House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2002 - 03
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
Local Government Bill

Local Government Bill

Column Number: 385

Standing Committee A

Thursday 6 February 2003


[Mr. Derek Conway in the Chair]

Local Government Bill

Clause 53

Power of veto

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 153, in

    clause 53, page 22, line 8, leave out from 'proposals' to end of line 9.—[Mr. Clifton-Brown.]

2.30 pm

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are considering the following:

Amendment No. 76, in

    clause 53, page 22, line 9, at end insert—

    '(2A) In deciding whether to exercise the veto a billing authority must have regard to—

    (a) the identification of the classes of owners of superior property interests proposed to be charged,

    (b) any classes of owners of superior property interests who are not proposed to be charged,

    (c) the allocated proportion proposed to be charged to each owner of a superior property interest, and

    (d) the proposed arrangements for the management of the BID including the representation of owners of superior property interests in the management arrangements

    and shall exercise the veto unless it is satisfied that the proposed BID arrangements are fair and equitable in relation to the manner in which the projects specified will be financed and shall have regard to any Codes of Practice issued by the Secretary of State.'.

Amendment No. 77, in

    clause 53, page 22, line 11, after 'such', insert 'additional'.

Amendment No. 152, in

    clause 53, page 22, line 12, after 'notice', insert 'no later than 3 months from the date of the ballot'.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Mr. Conway. I have served on many Committees, under the previous and the current Administrations. I understood that it was a convention of the House that, when a Government document was referred to, it would be sent to hon. Members and it would be available on the Table, so that if, by chance, an hon. Member did not have a copy, as was clear from the discussion this morning, one would be available in the Committee Room. I have no criticism of the Ministers, but if that had been the case this morning, it would have avoided much unnecessary discussion and made for a much better debate. We would have conducted our proceedings in a much more orderly way. I seek your guidance on the matter.

The Chairman: I hear what the hon. Member says and, indeed, that is good practice. I received the bundle to which he refers in the post, but some members of the Committee may not have done. The method of supplying the papers is not prescribed, but the point that he makes about good practice may be helpful. If the Under-Secretary wishes to comment, that would be useful.

Column Number: 386

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Christopher Leslie): Further to that point of order, Mr. Conway. In the light of the debate that we had earlier, I have asked officials to bring over sufficient copies to be placed on the Table for hon. Members to have to hand throughout the rest of the proceedings. In case there has been a problem in receiving notes on policy intent, I have asked for copies of them, too. I appreciate that we often refer to much documentation in debate, and it is not always possible to have that to hand, but we will certainly try our best to facilitate debate.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: As always, the Under-Secretary is courteous. Officials would be completely overwhelmed if they were asked for enough copies for all members of the Committee. Two or three copies will suffice. Having borrowed a copy from the Liberal Democrats this morning, I hereby return it to them. It did not disappear in the bin. I have a spare copy for any other member of the Committee who wants one.

I want to make progress this afternoon and deal with the BIDs fairly rapidly. The purpose of the group of amendments is to prise out of the Government not only the timetable within which the notice of revocation must be served, but the conditions that they must envisage before using the power of veto. Amendment No. 76 identifies a class of property owners who, in the interests of equity, should be considered before a BID arrangement goes forward. As we know, there can be various layers. There can be a licensee, a tenant, a lessee, a head lessee, and a Crown Lessee on top, so it is not a straightforward matter. Having introduced the amendments as briefly as I can, it will be interesting to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say.

Mr. Leslie: I, too, am hopeful that we can make some swift progress, given the amount of business that we have. Sadly, most of the amendments are different in different ways, so I hope that the Committee will bear with me while I explain why I doubt that we can accept them. We have considered several amendments that would make property owners liable to pay the BID levy, and therefore entitled to vote on a BID proposal. We resisted them. There is no practical way in which property owners can be liable for the BID levy. They can, if they wish, make voluntary contributions.

The amendments assume that property owners will pay the levy and therefore we will have a vote on the establishment of the BID. Despite property owners having a vote, the amendments propose that the billing authority should be under a statutory duty to veto a BID proposal if the interests of property owners would be compromised in some rather unspecific way. The only reason for the amendments is that those who want property owners to be liable for the BID levy may also want the entire BIDs to be vetoed, if it were felt that the interests of property owners would not be well served by the BID.

I see no justification for the suggested approach. Clause 53 provides that a local authority can veto a BID proposal, but it does not include, as the amendment would have it, a statutory bias in favour of a particular interest group such as property owners,

Column Number: 387

and nor should it. The local authority should consider the interests of all those who would be affected by a BID. We are well aware of the interests of property owners and their importance in making a BID proposal work, but they will not be subject to the BID levy.

We expect the local authority veto to be applied rarely to protect the interests of other people in the local area who could be adversely affected by changes made as a result of the creation of a BID. The regulations will be set out in accordance with the policy in the White Paper, which states:

    ''Councils would have the reserve powers to veto proposals, where they could demonstrate that the proposed BID would conflict with locally adopted plans made under statute, or otherwise formally adopted by the council, such as the community strategy.''

If the council feels that there are conflicting issues, it will have an opportunity for a veto.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Does the Under-Secretary recall my intervention before lunch? Will he explain why a veto can be exercised only after a ballot is held, not before?

Mr. Leslie: We will come shortly to the timing of the veto and whether amendments Nos. 152 and 153 should be accepted. They would remove the power of the Secretary of State to prescribe the circumstances and to impose a time limit on when the veto may be exercised.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The Under-Secretary himself said earlier that, when the BID proposals were being put together, they would have to involve the local authority as the billing authority. He specifically said that the proposals could be put together only with the local authority. If that is so, how does the Under-Secretary envisage a circumstance in which the local authority would veto a BID proposal in which it had been involved? Does that mean that it is possible to put together a BID proposal and win a ballot on it despite the hostility of the local authority?

Mr. Leslie: I understand that the guidance suggests that it is best practice to have the local authority on board as a natural key stakeholder in any BID arrangement. However, BID proposals can be put together without the local authority being a key player. To allow authorities to have an important role in overseeing some of the issues that naturally affect their functions, activities and concerns, we should give them an opportunity to have a veto in those unforeseen circumstances in which they may not have been a key player at the inception of the BID proposals and a BID vote subsequently takes place. As I have said, those circumstances will be rare.

The powers have been put in place not least to ensure that local authorities have a serious voice and are taken seriously by those putting together BID proposals. That will help to ensure that local authorities are fully taken into account when BID arrangements are drawn up.

Amendments Nos. 152 and 153, as I have said, would remove the Secretary of State's power to prescribe the circumstances and to impose a time

Column Number: 388

limit on when the veto may be exercised. We see no reason to prescribe a particular period in primary legislation. Clause 53 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations regarding the veto. A time limit could be included in regulations, but we see no reason to put one in the Bill. BIDs are a partnership between the local authority and the business community. If a local authority thinks that a BID would conflict with its other plans, it should state that long before a BID ballot takes place. Indeed, we say that in our guidance.

We want to learn from the practical experience of those setting up BIDs before we put specific time periods into regulations. The BIDs provisions are designed to allow maximum flexibility, to allow for different circumstances in different areas, and the amendments would go against the spirit of the legislation.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has read out his brief very quickly, and I introduced the amendments very quickly. I should be grateful if he could give us some examples of the situation in which a local authority would issue a veto, given that it would have been involved in the process in the first place. Having drawn up a business plan and gone through the whole procedure of the ballot, what are the circumstances in which it would exercise that veto? [Interruption.]


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 6 February 2003