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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. There are far too many private conversations going on. Hon. Members must listen to the Minister. If they do not, they must hold their conversations somewhere else.

Ms Armstrong: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker--although I understand why hon. Members might like to have private conversations during this summary. However, it is my job, so I have to proceed with the summary.

A further concern was how the Valuation Office would treat properties that would previously have had rateable values reduced, often for short periods only, to take account of circumstances affecting the property; examples include a property that has been damaged by fire, or one that is undergoing substantial building work. I understand that concern, and have repeatedly said that the Government and the Valuation Office have only one intention--to ensure that the assumption on repair is that which was made in preparing rating valuations before the Lands Tribunal decision in Anston.

The current position is that if a property is incapable of beneficial occupations--if, in other words, it is unusable--it will be removed from the rating list and no rates will be payable. That is clear--certainly it is clear to the public, even if it is not yet clear to Opposition Members. I appreciate the concerns expressed by the professions and by Committee members that the Bill may affect the current position, but I do not believe that it will. As I said, I have examined the matter many times. In discussions, the Valuation Office has made it clear that it will continue to value properties affected in precisely the same way as before.

The Valuation Office shares the Government's concern that the Bill should take us back only to the position we believed we were in prior to the Anston decision. As I said, the agency is preparing a practice note on application of the Bill post-enactment, and it is sharing drafts of it with the professional bodies. I really do believe that that is an effective way to proceed. I have also given very clear reasons why it would be irresponsible to put in the Bill matters that should be in a practice note. Including them in the Bill would necessitate subsequent changes to primary legislation to deal with new or changed matters, which would not help in the evaluation process, in which evaluation officers operate by tight timetables.

I hope that my comments in this debate, and the Valuation Office's practice note, will serve to clarify our intentions in introducing the Bill. Although it is a small and technical Bill, we have the responsibility of

24 Feb 1999 : Column 508

passing it--so that businesses that are currently facing revaluation will know that those revaluations are clearly in conformity with the expectations of the law, and so that they will know the basis on which their premises are valued.

Although we have a responsibility to ensure that there is such clarity, hon. Members have failed in this debate to convince me that such clarity exists. The longer the debate has continued, the more convinced I have become that the Bill is necessary. I commend it to the House.

11.4 pm

Mr. Burstow: I appreciate that it is the time of night when hon. Members would rather be at home reading the Bill than listening to speeches about it. However, I shall be very brief.

I appreciate the lengths to which Ministers and their officials have gone, both before and after the Bill's Committee stage, in consulting and holding a dialogue with the professions. I should like to place on record the appreciation of those efforts that the professions have expressed to me. The dialogue has been important.

There is a genuine and honest difference of opinion as to the interpretation of the case, and of the Bill in future. I am grateful for the way the Minister has dealt with the matter, both tonight and earlier. There is however a need for clarity, and I do not believe that the Bill provides it.

I was concerned that the explanatory notes were longer than the Bill, and we must be cautious when that happens. It was for that reason that we hoped that some of the points in the explanatory notes would be in the Bill.

Shortly after the Committee, I received a letter from the Rating Surveyors Association--[Hon. Members:"Oh!"] I knew that hon. Members would perk up at the reference to that body. It drew to my attention the words of Justice of Appeal Godfrey, which I thought I would share with the House:

You will wonder, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why I read that out. Even I am wondering why. However, the Bill feels like cloud cuckoo land, with its hypothetical tenants and landlords. I have had to explore those issues for the first time, as Ministers have had to. However, the fact that the Minister has had to read into the record such a detailed statement about the Bill--and has had to give an undertaking about producing detailed practice notes--indicates that it is not straightforward.

The Bill would have benefited from amendments, but it has not been amended. However, the Government have done what they believe to be right and tried to correct the law. There is an honest disagreement about that, but the Government are proposing mechanisms that have given some comfort to the profession. For that reason, we do not intend to divide on Third Reading.

11.7 pm

Mr. Burns: Although this clearly is not a party political matter, there is concern that although the Government are seeking to block a loophole that emerged

24 Feb 1999 : Column 509

from a court case, they will not achieve that with the Bill. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) that the Government have not accepted any amendments. I am concerned that the ministerial statement and the draft practice notes will not be in the legislation, which could cause problems in future. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said that he would not divide the House, but I am not convinced that the Bill will succeed. I am not prepared to support it on Third Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:--

The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 140.

Division No. 77
[11.9 pm


Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Allen, Graham
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blizzard, Bob
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Browne, Desmond
Burden, Richard
Butler, Mrs Christine
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Etherington, Bill
Fisher, Mark
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Godman, Dr Norman A
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hanson, David
Healey, John
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hinchliffe, David
Home Robertson, John
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Love, Andrew
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
MacShane, Denis
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, Nick
Rogers, Allan
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruddock, Joan
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm
Sheerman, Barry
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Spellar, John
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Tipping, Paddy
Touhig, Don
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Winnick, David
Woolas, Phil
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Robert Ainsworth and
Mr. Keith Hill.


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, Tony
Beggs, Roy
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Colvin, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Horam, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Major, Rt Hon John
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony
Swayne, Desmond
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Sir David Madel and
Mrs. Caroline Spelman.

Question accordingly agreed to.

24 Feb 1999 : Column 511

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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