§ Mr. Jim Lester
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he is taking in relation to the rates liability of meeting halls used by the Exclusive Brethren.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw
The Court of Appeal recently upheld a lands tribunal decision that two meeting halls in the borough of Broxtowe used by the Exclusive Brethren were not exempt from rates since they did not fulfil the criteria, laid down in section 39 of the General Rate Act 1967, that they should be places of public religious worship. The Brethren was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords in its judicial capacity, and its petition to be heard there was rejected.
I understand that the Brethren now intends to erect notice boards outside its meeting halls which will make it clear that the halls are for public religious worship and will provide a telephone number where details of the meetings can be obtained. I believe that an appropriate form of words has been agreed in discussion with the valuation office. The chief valuer's office has now advised its local 295W offices that meeting halls displaying such a notice should be given exemption from rates under section 39. This advice is, of course, subject to any challenge in the courts by a rating authority, but it does seem that a satisfactory solution has been found.