to Amendment No. 10. This Amendment is puzzling, because it is what we are seeking to do under subsection (4) which the noble Lord wishes us to delete. Our view is that if our subsection stands and then he withdraws his Amendment No. 4 there is no need for his Amendment No. 10. I do not see how this explanation could possibly satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, but it is correct. I agree that this is complicated language, but I have already sent a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I hope my explanation has helped. He will see that the objective he is after, which I appreciate, is dealt with in Clause 1(4), the very subsection he wants to delete.


I said at the outset that this Amendment was something of a stratagem to enable the noble Baroness to say what she has said. I thank her for her full letter in which she justified the rating to net annual value, and explained that this assures the availability of domestic relief. However, from that point she began to lose me. She said that the effect of subsection (4) is that when the proportion of caravans in the hereditament that are rated together as one item falls below half the value of the site, then those caravans will not be rated domestically but commercially.

If I withdraw Amendment No. 4, we are left with the fall-back of Amendment No. 10. That would have the effect that Clause 1(4) would be in force. It would provide all the benefits which the noble Baroness used to extol its virtues, but it would not have the effect of causing those caravans that were on a hereditament which had lost its balance of 50 per cent. of domestic rating to be commercially rated.

Our Amendment No. 10 is therefore a great deal more important than Amendment No. 4, which was what in the Army used to be called "speculative fire", provoking a response which is useful and informative. That has already been done. I think the noble Baroness will accept it that if we agree with her explanation on Amendment No. 4, then Amendment No. 10 will have the virtue of extending the panacea which she attributes to subsection (4) to all the caravans and not just 49 per cent. of them.


I thank the noble Baroness for her explanation. I may be dense, but there is one point I do not understand; that is, what is the difference between the types of site? In one case the site owner may let a site to other people who pay him a rent. The other case is where he owns the caravans and lets them out. If he lets the caravans out, I cannot see any difference in rating between a commercial undertaking and a domestic one because it appears to be a commercial undertaking. I wonder whether the authors of the Bill have defined a difference between these two types of undertaking. I imagine they have somewhere or other, but I have not been able to follow it.

Baroness BIRK

As I understand Lord Hawke's point, if a number of caravans are occupied by the site operator, it is likely—he will not be living in them all —that they will be used for commercial purposes. Where they are let out to different occupiers, they attract the domestic relief because they are being lived in by the caravanners. Listening to what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, I will consider further whether it is necessary to cover a rare case where the site would not be a mixed hereditament. That seems to he the one outstanding point to which both noble Lords referred and if the noble Lord will withdraw Amendments Nos. 4 and 10I will undertake to consider it.


The noble Baroness did not cover the point regarding a bare site let either permanently, by the night or week, to people who bring their own caravans to the site. I am not sure whether that case is covered.

Baroness BIRK

The noble Lord is referring to touring caravans. This Bill is concerned with leisure caravans situated on a site for longer than a transient period, which means not less than a year. This Bill has nothing to do with the "one-nighters "to which the noble Lord referred.


I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. Of course she needs to look at this. If she can find means of showing the likelihood of a frequent occurence of the situation I have described, that would be helpful. If she would also consider the principle that caravans covered by the Bill might always be considered as described in Amendment No. 10 which is possibly a slightly different proposition, and that it will not involve too major research, then I happily withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.7 p.m.

Lord WAKEFIELD of KENDAL moved Amendment No. 5: Page 2, line 14, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: I hope it will be for the convenience of the Committee if we discuss Amendments Nos. 5 and 8 together. Amendment No. 5 seeks to confine a site owner's right of appeal to the whole hereditament without reference to any part of it. Surely this must be wrong in equity, because the valuation officer has had to have regard to all the separate parts in drawing up his valuation. It ought to be possible for him to be questioned and perhaps challenged upon any such part. If this is not allowed, how can it be possible for any determination to be made of the fairness and the accuracy of the proposed valuation?

The valuation of the whole hereditament is mixed. There will be the commercial part, and again it ought to be possible to have the details of how that part of the hereditament is valued. It must be right for the site owner to know how the domestic part of the hereditament comprising the pitches and caravans is calculated. He should be entitled to know the basis of the valuation of this domestic side of the total valuation of the hereditament as well as of the commercial part. If a site owner is to be left completely in the dark regarding these matters, it is not fair to him or the caravan occupier, upon whom the cost of this imposition ultimately falls. Site owners would then have to decide on the charge to be made to the caravan owner or occupier and, if challenged, would be in no position to justify the amount proposed to be charged.

In this connection, I would suggest that it is desirable that provision be made in the Bill for the settlement of any dispute which may arise. That is the purpose of the proposal to include a new subsection (9), according to Amendment No. 8. It is suggested that in the event of a dispute over this matter there should be a reference to arbitration. I would suggest that in view of the provisions of the Bill, the owner or occupier of a caravan could challenge the right of a site owner to pass on the charges. I hope the Government will look sympathetically at this problem with a view to ameliorating what I am sure the noble Baroness will agree is an unfair and unsatisfactory position, one which ought to be tidied up. I beg to move.


It may be for the convenience of the Committee to know that in Amendment No. 11, which is a new clause, subsection (3) advances an alternative method of appeal. If the noble Baroness wants to draw that into her net at this stage I would not object, though she may wish to discuss it later.

Baroness BIRK

I have rather a lot to discuss. The noble Lord, Lord Wakefield, brought in his Amendment No. 8 with this one and perhaps we might take those together, even if it means our having to go over the same arguments again, although we do not want to become too confused. I can see exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield, is aiming at in his Amendment regarding the right to object, and as it seems on the surface very much in line with the line of thought I have been following on the rights of the caravanner—rights which concern me as much as those of the operator—I can see the motivation behind it. However, I regret that I cannot accept the Amendment; after much careful thought I have come to the conclusion that if we were to allow individual caravanners the right to object to the new single assessments, which is different from objecting to the assessment for themselves, then it is important that we do not confuse these two things. We could find ourselves in a situation where one caravanner on a site, which might have hundreds of caravans on it, could, by objecting, hold up the entry of the rateable value of the combined unit in the list. One could therefore find just one caravanner objecting to a proposal that it should be treated as a single hereditament, which is quite different from somebody objecting to being part of it themselves, and we feel that this would be grossly unfair.

But we have taken steps to protect the rights of the individual caravanner in another way, and it may be that the noble Lord is referring to this by enabling the caravanner under Clause 1(7) to opt for a separate assessment, although we feel, for the reasons I gave in our extended discussion of the first Amendment, that it would be rarely in his interests to do so. As I pointed out on Second Reading, the position would be similar in the case of a disabled person. The site operator has the right to object to the valuation on the new single assessment and the valuation officer would always be willing to discuss how the assessment had been arrived at, so he could discuss the quantum of it. This is not a case of something strange appearing in the Bill; there are many instances where the ratepayer, whether living in a house, in a block of flats or in some other property where there is a mixture of commercial and domestic property or where there may be complications, discusses the assessment with the valuation officer. The site operator is in exactly the same position here. Where the caravanner wants a separate assessment—although, as we have seen, it would rarely be to his advantage to do so, and therefore it is unlikely that he would ask, unless he is disabled—then he has the right to say so. This right is not taken from him.


I am obliged to the noble Baroness for what she has said, but I am afraid I have not understood it. Subsection (5) clearly says: … the reference to any part of the hereditament shall be omitted. That refers to the right to object, so when the noble Baroness says that the site operator can discuss with the valuation officer how the valuation is made up, I do not see how that can be possible, for the Bill says that he is not allowed to do it. It specifically says, as I understand the words, that he is not allowed to do it. That is the point of my Amendment; it is really an exploratory Amendment to try to resolve the position because, quite frankly, what the noble Baroness said did not seem to tie up with what is in the Bill. I would be grateful if she would explain how a site operator can discuss an assessment with a valuation officer when in fact the Bill says he cannot.

Baroness BIRK

The Bill does not say that he cannot discuss it with the valuation officer. The noble Lord wants to leave out the whole of that subsection, but all that the subsection does is to remove from the individual caravanner the right to object to the valuation officer's proposal for the new single hereditament. I think, with respect, that the noble Lord has become a little confused about this. The subsection refers to any individual being able to hold up the whole proposal. The noble Lord then went on to discuss the difficulty a site operator might have if there was no right to object to the assessment, and I pointed out that in the new single assessment, which would then be a single hereditament, the valuation officer would always be willing to discuss with him how the assessment had been arrived at. The objection there is that of a caravanner saying, "I do not think that this should be a single hereditament ". That objection we are not allowing, and I think that when the noble Earl considers it he will find that it makes sense. We are not saying that somebody who says, "I am personally opting out ", should not be able to do so, although I gather it would probably be to his grave disadvantage to do so.


I cannot find anything in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to say to what particular type of tenancy this refers. If the owner of the site is to be assessed for rates and is unable, or refuses, to pay them, will it be possible for the rating authority to sell up the private caravans located on the site? I do not know whether that point could arise, but if it could, how would such an injustice be impossible under the Bill?

Baroness BIRK

On that last point, it is very unlikely to arise. I think I should like to write to the noble Lord so that I can be quite correct about it. On his other point, what I want to stress is that the site operator still has the right to object to its being a single hereditament. What we are saying is that you cannot have odd caravanners standing out and stopping the rating process for the whole lot. If the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, would prefer it, I will write to him on the other point, and I will also write to the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield. Although we have had a rather lengthy discussion, it will probably be helpful if I set out the position in case I have missed out any points.


I believe that the noble Baroness was intending to go on to Amendment No. 8, which we are taking with this Amendment, but I interrupted her and she very kindly gave way.

Baroness BIRK

If we speak to it now, perhaps the noble Lord will not wish to move it later. For the benefit of the Committee, I should explain that Amendment No. 8 provides for disputes between caravanners and site operators over the amount of rates payable in respect of a caravan pitch to be referred to arbitration. I can appreciate what is behind this Amendment, but again I am afraid that I cannot advise the Commit tee to accept it. I should begin by pointing out that there is a technical defect in the drafting—although that is not the main objection—which conveniently explains my argument against the substance of the Amendment.

The Amendment refers to the, amount of the rate payable in respect of such pitch". But under the Bill rates as such will not be payable in respect of the pitch; they will be payable only in respect of the composite new unit of assessment. What the caravanner will be paying is a rent or charge to the site operator at a level fixed by the site operator to cover rates, among all the other expenses of running the site. Unless the site operator himself states that a specific amount is intended to cover the rates, it is not possible to identify the precise sum which is attributable to rates. As I explained, this is one of the problems of not being able to set out the rates ingredient precisely, as one can in many other cases.

Let me for a moment assume that one has identified a rates element in the site operator's charges and knows precisely how much it is. If the Amendment were accepted. somebody might go to arbitration about the amount. Let me further suppose that the arbitrator finds in favour of the caravanner and reduces the sum. We then have the position that the site operator has apportioned his rates bill among all the caravanners, and one apportionment has been found to be wrong in one direction—either too high or too low. But if the operator is to be able—as clearly he must—to charge the whole of his rate bill, this must mean that at least one of the other apportionments is wrong in the other direction; indeed, they may all be wrong in one direction or other. That indicates the kind of chaos into which one could be led if one pursued this Amendment—however worthy its intentions—to its logical conclusion.

I am afraid that site operators would simply load their total charge sufficiently to cover the risk of arbitrators' findings going against them, which would be another ingredient going into the site charge—not to mention the cost which they would have to bear in bringing proceedings—and the total situation would thus be thoroughly inflationary. Remembering what the noble Lord said on Second Reading about inflation, I do not think he will want to pursue this very interesting probing Amendment now that I have explained the position in some considerable detail.

5.26 p.m.


May I ask the noble Baroness to imagine a hypothetical situation? Let us suppose that, full of years and honour, she decides in her declining years to take a caravan on a site such as we are talking about. Her identity is not known in the first year, but in the second year it is revealed to the caxavan site operator, who, I am sure, would be unique in such unpleasant conduct, that she has a political background of which he disapproves, or perhaps he does not like people with red hair—the reason is immaterial and we would sympathise with her in her predicament —and he then transfers £1,000 of the £1,025 rates on the site on to her pitch. What would she do about that? I am sure that she would remonstrate; she is a person of resource and vigour and will, I am sure, continue to be so in her declining years. Under this Bill, could she do anything except hitch her caravan to her motor car and go elsewhere?

Baroness BIRK

I do not like the words" declining years ", which the noble Lord repeated so often. I have tremendous admiration for people who live in caravans, but caravanning is the last thing that I would ever dream of doing in either my declining or ascending years. But I do not think such an iniquitous situation would arise. One reason is that we are starting at a much lower level of differentiation. As I explained earlier on Amendment No. 1, I am very seriously considering the best way of making known to caravanners what is equitable. The hypothetical example of the noble Lord would immediately indicate that I was being asked to pay very much over the odds, and I should at once protest to the rating authority.


Is there a provision in the Bill for the noble Baroness to do that?

Baroness BIRK

Anybody always has a right to go to the town hall and see the valuation officer. What I think would happen in that situation—if the noble Lord would allow me to finish—is that the caravanners on a site would probably get together and form a tenants' association, such as one sees elsewhere, and would try to make sure that they were treated as equitably as possible. One hopes that they would demand to know why their site charges had gone up enormously, and would ask the site operator what it was all about. If he said that the increase was due to the fact that the rates had gone up by what seemed an outrageous amount, they could make inquiries as to whether that was so. If I were put in that position—in the unlikely event of my having a caravan—I could ask for a separate account. In a case such as the noble Lord mentioned, it would obviously be beneficial to me to have a separate assessment, rather than be part of the whole hereditament. Beyond that, if somebody really wanted to "rook" an individual caravanner like that, he could do it today by including in the rent agreement, the site charge, the contract or whatever it is called, a clause stating that it covers insurance, rent and charges. In fact, the model form which I read out begins, "I am sorry, but I have to increase your charges this year ". Finally, as the noble Lord said, I could hitch it to my back and move or sell it to him.

5.30 p.m.


Could the noble Baroness explain the position which might arise on a site that at the beginning of a season was only two-thirds occupied and had a previous history of partial occupancy? If the total site charge is to be spread it can be spread only over those who are under contract. If more people enter into the contract as the season, or seasons, progress, how are adjustments to be made? I do not have quite the same faith as the noble Baroness has in the site operator. This kind of arrangement suggests to me that under one very large umbrella get lumped a number of charges, including the rate, the water rate, the electricity, the ground rent and any other charges. It is a very strong-minded person who will sort this out. Mostly he is prepared to accept it.

I can assure the noble Baroness that steadily over the years charges on this kind of site have gone up and up. For example, let me take the electricity charge. This, and I quote: for convenience of administration will be charged at 2.1p per unit ", whereas, in fact, the charge is 2001p per unit. Therefore, the site operator is making a great deal of money, but it is not really worth arguing about. Exactly the same can happen with the rate, only here a much larger amount of money is involved. After all, the site operator is human and it is unlikely that he will say, "I'm going to challenge this ". The easy way out for him is to say, "That's too bad. I have 500 or 1,000 tenants or licensees and I will just spread it ". The trouble with this kind of bulk charge system is that it becomes a great big envelope into which everything is swept and nobody knows the answer. From all that the noble Baroness has said so far, I do not see any way out of this.


I support what my noble friend has said. Admittedly, ladies with red hair and Socialist principles are not very plentiful, but they are by no means unique. I feel that the site operator has the opportunity to discriminate in favour of his friends and against his enemies; but he will be put in a quite impossible position in the event of a site not being fully occupied, because presumably the site will always he rated as if it were full. If it is supposed to cover 50 and for part of the year only 25 people are there, how does the operator charge? Does he divide the total rate bill among 25 and then discover a few months later that there are 50 people on his site? Either the money will go into his pocket or he will have to make very complicated returns to these people in respect of varying periods of occupation. I am sure that the Bill is well meaning but it absolutely bristles with practical difficulties of this kind.

Baroness BIRK

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has raised basic points, some of which were discussed earlier. I should have thought quite the reverse. I do not know whether the noble Lord was in the Chamber at the time, but I explained at some length my anxiety about caravanners not knowing what was the rate ingredient and said that I was trying very hard to find a way round it so that they would know at least that part of the charge. This is the only area with which this Bill is concerned. The noble Lord widened his argument to cover all the other charges —rent and so on—but this Bill is concerned with rating. ft was because I was aware that it becomes a package that I wanted, so far as is humanly possible, to find a way by which one could protect the caravanner who would be subjected to exploitation in respect of this extra ingredient as well as the others. I am hoping to try to find some way round the problem so as to be able to introduce an Amendment on Report. I am well aware of the problem and of the difficulties. But it is not new. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree with me that it has not arisen as a result of the Government's plans to introduce this legislation that lie is referring to a much wider issue.

The price controls are applicable so far as site operators are concerned. In most circumstances, the charges made by them are subject to the counter-inflation legislation, certainly where the occupation of an individual plot on the site is by licence and where some element of service is provided. This will be the case on almost all of the sites covered by this Bill. Therefore, the site owner must relate any increase in charges to increases in costs specified as allowable by the price code. The owner will also be subject to control of his net profit margin, and where the sites are owned by companies and many are—with sales in excess of £5 million they will be required to notify the Price Commission of intended price increases. The profit margins of smaller firms are liable to check by the Price Commission's regional offices. There are, therefore, checks, if they are used. The noble Lord implied that many people unfortunately accept these charges without taking any action. I agree with him. That is why the discussions on these points arc of importance and of even wider application.

The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, supported these points and I believe I have answered the points he raised in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. If, however, I have omitted a reply to a specific point made by him, perhaps the noble Lord will be kind enough to remind me of it.


My principal point is that presumably the site owner is rated on the whole of his site as if it were fully occupied. In practice it may be half-occupied for a portion of the year. He pays the rates, and charges the full rates to the "half-occupiers ", but when other occupiers come on to the site he gets the same out of them also.

Baroness BIRK

I thank the noble Lord for reminding me of his point. The number of caravans on which the assessment will be made will bearrived at after discussion between the site operator and the valuation officer and it will have to be an average figure. So supposing the site should hold 300 caravans but in fact it is usually occupied by 250, then the assessment would be made on 250. If in the following year the number dropped to 200 it would be up to the site operator to discuss the matter again with the valuation officer. If the number rose then the valuation officer would have to approach the site operator for an adjustment to be made. But this again is not peculiar to this situation.


Arising out of that reply, what is the position, if the rate is to be levied upon the site and van as a complete unit, when on one pitch you have a four berth van while on the next pitch you have a six berth van? Or what happens in the event of one or the other of those vans being changed on a pitch during the season? This is quite a likely possibility, provided a site operator allows a variety of vans on his site. It would he quite wrong, of course, for a four berth non-luxury van to be rated precisely the same as a six-berth luxury van.

Baroness BIRK

But the rating is on the site, the single hereditament. Within that sphere the site operator has to adjust or apportion the amount. If in the charge to the person with the smaller caravan he says, "It has been increased by £x because of the rates ", and that person suspects that he is being overcharged, because it would be part of the whole site charge, he has the right to object. He also has the right to go direct to the Price Commission. Also, if the caravanners get together they will soon find out who is paying for what. But that is the way in which the operator apportions it. He is responsible for the whole sum. It is not for the valuation officer to say to him, "You put so much on the site charge for this caravan or that caravan ". That is what might be called the domestic housekeeping, and where that is not done equitably it is the fault of the site operator, and then it becomes a matter between the site operator and the caravanners.


I do not wish to pursue this any further because the noble Baroness has been generous in her responses. However, as a parting shot and not meaning to be too acid about it, I think it is grossly unfair that the site operator—and, as I have already said, from my personal experience, I do not have quite as much faith in site operators as perhaps the noble Baroness has—is doing the job of the valuation officer, and I can foresee a great deal of dissent and disharmony in what in the past have been peaceable little caravan retreats. On the wider issue, in my view it is quite wrong that it has been inherent in local affairs and business affairs over the past few years (whichever Government have been in power) to saddle the individual businessman with the responsibility for that which has normally been carried out by the authorities.


We must all be grateful to the noble Baroness for the very full explanation she has given on Amendments Nos. 5 and 8. I should like to consider carefully what she has said. There has been a full discussion, which I think was most worthwhile and desirable. Many people are interested in this matter and no doubt it will be possible for them to read in Hansard what has been said. In view of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 5.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.43 p.m.

Lord ELTON had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 25, leave out from (" it ") to end of line 27 and insert (" such a deletion shall not be made less than two months before the beginning of the rating year in which it is to have effect.").

The noble Lord said: We spoke to this on Amendment No. 1 and therefore I shall not pursue the matter.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 3, line 5, at end insert— (" (9) This section shall not come into force before 1st April 1976.").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment arose because during the Second Reading debate the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, expressed the fear that if the Bill came into force before 1st April, it would be possible for site operators in England and Wales to be made liable for rates on the whole site and caravans for 1975/76. As I said in my speech during the Second Reading debate, this was not our intention, but to put the matter beyond doubt, and in order to please the noble Lord, I have tabled this Amendment. I hope that the Committee will approve this in preference to the Opposition's Amendment on the same point. That provides that the Bill shall come into force on 1st April. If the Bill does not get the Royal Assent until after that date, it will require further amendment on this point. The Government's Amendment has been drafted in such a way as to overcome this difficulty, and the effect of it is that the Act will come into force on the date of Royal Assent or 1st April whichever is the later. I beg to move.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness because this is helpful to us also. It ties in with the question of retrospection, and on that we await what she has to say between now and the Report stage. Beyond that I would say that it is a small step in the right direction.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


I think the briefer we can be on this, the better. There is some doubt about how soon this Bill can be got into operation even if it comes into effect on 1stApril. There is one point left over from the Second Reading debate which the noble Baroness might like me to refer to; it is the question of the incompatibility of water rating and general rating when it comes to certain provisions for remissions which are retrospective. The noble Baroness was kind enough to write to me at length on this and I accepted her explanation: the legislation is piecemeal throughout the country. As well as the two pieces of legislation not matching each other, it applies beyond the area of effect of this Bill and I am glad the noble Baroness has assured me that the whole problem is being looked at in order that the process may be harmonised in all areas for the future.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 9: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

Collection of Rates

Where a caravan park has leisure caravans sited on it which are capable of being individually rated, the owner (or occupier) of the land comprising such park shall be responsible for the collection of the rates in respect of the accommodation afforded by such caravans when they are in separate ownership. The valuation officer shall separately assess and enter on the valuation list all leisure caravans that are on the park and not in the ownership of the park owner and the rating authority shall levy rates on these valuations but shall appoint the site operator as their agent for the collection of such rates (without liability for the default of any rateable person) and shall be authorised to pay such site operator a commission.

The noble Lord said: We have covered a great deal of this ground already. This is a way of converting the site operator into a rate collector and thus relieving him of the burden which alarmed my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth a few moments ago. It is not closely drafted and I hope the noble Baroness therefore will not feel it necessary to spend time on the effects of errors. She may like to summarise briefly her view of why it would not be possible to resolve the difficulty in this way, as she has already outlined.

I believe I am right in saying that the great majority of individual pitches have already been assessed under the existing law, so that there would be no enormous, crippling burden of work on the local authority to be performed immediately, although, of course, there would be a sustained burden in running a system which I think she may well convince us we should like to see wound up. I beg to move.

5.50 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

I have some difficulty in understanding how this new clause fits into the Bill because although the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said constantly that he is basically in favour of the Bill—but has just picked out certain points about which he is concerned—it adopts such a fundamentally different approach to the whole problem that if this were accepted it would beat at the central core of the Bill. As an additional clause, it would be quite meaningless unless the whole of Clause 1 were dropped. As we are not prepared to do that it does not have any place in the Bill. However, the noble Lord quite rightly asked me to explain the reason and I will try so to do.

When we orginally considered how we might tackle the problem of collecting rates on leisure caravans, we considered the possibility of a Section 55 approach. Section 55 of the General Rate Act 1967 gives local authorities discretion to rate the owners instead of the occupiers, of certain hereditaments and provides that if the owner pays the rates demanded before the end of the first half of the period to which the demand relates, the rating authority must make an allowance equal to 10 per cent. of the amount payable. This provision cannot apply at the moment to the caravan situation because in the majority of cases the site operators are not the owners of the caravans. It would have been a relatively simple matter to introduce legislation to meet this point, although after seeing the Bill and hearing the complicated Amendments moved today, I hesitate to say that rating is a simple matter. The Section 55 approach would have relieved many of the rate collection problems faced by local authorities once the rateable values on the separately assessed caravans had been entered in the valuation list. But as noble Lords must be aware, the problems which can arise before the assessments go into the list are legion.

The valuation officer has to make a proposal for each caravan, identify the individual caravans and serve the notices. To do this, he must have access to the caravans. This involves crossing the site, which many site owners have resisted. Invariably, caravan owners are not present to take delivery of the notice, so it is attached to the caravans, which are often on exposed coastal sites; the notices are blown away or otherwise lost. Finally, there is the problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, force- fully drew attention on Second Reading that of identifying individual caravans when one has what we might call a shifting element in the caravan population. The kind of approach which is being advocated in this new clause would do nothing whatever to alleviate the considerable problems arising in valuing caravans as separate units; nor would it completely remedy the problems of local authorities. They would still have the task of listing the separate assessments on the rate demand, and for those authorities with thousands of such caravans this would not be an easy matter.

I am rather surprised to see that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has attached his name to this Amendment because he has already brought before your Lordships a proposal for Scottish legislation, similar in principle to the present Bill. During the course of the debate on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill in April 1975, at columns 23 and 24 of Hansard, the noble Lord withdrew his Amendment because all this legislation was in hand and because he agreed that the exact form in which his Amendment was drafted was not acceptable. In fact, his Amendment then was along the lines of the Bill and not along these lines.


I think the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has now said what I was hoping to save her the necessity of saying. I put down this Amendment in order to give her a chance, if it had not yet become clear, of explaining the philosophy behind the approach to the rating. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has not asked to dissociate himself in any agony of embarrassment. I put down his name so that if I fell off a bus between putting down my name and speaking to the Amendment, someone could speak to it.

Baroness BIRK

I would hate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to fall off a bus, but I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, should be "doing a somersault" on this. We have come to the conclusion that this solution would leave unresolved too many problems. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has changed his mind—which was so excellent in its direction when he spoke on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill—then I think he will agree with me, certainly on this point.


Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will allow me to say at this stage that I am reserving my ammunition until Clause 2, which applies to Scotland. I shall be wanting to say quite a lot about the matters which she has raised.

Baroness BIRK

I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has devolved from us. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, in speaking to this Amendment, once again emphasised the unfair burden placed on the site operator. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, obviously cannot bear to hear the words "site operator "any more because he is leaving. Before he goes, he must accept that the Government—and I am speaking on behalf of the Government—are equally concerned, if not more so, for the caravanners who are "on the end" of this and who are the people paying the site operator. I should not like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to leave the Committee stage feeling that there was any unfair balance in taking any particular group of people. Because of our awareness of this, we are concerned to get an equitable arrangement in the Bill, winch is why we are spending so much time on these Amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, when speaking on Second Reading, felt that it would be unfair for the site operator to have to collect the additional sum from caravanners. The noble Lord, Lord Wakefield, suggested that as the site owner was effectively acting as a rate collector, he should be given a commission, as he would get under Section 56 of the General Rate Act 1967. I should set the record straight at once. We are not envisaging that site operators will become rate collectors. We are deeming them to be the rateable occupiers of this single hereditament. Although we appreciate that the owners are in business, and rates would be a cost which they would have to pass on to their customers, as they have always done, we are concerned that they should not tip the balance and pass on more than they themselves are being asked for. Frankly. I cannot see why site operators should be rewarded for passing on this cost by receiving a com mission. It will not involve them in extra work. They already pass on a certain rate element because the site is rated, anyway. All that they have to do now is to pass on a rather larger element which is attributed to the caravan and its site.

The question of liability when a caravanner defaults on payment to the site owner, which I think the noble Lord raised—if he did not, I am sure he will; and if he did not, he should have done so because I have a note on it—is not a new problem, either. All site owners have arrangements for the recovery of debts from caravanners. I suspect, because of the very nature of their business, that it is difficult to unhitch and make off with a heavy load such as a caravan, so I think that site owners are more successful in recovering such debts than the average commercial undertaking. As a result of my researches I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that site operators seem to cover themselves very well for any eventuality of this sort. So I reject any attempt to enable the site operator to get commission for something which really is part of a site charge, which he is collecting anyway.


Of course, it is the practice at the present time in some areas and in some places for the site operator to receive a commission on the amount he has collected. There are a number of site operators who have collaborated with the local valuation officers and have saved all the expense of collection to which the noble Baroness has referred, and which is in fact one of the main reasons for this Bill. By this collaboration that has taken place the local authorities have been relieved of a lot of trouble and expense in collecting the individual rates from the caravanners. The site operator has done this satisfactorily and everybody is quite happy.

It is a great pity that when Whitehall —which we know, of course, always knows best—sent out their directions for the collection of individual rates from caravans they did not at the same time give guidance and suggest this kind of arrangement. It is done, I think, very successfully in Scotland—no doubt my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy will say something about that in a moment—and in certain parts of this country. On Second Reading I was suggesting that it was a pity that what is already happening quite easily and satisfactorily in parts of England and Wales could not be extended; in that way there would have been no need for this Bill. As I see it, all this new clause does is to authorise a practice which is taking place now, very satisfactorily and to the mutual advantage of everybody.


I think the best procedure here would be for us to consider what the noble Baroness has said and to return to it at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.2 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 11: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

Powers of site operators

.—(l) A site operator may recover as a specialty debt enforceable by action from the occupier of each caravan pitch owned by the site operator a proportion of the general and drainage rates which may be levied upon the site as a single hereditament such proportion being calculated in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of this section.

(2) The proportion of general and drainage rates recoverable under subsection (1) of this section shall be such proportion as shall be reasonable having regard to the size position and general amenity of the caravan pitch and the caravan sited thereon in relation to the site as a whole to the total number of caravan pitches on the site to the period of occupation of the caravan or the caravan pitch during the relevant rating period and to any other matters which ought reasonably to be taken into account.

(3) Within 28 days of the service upon him by the site operator of a notice to pay a proportion of the rates due on the site, the occupier of a caravan pitch may object to that proportion; and for this purpose sections 70 to 74 of the General Rate Act 1967 shall apply as though for the words "valuation officer" the words "site operator" were substituted in each place where they occur.

(4) A rating authority may remit an appropriate proportion of the rates attributable to a caravan pitch where—

  1. (a) the caravan previously occupying such pitch is removed from that pitch during the relevant period; or
  2. (b) the site operator has made diligent attempts to recover the due proportion of such rates from the, occupier of an individual caravan pitch but has been unable to effect such recovery.

The noble Lord said: We return at a different tangent to the same problem, though we have drawn the Amendment rather wider to cover a number of points, and I hope this may have the effect of expediting rather than confusing our proceedings. Under subsection (1) of the new clause, we have provision whereby the site operator may be empowered to recover, as a specialty debt enforceable by action, from the occupier of each caravan pitch monies due to him as rates. We also have some sort of guidance under subsection (2) as to how the rates should be apportioned. We are in this difficulty: if we are to save the great burden of local authority work involved in the assessment of individual pitches and caravans, to which the noble Baroness has alluded already, we have, almost as a corollary of that, to transfer the burden of apportionment to the site operator.

At least in concrete terms which I have been able to understand, the noble Baroness has so far denied to that person any recourse for the redress of what he considers to be an unfair apportionment to his pitch and caravan, other than opting for individual rating. When she referred to her own hypothetical case, she said that that would be the effective course open to her; she would be able to remonstrate and take advice, and so on, which owing to the force of her character, might be effective, but which, for the general public, would not. In the third subsection we have, therefore, put in a right of objection, and we have used existing statutory machinery to do it. The wording may not be perfect, but, if she would be kind enough to comment on the intention, I am sure this would satisfy the Committee. On subsection (4), the noble Baroness has already spoken about remission. She has said that she will be in touch on the matter—although she is not very optimistic about the content of her communication—before the next stage. Therefore, I think it would be possible for her to refer to that only briefly, if at all. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for explaining so fully and clearly his intention in tabling this new clause. Although he described it as covering powers for the site operators, I should like to say that I think he rather underplayed it. I have a great deal of sympathy with one of his objects, which is to give some protection to the caravanner on the amount of rates. His clause is really covering both the site operators and the caravanners included in the total charge for rates made by the site operator. Nevertheless, I have considerable misgivings about the form of protection he proposes. Perhaps I can deal first with this point, the protection of caravanners, because I think it is worrying a number of us, although it is not the first point in his proposed clause.

The scheme, as the noble Lord explained, is that the rates bill on the whole of the new composite rating unit should be apportioned by the site operator according to the criteria laid down in subsection (2), and as a check on the equity of this apportionment each caravanner would be able to appeal against it in the same way as a ratepayer can appeal against the rateable value of his property as entered into the valuation list by the valuation officer. If agreement cannot be reached, this involves reference to the local valuation court, with a further avenue of appeal to the Lands Tribunal, and so on. It is this invocation of the whole elaborate machinery of rating appeals into a scheme for apportioning the rate element in a caravan site operator's charges which gives me such great misgivings. We have been trying to simplify matters for everybody, bring down cost, personnel and all the other things which we are all at one in believing need doing at the moment. Having brought it down to the single hereditament with the one ratepayer, so to speak, the site operator, we are now invoking a very elaborate machinery which was not really set up for this situation. As I say, the main purpose of the Bill is to simplify the present procedures with an aspect of rating which makes fewer demands on manpower.

Much more fundamentally, if we did this and invoked all this machinery, I cannot see that we would have achieved anything worth while, in the light of the fact that there is no similar machinery under which the site operator's charge as a whole can be questioned; that remains an individual bargain. Perhaps the noble Lord would like to see machinery set up for this purpose; I do not know. I think there are great merits in that, and I am sure everything Lord Lucas of Chilworth said adds weight to that argument. But I am sure the noble Lord would agree with me that we could not do this with the Bill now before the House, because what he is really covering in this Amendment is the whole question of the composition of the site charge, how it should be dealt with and how there should be a way of appealing against it. This goes much further than what will turn out to be the smallest ingredient of it, which will be the rate content.

I can assure the noble Lord that the Government have in mind importing into the Bill at a later stage, I hope at Report stage, a provision which, while recognising the impossibility in all cases of identifying the rate element without throwing away the desirable simplifications we are seeking through this very unsimple Bill, will nevertheless enable caravanners to form a reasonable judgment about whether they are getting a fair deal. I do not think that I can go into that matter in more detail because I went into that when the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised it on another Amendment, when in fact I was going to discuss it on this one where actually it is more appropriate.

Although again I sympathise with what is behind this clause, for those reasons and a number of technical and other reasons, it would be extremely difficult to do it in this way. It seems to me that this is much more tied up with the whole process and make-up of the site charges and, if you like, relationship between site operators and caravanners than to do with the far more specific and narrow question of rating.


I am much obliged for that useful and helpful explanation that the noble Baroness has succinctly made, particularly on subsection (3) of the proposed new clause. I recall what she said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I think that that, if it materialises in a satisfactory form at Report stage, would go some way towards allaying our fears which are, I suppose, also tempered by the reflection that here we are dealing with people's second homes. They are not anchored or trapped in them to the extent that people were in the Caravan (Mobile Homes) Bill with which we dealt earlier. To that extent I am in sympathy with what the noble Baroness said.

As to the question to which she did not refer very closely in her reply, covered by subsection (1) of the proposed new clause, I am not entirely happy about the situation of debt recovery. It meshes in with the very thorny problems raised by my noble friend Lord Hawke earlier on, and with the whole philosophy of the Bill. I should like to read with care what the noble Baroness said and take advice on a number of matters, including the probable frequency of the difficulties we have in mind and the probable proportion of the total demand the site operator will be making on the caravan pitch occupant, which she frequently assures us will be a very small one; and I am sure that she is right. If we might satisfy ourselves on these points before we go to the Report stage we might well have a meeting of minds on that. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Valuation and rating of caravan sites in Scotland]:

6.13 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 12: Page 3, line 10, leave out (" shall ") and insert (" may ").

The noble Lord said: Now we come to Clause 2, which is the clause applying to Scotland. The systems of valuation are different North and South of the Border, and also the legislation is different. It will be noted that all the references to legislation in Clause 2 are to Scottish Acts of Parliament. It is evident that when I moved an Amendment on the rating of caravans to a Scottish local government Bill in your Lordships' House on 8th April last, and drew attention to the need for some action for Scotland, I appear to have started something, because the noble Baroness, in her introduction of the Bill at Second Reading on 15th January, referred to that. I, of course, was suggesting that something needed to be done where Scotland was concerned. I was somewhat surprised, but gratified, to think that the Government had decided to take similar action in regard to England and Wales, which of course is in Clause 1, which we have just been considering.

I was surprised when the Bill appeared. I saw it when it first appeared in the Printed Paper Office, and then suddenly realised that the Government were proposing to do something where Scotland was concerned, which I had suggested some months ago, and I had not received any previous warning. I had not expected to, but my noble friend Lord Elton was aware of my surprise. If, in raising this question where Scottish legislation is concerned, I have contributed to producing a complicated Bill and raising a complicated subject, I apologise to your Lordships on both sides of the House.

Where Scotland is concerned the valuation system is different and so are the terms in legislation. For example, there is no such thing as "hereditament", which constantly occurs in the English legislation. In Scotland it is "lands and heritages ". Therefore, the Government have had to draft a completely separate clause where Scotland is concerned. I think there is some consolation in grappling with what the noble Baroness has agreed is not only a complicated Bill but one that has more content than previously had been thought. When she told us that it meant that those in caravans would be overall paying less in rates in future than they paid in the past, I think we can all reckon that the effort we are making on this Bill is worth it. She gave that assurance to us, and it is one we welcome.

Against that background, this Amendment is to inquire why it is that the Scottish clause is not permissive. It says "the assessor shall", whereas in the equivalent for England and Wales the valuation officer "may"—that is the word— "if he thinks fit ". In the equivalent part of Clause 1 the valuation officer, if he thinks fit, "may", whereas in the Scottish clause he is obliged to by the word "shall".This seemed strange, and it seemed curious that there should be this obligation where Scotland is concerned. There may be a perfectly good explanation, but this was naturally a matter which immediately came to my attention. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell us the reason for it. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, explained briefly and succinctly that there were two different systems in Scotland and England, and that this applied to Scotland. In order to save the Committee's time, unless I am asked to I shall not go into a long explanation of the difference between the two systems, except to point out that while it is true that in England and Wales a valuation officer has discretion to adopt the comprehensive basis of assessment or not as he thinks fit, it is true that in Scotland the assessor has not. There are good reasons for this difference in approach. In England and Wales there is a precedent for the exercise of discretion by valuation officers. Valuation officers are appointed by Central Government; they are not the servants of the local authority.

It is true that where a building is occupied in part, Section 24 of the General Rate Act 1967 allows the making of a single entry in the valuation list, or separate entries. A discretion of this kind is unknown to the Scottish valuation code, and after its 120 years of history we feel its introduction would be unfair to assessors and ratepayers alike. There is in Scotland the crucial difference that the assessor, as I have already pointed out, is a local government official, engaged by a local authority, and much more closely involved in its working than is the English valuation officer, who is a Central Government official.

The choice of the basis of assessment is not academic. The amount of rates payable will almost certainly be affected and the assessor could be placed in an invidious position if he had to weigh administrative convenience against rate yield. He could be put in such a position and any decision could generate irritation with an operator, a caravanner or within a local authority. With the proper safeguards provided by Clause 1, discretion has advantages in England and Wales, but, though I hesitate to put my toes too deeply into Scottish waters, I understand it to be fundamental to the Scottish code that the law should be certain and applied uniformly.

What I myself do not understand is why it is that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made the provision mandatory in his original clause—a clause from which, as he rightly said, a great deal appears to stern. Now he has returned and wants this provision to be discretionary for Scotland. I suspect that on the earlier occasion he was thinking of the Scottish system and was seeking to make that universal, but that he now likes the English system better and is trying to apply it to Scotland where it does not belong.


My Amendment was put down to a Scottish Bill in April and, as I indicated just now, I was not seeking to make the provision universal. In April I was merely dealing with Scotland because it was a Scottish local government Bill. At that time I was moving an Amendment which I began by saying I did not expect to be accepted because it was simply moved in order to put forward the proposition that we needed action in this field to clear up the situation so far as Scotland was concerned. When the present Bill appeared and I found that the Government had decided to act on what I had suggested, not only in relation to Scotland but also as regards England and Wales, I noticed the difference between the two clauses and put down the Amendment out of curiosity to see why it should be mandatory in Scotland whereas it was not proposed that it should be so in England and Wales.

I thank the noble Baroness for the information which she has given us. As I imagined, this arises out of the two completely different systems and, as I understand it, she thinks it necessary because in England and Wales the valuation officers are appointed by Central Government whereas their Scottish equivalent, the assessors, are officials of local government.

I should like to take this opportunity of saying that, as my noble friend Lord Wakefield of Kendal said, both today and, at greater length, on Second Reading on 15th January, in many areas there have been very good working arrangements. What the Government are proposing in the present Bill has been happening successfully in Scotland. My noble friend was inquiring why it should be necessary to do this in Scotland so I should like to make it clear that when I put forward the proposal last April that there should be some action in Scotland it was because doubt had been thrown on those good arrangements by a court case. The courts had not agreed with the interpretation which had led to very satisfactory arrangements. The case in question was that of Redgates in Ayrshire about four years ago. That was what threw into doubt the satisfactory systems which had been operating in Scotland on the lines now proposed in the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will realise that that was why I put forward the original suggestion and why I have now put down Amendments to seek information concerning the present clause which applies only to Scotland.

I agree with the noble Baroness that there is no need for her to give us a long dissertation on the differences between the English and Scottish systems. It is enough for both of us to have said that they are very different and that that is the reason why there are two clauses. Indeed, had it not been for the greater ease in passing through both Houses of Parliament, these might have been two separate Bills because, as I pointed out, these matters where they affect caravan sites North of the Border are dealt with entirely in Scottish legislation. However, I accept that it was convenient to deal with them in one comparatively short Bill. I am grateful for what the noble Baroness has said in reply to the Amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.28 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 13: Page 3, line 10, leave out from (" shall ") to (" for ") in line 11.

The noble Lord said: This is an Amendment which affects timing because the following words would be omitted: As regards the year 1976–77 and subsequent years ". We have just accepted an Amendment put down by the Government to Clause 1 and which related to England and Wales. As far as they were concerned, that Amendment will bring the Bill into effect on 1st April 1976. However, it does not apply to Clause 2 and there is therefore no effective date for Scotland. I feel that that is probably right because the reorganisation of local government in Scotland took place a year later than in England and Wales. This was done by a separate Bill to which I gave up many hours because I was the Minister in charge of it when it went through Parliament.

The reorganisation in Scotland therefore took place comparatively recently and the new local authorities are still finding their feet. As the noble Baroness said, the assessors in Scotland are officials appointed by the local authorities and it has been put to me by people in Scotland that it would be better not to try to rush this, nor to have an early starting date in so far as Scotland is concerned. I repeat that satisfactory schemes are already operating in Scotland on these lines, so that, again, there is no special need to bring this in early. It is a matter of clarifying the law so that schemes of this kind can continue or can be set up without dubiety where the courts are concerned. I therefore think it unnecessary to have these words which would indicate that the assessor was to start in the year 1976–77, and I should be glad to hear the Government's views.

Baroness BIRK

I take the noble Lord's point but, as I have said, it is a major objective of the Bill to allow the assessment and collection of rates on sites and caravans without disproportionate cost in manpower and ratepayers' money. To introduce the new arrangements at a random date would almost certainly entail additional trouble and expense rather than a saving. If a firm starting date is not very soon known to assessors and rating authorities, many thousands of separate demands will have to be sent to individual caravanners. That is what we are trying to avoid.

In Scotland, the normal mode of paying rates is by monthly instalments and a change to the new basis at any time other than 1st April would mean several thousands of cancelled demands and the calculation of several thousands of small refunds or balances due. This would be an intolerable burden on rating authorities, an expense to ratepayers and an unnecessary irritant to caravanners. It also seems to me that there is no reason why the major benefits of the Bill should be postponed. On the other hand, I take the point made by the noble Lord, that the timing of the operation may be complex in particular cases and I can tell him that the matter is being considered to discover any possible anomalies.


I am glad to hear that it is being considered. I should add that in Scotland this Bill took many people by surprise. Those organisations concerned have been in touch with me and have said that they did not know of the existence of the Bill until it was published, or until I let them know that it had appeared, following the Amendment I moved last April. This is another reason why they have not had time to consider the matter in the way they would have done had they been consulted beforehand, although of course they welcome in principle the fact that action is being taken.

I agree that it is appropriate to start at the beginning of the rating year, and I hope that the noble Baroness will consider postponing the start for a year. I am not suggesting that it should happen at random. By putting down this probing Amendment I have drawn attention to the matter, and I hope that the Government will consider inserting "a year later", or "two years"if they think that more appropriate. A postponement would be beneficial and would be welcome among all those concerned in Scotland, though the system in principle which is being proposed is one which we regard as an improvement because it clarifies the law.

Baroness BIRK

I do not want the noble Lord to be misled over my saying that I would be looking at this point because there were anomalies in particular cases. It would be quite wrong of me to lead him astray in such a way that he would think that I would come back at the Report stage with an Amendment to postpone this for one year or two years. This is extremely unlikely, unless I receive other information between now and then.

I am concerned with the possibility that a disabled person may suffer from the absence of discretion in Scotland. I have this point under consideration, and I hope to bring forward an Amendment at the Report stage. I do not know whether the noble Lord got the point I was making about the disabled. This afternoon I suddenly realised that Scotland did not appear to be covered in this respect. Unless the noble Lord objects—and I am sure he will not—I will bring forward an Amendment to cover that point.

The noble Lord has gone further and suggested longer term postponement of the date in Scotland. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities was consulted a week or so before presentation and discussion with the assessors' association started as early as last October. Thus it is not quite right or fair to say that Scotland was entirely taken by surprise, especially as so much regarding this matter emanated from the noble Lord himself, with his connections in Scotland. But I will certainly look at the question of anomalies and see what weight there is in it.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness for those comments. I understand that the assessors' organisation had been approached, but I think that it was the other people concerned—the whole caravanning world—who were taken by surprise. I acknowledge that I understand that the assessors' organisation received some indication that the Government might be legislating, although the, answer which I received in April was that the Government were not to legislate because they felt that it could not be done within the foreseeable time.

I intended to raise the matter of the disabled on consideration of clause stand part, and indeed I shall still do so, along with one or two other matters. But I am grateful for what the noble Baroness has said at this stage. I ask her whether she, or the Scottish Minister concerned, would, between now and a later stage of consideration of this Bill, consider with the Scottish assessors the question of the date, because they are the people most concerned in this work. They can consider whether it can be done in time, or whether it would be a rushed job if they have to do it in the forthcoming rating year. If the Government will consult again to see whether or not too many difficulties would be created, then I should be glad to leave the matter there.


I wish to support what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said about postponement. Surely the very fact that the system is now working so well in Scotland suggests that postponement might be a help rather than a hindrance. I hope that the noble Baroness will look into this matter further. If the system is working well, then to try hastily to change to something else might be a disadvantage rather than an advantage. Therefore I strongly support the request for further consideration of postponement.

Baroness BIRK

The noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, also raised this point on Second Reading, when he suggested that the Bill would be unnecessary if the example of Scotland had been followed. But, with great respect, I must tell him that this is nonsense, because the problems in Scotland relating to this matter have been just as great as those in England and Wales. The need for, and the benefits of, the Bill are just as great in Scotland as in England and Wales. I will look at any anomalies which may arise and consider carefully what has been said during the Committee stage. Nevertheless, there is no basic reason for any long-term postponement in Scotland, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy.


I was not intending a long-term postponement. The noble Baroness herself indicated that it would be appropriate and convenient to start from the beginning of the rating year; 1st April was the date she gave. It was on that basis that I reckoned a period of a year if it was to be postponed, and I should not regard that as long-term. However, I have made my point, and I hope that the Government will consult further with the assessors and others concerned with this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.37 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 14: Page 3, line 23, leave out (" tenant ") and insert (" occupier ").

The noble Lord said: The occupier may not necessarily be the proprietor or his tenant, and I believe that in the Bill the Government do mean the occupier. Therefore I suggest that in this clause there should be inserted the word "occupier" instead of "tenant". This would be correct. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

The significance of being the proprietor, tenant or occupier of property is that one is so named in the valuation roll and has a right to a notice of assessment and, most important, to appeal against the assessment in the valuation roll. The only persons with a material interest in the assessment of a caravan site are the proprietor, tenant and occupier of the site. Individual caravanners have no direct interest which would justify their being allowed a right of appeal and the issue of notices of assessment would only mystify and confuse them. Clause 2(1) deems the site operator to be the occupier of the whole complex, so he will get a valuation notice. He has the major interest in that he will pay the rates, but in line with the Scottish valuation system the proprietor and tenant, if different from the operator, will get notices also.

Taken together subsections (1) and (3) of Clause 2 produce the sensible result that the occupier, tenant and proprietor of the site are deemed to have an interest extending to the whole complex. The Amendment would leave in doubt the position of individual pitch tenants, and for this reason I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.


If the noble Baroness is satisfied that the present wording in the Bill carries out the intentions. I will not contest that. I thought that this would be a helpful Amendment which would clarify what was intended, but in view of what has been said I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 15: Page 3, line 24, leave out (" and any area comprising it ").

The noble Lord said: This, too, is simply a short matter of drafting. The words "and any area comprising it "seem to be unnecessary and could be misleading. When used in conjunction with the term "caravan pitch ", the words simply seem otiose, and we wonder whether the Government might be assisted by this Amendment in deleting the words in question. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for drawing our attention to this. I should like to take it back and consider the point, because I think there is some merit in what the noble Lord has said. So if he would withdraw his Amendment I will consider it.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness for having recognised the point. We on this side are only trying to be helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 16: Page 3, line 28, at end insert (" section 6 of ").

The noble Baroness said: This is a very simple drafting Amendment. It is to overcome an omission in the Bill as presented, which provided an incomplete reference to the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956. The section was left out, and there should be inserted the words, "section 6 of". I beg to move.


I do not wish to delay your Lordships, but are we not to have two "ofs" in succession if this Amendment is accepted? I am sorry; I think I now understand what is intended. I apologise for rushing in so swiftly.


I would only say that this requirement had been drawn to my attention by so many people that I was not surprised when the Government put down this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 17: Page 4, line 1, leave out subsection (8).

The noble Lord said: This is another Amendment which your Lordships will be glad to hear involves a very brief point. Is it necessary to have subsection (8) and these explanations? It is purely a matter of drafting, but I would ask the Government—I have given them notice by putting down this Amendment—whether it is really necessary to have subsection (8) at all. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

I think the noble Lord is now pushing his luck. While I am still ready to listen, I think I have been very generous over some of his other suggestions and Amendments. There are a number of expressions in Clause 2 which have a particular meaning in Scottish law, such terms as "lands and heritages", "valuation roll" and "assessor ". They are used in a series of Scottish Acts which go back to 1854, and are rather different from the expressions which we use; by "we" I mean those of us who are unfortunate enough not to be Scottish.

The subsection which the noble Lord would remove has, I feel, the indispensible function of importing the settled definitions of these and similar expressions in the Bill. But, more than that, the subsection ensures that any change in the valuation code—for example, if it were necessary to implement some recommendation of the Lay field Committee—will affect this Bill with all the other valuation Acts. Without the subsection this Bill would need to be explicitly mentioned. I think, if I may say so, that it is because this is a Scottish part of a whole Bill, instead of being a Bill on its own, that, understandably, the noble Lord has nicked up this point. But now I have explained it. I hope that he will withdraw his Amendment.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said, because it does become clear now. This subsection would probably not appear if this were a completely Scottish Bill, because these expressions would be understood but I now see that in a Bill which covers the whole United Kingdom it is helpful if these expressions are spelt out in the Bill. I also take the point about the Lay field Committee and any changes which may be introduced later. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.47 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


I should like to raise a point here. The noble Baroness mentioned the disabled and gave us notice that she intended to introduce an Amendment to the Scottish clause as well as to the English clause at a later stage. I think that is what she said. I should like to raise the question of rate rebates. When I spoke on this subject in April 1 recognised that there might be difficulties in carrying out a scheme of this kind arising from the eligibility for rate rebates of some of the persons living in leisure caravans. I thought that, having given notice of that matter at that time, this would be a subject which would come up, and I apologise for not having given notice that I was going to raise it. I shall absolutely understand if the Government are not fully ready to reply on this point at short notice. I hope that there will be no undue difficulties. I was simply foreseeing them when I was speaking on this subject last April. I hope that the scheme can include, without complications, the rate rebate system, so that nobody who is eligible for a rate rebate will suffer because of this scheme.

Baroness BIRK

That, if I may answer briefly and simply, is quite a direct point. Since leisure caravans are a second home they are not eligible for rate rebates, so that matter really does not come into the Bill at all. It was not that it was overlooked in any way, but that it is not applicable in this case.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness who has been able to give us an absolutely clear answer to that point.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Interpretation and application]:

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 18: Page 4, line 16, after (" if ") insert (" paragraph 4 and ").

The noble Lord said: Certain organisations are exempted from the duty to apply for a site licence, and I can give as examples the Camping Club and the Forestry Commission. They usually cater only for touring caravans, but I think we have also to be prepared for their going in for a policy of accommodating long-stay caravans because there is nothing to prevent them from doing so unless there is invariably going to be a prohibition as a condition of the certificate which is granted in those cases. In Scotland there are sites of this kind, and we feel that in Clause 3 there ought to be a reference, not only to paragraph 11 of the Bill but also to paragraph 4, in order to cover this kind of situation. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

Perhaps I can say at this stage that this will certainly be accepted in principle. I can see no reason why the examples which the noble Lord has given should not be included in the Bill. If he would not mind leaving it with me so that we can bring forward a draft—it may be the same wording or it may need different wording—I would prefer it that way. But certainly the principle of it is completely acceptable, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising it.


In view of what the noble Baroness has said I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.