HL Deb 30 March 2001 vol 624 cc584-5

2.7 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order allows a mandatory 50 per cent rate relief to a pub or petrol filling station in a village with a population of up to 3,000 provided it is the sole such outlet in the village and has a rateable value of up to £9,000.

The order will provide support to these businesses where they are the last such outlets in a rural settlement. It is intended to help ensure that isolated settlements continue to have access to essential community services. It was first proposed last September in the local government finance Green Paper and has been revised in the light of responses to that consultation. This additional help to rural communities will be even more welcome at this particularly difficult time.

Last September we published the Green Paper Modernising Local Government Finance. It included a proposal to extend the 50 per cent mandatory element of village shops rate relief scheme to certain pubs, petrol filling stations and food shops. the order will implement the relief for pubs and petrol filling stations. Primary legislation is needed to extend it to food shops. That is contained in the Rating, (Former Agriculture Premises and Rural Shops) Bill introduced on 16th March.

All small businesses in designated villages with populations below 3,000 are already eligible for discretionary rate relief of up to 100 per cent, providing that the local authority feels they are of benefit to the community. In addition, the existing legislation specifies that the sole general store or post office with rateable values of up to £6,000 should receive 50 per cent mandatory relief which the local authority may top up to 100 per cent.

The Green Paper proposed that the mandatory relief should also be given to singly owned pubs and petrol stations that were either the sole retail outlet or also provided a community service, such as cash-back facilities or meetings rooms, and that had a rateable value of no more than £6,000. That proposal was widely welcomed, although there were some concerns over the detail which, in some cases, was felt to be too restrictive.

In the light of these comments, under the order there will be no restrictions on ownership and no requirement to provide specific community services. Where there is just one pub or petrol filling station in a village, it is, in itself, providing a service to the community which is worthy of support. Increasing the rateable value threshold to £9,000 reflects that pubs and petrol stations tend to occupy larger premises than shops.

Although this measure is not directly related to the foot and mouth disease outbreak, it will provide additional help to these important rural businesses in the short term and secure services to village communities in the longer term.

Our proposal to extend mandatory relief to all food shops with rateable values of up to £6,000 in qualifying villages will require primary legislation. That is because it cuts across the provisions in the Act limiting mandatory relief to the sole general store selling mainly food and household goods. The Bill will also implement a scheme of rate relief for new small-scale farm diversification enterprises. That was first proposed last March in the action plan for farming and last summer and autumn was the subject of consultation. It will provide 50 per cent mandatory relief for premises with rateable values up to £6,000 for a five-year period where they previously benefited from the agricultural exemption from rates. Local authorities can top up the relief to 100 per cent of the rates bill. That will help farmers move into other activities by reducing the costs of so doing. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, as the order affects beneficially small rural areas we have no difficulty in supporting it. I hope very much that in the not too distant future one of the Minister's colleagues will be able to say that such similar help will be given to the farmers who are suffering so grievously from the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thought that I made clear that the Government have proposals that involve legislation which will help farmers. I am sure the House would not like me to detain it by going through the list of proposals. There have been a great many measures undertaken. I will ask that the noble Baroness is sent a copy of the measures being undertaken to help farmers.

On Question, Motion agreed to.