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Lord Hanningfield: I particularly raised the question of Wales, but the noble Lord has not talked about that at all. I notice that today he has not repeated the often-used phrase "revenue-neutral". We are absolutely convinced that all the evidence shows that in Wales the system has not been revenue-neutral. I was trying to make certain that in any future legislationwhatever it may beWales receives fair treatment, but the noble Lord did not comment much on Wales in his answer.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord should not be quite so hasty. I was going to say a word or two about that. We are committed to any revaluation in England being revenue-neutral. Obviously, decisions about the council tax level in Wales are for the Welsh Assembly and Welsh authorities to determine, but the principle behind any revaluation should be revenue-neutrality. The Bill stands alone and separate from considerations about Wales.
Baroness Hanham: Will the noble Lord give way? It may stand alone but my noble friend Lord Hanningfield explained very precisely the fact that revaluation has happened in Wales, and what happened there was disastrous. Therefore, if the revaluation in England is to be predicated on what happened in Wales, it is likely to bring about everyone's worst thoughts and anxieties. That was the point but I do not think that the Minister answered it. If I had spoken to the Question whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill, the Minister's reply would have been very appropriate and apt. Perhaps if I speak to Clause 1 stand part, he will be able to give that answer all over again. That is what it related to.
This issue concerns the effect of a revaluation and what would happen. The noble Lord keeps on saying, as have Ministers in the other place, that any council
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tax revaluation will be revenue-neutral. That simply means that the same amount of council grant may or may not be given and will then possibly be allocated against a rebanding. By no means will it be revenue-neutral for the people whose bands go up. So far as they are concerned, there will be a big hike in the council tax on top of the 25 per cent increase that we have already seen over the past few years. I do not think that the noble Lord dealt with any of that. I believe that that was what my noble friend was addressing and perhaps we can get back to it.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord discussed this matter beforehand so that she could properly assess what he was getting at. I have tried to make my assessment and have looked at the import of the amendment. As I said, the consideration here is what we seek to achieve for England.
Revaluation has happened in Wales, as the noble Baroness rightly said. It is entirely a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government; that is the beauty of the devolution settlement. After all, the National Assembly for Wales agreed in 2002 that a revaluation should be completed in Wales in 2005. It is revenue-neutral. Of course, wherever one was talking about, council tax would depend on the rate at which the local authority decided to determine its local council tax level, having taken account of local commitments and pressures and so on. That must be remembered in this exercise. I do not see that as a basis of justification for this amendment.
I am intrigued by the efforts of noble Lords opposite to introduce a Welsh element into a debate which is exclusively about what we seek to do with the revaluation in England. Having heard what they have to say on the subject, and hoping that they accept the need for flexibilityI thought they had accepted thatI hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: I do not know whether I thank the Minister for his answer as I do not think he responded to my points fully. I do not usually get involved with many Welsh debates; we have other colleagues who normally do that for us. We were trying to get equal treatment for England and Wales out of this. I agree that this is mainly about future revaluations in England. We might come back on Report to the subject of fairness in operation, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 6 would compel the future orders made by the Secretary of State under Section 22B to be subject to affirmative resolution by both Houses of Parliament. As the Bill
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stands, such future legislation would take place only on the Floor of the other place. However, as we have already discussed in some detail, the Bill gives considerable powers to the Secretary of State to decide on future legislation, including the timing and regularity of any future revaluation processes.
We have considerable doubts over the consideration of revaluation being undertaken by the Secretary of State. We have had an earlier amendment about that, and there was an amendment from the Liberal Democrats on other ways of doing it. There is a lot of unease about the process. However, given the impact of future revaluation on the council tax payer and the cost to the Exchequer, we believe that such decisions must have the support of both Houses, together with the requisite form of proper scrutiny processes. I beg to move.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I support the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on this amendment. It is quite extraordinary that this House has the opportunity to debate, at length, not just this Bill but local government Bills which set up the whole structure of local government finance but that it is to be denied discussion of whether revaluation should go ahead. One could understand the position if it were about setting the level of the tax or something that one could describe as purely financial. This ought not to come into that category, however. This is a decision about process, not money. I therefore support the amendment.
I shall briefly rehearse the history. It has long been recognised that any issue relating to taxation falls to the financial privilege of the other place. I can see no reason why this Bill and this order-making power should be seen as requiring us, an unelected House, to challenge that position and those constitutional conventions. The noble Baroness talked of it being about process. Well, we are debating the process as we debate the Bill. However, the amendment calls for this House to be given a locus in a debate on financial matters.
"As a matter of delegated powers, this is not inappropriately wide. The affirmative procedure is also appropriate: it is the procedure to which orders under the current section 22B (which may provide for more frequent valuations than every 10 years) are subject".
"The draft of the order must be laid before, and requires the approval of, the House of Commons only. This accords with all of the other affirmative powers under Part 1 of the 1992 Act, including powers added by the Local Government Act 1999".
"The privilege of the House of Commons extends to raising money by local, as well as national, taxation (except when it waives privilege) and revaluation feeds directly into the amount of tax raised".
Finally, I emphasise that it is certainly not the case that the power leaves it completely in the hands of the Secretary of State alone and unchallenged to set the date of any future revaluations. I return briefly to the debate that we have been having in the cracks of other debates, as it were, on the power of the Secretary of State to set the date. We have to agree that it must be the responsibility of the person who has responsibility for policy and legislation. I cannot see a legitimate or credible alternative to that. However, any proposals that we bring forward for reform are bound to be subject not only to parliamentary scrutiny but to extensive and proper public consultation and debate. In this context, the House of Commons will challenge the Secretary of State through the affirmative resolution procedure. He will have to put such an instrument in the other place, and that instrument will be subject to scrutiny by Members of all parties in that place before it is passed. I cannot believe for a moment that that scrutiny will not be thorough and appropriate. But it is not appropriate for this House, in this Bill and in this way, to seek to have that power extended here. I hope that I have given the evidence and the constitutional probity for that. I hope that the noble Baroness will recognise that fact, that she will agree with me and that she will withdraw the amendment.
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