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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hylton, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, as well as to noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment or at least expressed their sympathy with its intent. The Minister too expressed sympathy with its intent, but deep concern about its impact in practice.

The Minister gave a helpful and generous response, and I shall study it carefully. Since the previous Bill in 2004, we now have a new Home Secretary. Perhaps circumstances have changed to some extent.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Earl will remember that the Children Bill was enacted under his instruction. I would not suggest that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would feel any differently about this matter.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I note what the Minister says. The Home Office seems somehow to trump every other department around it. I may be unfair and wrong in my observation, but that seems to have happened in the past.
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I encourage the Minister not to give up all hope of looking again at this problem and how such arrangements might work in practice. As I said only last week, the relevant court looked at an approach for judicial review under Section 9 of the power to make families destitute to encourage them to return to their home countries. It found that the immigration service was acting within its remit in doing so. Perhaps that gives some comfort to the Minister.

Perhaps a compromise is possible before Third Reading. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, the Government could look at the different arms of the immigration service as it deals with children and families. Perhaps one arm could be brought under Section 11, with a sunset clause applying after two years. One could at least see how it worked and whether the consequences would be as grave as the Minister clearly fears. There would be an opportunity to evaluate that pilot scheme, just as there has been a very useful evaluation of Section 9 in the previous Bill.

I know that we all wish to work in the best interests of children. The danger arises when a system becomes unthinking because it is driven towards a particular target. I am seeking to encourage that system to think more carefully about children as it moves towards its necessary target. It is a little like doing maths and showing the working. That is what I am asking: I want to see the working behind the system. I think of the league tables in schools. There has been so much concern to set down a clear target for pupil achievement, but the softer targets of including, and working with, the more vulnerable children are harder to deliver. The Government have introduced value-added elements to the system to balance it. I am asking for more balance in this area and a proportionate response which achieves the aims of the Government—which we all wish—but does so in a humane way. I again thank the Minister for her response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 [Repeals]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendments Nos. 72 to 75:

"Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c. 24)Section 33."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 59 [Commencement]:

[Amendments Nos. 76 and 77 not moved.]

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Tuesday, 7 February 2006.

Grand Committee

The Committee met at half-past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (BARONESS RAMSAY OF CARTVALE) in the Chair.]

Council Tax (New Valuation Lists for England) Bill

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale): I begin with the following statement: if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Clause 1 [Dates on which new valuation lists must be compiled for England]:

[Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 3:

The noble Lord said: Subsection (2) inserts into the 1992 Act a power for the Secretary of State to specify by order, for England, the year in which each new valuation list must be compiled. The Bill therefore empowers the Secretary of State to determine the date of any future revaluation, should it take place, and presumably the timescale between one revaluation and another, unlike the present legislation, in which the timescale is fixed on a 10-year cycle.

We cannot support giving the Secretary of State an unfettered power to introduce a revaluation, in theory, whenever he or she wishes. Such a measure could be abused to the detriment of the already hard-pressed council tax payer, who has seen bills increased far beyond anything resembling inflation since the Government came to power. Indeed, when one considers that, since 1997, council tax has increased by more than 76 per cent, one can understand people's worries. It means that many individuals who are asset-rich but income-poor are the hardest hit. Furthermore, as we all know, the gearing effect means that it is difficult for local authorities to keep the rate of increase of council tax down to the rate of inflation; therefore, the added imposition of possible revaluation only adds to people's worries.

In addition, we must not forget that revaluations are very expensive to conduct. With the Secretary of State having the power to call one whenever he or she wishes, the potential future bill for revaluations could be very significant.

Why do the Government seek such a power for the Secretary of State? It seems far beyond anything that could be justified. How soon after the conclusion and publication of Sir Michael Lyons's final report do the
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Government envisage a revaluation will occur? Surely it would have been better to wait for the Lyons report before taking the powers in this legislation, which appear excessive. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: If Amendment No. 3 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 4.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Much of what I wish to say on my amendment could also be said under this one, but I shall not say it now.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. Can the Minister explain how it is foreseen that the Valuation Office Agency will gear itself up to what is, after all, an enormous task? Under the current legislation, it had taken on staff and begun to make the necessary long-term preparations. Under this legislation, how long in advance of a revaluation does the Minister envisage having to announce that it will take place, and how long would the Valuation Office Agency need to gear itself up to be able to undertake it?

Baroness Hanham: Further to the noble Baroness's question, will any work be done on the revaluation while no valuation Bill is in process? At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that everything would grind to a halt and that the valuation lists would not be compiled at all. It would be of interest to the Committee to know whether everything will now stop completely and whether all revaluations—except where someone sells a house or under the current situation—will stop. That would then build on the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about what would be the expectation of having to re-employ people to carry out the postponed revaluation.

There is enormous speculation at the moment because of the various consultations that have suddenly started on the reorganisation of local government, not just Sir Michael Lyons's. How might that affect the chance of any revaluation at a later stage. In Sir Michael Lyons's view, a revaluation might not be necessary because he might recommend complete changes to the way in which the council tax system operates. This all relates to the question of for how long the revaluation is to be postponed; whether it would be better to have just abandoned it; and how long it will take to gear up for it, if necessary, in the future.

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