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Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, briefly, I strongly support the amendment. I am the trustee of a large community and sports club in the village in which I live that provides sport for the entire village: tennis, rugby, soccer, badminton and bowls. A huge number of sports are provided and the whole village uses that club. I know how difficult and bizarre it is to try to reach agreement with the local authority about discretionary grant. Often no explanation is given why one club receives a 100 per cent grant; another 50 per cent; and a third nothing whatever. Indeed, some authorities appear as a matter of principle to have decided not to give any grant to anyone, no matter how deserving the club.
The amendment is sensible. In effect, it will provide 80 per cent grant to all clubs without further ado. The amount of money involved is miniscule in Treasury terms, but the benefits that would flow it would be felt the length and breadth of this country. I strongly support the amendment; if my noble friend does not accept itI recognise that his hands are tied by the TreasuryI sincerely hope that it will be pressed to a Division.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I, too, am very pleased to support the amendment. I was not able to take part in the Grand Committee debate, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, I read with great interest and some amusement the Hansard report of the debate. It was not only the five speeches that my noble friend Lord Rooker described as brilliant; he also described the amendment as brilliant in the first half of his remarks.
It cannot be right or fair for voluntary sports clubs to be treated the same as businesses when applying business rates. I applaud the Government for making it easier for sports clubs that manage to become charities to qualify for relief, but that route is not available to all voluntary clubs. Many find dealing with the Charity Commission an absolute bureaucratic nightmare. According to figures supplied by the CCPR, only four clubs a month apply to the Charity Commission to change their status in that way.
It is a pity that the Government have not accepted the amendment so far; perhaps they will this evening. If not, I hope that I may hear from my noble friend that the Government will be prepared to move their own amendment at Third Reading to give effect to these laudable and important changes.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is time for a confession. As some noble Lords know, I play cricket at weekends. I am the only genuine non-batsman in my cricket team; I am a regular "tail-end Charlie". This evening I feel that I am definitely a "tail-end Charlie" in having to deal with this matter. I have heard the arraignment around your Lordships' House on the issue. If I was nodding earlier, noble Lords can
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has not yet had a responseas he said, understandablyfrom the Chancellor of the Exchequer to his correspondence. I am sure that those matters are important to the Chancellor. He has legislated to try to assist sports clubs, so he is very conscious of the need to assist voluntary sporting organisations.
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, has introduced an important new element to the debate. I confess that I was not aware of the 65 per cent mandatory relief in Northern Ireland. I would be very interested to know of its effect. It probably has some useful bearing on what might be possible. It is also worth considering the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, about the small number of clubsfour a month, he saidcoming forward to register as charities. At that rate, it will take many centuries for all sports clubs to benefit from the charitable provision. All sports clubs remain eligible for 100 per cent rate relief at the discretion of the local authority. That can be a top-up to the small business relief being introduced through this legislation. So there is a benefit to be gained.
When I was the leader of my local authority, the treasurer and the finance director got irritated when I became rather more generous on the voluntary relief that we could give. They thought that I was throwing away good money. Having heard all that has been said, all that I can usefully do from the Dispatch Box is say that, as Ministers, we will do our best to secure a meeting to see whether we can take the matter further. I recognise the strength of feeling: there is passion behind this amendment. Without wishing to go overboard or to raise the white flag from the government Benches, I think that there is a serious issue to pursue. I say that without commitment to concede to the amendmentI cannot possibly give that.
Recognising the scale of the issue and the problem that part of it entails, I hope that noble Lords, who spoke understandably with a keenness to see the matter pursued this evening, will feel able to withdraw their amendments on the promise of our trying to secure further discussions over the summer. We shall see what more can be done to assist, as we recognise the value of community amateur sports clubs. Many of us have participated in such clubs at different times in our political career. We want to see them strengthened financially so they can perform the valuable work that they have carried out over many years, raise standards and perform better as clubs. We very much share the spirit of the movers of the amendment. Those remarks are not in my brief, but it is my considered view. I hope that noble Lords will find it of some value.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for what he said, and to other noble Lords for their contribution to the short debate. I rebuke myself for not having congratulated in my opening speech the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on
I wish to make one last point to the government Bench. The Government created this opportunity by introducing community amateur sports club tax exemptions. They created that new category. In a sense, it is rather odd that we, the opposition, are telling the Government, "Carry home the advantage that you have already made". It seems bizarre that, with all the political will that was necessary to do that, and with expectations of consequences that have not been fulfilled, the Government will not now take the extra step that would crown the achievement that is already there. In that spirit and with some further summer sun, I hope that it will not even be necessary to vote when we return in September. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment and those that followAmendments Nos. 62 to 66 and Amendment No. 76were dealt with in Committee by my noble friend Lord Caithness. I know that he has written to the Minister to apologise for the fact that he cannot be here today.
In a letter to the Minister, my noble friend asked a number of questions to which I hope the Minister will respond in this debate. My noble friend Lord Caithness was briefed, as I have now been, by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and I am grateful for its help.
Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 would remove the provisions for the small business non-domestic rating multiplier while retaining the small business rate relief itself. Research suggests that rates are a disproportionate burden to smaller businesses. The Government's proposals to introduce small business rate relief may help to alleviate some of that burden. The characteristics of the proposed small business rate relief system for England, as far as details are known, are, however, causing concern to those businesses.
The first principle is that small business rate relief, which is applicable only to properties of a rateable value of less than £8,000, will be funded by a surcharge on other commercial ratepayers whose rateable value is above the threshold. My first question is, why? If the
There is also concern about the £8,000 rateable value figure. It is presumed that it is based on the 1998 values rather than a guide for the 2003 valuations. As my noble friend Lord Caithness said in his letter to Minister, since 1998 rental values have increased by about 20 per cent, even in the current market in which there has been a downturn. Therefore, a more realistic upper threshold would now be in the region of £10,000. Even at that level the properties affected may well be limited. In his response, will the Minister deal with the question asked by my noble friend in his letter of 1st July as to how many small businesses would benefit if the threshold was £80,000, how many at £10,000, and how many at £15,000, based on the 2003 valuations?
This matter has been dealt with in Scotland where an amicable agreement seems to have been reached with the Scottish Parliament, which I am hoping we can emulate here. The original proposals were similar to those in this Billa threshold of £8,000, with businesses over £10,000 paying a surcharge of 2.75 per cent to fund the rate relief.
The arguments deployed in Scotland were: that thresholds were inherently bad because they created unfairness and that any scheme should be tapered; the level of relief was far too low and many deserving businesses in town centres and all licensed hotels would not get relief; the threshold for surcharge was far too low; and all small hotels and pubs and most high street traders had to pay a surcharge of 2.7 per cent.
Agreement was reached in Scotland on a better scheme. There, rate relief is now stepped. Relief is given to all businesses in premises with a rateable value of less than £10,000. It is estimated that that figure is probably still too low. A surcharge of 1.3 per cent was added to businesses with a rateable value of more than £25,000, to fund the relief. I am grateful to the Forum of Private Business in Scotland for that information, which goes to show what can be done.
We are concerned at the unrealistic level of the threshold and believe that it should be increased or tapered. We are concerned at the surcharge level on businesses above the £10,000 level, and we believe that the Exchequer should provide the resources for the relief. I beg to move.
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