I rise to support clause 1. As ever, it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Steve Double, although he has just reminded me of the Local Government Finance Bill and the many interesting and fun hours that we spent on it, particularly in Committee. Unfortunately, however, those hours were subsequently lost when the Bill fell, so it is good to see this measure coming to the House, as have several other provisions that were in the previous Bill.
The agricultural exemption for nursery grounds has been in place for a significant period, dating back to 1929. Indeed, this issue was raised during the passage of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, when Ministers gave a steer that there was a clear intention that nursery grounds should be subject to the same sort of exemption as other agricultural uses. The Court of Appeal case—the Tunnel Tech case—seems to have driven a coach and horses through the custom and practice since 1929 and the intimation given by the then Government during the passage of the 1988 Act that the status quo would prevail. To put it mildly, suddenly receiving a significant rates bill as the result of a Valuation Office Agency investigation and the subsequent Court of Appeal case has challenged a number of growers in the running of their businesses.
I am pleased in many ways to have played a small part in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay apprehended me in the Division Lobby one evening to explain the challenge he was seeing in his area as a result of this Court of Appeal ruling and the problems it was likely to cause growers. We subsequently had meetings with the National Farmers Union, which put a coherent and collegiate case for restoring the status quo.
I am glad that, when I approached the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the matter was put before Ministers—we do not always receive this type of response—the unanimous verdict was that the Court of Appeal decision was not the right thing for growers and other such businesses and was not consistent with the Government’s intention. I was delighted to publish a written ministerial statement confirming the Government’s intention to restore the position as it was before the Court of Appeal ruling and to allow the agricultural exemption in this regard, as was clearly intended.