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Lord Gisborough: My Lords, in view of the utter complexity of the tax system, can we also get rid of that?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am always very keen to help my noble friends. However, I think that he asks a little too much of me on this occasion. I will bear in mind his sentiments. Even though I may be in agreement with him, I do not believe that I would be able to persuade my colleagues in government to take such a generous view.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone has received proposals from the National Association of Local Councils which would require district councils to carry out regular reviews, extend the consultation provisions to parish meetings and give financial support to help parishes to carry out their new functions. These are fairly detailed matters that we can return to at Committee stage. The regular reviews under the 1972 Act achieve little. It is not the carrying out of reviews that matters. What matters is that it is taken seriously when it is done. Some districts do not take it very seriously. The petitioning procedure in the Bill provides a better remedy in case the district council is not interested or is agnostic. There are powers, not duties, to provide something extra. It is right that the local taxpayer should meet the bill for that. I believe that to ask the national taxpayer to subsidise local choices is wrong.

My noble friend Lord Peel referred to the reform of the common agricultural policy. I agree with him that reform is essential, especially before the European Union's membership greatly increases. We are working to that end. He asked whether I could say anything about hedgerow legislation. Our proposals went out to consultation and some 530 responses were received. Those responses are being considered. With regard to a review of water abstraction licences, I am bound to say that my noble friend has caught me on the hop. I am not totally familiar with the present position, since it does not have very much to do with this Bill. However, I will find out the situation and write to my noble friend.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was concerned about non-domestic rates and whether the implementation of this measure would cause problems. We are discussing with local authorities exactly how to implement the village shop scheme. They do not consider that there are very many problems, but if necessary we will have to issue guidance.

The noble Baroness was also concerned about companies in administrative receivership. She said that they do not have to pay non-domestic rates. We are considering how to proceed in the light of the responses to consultation which took place in the autumn.

The noble Baroness said that it should be possible to establish parish councils in Greater London. Maybe it should. However, London is different from other parts of the country. There is no evidence of local demand for parish councils in London today. This is not surprising. We believe that there would be difficulty in defining communities on which parish councils in London might be based. The primary role of parishes is to represent small individual communities whose particular interests might otherwise be unrepresented. Of course, that happens to a much greater extent in the country than is likely to be the case in London. However, I join with the noble Baroness in wishing the Local Government Association great success when it takes on its new tasks.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about out-of-town shopping centres and unemployment. It is now clear government policy in policy planning guidance notes that there should be a presumption against out-of-town shopping centres. First, one must look at the town centre to see what can be done and, secondly, one looks at the edges of the town to see what can be done there. Greenfield sites are the last resort.

The noble Lord referred to unemployment in the countryside. That difficulty always exists for obvious reasons that one need not go into in detail. For example, there are difficulties in getting to and from particular business locations. But one should not forget the work of the Rural Development Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth. Its work is designed primarily to ensure that the worst hit country areas are regenerated where that is possible.

The Bill is designed to help rural communities. I believe that in the speeches this afternoon your Lordships have agreed that on the whole the Bill strikes a common chord. It is about small businesses and small areas. It may be that in the totality of national statutes this is not as high up the order of priorities as some may believe, but in rural areas and the countryside this measure will have considerable effect. It is in order to help those areas that this Bill is brought forward. I am grateful for the suggestions that your Lordships have made. I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.

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Sheffield Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1997

5.35 p.m.

Earl Ferrers rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th January be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is the fourth order of its kind to come before your Lordships. We have previously considered orders relating to the Leeds, Bristol and Central Manchester Development Corporations. This order is required to wind up the Sheffield Development Corporation. It revokes the 1988 order which designated the urban development area and established the development corporation. The order will take effect in two stages. First, it will remove urban development area status on 1st April. Secondly, on 1st July it will revoke that part of the 1988 order which established the development corporation. If this comes about the corporation will cease to exercise its operational functions after 31st March 1997, and it will then have three months in which to prepare its final report and accounts. The corporation will finally be dissolved on 1st July of this year.

The Sheffield Development Corporation was set up in 1988 with a specific mission: to bring economic regeneration to the Lower Don Valley area of Sheffield. Nine years later we seek to wind it up because it has succeeded in what it had to do. I remember visiting Sheffield some 10 years ago. I was appalled by the devastation. Buildings were decrepit, with broken windows and tiles off roofs. Vast areas of land and a great number of industrial buildings were falling into dereliction and decay. There was an air of misery and despair about the place--or so it seemed to me as a visitor.

I revisited the area two weeks ago. It has been totally transformed. There is no other way to describe it. The dereliction has been replaced by new roads, factories and offices. The area is bright and clean and provides an attractive modern business environment. There is an air not just of hope but of optimism and success. The area is once again productive. I find this very encouraging. This is the result of the sheer hard work and inspiration of the Sheffield Development Corporation.

One of the corporation's first tasks was to assemble sites from the fragmented land ownership in the valley in order to prepare them for new development. Major infrastructure improvements were planned and started, land was reclaimed and investors became interested. The result is there for all to see.

The corporation's activities have resulted in the reclamation of nearly 600 acres of land which have been prepared for new uses; the building or improvement of nine miles of roads; the building of over five million square feet of commercial floor space; and the creation of over 18,000 jobs. Existing businesses have been helped to improve their premises and historically interesting buildings have been restored. Environmental projects include a cycle and walkway along the River Don running the length of the valley. Major

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improvements have been made to the canal to open it up for leisure and tourism. Extensive landscaping has been done. I would never have believed when I visited Sheffield 10 years ago that over 160,000 trees and shrubs would have been planted in and around the lower Don Valley alone by 1997.

One may ask what all of this has cost. The answer is £101 million from central government and £7.5 million from European funding. I think that that is a staggering achievement: £101 million has been spent on that; and when one thinks that £147 million was spent on facilities for the World Student Games, one understands how much has been obtained for that lesser sum. It has also attracted over £680 million private sector investment. In other words, for every £1 of public investment, nearly £7 of private investment has been secured. I consider that this is a great achievement.

That though is not the end of the story. A further 6,000 jobs are expected to be created after the corporation is wound up, as a direct result of what it has done. The valley now has a diverse economy, ranging from food production, through a Rolls-Royce dealership, to the Abbey National share registry office. The corporation has also made sure that Sheffield has its own airport. This will be open later this year. And Sheffield now produces--just think of this!--more steel now than it did at the height of its production during the Second World War.

The corporation has turned its area around. It has worked with the city council to give Sheffield a new image and to make it a place which now attracts both interest and investment. Partnership in the city has strengthened, and that will be vital for the future.

The corporation has a right to be proud of all its achievements. I would like to congratulate Mr. Sykes, the corporation's chairman, and all of the board members, whether they are past ones or present ones. These include my noble friend Lady Park and the late Lord Mulley, whose service to the corporation as deputy chairman has been recognised by the naming of a road in the area "Fred Mulley Road". My congratulations go also to the corporation's enthusiastic and professional team of officers, without whom there would be no story to tell.

The corporation was set up for a limited period of time to do a specific job of work--that of securing self-sustaining regeneration in the lower Don Valley. It has now done that. Its work is complete and it is right for it to be wound up. It must now be for others to learn from its example and to build on its successes. I wish them well in their efforts and I wish the greatest of continued success to the lower Don Valley and to all those who will work there. I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th January be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Earl Ferrers.)

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