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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 May 2001

Vol. 535 No. 3

Valuation Bill, 2000: Report and Final Stages.

Amendment No. 1 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 9 are consequential on amendments Nos. 4, 5, 23 and 27 and 29. Therefore, amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 23, 27, and 29 may be taken together by agreement.

Before we deal with that, there is an error in the printed list of amendments. On page 1 of the amendment list the footnote to amendment No. 7 should read "This is the appropriate reference if amendment No. 24 is accepted." On page 5 of the amendment list the footnote to amendment No. 29 should read "This is the appropriate reference if amendment No. 23 is accepted." I trust that the Deputies will take note of those errors.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"‘apart-hotel' means one or more apartments, including any ancillary facilities associated with such apartments, which are used for the purposes of the trade of hotel-keeping;".

I listened carefully to the views expressed on Second and Committee Stages by a number of Deputies on all sides of the House on the need to ensure aparthotels are subject to rates. Having considered the issue further, I am making this set of seven amendments to put the question of the rateability of aparthotels beyond doubt.

Devising a suitable formula of words was not easy. I do not consider bed and breakfast accommodation and genuine self-catering accommodation can be made subject to rates at this time. Any amendment made must recognise that reality. However, the position of aparthotels, as Deputies stressed in earlier discussions, is different. I agree they should be subject to rates, which some of them already are. These amendments provide for the rating of apartments where a number of them are used for the provision of short-term self-catering accommodation, have ancillary facilities associated with them and are effectively used for the purposes of the trade of hotel-keeping.

It is difficult to construe these various amendments, but they appear to meet the requirements of amendment No. 27 in my name. I am pleased the Minister has sought to clarify the matter since we dealt with it on Committee Stage. I spoke to the finance officer at Dublin Corporation, who clarified it is not the practice in Dublin, certainly Dublin city, to rate aparthotels. I am glad we have clarity on the matter and that it will be possible to proceed from here.

I welcome and support the amendment.

I welcome the Minister's amendments and am glad he took on board some of the points raised on earlier Stages by some of the Members present. It is difficult to grasp all this. Will the Minister of State spell out matters? Where is the dividing line? What does "self-contained" mean? Aparthotels are more or less at the top end of the spectrum. Some Deputies referred to large style self-catering accommodation or guesthouses that would have up to 80 rooms. Will this provision relate only to aparthotels and not other categories of accommodation? This provision is welcome in so far as it goes. The campaign for changes may continue, but I appreciate the Minister of State is making a change. The private sector is developing new forms of residential or hotel units all the time. It is important to ensure legislation is introduced to bring some of them into the rates net as the opportunity permits. I appreciate the changes brought forward.

I thank Deputies McDowell, Mitchell and Ahern who collectively raised this issue. I appreciate their response that I listened carefully to what was said. Deputy Ahern is right about the definition. I must be specific. It will cater for a specific part of the market, particularly in Dublin, that was not subject to rates previously. The way I have carefully constructed the issue has brought certainty to the position. I am happy there will be certainty on this matter for local authorities throughout the country.

The definition the Minister proposes inserting defines an aparthotel as one used for the purposes of the trade of hotel-keeping. Is there a definition of hotel-keeping? I do not see one in the Bill. Are we sure we are providing certainty here?

We are. The above amendments provide for the rating of apartments where a number of them are used for the provision of short-term self-catering and are effectively used for the purposes of the trade of hotel-keeping. The wording which provides for the rating of apartments and aparthotels does not make houses subject to rates even where they are used in the same manner.

We all know what aparthotels are. I am familiar with one in my constituency and was able to use it as an example. A major hotel built an apartment block 20 yards away and used it as an aparthotel, whereby all the paying customers could utilise the full facilities of the hotel, includ ing the leisure, swimming and dining facilities etc. From the consultations I have had with those involved in this area, everyone is satisfied that they know what we are talking about when we talk of aparthotels. I did not realise it is defined in the dictionary, which was a help in defining it.

As Deputy Ahern said, it is not a perfect science as there are areas that are clearly excluded. I am not prepared to go into those other areas. As Deputies said, there are new modern ways of doing business and this is one of them. I am satisfied they should be subject to the payment of rates. The local authorities are equally satisfied with what I have put forward. I am sure it will enormously aid the situation in Dublin.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"‘apartment' means a self-contained residential unit in a building that comprises a number of such units;".

Is amendment No. 2 agreed?

The amendment states that an apartment means a self-contained residential unit in a building that comprises a number of such units.

We cannot have a discussion on this amendment as it has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.

I will have to oppose it if that is the case. There are units over shops which would come under the category of such apartments. Does this amendment take such units into account?

Such units are residential properties. This amendment would not cater for what the Deputy suggested. What he referred to are private residences and they are not included in this amendment. I have clearly defined what I am talking about, which is where a number of units in a building are used effectively as part of a hotel.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 6 is related to amendment No. 3 and they may be taken together by agreement.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 3.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 8, line 45, to delete "voluntarily".

Section 3 defines various terms used throughout the Bill. Charitable organisations is one of the terms so defined. The definition of charitable organisations sets out the requirements that a company or other body corporate or an unincorporated body of persons must comply with conditions to be accepted as being a charitable organisation for the purposes of the Valuation Bill and thereby qualify for exemption from rates in certain circumstances.

In the case of a company, it is required, among other things, as set out in subsection 1(b)(ii) of the definition that its memorandum of association or articles of association, as appropriate, contain a provision with respect to a case of its being wound up voluntarily. That provides for the disposal of any surplus property arising on its being wound up to another charitable organisation within the meaning of this Bill, the main object or objects of which are similar to its main object or objects, or if the body receives a substantial proportion of its financial resources from a Department of State or an office or an agency, whether established under enactment or otherwise of the State, to such a Department, office or agency. As surplus property may arise in a situation where the company is being wound up involuntarily as well as where it is being voluntarily wound up, the word “voluntarily” is being deleted from subsection 1(b)(i) to cover such an occurrence, even if it is not likely to occur very frequently. I am correcting the provision as it was too narrow and it should cover both contexts.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, lines 13 and 14, to delete "not a mixed premises" and substitute "neither a mixed premises nor an apart-hotel".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 10, line 32, after "1998" to insert "or in an apart-hotel".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 13, line 36, to delete "voluntarily".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 7 is consequential on amendment No. 24. Amendment Nos. 7 and 24 may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 13, to delete line 43 and substitute the following:

"‘valuation manager' shall be construed in accordance with sections 19 and 62;”.

In the Valuation Bill, the person appointed as valuation manager by the Commissioner of Valuation under Section 19(2) to organise and secure the carrying out of a valuation on a rating authority area, is given specific functions and responsibilities under various sections of the Bill. The same broadly applies, although in a less detailed way, in the case of a person appointed a revision officer by the Commissioner under Section 28, to deal with an application for a revision.

I have been advised that the Bill, through various sections, provides the Commissioner with the power to remove and/or replace, where appropriate, the person initially appointed valuation manager or revision officer. Sections 9(11), 10 and 11 are of relevance in this regard. However, I have also been legally advised, that in the light of the importance of this issue and of the very specific functions and responsibilities given in the Bill to the person appointed valuation manager or revision officer, that an amendment should be introduced to put this issue beyond doubt.

Therefore, the new section being introduced to the Bill, clearly provides the Commissioner of Valuation with the authority, where necessary and desirable to remove and/or replace, where appropriate, the person initially appointed valuation manager or revision officer, without it in any way impacting on the legal validity of the valuation or revision in question, which has not yet been completed. As Deputies will appreciate, the need for the Commissioner to be able to remove and/or replace a valuation manager or revision officer could arise for many reasons, including the inefficiency or long-term illness of the person concerned. Also, the person appointed could die, retire, resign, get promoted or move to another post within the Valuation Office.

Although I am recommitting it, I think there was some reference to this by Deputy McDowell at some stage, possibly in a slightly different context, but it comes back into the same arena of giving certainty in that regard.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 8 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 8 not moved.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 20, line 6, to delete “section 16”and substitute “sections 16 and 59”.

Amendment agreed to.

An Leas Cheann-Comhairle

Amendment No. 10 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 not moved.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 23, to delete lines 22 to 34.

Section 25 provides that the commissioner should cause a valuation of each rating authority to be undertaken not less than five years and not more than ten years since the previous valuation of the relevant rating authority was undertaken. Subsection (3) of this section provides that, where a period of more than ten years elapses between two valuations, that fact shall not be regarded as constituting a failure by the commissioner to comply with carrying out the revaluation on time, if (a) a valuation order was made in relation to the rating authority area concerned before the lapse of that period and, due to exceptional circumstances outside the control of the commissioner, the valuation concerned was not completed before the period lapsed, and (b) the commissioner takes all reasonable steps to ensure, as soon as practicable after that lapse, that the valuation is completed and the relevant valuation is caused to be published.

In the light of the discussion on this point at Committee Stage, and to ensure that there is no doubt or misunderstanding about the commitment that the valuations of every rating authority area will be carried out at least every ten years, I have decided to delete subsection (3) of this section. This is a big change from the current situation where the complete country has not been revalued in nearly 150 years. This meets the points which were raised and I was happy to take them on board to give that absolute certainty.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 13, 16 and 18 are related and may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 25, line 22, to delete ", or as soon as possible thereafter".

I have considered again the time periods provided in the Bill for the Valuation Office, the Commissioner and the Valuation Tribunal to complete certain activities, in the light of the discussion on Committee Stage.

Sections 28(5), 33(6) and 37(2) provide in each case a period of six months, "or as soon as possible thereafter", for the Valuation Office to complete a revision, the Commissioner to complete an appeal to him, and for the Valuation Tribunal to complete an appeal to it of the Commissioner's decision. I have decided that the six months period should now be made a strict limit in each case. I am therefore deleting the phrase "or as soon as possible thereafter" from each of these three subsections.

I assure the House that such time periods provided in the Bill for the Valuation Office, the Commissioner and the tribunal to undertake the operations in question were not meant to be and are not soft options. In this regard I point out that, under law, the phrase "as soon as possible thereafter" is not an open ended time period, as it may well at first sight appear to be. It requires the person or body to complete the activity in question where possible, within the period set down. The time can only be extended for a sound justifiable reason, and the extension should then be for the shortest duration reasonably practicable to complete the activity in question.

Under the current valuation code, while a time limit applies to completing a revision, there are no time limits set within which the commissioner is required to complete an appeal to him, or for the tribunal to complete an appeal to it, of the Commissioner's decision. Therefore, the Bill for the first time applies time limits for completing appeals in two important areas of the valuation process, where currently none exist. Given the likely increase in workloads for each of these bodies following the enactment of the Bill, the six months time limit may well prove not to be an easy one to fulfil. That period includes any time spent obtaining information from the occupier.

The point I made is that, even though I did not intend the phrase "or as soon as possible thereafter" to be unduly flexible, I have removed it for absolute certainty. I thank the commissioner and the staff of the valuation office, who are quite happy to live with this and other relevant amendments. It demonstrates the commitment of the valuation office to complete a major undertaking of great importance to the running of the State.

The major problem in the valuation of property is very often with new properties. Revaluations do not make a great difference from the point of view of the rating authority, because the property is already in the net. However, in the case of new property, long delays have occurred in the valuation being made and, consequently, rates on that property are lost. I am aware of a situation where rates on a very substantial new property were lost for a period of two years, due to delay in doing the valuation. The valuation cannot be backdated, but must apply from the date on which it is set. Accordingly, the rates are permanently lost in that situation.

Any delay in the valuation process is a matter of concern. I do not know where the initiative has to come from to initiate the valuation in the first instance, whether it is from the local authority or elsewhere. I have seen properties which were benefiting from tax breaks not being valued for two years or more. That seems inequitable, particularly if the property is owned by some of the richest people in the country.

I welcome the Minister's action in imposing strict time limits in the manner which he has done. Has he contemplated what might happen in a default situation, where the commissioners are unable to meet particular deadlines, or fail to do so? Is there any provision such as applies in relation to planning applications where, in effect, an applicant gets permission by default, in the event that the planning authority does not give a response or decision within the specified period? What effectively happens in the event the commissioners are in default? I appreciate that this will not happen very often but inevitably it happens occasionally and I would like to know what the position would be.

I feel a bit "I am damned if I do and I am damned if I do not" on the basis of the last question. I will answer Deputy McGrath first. I made another fundamental change in the Bill which addresses in large measure the point he makes. I have removed the necessity of the owners of new properties having to wait until the following year until the new roll was set. Properties can now constantly be added to the rate roll so we will no longer be in the position of having to wait or having properties avoid paying rates for a year by missing getting on the valuation lists. The Valuation Office is now fully up to speed on all new properties under the new system. A lot of new technology has facilitated that and it will be of great assistance to the commissioner and the Valuation Office in terms of this whole new procedure. It would not be possible to do it within the current short timeframe unless we had the modern technology in place.

My answer to Deputy McDowell is that acute problems can always be resolved. I do not anticipate that there will be major problems. If there was some very serious problem, it would have to come back to the House and the legislation would have to be amended. That is not my intention. The Bill is enough at present. I speak fundamentally of the ten year position. Something could fundamentally change over ten years but the commissioner and the Valuation Office are happy they will meet the deadlines and therefore I have given certainty to that.

I understand and appreciate what the Minister says. I know that one is in trouble when one starts adding hypotheses to legislation. Nonetheless it will happen. As sure as night follows day there will be some default at some point in the future. There must be some provision relating to what happens in the circumstances of a revaluation not being carried out or an appeal not being heard or decided upon within the strict deadlines imposed. It will happen so we need to know what will apply in those, I hope, very limited and exceptional circumstances. I suggest the Minister should give it some thought between now and discussion in the Seanad.

I take the point. It was one of the serious considerations I had in changing this because the phrase "or as soon as possible thereafter" is very specific. It is not open-ended and I decided to remove it. The commissioner and the Valuation Office are prepared to live within those limits. If I was to base all legislation on the exception rather than what I expect to happen I would have tomes of stuff written into legislation in a protective sense. The bottom line is that if a crisis arose I would have to return to the House for amending legislation. I do not propose to go back on the changes I have made. I may give some thought to it in the context of the Seanad but I am happy with it as it stands.

I welcome the Minister's agreement to our amendments in this respect because it was leaving it very open and the deadlines set could have been set aside. Nevertheless, the point made by Deputy McDowell is valid. Perhaps it may well be that some provision might be inserted on Committee Stage in the Seanad allowing the Minister, in exceptional circumstances, to extend the deadline.

For the benefit of the House, the Minister has already replied twice. I will allow him reply on this occasion but I would prefer if Deputies would make their contribution so that the Minister could reply.

I understand what the Deputies are saying but I emphasise that the arguments made on Committee Stage were valid. I said I would consider the matter and I had a lot of discussion on it, but I have a firm view and have gone down this road. I will think about it.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 17 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 28, to delete lines 28 to 32.

It seems there is an element of self-valuation being brought in here. If we were all to have the opportunity of self-valuation of property we might use it to avoid high rating valuation. This was very evident in relation to residential property tax where people tended to down-value their property to pay less tax. This provision leaves people with the opportunity of self-valuation and hence I want it deleted.

Both of these amendments relate to the requirements in the Bill on the appellant to provide an opinion of value when appealing to the commissioner and the tribunal. The appeal will take place after the consultation phase during which the Valuation Office will have provided the occupier with a copy of the valuation report and an opportunity to discuss the valuation. In the vast majority of appeals the appellant will be appealing the amount quantum of the valuation fixed on the property rather than a point of law.

Quantum appeals arise where the occupier or agent has arrived at a valuation which is different from the valuation being appealed. In the context of the Valuation Office having made available its valuation report, it is only reasonable that the appellant discloses his or her valuation. That would be the basis of the argument. If one has been given a valuation and does not agree with it, obviously one has something in mind based on what one believes is fair. This was an issue that came up in discussion around the country.

What I am trying to do is to be fair to the ratepayer whom I brought more centre stage in the context of this whole area. I tried to put the ratepayer in a position where the system was fair to him or her. In the current system the majority of agents, even though they are not by law required to do so, put forward their estimate of value and the basis for it. That is the basis of the argument – they do it anyway but they do not have the right to do so. This facilitates the processing of appeals. In the context of moving to a more open and transparent process with the ratepayer at centre stage it is important that both sides contribute to making the appeals system more streamlined and efficient. Consequently, I do not consider that it is unreasonable to ask the appellant or agent to state an opinion of value. The ratepayer would probably have a heart attack if not allowed to do that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 30, to delete lines 10 to 12 and substitute the following:

"(5) The Minister may make regulations prescribing the appropriate procedures for the purposes of the consideration by the Commissioner of an appeal.".

I ask the Minister to consider this amendment.

I do not consider that it is advisable where office holders are given specific statutory functions to undertake that a Minister should then specify the precise procedures they should adopt in undertaking their functions. Deputies will be aware the commissioner is independent in the performance of his or her functions under section 9(10) of the Valuation Bill. The proposed amendment could well be seen to undermine the independence of the commissioner in processing appeals. The commissioner in any event, like other officials dealing with appeals, is bound by the principles of natural justice. In addition, appellants also have access to the valuation tribunal and the courts against the commissioner's decision. It would not be wise to accept the Deputy's amendment in this context.

I am disappointed with the Minister's response. If it is open to the commissioners to set down the appeals procedure and if those procedures fall short of what the courts would deem reasonable, we could be in serious difficulty. It would be sensible that somebody other than the commissioners would set the appeals procedures. We are giving the Minister the power by regulation to set down the parameters of such an appeals procedure so that they meet the requirements of the court.

I understand the Deputy's point but I emphasise that the commissioner is independent. We must have trust and confidence in how he operates the procedure. There is an onus to deliver what is fair, in keeping with natural justice. The commissioner will know that any decision can be taken to court and the valuation tribunal. There is enough there without us as politicians, or the Minister of the day, interfering. I approve setting down a good, broad, solid legal framework and ensuring the independence of any body to carry out those functions. We must have confidence in those we appoint to positions to do that.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 30, lines 14 and 15, to delete ", or as soon as possible thereafter".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 17 not moved.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 31, line 41, to delete ", or as soon as possible thereafter".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are related to amendment No. 19 and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 33, line 34, after "year" to insert "and the Minister shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas".

Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 provide that the annual report of the commissioner of valuation to the Minister for Finance on the performance of his or her functions by the commissioner, under this Bill, in a particular year should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. They also provide that such reports shall include information in such form, and regarding such matters, as the commissioner thinks fit or the Minister may direct. While the current section 41 is silent on the point, it was always the intention that the commissioner's annual report would be published.

On amendment No. 21, section 41 now provides that the Commissioner of Valuation shall make a report to the Minister for Finance on the exercise of his or her responsibilities under this Bill in the previous calendar year no later than two months after each year end. The Minister shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. It should not be written into law that every such report should be the subject of public hearings in the appropriate Oireachtas committee within a specified period of publication. It is unlikely that every report will be of such importance as to warrant such a public hearing. The Oireachtas, I strongly believe, should be left with the discretion as to hold public hearings or not.

Deputy Mitchell knows that the commissioner, as accounting officer of the valuation office, appears before, and is answerable to, the Committee of Public Accounts and this will continue to be so. The report is likely to be raised at the Committee of Public Accounts if necessary.

The 56 day limit which we propose in the amendment arises out of my experience as a former Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. There is a raft of legislation requiring annual reports to be made and financial statements submitted, but they arrive three or even four years in arrears.

It states two months.

Yes. Under the value for money arrangements, there is a legal requirement for the report to be laid after three months. Most Departments take the full three months. In the Minister's amendment, which I welcome, there is still no time limit. The situation could arise where the Minister may dislike an aspect of the report and delays submitting it, because there is no time limit. We will not move our amendment if, as the Bill goes through the Seanad, the Minister of State considers inserting to amendment No. 19, the words "and the Minister shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas within 3 months of its receipt" or something similar.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 33, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

"(2) Each report under subsection (1) shall include information in such form and regarding such matters as the Commissioner thinks fit or the Minister may direct.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 21 not moved.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 35, line 26, after "In this" to insert "section".

This is to correct a typographical error in section 46 (1), line 26 of page 35, that is to insert the word "section" after "In this."

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 46, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

"(4) An apartment–

(a) which ceases to be used as part of an apart-hotel for a period of 12 months or less, and

(b) which, but for this subsection, would not be rateable during that period by reason of its being a domestic premises, shall be rateable during that period, unless otherwise exempted from being rateable by virtue of this Act.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 47, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

"62.–(1) The Commissioner may, whenever he or she considers it appropriate to do so, revoke the appointment of an officer of the Commissioner made under–

(a) section 19(2) (which relates to valuation managers), or

(b) subsection (2) or (3) of section 28 (each of which relates to revision officers),

and appoint another officer of the Commissioner for the purpose concerned under section 19(2) or subsection (2) or (3) of section 28, as appropriate.

(2) An officer of the Commissioner appointed in succession to another such officer whose appointment under an aforesaid provision is so revoked may carry on and complete anything commenced by his or her predecessor.

(3) A reference in this Act to the valuation manager who secured the carrying out of a valuation under section 19 shall–

(a) if the power of revocation and appointment of another officer of the Commissioner referred to in subsection (1) has been exercised in relation to that particular office, be construed (unless the case falls within paragraph (b)) as a reference to the officer of the Commissioner who for the time being stands appointed under section 19(2) for the purpose concerned, and

(b) if the power of revocation as aforesaid has been exercised in relation to that particular office after the carrying out of the valuation to which the appointment revoked relates but before the completion of any act required by this Act to be done, or caused to be done, by that manager in consequence of the carrying out of that valuation, be deemed to be a reference to the officer of the Commissioners who for the time being stands appointed by the Commissioner to do or complete, or organise and secure the doing or completion of, that act (which appointment the Commissioner is hereby empowered to make).".

Amendment agreed to.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 25.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 51, to delete lines 35 and 36 and substitute the following:

"(b) elected as a member of either House of the Oireachtas or to the European Parliament, or".

Paragraph (1) (a) of Schedule Two provides, among other things, a sub-paragraph (b) that where a member of the valuation tribunal is nominated as a candidate for election to either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament, he or she shall thereupon cease to be a member of the tribunal. This is a repeat of the existing provision and the amendment proposes to change this to the position where a tribunal member who stands for election only ceases to be a member if he or she is actually elected to either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament.

I consider this change appropriate. No unnecessary disincentive or obstacle should be put in the way of a suitable person standing for election to the Dáil, Seanad or the European Parliament. This view was strongly expressed recently in the other House in a long discussion when the Ordnance Survey Ireland Bill, 2000, was being considered. People in politics, or aspiring to be so, should not be automatically excluded from a whole range of bodies. This was implemented in the Ordnance Survey Bill, which will be coming back to this House, and I will be consistent in this Bill. It is wrong that anyone seeking election, or nominated, should cease to be a tribunal member.

I support the Minister's sentiments. We must cease disqualifying and limiting ourselves. We must not make life as Members of the Oireachtas impossible for us and so unattractive to able outsiders as to reduce future stan dards. The Government should consider changing such provisions in all our laws.

The flaw in this amendment is that someone can be nominated to serve in the European Parliament, not just elected. The formula in other Bills is "elected as a Member of either House of the Oireachtas or becomes a Member of the European Parliament." There are cases of Members being co-opted to that parliament.

I agree with the general principle the Minister has enunciated. I am on record as going further in that I believe the current provisions excluding people in certain grades in the Civil Service from political activity should be extended upwards so as not to encompass the current very low level. At the moment one cannot go beyond clerical officer and maintain any sort of political activity. We should not exclude whole rafts of people from running for election. That is a bad idea.

I thank the Deputies for their support. I did this off my own bat. It is a fair move and a move in the right direction, and I will be encouraging colleagues to do likewise. I hope Deputies responsible for different portfolios will cite what has happened and that it will be seen as positive.

With regard to Deputy Mitchell's point, the Bill is quite clear. The key word here is "regarded". The Bill refers to where a member of the tribunal is regarded, pursuant to Part XIII of the Second Schedule to the European Parliament Elections Act, 1997, as having been elected to the European Parliament. I think that covers the Deputy's point, but I will check it out and, if it is necessary to make the Bill more certain, I will do that when I bring it to the Seanad.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 58, line 20, to delete "as" and substitute "gas".

This is a technical amendment to amend a typographical error.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.

We now come to amendment No. 28 in the name of Deputy McDowell. As amendment No. 30 is related, they may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 60, line 6, after "sport" to insert "or recreation in so far as same is carried on or operated for reasons other than profit".

The primary purpose of amendment No. 30 is to extend the definition of "community hall" to include family recreation centres and some clubs. The definition in the Bill specifically excludes club premises. I assume that means any case members have contributed or are contributing towards purchase and upkeep of a property. In my constituency, for example, thousands of people have contributed towards the costs of constructing and maintaining what is, effectively, a community hall. I refer specifically to the Artane-Beaumont Family Recreation Centre. Virtually every family in the parish of Beaumont has contributed towards its construction and upkeep. It is a community hall in all but name, but it is owned by a club.

A difficulty arises in that there is a bar in this premises. I accept that the part of the building that is used as a bar should be rated. However, it would seem reasonable, and certainly not beyond the wit of local authorities, to divide the premises between the part which is used for profit and the part which is not, even though the profit goes effectively towards the maintenance and upkeep of the property. In this case a huge area is used for volleyball, basketball and so on. I want to define "community hall" rather more broadly than it is defined in the Bill in order to include that sort of premises.

The other purpose of the amendment is to broaden the definition of sport to include recreation. There can be difficulty in defining what sport is. For example, activities such as snooker or keeping pigeons might not, strictly speaking, be defined as sport. Therefore, in so far as a premises is used for recreation, and provided it is not profit making, it would be within the principles that underlie our valuation legislation that it should be excluded from rates.

We also had a discussion on Committee Stage about buildings, as opposed to land, which are used for sport. The schedule in the Bill excludes land used for sport. However, buildings such as stadia, albeit very small stadia in some cases, or even changing rooms, can be rated. I understand they are rated and that seems unreasonable. We should make specific provision to exclude those from rating, from the valuation lists.

Deputy McDowell's amendment No. 30 prompted me to ask a question in relation to the definition in Schedule 4. Having read that and having followed some of the proceedings on Committee Stage, I was under the impression that the example, to which I will refer, was already covered, and it may well be. I am seeking clarification from the Minister. I refer to Lahinch Sea World and swimming pool which faces massive annual rates in excess of £7,000. There are small commercial elements to it. The swimming pool is effectively a community pool for the entire north Clare area. The body which built it and runs it is a non-profit community group and is, effectively, a loss-making group for most of the time. The pool complex is profitable, or at least breaks even, during the summer and, in an attempt to reduce losses, it is closed for the winter season. On my understanding of the Bill, it should be open to the local authority not to rate the element which is effectively a community swimming pool. That would have the benefit that the pool could remain open for the year and be available to the community, rather than being closed down to make savings. It is quite similar to the example given by Deputy McDowell except that, unfortunately, it does not have a bar in terms of revenue-making. It does have a very modest coffee shop and the sea world element. However, local communities have gone to enormous trouble to raise funds to provide it, and it is a great pity that it should be available only as a tourist facility in the summer when it is the wish of the committee that it be available for schools, community groups and individuals for the entire year. If it is not already covered in the Bill, it might be covered by the amendment proposed by Deputy McDowell. I urge the Minister to consider that point.

I support the points raised by Deputies McDowell and Killeen. This is a widespread problem. It is ridiculous that, because of the imposition of rates, a facility like that is closed for the entire winter when it could be available to the community. There are many examples of this. The point is well made. I hope the Minister can come up with some proposal before the Bill is finally enacted to cover this point. I am sure there are also projects like this in the Minister's constituency.

I agree with the Deputies. This is a very important point to which I have given much consideration given the views expressed by Deputies on all sides of the House whose concerns are evidenced by the contributions we have just heard, which represent two very strong views. I hold equally strong views and I want to move in a certain direction in this area and be absolutely clear and certain, for the first time in legislation, as to what the position is, because there seem to be differences throughout the country with different local authorities taking different views.

Under current valuation legislation, all land, excluding buildings, used for or developed for sport is exempt from rates. This means that the playing field, outdoor tennis court, golf course and so on are exempt from rates, but club houses, bars, changing rooms, locker rooms and so on are rateable. I have examined further the issue of the rating of sports and recreation facilities in the light of the discussion on Committee Stage of the Valuation Bill. I am satisfied that the definition of "community hall" in the Bill allows for the exemption from rates of a building comprising dressing rooms, changing rooms used in connection with a playing field, or a building used by a rowing club or other such sporting body, provided it is not licensed and is not used for profit or gain. The same would apply to a community recreation facility. However, if the sporting or recreation complex is licensed, the entire property will be rateable. I consider that this should be the position. Consequently, I do not accept that the amendments are necessary.

It will now be absolutely certain that a sporting facility comprising buildings housing changing rooms, dressing rooms and so on, will no longer be rateable if there is no licensed premises on the property. However, I have to draw the line somewhere. Deputies participating in the debate were talking about small clubs and facilities. In the case of the example given by Deputy Killeen, if a pool is a community pool and is not run for profit or gain, it will now be exempt. If it is a commercial operation, privately run, privately operated and a profit is being made, it would be rateable. If it is clearly a community facility that the community uses and is not a profit making facility, then it is not liable for rates.

The point made by Deputy Killeen was that some of these facilities are commercial in the summer but not during the rest of the year and are, more or less, put at the disposal of the community. Is there some scope for seasonal valuation?

The rates are based on a valuation. The valuation takes account of what the commercial activity is. If it is not operational for half the year, the rates reflect that and it will clearly be reflected in this Bill. That has already been taken account of. I am moving quite a distance to meet what the Deputy said and I am very happy that it will be fixed. I am taking away the uncertainty from local authorities and I am making it absolutely certain. As I have defined it, the clubs and sporting bodies about which we talked on Committee Stage will, effectively, no longer pay rates on their buildings, locker rooms, changing rooms, etc. That is a major move. If a separate legal body occupied the commercial elements of it, the community pool aspect would remain exempt. I am talking about a pool in terms of a local authority or a community, but when I talk of a coffee shop, it is different. I am bringing certainty to this and it should be largely welcomed by all our sporting bodies.

I am a little confused as to what the Minister is doing. I have just been reading the definition of "community hall". It specifically excludes club premises. Perhaps I am reading it wrongly. It refers to premises being registered under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, 1904. Does that refer simply to licensing?

Perhaps I should read out what that actually means. I should have said it earlier but for certainty, I will read out what it states. Where a sporting club is registered under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, 1904, all buildings occupied by that club will be rateable. Where a sporting club is not registered, its buildings will be exempt under the definition of "com munity hall" provided it is not used for profit or gain. The main purpose that a club would register under the 1904 Act is that the club can get a licence to sell drink without having to buy an existing licence holder's. That is why I specifically put that in there. It gives a good definition.

I thank the Minister of State for his clarification. He meets the points I raised in the fairly narrow terms of the example I gave.

Are we on amendment No. 31?

No, we are on amendments Nos. 28 and 30.

I welcome the Minister of State's approach. It is a good improvement and I hope it covers the points raised by Deputy McDowell.

I welcome what the Minister of State said. I just do not see how it relates to the definition of "community hall" in the Bill. The definition goes on to state "occupied by a person who ordinarily uses it, or permits it to be used, for purposes which involve participation by inhabitants of the locality generally". For example, the Minister of State mentioned a rowing club premises or something of that kind. I can see that local authorities might very well take the view that it is not used by inhabitants of the locality generally but by club members, for the sake of argument.

It will not be open to them; the Valuation Office will decide. I am making it absolutely clear to the Valuation Office as well. There is absolute clarity in this. It will not be open to the local authority to turn around and do something else. We will decide what is on the list under the definitions in the Bill and that will not be included.

Rather than change the definition, the Minister of State is giving a direction, as it were.

No, I am clarifying it with certainty because it was not heretofore the case. To my knowledge, the situation at present is that many clubs in different local authorities are paying rates on facilities in which there are not licensed premises. That will no longer be the case. As regards the points made on Committee Stage, we had a very interesting and worthwhile discussion. I am absolutely certain about this and there is no confusion in this regard.

I take the Minister of State's word for it and, I hope the commissioners will act on what he has just said. I still think there is a difficulty with what Deputy Killeen said and the example I gave earlier where one has, effectively, a commercial element or something that is being run in order to make money but that money is then being used to subsidise the community aspect of what is happening within a particular structure. The example I gave – a bar – is, admittedly, not the sort of example most likely to appeal to the Minister of State or anybody else but perhaps the coffee shop example is a better one in that sense. Of course, one runs a coffee shop to make a few shillings or a few euros but those euros are then used to sustain something which would otherwise be loss making and which has a community purpose. The overall purpose of the exercise is not to make money but there is an element in it which is profit-making.

That is the final contribution on this amendment. I will hear Deputy Enright. The Minister of State has already spoken twice and Deputy McDowell has spoken three times.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has been most generous

I am afraid I have been more than generous because they might have spoken four times.

I never met anybody from Cavan-Monaghan who was not generous. They are renowned for their generosity.

While the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is in the Chair, he does not have a constituency. We will hear Deputy Enright on this amendment.

I got off to a good start anyway. I heard what the Minister of State said about swimming pools. It is essential that pools, which are community based, are exempt from rates. That is of paramount importance. In some counties, where swimming pools are owned by the local authorities, they do not charge rates. In Birr, Clara and Edenderry, the local authority gives a type of grant in lieu of the rates. As the Minister of State is aware, voluntary committees run these swimming pools. They are non profit-making organisations. Were it not for the hard work of all the committees, they would be loss making because they would find it very difficult to keep going.

I appreciate that the Minister of State said he will grant an allowance for the rates where they are community based. That is very important. I would like the Minister of State to confirm that will happen. Where a grant has been paid up to now to meet the rates, perhaps the Minister of State would use his good offices to have a word with local authorities to ensure that the grant continues to be paid even though the local authorities might not be collecting the rates on those swimming pools. Laois, in particular, and Offaly are the most inland counties. We require swimming pool facilities. Swimming is for people of all ages, it is great exercise and very healthy. As the Mini ster of State is in the Department of Finance, his Department and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation should do everything possible to update and upgrade swimming pool facilities

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 60, line 8, after "premises" to insert "(but subject to section 59(4) (which provides that apartments are rateable in certain limited circumstances))”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 30 not moved.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 61, after line 42, to insert the following:

"19.–(1) Any building or part of a building occupied by a member of either House of the Oireachtas or a representative in the European Parliament which is used exclusively for the purposes of accommodating his or her constituency office and the whole or part of the expenses incurred in maintaining that accommodation are defrayed by that member or representative.

(2) In this paragraph, ‘constituency office' means an office which is used solely for the provision of representative services by the member of the House of the Oireachtas or representative in the European Parliament concerned in his or her capacity as such a member or representative but does not include the head office of a political party or any other office occupied by a political party.".

This arose from Committee Stage. Currently, a Deputy who locates his or her constituency office, that is, his or her secretarial assistance, in the Leinster House Complex is not liable for rates as Leinster House is classified a State occupied property and is therefore exempt from rates. However, if a Deputy locates his or her constituency office outside Leinster House, he or she is liable for rates in respect of the property used as a constituency office. I consider this inequitable and am therefore introducing this amendment to exempt from rates property used exclusively as a constituency office by a Member of either House of the Oireachtas or of the European Parliament. Most people do not pay rates, though some do for whatever reason. I think this amendment is fair, the issue was raised by Deputies on all sides and I am happy to make such provision.

I welcome the amendment which arises from comments I and others made on Committee Stage. It covers Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Par liament. It is clear in the case of a Deputy, but for a Senator what constitutes a constituency office? Subsection (2) in the amendment states "In this paragraph, ‘constituency office' means an office which is used solely for the provision of representative services by the member of the House of the Oireachtas". Does this include clinics? Is it possible for more than one office in a constituency to be covered? The subsection concludes by stating it "does not include the head office of a political party or any other office occupied by a political party". What happens when a regional office of a party is used by a Deputy or Deputies? This applies in Cork where the local regional office is also a constituency office for local Deputies – this also applies to Fianna Fáil and perhaps to the Labour Party. I also would like to know the date of implementation of this provision.

I have been paying several hundred pounds in rates, amounting to thousands of pounds over the past eight years. I welcome the amendment and think it is extraordinary that public representatives who are providing an entirely non-profitable service to constituents through a constituency office—

Is the Deputy paying rates?

Yes, I have been paying rates for the past eight years. It is extraordinary that public representatives providing such a service have been in this position. Therefore, I very much welcome the amendment.

I, too, welcome what the Minister is proposing. I also pay rates of some £500 per year on my small office in Mullingar. As Deputy Killeen pointed out it is ridiculous that somebody providing a public, not for profit, service is rated in such a manner. The amendment is a welcome step forward. When will the provision take effect – I am conscious of a bill on my desk?

I may be good, but I am not that good. The provision covers Senators and is not specific to location. For example, if a Deputy had a number of offices, as they may have in rural areas, they are covered. However, there had to be a cut off. I am aware of the situation in Cork, but if a building is used by a number of Deputies and also by the party, then it is not included. The provision is specific to Deputies, Senators and members of the European Parliament. It does not include party offices, headquarters or regional centres, even though Deputies may use them as constituency offices.

Regarding clinics, where they are held in the constituency office, they are exempt from rates. However, this does not apply to clinics held in several centres such as pubs, clubs, etc.

As soon as the Bill is passed we will set a commencement date as quickly as possible. I want to give the commissioner time to implement it. I am afraid it will not be retrospective, but I am sure it will be beneficial for Deputy McGrath's long future in politics.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 61, after line 42, to insert the following:

"19.–Any shop or retail outlet operated for the purposes of promoting or raising finance for a registered charity.".

The amendment is self explanatory. We debated it on Committee Stage. I understand there are about 100 charity shops in the country owned and run by a variety of different charities. The purpose of charities running shops is to raise money – if it were otherwise we would not be seeking to exempt them from rates. Since the charities are exempt from almost every other tax, it would be reasonable to extend the principle to shops run for the purposes of a registered charity. On Committee Stage the Minister said this would be unfair in competitive terms in the context of other nearby shops, but there are relatively few examples of charity shops being in direct competition with nearby retail outlets. I am not aware of any, and I would be interested to hear if the Minister is aware of any.

The amendment arises from lobbying on behalf of charities. I think their point is well made and we should accommodate it in so far as we can.

I support the amendment. The point has been well made. It is ridiculous that Sue Ryder or St. Vincent de Paul shops should have to pay rates. We should bear in mind the marvellous work done by such charities. I do not think they are in competition with other nearby shops given the nature of the product they sell, namely, second hand clothes and other goods.

Not all of them sell second hand goods.

The ones with which I am familiar sell second hand material. They provide a service which is not in competition with other businesses, and it might be appropriate to exempt them from rates.

I was in Dublin 1 last night where there are two St. Vincent de Paul buildings which are very substantial. They provide second hand furniture and clothing, supplied by other members of the public, to poor people, and the buildings are subject to rates. The intent of the amendment should be accepted, though it may need to be more qualified. Perhaps local authorities could be permitted to have a waiver system.

The Valuation Bill continues the existing exemption from rates of any land, building or any part of a building occupied by a charitable organisation which uses the land or building exclusively for charitable purposes, other than for profit. This means the administrative offices used by a charitable organisation, as well as buildings used directly for charitable relief, are exempt from rates. Buildings used by a charitable organisation for commercial use, such as charity shops, are engaged in a commercial activity for profit, despite the final use to which the profits are put. Therefore, such premises, like other commercial premises, are subject to rates. I fully acknowledge the valuable work undertaken by charities and charity shops and the contribution they make towards the Irish and international community. However, I consider charity shops should not be exempted from rates in the Bill. In this regard, the criteria for rating under the valuation code is based on occupation and the purpose for which the property is used. Charity shops are engaged in a commercial activity for profit, despite the final use to which any profits are put. Charity shops are in direct competition with other shops. Many of them are now selling brand new rather than second-hand goods. Second-hand shops are also subject to rates and such shops are likely to be aggrieved by having their competitors exempted from rates. Applying the criteria of the use to which profits are put as a means of determining whether a premises is subject to rates would create enormous difficulties. Such an approach in valuation legislation would also apply to other activities or outlets that distribute profits or a particular product to charity on a given day or days.

It should also be recognised that ultimately the effect of removing any category of property from the valuation base would be to increase the rates burden on other ratepayers in the local authority area in which the exempted property is situated. This, in turn, would lead to increased demands for the further exemption of other groups from rates. A number of what could be described as deserving cases argued that their group should be exempted from rates. However, I do not consider that narrowing the rates base further is the way to go and, consequently, I do not propose to exempt from rates such groups, including charity shops.

I held many lengthy discussions with representatives of all the charities on this issue and there was a fruitful exchange of views on the issues raised. There is an acceptance that this Government in finance Acts over recent years have fundamentally improved the ability of charity organisations to raise substantial sums of money for charity through the tax codes. This was welcomed by those involved in the operation of charitable organisations. I made the point that I would not be prepared to ask other ratepayers to pay rates on behalf of these organisations, which is effectively what would happen. Charity shops are expanding into new, exciting and interesting ways of raising funds directly which does not necessarily include second-hand goods. The removal of rates would further encourage this practice.

I believe we reached a happy medium in this regard. The charitable organisations believe there are other ways of enhancing their ability to raise and utilise funds and they accepted the Valuation Bill is not a vehicle for addressing specifically such issues. The Government and I fully support and are sympathetic to what these organisations are doing but I am not prepared to use the Valuation Bill as a vehicle for something for which it should not be used.

I am disappointed the Minister of State is neither willing nor able to act in regard to this issue. It seems to me that he is over-stating to a considerable degree the effect this measure would have on the valuation base of local authorities. I understand there are approximately 100 charity shops throughout the country, therefore to suggest that other ratepayers would be excessively burdened by taking up the slack in relation to this measure is stretching the point a little bit.

The point made by Fine Gael Deputies is true. In most cases these charity shops are not in competition with other retail outlets in the immediate vicinity. Perhaps local authorities could be given discretion, as suggested by Deputy Mitchell, to define this measure in a way that would ensure charity shops would not be used to undercut competitors in the immediate vicinity. I am disappointed the Minister of State is not prepared to accept the amendment.

I was about to come to that point because I had many discussions on this with the people involved. This is a rating matter and, as the Deputy will be aware, new rating legislation is being drafted in the Department of the Environment and Local Government. I suggested to the charity organisations that this might be used as a vehicle to enable powers for local authorities to waive rates in full or in part in certain well defined circumstances for charity shops and, possibly, some other groups. I was not being parsimonious in that there may be only 100 such shops. I am well aware of the consequences of changing this in the Bill and what it could potentially be used for in a whole raft of areas. I am not passing the buck because I am quite clear in relation to what I wish to do in the Valuation Bill. However, I suggested to the people involved that perhaps there is a case to be made, as Deputy McDowell has suggested, in the context of the rating authority. It is the only time in the context of this entire Bill that I have made such a suggestion and I am doing so for very specific reasons. I believe the Department of the Environment and Local Government will consider this issue and I have no doubt the charity organisations will discuss the matter with the Department.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Bill reported with amendments and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The debate on this Bill, particularly the Committee Stage debate, has been very valuable. I commend the Minister of State for taking on board some of the suggestions made on Committee Stage.

This is a very important Bill. It is the first time in more than 100 years that we have passed such reforming legislation dealing with the issue of valuation. This is a very positive move forward. During the course of the debate, particularly on Committee Stage, we identified some anomalies and issues that can be looked at again. I am aware the Minister was primarily anxious to change the system to ensure valuations are carried out on a more regular basis and so on and that he did not consider exemptions as the thrust of the Bill. We identified issues which might bear fruit in terms of future legislation and I am happy we have done a decent day's work in passing the legislation. I congratulate the Minister of State, his officials and the staff of the Valuation Office for their contributions.

I thank Deputies for their very constructive contributions to all Stages of the Bill. I was pleased that I could take on board many of the proposals made on all sides of the House. We have moved in a helpful direction and the general thrust of the Bill will be extremely beneficial. I thank the commissioner, my staff in the Department of Finance and those in the Valuation Office who listened very carefully to what the Members and I had to say. They were very constructive in their approach to the matters I raised in relation to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.