Thank you, Mr Davies, for calling me to speak.
I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and I remind the Chamber that I raised this issue in Westminster Hall in November 2010. Interestingly, Mr Davies, you were in the Chair then too. Equally interestingly, there was no attendance at that debate by any Opposition spokesmen, which perhaps indicated the Opposition’s level of concern about matters affecting business.
At that time, I raised a constituency case, as my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy has done today. My constituent had a commercial property as an investment, which he had acquired after selling his business that had been located there. In recent months I, too, have visited constituents who have been very much affected by the changes including, most recently, an engineering company that has a vacant unit on its site, is unable to find a tenant and is liable to pay the commercial rates. In his reply to me a year ago, the Minister spoke of support to small business generally, but regretted the fact that the Government were unable to offer the concession that property owners would like.
My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer drew attention to the fact that the situation has become worse rather than better as a consequence of the fall in the exemption limit from £18,000 to £2,600, which means that the large majority of properties are now included. My hon. Friend spoke about the need for a private sector-led recovery from the recession we are suffering. Critically, at a time when we are demolishing perfectly sound industrial premises to avoid paying the vacant commercial rate, and developers are not developing new industrial and commercial premises because if they do so they might be left vacant, we are making it more difficult for small businesses to get started. There are strong reasons why the Government need to address the issue, and I very much look forward to the remarks that the Minister may make to be able to assuage the fears of businesses in this sector.