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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend on Amendment No. 6. He has been very consistent through the course of these proceedings in trying to find a way whereby landlords can be harnessed into the BIDs process. I say to the

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noble Lord, Lord Peston, that a consistent theme throughout our consideration of the Bill has been how to harness owners into the BID process so that they are a committed part of it. A number of ways have been tried. This proposal seems to have all but the Minister's blessing for the review to be completed by an earlier date. I very much hope that the Government will accept that this is a sensible and time-rational way forward and accept the amendment so that we can move on with the support of everyone, including the landowners, who are very willing to be involved.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, as the noble Baroness has just said, property owners—landlords—are offering to pay money. I hope that the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will accept that offer with open arms. To do anything else would be bizarre.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, notwithstanding the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, it would probably be bizarre to accept the amendment at this late stage of the Bill. Although it is a very seductive proposition—all these people queuing up wanting to pay money—at the end of the day, I do not think that it would work out quite like that. I shall not go over the issues that we addressed previously. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, stuck to the issue—that the new clause has been tabled essentially because, not to put too fine a point on it, no one takes my word in Hansard. As Ministers' statements in this House are obviously not acceptable to businesses, they want this provision on the statute book. On the other hand, on the issue of owners and taxation, as I hope I made clear in Committee and at Report stage, one cannot introduce a new tax by way of statutory instrument. That would require much more fundamental legislation and major changes in, for example, the sanctions which we discussed in Committee.

We do not think that the amendment is necessary simply because, as I said, I gave assurances both in Grand Committee and on Report that the Government will undertake a review of the role of property owners in BIDs. Conversely, we would be stupid to look a gift-horse in the mouth if, as a result of introducing the BIDs—which everyone fully accepts is a first-class idea—there were a way of including property owners. The idea was not in the Bill initially, but to exclude it would be to look a gift-horse in the mouth. So we want to have a review, and we will have a review.

I detected a certain tone in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I should perhaps say that my ministerial colleague Nick Raynsford is the policy Minister responsible for this matter. As the noble Lord is a former Secretary of State, he knows how the system works. I am not the policy Minister on this; I am simply here to speak for the Government on behalf of my colleague in another place. Nick Raynsford met the noble Lord during the week, and he has written to interested parties outlining the review process. So the lead policy Minister has written to the industry, and I have made statements in this House.

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I have been told to my face that we may not be in government when the review comes round—but so what? The civil servants are going to be there. The policy enunciated will still be there—the policy will not change. The Government have given a firm commitment on the Floor of this House. That can always be repeated in another place by means of Parliamentary Questions; there is no problem about that. There has also been a firm commitment in writing to the industry. We think that that is sufficient. We do not believe that a statutory obligation to do that should be necessary to persuade property owners that we are telling the truth and mean what we say.

The amendment seeks to limit the time period for the review to September 2005. We believe that that would undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the review. The British Property Federation, in previous discussions, has pointed out that the review must examine the way in which property owners are engaged in BIDs—or business improvement districts, for those watching us on the telly, which I suspect is nobody.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the BBC keeps telling us that the House of Commons is back. To the BBC, the House of Commons is Parliament. That is how it works, is it not? I should not have said that. I did so only because I did not want to use the jargon. I shall repeat the sentence. The British Property Federation, in previous discussions, has pointed out that the review must examine the way in which property owners are engaged in BIDs—business improvement districts—over a couple of years to ensure that they do not renege on promises of support when the initial wave of enthusiasm dies down.

The form of the review that we have proposed seeks to meet those concerns. The first phase of the review will evaluate the BID pilot projects and other voluntary BID schemes to see whether property owners are being effectively engaged with business improvement districts at an early stage. We are already preparing to begin this first phase which will start in the autumn of 2004 and conclude in 2005. During 2005 and 2006 the review will focus on the business improvement districts that are up and running and that are preparing to begin. We do not realistically expect that more than a handful of business improvement districts will be up and running until 2005. One must be realistic. This is quite new. Therefore, that phase shall be vital to ensure that a thorough review takes place. The noble Lord's amendment would make that time too short.

The third stage of the review will focus on BIDs that have been up and running for 18 months to 2 years to check that property owners are still involved. However, if after stage two of the review, or even stage one, it becomes clear that there is almost no proper engagement of property owners in BIDs, continuing with stage three may not be appropriate. We are willing to be flexible in that respect. However, we are

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not willing to commit to a timetable before the outcome of the first stages of this review can be anticipated.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked, as does the amendment, that an independent person be appointed to conduct the review. I was present at the meeting on Monday. I have not checked any of the notes, but so far as I know we did not discuss the independent person, because nobody offered to pay for them. I note that the appointment would be made by the Secretary of State—the Deputy Prime Minister. The argument could be, "Well, if we have appointed him, we are going to have to pay the salary and the fees". Where is the independence? I have to be careful. Nobody offered to put a kitty together to pay. Already our word is not taken on the Floor of the House that we will conduct the review. There is an insistence to put that into the Bill. Our faith is being questioned. This is not a personal matter between myself and the noble Lord, but that is the bottom line. The industry wants the matter on the face of the Bill. We could argue until the cows come home over how independent this person should be and who should pay for him. It should not be ourselves, because we would be held to be paying for that independent review, which would, therefore, not be independent.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will have overall responsibility for co-ordinating the review, but a steering group of interested parties will be convened to oversee its progress. The representatives on this steering group have yet to be confirmed but I can assure the House that they will include property interests, business interests, as well as those with regeneration and town centre management experience. We will be happy to publish progress reports at the end of each stage of these reviews, a copy of which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available to the public.

We have every intention of conducting this review methodically and fairly. I have said before that at the end of the day we would be stupid to look a gift horse in the mouth if there was a way of allowing the property owners to be involved. It was impossible to do that in this Bill because it would be a new tax involving the whole system of collection, whereas the existing system based on the rates of the people who tenant the properties is already there. We are building on an existing system with no new infrastructure. My right honourable friend the Minister for Local and Regional Government, Nick Raynsford, and I have both given clear assurances. I repeat them today on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister. I see no need for this amendment. I make no criticism of the effort to put these views on the record. Therefore, I hope that this will be taken as gospel by the property interests in that I mean what I say. If I go tomorrow, the person following me will say exactly the same things.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, in a brief reply I wonder if the Minister would go just one stage further? Would he offer to publish interim reports as the review proceeds, so that if after the first wave it appeared that

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there was a serious problem of keeping property interests involved, at least that would become apparent? If the noble Lord could meet us in that way, perhaps we might save him some embarrassment.


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