Clause 6 - Short title, commencement and extent

Rating (Agricultural Premises and Rural Shops) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 8th May 2001.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:30 pm, 8th May 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 31, leave out from `force' to second `the' in line 32 and insert

`, in relation to England, on 30th October 2001, and, in relation to Wales, on such day as'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 9, in page 3, line 33, leave out from `appoint' to end of line 34.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The purpose of the amendments is to inject a degree of certainty and predictability into the process by which relief is given.

Amendment No. 8 would insert a commencement date of 30 October, and amendment No. 9 is largely consequential. There is no particular magic about the dates, but it seems desirable to introduce a degree of certainty. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has said that, under the Bill, rural food shops, farm businesses considering diversification and those that have recently established a diversified business are uncertain about their potential liability for business rates. To provide a degree of predictability, one should set a specific commencement date; and a powerful argument for that is that it would enable people to plan their business with slightly more certainty. We have constantly said that if the Bill is to be effective, it should encourage as much diversification as it can.

The NFU has a further argument in favour of such certainty. That is that businesses have to go through sometimes lengthy planning procedures before they can demonstrate the practical effects of diversification. The union is concerned that if the commencement date is earlier than expected, individuals who are going through the planning process might lose many months or even years of potential rate relief due to the Government's insistence on the five-year limit.

Either way, we can argue for a specific date. We are not wedded to a particular date, but it would be good to know that Ministers accept the argument for that degree of certainty, and I hope that they will say what they regard as an appropriate commencement date.

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

I should like to hear a firm date from the Minister. I should like it to be at the earliest possible opportunity, and I should like there not to be different dates for the different purposes proposed in the Bill. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on all those points.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

Amendment No. 8 would remove the power of the Secretary of State to determine when the Bill will commence, either wholly or in part, in relation to England. It does not alter the powers of the National Assembly for Wales to commence the provisions of the Bill in Wales on any day or days that it chooses. Amendment No. 9 would remove the power of the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to have separate commencement dates for different clauses of the Bill, although both would retain the discretion on when to commence the entire Bill.

The amendments are unnecessary. To those who fear that the Bill will be delayed, I can say that we intend to implement it as soon as practicable. In England, that may be before 30 October. Not only do the amendments curtail the discretion of the Secretary of State and of the National Assembly as to the best time for the commencement of the provisions but they might delay commencement in England.

The hon. Member for Ashford suggested that the Bill should not come into effect before a particular date. We shall reflect on that. However, I believe that the amendments are unnecessary, as we should still have discretion. I am not sure whether he was right about introducing the measures too soon. We shall consider the matter and let him know. On the understanding that we shall introduce the measures as soon as practicable, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:45 pm, 8th May 2001

I am grateful to the Minister for his commitment on the possibility of premature commencement and merely echo the point made earlier that the sooner those who will benefit from the legislation know the target date, the better. That applies both to people who want the legislation to be introduced as soon as possible and to people who do not want it to be introduced prematurely. The amendments are intended to achieve certainty on that. I hope that the Government can provide that, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.