Rating (Empty Properties) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 26th June 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 8:30 pm, 26th June 2007

My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, never speaks without consideration and careful analysis. However, it does not detract from my point that in this Bill we are seeking a broader span of measures to guarantee the expansion of the economy in such a way that these potential costs on pension funds become limited against the obvious advantage that the funds would develop from a rapidly expanding and growing economy.

The noble Earl introduced the issue of secondary legislation, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, dwelt on it, too. I, of course, accept the limitations on secondary legislation. The Liberal Democrats can sustain their arguments until they are blue in the face about the desirability of being able to amend secondary legislation. However, I cannot imagine that anyone who is serious about government will concede that point; we will not. I have not seen the slightest indication that, if the faint hopes of the Opposition of occupying these Benches were ever realised, they would think that secondary legislation should follow the pattern that the Liberal Democrats put forward. Nevertheless, I respect the point that secondary legislation should be considered legislation. That is why we have clearly indicated our intention to consult on the way in which we deal with these issues. There is no question of rushing our fences on those points.

The noble Lord is right that secondary legislation cannot be amended. However, it certainly could be subject to scrutiny and criticism, as indeed it is in the other place; from time to time, it has not been unknown for it to be subject to fairly intensive scrutiny here. If the noble Lord wants me to do so, I will enumerate the list of occasions on which his party has rather departed from past conventions and voted against secondary legislation. We will have that argument in due course. I do not think he can pray it in aid now and say that somehow because this legislation adumbrates general propositions—which of course it does under the secondary legislation to deal with the detail—the way in which the Government are tackling matters is unfair and improper.

The noble Lord also suggested that the increase in revenue was certain but that the impact on the supply of property was a good deal less certain. We contend that this measure will have beneficial effects on the property market, on competitiveness and on the environment. It will be a stimulus towards ensuring that property does not stand empty and idle. I would have thought he would recognise the advantages derived from that framework.

The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, challenged the Government on sustainability. If we are able to make more extensive use of existing property, the demand on the other land necessary for social purposes ought to be eased. I do not under-estimate the pressures of that demand. We recognise the pressures upon our land. An expanding economy and the amount of business premises it requires, and the housing crisis, lay heavy burdens potentially on the land which is available and present real challenges not only to brownfield sites but to protected greenbelt land as well. The thrust behind the Bill is to reduce elements of that pressure by using more effectively the assets that are available but not fully in use at present. I hope the Government will not be criticised for the lack of a sustainable position but commended for the fact that this measure fits well within the general perspective.