My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and as non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd.
Amendment 1 seeks to place a new clause in the Bill whose purpose is to require the Secretary of State to publish a report on the timing of business rate revaluations and to lay that report before the House. The report must address the issues I have laid out in proposed new paragraphs (a) to (e) of my amendment. Each point needs careful attention.
Our high streets were in crisis before the pandemic, and the position has been made even worse over the last year. Hardly a week goes by when we do not hear of struggling high streets and well-known businesses leaving the high street for good, or questions being raised as to their future viability. Sir John Timpson, chairman of the wonderful Timpson Group, addressed this very point this morning on Radio 4, reflecting on the work he did looking at our high streets for the Government before the pandemic. The Bill does not address that fact, but merely moves the date of the revaluation so that it better reflects the effects of the pandemic. While that is welcome, it falls a long way short, and the Government have missed an opportunity here to do more to save our high streets.
I do not think one can disagree with the points set out in my amendment. If the noble Lord is going to resist the amendment, can he set out what he and his department are doing to support the prosperity of our towns and high streets? That must go much further than the towns fund, or other small schemes with limited funding. What must happen is fundamental help for all our towns and high streets. Small shops and small businesses on our high streets deserve support as they will be a crucial to our economic revival, including the much loved British pub, which is at the heart of local communities. I also draw the attention of the House to my being vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group. I very much support its work, and the part that pubs play in our community lives.
We must also address the completely unfair situation that exists between high street businesses and online businesses, which we have discussed many times in your Lordships’ House. There is a much wider debate to be had about business rates as a method of raising finance, but if business rates are levied there must be fairness in the system. There are too many examples today that highlight an unfairness between the high street and online businesses which must be addressed, and this amendment seeks to give the Government the tools to do just that. Business rates raise money for local government and are a key part of its finances. We recently debated a pilot scheme that the Government have under way to increase the funds raised for local authorities through business rates, and again this needs to be looked at, as does the question of appeal.
If the Government do not take the opportunity that the amendment gives them today, I hope they will go back and reflect on these issues. If not, there is no doubt that we will be here year after year, trying to address the serious problem facing our high streets, which the pandemic has accelerated. I hope the Government will take this matter seriously. I beg to move.