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(1B) The son or daughter of a freeman of a city or town shall be admitted as a freeman whether born before or after the admission, as a freeman, of his or her freeman parent and wherever he or she was born.
(1) The first short list of proposals drawn up by the selector subsequent to the passing of this Act may contain as many proposals as the selector thinks it is reasonably practicable to deal with provided that he has sufficient proposals from local authorities.
"(2) For the purpose of making proposals to the Secretary of State where there is in the opinion of the Secretary of State a viable county association of parish councils then he must recognise that association for that purpose.
(3) Where the Secretary of State has recognised a county association pursuant to subsection (2) he must invite that association to make proposals which it considers would contribute to promoting the sustainability of local communities and, in such a case, sections 2-5 shall apply.
(5) Where a local authority has not decided to make proposals to the Secretary of State then provided that at least five per cent. of electors in its area have signed and delivered a petition to the offices of the authority specifying that the authority must make proposals then the authority shall organise a referendum of all electors on the matter in that petition.
(6) If in that referendum a majority of those voting support the petition then the authority must within 12 months make proposals and in such a case the provisions of this Act or the Act of 2007 shall apply.
'( ) When conducting an assessment under this part, a principal local authority must consider the impact on the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of the authority's area, including in particular where applicable (but not limited to) the effect on ports, caused by non-domestic rating revaluations.'.
'(9) In subsection (2)(a) "sustainable growth" means economic growth that can be sustained and is within environmental limits but also enhances the environment and social welfare and avoids greater extremes in future economic cycles.'.
(4) For the purpose of subsection (1) the responsible regional authorities in relation to a region and the Secretary of State must have regard to the advice of the body established under subsection (3).'.
(5) The responsible regional authorities shall establish and support a stakeholder body which shall include social, environmental and economic partners, and whose purpose shall be to provide advice on-
Julia Goldsworthy: New clause 6 has a number of similarities with other amendments in this group, which raise concerns and questions about the proposals to extend the powers and remit of the regional development agencies. It goes back to the original remit of the RDAs, and highlights our concern that the economy will remain the key and most prominent driver, despite claims made in earlier debates on this Bill that the agencies' role would be broadened to include wider sustainability issues.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that it is a disgrace that the Government have in effect prevented a serious discussion of the local spending reports? She and I, and other hon. Members from all parties, received an assurance about that from Ministers, but they have utterly failed to fulfil it.
Julia Goldsworthy: I agree, but unfortunately that is only the latest in a long line of disappointments on this issue. The Government like to talk a good game about wanting to give people real information about the public money being spent in this area, but they seem to try to prevent that debate at every opportunity. The result is that they do not have to deliver the commitment that they promised in earlier legislation.
I shall not spend long on the new clauses in this group, as I hope that we will have an opportunity to vote on them. The Government have the opportunity to address their tarnished reputation on sustainability-an issue dear to my heart, as I have outlined already.
New clause 13 would compel the Government to publish local spending reports. That is a cornerstone of engaging people in local democracy and decision making, because it gives them an opportunity to see how public money is being spent. When they know that, the next step is that they will want to have a say about where it could be better spent. The Government have not delivered spending reports in the way they promised when we debated the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.
New clause 14 would make a series of improvements to the 2007 Act. It would ensure that people would have more than just a one-off opportunity-it proposes a rolling programme that would allow communities to have a real say about the changes needed to make a real difference to their lives. In addition, the new clause would allow local authorities to submit proposals on a rolling basis and involve town and parish councils-a serious omission from the 2007 Act.
I hope that the Minister will address these issues of sustainability, for which there is a real need and appetite at local level. What amazed me the most about the 2007 Act was that it was a local campaign that turned into a legislative programme. If the Government are serious about involving people and re-engaging them in politics, these are the sorts of provisions they should be supporting rather than trying to run away from.
Mr. Stewart Jackson: I too shall be brief. I concur with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin): it is a disgrace that the House should have been detained by the nonsense and ephemera of the Minister's 35-minute filibuster when there are important issues to discuss in respect of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.
I turn now to a subject to which far too little attention has been paid over the past few months and years-the economic assessment of ports. It is totally appropriate for us to debate that subject now, albeit briefly.
The Government's policy is that retrospective taxation should take place only when it is fair, proportionate, necessary to protect revenue and in the public interest. The tax on ports is a clear breach of those tests. When they introduced that retrospective tax, the Government disregarded their own rules. No impact assessment was made, no consultation exercise was carried out with those affected-
The Minister says, "We've been over this", but the Home Secretary does not agree and is masquerading as a constituency MP on this issue and
going against the policy of the Government. We may have gone over the issue, but we certainly have not resolved it.
The Government's policy also contravenes the Treasury's guidance on retrospective taxation. The Treasury Committee concluded that consideration should be given to the proposal to maintain the rating system in statutory docks and harbours at the levels published in the April 2005 rating lists until the new lists are published in April 2010. Those new taxes will hit the wider economy as a range of companies, such as those in the car and road haulage industries, are based in ports. The Prime Minister has failed to realise that his policies will lead to jobs being lost.
As we have seen tonight, Ministers are in denial about the harmful effects of those unfair, retrospective taxes. For instance, GEFCO, Peugeot's and Citroen's main distributor in Britain, is being hit with a retrospective £3 million rates bill. It makes a mockery of Lord Mandelson's claims that the Government are trying to help the car industry. Those taxes are a kick in the teeth for local firms in the depths of recession.
The retrospective tax fiasco highlights the joint incompetence of the Valuation Office Agency and Ministers. It is resulting in firms being pushed into insolvency and needlessly laying off workers. Indeed, the Government were forced to accept the principle that the retrospective charges were undesirable in the Business Rate Supplements Act 2009, via Conservative amendments during the Bill's passage through the other place. Should that principle not have wider implications for business rates in general? The effect on business is acute. The Humber docks rating revaluation group estimates that 600 businesses could be affected. Some firms have already started to lay off workers.
I turn briefly to the comments of the Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who was quite happy to vote with his party but was keen locally to "reopen" the issue of retrospective bills, which are to hit port companies with a tax bill of more than £200 million in Hull.
The proposals are at the heart of economic assessment. The Government have done everything they can to fail to face the issue and debate it in the House in a proper and meaningful way, as the Minister for Housing knows full well. For the avoidance of doubt, Conservatives believe, and have said, that the current 2005 rating list system should remain in force for ports, and that any new system should be introduced only in the 2010-15 rating cycle, following appropriate consultation with industry with proper advance warning-as has failed to take place thus far.
Joan Walley: Given my long-standing interest in the whole issue of sustainability, and the length of time I have sat here hoping for an opportunity to speak to the amendments, I want to impress on my right hon. Friend the Minister the importance of putting a definition of sustainable growth in the Bill-an explicit reference to make sure that the regional strategies that the Government are now introducing include-
Ms Winterton: I am very well aware of the interest my hon. Friend has shown in the issue-as has my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew)-and I think there is a way to ensure that the regional strategies and local spending reports take into account many of the concerns they have raised. I invite them both to a meeting with the Secretary of State and me to look at how we can take forward some of those important issues.
Joan Walley: I am most grateful. I look forward to an urgent meeting with great interest. I should like the Campaign to Protect Rural England to be involved as well. Like many voluntary organisations, the CPRE has impressed on us the importance of making sure that we do not repeat the mistakes that were made when the Government set up the regional development agencies without giving proper powers on environmental sustainability. Some RDAs have made a lot of progress, but if we are now to have regional strategies, it is really important that we get the guidance right. On that basis, I look forward to my right hon. Friend's meeting.
David Taylor: I shall speak to amendment 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). It is important to stress that the amendment would not reward nimbyism. Rather, it would facilitate the truly democratic sustainable development that the Government appear to seek, given the stirring title of the White Paper on which the Bill is partly based-"Communities in control: real people, real power".
The amendment would require local authorities to conduct meaningful consultation with local communities, and would go some way to countering the cynicism with which many of our constituents regard the planning process at a local level, not to mention the decision-making process in local and central Government. I urge colleagues to support this progressive amendment, and I take the opportunity to move it-
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