That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the more effective recovery of rates and to consolidate existing measures relating to the making and recovering of rates and miscellaneous provisions relating to valuation.
All of us in the House know very well the difficulties in which the business sector now finds itself. Having cut back on various costs and expenses, the single cost it cannot cut back is that of the payment of rates to the local authorities. On the other side, the local authorities have a very inflexible system without any clear definition.
The history of the legislation goes back to 1838, with the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act, and 15 other statutes also deal with the issue. The Bill attempts to give an opportunity to newly established small businesses to pay a reduced level of rate to the local authorities to give them an opportunity to start up and allow the cost of rates to be at least somewhat flexible. It would clear the way for the subsequent occupier clause. Under the Bill the occupier in possession would be dealt with rather than the landlord in terms of the rates due to a local authority. It would also allow a local authority to pursue the matter further through the courts to collect any rate which might be outstanding. The Bill deals with the issues which have emerged for local authorities and the person or company paying the rates, who are on either side of the argument. Given the fact the current method of collection is based on legislation dating back to 1838, the anomalies which exist, the pressures for businesses and with regard to costs, the matter needs to be reformed. The Bill also provides for a coherent mechanism for reviewing all aspects of the rating process and for the collection of rates. It is in line with the requirements of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Bill contains a number of sections. I ask the Government to examine the contents of the Bill and, if it is not happy with it, to bring forward a different Bill or create debate on the matter in order that the issues facing the SME sector and all those paying rates can be dealt with in such a way as to give them a break and give local authorities the flexibility to reduce rates and allow a uniform system throughout the country whereby rates can be reduced in cases where not all of a premises is being used relative to the size of a commercial property being used.
The Bill also deals with the issue of licensing authorities and properties which are not rateable. Should such a property get a licence it becomes a rateable property. Anomalies such as this exist in the current system and nobody is able to get over them. Dealing with this issue is not rocket science. It is not something which needs to be delayed in any way with regard to the income from commercial rates for the Exchequer or local authorities. A balance can be struck between collecting enough money to provide services while not collecting them to the extent those paying rates are penalised. It is the biggest issue in business and I ask that it be addressed. If the Government is not bringing forward its own Bill I suggest it uses this Bill, with amendments, and allow it to go through the House.