My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what are their immediate plans, prior to the proposed reform of the rating system, to remove or mitigate the existing anomalies between Scotland and England in rating valuations of sports club properties.
My Lords, the Government are aware that there are some differences in valuation practice between Scotland and England, but harmonising the two independent systems will take time. However, statute already gives rating authorities discretion to remit part or all of the rates payable by non-profit organisations like sports clubs, and when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland meets the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities next month, he intends to discuss with it its use of this discretion.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he accept that if the existing arrangements for the derating of Scottish amateur sports clubs are not soon improved, opportunities for sport and recreation in all Scottish communities will suffer a great deal? Does he further agree that the Scottish Office and CoSLA should try to persuade all local authorities to adopt the practice in which Fife Regional Council has recently indicated that it may take a lead, of a 50 per cent. derating for all sports clubs meeting a certain definition but regardless of whether they are licensed premises?
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. I shall certainly communicate it to my right honourable friend in view of the meeting that he is soon to have with the local authorities. We must always be careful to compare like with like. We must bear in mind that south of the Border rateable values of English clubs are still expressed in terms of the level of rents at the time of their 1973 revaluation. We must bear in mind that Scotland has had two revaluations since then and all types of property in Scotland have on average increased almost eightfold.
My Lords, may I press the noble Lord the Minister about his promise to iron out some of the anomalies in the respective rating systems in Scotland and England? Is he aware that the Exxon Company opened a £400 million ethylene plant in Fife last week and that the local authority has imposed on it a rates burden of £10 million per annum? The firm has said that that is four times the amount of rates it would have to pay if that factory had been situated south of the border? Can the noble Lord the Minister give me some assurance that those disincentives to investment will be taken care of in any new statutes?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, as he so often does, has hit on a very important point. It is for reasons such as those that he has described that the Government have produced a Green Paper Paying for Local Government. We are already well advanced with our proposals of how that might be achieved in Scotland.
My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that the extraordinary rate anomaly that exists, despite the fact that there has not been a revaluation in England since long before the revaluation took place in Scotland, results in the Perthshire Cricket Club, which is situated in a local authority-owned park, paying £18,500 per annum in rates whereas Lords Cricket Club in London pays only £22,000? Is he further aware that Lanark Bowling Association has a rateable value of £22,500 while a similar stadium erected at about the same time but in Carlisle is valued at only £2,000—one-eleventh of that amount?
My Lords, yes I can confirm to my noble friend that I am aware of those and many other anomalies which are revealed in the different systems north and south of the Border. I reiterate what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—that that is one of the reasons why the Government are determined to press ahead with a complete review of the system.
My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware of the excellent adjournment debate that was held in the other place on 19th May last when all-party feeling was that there was something very wrong with the rating system? Many other examples were then given besides those which we have heard of today from the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. In my old constituency the Western Baths, a modest but good local baths club, pays £19,500 per year while the RAC Club in Pall Mall, which is at least 10 times as large, pays only £35,000. We could go on giving examples. Will the noble Lord the Minister tell the House whether he has any information about the appeals which have been lodged with the assessor? I know that the process is still going on, but some may have been decided by now. When the Government meet CoSLA will they be able to help the hard-pressed local authorities to assist sports clubs by giving the local authorities any new money?
My Lords, there will be no new money at present for the local authorities. It is entirely up to each authority to determine whether it should invoke the powers of rebate that it has. With regard to the noble Lord's earlier remarks about the all-party interest in the situation, I hope that that all-party interest will be reflected by giving the legislation a speedy passage when it is presented.
My Lords, when my noble friend is talking to his right honourable friend about the imbalance in rates between Scotland and England, will he press upon him that what we desire is for the Scots to have their rates brought down and not for the English to have their rates put up?
My Lords, I shall pass on that message to my right honourable friend.
My Lords, does the noble Lord appreciate that that might be a view expressed by an English Peer? He said that there will be no extra money. Will that not place local authority members in a terrible predicament in that they will have either to assist the sport and health facilities of their people or, shall we say, make a cut in social services?
My Lords, I think that it can be achieved without any cut in social services. There will be cases which merit a rebate and there will be others which, in the view of the authorities, do not justify it.