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Mr. Hammond: I assume that the Welsh Assembly has asked for the inclusion of this measure, and did not ask

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for its inclusion at the time of the Bill's original publication. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister by what process the Assembly either determined that it needed the primary legislation to do what it wanted to do, or decided that it wanted a power that it had not wanted previously.

If I read them correctly, Lords amendment No. 21 and the consequential amendments simply place Wales on the same basis as England following the changes in the 1992 Act made by clause 76.

I was not involved in the Committee stage, but I have the impression from reading the reports of it that what little consideration was allowed for this part of the Bill—given the desperately inadequate time allowed owing to the knives introduced by the timetable motion—focused principally on the issue of who would keep any extra money that was raised. The answer, as we might have anticipated, is the Government, rather than the local authority. However, it seems entirely reasonable to give similar powers to Welsh authorities, although I assume that it is a matter for the Welsh Assembly, as it seems to be more about housing policy than about revenue raising; clearly, the authorities themselves will not benefit in terms of the additional revenue but they will be able to use the provision as a tool of housing policy. I for one am very happy for Wales to have equality of treatment with England.

8 pm

The job of the Opposition is to find something to say about all these things, even when there is not obviously anything much to say, but I have found something to ask the Minister, he will be pleased to know. I understand that the title of the clause is not technically a part of the Bill but it seems a little odd that the clause is headed "Second and empty homes: England" when the second part of it will deal with second and empty homes in Wales. Perhaps he can confirm that it is within the scope of minor amendment, printing or whatever for the heading, "Second and empty homes: England" to be changed to "Second and empty homes: England and Wales" or possibly just "Second and empty homes." It would be a little anomalous if we passed a measure headed "Second and empty homes: England" when the second half of its text was devoted to second and empty homes in Wales.

Mr. Edward Davey: I do not think that there is much to say on these amendments. I think that the National Assembly for Wales has asked for them. It is important to devolve more power to it. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches would like the Government to go even further. I would certainly like the National Assembly to have the power to determine the form of local taxation. I know that there is a movement in Wales against the unfair council tax and that many people in Wales would like a tax related to ability to pay. If anything, while these are welcome powers, they do not go far enough because they do not devolve further powers to the National Assembly over the local government finance regime for Wales. However, that is perhaps going wide of the debate and I am conscious that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may bring me to order. There is nothing wrong with the amendments. They go

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in the right direction and I just hope that the Government will go even further on the path of devolution at a later date.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I too welcome the amendments. Clearly, they are necessary and it is right that there should be parity with our friends in England. I never understood the logic behind allowing a discount for a second home. It beat me throughout the years that I thought about it. I am pleased that it is being dealt with. The provision can be used as a tool in housing policy and so on. I am pleased, therefore, that the Government are going to extend the provisions to Wales.

I echo what has just been said. I hope that there will be further devolution, stronger devolution, and that these matters will come within the ambit of the National Assembly without having to be referred to this Chamber. That said, I am pleased that the proposals are on the table and I am sure that they will pass into law without much hindrance from anyone in the Chamber.

Phil Hope: I am grateful to hon. Members who have supported the proposals, including the hon. Members for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). Two questions have arisen. One was, how did the Welsh Assembly change its mind? That is devolution for you. It is up to the Members of the Welsh Assembly. If the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) wants to write to them, he is perfectly entitled to do so.

Mr. Hammond rose—

Phil Hope: I knew that I should not have suggested that he write to them.

Mr. Hammond: I am sorry but it is just that the Minister said on the question of why the Welsh Assembly changed its mind, "It just did." If that is the answer, that is fine, but it is not necessarily obvious that the Welsh Assembly has changed its mind. It might be that it always wanted these powers, and it became evident that there was a need for primary legislation to get them, as opposed to the Assembly deciding after the legislation had been published that it wanted to go down that route.

Phil Hope: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. "Do not know" still has to be my reply. He will have to ask the Welsh Assembly whether it was something that it always wanted to do, whether it changed its mind or whatever. Thankfully, the measure is in the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman raised a technical point about a clause headed "Second and empty homes: England" referring to Wales. That will obviously be a matter for the parliamentary draftsmen, who will no doubt note what he said.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 22 to 25 agreed to [One with special entry].

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Clause 117

Local Polls

Lords amendment No. 26

Mr. Raynsford: I beg to move, That the House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Clause 117 confirms the right of a local authority to conduct an advisory poll. The provision creates an express power and removes doubt about the freedom of local authorities to hold advisory polls. It gives councils maximum flexibility on who is polled and how the poll is conducted.

We carefully considered the points raised in the Lords Committee on requiring local authorities to have regard to guidance about making local polls accessible to local people and in particular to people with disabilities. We have tabled the amendment in order to provide for the Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly for Wales in Wales to be able to issue guidance to which local authorities must have regard on facilitating participation by disabled people in a local poll. I am sure that that will be widely welcomed and I hope that no one will object to its becoming part of the Bill.

Mr. Hammond: The Minister is right. No one, I am sure, will object to the amendment, but that does not mean that no one will have any questions about it. The provision allows guidance to be issued on disabled access to local polls—polls for the purpose of testing local opinion by local authorities, as distinct from local election polls. It looks like mum and apple pie. I agree with the Minister: who could possibly be against it? My question relates to the fact that the guidance referred to here must be in respect specifically of the local advisory polls; the right to conduct them is confirmed by clause 117.

The thrust of the Bill is to be decentralising; the Minister keeps reciting the mantra of freedom and flexibility. It would be odd if the appropriate person, the Secretary of State in England and the relevant Minister in the Welsh Assembly, could issue guidance to local authorities in relation to section 117 polls which did not have to be complied with in relation to elections or referendums conducted out of the same polling stations. We are all for access but the obligations on local authorities conducting section 117 polls must not be more onerous than in the case of the arguably more important elections and referendums that will often take place in the same buildings.

I am hoping and expecting that the Minister will tell me that he will undertake that the guidance that will be issued in relation to section 117 polls will reflect only requirements that are imposed on returning officers in relation to elections and referendums. It would be entirely appropriate if this measure were seen as a way of ensuring that the good practice that the Government will, I hope, seek to impose in terms of ensuring disabled access to polling stations for referendums and elections will be carried over into these local polls that local authorities hold. I would not like to see a more onerous obligation in respect of those polls than those imposed

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in respect of elections and referendums. The sentiment behind the amendment is sound, but I seek reassurance from the Minister that the bizarre circumstances that I postulated will not arise and that he will issue guidance to ensure that that does not occur.

Mr. Edward Davey: I support the amendment, which was presaged by an amendment tabled by Baroness Hamwee on 24 June in the other place. She tabled the amendment following discussions with the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which felt that this would be a useful move. The Government have clearly responded to that positively, which is to be welcomed.

In passing, it is interesting to note that we did not have a chance to debate the clause in Committee. We could have a spat about whether it was the Government or the Opposition who were to blame. However, there were a number of long and tedious speeches that went off the point—

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