Orders of the Day — Caravans (Standard Community Charge and Rating) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 9:40 pm on 3rd December 1990.

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Ordered for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate 10:15 pm, 3rd December 1990

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is a technical measure, which will be welcomed by a substantial number of holiday caravan owners who, contrary to our intention in 1988, are, as the law now stands, liable to the standard community charge. During the consideration of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, the Government gave a commitment that holiday caravans and the pitches on which they stand would be non-domestic-rated. It subsequently emerged that an amendment that we made to the then Bill did not have the desired effect and that the owners of many holiday caravans were subject to the standard community charge.

The Bill therefore removes all standard charge liability from the owners of caravans that are not used as a sole or main residence. Instead, it makes all caravan pitches and the caravans occupying them, which are not used as a sole or main residence, subject to non-domestic rates. As we announced on 30 March, the provisions will have effect retrospectively to 1 April 1990. Anyone who has paid the standard charge in respect of a caravan will be entitled to have that sum refunded.

The Bill includes separate provisions for Scotland, and which have the same effect as those south of the border. Two further provisions are proposed that are specific to Scotland. First, because some caravan owners paid the standard charge last year, provision is made for repayment of half that amount. Secondly, a minor change is needed to the existing provisions on the derating of caravans to permit my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

Are the Government conceding the principle of retrospectivity for Scotland? If so, should not that example be followed in other measures that might be considered within the Minister's Department?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

The Bill has retrospective effect in England, Wales and Scotland. It has an additional retrospective element for Scotland. I do not envisage any connection between this Bill and any other legislation that the Government might or might not bring before the House.

A minor change is needed to the existing provisions on the derating of caravans to permit my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to deal with the fact that the rateable values of caravans in Scotland are, in general, higher than those in England and Wales. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton 10:19 pm, 3rd December 1990

This Bill is another attempt to adjust the poll tax, this time in respect of caravans. It is a further example of the Government, having got the poll tax wrong, making a slight amendment. It may be of help to some, but there are other issues that the Minister must address.

The Local Government Finance Act 1988 made reference also to holiday chalets on caravan sites, and we were given to understand that chalets were encompassed by the provisions for caravans. In Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill in February 1988, mention was made of the significant problems that would arise in respect of caravans and chalets. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) warned of the serious consequences of neglecting consideration of such properties. Unless we provide for them now, we shall all be back in a few months' time debating them again.

The explanatory and financial memorandum states that clause I repeals other references to caravans in consequence. It refers also to caravans other than those used as a sole or main residence". The same applies in principle to chalets, so may we presume that chalets are included in the provisions for the standard rate of poll tax that applies to caravans?

The sites concerned are not protected, have planning permission or site licences for holiday use only, or are those on which year-round occupation is prohibited. Those terms apply to chalets just as much as to caravans. The residents of chalets, like those of caravans, have only limited services provided to them by local authorities, so they pay for services that they do not receive. The Government criterion that people should pay for the services provided was an element in our debates on the standard charges. People who own or occupy chalets have no votes in the county or district in which those properties are located, so local authority members are not accountable to them.

Chalet owners in the Southcliffe area of Skipsey in east Yorkshire paid £189 in rates in the year 1988–89. However, the poll tax payable on those same properties is £326 per person. Because the local authority charges double poll tax in line with the Government's formula, a retired single person who occupies a chalet for a few weeks during the year must pay £652 in poll tax, in comparison with £180 under the old rating system. That is an increase in one year of £470.

In Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) said: A similar but rather more serious problem will arise with caravans and chalets. I am talking about not the sort of chalet accommodation with which hon. Members may be familiar from such television programmes as 'Hi-De-Hi', but the rather more sophisticated accommodation that is available in holiday centres. That, too, is a rapidly expanding sector of the leisure and tourism industry in the United Kingdom. Again, the law is not clear and I shall he grateful if my hon. Friend will advise us further.It seems possible that chalets used for that sort of accommodation may be deemed to be residences under the clause and, therefore, subject to a standard community charge with a multiplier of two. Some hon. Members have spoken to me about the matter. It is causing great anxiety because the implied level of taxation would be up to five times the existing rating levels for business premises. I am sure that that is not my hon. Friend's intention. It was made clear earlier that the Government's intention on business premises is to be broadly neutral and that they do not seek to increase the total sum that will be received under the Bill.If the effect of the provision is as feared by that part of the holiday industry, I hope that my hon. Friend will undertake to look again at the matter"—[Official Report, Standing Committee E;4 February 1988, c. 379.] We are now considering that very question which was raised by the hon. Member. Has the Minister considered the serious matter that his hon. Friend referred to when we were discussing the matter in Committee in February 1988? Is an increase of £470 in one year justified?

It is disappointing. Proposals were made by members of the Standing Committee on both sides of the House—our discussions on caravans and chalets continued for some considerable time. The then Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) promised that the matter raised by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West would be examined. However, two and half years later, we are debating only half of the problem. When will we be back here again, having to put right further anomalies in this legislation, particularly standing charges?

The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, who was the Minister when the Bill was in Committee, suggested that local authorities would use the formula allowed in the Bill to regulate the amount of poll tax to be paid. It was then suggested that some local authorities would charge only half of the community charge on, or would even zero-rate, chalets with small rateable values. We have found that that is not the case, because local authorities are pressed to obtain income and resources.

That is why they have been charging double poll tax on caravans and chalets and that is why we are here—the legislation is not working. Unless we reconsider the rateable values of such properties—which is the basis for the proposals in the Bill—and for all holiday homes, we shall be in greater difficulties as time goes by.

This anomaly is a further example of how the legislation is mistaken. To use the words of the present Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), in a debate on the Local Government Finance Bill held in April 1988 as a priority we should reform rather than replace the rates."—[Official Report, 18 April 1988; Vol. 131, c. 620.] That is the way that we should approach this matter. He was explaining to the House that, in 1979, when he was a member of the Shadow Cabinet, it was not difficult to persuade his colleagues that reform of the rates was the only solution when considering the replacement of domestic rates. That is what we are doing tonight: we are reforming the rating system again.

This two-clause Bill dealing with the rating of caravans is a further demonstration that the Government have got it wrong again, and that the poll tax legislation must be amended. Far be it from me to say, "We told you so," but Conservative Members who read the Standing Committee debates will see that hon. Members on both sides pressed for caravans and chalets to be excluded from the standard poll tax charge.

We do not oppose the Bill, because we believe that the rateable value system is the best way to attract income from holiday caravans and chalets. Let me ask the Minister, however, whether he intends to include in the legislation provision for chalet holiday homes, which are in the same bracket as caravans.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare 10:30 pm, 3rd December 1990

My speech—which will be extremely brief—concerns an omission from the Bill. First, let me declare my interest as adviser to the British Marine Industries Federation.

In the other place, the Under-Secretary of State admitted that the Local Government Finance A ct 1988 was deficient in relation to the rating of moorings. Exactly the same principle applies to caravans. It is a question of the unified business rate being applied to the whole of a marine—or, rather, the whole of a mooring site—rather than to each individual mooring.

I corresponded with the Government, pleading with them to include that minor point in the Bill. I am deeply sorry that they have not done so; I hope that the Minister will reassure us that he will do so at the earliest possible opportunity, and request that valuation officers consider it done when dealing with such matters "on the ground".

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton 10:31 pm, 3rd December 1990

I have considerable sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). I want to ask some technical questions, ranging a little more widely than his.

The fact that we are debating the Bill at all means that the Government know and accept that they have made a mistake; otherwise, there would be no need for it. I fear, however, that they are compounding their error. They made the original mistake for two reasons. We have heard the first again tonight, from both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). A caravan is not a chalet; it is a vehicle—a means of transport, like a boat. The 1988 Act confused residential sites, holiday sites and caravans that move from site to site, aand I am afraid that the Bill makes the same mistake. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, I do not want chalets to be included in the legislation. A chalet is a very different species; it is not a vehicle.

The second reason for the Government's mistake—which led to the flaws in the original legislation, to this Bill and to the flaws in it—is their wish to rush everything through. They would not allow hon. Members to make points such as this; they imposed guillotines, and rushed the legislation through the other place as well. Now they are in a mess.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew , Carlisle

My right hon. Friend has stressed that a caravan is a vehicle; but it is illegal to travel in a moving caravan. I am not sure that I agree that chalets should be excluded.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton

I do not agree entirely with my hon. Friend about that. He says that a caravan is not a vehicle; it is a motor home. One can both live and travel in a motor home. That rests on a pitch, just as a caravan rests on a pitch. This is a difficult problem. That is why the Government, their advisers and the draftsmen have got it wrong. They do not understand what a caravan is.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

I hate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, who is making a very good case. I am grateful for his support, but I must enlighten him by saying that, particularly in the case of boats, it is not a question of the boat; it is a question of the mooring and the site. That was the point that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) was trying to make. Boats and moorings were completely dealt with in the Rates Act 1984. However, the Government omitted them from the 1988 legislation. All I ask is that they should be included.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton

I am complaining not about the 1984 legislation but about the 1988 legislation that the Government tried to rush through the House.

Why are we debating this Bill as if it were emergency legislation similar to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974? I realise that it is only a two-clause Bill, but why deal with all its stages in one night? It may be a minor matter that can be dealt with in that way. However, I submit that the Bill ought to be referred to a Second Reading Committee, where it could be properly debated. I fear that the Government will make the same mistake again; they do not recognise the difference between the pitch and the user of the pitch, be it for a boat or a caravan.

I recognise that, if someone lives permanently on a site in a caravan park, he or she ought to be subject to the community charge. I hate the community charge, but I understand the Government's logic. That is the main residence. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton said, the question is how often a holiday caravan is used: whether it remains on a certain pitch for, say, the summer and is then removed to the owner's garden.

What will be the position of the holiday caravan owner when it comes to non-domestic rating? The Government appear to be saying that they made an error by imposing the poll tax on holiday caravan owners, and that they are trying to put it right. I commend them for doing so. However, the Bill does not deal with the pitch and the occupant of the pitch.

I should declare an interest. I am a member of the council of the Caravan Club. It deals not with those who live in caravans but with those whose hobby, like mine, is to travel in caravans and have holidays in them. I declare that interest because we could be affected, in error, by the Bill. The Government do not want to hurt us, but I believe that they could.

The Caravan Club has a number of sites. Some of the sites are open all the year; most are open for only part of the year. Will the new legislation mean that they will be affected by the non-domestic rate, which, as the Minister said, will affect all other caravan sites? That is the least of the worries of the Caravan Club or of our sister club—it was once our rival, but in these days of glasnost and perestroika it is our sister clubx2014;the Caravan and Camping Club of Great Britain, which also has sites.

I am sorry to bore the House at this time of night, but this is important to us. Under the Caravan Sites Act 1968, caravans can use certificated locations. A certificated location is, for example, a farm, a pub or a vicarage, and it is allowed to take no more than five vans at any one time. Holiday vans can stay 21 or 30 days and must then move to another site. That enables someone to park a caravan or to pitch a tent.

That shows the difficulties in differentiating between caravans and tents. Some sites could be occupied by tents and some by caravans. The notes on clauses state that all other sites will be subject to non-domestic rates. Will a farmer or publican who allows his land to be used for £2 a night inadvertently find himself subject to non-domestic rates? If so, he will pack up and say, "I shall not pay non-domestic rates on this site."

Nearly a third of a million Caravan Club members and a considerable number of Caravan and Camping Club of Great Britain members use such sites for caravans and tents. Caravanning is the hobby of more than 750,000 people. If certificated locations have to pay non-domestic rates, they will pack up. Where will caravanners go? Every lay-by will be full of them, or they will have to give up their hobby. I do not think that that is the Government's intention, but I do not think they know what they are doing. That is their difficulty with the poll tax generally, but in the Bill they do not know what they are doing.

A farmer is allowed by legislation to permit someone to pitch a tent or park a caravan on his land for a certain number of days a year. He is even allowed to hold a rally of caravans and tents for a certain number of days a year. If all other sites are subject to non-domestic rates, he will not hold such rallies, and another source of pleasure for millions of people will be brought to an end by the legislation—not by design but be inadvertence.

Rather than having a debate at this late hour, a Second Reading Committee could have debated the Bill at length and in detail. I do not want to stay here and I am sure that neither do my hon. Friends. I am sure that the Minister does not want to stay here. I was a Minister for years and I know that he wants to get away and be done with the Bill as fast as he can. If he will give me an assurance that certificated locations—club sites and the sites of farmers who allow their land to be used for only a few days in the summer—will not be affected by the Bill or subject to non-domestic rates, I shall happily go home and let the Minister have his Bill in the knowledge that, at least on this tiny aspect of the poll tax, the Government have seen some sense.

Photo of Mr David Mudd Mr David Mudd , Falmouth and Camborne 10:44 pm, 3rd December 1990

I declare an interest as consultant to the British Holiday and Home Parks Association.

What I am about to say will probably give greater encouragement to the Opposition than to my hon. Friends. I welcome the Bill for two reasons. First, it shows yet again that the implications of the community charge legislation were so complex, and the decisions were reached so hastily, that the Department of the Environment and its Ministers did not appreciate everything that would come to pass. Secondly, I believe that the Bill proves yet again that the community charge legislation can be amended until that happy day when it is finally repealed.

When consultations were under way, before and during the passage of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, assurances were given to the holiday parks business that static leisure caravans would remain in rating and thus escape community charge. The owners, the industry, the park operators and the caravan manufacturers of Britain heaved a sigh of relief, because they realised that community charge liability in their sector would seriously undermine their future existence.

It seemed that all would be well until February this year, when the Department discovered to its discomfort that there were flaws in the legal interpretations on which it had based its reassurances. That was clearly a setback to its fulfilling its promise to keep static leisure caravans within rating.

It would be wrong at this stage to suggest that the Department should never have allowed itself to get into that position and, as the Bill is an attempt to remedy things, I will fight that temptation.

From February onwards, the Department went full speed astern to try to untangle the complex web in which it had entangled everybody, including itself. On 14 March this year—just two weeks before the implementation of the community charge—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who was then Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, told me: We take a serious view of this problem and we regret that it has emerged so late in the day. The seriousness of the problem was immediately recognised by the community charge campaign mounted jointly by the National Caravan Council and the British Holiday and Home Parks Association. The BHHPA reckoned that, until the promised return to the status quo could be achieved, more than 50 per cent. of its members' parks would be adversely affected. The extra burden on the parks industry would be crippling. It would cost owners at least another £200 per pitch per annum. Even worse, it would be immensely unfair to the owners of leisure caravans if different regulations could apply to neighbouring parks within the same area depending on the nature of the site licence that had been granted.

Urgent talks were held between the joint committee and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), who was then the junior local government Minister. My hon. Friend revealed his anxiety to resolve the problem as well as his seeming lack of comprehension as to how so disruptive and complex a contradiction of Government promises and undertakings could have arisen.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

This is all very nostalgic. In Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill in 1988, these matters were dealt with in the greatest detail, and all the hazards to which the hon. Member is rightly referring were identified. It was the present Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Cope), and the present Secretary of State for Employment, then the Minister for Water and Planning, who, with the utmost arrogance, denied the possibility of any such problems arising. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this issue did not stand alone but was symptomatic of all the good objections to the poll tax which were raised then and which were brushed aside by arrogant individuals drunk on power but which are now coming home to roost?

Photo of Mr David Mudd Mr David Mudd , Falmouth and Camborne

I feel that I have already been gracious enough to the Opposition without pursuing that line further—especially as I was about to pay tribute to the urgent action taken by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport when he realised that things were going wrong.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) was not a Member when the Scottish poll tax Bill received its Second Reading and entered Standing Committee. I can assure him that all these issues were raised in Committee on that Bill, and English Ministers have no excuse for getting it so drastically wrong.

Photo of Mr David Mudd Mr David Mudd , Falmouth and Camborne

The hon. Gentleman has made what he believes to be a fair observation. I want to restore fairness by paying tribute to the speed and urgency with which my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen reacted when he realised that things were going wrong. Having acknowsledged that on 14 March, he was able to announce by 30 March his decision to introduce legislation to amend matters and to deliver that which had been promised so long before.

I welcome the Bill, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can reassure me on one or two points. Clause 2 applies to Scotland and deletes existing provisions under section 15 of the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1984. That obviously opens the door for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to introduce an order to enable caravan derating to be increased and extended to all static caravan holiday homes, including hire fleet units, retrospectively to 1 April 1990.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I hope that he will confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will use his powers to enable the holiday parks business in Scotland to achieve urgent harmonisation and parity of value with England and Wales. Parity has not yet been achieved, and it is long overdue. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland intends to begin consultations on that important issue at some unspecified date. However, until confirmation of his intentions is given, the industry in Scotland will understandably feel and be extremely vulnerable.

In the meantime, I welcome a Bill that rectifies an administrative nightmare that should never have been allowed to arise in the first place. It eliminates community charge liability of between £300 and £500 for static holiday homes to a more acceptable level of between £90 and £120, in line with the uniform business rate. I welcome the Bill, as it will give a further boost to the amazingly successful caravan manufacturing industry in Britain, which can already meet 97 per cent. of the United Kingdom's demand for its products.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:52 pm, 3rd December 1990

The Bill is yet another example of the mess and chaos that surround the poll tax and the measures by which the Government introduced it. The Bill is another criticism of the guillotine procedure used to carry through the legislation.

The Bill is based on the failure to understand what happens on caravan sites, most of which are a mixture of holiday and residential caravans. The furnished lettings and the tourist area have been affected by the mess and chaos. The holiday home and caravan industry has been affected, as has the bed and breakfast community. In the tourist industry—this is true of the caravan industry and the bed-and-breakfast community—people need to know by this time of the year what they will do next year. The bed-and-breakfast people, who normally advertise by this time of the year, still do not know how they will be affected by the rating and community charge system next summer. They therefore cannot advertise their services for next year.

Similar confusion has occurred with furnished lettings, since some community charge registration officers are treating the letting of a small number of furnished rooms as creating an additional standard charge in a property that will last in perpetuity. Someone who decides to let two or three rooms for a short period has incurred, for the rest of his tenure of that property, a standard charge that he cannot extinguish when he ceases to let those rooms.

There have been similar problems with arrangements for service families and personnel. No doubt we shall have a succession of Bills of this kind if the Government are at all serious, even about the limited anomalies of the poll tax, let alone its fundamental weaknesses. Therefore, it is important that we get it right in this instance. Hon. Members who have mentioned specific difficulties will be at some disadvantage with the compressed procedures that we are likely to use to deal with the Bill.

I have tabled amendments, but they deal only with the points that I have identified, and other hon. Members did not have much time in which to table amendments. Indeed, on Thursday it was announced that we would not go through the remaining stages today, and amendments had to be tabled hastily when that decision was changed. I am grateful to the Chair for selecting amendments that had to be tabled on Friday, which was the first time that it was confirmed that the Bill would go through all its stages today.

This whole affair has presented serious problems for local authorities. Community charge officers did not know what to send out. Even a promise by the Government that they will legislate is not a sound basis on which to tax people. The normal procedure on which people are taxed is based on the law on the statute book, not vague promises that legislation might be brought in, delayed, amended, or might not come out in the form now proposed.

As it turns out, the Bill, which I welcome for what it does, is nevertheless a problem for several local authorities. I do not know how other hon. Members are affected, but Berwick borough council, for example, will lose £330,000 in revenue as a result of the change. I am talking about a small local authority—only about 26,000 people—and £16 in every individual's community charge.

The local authority, anticipating that difficulty, wrote to the Department indicating that there should be some form of compensation, whether directly or by way of some reassessment of the basis on which grant is paid to the local authority. The Department said that that will not be necessary, because it will all be evened out through the business rate to which caravans will be subject.

Of course, the business rate is not allocated on the same principle. The proceeds of business rate are allocated according to a population formula for the area, and the benefit that each charge payer in my constituency will get will be quite small. The Minister may care to give some estimate of what it is—the total additional revenue from caravan sites divided by the total number of people who provide the basis of the formula for redistributing the business rate. I imagine that it will be a relatively small amount—perhaps a pound or two per person—but at £16 per charge payer, which will be the burden on Berwick borough charge payers as a result of the change, will therefore obviously affect their poll tax level.

The issues that I wish to explore further by way of amendment particularly concern, for example, those people who have no home other than a caravan on a caravan site and are accepted as such by the community charge registration officer who has registered them for personal community charge but who are treated by the site owners as not being permanent residents.

Ministers need to understand what happens on caravan sites. There are probably quite a few caravan sites on which there are more people living permanently than the site licences permit. That is not an unusual state of affairs, either because the site operators have not stuck closely to the original planning permission or to their site licences, because tenants have not been entirely clear about their intentions, or because tenants did not get a clear idea of what they were permitted to do when they originally bought a caravan at a certain site and may have been led to expect that they could stay there all the year round.

That produces a situation in which the site owner's view about who is a permanent resident is not necessarily the same as the community charge officer's view. I shall deal with the sort of argument that that leads to when we consider the amendments.

I am concerned also—it is the subject of another amendment—about how tenants are to know their proper rate liability for caravans. The Minister will no doubt help on that matter in Committee. It is important that we get the details right and that Ministers also understand the severe impact that the legislation will have on some local authorities with large numbers of caravans. That impact should be taken into account when Ministers assess the financial circumstances of those authorities.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside 10:59 pm, 3rd December 1990

I declare an interest. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd), I am an adviser to the British Holiday and Home Parks Association, which is not surprising, considering the number of home parks in my constituency.

I welcome the Bill, which is important and necessary. I welcome also my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) back to the Front Bench. I am confident that, with him looking after the Scottish end of these matters, and he and I collaborating, we shall achieve the same result that we have recently achieved on other matters that are controversial in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Does the hon. Gentleman mean the destruction and division in the Scottish Conservative party?

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

The hon. Gentleman should worry about his leadership problems and leave us to enjoy the delights of now having a stable relationship in the party, throughout Scotland and elsewhere.

My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will not be surprised to learn that, down the years, I have had to deal with rating anomalies in many different forms. I have tabled private Member's legislation dealing with matters affecting caravan sites and caravans in Scotland because of the anomalies which, I am sorry to say, still exist in terms of valuations and other factors affecting us relative to the rest of the United Kingdom, and especially England and Wales.

We in Scotland are concerned that the consultations take on board the genuine fears of the Scottish site owners, who vividly remember how they were disadvantaged in the past. It was the efforts made by myself and others that levelled the playing field. My right hon. and hon. Friends will also remember that during the passage of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987, which brought about the introduction of the community charge in Scotland, we debated those matters extensively and fully.

Fortunately for us, we thought that we had fully resolved the problems then, but it appears not. That comes as no surprise to me, because I have always believed that any form of local—taxation charges—or, indeed, any taxationmust constantly be open to amendment. That is the very nature of taxation. I am astonished that any Opposition Member should think that there is something odd about introducing such amendments. I remember spending nearly all my time on amendments to the rates, which had been in existence for a long time.

Therefore, I welcome the Bill and look forward to the discussions and consultations. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood will note that and that it will be me, among others, with whom he will be discussing the matter.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck 11:02 pm, 3rd December 1990

First, I declare an interest: I own a caravan on a site in the most beautiful part of north Yorkshire.

One problem that caravan owners face—I include all those on the same site as myself—is the fact that, over the past 12 months, there has been complete confusion about the payments. The owner of the site on which my caravan is located asked me to pay £85. I paid that sum, but in a letter the owner said that he was not sure whether the amount was accurate. I take his word for that, because he is an honest man who runs a good caravan site. As I said, it is in north Yorkshire. It is huge and very popular, and provides accommodation for day visitors, touring caravans, tents, chalets and fixed caravans such as mine, which is static and about 28 ft long. It cannot be moved without a trailer. There is therefore a mix of all types of holiday accommodation. The important aspect in terms of the Bill is that the site is open only on a seasonal basis, from March to October, so everyone is confined to that summer period, except for the people who work on the site, who are permanent residents in the chalets.

People can go for two days if they wish and those who, like me are on low incomes, can go for two weeks. Other people are free to spend virtually the whole season there—14, 15, 16 or 20 weeks. I am limited by my commitments to the House. Such flexibility should exist, and I am happy to pay my contribution for the caravan services provided on the site.

This year, several people with caravans on that site—my neighbours—decided that they would move. They decided to do so not because of the ground rent which, it is accepted, increases year by year because of the site improvements, but because they are unaware of and uncertain about the charges for the uniform business rate and the community charge. Therefore, caravan owners are disposing of their caravans and losing money on them. They are not getting the going rate, because people will not buy them when they are also uncertain about the community charge.

I am delighted that legislation is coming forward now, but it should have happened at least 12 months ago.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

I am following my hon. Friend's speech closely. He said that the site covered a complex of holiday homes. One would assume—perhaps my hon. Friend can explain—that planning permission for the site was for holiday homes, so the site is a commercial undertaking. Therefore, it should be embraced within the legislation as a commercial undertaking and the homes on the site should come under commercial rating, not poll tax rating.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

I agree with my hon. Friend. The site contains chalets that are occupied by some of its permanent employees for 12 months of the year. It is a huge site in North Yorkshire called Flamingo park. Other chalets and static caravans such as mine are temporarily occupied during the summer season. Touring caravans come on to the site for a few weeks and tents are pitched on the site for one or two weeks. There is a range of holiday facilities on that site. It is a commercial operation that should be based on the uniform business rate, without the present uncertainty.

Some of my friends who own caravans on the site are now saying that they will have to dispose of their caravans because they do not know what it will cost to keep them there next year and they are worried that they will not be able to afford the cost. People who use static caravans generally borrow £4,000 or £5,000 to buy them, and are running at the limit of their holiday budget. They are not people on high incomes who can buy or sell at a whim and dispose of the caravans as they wish. It is their only holiday facility, which they are now losing.

The problem has existed for 12 months and has now been aggravated, so that not only is the site owner having problems because sites are unoccupied, but people are trying to dispose of caravans that they cannot sell. The uncertainty means that people will not buy them. I know about only that one site, but the same problems must be occurring throughout the country. It is sad that the legislation, welcome as it is, is at least 12 months too late.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham 11:09 pm, 3rd December 1990

I have no interest to declare. Many of my constituents are the sort of people whom the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) has just described. A year ago they thought that their position was plain; now uncertainty has crept in, and we should pay tribute to Government and Opposition spokesmen for giving the House an opportunity to make the position clear as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) raised a couple of interesting points, but I hope that they will not hold up the uncertainty of the greatest number.

I have been re-reading a biography of the great A. P. Herbert. If he were still here he would ask about houseboats, which are sometimes moored, sometimes used for boating and sometimes can be pulled up on to dry land. That might interest my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who spoke about the interests of people with boats.

I just hope that the Minister will not have to send one of his civil servants down to St. Helens in the Isle of Wight to go around the edge of Bembridge to see all those empty motor torpedo boats, sometimes on stilts, sometimes not, to determine their liability to the rating system when it comes. I hope that we can get the legislation through so that matters will be sorted out for many ordinary holiday makers, who will then be able to plan for the future.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North 11:12 pm, 3rd December 1990

It is worth noting that caravans were dealt with at great length in the Committee examining the local government legislation—some of my hon. Friends spent two days discussing it. When the great about-turn in the Conservative party comes, it will be interesting to go into the details of the names and constituencies of the Tory Members who sat on that Committee and nodded through every dot and comma of the legislation without listening to the objections which have been voiced tonight and will be voiced on future occasions.

We are in an interregnum. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) has been put into the job as a leading light of the No Turning Back group—and the St. Andrews set—to argue in support of the poll tax and all its works, as if it were a glorious enterprise to be defended to the last. It is hilarious to see the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) alongside him in the Government. No one in the whole of Scotland, from Muckle Flugga to Machrihanish has been more unstinting in his defence of every aspect of the poll tax and its corollary, the standard community charge. I wonder what this squad will do in a few weeks' or months' time when they are told, in the immortal words of Mr. Ron Ziegler, then President Nixon's press secretary, that all previous statements are inoperable, and that the whole tax is and always has been a load of rubbish.

A new anomaly has been created tonight. Of course I welcome the fact that caravans are to be taken out of the standard community charge. No one but an idiot would have included them in the first place; the fact that they are included speaks for itself. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) was mentioned earlier, but I shall not labour that point.

It is all very well that caravans are to be taken out of the charge, but some caravan second homes are handsome dwellings, in which a lot of money, labour and love have been invested. Some people, as a hobby, have devoted a great deal of time, effort and energy to turning them into little palaces, and I wish them well. I do not believe for a moment that these homes should be subjected to the idiocy of the standard community charge; but what is the logic of excluding second-home caravans that may be worth £15,000—for a good one—but continuing to impose the full majesty of the standard community charge on people on low incomes with, say, tiny flats in a coastal resort—flats that may be worth £2,000 or £3,000, with rateable values of £70 or £80?

Where is the logic in that? That question is rhetorical, because there is no logic. If it is possible for a caravan or a house to be a first home, then logically it is possible for a caravan or a house to be a second home.

I am not arguing against the concession that has been belatedly won for caravan owners. Anyone can see the absence of logic in imposing the standard community charge on a property that is part of a block of flats and which may have a tiny value and perhaps far fewer amenities than a caravan. I shall not labour the point, because it is self-evident. Sticking plaster is being applied all over the place. The Government have had to retreat because of the efforts of a pressure group and thousands of people on caravan sites. No doubt the Government will make a virtue of seeing the light three years after everyone else saw it. What about the small flat with a value much lower than that of many a caravan? There will be no answer to that question.

The pernicious evil of the poll tax is perhaps seen as well in its close cousin, the standard community charge. The one thing that the poll tax cannot afford to allow in its name is any principle of ability to pay. That applies to the person of immense wealth and to the person of modest means, who both have to pay the same. Similarly, whether the second home is a castle or a tiny flat in my constituency with an outside toilet, the tenants of both must pay the same. That is the logic of the poll tax and the standard community charge.

In my constituency, and especially in the resort of Millport, where there is a tradition of hundreds of tiny flats, elderly people and those who have put their life savings, sometimes pittances, into small second homes have been forced to sell because rates bills of £70 or £80 have become standard community charges of £500 to £600. Those people have been forced to get rid of their tiny second homes in the same way as some people have had to get rid of caravans which were their pride and joy. My hon. Friends have spoken about that. Such damage has already been done by the people who imposed this madness on the country over the past two or three years.

What do the Government intend to do about the standard community charge as a whole, not just as it applies to caravans? They do not know, and neither do I, but in due course they will take their orders from the new Secretary of State for the Environment. When that happens, the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities will become a member of the Rapidly Turning Back group. If he wants to hang on to his job, he will have to admit that everything that he has been defending, even in this debate, about the principle of the standard community charge has all along been a fraud.

We must not underestimate the human damage that has already been done by the maniacs who imposed this nonsense upon the country. That is nowhere more evident than in the workings of the standard community charge. We are anxious to exempt caravan dwellers and people who use them at weekends, and we therefore support the measure. Nobody should see the measure as a concession or as a sign of enlightenment. It is years late and it is a tiny concession on an issue that has been pointed out all along. It was made plain during the passage of Scottish legislation and during the passage of a Local Government Finance Bill that affected England and Wales. If the Minister has anything to say apart from engaging in a holding operation until someone tells him which way he is to jump and whether he may have to sacrifice his ideological background to hang on to his job, let him tell us his views on the principle of the standard community charge.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew , Carlisle 11:20 pm, 3rd December 1990

I am glad that Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities is to reply to the debate. When I last asked him to answer a question and to take a certain course of action, he was most obliging. I appreciated his response when he saved the Carlisle-Settle railway line.

I suspect that he will find it much easier to respond to my request this evening. I merely ask him to treat holiday chalets and caravans in the same way. A great deal of distress and annoyance has been caused to many of my constituents who own caravans or chalets on the Solway coast. Many of the chalets are not worth £15,000 or £10,000, which are the values of some caravans. Many of them were built after the war, when soldiers received their demob money. Small communities would be formed on a field, with no water and no electricity. Each chalet is now worth only a few hundred pounds. Many of the chalets have been in the ownership of the same family for two generations.

Unfortunately, the Government have made it impossible for many families to keep their chalets. As they are worth only a few hundred pounds, they are not being sold on. Instead, they are being knocked down. That is a crime. Constituents asked me whether I could help, and I wrote to some of the Minister's predecessors. He has had so many that I have rather lost track. I wrote to a Minister on 27 May, and received a response on 27 July. It included an apology for the long delay but offered no solace to my constituents.

It makes no sense that chalets, which come within the terms of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, are classed differently from caravans. In the old days, local authorities used to say, in effect, "Yes, you have a caravan, so you must pay to have your dustbin emptied." They never classed them as residences then, although that would have meant extra income. It was stated in the letter of 27 July that the Minister has discretion.

Allerdale district council is controlled by the Conservative party and a few independents. It did not realise what it was doing when it set a standard rate of £298 for caravans. In lengthy correspondence, I have asked whether it will give an indication to those who own chalets what the poll tax will be next year.

The most recent letter that I received from chairman of the council, Mr. Conaway, which was in July, told me that the matter would go before the appropriate committee in October, when a decision would be taken. I telephoned the council at the end of November and was told that no decision had yet been taken that would bear on the chalets. That is an example of the Government leaving a local authority with discretion. I am not a Member who thinks that we in this place know better and that we should take decision-making from local authorities, and the Bill will remove discretion from the remit of local authorities.

The chalets that I am talking about are closed for four months of the year, so the poll tax charge that is levied on them is much higher per month of use than that on the property of someone who is a resident within the area that is covered by Allerdale district council. I am saying that chalets should be treated in the same way as caravans. They come within the legislation that applies to caravans, and they are cheaper than caravans. They do not have the excellent facilities that are available in some caravans.

I declare an interest, because I own a caravan. It is not an especially salubrious one, but it enables me to get away from this madhouse from time to time. It is great value for money. Why should I pay less for my summer caravan on the Solway coast than my neighbour pays for his chalet, which is worth less than my caravan? There is no sense in that. There is no sense in the poll tax.

The Government should today introduce a Bill to abolish the poll tax, not just for caravans and chalets but for everybody, and revert to the old rating system. They could then go to the electorate. Instead, they will tease them for a couple of years and say, "After the next election we will do something about the poll tax." I doubt whether the Minister will agree to do anything about chalets, and I doubt whether the Conservative party will ever do anything other than tinker with the poll tax.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 11:25 pm, 3rd December 1990

As this Bill applies to Scotland, I should like to say a few words—[Interruption.] I assure Conservative Members that it will be only a few words.

In the Scottish newspapers yesterday, there was considerable coverage of what may have been an inspired leak from the new Secretary of State for the Environment that his preference was for the abolition of the poll tax and a return to a rating system based upon the sale value of a house—[Laughter.] I do not understand why the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), is laughing. I am aware of the difficult position that he and others of his hon. Friends will be in when that happens.

We accept the Bill, which is a minor amendment to the poll tax. It should have been brought forward very much earlier. It does not remove the basic unfairnesses of the standard poll tax, which have been evident since its inception and which we raised both in the House and in Committee. For example, Her Majesty the Queen pays two standard community charges on Balmoral, while constituents in a small flat in Millport pay more than the Queen because they happen to be in a higher rated authority.

That is the basic unfairness of the standard community charge, which we have reiterated time and again, and now do so once more. Although we welcome the Bill, we look forward to the day when, bit by bit—as is happening with this Bill—properties are returned to the old rating system. I am sure that, eventually, all Conservative Members will come to the view that the rating system was not so bad after all.

I wish to question the financial effects of the Bill and its effect on public service manpower. The Bill provides: The Bill will reduce authorities' income from standard community charges in both England and Wales and Scotland. In England and Wales the non-domestic rates payable to the Secretary of State will increase and thus the amount distributable by him to charging authorities. Of course, it is not made clear that that amount will be considerably less than the amount that the local authorities will have paid. Who will make up the difference? The Bill then states: In Scotland the non-domestic rates payable to local authorities will increase"— but the amount of money being paid will be considerably reduced— but they are required to repay half of the standard community charges paid in respect of caravans in respect of 1989–90. Again, who will pick up the bill for that?

Ministers, especially the hon. Member for Eastwood, know that Scottish local authorities are already in dire financial difficulties because of the consequences of the poll tax. The simple fact is that 80 per cent. of those who have not paid their poll tax cannot afford to pay it. Regional authorities such as Strathclyde and district authorities such as Glasgow are facing enormous shortfalls. They are having to pay off staff, cut services and so on. The Bill may be minor, but it adds one more problem to those being faced by Scottish local authorities—unless the Minister gives a guarantee that central Government will make up the difference. It does not say that in the financial memorandum, and I hope that the Minister will not try to imply that. The Government must make up that difference and not put another financial burden on local authorities.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate 11:29 pm, 3rd December 1990

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) described me a member of the St. Andrews set, which I am not. I hope that he will not mind if, none the less, I answer the points made about Scotland as well as those about England and Wales.

As to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), when assessing the amount of the settlement that we make on local authorities, we do not take into account the income that they may have from standard charges, which is a bonus to them.

The hon. Member 'for Cathcart will recall that, in Scotland, static leisure caravans have remained in rating except when they are used as someone's sole or main residence. From 1 April 1989, when domestic rates were abolished in Scotland, residential caravans have either housed personal community charge payers or have been subject to the standard community charge where no one was solely or mainly resident in the caravans. There are only about 600 caravans in Scotland giving rise at any one time to the standard community charge, which means that the impact of the provisions will be minimal in terms of community charge income.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) asked about the derating of caravans in Scotland. To enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to take action to deal with the lack of harmonisation in caravan values in the 1990 revaluation, as a result of which Scottish values are much higher than for comparable caravans and pitches in England and Wales, he proposes to exercise his existing regulation making powers to increase the current 40 per cent. derating enjoyed by static leisure caravans, and to extend it to all caravans.

To enable that to be done, it will be necessary to repeal the existing provision that provides for the derating of only certain caravans. The Bill repeals that provision with effect from 1 April 1990. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is currently collecting information on the extent of the discrepancy between the rateable values of caravans and caravan parks in Scotland and England and Wales. Until that information, and that provided by the caravan industry itself, has been analysed, my right hon. Friend will not be able to determine the level of derating necessary to achieve harmonisation. I am sure that both my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who has championed the cause of caravan owners and site owners in the past, will want to participate in the consultation process.

The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) both welcomed the Bill, and want an end to uncertainty. That is what the Bill sets out to achieve. The hon. Member for Wansbeck was particularly concerned about multi-sites. Multi-use sites containing holiday caravan pitches, touring pitches, and pitches for tents and for chalets that are let out for short periods of the kind that my hon. Friend mentioned will be subject to non-domestic rates, except to the extent that they contain accommodation used as a sole or main residence. If they are used for only part of the year, rateable value should of course reflect that

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) expressed concern about the decision taken by Berwick local authority to set its community charge in the expectation of there being standard community charge income. It is up to Berwick what view it takes, but it was always our intention to exclude caravans from the standard community charge, except where they were a sole or main residence—and I think that was made clear.

If the authority takes account of standard community charge income this year, it will have set a lower charge than it would otherwise have done. The local authority's charge payers would have benefited from that situation. At the end of the year, the authority will presumably find itself with a shortfall on the collection fund, so next year's charge will need to be higher to compensate. However, the benefit has been there for charge payers this year, when a lower charge was set because more income was anticipated. Therefore, the question of Government compensation does not arise.

The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) was concerned about touring sites. The sort of touring site that he was talking about may well have been liable to rates under the old rating system. If the use was limited to a few days a year, the rateable value would have been very low. Indeed, in many cases, where the use was casual and irregular, the site might not have been assessed at all if there were no permanent pitches.

Under the existing rating system, the position is the same. The Bill does not touch on sites of that kind, but relates only to protected sites—those containing one or more caravans which are licensed for year-round occupation. I hope that that is reassuring to him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) mentioned a different point—moorings for boats. I reiterate that we accept that there is a case for replicating in the new system the provisions of the Rates Act 1984 for the valuation officer to group together moorings as a single hereditament and give them a single value. There are good administrative reasons for adopting that approach. Where I part company with my hon. Friend is that I do not believe that the lack of that provision has led to the unfair treatment of any ratepayer, although I shall be interested to hear from my hon. Friend about any evidence to the contrary.

Having said that I do not think that any ratepayer has suffered, I repeat that we intend to make the change which he wants when there is a suitable opportunity, and I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, although he feels strongly about the matter, it is a less urgent point than the question of caravans, as many holiday caravan owners are potentially subject to far higher charges than we had intended.

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), among others, mentioned chalets. Chalets are domestic and are therefore potentially liable to the standard community charge if they provide living accommodation, provided that the occupier has a sufficient interest in the chalet for the charge to be applicable. If the chalet is used for short-stay accommodation, and is let in such a way for more than 140 days a year, it will be non-domestic and will be liable to rates. Some chalets may be neither living accommodation nor let for short periods. They would be liable neither to the standard charge nor to rates. If a chalet is subject to the standard charge but is also subject to a planning restriction limiting its use to part of the year only, a maximum standard charge multiplier of one applies.

Leaving all those important categories to one side, chalets which provide living accommodation are potentially liable to the standard charge and are akin to second homes, and it is reasonable that they should be treated accordingly.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

The chalets at Skipsea that I referred to have no running water and no toilet facilities. They are simply places that someone can use for recreation, for limited periods of the year. How can the Minister describe them as domestic properties when they are as basic as a shelter? People have to provide their own chemical toilet and to obtain their own water. There are few facilities such as street lighting and main roads. Refuse is collected occasionally.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

It is not for me but for the valuation officer to say whether or not they are domestic properties. The hon. Gentleman does not necessarily have a good point when he mentions the non-provision of water, as that is not a local authority service paid for under the personal community charge, let alone under the standard community charge. If the accommodation is not domestic, it will not fall within the community charge, either standard or personal.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

That is what I meant by asking for a definition of a domestic property. If there are no facilities such as running water or toilets in the property, how can they be described as domestic properties?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

I repeat that that is a matter for the valuation officers. However, a house with no running water is not necessarily uninhabitable: it cannot be ruled out of the domestic sector. The hon. Gentleman is using a piece of litmus paper which may not constitute the only appropriate test.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew , Carlisle

Let us suppose that a chalet and a caravan are next to each other, under exactly the same conditions, on a site that is closed for four or five months of the year. How can the Minister say that one is subject to a standard rate, while the other will be subject to the new system? That does not make sense. It is entirely unfair, and the Minister should do something about it tonight.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

Let me return to something that I wanted to say to the hon. Member for Normanton. He quoted my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), implying that my hon. Friend had said that he would produce legislation covering chalets as well as caravans. May I remind the hon. Gentleman of what my hon. Friend said in Committee on 25 February 1988—and, in so doing, reply to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)? He said: We have reconsidered the issue thoroughly and conclude that there is a sound a logical case for drawing a distinction between movable caravans, which are chattels and depreciating assets, and other second homes that are not movable. Although the generality of second homes must be treated as domestic properties, and it is only fair and proper that their owners or lessees should pay the standard charge, itis more appropriate for caravan sites and pitches to remain in non-domestic rating."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 25 February 1988; c. 1031.] I reiterate what was said then: a caravan is a chattel, and is not in itself subject to rating. It is the pitch on which it stands that is rateable, because it is non-domestic property. Like other rateable property, it is assessed on its notional annual rental value. The presence of a caravan on a pitch will contribute to its value. A chalet, on the other hand, is domestic property if it is living accommodation, and whether it is living accommodation is a question for the valuation officer to determine in each case.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

With all due respect, this is absurd. According to the explanatory and financial memorandum, clause 2 will, in relation to Scotland, exclude caravans from the definition of 'domestic subjects'. The Bill creates the differential between domestic subjects and caravans which are not to be domestic subjects.

The Minister has repeated the immortal prose of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). How can he defend the logic of excluding a caravan worth £15,000 while including a chalet or flat worth £2,000?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

We do not seem to be able to shake the Opposition's belief that property values should be the universal determinant, but that is not the principle involved in the community charge.

The hon. Gentleman wants to know why second-homeowners who have caravans rather than cottages or flats escape the standard charge. The law as it stands attempts to make the distinction that he is trying to make, but it simply does not work. We have found no satisfactory alternative break point between holiday caravans and second homes. Rather than create a further set of problems—and because so few caravan second homes exist—we have decided not to make that distinction. We believe that there are only about 2,000 such caravans. The number is restricted by the limited supply; hence the high value of the pitches that are licensed for all-year occupation. There is a strong financial incentive to use such pitches for residential purposes.

I believe that the problem identified by the hon. Gentleman, although it may give him some heartache, is of limited application. The Government have tried to apply his preferred remedy, but have found that it does not work.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene again. If the issue of holiday homes and part-time holiday homes is not resolved tonight, I foresee that in a few months we shall have to deal with another Bill to amend what we are amending tonight in this Bill.

I remind the Minister that, in columns 427 to 430 of the Official Reportof the proceedings in Standing Committee on 4 February 1988, it was said that the question of the boundaries between domestic and non-domestic property, on which now depends liability as between the community charge and rating, has not proved simple to resolve. The House of Commons Library research note states that the discussion in section C of the background paper should be referred to. Is the Minister saying that the division between domestic and non-domestic properties is a matter for the valuation officers and that it is their responsibility? If disputes arise, who will resolve them? Will it be possible to deal with them here, or will the Minister provide for a decision to be reached if there is a dispute over what are and what are not domestic properties?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that whatever laws we pass they have to be interpreted outside Parliament. We can draft general laws, but how they apply to different people and circumstances and, in this case, to different properties must be a matter of judgment, whether by the courts or by officers who are delegated to take the decision.

The hon. Gentleman implies that borderline problems arise uniquely under the community charge legislation. That is not so. There are difficult borderline cases in every taxation system. The best way to resolve them is to leave the decision to the valuation officers. If the parties are aggrieved, they can use the appeals procedure, or they can test the matter in the courts. That is the only way in which people out there can test what the laws mean that Parliament has passed and how they apply to different people in different circumstances.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Patnick.]

Further proceedings postponed, pursuant to order [29 November].