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Mr. Binley rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman to make his remarks relevant to the amendment, not just revaluation?

Mr. Binley: I understand and take your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point was that the amendment would enable local authorities in a growth situation to ask for their own revaluation, which would alleviate pressure on them. That has a relevant connection to the debate.

In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), no, I do not have that faith—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend might be leading him somewhat astray.

Mr. Binley: That certainly would not be for the first time, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful to you for pointing it out. Under your guidance, I shall ignore my right hon. Friend and continue with the points that I wish to make.

I want to refer to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is no longer in his place. He suggested that the Secretary of State might have too much power and asked whether he would be fair or could act politically.
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I simply repeat that this House is the scrutiny body in this respect, and I hope that it would act in that way. However, I understand my right hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend, with his huge experience of local government matters, agree that a Secretary of State does not actually have to use a power that he is given, but the mere threat of his having it could force some local authorities to carry out a revaluation?

1.45 pm

Mr. Binley: As I understand it, local authorities could carry out a revaluation only if the Secretary of State agreed to it. I have faith in the goodness of humankind. I see good when I look at the Government Benches, and I hope that that will be repaid to me by the Minister when he winds up.

To sum up very quickly—

Mr. Forth: There is no need to do that.

Mr. Binley: Well, I wish to do so. Again, I refuse to take the advice of my right hon. Friend.

The amendment would be good for local government administration and for the perception of local government. It would place in its hands at least the opportunity to request revaluation where it thinks it fit and proper and I hope that the Secretary of State would respond in good part to such a request. The amendment would give local authorities greater autonomy and a greater field of action in this respect, and as a champion of local authorities I would be in favour of that.

Local government has always been a political football, but this particular issue has added to the intensity of the game. That is sad. The amendment would help to relieve that situation by giving local authorities a safety valve where growth, whether forced on them or otherwise, is such that there is a real need for action that is not a national need. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley for presenting it to the House.

Mr. Francois: I rise to make a few points about the amendment. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), who is in effect the chancellor of Northamptonshire in this context. I wish him good luck with the challenges that he faces.

On Report, we can debate only the amendments that are before the House. I have some reservations about the way in which amendment No. 3 is worded and shall try to explain the reason for my concern. I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) is trying to achieve, but I think, in all sincerity, that he may have tripped himself up slightly. Let me refer to new clause 1(2) to illustrate my point. That would give the Secretary of State a top-down power to permit a localised revaluation, which is the spirit of what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve in the amendment, but would also allow for a bottom-up request to the Secretary of State to exercise that power.
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I am worried that the way in which amendment No. 3 is drafted could allow the Secretary of State to decide, for some arbitrary reason—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could address the Chair.

Mr. Francois: I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was looking at my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley to try to emphasise my point.

The Secretary of State could, for some arbitrary reason, decide to impose a revaluation on a local authority or group of local authorities that are adjoining rather than comparable—as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) pointed out—and there might be some suspicion that that was being done for an open, or perhaps less open, political reason. If there were two separate amendments—the first to make the same provision as amendment No. 3 and the second to provide that the power could be exercised only in response to a request from the bottom, so that it could be effected only when a group of local authorities had got together to make that request—I would have more sympathy with the aim of my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley. In those circumstances, the Secretary of State could grant a revaluation only when there was clear evidence that the local authority or authorities had made the request.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Does my hon. Friend have any concerns about pressures, for example, to provide land for development more quickly—perhaps every five years when we are considering a 10-year revaluation—which could mean even greater pressures on revaluation? If land and buildings are provided more quickly, the revaluations can be done more quickly. Clause 1 would allow for that.

Mr. Francois: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I intended to raise because it is the second reason for my concern about the amendment.

I have reservations about the amendment's drafting because the power is too broad. I would be more inclined to support it if it were drawn so that revaluation could take place only when a request had been made from the bottom up—from the relevant authority or authorities. I hope that I have made my first worry clear.

My second concern relates to growth, which several hon. Members mentioned, including my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, South and for St. Albans (Anne Main). I am a Thames Gateway Member of Parliament, but the point does not apply only to that area. Some of my hon. Friends have argued that an area of especially high growth might give the local authority an incentive to revalue. I understand the logic of that but it is no secret that, in some of the proposed high growth areas, there is much local resistance to the amount of house building that the Government want. That is true of parts of the Thames Gateway and I believe it to be true of the other growth areas that have been mentioned.

If we allowed local authorities to revalue specifically in those areas on the basis of growth, residents and council tax payers might feel that they were being
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doubly punished. Not only would they be asked to accept all the additional housing—to which many constituents and I are resistant—and the attendant pressures on infrastructure, which I do not need to repeat in case I stray out of order; all hon. Members are familiar with the arguments, but they would also get a revaluation thrown in. That is not likely to be popular with residents and council tax payers even if the local authority wanted a revaluation for understandable financial reasons. However, people just over the border of the development area would not have to accept so many houses, suffer the infrastructure pressures or get the revaluation thrown in.

Sir Paul Beresford: My hon. Friend must take account of the point that, if the local authority does not increase its total tax take, the distribution in the area will be evened up only if the Government recognise that the way in which they assess ability to pay—based on valuation band spread—must be corrected and moved not towards local government, as the Liberal party suggests, but a Treasury assessment. The Treasury already conducts such assessments.

Mr. Francois: I understand my hon. Friend's point. I, too, served in local government, albeit not at the same senior level. My hon. Friend successfully led Wandsworth council in London. However, although I understand his technical point, I was making a more avowedly political point. We all know that the growth is controversial and a potential consequence is that people would get a revaluation thrown in on top. Those people are suffering enough.

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