Mark made the following contribution to the Local Government Finance Bill which makes provision for non-domestic rating; grants to local authorities; and council tax.
Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I am sure Mr Jones will be glad to hear that I am not speaking just to protect the ratepayers and businesses in Westminster.
This has been a worthwhile debate. I appreciate that the amendments were tabled for probing purposes, and I hope the Minister will elucidate precisely what the context of the word “disproportionate” is. I suspect I agree with my hon. Friend Mr Syms that the context will change over a number of years, and that this is not a one-off opportunity for ministerial diktat to determine that money should be taken away from a local authority when there is a big change in one particular year for the reasons that were given.
I wanted to make a much more fundamental point. I appreciate that the Bill will go to another place. I suspect much of the real scrutiny will take place there and I hope that, by that time, we will have details on precisely what regulations will apply to each and every local authority. It shames the House that so much legislation is skated through it. That is partly because of guillotines, which have been around for the 11 years that I have been a Member of this place. We can also see that so much important scrutiny of the Welfare Reform Bill is taking place in another place because there is not quite the same pressure on time there.
I hope the Minister satisfies us when he responds to what has been said because some valid points have been made. I am fairly confident that we are looking in disproportionate terms at exceptional circumstances, and I think that the context will become clear over a longer period, but it would be useful to have that confirmed by the Minister. I hope he will also confirm that we will have at least draft regulations brought forward as soon as possible, because otherwise there will be the eternal suspicion—only a suspicion and nothing more—that the Department will utilise huge discretionary powers, when if localism means anything, it means a devolution down of powers. That underlines what the Bill is trying to achieve—to incentivise local authorities. That can happen only if there are regulations that will be met with confidence across the political divide within local government.