LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1124/96-97
(These minutes have been
Ref: CB1/BC/8/96 seen by the Administration)
Bills Committee on
Government Rent (Assessment and Collection) Bill
Minutes of meeting
held on Tuesday, 4 February 1997, at 10:45 a.m.
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building
Members present :
Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip (Chairman)
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
Members absent :
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon Margaret NG
Public officers attending :
- Mr Trevor Keen
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands
- Mr Esmond LEE
- Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands
- Mr C S WONG, JP
- Deputy Commissioner of Rating and Valuation
- Mr R C Baram
- Government Land Agent/Estate Management
- Mr A N Watson-Brown
- Senior Assistant Law Draftsman
Clerk in attendance :
- Miss Odelia LEUNG
- Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1
Staff in attendance :
- Ms Bernice WONG
- Assistant Legal Adviser 1
- Mrs Mary TANG
- Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2
I Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)815/96-97)
The minutes of meeting held on 14 January 1997 were confirmed.
II Clause by clause examination
2. Members continued with the clause by clause examination of the Bill.
Clause 23 Corrections
3. Members noted that most of the misdescriptions referred to in subclause (1) were clerical errors on floor or block numbers. Where a correction was required, the Commissioner of Rating and Valuation (CRV) would issue a notice in the specified form on the correction to the owner/occupier of the tenement affected.
Clause 24 Deletions and interim valuations
4. In clarifying the circumstances under which CRV might delete from the Government Rent Roll (GRR) a tenement to which a structural alteration had been made (subclause (1)(c)), the Deputy Commissioner of Rating and Valuation (DCRV) explained that CRV would do so only if the structural alteration had affected the rateable value of the tenement. Subclause (2) would allow CRV to include the deleted tenement in GRR with an interim valuation to reflect the updated rateable value. At members request, the Administration agreed to review subclause (1)(c) and consider the need to spell out the condition for a deletion.
5. On members queries about the assessment of rateable values of land prior to, during and after development or redevelopment, representatives of the Administration said that the rateable value of undeveloped land with a newly granted lease would be fixed at 5% of the market value of the land leased, as specified in Regulation 6 of the Draft Government Rent (Assessment and Collection) Regulations (Draft Regulations). For redevelopment cases, during the period between the demolition of the existing building and the completion of its replacement, the last ascertained rateable value of the demolished building would be taken as the rateable value. Upon completion of redevelopment, the rateable value of that land would be reassessed based on its new usage.
6. Members were concerned that different principles were applied in assessing the rateable values of newly granted land and land awaiting redevelopment. They considered it unfair to use the last ascertained rateable value if the tenement on the land had been demolished. In response, representatives of the Administration explained that there was no general unfairness in the present assessment mechanism which was devised to protect public interest. Government rent had to be charged notwithstanding that the land was temporarily unoccupied. This arrangement was justified because the Government, being the landlord, should not be losing out on rents as a result of a commercial decision made by private developers. If Government rents were not charged or were charged at a lesser amount during redevelopment, this might run the risk of encouraging developers to prolong the redevelopment period.
7. Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok accepted the Administrations explanations. Other members, however, expressed reservations. They held the view that given that the rateable value of a tenement was based on its rental value at the time of assessment, developers should be given the right to apply for a re-assessment of the rateable value if the buildings on the land had been demolished to make way for redevelopment. At members request, the Administration agreed to provide a paper to explain how rateable values were assessed for different categories of land before, during and after development or redevelopment. The Assistant Legal Adviser 1 (ALA1) suggested and members agreed that this subject be discussed together with the Draft Regulations at the next meeting.
Clause 25 Objection to proposed correction, deletions, interim valuation
8. Members noted that the Administration had agreed at the last meeting to consider including in the specified decision form the reasons for refusing an objection.
Clause 26 Appeals
9. The Chairman opined that the Administration should consider the viability of setting up an independent body to deal with appeals which involved a lesser amount having regard to the cost and the time required in appealing to the Lands Tribunal. DCRV replied that this was not considered practicable in view of the large number of objections and appeals following each revaluation exercise. The proposed appeal mechanism was modelled after the existing one in respect of rates which had been working efficiently. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (PAS/PEL) added that the setting up of an administrative appeal board for the said purpose would incur additional resources which might not be cost-effective.
Clause 27 Hearing of appeal
10. Members noted that the Lands Tribunal might direct CRV to amend the rateable values on GRR under subclause (1)(c). On the award of costs, DCRV said that the Administration normally would not apply for costs against unsuccessful appellants who were general members of the public except for vexatious cases. At members request, the Administration agreed to provide a note to explain the existing policy.
Clause 28 Consent order
11. Members noted that where parties to the appeal agreed upon the terms of any order to be made by the Lands Tribunal, the particulars of the term had to be signed by them and presented to the Lands Tribunal.
Clause 29 Government rent payable despite notice of appeal
12. DCRV explained that the owner/occupier would have to pay Government rent as demanded despite the lodging of an objection or an appeal. Only on rare occasions would CRV give an order to hold over the payment lest payees might abuse the right of appeal in order to delay payment. The hold-over cases normally involved a substantial amount of money and had a high chance of success in appeal.
13. PAS/PEL agreed to consult the Secretary for the Treasury on the Chairmans suggestion to refund over-paid Government rent to the payees with interests.
Clause 30 Offer of settlement before decision of Lands Tribunal on appeals relating to proper rateable value
14. Members noted that the provision for offer of settlement was modelled after the Rating Ordinance, Cap. 116, which was seldom invoked. Mr James TO requested and the Administration agreed to provide a note to explain the circumstances under which the provision in the Rating Ordinance had been invoked.
Clause 31 General powers of Commissioner
15. Mr James TO considered it necessary to specify the scope of particulars required by CRV under subclause (1)(a). SALD explained that the information requested must be within the ambit of the Bill. In response to members request, the Administration agreed to review the drafting of subclause (1)(a) and confirm whether the general power of CRV to require a person to provide information was consistent with the provisions in the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, Cap. 486.
16. On subclause (2), members opined that the phrase "during daylight" was seldom used in modern drafting to restrict the time of entry to tenements. SALD explained that this subclause mirrored that of the Rating Ordinance. He agreed to review the drafting.
Clause 33 Consultation with Secretary for Home Affairs, etc. in certain cases
17. PAS/PEL said that where necessary, the Secretary for Home Affairs (SHA) would be consulted on matters relating to tsos and tongs. This would also include consultation with the Director of Home Affairs and District Officers, all of whom worked under SHA.
Clause 34 Regulations, form, etc.
18. The Chairman was concerned about possible inconsistencies between regulations made by the Governor in Council and Annex III to the Sino-British Joint Declaration (JD). PAS/PEL explained that given that the regulation making power was confined to matters relating to the determination of rateable values and the manner and timing of collection of Government rent, there was no possibility that regulations made under this clause would affect the fixing of Government rent at 3% of the rateable value of the land leased from time to time.
Clause 35 District Court jurisdiction extended
19. Referring to subclause (2), Mr James TO questioned the appropriateness in using the term "sufficient evidence" in lieu of "prima facie evidence". SALD explained that under the Official Language Ordinance, Cap. 5, English and Chinese were official languages used in Hong Kong. The term "prima facie", being Latin, should not be used in modern legislation as it was neither Chinese nor English notwithstanding its general acceptance as a legal term. "Sufficient evidence" was the nearest English equivalent to "prima facie evidence". The term was considered appropriate in the context of the Bill.
20. Mr James TO doubted that "sufficient evidence" was an equivalent for "prima facie evidence" since these two terms carried different weight of evidence. SALD further explained that a certificate signed by CRV was not admissible before a court or tribunal unless there was statutory backing for it. The purpose of subclause (2) was to allow the certificate to be admitted as evidence. The question of weight of evidence should be approached with utmost caution. The Administration did not recommend that the weight of evidence should go beyond "sufficient". Furthermore, the literal meaning of "prima facie" was "at first looking" which implied that at further looking the matter might be seen differently. This was not an appropriate word to go together with the word "evidence". Another option would be to delete the word "sufficient" and leave the weight of evidence for the court to decide. The Chairman requested ALA1 and the Administration to examine the suitability of using the word "sufficient" in subclause (2) and consider any better choice of words.
Clause 36 Legal effect of demand, etc., on unauthorised structures
21. DCRV said that Government rent would be charged regardless of whether the premises were lawfully occupied. SALD added that this clause was intended to avoid any inference on the legality of ownership of a tenement by the payment of Government rent.
22. Members agreed to continue with the clause by clause examination of the Bill at the next meeting on 20 February 1997.
The meeting closed at 12:50 pm.
Legislative Council Secretariat
20 March 1997
Last Updated on 14 October 1997