Lord Trimble opposes government proposals for Rates Changes

Lord Trimble: My Lords, I rise primarily to support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. He read extracts from letters that a number of us have received from the various parties in Northern Ireland. They have come from five political parties in Northern Ireland and are very clear: four of them specifically request your Lordships to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, because it is a fatal amendment and because they do not wish the order to be passed in this House tonight. I believe that the omission in the case of the fifth party is purely inadvertent because I am sure that it is equally opposed to the passing of this order. That is our position also.

I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. He made a very strong case against the order. He gave very good examples of its impact, particularly his comparison with what the Prime Minister would be paying on his property were it to apply to him. The Fair Rates Campaign brought to our attention the case of a pensioner who now faces a bill of £14,000 per annum. These rates are penal. With the greatest respect, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that it is no good bandying figures about gainers and losers when some people will be subject to absolutely penal rates.

The absence of a cap is utterly and totally indefensible. It is a simple matter of citizenship, fairness and equity when such caps exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom and we have a system brought in which, together with the rapid changes there have been in capital values in recent years, will have a hugely penal effect on some people. It will not have as much effect on me as it will on others. My house is not as grand as others and I might not be too badly off. I think I might face an increase of only around30 to 40 per cent—but that is nothing compared to what some noble Lords sitting not very far away from me are facing.

I was less than satisfied by the response of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to the question of what happens if one takes out of these figures those whose rates are paid for by others. The question was raised in Grand Committee and I thought that by the time the issue came here the Minister would have equivalent figures. I am sorry that we did not get them. Instead, we have a figure which rather gilds the lily. On his figures, as given in the Grand Committee, there are said to be 55 per cent gainers but he gets it up to 68 per cent by including those who are only losing a little. The ones who are losing a little are not gainers—a simple point—and the balance between advantage and disadvantage is very narrow. In any event, it is quite indefensible to bring this forward when it has such an unfair impact. As I said, the Northern Ireland parties have made their position clear: they do not want this order to pass.

The review started under the Northern Ireland Assembly when I was First Minister. I can assure the House that had the review been completed while I was First Minister this would not have happened; we would not have had it in this form. Yes, changes would have been made—and they might even have been made by reference to capital values—but the legislation would not have come forward in this form. Of that I am absolutely sure, just as I am absolutely sure that the review of public administration which I started would have come out with a very different result from that which occurred after we had direct rule and after the rats got at it. In case anyone should misinterpret that particular comment, I should say that I am not referring to anyone present.

I am indebted to Mr David Ford for my final point. He will be surprised by that phrase, but that is by the way. He makes the point that if the proposed changes are revenue-neutral, Her Majesty’s Treasury should not object to a postponement. The reason for objecting to a postponement is because of the administrative difficulties, which leaves one with the mind-boggling suggestion that civil servants, for once, are unable to continue doing what they have been doing up until now. I have never encountered this situation before—it is truly remarkable—and I do not think it is a good enough reason for not allowing the democratic principle to apply.

That democratic principle is absolutely clear: the Minister is introducing this order without a single shred of democratic validity or authority for his proposal. The authority and democratic validity lies in the opposite direction, primarily with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, which we will support.

I have spoken for much longer than I intended. Given the hour and the circumstances, the longer the debate goes on the fewer noble Lords there will be around to vote, so I will bring my remarks to a conclusion.

(November 8th, 2006)

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