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Baroness Hanham: I support what I was about to call this very competent speech, but that sounds very patronising when someone has as much expertise as my noble friend. He has raised one of the most important lacunae in this legislation.
I have worked in an area where there has been voluntary co-operation between businesses, local authorities and voluntary organisationsin fact, BIDS in everything but name. It would have been impossible without the support and influence of the local major landowner. When that scheme started, there was no reason to suspect that the landowner would join init was a purely voluntary arrangement. I think that was serendipitous. We were very fortunate that we were able to have that voluntary contribution. But I know that had that big business landowner not been involved, the scheme would have been severely jeopardised. Therefore, there is no real expectation that these BID schemes will work if any major
The code of guidance is very clear that this could be a voluntary interventionin fact, that seems to be the expectation. But in real life, the statutory noose might be a helpful tension to ensure that landowners were part of the scheme from the outset and expected to be part of the original BID decisions, with statutory involvement thereafter.
There is also another side to this. If legislation requires landowners to be involved, the occupiers will be more interested in the scheme. There will be less concern about becoming involved. It will be very important that occupiers are signed up to this, otherwise it will not work. Some people see benefits to some and not to others.
I very much support the amendments. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin for taking on the burden of ensuring that the matter was explained so thoroughly and clearly. I hesitate to cloud the issue, which the noble Lord presented very well.
My name is attached to four amendments in this group. I worry about the order of the Minister's speaking notes, but would it be appropriate for me not to move the four amendments now and to regroup them further down the list? They are not germane to the problem of landowners' involvement. If regrouping the amendments would make life difficult for the Minister, I shall speak to them now, but they are slightly outside the scope of the subject. I am in the Minister's hands; he can tell me that his notes are so tied to the amendments that a regrouping would muck them up. I would not want to inconvenience him.
The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): I came here today in a really positive frame of mind. I was as happy as Larry when I left last night, as there was no regrouping. I said that I did not mind if amendments were regrouped but that that must be done early in the morning. The response was, "No, no! Everything will stay the same; it is perfectly OK". Frankly, I don't give a damn. The noble Baroness can continue as she started or she can change. I will respond to all her amendments, but the trouble is that they may be answered at different times.
Baroness Hanham: I am reluctant to waste time, which is what is suggested would happen if I regrouped amendments. The trouble is that my amendments relate to Clause 52, which is about the voting system and not this important new area. I was worried that, if I did not regroup, it might make matters more difficult or complicated.
I shall move the amendments now, and we shall have to discuss the whole matter. Amendments Nos. 118, 119, 121 and 122 focus on Clause 52. The Explanatory Notes comment on Clause 52, stating that the clause,
Our amendments challenge that system of voting. First, we have problems with the first conditions set out in subsection (2). For a BID to be established, a majority of those who would be liable to pay the levy must first vote in favour. We do not feel that a simple majority is a satisfactory trigger for a BID levy, bearing in mind the number of ratepayers who would be liable. Amendment No. 118 would ensure that a BID levy would not be approved unless two thirds of those who vote in the ballot vote in favour.
Amendment No. 119 also states that a ballot will not be valid unless 75 per cent of people eligible to vote turn out to do so. We want there to be a concerted vote of approval by a substantial majority of those eligible to vote, not a mere 50.1 per cent majority in a vote with a 35 per cent turnout. We have had many long, involved debates about voting majorities in the context of another Bill and balloting systems. But, on matters of such importance, it is legitimate, in the interests of democratic accountability, to impose a higher majority and turnout cut-off point.
Amendment No. 121 makes a very simple point: should those who own two properties that qualify for the levy, and subsequently the ballot, get one vote or two? We should bear in mind that there is some discussion about property owners becoming involved in the BID arrangements, which my noble friend has just put forward. Many people might have two residential or business properties within one BID area.
Amendment No. 122 challenges the rather complicated mechanism that is to be the second condition under Clause 52(3). Can the Minister clarify how the calculations will be made in practicein the real world, not in the legislation world? We propose simply that a majority of those entitled to vote turns out to do so. It is a straightforward test. I appreciate that these amendments are not entirely associated with those that my noble friend Lord Jenkin moved, but no doubt we will get round to discussing them at some stage.
Baroness Hamwee: My name is attached to the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. I mentioned previously that we had attached only one name to them to leave a space for a fourth name from elsewhere in the Committee. I am glad to see that that has worked on this occasion. I am beginning to wonder whether the Government have a cunning plot to feed petrol fumes into the Chamber so that we all fall asleep. The same thing happened at around the time that I first stood up yesterday.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has brought the matter very effectively to the attention of the House previously. I am glad to see that his work now appears to be about to bear fruit. I congratulate the organisations involved. They have clearly put a lot of effort, not only into these proposals, but into the ongoing pilot schemes. We support the proposals. We want to see them given a sound legislative basis and to see good practice.
Amendments Nos. 118, 119, 121 and 122 return to the issue of thresholds and turnout. Our response is no different to the one that we give when the topic occurs in the context of elections and referendums. One should encourage people and campaign to achieve a majority. There is no inherent reason why there should be a bigger turnout. After all, one wants to achieve the necessary turnout, but if people do not exercise the right to vote, it is their lookout.
In this situation, there are protections that I hope would satisfy the noble Baroness. They include the double-lock on voting and the local authority veto. As a matter of principle, we do not support the amendments, but I do not think that the situation is as worrying as the noble Baroness might read it. I am unclear whether there is a difference between Amendment No. 120, tabled in the noble Lord's name, and Amendment No. 121, but that may not be important today.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am the vice-chairman of the All-Party Retail Group. As the Minister will know, the British Retail Consortium broadly supports the thrust of the proposals. I continue to have a close association with the Co-operative group, which is also a member of the BRC.
I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, speak on the matter in general many times in the House, long before the concept of a BID was received so favourably. Having listened to him put forward the case, and bearing in mind that the name of the game in many aspects of legislation is a partnership between the private and public sectors, I will listen with interest to the Minister's response. I will be interested if he tells us that the concept of seeking to involve property owners, in addition to the other interested parties, cannot be supported at this time.
If we want to improve the value of town centresor however BID areas are delineatedwe must look at new concepts. I am puzzled by the concept of excluding property owners or treating them less comprehensively than other interested parties. I am absolutely certain that the Minister will have taken good advice, and he has long experience in local government as a constituency member, but I would
I am certain that, if the amendments in general are not accepted today, they will come forward in another form as the BID concept is put into practice. Is the Minister not prepared to consult meaningfully and widely with the interests that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, enumerated? I am certain that he will have carried out ample consultation. But I imagine that some people outside the House, on the basis of their own experience, wish the Minister to succeed with this legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that the BID concept would not get off the ground unless property owners were involved. That was slightly menacing but it was realistic, too. The noble Lord tells us that, for people to be involved, they must have some say.
I am heartened by the reminder given by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that local authorities virtually call the shots. They can initiate, shape, include or exclude matters. The noble Lord and I are joint-presidents of the Association of London Government as part of which we participated in a meeting yesterday. We keep in touch with local authorities. I will be very interested to know whether the Minister has a view from the collective voice of local authorities. I cannot believe that they will resist involving property owners who will then be able to help keep down the cost.
I wonder whether the Minister is considering the possibility that because the big property owners are powerful people, they are able to use muscle and do things that the small owner cannot. These are matters that should come out not just in guidelines, but in strictures which are placed in legislation. Therefore, I look forward with interest to what the Minister has to say. I very much hope that he will not give a complete negative to the concept of involving property owners. I am speaking, in general, for the Co-operative movement, which has a great interest in property owning, especially in town centres. It has given me the nod to support these amendments, and I very much hope that the Minister will be as helpful as he can.
Lord Rooker: On listening to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, when he introduced his amendments, I was reminded of the number of times that the boot has been on the other foot. I moved amendments to Bills when the noble Lord was Secretary of State, and he was always politeunlike some of his colleagues. We always thought that he was a real gentunlike some of his colleaguesexcept for the girls, of course! He always said, "No", at the end of the day. That is no reason for me to come here and say, "No", but I have decided positively to get off on the wrong foot. I have good news and bad news, and I might as well give the bad news first.
In order that there is no misunderstanding, which is absolutely crucial bearing in mind what my noble friend Lord Graham has just said, I must say that, if there was any thought at another stage of this Billnamely, on Reportto press any of these amendments to a vote and the Bill had to be changed, Nick Raynsford, the Minister for Local Government and the Regions, has made it clear that because of the thrust of the rest of the Bill, ping-pong would not be allowed and Part 4 would be removed from the Bill. That is not a threat. I am just spelling out the facts. Well
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