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The noble Baroness said: This group of amendments deals with points raised by the Council of Valuation Tribunal Members for England and Schedule 15 deals with the Valuation Tribunal for England. The schedule was the subject of some debate in the other place.
Amendment No. 238KA seeks to leave out are and replace it with include. This is the opposite of what we have previously sought. I am a little nervous that I may be told that are and include are synonymous. However, the council made the point that business arrangements dealt with in this part of the schedule are more extensive than just selecting members to hear an appeal.
This concerns tribunals functions which, as the council points out, are by their nature judicial. The executive should not have the functions of the tribunal at its disposal without having to overcome that little hurdle.
Amendment No. 279B seeks to amend Schedule 16, which refers to existing legislation. The relevant paragraph gives to the Valuation Tribunal Service the function of providing general advice about procedure in relation to proceedings before the tribunal. This might have been appropriate when trying to establish conformity between 56 different valuation tribunals, but for the future when there is a single tribunal with a judicially appointed president, it will not be appropriate. Advice on judicial procedure should normally come from a judicial, not an executive, source.
As regards Amendment No. 279C, sub-paragraph (3)(a) provides for a majority of the members of the Valuation Tribunal Service board to be serving Valuation Tribunal presidents or chairmen. In the opinion of the majority of presidents of the present 56 tribunals, this provision blurs the separation of powers between judiciary and executive and has encouraged the Valuation Tribunal Service to involve itself in judicial matters. I am told that the service should follow the same form as HM Courts Service with one judicial member on the board to demonstrate clearly the division between judicial and administrative responsibilities.
Baroness Andrews: I have a rather long speaking note because it is important to take seriously the considerations that the noble Baroness mentioned. I shall address Amendments Nos. 238KA, 238KB, 279B, 279C and 279D. Although the noble Baroness did not speak to the two last amendments, I shall put my response to them on the record. They all relate to the single Valuation Tribunal for England. Members of the Committee are looking rather perplexed. I beg the Committees pardon. The noble Baroness spoke to all those amendments.
The Government wish to establish a single Valuation Tribunal for England. Part 13 and its associated schedulesClauses 220, 221 and Schedules 15 and 16provide for the establishment of a single Valuation Tribunal. The Bill provides that appointments of the president, the vice-president, the chairman and the members of the VTE should be made by the Lord Chancellor following selection by the Judicial Appointments Commission in line with the requirements of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.
Why have we made this decision? There are at present 56 separately constituted tribunals in England, which hear appeals in relation to council tax and national non-domestic rates. Members of the tribunals are unpaid volunteersthis is an opportunity for me to say thank you to them for the wonderful service that they offer. The Government believe, however, that continuing with 56 separately constituted valuation tribunals in England is not sustainable and that variations from modern tribunal practice currently in place in the valuation tribunals must be addressed. That view was supported in a recent public consultation.
The Governments aim in bringing forward the amendments is to modernise and reorganise the valuation tribunals to address variations from modern tribunal practice currently found in the structure and operation of the tribunals; to promote good tribunal practice; and to encourage the efficient and effective running of the valuation tribunals for the user and all stakeholders while continuing to sustain the tribunals judicial independence. It is about providing a modern and responsive unified Valuation Tribunal for England, with a full customer focus that reflects modern thinking about tribunals. By establishing a single tribunal for England with a national president, the Government want to establish a tribunal that reflects best practice in the tribunal world and offers the best possible service. We strongly believe that a national president would strengthen judicial independence and would provide the benefit of an authoritative voice on judicial issues affecting the tribunal. The Government believe that those changes will be better for the consumer in the end.
The consultation received widespread public support in summer 2006. All the key stakeholders, including valuation tribunal members, local authorities and the Council on Tribunals supported the establishment of the VTE. Some responses to the recent consultation underlined the importance of preserving the local culture of the valuation tribunals. I emphasise that it is not the intention of these legislative changes to lose this local connection. On the contrary, it is extremely
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I will turn to the amendments. Schedule 15 seeks among other things to insert new provisions in relation to the VTE into Schedule 11 to the Local Government Act 1988 that provide for the establishment of and the arrangements for the VTE. Amendment No. 238KA would change the wording of new paragraph A17(2)which is in paragraph 2 of Schedule 15 to the Billso that the definition of tribunal business arrangements is not restricted to the selection of members to deal with an appeal. We are aware that some tribunal members have concerns about thisfor example, in relation to the listing of appeals for hearingbut I hope that I can provide reassurance on that point.
In practice, the VTE will have both express and implied powers. Some powersfor example, the power in new paragraph A5 for the president to assign functions to a vice-president are express and are set out in the Bill. In particular, in relation to tribunal business arrangements, it is important for the VTE president to have an express duty to make provision for the selection of VTE members who are to deal with any appeal. However, other powers are implied. For example, the VTE must determine those appeals which are within its jurisdiction as set out in new paragraph A2. Consequently, it has a power to do anything that is necessary to fulfil that duty, including the listing of appeals. There is no need to make express provision for each and every facet of this power in the Bill, and there is no need to refer to this in the definition of tribunal business arrangements.
It is important to make express provision in the Bill that tribunal business arrangements provide for the president to select the members of a tribunal who are to hear an appeal. Under the arrangements that exist at present for the 56 separate valuation tribunals in England, a tribunal hearing an individual appeal must have a chairman, unless the parties to the appeal agree otherwise. The Bill seeks to mirror that arrangement for the VTE, by requiring that at least one senior member of the VTEthe president, a vice- president or a tribunal chairmanbe required to deal with an appeal. It is important to have that in the Bill, and it is set out in new paragraph A17(3). In order to provide for that, the Bill must also provide for the president to make tribunal business arrangements, under new paragraph A17(1), and for those tribunal business arrangements to address the selection of VTE members, under new paragraph A17(2).
I should also mention that other procedural requirements may be set out in regulations made under new paragraph A19. The Government will consult widely on those, including consulting the VTE president, before making use of that power.
However, against that background, there is nothing to prevent the president making further procedural arrangements, which may take the form of guidance, provided that those arrangements are consistent with any regulations made under new paragraph A19. We have not included that in the Bill but we think that it is important for the president to decide whether and how best to do that.
Amendment No. 238KB seeks to amend the regulation-making power in new paragraph A19(2)(e) so that the consent of the president is required before the clerk or any other member of the VTEs staff can discharge functions relating to an appeal. Regulations made under this power may set out functions of the VTE relating to an appeal which can be discharged by the clerk or by other VTE staff. I understand that the concern here may be that some of the VTEs functions may, through regulations, be delegated to the clerk or other staff without the presidents agreement or against his will.
I reassure the Committee that there is nothing new in this approach. A similar power already exists in relation to the current valuation tribunals in paragraph 8(1)(b) of Schedule 11 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988. In short, its purpose is to facilitate good administration and not to usurp or interfere with the appellate functions of the valuation tribunals. The purpose of the power in new paragraph A19(2)(e) is precisely the same, albeit in relation to the VTE.
It should also be noted that requiring the consent of the president before any functions can be discharged by the clerk or another VTE staff member is likely to be unnecessarily bureaucratic, and one can see how that might happen. We are simply after the facilitation of good administration.
Before exercising the regulation-making power in paragraph A19, the Government would certainly consult the president of the VTE about any proposal to enable a function to be discharged by VTE staff. We would not seek to act against the presidents wishes and indeed, in most cases, the Government expect the power in new paragraph A19(2)(e) to be used at the express wish of the president of the VTE. In practice, it is likely that those functions will be discharged by the clerk or by other VTE staff only in circumstances where the president or the members selected to deal with an appeal are content for the functions to be discharged in that way.
The amendments that have been tabled to Schedule 16 to the Bill seek to alter some of the arrangements concerning the Valuation Tribunal Service, as set out in the Local Government Act 2003. That is something that the noble Baroness brought to my attention. I believe that the amendments are rooted in concerns among certain tribunal members about the judicial independence of the current tribunals.
Perhaps I may briefly remind the Committee about the purpose and remit of the VTS. It is a non-departmental government body sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Its purpose is to secure the efficient and independent operation of valuation tribunals in England and to improve customer service. It has statutory functionsthey are contained
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The VTS has a board of seven members, including a chairman and deputy chairman, who are all appointed under Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments rules. It has a staff of 132, led by a chief executive. Again, the VTS can be found in a number of locations across England.
There are four amendments to Schedule 16. Amendment No. 279B seeks to remove one of the key functions of the VTSthat of giving general advice about procedures in relation to proceedings before the current tribunals and, in due course, following the establishment of the Valuation Tribunal for England, in relation to proceedings before that tribunal. It has been suggested by some members of valuation tribunals that such a function will no longer be valid with a single tribunal and a judicially appointed president. We think that their concerns may be prompted by a misunderstanding about what the function actually means in practice.
The Governments view at the time of the passing of the 2003 Act and now is that this function is not about giving advice about specific appeals. That is why the function refers to general advice. Any general advice given by the VTS would be likely to be offered to two main groups of stakeholdersmembers of the VTE and members of the public.
General advice to tribunal members would be aimed at better helping them to understand the general procedures applying to appeals that may come before the VTE. General advice to members of the publicfor example, in the form of leafletsdescribes the circumstances in which an appeal can be made, and so on.
In giving general advice the VTS has not and would not be usurping the Valuation Tribunal for Englands inherent power to decide, in accordance with the applicable legislation and the VTE presidents tribunal business arrangements, how best to handle a particular appeal. I hope the noble Baroness is satisfied on that point. The provision in the 2003 Act ensures that the giving of such general advice is a function of a particular body. Since it is the VTS that provides the administrative staff for the current 56 tribunals and will provide the administrative staff for the VTE, it is the Governments view that the VTS is best placed to take on the role of offering general procedural advice. It also seems unwise to burden the VTE with this general function. Indeed, we believe this would be the practical effect of the amendment. The VTE has no specific resources to carry out the function, and it is better employed in determining appeals. I am hoping that there is no reason why the VTS and the VTE should not liaise about the VTSs exercise of that function and come to an accommodation about what the limits of the function should be.
Amendments Nos. 279C, 279CA and 279D are linked. Amendment No. 279C seeks to remove the requirement for the majority of members of the VTS board to be senior members of the VTE, and Amendment No. 279D is consequential to that amendment. Amendment No. 279CA would prevent any member of the VTE from being appointed as a board member of the VTS, other than the president of the VTE, who is appointed to the VTS board by virtue of his office.
I shall explain briefly why there is currently a provision that the majority of the members of the VTS board are drawn from the membership of the valuation tribunals. Then I will set out why the Government believe it is important this provision is retained when the VTE is established. It is worth mentioning that at present four of the seven VTE board members are either presidents or chairmen of valuation tribunals.
Proposals for the establishment of the VTS were addressed in a 2000 Green Paper and a 2001 White Paper, which were supported. In consultations with the valuation tribunals one of the key points was the imperative for the membership of the VTS board to be drawn mostly or exclusively from the body of tribunal members. A provision was built into the constitution of the VTS to reflect those wishes. It ensures that the board has a good understanding of how tribunals work.
Representations have recently been made to Ministers that this aspect of the constitution of the VTS should be amended. The Government take the issue of the judicial independence of valuation tribunals very seriously indeed, just as we did when we first consulted on the constitution of the VTS and when we passed the legislative provisions of the 2003 Act. I have to say that no specific evidence has been forthcoming that the constitution of the VTS is of itself prejudicing judicial independence in such a way that the only possible solution is for that constitution to be amended by means of changes to the 2003 Act. Neither have we seen any specific examples where the way in which the VTS board is operating, with a majority of tribunal presidents and chairmen, is in fact prejudicing judicial independence. I am sure that the VTS board has no wish to prejudice or to be perceived as prejudicing judicial independence; indeed, I am quite confident that the reverse is true. The current constitutional arrangements for the VTS are supported by the Council on Tribunals, which takes the view that the statutory requirement for the tribunal member majority on the board is sufficient to maintain that judicial independence.
The consultation undertaken in the summer of 2006 about the proposals to establish the VTE raised no significant concerns over the requirement for the majority of the VTS board to be drawn from senior members of the VTE. We continue to take the view, moreover, that the proposals in this Bill for a new unified valuation tribunal under a single national president will go further still to support that independence.
Amendments Nos. 279C, 279CA and 279D would leave the president of the VTE as a member of the VTS board by virtue of office. To remove the
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The Committee has been patient as I have set out the background and explained the implications of the amendmentsalthough I suspect that it has probably been more painful for me. But, on that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that her concerns have been addressed and questions answered.
Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful for that response and I am sure that the council will be grateful as well. Obviously, I will wait to hear what it has to say. I also thank the noble Baroness for dealing with Amendment No. 279CA, which is on the supplemental list and not in my name but that of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. It is useful to have had it included.
and then going on to define them, it could simply have said, There shall be arrangements for the
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The Bill was returned from the Commons with certain amendments disagreed to with reasons for such disagreement, with certain amendments disagreed to but with amendments proposed in lieu thereof, with certain other amendments agreed to with amendments and with a consequential amendment to the Bill and with the remaining amendments agreed to. The Commons amendments and reasons were ordered to be printed.
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