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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I congratulate him and his noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston on surviving when three posts at the Scottish Office have now gone. Perhaps I may also congratulate him on acquiring a more amenable boss as Secretary of State for Scotland than had been rumoured in the press over the past few weeks. That is the mildest comment I can think of.

Some months ago, the noble Lord said in an answer to me that it was intended that in the future the Secretary of State for Scotland would focus on promoting communication between the Scottish Parliament and Ministers and the UK Parliament and Government on matters of mutual interest, and on representing Scottish interests in reserved areas. Does the noble Lord believe that there is enough work for a Secretary of State and three junior Ministers after 1st July?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood--or Sir David Steel, as he is known in an alternative place--is present. I congratulate the noble Lord on his election as Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

Returning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I shall certainly not anticipate any decisions that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister may make about the ministerial composition of the Scottish Office. We explained in the White Paper, Scotland's Parliament, that there will remain various important functions for the Secretary of State following devolution; mainly to represent Scottish interests in the reserved business of the United Kingdom Government and to promote good communications between the governments and parliaments in London and Edinburgh. It is important that Scottish interests are effectively represented and that the people of Scotland continue to recognise the benefits of the Union.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we now have 22 Ministers and Law Officers in Scotland, 24 in all, and four Ministers in

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London--28 in all--when six or seven Ministers did all the work in the past? Is that not a gross extravagance to be met by the United Kingdom taxpayer providing the Scottish Vote, bearing in mind that all these Ministers will require departments, private secretaries, spin doctors and the rest? Is the Minister not concerned that the taxpayer has been taken for a frightful ride over the past week?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, It is not for me to make any comment on the decisions of the Scottish Parliament in approving the list of ministerial appointments, as it did yesterday. As to Scottish Office Ministers here, I had fondly, but vainly, hoped that the noble Lord would make another point; namely, seeing that they have been reduced to four from seven, their remuneration could be revised upwards.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, during the dark days of the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens lost their jobs, what did Employment Ministers in the previous administration do?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, they contributed to the darkness.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as it seems that these three members of the Government will have much time on their hands, might they not be usefully occupied in examining in depth and then explaining to the media and the public the meaning of the concept "the third way" which has so far baffled professors of politics and government? That would be a task force to be welcomed.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, as a former--and perhaps future--professor of politics, I may return to that issue at some date in the future, and perhaps get a publication out of it. As matters stand, this House must recognise that there is important work to be done in the Scottish Office. It is absolutely vital that Ministers are responsible for the functions that presently remain within the Scottish Office and that Ministers are properly accountable to Parliament. I see it as one of my tasks--I am sure that fellow Ministers in the Scottish Office see it equally--to ensure the smooth transition of functional authority and responsibility on 1st July.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's reply on the position after 1st July, will he convey to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister the desire that I am sure is felt by the whole House that we should have at least one Scottish Office Minister here, answerable to this House? Furthermore, there are already more than enough professors in the world without adding one more!

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I think I can say I am enormously grateful to the noble Lord. I do not believe

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it would be prudent to give an assurance that I shall personally pass on his comments; however, I am sure that the Prime Minister will be made aware of them.

Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill

3.27 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Monday next to allow the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House of Lords Bill

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of Clause 2.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Rating (Valuation) Bill

3.28 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Rateable value]:

The Earl of Lytton moved an amendment:

Page 1, line 25, at end insert--
("( )At the end of paragraph 2 there shall be inserted--
"(11) For the purposes of this paragraph--
(a) "repairs" shall have the meaning ascribed to it by section 69(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, and
(b) the term "reasonable repair" in any given case shall be determined by reference to what is reasonably to be expected having regard to all material considerations but regardless of who is actually responsible for repairs to the hereditament and references to "reasonable landlord" and "reasonable tenant" shall be construed accordingly."").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I shall not detain the House any longer than is absolutely necessary. This Bill sets out to clarify the position regarding the treatment of repairs for the purposes of non-domestic rating valuation in the wake of the case of Anston Properties v. Benjamin (V.O.). The effects of this Bill have created ripples of consternation among the professional bodies concerned. I am glad to report that very considerable progress was made in Committee earlier this month. In

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particular, the statement by the noble Baroness the Minister and her responses to queries raised at that time were extremely helpful and greatly clarified the purposes and objectives of the Bill. I am most grateful for the courtesy and consideration that the noble Baroness and her department has shown me throughout.

The clarification that the noble Baroness provided was of special relevance in that the meaning of the Bill and its wording appeared to be obscure. Because of this a practice note was--I suspect rather uniquely--drawn up. That practice note, now in its third draft, is intended to clarify the purposes and objectives of the Bill to ensure that previous valuation practice, as it is believed to have been understood prior to the Anston case, is retained.

Rating valuation is a precision instrument and clarity in the formula of words used in legislation that affects it is vitally important. The courts are littered with cases in which apparently simple words have had their meaning questioned. I did not want a Bill to proceed through this House that was in any way obscure in its meaning which would then possibly fall to the courts to determine.

The Government have made clear that they do not want to alter the precision with which the present wording of the Bill has been crafted. I understand that. But they also say that they do not want to alter the original understandings of the old corpus of legislation that precedes it. However, unless the non-statutory practice note--which, incidentally, could be torn up the day after the Bill receives Royal Assent--is a sufficiently compelling and inescapable part of the practical application of the Bill when it becomes law, there will be a risk of mischief-making, which I would regard as dangerous. I believe that every effort should be made to reach an agreement on the practice note before the Bill leaves this House.

My object in moving this amendment is to highlight two areas in which concerns remain; first, on the question of repairs. Noble Lords may be aware that want of repairs arising through normal year-on-year recurring maintenance is disregarded for the purposes of rating valuation, but other repairs may be much more intrusive or involve remediation of a more fundamental nature, in which case they may have to be taken into account in arriving at the annual rental value for rating purposes. In seeking to clarify this, the practice note at present appears to distinguish between repairs as a generic term for those things that should not be taken into account as opposed to,

    "the replacement and renewal of damaged parts which may go beyond repair to constitute improvement", which may be validly considered.

The term "repair" is a broad one. I do not believe that we are yet at the point where the correct test is being applied. I am also worried that the practice note states

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that the first principle is that repairs are deemed to have been carried out,

    "whatever the actual state of repair of the property". That appears to go a lot further than the old law which in effect said that the valuer was to disregard those repairs which it was reasonable to expect a landlord or tenant to carry out. Further, the practice note does not appear to match the wording of the Bill. In strengthening the assumption to be made as to the effect of the Bill, the practice note probably makes the situation a little less clear rather than the converse.

I believe that all of this starts to look a bit complicated and, rather than go back to the old 1920s case law and pray that in aid in defining "repairs", my amendments suggests a definition that is already in legislation in Section 69(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. The first leg of my amendment brings in that provision. It has the advantage that it will continue the philosophy of bringing the process of rating valuation nearer to the real world of landlord and tenant. The real world is now governed largely by the provisions of the 1954 Act.

The second leg of the amendment seeks to refocus the overarching test of reasonableness which has always been the hallmark of rating valuation. In the past this has followed the approximate formula of what is reasonably to be expected in any given circumstance. But we see that in the practice note the test appears to be sub-divided by applying it to a reasonable landlord, a reasonable tenant and a state of reasonable repair. I may be looking for problems where there are none, but I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to provide further reassurance about the Government's intentions as to that. However, in interpreting the new usage of words as an indication of what Parliament means potentially the courts may, in differentiating them from the old use of words, reach a different conclusion from that intended. I am nervous about the wandering use of the word "reasonable". Therefore, the second leg of my amendment is to try to put all of the tests of reasonableness back into the single overarching consideration that relates to the formula of words used in the General Rate Act 1967 and the Local Government Finance Act 1988.

As I have implied, I would be rather unhappy to let this Bill pass through all of its stages without knowing that the practice note was substantially agreed. I have already indicated elsewhere that I am prepared to give time and effort to ensure that that happens. I am aware that the noble Baroness does not want the Bill to be unduly delayed. That is particularly important because a revaluation is taking place at this moment and the Valuation Office needs to know where it stands. I am very much aware of that situation. But I hope that the Minister can give me some reassurance on the interaction between the practice note and what has been said in Committee and perhaps what I have said today and the response of the noble Baroness. I apologise to the House for addressing an issue related to a practice

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note that is not before your Lordships rather than adhering strictly to the text of the Bill, but I believe that the two are very closely linked. I beg to move.

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