|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Amendment 38 requires authorities to consult businesses that they think will become liable for the supplement at some point in the future. I certainly agree that local businesses should have confidence that, if they are to be affected by a BRS, they will be consulted. However, I have to deal with the amendment in its own terms, and requiring this to happen as a matter of course could lead to some very unwelcome uncertainty.
The Bill currently provides that levying authorities must consult all those who will be liable for the supplement, as well as the lower-tier authorities in the area and other persons whom it considers relevant. Clause 6(5) also makes it clear that, in considering which other persons should be consulted, the authority must consider whether to consult those who might become liable for the supplement at some point in the future and pay particular attention to those persons. That, in itself, is a mark of the integrity of the process. Because these projects will, in many cases, span a number of years, the possibility that other businesses might be swept up in the threshold should also clearly be taken account of. The problem is that there is an inherent uncertainty in predicting changes. It is obvious that it will not always be possible for levying authorities to identify who might be available.
Lord Moynihan: I am grateful to the Minister, but I understood the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to be different to that. I thought that he was arguing that rather than adding greater uncertainty, the introduction of the amendment would reduce uncertainty. At the moment there is a double level of uncertainty in the Bill. The first uncertainty arises because the levying authority has the freedom to think whether it would be appropriate to consult. So, before it does anything else, it can sit down and determine the outcome to that process. That could be a very uncertain process and, as it is written today, would be an uncertain process. Having then decided who it thought would be appropriate, the levying authority then has a second opportunity where uncertainty could exist, because it is asked to consider who it thinks might become liable to pay a chargeable amount; a second issue.
If the Minister is seeking to remove some of this uncertainty, she would do well to support the admirable amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, particularly since both clauses which provide for such flexibility relate back to the consultation on the prospectus, where already there is further opportunity for consideration as to whether the authority thinks others should be consulted. Clearly that is not the case as it is in subsection (5) for those who are going to be charged but, nevertheless, in the context of Clause 6 it would add yet another level of uncertainty. This could helpfully be clarified by acceptance of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope.
Baroness Andrews: I am grateful for the intervention. We will have to ask the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to explain his amendment in due course. I shall plough on with my interpretation and we can then ask him to adjudicate.
Lord Tope: The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, explained my amendment very well indeed and far better than I would do. If the Minister ploughs on, as she puts it, I may become more clear what further explanation is needed.
Baroness Andrews: Clearly the certainty that we are looking for may be contained in the word require. My argument is that there is an uncertainty about trying to predict what is likely to happen in the future for businesses that might become liable because we cannot predict revaluation and so on. It is because of the difficulty in predicting who might become liable that we want to leave it to the discretion of the levying authority to make the right judgment for its area. That is why the Bill is drafted in the way that it is.
For example, if there were a number of businesses in an area which occupy premises with a rateable value of £49,500, they at first would not be liable for a BRS; but if the levying authority intends to levy its BRS for 15 years, it is quite likely that those businesses will become liable for BRS in its lifetime because there would be at least two revaluations during that lifetime. Therefore we would expect the levying authority to use its discretion and consult those businesses which are on the margin from the outset. But if the project is going to take a longer time, for example, more than 15 years, businesses occupying premises with a significantly lower rateable value now might in due course see their rateable value approaching the £50,000 threshold. But they might notit is a hard judgement to makeand this is why Clause 6(5) states that, in considering which other persons should be consulted, the authority must consider whether to consult those who might become liable. We have introduced that degree of flexibility and discretion into the Bill.
Lord Moynihan: The Minister gave a very good example that would be amply covered by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. A better example with which she might be able to assist the Committee would be to show how it could be inappropriate to consult those whom a levying authority might believe at some stage in the future could pay a chargeable amount and therefore should be consulted.
Can the Minister give an example of when it would be inappropriate? If it was a compelling argument, it could be a reason to keep the wording in the Bill as it is. She has given the case when it would be appropriate, so in that context the phrase could be deleted from the Bill altogether. I apologise to the Minister, but it would be helpful to understand the purpose of the words,
Baroness Andrews: I gave two examples of what I thought would be the parameters of potential uncertainty. I am not sure whether I can give a better example. Clearly, I shall have to write to noble Lords on this point to explain the significance of our language. As the Bill is drafted, levying authorities can use their discretion to conduct a consultation that is proper and proportionate in relation to their plans. The amendment would make it more difficult for levying authorities to use their discretion.
While I am certain that we want as full a consultation as possible and an anticipatory consultation, I do not want to bind the levying authority in the way that the amendment would do. I do not know whether the noble Lord wants to intervene now, or whether I should go on to the other amendments.
Lord Tope: I do not think that we are getting anywhere by pressing this further. I accept the Ministers offer to write to us; we are just not making ourselves very clear. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who clearly understands my intentionspossibly even better than I do. Even deleting the words proposed by Amendment 38, subsection (5) still allows the levying authority,
Those words imply a discretion, or judgment. I do not understand the point that the Minister is making, and equally she does not understand me, but it is not appropriate to press the amendment. We will have the opportunity to read the Ministers letter and perhaps better understand each other, and then insert the amendment, which I am sure will be readily accepted when we do understand each other as we get to the next stage.
Baroness Andrews: I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his gracious offer. We are discussing a complex concept and are dealing with different timescales for different BRSs, within which periods there may be different opportunities for re-evaluation, and so on. It is difficult to be categorical, apart from the general principle that I am trying to explain, but clearly failing to do so. I would appreciate the opportunity to write to noble Lords to try to set out some models of how I think this will operate.
I turn to Amendments 39 and 40, with which I hope I will have more success. They would require levying authorities to publish the results of the consultation on the initial prospectus. Amendment 40 would require levying authorities to publish a revised initial prospectus
18 May 2009 : Column GC527
That final prospectus will provide local business with clear information on the details of the supplement to be implemented, and there should be absolutely no surprises for business at that stage. It should mean that there is certainty about the level of the supplement, its duration and so on. There will be clarity on the expected costs and benefit of the project that will take on board comments made during the consultation, and we will be clear about how the supplement might have changed as a result of the consultation.
It might reasonably be anticipated that if local businesses have been involved in the development of the project the consultation would not raise any significant issues or objections. It would be the final stage in an ongoing process and, therefore, modifications would be relatively minor.
However, I understand that things do not always go according to plan. Clause 6(6), therefore, is designed to make it clear that there is flexibility in the process. If the proposals need substantial revision as a result of the consultation, Clause 6(6) requires the levying authority to publish a revised initial prospectus if the authority thinks it necessary or appropriate to do so. This would allow the levying authority to seek comments on the revised proposal, including funding, before finalising the details of the project and the supplement.
However, that will not always be necessary. To require a revised initial prospectus in all cases goes further than what will be needed in many cases and perhaps not far enough in a few rare cases. We should allow local authorities the flexibility to decide what is right for their area and for their proposal. To require a revised initial prospectus in all cases goes further than the usual consultation process and may not always be necessary.
As a revised version, rather than minor variations, of the initial prospectus will not always be necessary, it would be inappropriate to make this a mandatory aspect of the BRS process in the Bill. As I tried to highlight when we were discussing Clause 5, the BRS sets a minimum standard in terms of the consultation process. Other steps may well be appropriate depending on the specific circumstances of the projectin this case, substantial revisions to the prospectus following the consultation. Again, I feel that that should be left to local discretion and appropriate action.
I turn to Amendment 39. In carrying out the consultation, levying authorities will be expected to follow best practice, including publishing the results of
18 May 2009 : Column GC528
Amendment 46A relates to the consultation arrangements in place for when a levying authority wants to vary a BRS in a way that is not highlighted even as a possibility in the prospectus, which would be a major and unprecedented change. Clause 10(2) and (3) requires that, in such cases, the levying authority sets out its proposals in a variation proposal document. This document will then be used as the basis for a consultation on the proposed change, mirroring the prospectus and consultation arrangements for a new BRS.
Amendment 46A would require levying authorities to set out in the variation proposal document what changes they wanted to make to the BRS chargeable amount. That is a fair enough point, but it is unnecessary for two reasons. First, a variation to a BRS will not always affect the chargeable amount; for example, an authority might want to extend the duration of the supplement without changing the chargeable amount. Secondly, and more importantly, the Bill already makes provision which the noble Lord is seeking. Where the chargeable amount is to change, Clause 10(2)(a) requires that this is set out in the variation proposal document.
Therefore, the Bill makes it clear that if the levying authority wants to alter the chargeable amount in a way that was not set out as a possibility in the prospectus, details of the change will need to be set out in the proposed variation document and therefore consulted on.
Amendments 63 and 66 relate to the consultation and scrutiny arrangements for the regulations that the Government will in due course make, assuming that the Bill is successfully passed. Amendment 63 would require a consultation on a number of regulations to be made. I draw noble Lords attention to the consultation paper that the Government published on Wednesday 13 MayI should say in response to an earlier point that the hard copies were made available on Thursday, and I am sorry if noble Lords did not lay their hands on them. The paper sets out the detailed policy proposals on how levying authorities will be expected to administer BRS, such as the accounting and ballot arrangements. It also sets out how the Government envisage that billing authorities might recoup the costs of collection. The consultation will be open until 19 August and will provide an opportunity for local authorities and businesses to comment on the detailed running arrangements for BRS prior to the laying of the regulations. That is a full three-month consultation process that will be formative in the role of business in working through those regulations.
Amendment 66 would require the regulations on the detailed ballot arrangements to be subject to the affirmative procedure, and the same for the regulations governing the appeals process for the apportionment of rateable value of partially empty properties.
The Bill as drafted is consistent with provisions already in place. I have spoken before about how we have tried to mirror the BID arrangements wherever possible for BRS, because people are familiar with them. The regulations governing the ballot process for BIDs are subject to the negative resolution procedure. The regulations on the apportionment of rateable
18 May 2009 : Column GC529
In terms of the content of the regulations on BRS, we have made our intention clear; the BRS will be consistent with the processes already in place for national business rates and BIDs, so there should not be any surprises. I am conscious that what we have been discussing is rather technical and detailed, and I am happy to meet noble Lords to talk about that process between now and Report, if that would be helpful.
Lord Tope: As always, I am grateful to the Minister for her full and detailed reply. She is right that we will need to read and think about it and we will probably discuss it. We had some considerable exchanges on Amendment 38, and we concluded that we would receive a letter and consider it further in the light of that.
I did not understand the reply on Amendment 39. I think it was to the effect that local authorities are expected to publish the results of the consultation; therefore an amendment requiring them to publish the results of the consultation is not necessary. I do not follow that argument at all. It seems perverse. In my quite lengthy experience of consultation, including with my own authority, the one area where we most often fall down is not responding to the consultees about the results and the outcome of the consultation. So while good intention and good practice would always be to publish the revisions, that does not always happen in practice, whether by commission or omission. I do not understand that. Unless I misunderstood the Minister, which is quite possible because the infamous helicopters were back again, saying it is not necessary because it is expected is rather illogical. We will wait to read the debate and consider the rest of the amendments in that context.
I want to put on record something about the consultation document. I have not raised this before and I had not intended to raise it, but since the Minister has two or three times today referred to it being available on Wednesday, I shall raise it. In fact, it was e-mailed to meI can speak for no one elseat 4.40 pm on Thursday afternoon. I have not yet received a hard copy. I have printed it off, which is fine. I am not complaining about that. It may well be that the hard copy got to the House of Lords Library by 4.40 pm on Thursday, but I suggest that not many of us were here to rush to the Library to collect it for our weekend reading. I put on record that it was 4.40 pm on Thursday afternoon, and the covering letter that came with it is dated Thursday; so let us be a bit clearer about that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Valentine: As I shall eventually withdraw Amendment 41, I shall speak to the substantive amendment in this group, Amendment 62. First, I declare an interest as chief executive of London First, a non-profit-making business membership organisation.
There has been near unanimity across the House, and certainly from the Front Benches, on the importance of ensuring that the Bill provides funding to deliver Crossrail. There is a similar consensus that, whatever the merits of ballots for other projects, it is not needed in the case of Crossrail. As the noble Lord, Lord Bates, put it succinctly, and I believe accurately, during the first day in Committee:
We are at one with the case for the Greater London Authority having the capabilities laid out in the Bill to raise funds ... as its contribution towards Crossrail, to ensure that that major infrastructure project goes ahead, which we support fully. That has had a democratic test at the ballot box, and the people of London have expressed a view that is supportive of Crossrail.[Official Report, 11/5/09; col. GC 306.]
Yet there seems to be some confusion about whether the Bill as currently drafted would allow the mayor to proceed with Crossrail, despite his success at the ballot box, without a further vote. There is similar uncertainty over what government regulations might provide this clarification and whether any such clarification would withstand judicial review.
My amendment seeks to provide absolute clarity in the Bill that there is no requirement to hold a ballot in relation to a BRS levied by the mayor for the purposes of raising money for a project where the project has begun before the Bill becomes law and when the BRS is levied on or before 1 April 2011.
I hope that the Minister will indicate the Governments support for this simple but effective measure to give certainty to the Mayor of Londons power to meet his mandate and the Governments commitment to the funding and delivery of Crossrail. I beg to move.
Lord Bates: I support these amendments, to which I have had the honour of putting my name. I very much support and echo the sentiments expressed and just want to make two points in addition to those that have already been made clearly and effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine.
There is a strong sense of commitment from the business community to the whole Crossrail endeavour, and there is no doubt that it will bring substantial benefits to that community across London. There have already been substantial delays. Therefore, if there is any ambiguity in the Bill which could be open to legal challenge, it is far better that it is dealt with in the weeks surrounding the Committee and Report stages of the Bill rather than be played out at length in the courts.
It is clear that Crossrail has been studied and scrutinised by the Department for Transport and the Treasury for many years. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding referred to it being in his consciousness for 20 years, and I think that it has been actively considered over a long period. Crossrail was included in the Governments 2005 election manifesto, and it has been scrutinised by Parliament on two occasionsthrough the Crossrail Act 2008 and the Finance Act 2008. Crossrail is huge in scaleindeed, it will qualify as a nationally significant infrastructure project under the Planning Act 2008and it will deliver benefits that will accrue way beyond London. I think that those are compelling reasons for accepting the modest measures proposed in the amendment.
The one argument that the Minister could put forward, and on which I take this opportunity to express a view, is that other business rate supplement schemes might be caught by the provision of the 2011 start date, although I do not think that that will be the case. In the survey that we discussed in debate on an earlier amendment, it was pointed out that, of the 96 chief economic development officers consulted, none had any immediate plans, and I think that by the time all the consultation has taken place, we will be considerably beyond 2011.
This initiative is clearly needed and welcomed because it gives rise to a major infrastructure project at a time when the City of London most desperately needs it. It was the subject of a ballotnamely, in the mayoral elections, when Mayor Johnson made it very clear that it was one of his key ambitions. Therefore, we should do anything that we can do to ensure clarity in the process and to speed up the delivery of this important project.
Baroness Andrews: I am grateful for what noble Lords have said. It shows once again what a cross-party initiative Crossrail is and how much cross-party support is committed to it. That goes as much for what Members in another place as well as your Lordships have said. As the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, it is a project that will bring significant benefits to London and the south-east. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, for bringing forward her amendments and arguing that the project is vital to the economic development of London. It has certainly been a long time in the planning stages and it is good to know that the first physical stage of construction started last week.
The key to the noble Baronesss amendment is that the financial package that will support Crossrail includes the BRS contribution. That is well below the one-third threshold that the Bill requires for a ballot, but, nevertheless, the amendment seeks to give the Crossrail project even greater certainty against challenge or arguments for a ballot, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, would in turn import possible delay and risk into the project. We clearly want to avoid that; we need as much certainty as possible.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|