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Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I am following on from the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I do not know whether anyone has seen it, but the front page of the Independent today is timely. It declares that enough is enough regarding the expansion of airports all over the United Kingdom. The Minister constantly refers to international action, but our plans for airport expansion here are much worse than in other countries. Surely we should
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is ignoring the fact that merely reducing our capacity unilaterally would lead to our competitors potentially increasing their capacity. It must be recognised that the aviation industry in Britain is responsible for 200,000 jobs. It is a very significant contributor to the economy and therefore a balance has to be struck. Let me also say this. One in every two of our fellow citizens took at least one flight last year. Of course the environmental impact of these developments has to be taken into account and that is the purpose of both the Stern report this week and the action taken by the Government prior to that report. But let us make no bones about the fact that there is an important aspect regarding the economy and our peoples needs, which we also need to take into account.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, has my noble friend not studied the findings of the Oxford University centre to which my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred, in particular the conclusion that the vast majority of flights are taken by the better-off sections of the community, mainly existing travellers flying more often? The number of people from the lowest economic categories taking flights is tiny when compared with the number of those flying off to their second homes in continental Europe. This is not an issue where poor people will suffer if responsible action is taken on aviation charges and climate change.
Lord Davies of Oldham: No, my Lords, but 50 per cent of the population is quite a significant proportion, so we do have to bear that in mind. However, I recognise what my noble friend says and certainly long-distance flights are taken more often by the better-off sections of the community. But we have an industry and a role in aviation in which we are an important world leader. So while we recognise that adaptation is necessaryenforcement may well become necessary for certain aspects of the operation of airports in terms of greener strategieswe must balance the obvious needs of the community for certain levels of air travel with the growing problem of emissions which has been so clearly identified in the reports to which my noble friend referred.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, in light of the need for urgent action to which several noble Lords have drawn attention, could not the Government consider using carrots instead of sticks on people? Would it not be a good idea to reduce rail fares, lengthen railway platforms and invest in new rolling stock, all sorts of things which the private sector would finance? In London, before Ken Livingstone introduced any penalties with the congestion charge, he improved bus services, put in bus lanes and made the system ready. He first put everything in a line.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am delighted to see that Ken Livingstone is getting such a good press in the Chamber today, but the terms of trade regarding internal flights and the use of rail are changing over the forthcoming period for obvious reasons. We are seeing very significant investment in high-speed rail developments, one of the most impressive and important of which is at Kings Cross in preparation for the arrival of high-speed trains from Europe, and we shall see the greater use of high-speed trains as opposed to aircraft. This investment is going on at the present time and will be reflected gradually in the price for various journeys. The principle that we will follow is that the polluter will pay.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, the Government have no such plans. We will consider any changes to the council tax system only in the light of the recommendations of Sir Michael Lyonss independent inquiry into the functions, role and funding of local government, which is due to report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government at the end of the year.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Are the Government working with Sir Michael Lyons on his proposals for changes to the local taxation system, despite him or in anticipation of what he is going to say?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, as we have worked through our own plans for local government reform we have been informed by Sir Michaels interim report. But his report on funding local government is an independent report and we will take full account of it when it is published.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that any dramatic change in council tax, whether or not through banding, could adversely affect peopleparticularly older peoplewho have lived in a property for many years? The property may have gone up 100 times in value, yet is still a house to live in and is not worth any more to them. It could have a devastating effect on whole communities if such elderly people were forced to sell up and move in order to meet the charges.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the point of the council tax system is that it is fair and is seen to be fair. Sir Michael Lyons is addressing the task of how to make it fairer in changed circumstances, and all those kinds of considerations will be taken into account.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, in view of that answer, can the Minister say a little more about why the Government have developed something called intelligent proximity analysis, which allows valuation officials to differentiate between thousands of neighbourhoods and adjust bills accordingly? Given the Governments intention, announced last week in the White Paper, to clarify and make local government more transparent, does she agree that a system which takes into account 287 different variables would not do very much to assist local council tax payers in understanding their bills?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am glad of the opportunity to say how much I deplore the kind of mischief that is being made by campaigns which suggest that somehow the basis of council tax assessment is changing. The source of information to which I think the noble Baroness is referring is probably the one-off study used in anticipation of the revaluation which we postponed. As she will know, normally the valuation officer conducts the full valuation assessment. Evidence was taken from data sets which were found not to be useful in relation to the expertise of the valuation officer. That exercise has led to some newspapers speculating that somehow valuation will be based on the number of people wearing soft contact lenses in the area in which you live, which is complete rubbish. The valuation system has not changed since it was set up in 1993 by the Conservative Government. It aims to be fair. The only change is that we are using new technology and digitalisation to make it fairer and more accessible.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, if the Government have no intention of introducing local government tax based on capital values in England and Wales, why then are they forcing through next Tuesday provisions for local government taxation based on capital values in Northern Ireland? I think I am right in saying that the proposals are opposed by every party in Northern Ireland, with the possible exception of Sinn Fein, and come in advance of any possible decision by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which the Government are trying to revive later this month.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it is absolutely true that the local taxation system in Northern Ireland is different. All the questions raised by the noble Lord will be ably dealt with by my noble friend when he opens the debate on Tuesday.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, when a new transport link gets builtsuch as Crossrail, which is in proximity to the site for the Olympicsand people who live in the vicinity find the values of their house doubling or trebling, as has already happened around
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that all the pointers that are now coming forward are that there will be a great shift in the taxation burden on to local taxation? Following a point made by my noble friend Lady Gardner, how will that shift in taxation be reflected in peoples income and ability to pay when the council tax is so much increased, as it looks as if it will be?
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I cannot possibly anticipate what Sir Michael Lyons is going to recommend. We have made it clear that the council tax should be retained; we are not in favour of local taxation, and I am not entirely sure who is these days. It is another case of having to wait and see what Sir Michael Lyons comes up with.
Baroness Andrews: No, my Lords. In fact, I take the opportunity to say that valuation officers look only at properties that are new to the market or come forward at the point of sale. The idea that there is an army of valuation officers snooping away, taking photographs of peoples bedrooms and counting the number of rabbit hutches or gnomes in their gardens is absolutely absurd. I really wish that we could communicate this information more persuasivelyand we look to the party opposite to help us to do that.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, a couple of weeks ago I announced the recess dates as far as I was able for the next Session. I am now able to announce provisional dates until next October. The dates will be in the Printed Paper Office, along with the dates for Friday sittings.
The Easter Recess starts when we rise on Thursday 29 March and goes on until Monday 16 April, when we return. For Whitsun, we have from Thursday 24 May until Monday 4 June. For the Summer Recess, we rise on Thursday 26 July and return on Monday 8 October. As the discerning listener will have noticed, there is no September sitting. The Commons decided yesterday not to have September sittings; I think that that was a splendid decision.
I know it is helpful to the House to give the dates of Friday sittings throughout the year, as far as we are able, but I cannot claim credit for coming up with the idea. I shall not read them out now because there are a lot of them, but it helps people to plan. The credit should go to the legendary former Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, who suggested that it was helpful to everyone to know in advance as far as possible, especially for those noble Lords who are introducing or hoping to introduce Private Members Bills and things of that sort, because they can then have some idea of how they might progress through the year.
Moved, That the draft regulations and order laid before the House on 19 October be approved [36th Report from the Joint Committee] [Considered in Grand Committee on 30 October].(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 12 and 16 October be approved [35th and 36th Reports from the Joint Committee] [Considered in Grand Committee on 30 October].(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 2 proposes that the Scotland Act be added to Clause 8, to join the Bill and the Human Rights Act as statutes that cannot be altered by an order made under the Bill. I moved, and we debated, a similar amendment on Report. At that time I understood from colleagues who are Members of the Scottish Parliament that the Scottish Government had indicated to them that any changes to the Scotland Act would be regarded as matters of constitutional significance, and so would not satisfy the new condition at Clause 3(2)(f). I was therefore expecting a statement to that effect from the Minister. What he in fact said was different:
The Government are content that the new precondition would prevent any constitutionally significant amendments to the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Acts, just as it would prevent constitutionally significant amendments to any other enactment.[Official Report, 26/10/2006; col. 1305.]
In other words, there is no special treatment for the Scotland Act, which is treated for the purposes of this Bill exactly like all other statutes, other than the two specifically mentioned in Clause 8.
As I said then, I recognise that there are some provisions in the Scotland Act where the changes would not in themselves be constitutionally significant. I also believe, however, that constitutional significance arises not just from the nature of the
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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I briefly add my support to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I will not rehearse the arguments we had on Report. My view is that we should be going even further than what is embodied in this amendment, but I take the point the noble Lord has made. As he says, there are one or two measures where, even if incidental provisions could be changed by order, it is important to protect the whole measure. I am therefore happy to support the amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I ought to address a point made on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about the Scotland Act, on which, as the noble Lord observed, I agreed to reflect. As he astutely judged, I am unlikely to promise that we shall change things, but one can always think about these things.
The noble Lord suggested that any amendment to the Scotland Act would be of constitutional significance. That is a large statement but one that has to be taken into account and thought about as it has many implications. He did so on the grounds that the Act was,
I do not think that anyone would disagree fundamentally with that. I am pleased that the noble Lord recognised the not insignificant interest in the devolution Acts that Westminster has, not least because it is this sovereign Parliament that debated and passed the Acts and chose to devolve power to the then newly created legislatures.
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