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Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill

Volume 663: debated on Monday 22 July 2019

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I call the hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), the Minister in a hurry, to move the Third Reading of the Bill. He may be a Minister in a hurry in more ways than one—I know not—but, as always, he is a happy and positive-looking Minister.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I always try to be pithy, Mr Speaker, as you instruct us to be, but this is an important matter, so we shall proceed without too much haste.

Ratepayers have told us that the current system, with revaluations of business rates every five years, has not been responsive enough to changes in the rental market. They have asked us for more frequent revaluations so that the system is fairer and more closely reflects the rents that they actually pay. This small but significant Bill delivers what business has asked for: it moves business rates revaluations in England on to a three-yearly cycle, and brings forward the next revaluation to 2021 so that ratepayers benefit from the change as soon as possible.

I am grateful for the contributions of all Members, both on Second Reading and in Committee, and thank them for their support for the Bill. In the public evidence sessions, we heard from various business groups that expressed their support. I thank them, including the Confederation of British Industry, the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. I give particular thanks to the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy for not only their comments in the evidence sessions but their work with my officials to ensure that we can implement the Bill in a manner that meets with their approval.

Lastly, I give thanks to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), who has been, as ever with these relatively short and uncontroversial Bills, thoughtful and constructive in his approach. I am of course grateful to the Clerks of the House and, indeed, to my team, who have managed to get this important legislation through its various stages with efficiency and effectiveness.

This is a small but important Bill that continues our support for business in this country, and I commend it to the House.

The Bill came around very quickly from Second Reading to Committee and then to Third Reading, which just shows that, when Parliament decides to do something, it can do it. Perhaps that is because we are light on business and there is time to debate and discuss these issues. I know that this is a geek interest—I take pride in being a geek and in liking data, numbers and finance, and this is an important matter. We cannot achieve the Government’s ambitions if we do not have a solid financial foundation. Business rates, although boring for many people, are actually a very important part of that. I also wish to echo the thanks to the Clerks for supporting the passage of the Bill. As always, they acted with absolute professionalism and ensured its smooth passage.

The purpose of the Bill has already been outlined, which is that it creates a three-year cycle and brings forward the revaluation period by one year. None the less, issues were raised on Second Reading and in Committee. I am slightly fearful that the Minister will be whisked away to another Department very shortly, and that we will lose his consistency and thoughtfulness. It matters not only that we pass the legislation in this place, but that we manage the transitional arrangements and the impact that naturally follows. We need to see what transitional arrangements will be in place. We need to ensure not only that the valuation office has capacity and is encouraged to deal with the backlog of 60,000 appeals going back to 2010, but that it has the people to deal with a new revaluation in the appeals process that will come. We need to make sure that the transitional arrangements are there, so that those who are adversely affected are able to manage that transition.

As part of the wider review, we need to ensure that we are clocking the geographical shift in valuations that takes place with every revaluation, because if we are going to move to 50%, 75% or 100% retention, that will naturally have an impact on the financial stability of local authorities that are part of those schemes. If, after every revaluation, we see a transition to the values of London and the south-east, that will not help build the northern powerhouse, which is a shared ambition for everyone who cares about the whole of the UK benefiting from the country moving forward.

We also need a more fundamental review of local government finance. I really feel sorry for local government Ministers. It is not right that the Treasury often has a closed mind to their funding issues, that they are told to deal with the envelope of money that they have, and that they are always last in the queue, behind the NHS, the police service and other more pressing Departments. The truth is that, if we do not get this right, older people will not get the care they need, younger people will be put at risk, and, critically for democracy, people will question why they are paying more and more council tax for less and less of the neighbourhood services that everybody enjoys universally. We on the Labour Benches will be holding our own review.

I thank the Minister for his approach this Bill, and I look forward to scrutinising it through the transitional arrangements as we approach the revaluation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.