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Anne Main : If a peripatetic group of valuers were employed to save money, we would be short of staff if a rash of applications occurred.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Indeed. In her customary way, my hon. Friend has made a good point. The Valuation Office Agency is staffed on a regional basis. If there were a lot of revaluations in, for example, the north-west, and if the Government in their wisdom had redirected local authority staff towards the north-east, which they tend to do, we would find ourselves in a muddle.

Sir Paul Beresford: My hon. Friend will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) explain the use of the private sector, which I should have thought would interest him.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: That is an interesting point. I reiterate my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests that I am a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and I think it an excellent idea to contract out some revaluation work. I seem to have unwittingly provided the very reason why it should happen—because then the Valuation Office Agency would not need such a huge permanent overhead. I am beginning to think that my hon. Friend's amendment might not be so bad after all. When there was a rash of revaluation, it would be a good idea for the private sector to do some of the work.

I want to move on to the next section of my speech—

Mr. Greg Knight: Before my hon. Friend moves on, can I take him back to an argument of his that I did not
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find very convincing? Where there has been demolition in an area that is in the course of being redeveloped, is not there a good case for not having a revaluation but waiting until it is fully redeveloped, because that will have a huge effect on property prices?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My right hon. Friend makes a partly good point. When I held my party's housing and inner-city brief, I found that large-scale redevelopments in areas such as Moss Side in Manchester tended to take place over several years. It is highly unlikely that the entire demolition in a redevelopment of any size would take place in one go—it would be phased over a number of years. The effectiveness of the revaluation in dealing with the problem that my right hon. Friend mentions would depend on the stage in that process at which it was ordered. Any big redevelopment of that kind would have areas that had been demolished and rebuilt, areas that had been demolished but not rebuilt, and areas still waiting to be demolished. The point at which the revaluation was ordered would be a matter of judgment.

Mr. Greg Knight: Does my hon. Friend accept that that does not necessarily have to be the case? In some developments, the whole area is cleared at once—for example, railway marshalling yards, where the land is cleared and then brought into use all in one go.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: That is entirely possible. Of course, in the bigger cities the scale becomes bigger. That would have to be considered carefully. I am sure that the Minister will tell us whether it is one of the factors that he would take into account in ordering a revaluation.

Mr. Binley: Does not this whole debate make the argument for introducing more flexibility into the whole system of revaluation, which is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) is making in his amendment?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Yes, with one gigantic caveat—that it should not be ordered by the Secretary of State but be in the control and at the discretion of individual local authorities. Those of us who believe in localism and in local government per se must agree with the democratic system whereby we elect local councils such as that of my hon. Friend. I am aware of the excellent work that he has done, and continues to do, in Northampton. We elect such people to do this work on behalf of us, the people, and we should hold them accountable for the decisions that they make. If they make the right decisions, they will be re-elected. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be re-elected for many years to come.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): In the light of my hon. Friend's professional and political experience, is it his view that large-scale demolition would force the value of local properties up or down?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I was about to come to that point. My hon. Friend must be clairvoyant, too, because he has read my mind and anticipated the next section of my speech.
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The subject of the valuation base is very interesting, if dry. The whole business of local government finance is incredibly complicated. It involves about 200 different sections, including algorithms and all sorts of complicated mathematical formulae, one of which relates to the council tax. House prices are rising in almost all areas in the United Kingdom and that means that the valuation base would probably increase on revaluation. I suspect that that would happen because the general area would improve. Moss Side is a prime example of such improvement. Houses were demolished, new houses were built and green parks, new schools and new doctors' surgeries were created, thus improving the whole area to the extent that one of the most crime-ridden areas in Europe is now a pleasant place to live. The private sector has built houses in the area that sell for a great a deal of money. That proves what successful wholesale refurbishment of an area can do. I suspect that if an area were sensitively demolished and refurbished, the council tax base would increase.

3.30 pm

I want to make another important point about the increase in the council tax base. My hon. Friend the   Member for Mole Valley did not agree, but the complicated algorithms and formulae that are used to calculate the rate support grant settlement include a redistribution mechanism if the valuation tax base is higher than average. For example, areas such as the Cotswolds, where the council tax base is high, lose out on the rate support grant settlement because some of our council tax is redistributed. The Government redistribute from areas with high council tax bases to areas with lower council tax bases.

Anne Main: I am sure that my hon. Friend shares my concern that areas that are deemed wealthy contain areas of relative deprivation. They will be hit even worse by the measure.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend is a clairvoyant.

Mr. Hoban: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I should like to answer my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main). I am flattered that so many colleagues wish to intervene on me. It shows that my speech is either very bad or raises more questions than it solves.

Mr. Swayne: The latter.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans made a good point. The core theme of my speech is that a property tax must reflect market value as closely as possible. If we allow them to get out of kilter, we create increasing unfairness in the system. One unfairness affects people on fixed incomes, who tend to be fixed in their houses. If their houses become relatively more valuable than other houses, the system is unfair to them, and especially to retired people. The third highest number of people aged over 85 in the country live in the
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Cotswolds, and the problem therefore worries me greatly. That is one reason for keeping the matter reviewed and up to date.

Mr. Hoban: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, but I echo the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that it raises many questions. His explanation of the equalisation system suggests that local authorities whose rateable value is below average have a disincentive to go for revaluation, because if their council tax base increases they would lose the benefit of the transfers from south to north that penalise council tax payers in my constituency.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has hit the bull's eye. That is what is wrong with the amendment. I believe that the Secretary of State will use the power for the wrong reasons and my hon. Friend outlines one of them. I should therefore like the power to be vested in local authorities because they know what is best for the area and whether they should order such a power. My hon. Friend raises a genuine, worrying possibility.

Mr. Swayne: My fear is that whether the power is ordered by the local authority or the Secretary of State, it may inadvertently have the same effect. The Secretary of State could order it to cause a transfer of resources, but even if the local authority ordered it for some other purpose, it could have the same effect. Local authorities would not wish to use such a power lightly.

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