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Second Homes

12. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): What recent assessment he has made of the operation of the council tax system with respect to second homes. [157192]

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong): In the rural White Paper, which was published in November 2000, the Government proposed, subject to consultation, to give local authorities discretion to charge the full council tax on second homes. We are currently preparing a consultation paper, which we intend to issue later this year.

Mr. George: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but is she satisfied that, after four years of this Government, my constituency still contains communities

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where homeless people live cheek by jowl with those who are the owners of second homes? Does the Minister agree that it is no longer acceptable that £200 million of taxpayer's money should be spent on subsidising the second homes of wealthy people when many thousands of rural folk do not even have their first homes? If so, why do the Government not get on with the task and introduce legislation now, instead of issuing consultation papers? Four years on, let us see some action.

Ms Armstrong: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have a statutory duty to consult. There are many reasons why some homes will remain empty. We want to make sure that we give people incentives to bring back into use homes that have been empty for a long time. We also want to look at the problem of homes that are empty because of this year's flooding. We want to be sure that the exemption scheme can be administered by local authorities, so that issues of local importance can be dealt with. For that reason, the consultation process must go further than the issue of second homes. At present, the exemption regime extends beyond second homes. We must get that matter right, so that all local authorities have the exemptions that meet the needs of people in their areas.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Surely the Minister knows that such a scheme has operated successfully in Wales for many years. Can she not get on and do something about this matter? We all know that the consultation that she announced to change the council tax funding formula has been delayed again and again. Is it not time that she either took action or left office and let us do so?

Ms Armstrong: I am always grateful for advice from the hon. Gentleman, who was so successful in persuading the previous Conservative Government to act that his party judges his seat to be one of the most vulnerable in the country. The Government will get on with doing things, and we will make sure that we take people along with us. That is why we will consult--to ensure that we produce legislation appropriate for the introduction of the necessary changes.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Does the Minister accept that the council tax system that operates in Wales remains a fairly blunt instrument when it comes to controlling the over-development of holiday and second homes in some communities? Given the Minister's commitment to give local authorities the maximum freedom in such matters, will she consider creating a new planning category for such homes? That would give local authorities control over granting or withholding planning permission if there is to be a change of use.

Ms Armstrong: The right hon. Gentleman goes way beyond the question. As he knows, Welsh local authorities can exercise discretion over council tax in their areas, but the planning regime is a different matter. The rural White Paper contained announcements on council tax, but not

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on planning. We are concerned that all local authorities should be able to act in the interests of the residents for whom they have responsibility. That is why the Government have been moving forward the agenda for local authorities in England. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will push the Welsh Assembly to do the same in Wales. As he knows, I have no responsibility for that.

M6 Motorway

13. Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): What plans he has for widening the M6 motorway. [157193]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I should point out that after years of confusion and delay under the previous Administration, work has now started on the Birmingham northern relief road. That road will relieve congestion on the M6 motorway through Birmingham between junctions 4 and 11.

However, I presume that the hon. Gentleman's primary concern is with the section of the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester. That transport corridor is at present the subject of a multimodal study that is looking into capacity problems and possible solutions, including scope for modal shift. Widening the M6 is certainly one of the options being considered. At this juncture I cannot comment further, as the study has yet to report

Mr. Day: The Minister gives no comfort whatever to my constituents, either about the M6 or about other schemes such as the Manchester airport eastern link road and the Poynton bypass, all of which the Government have put away into multimodal transport study schemes. People in the area want action. Congestion is solved by building the roads that have public support. Will the Minister please get them built?

Mr. Hill: If the hon. Gentleman and his constituents feel so passionately about these matters, I am rather surprised that they were not carried further forward under the previous Government. [Hon. Members: "They were."] I am aware that there have been--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Minister answer. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) should know better.

Mr. Hill: I am aware that there have been proposals at various stages of development for the widening of the M6 between junctions 11A and 19, and for the A556(M)/M6/M56 link, which have been remitted to the multimodal study. Work on phase 2 of the study is well under way, with a number of options under consideration including road schemes, metrolink, railbus, use of road space, and freight and transport charges. The steering group is engaged in consultations with local authority members to inform them of the initial results and to seek views and guidance on the development of the preferred strategy, which, as I have indicated, will be reported to the Government in due course.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will know that on 10 April the Prime Minister held a 15-minute telephone conversation with Motorola's president, Chris Galvin, in an attempt to stave off the closure of the Motorola plant in West Lothian. You may know, Mr. Speaker, that Motorola has now confirmed that it is to close the plant, with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Has the Prime Minister or any other Minister come to you wishing to make a statement to the House?

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: I shall call the constituency Member of Parliament the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on that point of order.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is in sorrow that I ask how any of us can understand--I wonder whether it is for reasons of devolution--the fact that there is neither a statement nor a private notice question on Motorola, where 3,200 people lost their jobs this morning. It is beyond comprehension.

Mr. Speaker: I am very sorry that so many people are facing job losses in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. However, it is not a matter for the Chair as to whether a Minister makes a statement.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If a Minister did ask to make a statement on this devolved issue, would you allow him to do so?

Mr. Speaker: Will the hon. Gentleman please repeat his question? I was distracted.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I asked whether, if a Minister did request to make a statement on this devolved issue, you would allow him to do so.

Mr. Speaker: Of course I would not stop a Minister making a statement--I would not dream of doing so.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As someone who was born within a few miles of the Motorola plant, I know that your expression of sympathy for the area will be much appreciated. I am glad of your clarification, because although I would be delighted if the Scottish Parliament were responsible for all these matters, there are a number of aspects, not least those relating to social security and the Prime Minister's intervention, that could properly have been raised by the constituency Member of Parliament if a Minister had deigned to make a statement.

Mr. Speaker: That is a not a point of order. However, no one is more experienced in finding the time and means to raise a matter such as this before the House than the hon. Member for Linlithgow. I am sure that he will make every endeavour to see that it is debated or that a Minister comes before the House.

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