Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

(1) It shall be a duty of the Secretary of State to appoint an independent person to conduct a review of property owners' involvement in, and financial contribution to, BIDs.
(2) Such a review should be completed by September 30th 2005.
(3) The Secretary of State shall no later than three months after the completion of the review lay before Parliament a report—
(a) summarising the results of the review; and
(b) stating, with reasons, whether or not legislation should be introduced to require property owners to make a financial contribution to BIDs."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure that this amendment is of some discomfort to the Minister and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Maddock.

Lord Peston: My Lords, before the noble Lord proceeds, perhaps I may say that we are at Third Reading. The Companion to the Standing Orders is very clear on what it is permissible to do at that stage. We have been breaking that rule for the past hour. There are several amendments in the Marshalled List which cannot remotely fit in with what is said in the Companion. To bring in an entirely new clause tests the patience and the general proprieties of your Lordships' House beyond endurance.

Could someone advise us on whether we have abandoned the Companion and self-regulation and that a free-for-all is permissible at all stages of a Bill or do we have rules in this House? Could we have an answer to this question before we proceed?

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, the answer to the question is that there is no one who can stop it except the House itself. We are a self-regulating House, which is not doing so at the moment. This may be a matter to be considered by your Lordships' Select Committee, which is looking at certain matters regarding the speakership.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I am becoming increasingly fed up with the fact that Third Reading is being turned into Committee: the same arguments are being deployed. Unless some really new matter has arisen, to introduce a new clause seems to be outside the terms of the Companion.

Earl Russell: My Lords, if Third Reading is being turned into Committee, is that not in part because we are not exercising our right to vote at that stage so that business is not disposed of at an earlier stage?

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I support what the noble Earl has said. I remember that there were far

10 Sept 2003 : Column 318

more votes taken at Committee in the old days so that one disposed of most of the material then. Report stage involved tidying up and Third Reading was a formality. Because so much material is being introduced, people are now keeping the real fight to Report stage: everything is being delayed by one stage. I believe that is where some of the problem lies.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I point out that Paragraph 6.132 of the Companion states that,

    "The principal purposes of amendments on third reading are: to clarify any remaining uncertainties; to improve the drafting; and to enable the government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the bill".

It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, can tell us how his amendment fits into any one of those three points. It is not clear to me.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, perhaps I may now proceed. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, he might have waited to see what the amendment was about. He used the phrase "a totally new clause". In the first two or three lines I am going to explain the past history of the matter in Committee, on Report, and why it is entirely reasonable that we should suggest this proposed change at Third Reading having regard to the fact that the Committee stage was held in the Moses Room where no votes are taken. Report introduced a new element when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, gave a commitment to a review. It is simply now a question of trying to make the review statutory. I believe that it is an entirely appropriate point to raise at Third Reading and I hope that I shall be allowed to get on with it.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I am truly sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I am sure he believes that he is acting in our best interests, but unless the English language has lost all meaning it is incompatible with the Companion and with self-regulation and proceeding in a proper way, to which most of us have devoted our time

I apologise to the noble Lord in one respect. His amendment arises at a relevant time to raise a matter generally. The point I make is even more general. Several other amendments are about to be moved which also break the rules. I am totally in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. The trouble is that there is no one in the House who appears to be willing to take responsibility for dealing with the matter. It is ridiculous that Back-Benchers such as myself and the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Barnett have to raise the issue. There should be someone else who pronounces so that the House can return to its proper way of behaviour. All I can do is to go on record as deploring what appears to have happened to your Lordships' House.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the amendment almost certainly falls within Paragraph 6.132 of the Companion, which states,

    "to clarify any remaining uncertainties".

10 Sept 2003 : Column 319

There have been uncertainties about this matter throughout and we have had to continue to adapt to them. Noble Lords have raised a very valuable point about not being able to vote at Committee. One stage of the Bill is truncated in terms of testing the response of the House.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Peston may have been referring obliquely to me when he said that someone should stand up. If I had any marginal uncertainty, the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, urged me vigorously to stand up.

I was not prepared to give any advice on this amendment to your Lordships, should it have been wanted, but my noble friend Lord Peston referred to two subsequent amendments. On this amendment, would it be a prudent course to note the various stances adopted and to bear in mind that there is currently a Committee on the Speakership of the House? If my noble friends Lord Peston and Lord Barnett feel it appropriate, they might wish—if they have not already done so—to make representations there. It may be convenient for your Lordships to hear the advice I am tendering on the basis of advice that I have received from the Clerks.

The other two amendments that might have been challenged—perhaps it is convenient to deal with them all now—are Amendment No. 13 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and Amendment No. 19 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. The Clerks have given careful attention to the matter and they have come to the conclusion, and advised me, that neither Amendments Nos. 13 nor 19 fall foul of the rule in paragraph 6.133 on page 126 of the Companion.

Amendment No. 13 introduces a new issue. It has not been disposed of at an earlier stage, so it does not fall foul of paragraph 6.133 on the advice I have received because it deals with the conditions of local authority workers. Amendment No. 19 is different from the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on Section 28. Some of your Lordships feel that Third Reading is not the time or place for amendments, but that is a different view.

That is the advice I have received from the Clerks, which I am transmitting to your Lordships. It does not relate to the amendment or point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, but I respectfully suggest that if one got to the substance of the matter, recording and inwardly digesting the view of my noble friends Lord Peston and Lord Barnett, which might be taken up by the Committee on the Speakership, that might be a convenient way of attempting some progress.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for recognising that the strictures probably do not apply to Amendment No. 6. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who indicated briefly that he was prepared to accept the same view. In the course of moving the new clause I hope to justify the view he took.

10 Sept 2003 : Column 320

This is the third attempt on this side of the House with the support of the Liberal Democrats to remedy what is widely seen as a major lacuna in Part 4 of the Bill which deals with business improvement districts. Almost all of those concerned with the issue have welcomed Part 4, which was heralded by the Prime Minister in a major speech to local government in April 2001. It is certainly welcomed on all sides of the House.

Part 4 establishes a new procedure whereby business ratepayers can vote to pay an extra levy to fund specific improvements in a defined area of their town. If the vote is carried, then all will pay, subject to any exceptions spelt out in the scheme; that way there are no free riders. But only the occupiers of property have such a vote. If the vote is carried then only occupiers—that is to say ratepayers—can be made to pay.

Part 4 does not give any vote to the occupiers' landlords; the property owners. They can contribute, and those who choose to pay do so, but those who choose not to pay are free to enjoy any benefits of the improvements without contributing to the cost. That is a familiar problem, which I call "free riders".

Yet it has been comprehensively acknowledged by the Government at every stage of the Bill that property owners are often the prime movers in BID schemes. It has been perfectly clear that most schemes would not get off the ground without substantial owner leadership and financial support.

I come to the point that I believe is behind the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. In Committee amendments were tabled and debated at length to include property owners in Part 4. They were resisted by the Government—I hope I shall summarise the arguments fairly—because they were seen as a new tax on property owners, the introduction of which would require a considerable new administration that would fall mainly on local authorities, which collect the rates and the occupiers' levy. They would have to set up registers of land ownership and establish who should pay the BID levy and so on. I hope that that is a fair description of Ministers' arguments.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, went further, and threatened that if the amendment were carried and the House insisted on writing it into the Bill, the Government would simply move to remove Part 4 altogether and the BID proposals would be stillborn. So we did not press the amendment; indeed one would not have been able to do so in the Moses Room.

On Report, another tack was tried. It was accepted that the provision could not be introduced in the Bill for the reasons spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but amendments were tabled to give power to add to the owners' levy by order so as to avoid having to come back to Parliament for fresh primary legislation. Ministers liked that even less; introducing a new tax by statutory instrument appeared to offend them grievously.

Instead, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, offered a review of the experience of BID schemes with the implication that if it is established that the exclusion of

10 Sept 2003 : Column 321

owners from any statutory rights and obligations under the BID scheme is harming the scheme, and if a case is made out for including them, that could be the subject for further legislation. The promise of a review was reinforced in a full letter of 25th July from another Minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Nick Raynsford to Sir Ian Henderson, who is the chief executive of the British Property Federation.

The prime purpose of the new clause is to make the review a statutory obligation, so in a sense it follows directly—if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Peston—as a consequence of what was offered on Report. I hope that it would be held to fall within the Standing Orders. It also takes the opportunity to provide for an independent person to conduct the review and for a shorter timescale for the review than that set out in Mr Raynsford's letter.

Mr Raynsford's letter spelt out the timetable envisaged by the Government. I hope that the House will bear with me, because it needs to be spelt out in full:

    "The review . . . will have three stages. Firstly it will examine the ways in which the BID pilot projects have engaged property owners in the setting up of the BID and how effective this has been. This first stage will take place in the autumn of 2004 when we believe some of the BID pilots will be established. However, the review cannot simply examine lessons learned from the pilots because the pilots are receiving particular support and advice. Therefore the second stage of the review will examine how successful BIDs are at engaging property owners when they are evolving independently. This part of the review will take place throughout 2005 when we expect to see some BIDs established which have not been involved in the pilots . . . the third stage of the review will seek to measure the continuing involvement of property owners in BIDs once the initial results from their investment are evident. This means that BIDs that have already been established will be monitored throughout 2006, with the review drawing to a conclusion in January 2007".

That is gold-plating the review and taking an extended period before there can be any question of coming back to legislate to fill what many see as a great lacuna in the Bill. It is not acceptable to the property interests, who are the people who are primarily developing the BID process. I am very grateful to Mr Raynsford and to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for arranging a meeting on Monday at the ODPM where those matters were discussed with some of the representatives of the organisations involved. At the meeting, the property and retail sectors told the Minister that a large number of BIDs are planning to start collecting their BID levies from April 2005, covering the billing year 2005–06. From that date, it should therefore be apparent whether landlords are being involved and involving themselves in the BID planning process. Clearly, they told Ministers, that would give a good indication of whether a broad cross section of landlords are contributing funding, sitting on the BID boards and generally participating. If they are not, it was said, surely it would be prudent for the Government to take remedial action as quickly as possible rather than waiting until 2007 for the conclusion of the extended review process. One must also bear in mind the inevitable delay after that while

10 Sept 2003 : Column 322

legislation is considered, while there is consultation on it, and when it can be introduced and taken through Parliament.

So what this new clause is proposing is that the review should be complete by the end of September 2005, compared with the Minister's date of January 2007. That would be followed by a report within three months. I feel that that is a perfectly adequate time to conduct a proper review.

The second point is that an independent review seems to me desirable to avoid any suspicion that the review would be coloured by the department's much-trumpeted reluctance to envisage having to introduce an owner levy. It seems to me—although I am sure that whoever is appointed by the ODPM to carry out the review will do his best—that it has taken a very firm view on this and would in effect be reviewing its own decisions.

The third point—and this is the one that I think Ministers really do have to take on board—is the question of making it a statutory review. This proposal reflects the fact that occupiers—which include, for example, the retailers and the occupiers of offices and bodies such as the British Retail Consortium—are deeply disappointed that there is no formal mechanism for requiring property owners to contribute to BIDs. They say that a statutory review would carry more weight in occupiers' negotiations with landlords to make voluntary contributions. The message would be that there is to be a statutory review. If landlords do not contribute voluntarily, then Parliament and the government of the day will consider whether they should be required to contribute compulsorily.

The strength of the message that a statutory review conveys would also provide those enlightened landlords who are prepared to participate with a greater degree of comfort that the issue of landlords' contributions remains one that the Government and Parliament are monitoring. The British Property Federation reports that many landlords in its membership are looking for a clear steer from Government that they will monitor the problem of free-riding from other landlords. A statutory review provides the clearest signal that that would be the case.

None of us mistrusts Ministers' good intentions, and there is no suggestion to that effect; not a bit of it. It is that with this new clause incorporated in what will be the Act, it will be much easier to convince doubting owners to stick with the BID process. That will help to ensure that the Prime Minister's aspirations for BIDs will actually be delivered. If those seem familiar words, they are quite deliberately put. It is turning aspirations into action and delivery.

I cannot for the life of me see why the Government should not accept this new clause as it stands. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page