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Mr. Greg Knight: That is an interesting argument. Is my right hon. Friend volunteering Suffolk for a pilot scheme?

Mr. Gummer: It would not be for me to volunteer my own county; it would be for the local authority to make those decisions. Indeed, just as I do not interfere in my local authority's decision making, I do not expect it to interfere in mine. That is why I felt strongly when the Government lent on chief constables in relation to the issue that we are not discussing now because the Government are ashamed of it. That is why we are debating the amendment and not that issue, but I will not continue down that line, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I may get into trouble.
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I agree that localities would have to volunteer, but I suggest that, for the greater good, it may be necessary to give the Secretary of State a limited power to carry out a small number of pilot revaluations to discover whether the system was usable in the way that I propose.

I am worried about the amendment for a third reason. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley lost the House a little in explaining the amendment at the point at which he distinguished between the use of the valuation as means to share out locally the total bill and its use in the Government's hands as means to determine the grant. That is a complicated issue, and it is one of the very difficult issues that we face in trying to deal with our constituents. The amendment's transparency is insufficient to help my constituents to understand what is in any event a very detailed problem.

Hon. Members will remember that it has always been thought that there are three attributes that give one the right to read mediaeval philosophy. To understand the philosophy of the mediaeval schoolman, one must be able to understand the monetary compensatory amounts in the European Union's common agricultural policy, or the way in which grants under the previous rating system worked, or the present Government's grant-giving system. I am happy to say that I understand all three, but that has not given me a taste for mediaeval philosophy. That is merely an accident of history, but it leads me to believe that the amendment is deficient, because our constituents must be able to understand the legislation without also being enabled to read mediaeval philosophy. It seems to me that we must make the system easier for them.

The Minister will wind up the debate after having had the considerable benefit of hearing the wide range of views that Conservative Members have had to present owing to the total absence of Labour Members. He really cannot complain if I am slightly out of kilter with my Front-Bench colleagues, or that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley have different views. The Minister could have got us out of that problem by bringing some of his hon. Friends, who are known not always to agree with each other, into the Chamber to extend our understanding of how they get away with bigger grants than anyone on this side of the House—perhaps they are too ashamed to explain it.

Even though the Minister is bereft of support on the Labour Benches—[Interruption.] Of course, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) is sitting behind the Minister. The hon. Gentleman's tenacious support for Government policy, contrary to the interests of his constituents, has got him where he is, and will no doubt get him further very soon. That is why he has not been fighting for his local hospital, although I have. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but that is one sentence that in your heart you will find it hard to attack me for. Hon. Members should understand that Mr. Deputy Speaker and I share the same hospital.

The Minister must understand that the real issue is his ability to meet people's needs. I happen to like him, and do not think that he has been too involved in some of the shenanigans that have been going on. I happen to think that they have almost entirely come about due to the Deputy Prime Minister, for whom shenanigans are a way of life.
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I think that the Minister wants to make the system, such as it is, as effective as possible and that he wants to have the powers necessary for that. He ought to have limited powers to be able to use such a technique for what I call polling testing—to find out whether it works—because that is a useful thing in government. He should also have the duty to enable a local authority that wants a local revaluation to carry it out, but I do not want him to have the powers that amendment No. 3 would give him.

I am drawing to the end of my speech, but my difficulty now is knowing what to do. If the Minister says that he will take on board the points that we have made and look favourably on trying to finding a better-suited mechanism through which he could give himself the elbow room that he needs—given the Lyons inquiry and the like—but that would not require revaluation for a property tax for some time, perhaps along the lines of that which I humbly presented, which would not be too difficult to implement, I know exactly what I will do: I will ask my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley not to press the amendment to a Division. However, if the Minister says, "No, I certainly will not. What a load of old rubbish; we don't want that at all," my difficulty is that if I do not support the amendment, I will not have made the point that something must be done.

I am grateful for having the opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to explain the basis on which I have approached the matter. Despite all my caveats, if the amendment is pressed to a Division, I will have to vote for it so that the Minister understands that the issue cannot be escaped. Their lordships will understand that they should address the matter, albeit perhaps more elegantly than my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley had time to do—I put that as delicately as I can because I do not want to make him unhappy. By that time, perhaps their lordships will have proper copies of the 1992 Act so that they will know what to do.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): I was in the Chamber at the beginning of this illuminating debate, but had to leave to consider a statutory instrument. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the amendment would cover all the properties whose values have risen during the course of the debate?

Mr. Gummer: If the hon. Gentleman gets in touch with some property people, he will find that prices are rising and falling almost simultaneously. I declare an interest as a regular columnist for the Estates Gazette, which is one reason why I know a little bit about these matters. It is now more difficult to forecast property prices because they are going in different directions in different places and in different bands. His question is more complex than it appears, so I shall not answer it—and if I did, I suspect that you would stop me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I believe that a change has to take place, but that it is impossible to give the powers in the amendment to the Government because in the distribution of grant and of national health service funds and in a range of other examples, they have shown that they make party political and not objective decisions. I do not know of a Government of any kind—Labour, Conservative or, looking back a long time, Liberal—who have behaved
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as the present Government have done. That is an extremely sad thing for our democracy, because it undermines the ability to support this place and the way in which our democratic system works. It is noticeable that, for example, the major criterion in determining how much money goes to the NHS is no longer age, but deprivation, which is much more difficult to fix but has to do with the problems affecting a particular area, which may have nothing to do with health. The result—surprise, surprise—is that the areas with some of the oldest populations in the country do not get as much as some of the areas where there are far fewer health problems. That happens because of the technique that has been introduced.

I cannot accept the amendment because I cannot trust the present Government. To be fair to the Minister, I do not take him in the same way, but like my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, I do not believe that this House should trust any Government with any powers that it can avoid giving them. Governments exist to do as little as possible, not as much as possible, and the House must keep in its hands the powers of ensuring that Governments behave properly. Ultimately, that is why I am most unhappy about the amendment. Whether a Government are Tory or Labour—I am referring to likely Governments—they should not be trusted with the powers in the amendment, and the present Government should certainly not be trusted with anything that would enable them to manipulate the system for party political purposes. I do not want them to be tempted down a road that they are already further down than any previous Government.

If the Minister assures me that he will give the matter his consideration, make some changes and table an amendment, I shall seek to ensure that the amendment is not pressed to a vote, and if it is pressed I shall vote against it. If, on the other hand, he cannot do that, I shall hope that the amendment is pressed and vote in favour of it.

3.15 pm

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