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Mr. Gummer: The proposition is to deal with those businesses that provide the kind of services that are of benefit to the community, especially those members of it who are older, younger or less well-off, and for whom the motor car is not available. The scheme is designed to help the village shop that acts as a post office or general store. The discretionary part of the scheme will enable it to be extended to such businesses as garages or pubs.

Of course, the businesses must be in communities of fewer than 3,000 people, and must also be the only such business. It would be unfair to provide mandatory rate relief for a shop that was competing with another shop but was not doing as well because it was not as good as the other one.

Mr. Day rose--

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): On that point--

Mr. Gummer: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Nicholson: I am most grateful--

Mr. Gummer: I am sorry, but I had better give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day).

Mr. Day: Although I welcome the provisions of the Bill, I am disappointed that they do not apply to

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metropolitan districts. My right hon. Friend will appreciate that there are villages within those, and within the former metropolitan counties. That applies to my area. He has been to Cheadle and knows that, in Cheadle Hulme and Bramhall, village centres are struggling because of out-of-town shopping developments. I hope that he will not forget that traders in such areas need help, too.

Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend is right to point that out. My problem is that, when we propose measures such as those in the Bill, the immediate reaction of people who would stop one doing anything--I am afraid that there are still some of them around--is, "If you propose this, people will ask," as my hon. Friend has done, "why it does not extend to their area." The fact is that we must try to target the help as well as we can.

I hope that, if I am not interrupted too much more, I shall soon reach another part of the Bill that will please my hon. Friend. We hope both to be able to extend the powers to parish councils and to enable parish councils to be formed more easily than hitherto. There are many urban parish councils, and I should like to see more.

I enjoyed my visit to Cheadle, with its attractive village atmosphere. The traders seemed to be doing extremely well in building up their reputation and gaining adherents who had previously used out-of-town shopping centres beyond the area. I am sure that my hon. Friend's battles on their behalf are part of the reason for that success.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Gummer: If I am to get anywhere near the end of my speech, I must make some progress. Then I shall certainly give way both to my hon. Friends and to some Opposition Members.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) rose--

Mr. Gummer: I shall not forget the hon. Gentleman. He is unforgettable, so I shall not miss him, and shall be happy to give way to him later.

The new discretionary powers mean that local authorities will be able to reduce or waive the rate bills of businesses before they get into financial difficulty. In case anyone is worried about the prospect, I stress that there will remain the right to do that on hardship grounds, as well as the ability to extend it. That is an important difference.

The Bill contains several other measures important for rural life. For example, it will end the anomaly whereby sporting rights--fowling, shooting, taking or killing game or rabbits, and fishing--are rated in England and Wales but not in Scotland. [Interruption.]

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) rose--

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) rose--

Mr. Gummer: I am interested in the fact that the hon. Member for Camden--[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants, I shall refer to him as the hon. Member

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for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), so that the whole world will know who I mean when I say that he giggles as soon as one mentions sporting rights.

For many of our constituents, those rights are the difference between having a business and not having a business. The fact that the hon. Gentleman laughs shows how little interest the Labour party has in rural England. He really should contain himself when we talk about that subject. He is now falling about with laughter, because he does not understand what it means in rural England when people manage--[Interruption.]

Of course the hon. Gentleman would like me not to make this point, because it is so embarrassing for Labour candidates throughout the country to realise how little interest the Labour party has in rural England. I hope that his Back Benchers understand that, from the perspective of Holborn and St. Pancras, it is difficult to know about the very limited means on which people operate in the country. For those people, the measure will make a significant difference.

As a result of the measures to be introduced in the Bill, sporting rights in England and Wales will become exempt from rates, and their value will be disregarded in assessing the rateable value of the land over which they are exercised. In our rural White Paper, we made clear our support for country sports. We believe that they contribute significantly to the landscape and the economy of the countryside.

We also believe that decisions on country sports should be made by country people, not imposed from outside. Conservatives remain committed to that principle.

Mr. Foulkes: As the Secretary of State knows, I represent a large rural constituency, so I take a particular interest in the subject. The Bill says:

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that exemption came about under the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994. In April 1994, while serving on the Standing Committee on that Bill, I raised the issue because it was of concern to my constituents.

The then Minister, the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who I see is with us today, said that the step was being taken to bring Scottish practice into line with that in England and Wales. That just does not make sense. Was I being misled by the right hon. Member for Dumfries? Should he apologise? What has gone wrong? This is very strange. Could the Minister explain?

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that both England and Wales and Scotland will now be in the same position. The manner in which we have achieved this miraculous circumstance may lie in the mists of history--I think that we can manage to get by without being too precise about it. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who no doubt extended to the hon. Gentleman the full information that was available to him at the time, would now extend to him rather different information, that information being fuller.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): The matter is not entirely humorous. If the Secretary of State

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is now telling the truth, it could not possibly have been told on 19 April 1994 in the First Scottish Standing Committee considering the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, when virtually the sole justification for the change in law in Scotland was to bring it into line with the law in England. That turns out not be true, and, bizarrely, the Government are now saying that we have to bring the law in England into line with the law in Scotland. Either way, it is bunging money at their rich friends.

Mr. Gummer: All those who live in the country will now know what the hon. Gentleman thinks about helping the countryside. He knows so little about it that he can make that comment. Any of us who represent country constituencies know perfectly well that the rights are owned not only by rich people but by all sorts of different people.

The last time that the hon. Gentleman went into the countryside must have been on a Sunday school outing, and he must have had his eyes closed at the time. He has a Milly Molly Mandy view of the countryside; he got it from children's books. It is about time he visited the countryside. I would be happy to take him. If he would like to come for the weekend, I shall spend a weekend with him. Greater love hath no man in offering to give up one of my weekends for the hon. Gentleman in order that he may understand--

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Get on with the Bill.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): Get on with it.

Mr. Gummer: Of course Opposition Members want me to get on with it, because they do not like what the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has said. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), who is a great countryman and knows a great deal about the matter, wants me to get on with the Bill because he does not want the House to know that the official Labour party spokesman does not think that the measure is necessary.

Mr. Dobson indicated assent.

Mr. Gummer: He does not; that is very good. I shall ensure that that is made very clear in my constituency, and that my Labour party opponent will have to say whether he takes the same view.

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