Jacqui Lait (Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government; Beckenham, Conservative)
I want to make the general point that the clause is controlling and centralising, and we are unhappy with the powers it gives to the Secretary of State to direct charging authorities. It also provides the potential for the Secretary of State to reduce Government funding, although we keep being told that that will not happen. In the interest of brevity, we will probably return to the matter on Report, but I wanted to put it on record that the clause gives too many powers to the Secretary of State to direct authorities.
John Healey (Minister of State (Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government; Wentworth, Labour)
The hon. Lady is right that the provision provides powers of intervention to the Secretary of State that could be used to control the imposition, collection or application of the levy. We would envisage using those powers only in exceptional circumstances and as a last resort, if the spending proposed by a charging authority did not meet the purpose of the levy: to provide infrastructure to support an area’s development.
The clause also provides for regulations, which would also be a reserve power that we would use only in exceptional circumstances and as a last resort. It is, nevertheless, important to cap the amount that an authority could levy. We would not anticipate that authorities would set the level of the levy to the extent that it would choke off significant development, but the risk of circumstances in which that could happen remains. Therefore, the powers are important safeguards for both developers and local communities. I understand the hon. Lady’s reservations. None the less, I hope that hon. Members will accept that the powers are important and that the clause should remain part of the Bill.