Business Rates

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Transport and the Regions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20 March 2001.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:00, 20 March 2001

What recent representations he has received from industry and business concerning business rates. [152907]

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Minister of State (Local Government and Housing), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) (Local Government)

We have received many responses from business to the proposals for business rates set out in the Green Paper "Modernising Local Government Finance". A summary of the responses has been published on the Department's website. We will publish our conclusions in a White Paper later this year.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will she confirm that the Government's plan for a supplementary business rate, which could increase the business rate by up to 5 per cent. for hard-working enterprises, is to be scrapped, as reported in this morning's Financial Times? Will she now endorse the Opposition's call for a rates holiday for tourism and other businesses cruelly hit by the foot and mouth outbreak? Finally, will she endorse the Conservative policy of cutting business rates for vulnerable rural shops, post offices, pubs and garages by an average of #x00A3;1,000 a year over and above existing rate relief?

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Minister of State (Local Government and Housing), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) (Local Government)

On the first question, the supplementary rate was an issue for consultation. As I told the hon. Gentleman, we shall publish our conclusions in the White Paper; he will simply have to wait for that. In response to the problems that businesses in rural areas are suffering from because of the foot and mouth outbreak, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment will make a statement later, and the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for that. The Conservative party's proposals are interesting, but I suggest that he looks at the Rating (Former Agricultural Premises and Rural Shops) Bill, which the Government have published and presented to the House, as it will give additional rate relief to all food shops and to certain garages and pubs in small villages. Given his interest in the motor trade and the Leader of the Opposition's interest in the pub trade, I am sure that they will support our proposals.

Photo of David Borrow David Borrow Labour, South Ribble

There was a consultation meeting in Tarleton on the rural White Paper, and the proposals to give 50 per cent. rate relief to small rural businesses were widely welcomed by many of the people at that meeting. I urge my right hon. Friend to move swiftly to a conclusion on the consultation process. How quickly does she think that the Government will be able to implement those urgently needed reforms?

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Minister of State (Local Government and Housing), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) (Local Government)

My hon. Friend has shown a very great and knowledgeable interest in this matter. As he says, the proposals on rate relief for small businesses are out for consultation, and we hope to bring them to a conclusion quickly. I am sure that he discovered at the meeting that he mentioned that, more than ever, people in the business world want a stable economy and no more boom and bust, and they know that they will get that from the Labour party.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

From what the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, it would be hard to believe that he supported the Government who introduced the uniform business rate. It was iniquitous then, and it is iniquitous now. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it penalises smaller retailers to the benefit of the larger out-of-town stores, so ably represented by the Conservative party? Is not it time that it was radically reformed and replaced with something fairer, which would also support traders in our town centres, not just those in villages?