Variation of Stamp Duties Regulations 2001

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Mr. Boateng: I have focused my mind and reflected on that issue since the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton raised it with me. The Committee that considered these matters took the same view as the Government, as he himself conceded. The matter has been considered by parliamentary counsel and by Inland Revenue solicitors, and despite the arguments put by the hon. Gentleman, I have no reason to accept his case. I may seek the advice of the Law Officers, but I am quite satisfied with the advice available to me as

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it stands. Given the consideration of this measure in another Committee, I have no to take a different view from the one that I have expressed to this Committee. Nothing the hon. Gentleman has said shakes my confidence in the advice that I have received and in the view taken by the other Committee.

Mr. Edward Davey: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng: Not on this issue, I think we have explored it enough. Whenever two or more lawyers are gathered together, one can be sure of the emergence of at least four different opinions. That is the nature of our trade, and I do not for one moment decry it—it is one of the joys of being a lawyer. Mr Cummings, you have spoke disparagingly of my profession in the past—

The Chairman: Really?

Mr. Boateng: I fear so, but I know that it is a perfectly legitimate exercise of intellect and training to apply them to any given problem and to arrive at various conclusions. We have considered carefully the points that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has made. I am grateful to him for the care with which he has gone into the matter, but I take a different view. I fear that not even the blandishments of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) are likely to change my mind, but if he wanted to have a go and risk the wrath of other Members of the Committee by going on at great length, that is a matter for him.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful to the Minister for deciding to give way. I have listened to his explanation and to the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, and I find the latter's argument more convincing. I have in front of me a copy of schedule 33 to the Finance Act 2000. I did not do my homework quite as studiously as the hon. Gentleman, but at least I tried. The title of paragraph 3 is: ''Power not to be used to varying rates or thresholds.'' It is very specific. What I do not understand about the Minister's argument why reducing a rate from 1 per cent. to nil is not varying a rate: it looks like varying a rate to me. Can the Minister explain where that power comes from?

Mr. Boateng: I have explained where the power comes from and nothing the hon. Gentleman has said reinforces the arguments of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. I was not persuaded by him, and I am not likely to be persuaded by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton—not on the basis of anything that he has said in the past few minutes, or indeed on the basis of the inadequate homework to which he has confessed. If he will excuse me, I will now move on. The exercise is perfectly legitimate, but I will not succumb to temptation. I will move on rapidly to the substance of—

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng: No.

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Mr. Howarth: On a point of order, Mr. Cummings. The Minister has said that he is not persuaded by the argument. Can you give me some guidance? It appears that the Minister is assuming that he is both judge and jury here.

The Chairman: Order. That is not a point of order. Will hon. Members behave themselves?

Mr. Boateng: May I rapidly move on to the substance of the debate?

The measure is designed to stimulate disadvantaged areas by attracting development and encouraging the purchase of residential and commercial property by individuals and businesses—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. Please will hon. Members show some respect for the Committee and for the Minister.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I apologise unreservedly to you, Mr. Cummings, but we were discussing a matter of some moment: the procedure of the Committee. I apologise if we were too loud, but the Minister is being provocative, as he often is, and that was stirring us.

The Chairman: Order. Let us get back to the business. Please treat the Committee and the Minister with a degree of respect.

Mr. Boateng: Thank you, Mr. Cummings.

The provision is designed to stimulate disadvantaged areas, as I described. The tenor and content of some contributions made by Opposition Members have been rather limited, as they focused exclusively on residential aspects, rather than encompassing, as they should have done, issues of development and commerce. The benefit that the measure will bring to people living, for example, in social housing is that it will make it more likely that some of those run-down high streets, those empty commercial properties and those small industrial sites will become attractive to small and medium-sized businesses. Those areas will then accrue the benefits of employment attached to development and the expenditure of resources.

That is not neo-Thatcherite; it is common sense and, if I may say so without being provocative, the most basic economics. It is about the generation of wealth in deprived communities. If I may say so to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, who seems from my limited acquaintance with him to be of a courteous and generous disposition, I thought that his response to the measure was rather churlish.

Opposition Members should welcome the measure because it is about generating wealth and opportunity. It makes a contribution, but it is only part of the picture—just one shot in an armoury that includes a new deal for communities, the single regeneration budget, education action zones, excellence in cities, health action zones, employment zones, Connexions and a children's fund. All those contribute to regeneration in deprived areas. The provision is

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relatively modest and does not deserve some of the hostility that Opposition Members have, rather bizarrely, directed at it.

The provision has been warmly welcomed by those who ought to know its merits. I give an example. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has said that it is a

    ''step towards providing a boost to regeneration in the UK's poorest areas by encouraging individuals and business to invest in them.''

There is nothing party political about RICS. It has given its professional view, based on its judgment, the experience of its members and the decisions that it is likely to take as a result of the measure.

The four-year cost of the scheme is £100 million. The cost of the scheme as currently implemented is estimated to be up to £50 million. It makes a modest, but important contribution to tackling deprivation. The qualifying areas were identified by reference to each country's national index of deprivation. Each country compiled its index according to similar criteria such as income, employment, housing, health and child poverty. On the frequency with which lists will be revised, the scope of the exemption will be regularly reviewed in the light of results, monitoring and evaluation. Lists of qualifying areas will also be reviewed following any revisions or updates to each country's deprivation index.

Mr. Luff: Will the regions have an input into the assessment?

Mr. Boateng: Each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom—England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—will compile its own index of deprivation.

Mr. Luff: If a county believed that the crude index of deprivation concealed local pockets of deprivation—the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton—will the Government be open to representations that certain other wards should be included?

Mr. Boateng: It is not for me to set down for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how they should compile the bundle of information that comprises their indices of deprivation. If the constituent parts of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales make their view known to their respective offices and assemblies and if English counties make their view known to the DTLR, those views will be taken into account.

The measure's purpose is to counter deprivation and disadvantage. We have utilised the best available evidence during the research that has gone into the matter. Lord Rogers put a great deal of time and effort in reaching his view, which was considered by economists in both the Treasury and the DTLR. The evidence has been considered and a view has been formed.

Mr. Edward Davey: Will the Minister undertake to publish those studies before the measures are passed into primary legislation?

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Mr. Boateng: No, I will not. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me asking for more details I will be happy to reply and place a copy of my letter in the Library where hon. Members who are interested are able to read it. I have no intention of publishing the studies, but I am happy to make available to him the information that he requires to satisfy himself that the work has been done. Even he would accept that Lord Rogers did not make his recommendation lightly.

There is much to be commended in Lord Rogers' report, and I hope that it finds favour with the Liberal Democrats. In the course of his consideration, Lord Rogers consulted widely—no doubt the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made their views known. Indeed, I would be disappointed to learn that they did not take the opportunity to engage with such a wide-ranging and detailed examination of the issues.

It is important to recognise that in tackling regeneration we are acting within our responsibilities under the relevant EU treaty provisions. We have informed the House of our intention to seek state aid; notification is due to be made formally next week. We had to delay notification until after the announcement had been made so as not to risk harming or causing turbulent in the property market. The notification is in the process of being finalised and we hope that the Commission will deal with it expeditiously.

The measure is modest but welcome. It will tackle deprivation and disadvantage in some of our most deprived and disadvantaged areas, and I commend it unhesitatingly to the Committee.

5.30 pm

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Prepared 11 December 2001