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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Indeed, I want to record my thanks to him from the time when I first took on this brief. He held a similar brief in another place and I have always been grateful to him for the help and assistance that he gave then. He will remember that days spent in opposition are not the easiest.

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With regard to businesses which come together and form working co-operatives, since the Minister's time at the helm in another place things have moved on and we are grateful for that. I believe that noble Lords on all sides will welcome this move. I shall shortly be going to Kent to visit a group of people in the soft fruit industry. They are doing a very good job but they certainly would not qualify for this scheme because, together, they have become a large business. I am not talking about "big business", as the noble Lord might recognise. I would like to see those businesses take maximum advantage of the scheme. However, as I said, the difficulty is that in some cases it is down to the local authority to interpret whether a business qualifies.

Unfortunately, my papers which are relevant to this matter are upstairs, and tonight is not the moment to go into individual cases. However, it may be helpful to the noble Lord if I send him a copy of them. They may give him a slightly better understanding of why businesses are considered and helped in some cases but not in others. That is really down to local authorities. In putting forward these amendments, I was trying to instil a little uniformity without becoming too rigid. Perhaps I have not picked quite the right wording which would be suitable for tonight. I have looked at the rate relief Act 2001 and realise that it is time limited. I am grateful to hear that that might be extended. However, as the noble Lord said, that will depend on circumstances at the time.

I am grateful that the noble Lord realises that I am trying to prime new businesses to get them off the ground and not trying to pull favours for others who have got beyond that point and are well able to stand on their own feet. We all realise that things have been difficult out in the rural communities. However, in some ways it is an exciting time. Many of our new small businesses are rural. The help that has been made available to them has been of great value and those businesses, in turn, employ others.

I thank the Minister for his response. I shall certainly let him have the relevant paperwork to try to highlight the difficulties that are seen, particularly by the National Farm Attractions Network because there is a real practical problem out there. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 59F not moved.]

Clause 71 [Local retention of rates]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 60:

    Page 35, line 24, after "fit" insert "after consultation with all interested parties"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a small amendment which seeks to ensure that proper consultation takes place on the local retention of rates. It is a probing amendment to see what the Minister thinks would be carried out before any deductions are made with the purpose of the authorities retaining part

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or all of the local rates. It is a question of a response on the consultation and who that would be with. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall be brief but, I hope, helpful. As the noble Baroness said, this is a small amendment, but perfectly formed and identical to one proposed in Grand Committee. It is a helpful amendment because it enables us to say what we are up to.

On 4th July the Government published a substantial consultation document on the principles and concepts that will guide the design of the scheme to be made under the powers in this clause. That document was called Local Authority Business Growth Incentives—a Consultation Paper. Copies of that are being sent to the noble Baronesses who participated in this debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. That document specifically promises further consultation next year on the secondary legislation. So, there will be ample consultation.

We believe that the issue of the present consultation document and the commitment to further consultation match the concerns that the noble Baroness expressed quite properly here tonight and also in Grand Committee about the need to consult on this very important issue. It is there; there is a commitment to it for the next year and we do not believe that statutory consultation should be built into legislation to take account of every change, however minor. I hope that that satisfies the point raised by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. The problem about this, as always, is that legislation is taking place in advance of consultation and therefore one cannot possibly have access to people's views before the legislation is discussed by Parliament. But that may be helpful in my next amendment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 61:

    Page 35, line 34, at end insert—

"(4E) Notwithstanding the provision of section 143 of the 1988 Act (orders and regulations), no rules may be made under sub-paragraph (4A) unless a draft of the regulations containing them has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this will be as helpful to the Minister as the last amendment, when we discussed consultation in relation to the local retention of rates, which I am bound to say is welcome. I do not dispute the clause; I am just trying to improve it. Also, because we have so far not had any detailed briefing on what people feel about this and how it should be carried out, it seems to us that after that has happened, further action should be taken under the auspices of the House and draft regulations which are approved by resolution of each House. I beg to move.

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9.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, again the amendment was proposed in Grand Committee. My response will be similar. I shall simply remind the noble Baroness that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee considered the delegated powers contained in the Bill. It did not recommend the change that the amendment requires.

As with Amendment No. 60—I appreciate they are both helpful amendments—the important point is that we have already published a substantial public consultation document, and we have specifically promised further consultation on the secondary legislation next year. So it is built in. There will be ample opportunity for interested parties, including I am sure the noble Baroness herself and her colleagues, to give us their views before regulations are made. We shall be very interested in those views. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will want to ensure that the LGA and all others give us their views on these matters. I welcome the noble Baroness's support for the principle of the retention or part retention of business rates.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I have great regard for the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It has not picked this issue up, but sometimes one feels that it might just have overlooked something, so we try to put it in. Anyway, I note what the Minister says. I do not intend to pursue the matter. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 62:

    Page 37, line 13, at end insert—

"(10) No rule made under this section shall increase the individual liability for non-domestic rates of any ratepayer."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I do not want to labour the point too much. However, because of the way in which the amendments are laid out, inevitably this consultation paper is causing me some concern. It arises on this amendment and indeed to some extent on the next one. As we are legislating at this stage without having dealt with that consultation, the amendment really seeks to find out whether the Government are considering any direct support to authorities which have a low business rate tax base. I understand that that is implied in the Government's written statement, which is presumably in the consultation paper. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I could tell the noble Baroness what the impact would be of her amendment, but I am not sure that that would be terribly helpful. That is not really the point she is on. My note does not really cover that point. She wants to find out whether there will be compensation to local authorities. I cannot answer the noble Baroness on that point. I have checked with my very wise and noble

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friend Lord Rooker. He is also unaware of the answer to it. So we are both a little in the dark. In those circumstances, we had better—

Baroness Wilcox: Give in!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Certainly not. We had better go away and think about the matter. As a general rule, it would be unlikely. What I can say that is positive, is that—and it relates to individual businesses which is actually the issue—no business will pay more non-domestic rates through this scheme. In addition, there is no way under the scheme that it could be increased directly. That is the point so far as businesses are concerned. Whether there will be compensation through the local authority route, which I think was what the noble Baroness was seeking, I shall have to obtain some further responses and will probably have to write to the noble Baroness on the issue. So I am very grateful to her.

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