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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for your helpful suggestion, but can you confirm that if by any chance the Act is not available by the time we reach Third Reading, the sitting would have to be suspended because that debate might require references to the Act for the sake of completeness?
As you can see, Mr. Speaker, there are many references to the Local Government Finance Act 1992 in the Bill before us this afternoon. It is impossible to understand the force of the amendments without seeing the Bill that they amend. Can you give us some
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indication of the point in our proceedings, if we must continue, at which we will have a copy of the Act available to us?
Mr. Speaker: I knew that it was not a point of order. I have instructed officials to make the Act available and when I instruct officials, the House can believe that they move quickly. They will be moving quickly as we speak and I think that the request of right hon. and hon. Members will be met shortly.
Sir Paul Beresford: I am sure that we will be able to limp on without that Act, although I admit that I do not know it word for word. I am honoured to move amendment No. 3, which also stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). He intended to be here to support this little amendment on this little Bill. Unfortunately, the Government's last-minute decision to replace some uncomfortable business with this relatively non-urgent Bill has caused a major conflict in his diary and he is unable to join us. My right hon. Friend and I were both local government Ministers, but I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who was our much more learned Secretary of State, is in his place and will be able to add his support and make a few points to the discomfort of the Government and, perhaps, our Front-Bench colleagues, judging from their response to Second Reading. I am also sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon will be able to find enough time to wheel across and join us in the event of a vote.
Bearing in mind that council tax and local authority finances are excessively complex and generally dead boring, I must express my surprise and delight at seeing so many fascinated souls in the Chamber eager to join this debate. They are even, for the moment, still awake. The intention of the amendment is quite simple and straightforward. It would enable the Secretary of State to allow, or require, a particular billing authority, a group of adjacent billing authorities, or all billing authorities to carry out valuations for council tax purposes. It is perhaps worth emphasising that because of the nature of the valuations and the banding system that applies.
Mr. Greg Knight: On such matters, my hon. Friend's voice carries great weight with me, because I know that he has studied the subject long and hard and is an expert on it. However, I am most concerned by the scope and provisions of the amendment. Should it be added to the Bill, what would prevent a malevolent Minister from deciding to order a revaluation just for Conservative-controlled local authorities?
Sir Paul Beresford: There would have to be some justification for doing so. An order would have to be produced, which could lead to a debate in the House and the opportunity to make points. However, given the trend of local elections, it is conceivable that there could be so many Conservative councils that a Minister had no opportunity to do anything else.
The point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) also
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worries me. Were such a malevolent decision to be made by a Minister, could it be subject to judicial review? Does my hon. Friend think that there would be any protection, judicial or otherwise, against such targeted, political action?
Sir Paul Beresford: My right hon. Friend answers his own question. In such a situation, a judicial review would be a protection, although I do not really envisage such a situation arising, even if the next local government electionsas I anticipateresult in a clean sweep for the Conservatives and a fall in the number of Liberal and Labour councils. We shall have such a collection of Conservative councils that that situation might be more likely than my right hon. Friend envisages.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): It is remarkable that it is accepted as completely plausible that a Government might behave in the way suggested. Would my hon. Friend care to reflect on the fact that the Government have already done so in their reallocation of local government finance and the budgets for primary care trusts? Some primary care trusts are under-fundedand not over-spentbecause the Government have shifted money from Conservative areas to Labour areas on purpose.
Sir Paul Beresford: I agree, and the amendment derives from the point made on Second Reading that it would provide an opportunity to change the way in which the funding formula worked, to make it fairer and restore the balance that existed before the funding formula under which we now suffer.
I believe and I hope that you agree, Madam Deputy Speakerthe interventions may support the necessitythat it would be appropriate to explain the background to the thinking behind this short amendment. As the House will be aware, on Second Reading, it was explained that the Bill in effect stops the programmed and vastly expensive national revaluation of every home in England to place them within council tax bands. It also gives the Secretary of State, whoever that may be at the time, the power to call for a national revaluation when he or she deems it appropriate, if ever. The whole discussion on revaluation for council tax purposes was questioned during the run-up to the election. Many felt that there was no requirement for a revaluation, and my Conservative colleagues and I numbered in that group.
Sir Paul Beresford:
I should perhaps have explained that, but I was aware that in doing so I might transgress a little beyond the amendment. The new list is a list of valuations of properties within a billing authority, so
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that they may be put in bands for the redistribution of grant, on the basis of ability to pay, and to determine the amount collected in council tax from the owners of the properties within the billing authority's boundaries. The Government, especially the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), were emphatic that a national revaluation was required and that, as it was programmed, it should go ahead. Suddenly, post the election
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to give a brief explanation. I was prepared to allow that, but I will not have another debate effectively on Second Reading. Perhaps just giving a brief background to the amendment will be appropriate.
Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would you not perhaps concede that a degree of flexibility would be helpful, given that we are struggling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) has pointed out, because we do not have the originating statute in front of us? Would it not be more appropriate than normal for my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and perhaps other hon. Members to give more of the background to the amendment and, indeed, to clause 1, given the absence of the originating statute? Would that not be helpful to the House, Madam Deputy Speaker?
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