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Clause 1

Part of Business Rate Supplements Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 11:00 am, 27th January 2009

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but he has not been listening to some of the previous arguments. The fact that all the major parties stood on the platform of supporting Crossrail—for exactly the reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster gave, that everyone accepted that we were where we were—demonstrates that there was substantial buy-in among the voters. People could have voted for Respect, and I suspect that the UK Independence party and the British National party were also rather critical of Crossrail, but they did not, for obvious reasons.

We also had evidence from representatives of the London business community that in the circumstances, to kick-start Crossrail, London businesses were satisfied that the mechanism was one that they could live with. The fact that there are annual elections to the unitary authorities elsewhere in the country does not alter the argument. It is perfectly fine and helpful to have elections so that voters—the domestic council tax payers—can have their say on whether to have a council that continues with a BRS scheme. I do not have a problem with that, but that is no reason to say that non-domestic rate payers—those who contribute not through council tax, but through the BRS—should not have a ballot, so that they can have their say. The two are not mutually exclusive in any way.

If the Government conceded the principle that there should always be a ballot for a BRS scheme to be imposed, none of this argument would be necessary.  The local authority could go forward, taking the domestic council tax payer vote with it in the elections in the ordinary way, but it would also be able to get buy-in from the business occupiers through a ballot. There would not be the potential conflict that the Government’s scheme gives rise to.

In a rather larger nutshell than I had intended—although I hope I have enabled hon. Members, including Labour Members, to vent their views—those are the reasons why we proposed our amendments and have sympathy with those tabled by the hon. Member for North Cornwall. We certainly wish to see votes on such matters in due course. The other amendments in my name in the group are consequential, relating to the holding of a ballot in every case apart from Crossrail. I hope that that deals comprehensively with this group of amendments.