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Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, surely this is against the spirit of the legislation to allow more freedom for local authorities when it comes to raising council tax. One is assuming the worst about local authoritiesone is assuming they will want to pursue a perverse course. We all want to make certain that empty homes are reoccupied unless the people who own them want to keep them empty.
Surely we are still acting against the spirit of the Bill in allowing local authorities to have more flexibility in the latter. If the money that is raised in this regard is taken into account in the grant calculations, that takes away the freedom that we thought we were giving local authorities. I am still not clear about the Government's policy with regard to the percentage of council tax that local authorities raise that they are allowed to keep.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has listened carefully throughout the debates that we had on Second Reading, in Grand Committee and on Report. I have made it clear, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has made it very clear, that we are in this piece of legislation going through an extensive deregulatory process. The noble Lord seems to be conflating two issues. Is he having a go at the Bill for not being deregulatory enough, or is he having a go at the particular provision and claiming that it is not helping with respect to bringing empty homes into use? What argument is he seeking to rely on?
I believe that we are being deregulatory in general. The noble Lord should think about the strange nature of the amendment that we are discussing and its potential perversity. He ought to read Hansard very carefully. I heard what was said about the LGA being
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, it is a consistent theme throughout the legislation that freedom is given but then part of it is taken away. It is a theme that I have tried to illustrate during the course of our debates.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I wrote down the word "spirit" just before the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred to the spirit of the Bill. I do not think that it is inconsistent to run both arguments.
I wish to make it clear that of course we support bringing empty properties back into use for their own sake. I said that I agreed that that was inherently important when I introduced the amendments we are discussing. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that the amendments would not have quite the dramatic impact that we might think. If so, I cannot resist the temptation to ask what he is worried about.
I turn to the issue of a perverse incentive. Housing is rather like a set of dominoes in that if stock is scarce, that has a knock-on effect along the line. At some point further along that line, a local authority will become involved with the needs of people who might have been housed if there were more housing in use. I suspect that the cost of providing housing is a good deal higher for a local authority than the rates that it might get through the mechanism we are discussing. Therefore, I do not buy the perverse incentive argument. However, I shall be interested to see what the LGA has to say when it has read the debate this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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