All 16 Lords Chamber debates in the Lords on 20th Mar 2023

House of Lords

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Monday 20 March 2023
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Community Pharmacies

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:36
Tabled by
Baroness Cumberlege Portrait Baroness Cumberlege
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have for making the best use of community pharmacies.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con)
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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my noble friend Lady Cumberlege’s name on the Order Paper.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, community pharmacies make a vital contribution to the provision of primary care. The Government and the sector continue to implement their vision, agreed in 2019, to make better use of the skills and expertise of community pharmacy teams. This aims to develop the role of community pharmacy in managing demand for urgent care, supporting optimal use of medicines and prevention and detection services. We continue to explore what else community pharmacy could be commissioned to do.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con)
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Is my noble friend aware that, since 2015, funding for community pharmacies has been cut by around 30% and around 720 pharmacies have closed? Many pharmacies have had to reduce their hours and provide prescriptions and other services at a loss. The NHS estimates that 6% of all GP consultations could be transferred to community pharmacies; however, this service is limited due to unnecessary bureaucracy, requiring patients to be referred by their GP. Can my noble friend please confirm whether the Government will enter into discussions with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee to look at introducing a fairly funded “pharmacy first” service as soon as possible, to help to relieve GPs’ workload?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that important question regarding pharmacies. Although we are yet to label our service offer as “pharmacy first”, we have already introduced and funded a range of services in community pharmacy that make use of the clinical skills of pharmacy teams and take the pressure off GPs and other parts of the NHS. We continue to discuss with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee how the Government can best support community pharmacies and the sector to provide services to patients.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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Due to government policy, primary care networks are recruiting pharmacists from community settings. In January 2023, it was confirmed that about 4,100 pharmacies have been recruited into PCNs, with a large proportion of those being recruited from community pharmacy. Community pharmacy owners are now becoming more dependent on locum pharmacists to fill vacancies, and the fees have gone up by 80%. What will the Government do to deal with this problem as a matter of urgency to support local community pharmacists?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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Health Education England’s 2021 community pharmacy workforce survey identified an increase in the number of pharmacists from 23,284 in 2017 to 27,406. From 2026, all newly graduated pharmacists will have a prescription qualification, and we will upskill the existing workforce. This will provide further opportunity for the community pharmacy sector to better support the delivery of primary care.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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Of the 720 permanent pharmacy closures since 2015, 41% are in 20% of the most deprived areas. I cannot see how this squares with the Government’s vision of using pharmacies to relieve pressures on GPs and primary care. Both large and small pharmacies are affected, including those in supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco. Boots is reducing essential pharmacy services, such as the provision of blister medicine packs for the safe taking and administering of daily medicines by patients, domiciliary care workers and carers who look after elderly and disabled patients. How will the Minister address this issue, which stands to affect thousands of patients?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, 80% of the population live within 20 minutes’ walking distance of a pharmacy. There are twice as many pharmacies in more deprived areas. Despite a reduction in the network in recent years, there are still about the same number of pharmacies today as there were 10 years ago.

Lord Rogan Portrait Lord Rogan (UUP)
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My Lords, in answer to my Written Question last November the noble Lord, Lord Caine, conceded that

“This Government has had no discussions with Community Pharmacy NI about funding for pharmacies in Northern Ireland.”


In the subsequent four months, the crisis facing community pharmacies in the Province, which rural communities are so reliant on, has continued, with the future of some clearly at risk. I urge the Minister to ensure that community pharmacies in Northern Ireland are given active support from His Majesty’s Government so that they do not become the latest casualties of the political vacuum in the Province.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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Unfortunately, I was not in the House in November last year, but I hear very strongly what the noble Lord is saying about healthcare and pharmacies in Northern Ireland and I will certainly feed that back to the department.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth Portrait Lord Grade of Yarmouth (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, what has to happen in the independent pharmaceutical sector for the Government to realise that there is a crisis? This has been running for years. Independent pharmacies are closing at an alarming rate, as we have heard from other Members of this House. The Government seem to be in total denial. What has to happen for the Government to recognise and confront this issue? How many pharmacies have to close? Are they waiting for them all to close before they recognise the problem?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, there are more than 11,000 pharmacies in England. Some people know the true value of local pharmacies, but people do not always know just what pharmacies are able to do and how skilled pharmacists are at diagnosing minor illnesses. We want to continue to unleash the potential and make the best possible use of the skills and knowledge of community pharmacy teams to support the wider NHS. As I said earlier, from 2026 all newly graduated pharmacists will have a prescribing qualification: we are upskilling the existing workforce.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, do the Government recognise that local pharmacists may well be the people who know best of all who is seriously ill and potentially at the end of life in a particular area? They may have been involved in dispensing a just-in-case box for the family. They may know that that a patient is taking a lot of complementary therapies but, without access to the clinical record and a systematic way of feeding the information in, they become an add-on to the clinical service, rather than being able to contribute. They may also be unable to give really appropriate, targeted advice as part of the clinical team. Will the Government seriously look at ways of ensuring that community pharmacists can, with patients’ permission, access the clinical record, to really understand what is happening to these patients, who are very vulnerable and need good advice?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises several good points there. From my personal experience of pharmacies, they do have access to those records, but unfortunately that is not across the board and there is still more to be done on that front.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, would the Minister like to have another go at answering the question from the noble Lord, Lord Grade? I did not really get from him any sense of how the Government are dealing with the crisis in community pharmacy. There has been a 30% cut in real terms since 2015. As he said, many independent pharmacies are going to the wall. They are faced today with huge inflationary pressures, yet all we get are platitudes from the Government. When will they do something?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, they are private businesses and some close, some open and there are changes. As I said in an answer I gave earlier, there are still the same number of pharmacies as there were 10 years ago.

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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My Lords, what proportion of GP services could be provided by pharmacies?

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, we can anticipate that our Prime Minister understands something about pharmacy for obvious reasons. In my experience over some years, the opportunity lies in the hands of local NHS commissioners. The contract allows them to commission additional services such as minor illness services and, in the past, medicine use reviews, but they often did not do so. What steps might the Government now take with ICBs to encourage them to undertake more of the commissioning of additional services?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that very good question. ICBs are encouraged to do exactly what he says. I refer to an answer I gave earlier: from summer 2023, NHS England will start piloting prescribing services in community pharmacies—exactly as he suggests.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD)
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My Lords, the best use of community pharmacies will come at a price. Can the Minister give us an indication of how much that will cost? Has anyone calculated how much it will save GPs? If he does not have the figures to hand, could he put them in the Library?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness is exactly right: I do not have those figures to hand, but I will write to her.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My noble friend is aware of the work I do with dispensing doctors and the fact that they have a role to play where there is no pharmacy. Is he as concerned as I am that routine procedures, such as syringing of ears, are being taken away from general practice? Why can general practitioners not continue to do such routine procedures?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My noble friend raises a very good point. I have experience in my own family of GP practice doing exactly that. I am not aware of that being deliberately taken away but, if she wants to speak to me about a specific case, I will certainly look into it.

Police and Crime Commissioners

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:47
Asked by
Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have held with the Police and Crime Commissioners for Cleveland, and for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government engage regularly with PCCs and chief constables across all force areas. There have been no recent specific discussions between the Government and the PCC for Cleveland or the PCC for Leicestershire. However, there have been official-level discussions that I am happy to advise the House about separately as required. The Government recently responded to written correspondence received from the PCC for Cleveland on 9 February. The correspondence sought clarification on the management and extension of misconduct hearings, which are matters for legally qualified chairs.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I remind the House that for many months, through many questions, I have been trying to find out why a police gross misconduct hearing in Cleveland, announced in August 2021, has still not started. A former chief constable, Mike Veale—a man dogged by controversy, to put it politely, since he vilified Sir Edward Heath several years ago—is due to appear at this hearing. A detailed report on the complaints against Mr Veale, still unpublished by the Independent Office for Police Conduct following a two-year inquiry, preceded the announcement of this hearing 18 months ago. Things often proceed far too slowly where police misconduct is concerned, but this must surely be a record. Are the Government absolutely content for this hearing to be indefinitely delayed, perhaps never to take place? Are the Government absolutely content that the legally qualified chair, who has sole charge of this hearing, should remain anonymous, even though, in the words of a Written Answer that I received on 22 February:

“There are no provisions in legislation which entitle legally qualified chairs of police misconduct hearings to remain anonymous”?


Are the Government absolutely content that an autonomous, anonymous chair should deny the public any reason why this hearing has not started?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I refer my noble friend to an answer I gave in Grand Committee on 23 February, when I said that

“the Cleveland PCC has no power over the legally qualified chair”—

except inasmuch as he appoints him or her—

“who must commence a hearing within 100 days of an officer being provided a notice referring them to proceedings, but may extend this period where they consider that it is in the interests of justice to do so.”—[Official Report, 23/2/23; col. GC 494.]

That is the case here and, as I have said many times from the Dispatch Box, I am afraid I really cannot go beyond that.

Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, following on from the noble Lord’s Question, are the Government aware that the office of the Cleveland police and crime commissioner has delayed answering a series of relevant freedom of information questions on two separate occasions, claiming that it needs more time? Last Friday, on the last possible date allowed by the law, it refused point-blank to answer any of them. Does this course of action sound like it comes from an open, public-facing organisation or one perhaps covering its tracks?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am not familiar with the FoI requests that were put in, so I cannot really speak to them. I was very pleased to see that Cleveland’s most recent PEEL report, which was also published on Friday 17 March, indicates that very good progress has been made under the leadership of the chief constable, Mark Webster. The noble Lord will also be aware that the PCC, Steve Turner, attends the PPOGs. I commend them both on doing a decent job.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond.

Baroness Harris of Richmond Portrait Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of a police authority. If police and crime commissioners have been so successful, as the Minister and the Government claim, why have so many of them let their police forces fall into special measures?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I think I have partially answered that. I am delighted to say that Cleveland is starting to make serious progress on the engagement front. I have also answered a number of questions from the noble Baroness about police authorities before. For reference, they consisted of 17 members, nine of whom were elected, drawn from a local authority and reflecting its political make-up. The remaining eight were called independent members and were appointed from the local community for fixed terms. The implication in this House was that they were in some ways more democratic than the police and crime panels and police and crime commissioners. I do not think that is the case.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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Does my noble friend accept that, despite his answers, there is considerable unhappiness about this whole story? I understand how difficult it is for him but, frankly, it will no longer wash that an individual who has behaved in a wholly unsatisfactory way, as far as one can see, is just not taken to task. Will he agree to look at this again and find an answer for those of us who have been pressing for many years to try to get one?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I completely accept the noble Lord’s unhappiness—and possibly share it, because I have to answer this question on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the Government have no powers to intervene, as he will be aware, in the misconduct process. There are reasons why it has been held up, but I cannot say them.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, the Government have promised to make police and crime commissioners more accountable, because getting held to account only once every four years is not really enough. What exact measures will the Government put in place to make sure that they respond to the people for whom they are responsible?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness asks a good question. As she will be aware, we have passed secondary legislation to enact changes to the PCC voting system. This reform will clarify and simplify it and make it easier for the public to hold their PCCs accountable at the ballot box. We are increasing the transparency of PCCs by amending the specified information order so that PCCs are now required to publish additional information to allow the public to hold them to account, including their progress against the Government’s national priorities for policing, recent HMICFRS reports and additional complaints information. There are also recommendations to improve scrutiny, which I can go into. A lot has been done.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, month after month and year after year, Ministers stand at that Dispatch Box and give wholly unsatisfactory answers. There is deep concern, as my noble friend Lord Deben made plain a few moments ago, and as my noble friend Lord Lexden has made plain time after time. If the rules prevent my noble friend the Minister giving a satisfactory answer, one is tempted to quote Mr Bumble: if the law says that, the law is an ass. Will my noble friend try to do something so that, when he comes to the Dispatch Box next time, he can give a sensible and meaningful answer?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend finds it unsatisfactory. I think it would be unsatisfactory for me to stand here and make a comment that might prejudice a judicial inquiry. I am not going to do that.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and his persistence in trying to learn the lessons from this hugely unfortunate episode. Law and order go to the very heart of what a civilised society stands for. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, will tomorrow deliver a report on the Metropolitan Police that will give the police force yet another good kicking. Does the Minister not agree that it is not enough to leave all these things up to police and crime commissioners, let alone the Mayor of London? The Government have to take a central role in dealing with what is an ongoing and deeply serious problem.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I agree up to a point. The Government are taking a central role, not least through the review into the dismissal process that I have talked about before. I have little doubt that that will become a topical subject within the next 24 hours. That will look into the composition of misconduct panels, including the impact of the role of legally qualified chairs; more broadly, it will look at things such as the appeals mechanism and the effectiveness of the performance system, including for officers who have failed vetting. That review was launched on 17 January and was said to take about four months to conclude. We are getting towards the end of that process, so there will be more to be said.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister said he has no powers to intervene. He also said there is a judicial process in which he does not want to intervene. Can he give the House a date by which that judicial process will start?

Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, I will make what I hope is a helpful suggestion. Could the Minister not give a briefing to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and perhaps to the Leader of the Opposition on a privy counsellor basis? If there is some good reason, they could then reassure those who are understandably indignant about this delay.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am happy to reassure the House on that point. I am seeing my noble friend Lord Lexden this Wednesday. He chose not to mention it, but I will.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest having, together with the late Lord Newton of Braintree, presented the seven Nolan principles of conduct in public life to Parliament. Does my noble friend the Minister recognise that two of those principles, accountability and openness, are not evident in the responses he has been able to deliver so far? Can he please ensure that all holders of public office know that they have to be

“accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to scrutiny necessary to ensure this”?

On openness, they must

“act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.”

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I accept the question from my noble friend. Yes, they are expected to adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life, as determined and published by the Nolan committee. The office of the PCC is also expected to ensure that the PCC is adhering to the Nolan principles. In each force area, the actions and decisions of PCCs are scrutinised by their police and crime panels. On the case of Leicestershire—which I suspect is at least partly informing my noble friend’s question—I am happy that the standards are now being met there. They should have been met before, but the Government—as we have said before from the Dispatch Box in the strongest possible terms—expect that PCCs appointing to senior positions in their offices follow the process clearly set out in legislation. I am very pleased to say that Leicestershire is now doing that.

Council of Europe: Death Penalty

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:59
Asked by
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they remain (1) opposed to the use of the death penalty, and (2) committed to the United Kingdom’s membership of the Council of Europe.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a long-standing policy of the UK Government to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle, and we have no plans to reintroduce it. The United Kingdom is committed to its membership of the Council of Europe, which remains an important forum for our human rights and foreign policy agenda.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful, as always, to the Minister for his Answer. Noble Lords will appreciate that I tabled this Question some weeks ago in direct response to comments by the Prime Minister’s appointee as deputy chair of the Conservative Party about the death penalty, but also because of consistent comments on and off the record by Justice and Home Affairs Secretaries at the other end of the Corridor. By contrast, the Minister is a strenuous advocate for rights, freedoms and the international rule of law. Is this contradiction at the heart of government sustainable, let alone helpful?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, what I can say to the noble Baroness is that when I speak from this Dispatch Box, I speak for the Government and I emphasise and stress what the Government’s policy is, and that will continue to be the case.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, the European Convention on Human Rights is a core part of the Council of Europe—indeed, some would say the raison d’etre—yet there are persistent voices in the Conservative Party calling to leave the convention, fearing some blockage in the policy relating to boat people. Do the Government agree that if we were to leave, by design or inadvertence, that would in effect mean leaving the Council of Europe?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, during the Second World War and, indeed, just after it, Sir Winston Churchill was one of the key architects of the Council of Europe and that remains the case. I can do no better than to quote the current chief executive of the Government, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who said on 27 February that “the United Kingdom is a member of the European Convention on Human Rights and will remain a member of the ECHR”.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, having a policy is one thing, but there is also a requirement to be a strong advocate. As the noble Lord knows, I questioned him last week about the situation in Saudi Arabia, a country that last year executed a huge number of people—81 in one day. Can he reassure me that on future occasions when someone’s life is under threat, not only he but the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will stand up for this policy and urge Saudi Arabia not to execute people?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I assured the noble Lord last week when we discussed the tragic execution of Mr al-Kheir, we remain absolutely vigilant in respect of imminent executions such as those that took place. This was a tragic event and totally against our policy. I assure the noble Lord of my good offices and indeed others across government in making the case that, as I said in answering the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the United Kingdom has opposed, still opposes and will continue to oppose the death penalty in all respects.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, I accept the good faith of the Minister, and I try to avoid on these occasions autobiography in your Lordships’ House, but as Crown counsel successfully and defence counsel unsuccessfully, I have participated in cases where the accused would have hanged but for the abolition of the death penalty. Nothing in that experience ever persuaded me that capital punishment should be restored, which makes it all the more astonishing that his party should have appointed someone to a senior position who believes that it should.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I of course equally respect the noble Lord, and I listened very carefully to his question. I have quoted the Prime Minister, and let me assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has also articulated her view that the current sentencing is sufficient to deal with crimes of all different natures, including the most severe. She herself has voiced her opposition to the introduction of capital punishment.

Lord Bishop of Worcester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Worcester
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My Lords, in view of the comments to which the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has drawn attention, does the Minister agree that there is something deeply ironic about a society condemning the taking of a person’s life, and in order to demonstrate exactly how strongly it does so, doing exactly that through a judicial killing?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I am not quite clear as to the premise of the right reverend Prelate’s question. However, I do agree with him that when we articulate policies from the Dispatch Box in your Lordships’ House or the other place, we should articulate what those views are and what the law is. Let me say once again for clarity that the Government have no plans to introduce capital punishment domestically, and we will continue to oppose the death penalty internationally.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine Portrait Baroness Falkner of Margravine (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister mentioned his responses as of last Thursday, when we discussed the killing of Hussein Abo al-Kheir. We know that Saudi Arabia resumed the death penalty in November 2022 and that it murdered 11 people in March alone through those means. We also know that it has restituted its law whereby you can be executed for drug smuggling and narcotics offences—which, in some terms, are not as serious as you might expect, even in a country like Saudi Arabia. How many times has he called in the Saudi ambassador since the death penalty was reinstated in November?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, if the noble Baroness was present last week, she will know that I recounted I think at least eight or nine occasions on which I have been in touch and had direct discussions with His Excellency the ambassador for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, on the evening before the sad execution of Mr al-Kheir, I was in touch with the Human Rights Commission of, the Foreign Minister of, and, indeed, the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, given that the rights adumbrated in the ECHR are anticipated—predated, sometimes, by centuries—by the laws of this country, what does my noble friend the Minister fear would be the right we would lose if we were to abrogate the convention?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I think we have heard one of the points from the other side of the House. It is extremely important that the United Kingdom is a guardian of the rule of law internationally. We also make the case very strongly that as we ourselves have evolved, we hope that other countries have evolved. In 1965, I believe, we abolished the death penalty. We worked constructively with other countries towards achieving that aim. Of course, the conventions that we set up and create need to adapt and evolve, but the convention to stand against capital punishment and the death penalty is, I believe, the right one, and long may it continue.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare, as a possible conflict of interest, that I am a member of the Council of Europe and this Parliament’s delegation to Strasbourg. Last week, I was in Paris for a meeting of the migration committee. I am delighted to hear the noble Lord’s reassurance of a total commitment, but it does not feel like that from the point of view of the other parliamentarians I meet. Their comments about last year’s Nationality and Borders Act and our current Illegal Migration Bill suggest huge scepticism from them and the UNHCR about the commitment of this Parliament to the conventions of the Council of Europe. Can the Minister give me a little ammunition, since there are no Conservative Members on the migration committee? I am the only defender of British policy—can your Lordships believe that? Is there any way in which he can help us to rebut, qualify or put in a different perspective the current thinking, which is very radical, of the Council of Europe towards us?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Of course, I would be delighted to. First and foremost, in terms of an immediate response, I have already quoted my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I would be happy, as I always am, to meet with the Council of Europe and its members in advance of their next meeting to ensure that they are fully equipped with the lines they need about our defence of the ECHR and our membership of the Council of Europe.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Does the Minister anticipate bringing these matters before the council? Why, in his view, do countries continue with the death penalty, and does it in any way act as a deterrent against the very acts these people are being murdered for in any case?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Viscount that we consistently bring up the issue of the death penalty. Indeed, as he may be aware, in the universal periodic review that takes place in respect of each country, including the United Kingdom, we look very carefully at what the issues are and which ones we should raise, and we hold countries accountable. Many countries with perhaps quite challenging human rights records aspire to be members of the Human Rights Council. When you are there, you need to stand up for its values and standards.

Medical Devices and Equipment

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:09
Asked by
Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions have been held between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS Supply Chain, and healthcare manufacturers regarding the impact of costs pressures on the supply of medical devices and equipment.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
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My Lords, we are back to medical matters. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, the department and NHS Supply Chain hold regular discussions with industry. There is an established process for reviewing price increase requests, which is set out in the terms of agreement of contracts. Each request is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This Government are committed to working with healthcare manufacturers to secure value for money for taxpayers and support patients and care providers in accessing the products that they need.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
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My Lords, I think I detect that the Government acknowledge the importance of the provision of healthcare products to both the NHS and its patients. I refer in particular to operated medical beds and pressure mattresses, going all the way down the line to such matters as catheters and colostomy equipment—I mention those because your Lordships may be more familiar with that area.

I have two questions. Do the Government recognise that providers of healthcare products, mostly fixed-price products, have faced and are facing colossal increased costs, to the point that there is a real prospect that some of them will no longer be able to provide their healthcare products to the National Health Service? Do the Government recognise the importance of providers of healthcare products to the National Health Service?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his important question and pay tribute to his expertise in such matters. This Government recognise the importance of the provision of healthcare products to the NHS and its patients. In February, the Government published their first ever medtech strategy. Supply conditions are proactively monitored and officials engage extensively with industry to identify threats to the supply of medical equipment. The department works closely with NHS England and the NHS to minimise the impact of potential supply disruptions on patient care. The department has agreed annual increases on Part IX drug tariff products used in primary care, and an exceptional price increase request mechanism exists.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, on 31 January, the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Markham, told me in a Written Answer that we still have 118 million items of PPE stored in the People’s Republic of China at a cost of £260,000 every single day. That is a massive cost to the NHS, both in opportunity cost and the cost to British taxpayers. The noble Lord said that the Government would act rapidly to end this. Can the Minister tell us whether we now have any items of PPE left in the People’s Republic of China and what the total cost to the British taxpayer has been?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, the People’s Republic of China is not part of the Question and remit I have here, but I will certainly pass the noble Lord’s question on to my noble friend Lord Markham.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister may be aware of research that we have carried out showing that many hospitals are using outdated equipment, including X-ray machines that are more than 20 years old. What are the Government doing to ensure that NHS England’s advice to replace equipment such as scanners and X-ray machines every 10 years is being followed? What are they doing to make sure that cost pressures do not become another reason to delay further the replacement of this essential equipment?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I am grateful for the noble Lord’s question. As somebody who used to deal in such equipment, I totally agree with him that you should always have the latest, most up-to-date equipment. Twenty years sounds like an awfully long time in technological development terms, so I take on board exactly what the noble Lord says.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the Question talks about

“the impact of costs pressures on the supply of medical devices and equipment.”

Therefore, the fact that we are paying for the storage of PPE that cannot be used is relevant; a Question on this was answered some time ago. Would my noble friend the Minister be good enough to reply in writing and set out the current position of these astronomical costs?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I am most grateful to my noble friend for that question. I hear it loud and clear and will feed it back to the Minister, my noble friend Lord Markham.

Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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My Lords, one important set of healthcare products is the media which are used for embryo culture. They are widely used in in vitro fertilisation by different manufacturers, having been obtained commercially. Can the Government assure us that they are notified of the secret ingredients in these media? What control is made over those ingredients, which may have a detrimental effect, before they are used in human embryos?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point. I will certainly ensure that the department hears it, and I will feed back to him.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My noble friend will recall that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in this country was the leading regulatory agency for the approval of new medical devices, including 40% of the most significant such medical devices. What benefits for the authorisation of medical devices might stem from the announcement in the Budget last week of additional resources for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question. The Government’s medtech strategy, published in February, will support medical device manufacturers by recognising the importance of domestic production to support resilience and identify practical support. The good news that was articulated in the Budget last week can only add to that.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, rising cost pressures affect not only the supply of medical devices and equipment; spiralling costs are also threatening the supply of drugs in the UK, particularly generic medicines. What assessment have the Government made of how many drug companies they expect to exit this market altogether due to lack of profitability? What assessment have they made of the impact on patient care and NHS finances if the NHS has to pay an increasing amount for a smaller range of drug options?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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When agreeing contracts with healthcare manufacturers that stipulate fixed pricing the manufacturers have full opportunity to account for the inflationary pressures of their tenders. NHS Supply Chain has established processes, where suppliers can apply for price increases due to exceptional circumstances. It has accepted price increases where they were justifiable, and it continues to consider such requests.

Lord Porter of Spalding Portrait Lord Porter of Spalding (Con)
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My noble friend spoke earlier about the need to replace equipment in hospitals with the latest, most up-to-date equipment. Can he assure the House that, if it is serviceable, the redundant equipment will be put to good use? I am thinking particularly of Ukraine, where hospitals and kit have been blown to bits. We could at least send them stuff that we consider to be surplus.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My noble friend raises a very good point. Notwithstanding wanting to have the very latest state-of-the-art equipment in our hospitals, the surplus could still be workable and could be used elsewhere in the world, including in Ukraine. I will feed that back.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, it is reliably estimated that, in 30 years, the cost of the NHS will match 100% of GDP in this country. Can the Minister say something about what long-term strategic plans are being undertaken given the eventuality of the NHS simply running out of money and the country running out of money at the same time?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises an important point. As it is outside the Question and the remit I have here, I cannot give her a robust enough answer, I fear, so I will write to her.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, surely at the heart of this Question—and it relates to China—is that what we learned during the pandemic is that we were overreliant on supplies from China. The Government say that they wish to encourage alternative sources of supply, including from UK companies. However, we hear from those companies that the cost pressure on them means that they cannot invest sufficiently to produce alternative sources of supply. What is the Government’s approach to ensuring that we are not dependent on China in the way that left us so exposed during the pandemic?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Lord raises an important point. Unfortunately, we were far more reliant on China, not just in the NHS but elsewhere in our economy. However, contracts and framework agreements fixed prices to provide budgetary certainty for the NHS and to avoid the need for frequent price reviews or constant retendering, which are inefficient for the NHS and for suppliers. When I reflect on my business career, I know from that context that the NHS is a very good customer, providing security on payment for goods and services, working under equitable terms and conditions of contract, and being prepared to encourage the concerns of suppliers facing exceptional pressures. It is a very good customer.

Passports: Strike Action and Voter ID

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Private Notice Question
15:19
Asked by
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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To ask His Majesty’s Government (1) what assessment they have made of the effect of strike action in April on passport applications and (2) what steps they will take to ensure that those with delayed applications will not be prevented from voting in elections on 4 May.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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My Lords, His Majesty’s Passport Office is working to manage the impact of the strike action. We have comprehensive contingency plans. There are currently no plans to change the published processing times for passports in response to the proposed strike action.

A passport is only one form of identification which is acceptable for voting purposes. The full list can be found on the government website. The public do not need a passport to be able to vote. This strike action should not have any impact on people being able to vote in May.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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The current 10-week delay in passport applications is frustrating for travellers. The five-week strike will cause further problems. It will also reduce the number of people who have one of the specified forms of photo ID to let them vote if they have elections on 4 May. The uptake of local authority voter ID cards has been pathetic. During debates on the then Elections Bill, Ministers referred frequently to the Post Office’s ID requirements for collecting a parcel. Will the Government now consider allowing the forms of ID that are accepted by the Post Office, including bank cards or utility bills, to be used for voting, or are they really trying to suppress the vote?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord asked two questions. First, in relation to the Passport Office, the department remains confident that the 10-week service standard for the return of passports will continue to be met. As the Minister with superintendence of the Passport Office, I have been very proud of the work that it and its excellent staff have done in recovering from the massive surge in applications which followed the Covid pandemic. The Passport Office remains fully resourced, following a significant increase of more than 1,200 staff between April 2021 and last summer. Last week, 99.6% of standard UK passport applications were processed within 10 weeks. More than 2.2 million applications have been processed in 2023.

I turn to the issue in relation to voting. As I have already said, a passport is only one form of ID which is acceptable for voting purposes. Expired forms of identification will be accepted, as long as the photograph is a good enough likeness. We estimate that around 80% of the eligible voting population hold a valid UK passport. This increases to around 85% when those whose passport has recently expired are included. On the basis that such a high proportion of voters hold a valid or recently expired passport, we do not plan to change our processing times. As the noble Lord has observed, anyone eligible to vote who does not have an acceptable form of photographic identification can apply for a free voter authority certificate.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, we know that voter ID fraud among those who vote at polling stations is absolutely minimal. It is extremely likely that, even if people have photo ID, they will not remember to take it to the polling station when they go to vote. There will therefore be a considerable number of people who do not vote in elections if the Government stick to their requirement that everyone turns up at the polling station with photo ID. Will the Government therefore withdraw their photo ID requirement for people voting at polling stations?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid I simply do not agree with the noble Baroness. This Parliament has passed an Act to require people to present voter identification and that is what will happen.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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There is a simple failsafe. It is really important that people can vote and, having sent off their passport, they might not think that they will need it. But every time the Passport Office receives an application, it sends an email that says, “We’ve safely got your passport”. Attached to that email could be a little notification saying, “If you’re relying on this as your ID for voting, please make sure that you have one of these other forms”—or it could signpost them to the free voter certificate, which would kitchen-sink this so they can vote.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that suggestion. Great efforts are made to advertise the availability of the voter authority certificate. Anyone concerned that a document that they intend to use will not be available by polling day may also apply to appoint a proxy up to 5 pm on polling day itself—so considerable steps have been taken to address my noble friend’s point.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, has come up with a very practical solution to this potential problem. Can the noble Lord undertake to the House and the noble Baroness that he will look at her suggestion and come up with a more considered answer?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I can certainly indicate that careful consideration is given to these issues. As always, we will consider all the recommendations and advice given to this House, including from my noble friend.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, should we remind ourselves that photographic evidence has been required at polling stations in Northern Ireland for many years and that the system there has worked extremely well?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend, who is of course correct that paper identification has been required at polling stations in Northern Ireland since it was introduced in 1985, and photo identification since 2003, when it was introduced by the last Labour Government. It has proven to be highly effective at stopping fraud and preventing the crime of stealing someone’s vote.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, I will add to the last question and publicly commend the Passport Office—or certainly one unit within it, the international section—for providing an absolutely exemplary service. Would the Minister care to add to my positive remarks?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am incredibly grateful to the noble Viscount for his comment, which I will pass on. I am always very impressed by the Passport Office staff. Their work to turn around delivery times has been exemplary across the Civil Service, and it is most regrettable that the action taken by the PCS will imperil this.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, this delay in passport applications will undoubtedly lead to some people not having the relevant voter ID available to them on the day in order to vote. Another uncertainty is being put in front of potential voters. The Minister has been saying that people can apply for local authority voter identification, so I will give him some figures to show how minimal that is. In my council area of Kirklees—I have relevant interests—there are an estimated 4,000 voters who will need voter ID from the local authority. There have been 278 applications to date, many of which have been returned for lack of a good-quality photo. What are the Government going to do to make sure that every voter who turns up on 4 May can cast their vote?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I believe that I have already answered that question a number of times in the course of proceedings in this House and I will not repeat it again.

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that it is not only passports that are registered as a document of note for voting? Many documents other than passports are approved. Would he care to run through them?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend; he is indeed correct. Some 20 forms of identity document would suffice including: a passport—needless to say—issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, any British Overseas Territory, an EEA state or Commonwealth country; a national identity card issued by an EEA state; a driving licence; a blue badge; an older person’s or disabled person’s bus pass; an Oyster 60+ card funded by the Government of the United Kingdom; a Freedom Pass; a Scottish national entitlement card; a Welsh concessionary travel card for those aged 60 and over or disabled people; a senior, registered blind, blind person’s, war disablement, 60+ or half-fare SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland; or an identity card bearing a proof of age standard. I do not think I need to carry on.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, could the Minister say why the young person’s bus pass and railcard was not on there?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Plainly, that was an issue that the noble Lord should have raised—and no doubt did raise—during the debate on the Elections Bill. It is quite a long way from the topic of this Question, which is about the strikes by the PCS.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Can my noble friend the Minister, having gone through that extensive list, say whether the department has made any estimate of how many people do not have any of the forms of documentation that he listed?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Well, of course, elections fall within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities rather than the Home Office, but I am delighted to make that inquiry and write to him, and deposit the answer in the Library of the House.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is the Minister aware of the different political culture in Northern Ireland, and the fact that in the 1983 general election there were clear justifications for the introduction of some form of ID? There has been no such justification in Great Britain. The returning officer for Northern Ireland said that, after the introduction, it took at least 10 years for turnout levels to return to their previous levels, as a result of the introduction of ID. The Minister read a list; as a canvasser, I would not be able to read out that list to everyone on the doorstep—but the Post Office list is a very good list and it would extend the right to vote to many more people.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid that I do not accept that there is no need for the voter identification provisions. In any event, as I say, those matters have been approved by the other place and by this House—so that, I am afraid, is that.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, can I ask the Minister what he is doing, what the Government think and what assessment they have made about postal votes, because they are not monitored in the same way and ID does not have to be produced in the same way? Voter fraud instances have been higher in postal votes than they ever have for people voting in person.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid that this question, too, is an awfully long way from the Private Notice Question in relation to the action taken in the Passport Office. As to forms of identity for voting in person at polling stations, if the noble Baroness wishes to put a Question about postal voting, she can put it to the relevant Minister in DLUHC.

Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden (CB)
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My Lords, like many in this House, I am registered to vote in two places. I have had no information from either local authority about the need for voter ID yet. It is only a number of weeks before the election; at what point are people going to be informed by local authorities of both the need for voter ID and the ability to apply for a local authority voting card?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord is perhaps fortunate in that I received notice last week, together with my council tax bill for the coming year. I understand that that is fairly wide practice.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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Is the Minister prepared to instruct those conducting elections to monitor those people who have been refused the right to vote, and publish those figures?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As I say, that is not a Home Office issue, so I am afraid that the answer is no: I have not given that instruction. No doubt the noble Lord can make inquiries of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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European citizens are, I guess, allowed to vote in these circumstances, and they only have European documents. The Government may wish for these to be added to that already extensive list.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Yes, indeed; the noble Viscount is right. EU and EEA passports and identity cards are valid.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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The noble Lord asked me to write to him because my question was not apparently pertinent to the Question on the Order Paper. Could he confirm that he speaks for the Government?

First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Child Support (Enforcement) Bill

1st reading
Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Powers of Attorney Bill

1st reading
Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill

1st reading
Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Higher-Risk Buildings (Key Building Information etc.) (England) Regulations 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:35
Moved by
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 23 January be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 14 March.

Motion agreed.
Third Reading
15:36
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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My Lords, it is with deep regret that the UK Government have been unable to secure legislative consent for this Bill from the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd. We have also not been able to secure a legislative consent Motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly, given the lack of a functioning Executive. This is disappointing, given that the same approach was followed in the Trade Act 2021, for which the Scottish and Welsh Governments did recommend consent.

The Government have sought to agree compromises with the devolved Administrations. However, despite the best efforts of officials and Ministers, we have not been able to reach an agreement with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I remind noble Lords again that during the passage of the Bill and the deals it implements, the Government have undertaken extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations, including ministerial meetings, official-level meetings and meetings of ministerial fora, and there were 25 chief negotiator calls with the DAs regarding the Australia free trade agreement alone. In addition, as I have made clear in each debate on the Bill, I reaffirm the UK Government’s commitment to consult the devolved Administrations before exercising the concurrent power in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for taking through the Bill, which is a first for both the Minister and the country—our first trade deal signed following our exit from the European Union. The Minister’s enthusiasm for the Bill was always evident throughout its passage. We now have a trade arrangement with Australia and New Zealand. We will wait to see the overall and specific effects, particularly upon our agriculture sector. While the overall impact is predicted to be very limited, a factor caused by the huge distance between Australia and New Zealand and the UK, there were some specific concerns about certain Australian farming methods and the effect on small hill farmers in the UK. I suspect that these account largely for the failure to get agreement from the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

My thanks go again to the Minister and his team of advisers for their openness and, on this side, to Milton Brown, who again has shown good judgment in facilitating the progress of the Bill.

15:38
Motion
Moved by
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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My Lords, it has been a pleasure to take my first Bill through your Lordships’ House. I thank noble Lords for the constructive approach that has been evident throughout the Bill’s passage. We have had robust discussions and debates on the Bill. Likewise, I have had the privilege in recent weeks of engaging with Peers outside the Chamber, and I have benefited from those conversations, which have been in-depth and valuable. The experience, diligence and practical knowledge of noble Lords have challenged and tested the strength of the Bill and its underlying trade deals. I am sure noble Lords will agree that this provides reassurance to the public on the quality of our democratic processes, our accountability and the constructive challenge function of your Lordships’ House. It remains for me only to give a few specific thanks to noble Lords and others before we complete our consideration of the Bill.

First, I thank the Opposition spokespersons, the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Purvis of Tweed, for the constructive way that they have continued to approach the scrutiny of the Bill—as well as the additional work outside in engaging with our various high commissioners, which I personally appreciated very much.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for the valuable conversations that we have shared on this legislation and her continued championing of our important agricultural sector. I hope that she has been reassured throughout the Bill’s passage through this House of the Government’s commitment to maintaining our high food standards and safeguarding measures for this sector and UK farmers within both deals. It was due to the scrutiny of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we identified the minor drafting error in Clause 2(1)(a), which has subsequently been corrected.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley, whose knowledge, frankly, makes my job all the easier as he makes the points in my speech before I get the chance to do so. It is absolutely right that I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and all the members of the IAC for their considered input.

This has been very much a team effort. Behind the scenes, the extraordinary Bill team have put in an unbelievable amount of effort. My thanks go to: James Copeland, Thomas Bingham, Donald Selmani, Jack Collins, Alex Garcia-Pineiro and Catherine Ajani. I also thank my private secretary Sehar Shaheryar and other officials who make up my private office, led by Simon Moore.

Finally, I thank the parliamentary staff, the doorkeepers and the clerks for their professionalism and continued support and to your Lordships’ House.

The Bill provides a power to give effect to our procurement commitments within these agreements, improving three areas of our existing procurement legislation in the UK. We will see benefits to our public services and companies trading in these partner countries—ultimately, unlocking billions in government contracts in a more secure way than ever before.

In conclusion, the Bill will achieve the essence of our post-Brexit vision of Britain. Some noble Lords have questioned the presence of the Government’s trade agenda during the Bill’s passage. In response I say: here it is. These deals guarantee a global interconnectedness of trade deals, with the United Kingdom at the very heart of these new routes, meaning new opportunities for our businesses and citizens. This will result in new markets for our goods and services and new ways to travel and share our cultures. To our friends, trading partners, clients, suppliers, brothers and cousins in Australia and New Zealand, I say, “Hold tight! The UK is coming.” I reiterate my thanks one final time and, with that, I beg to move.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Purvis, who is, unfortunately, unable to be here this afternoon. We thank the Minister for his comments, as well as his patience and expertise during the passage of this Bill. We thank the Bill team for their help and support, as well as the Labour Front Benches and Cross Benches. We also thank Elizabeth Plummer in the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office, without whose help I do not think that my noble friend Lord Purvis and I would have been where we are today. We support the passage of the Bill and thank the Minister for his help.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on steering his first Bill successfully through the House—my congratulations go too to the whole Bill team. I am grateful to him for the time he took at every stage to talk me through. He knows of my disappointment that the Scottish Government have withheld their consent, and that this is not the deal that the British farmers would have hoped for; but we live to fight another day and I look forward to future trade Bills coming through.

Earl of Sandwich Portrait The Earl of Sandwich (CB)
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My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lord Kerr would have loved to be here. I am speaking on behalf of the Cross Benches. I was a member of the IAC until January; the Minister will remember that we had some animated conversations when he first came on the scene. He has kindly sent me a handwritten letter since then. I was sorry to miss the debate last week on agriculture but I welcome the assurances that he gave then. I am speaking now only to congratulate the Minister on taking this enabling Bill through to the end. I am glad that he has obviously enjoyed the exercise. He is not going to be one of those uncomfortable Ministers on the Front Bench, if I can put it that way.

I remind the Minister of one thing that we discussed: the need for HMG to develop a proper trade policy that explains to people what the UK stands for; that is what he was talking about just now. By this I do not mean a checklist but a framework for FTAs in which there is more mutual understanding, in advance, of the issues involved. This does not breach secrecy rules but helps the process of consultation with stakeholders—and there are many stakeholders.

We said in our report that the FTA was politically significant because it offered an insight into the Government’s vision for trade in the absence of a policy. Australia and New Zealand was a relatively easy start in this as we have so many common values and standards with them, but they are not typical of the CPTPP, which is coming quite soon and offers much wider challenges. All I ask is that the Minister and the department continue the dialogue with the IAC that was already started with the previous Secretary of State; as the Minister knows, it is an ongoing process, and perhaps he could confirm that in his reply.

15:45
Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the Minister for skilfully conducting the debates on this important Bill, which I think will lead to much greater things in our future. I want to put before him three issues, almost housekeeping issues, that have arisen during the handling of the legislation, one of which has just been mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

I declare an interest as a member of the International Agreements Committee, where the issue of trade policy and how specific or general it should be has been a matter of lively discussion. That is of course relevant to everything that we have been talking about.

I ask the Minister to keep the three points that I want to comment on in mind when we enter into future discussions on these sorts of areas in FTAs, of which there are going to be plenty more. First, the CRaG system—the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—has come under a bit of strain, and the question has arisen as to whether, when the other place resolves that something should not be ratified, the 21 days that then follow are enough to get the appropriate debates organised, or whether in fact the Government are not obliged to have a debate and maybe it does not fit into parliamentary time and the net effect can be that there is no debate at all. Perhaps that is an area that needs looking at again.

Secondly, the whole of the CRaG system depends on the assiduity, energy and powers of the committees. The resources on the clerical and research side of many committees, including all the ones that I have served on for 30 years, have been second to none, and have been particularly superb here in the House of Lords itself—but are they enough, given the size and number of the treaties that are coming through? We are not even talking about the EU treaties that are handled by the International Trade Committee; we are talking about thousands and thousands of treaties and agreements, let alone instruments, pouring through day by day. Today’s giant Executive generates a continuous flow, a cascade, of these things. Do the committees have the resources and underpinning that committees in similar parliamentary systems to ours, here in Europe and elsewhere, seem to have? Should there have been harder thinking about whether, in a modern society with a modern Parliament trying to hold the Executive to account, the resources of committees are the key—the physical resources, clerical resources, research resources and back-up, and the power to summon and so on. These are all matters of lively discussion that have arisen in this area.

My third point is a bit of a puzzle, but we are going to hear a lot more about it: the question of consent from the devolved Administrations. I need to have one thing clarified for me. I thought foreign policy was a reserved matter under the devolution legislation that we passed through both Houses. When the Holyrood Parliament refuses consent, I want to know under what powers it is doing that. As the Minister has indicated, that does not actually stop a Bill proceeding and being enacted, but it is a rather curious situation when, if the devolved Administrations have views on this, they can just sit there and not provide consent. Is it because they think Scotland should have some separate relationship with Australia and New Zealand—I cannot believe that is the case—or is it simply some inner procedural matter where they do not feel there has been adequate consultation? Either way, it is a very uncomfortable situation to encounter. My noble friend has handled it excellently, but these things sit there and require some hard thought if future Bills of this kind, of which there will be many, can be conducted in a reasonable way where Parliament feels that it really is getting a grip on what is happening.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I greatly appreciate noble Lords’ comments. I think I was so keen to get this Bill through that I slightly jumped the gun. I apologise to those noble Lords who were waiting to speak. I greatly appreciate the personal comments towards my own enthusiasm. I have hugely enjoyed the process of working with so many noble Lords in the first of what I hope will be a series of very exciting, exhilarating and profitable trade deals for the whole of the UK.

I have always been very specific, as have the Government, that this is a journey. We are very keen to hear how we can engage better. It is absolutely in the interests of the Government and these trade deals that there is a broad consensus around their power and effect to elevate our economy to new heights; otherwise, we will not be able to broadcast the ramifications and specifics of the trade deals to the country and people will not take advantage of them. Personally, I am continuing to engage at all possible points.

I am delighted to answer a few of the questions. In terms of the committee resourcing, I will certainly take that away. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for raising that. The IAC under the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has done a very good job. A number of noble Lords have spoken to that today and during the debate. It is certainly worth making sure we have the resources in this House to ensure we are scrutinising according to the appropriate CRaG process.

The noble Lord touched on the consent issues. They have clearly been an important feature of the debates around these trade deals. It does not necessarily look like we have resolved them for future trade deals. However, as the noble Lord rightly said, these are reserved powers. If you consult your Walter Bagehot, as I did over the weekend, he makes it very clear and is absolutely right that the Executive should be making treaties and be given the freedom of rein to implement them across the entire United Kingdom.

Having said that, we have made huge efforts to consult and engage with the devolved nations. I personally made extra efforts, which I would not describe as effort at all but part of a necessary process of good governance and communication, to ensure that devolved nations felt that they had a way in to this process. It is absolutely confirmed that our negotiators spend a great deal of time with officials from all parts of the United Kingdom to make sure that their views are fed in. This reflects on the sort of trade we are trying to do in terms of the specific industries of these nations. We are one United Kingdom, and our power in negotiating global trade deals comes from that fact. It would be a great mistake to try to abrogate that for any reason. Having said that, consultation and communication are paramount to us, and I personally commit to them.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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Will my noble friend confirm that the Bill is about incorporating into domestic legislation the procurement provisions and chapters of the treaty? Although treaty making may be a reserved power, the implementation of the procurement-related legislation reflects directly on devolved matters. That is why consent should have been provided by the devolved Administrations.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that comment. I do not believe that is necessarily the case, in the sense that this is a procurement Bill relating to a trade deal, so it is right that concurrent powers can be initiated. I believe that is the case. That is certainly how we have operated on the premise of this Bill.

We wanted to gain consent because that is good practice, but, as I say, we focused on consultation and communication, which has achieved the same goal. The whole point of this Bill and the trade deal it underpins is that it will lead to greater trade, more commerce and economic activity and greater wealth creation for the entire UK, which we should celebrate.

If I may come to a conclusion, I thank noble Lords for their extremely helpful scrutiny. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, mentioned. It proves the power and point of this Chamber. Any of the body politic who discuss significant revision of the powers of this Chamber should think very carefully about the actions taken on this Bill. Through the scrutiny of this House and the participation of individual Members, we have been able to draft a more effective Bill and draft it correctly, for which I am extremely grateful. I am very excited about the opportunities that the Australia and New Zealand trade deal will give us, our citizens and this nation. With that, I beg to move.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with an amendment.
Committee (6th Day)
15:55
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
Amendment 165
Moved by
165: After Clause 71, insert the following new Clause—
“Disposal of landIn section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 (disposal of land by principal councils), after subsection (2B) insert—“(2C) Police and crime commissioners and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime are to be treated as principal councils for the purposes of this section.””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment amends section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 to confer a power on police and crime commissioners and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to dispose of land held by them in any manner they wish. This power is subject to the requirement of Secretary of State consent if the disposal is made for less than best consideration.
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, government Amendment 165 and the consequential Amendments 508 and 509 seek to give police and crime commissioners, including mayors who exercise these functions, and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime the same powers to dispose of surplus land as local authorities.

The Government’s general principle is that public bodies should dispose of surplus land at the best possible price reasonably obtainable. However, we recognise that selling land at less than best consideration can sometimes deliver wider public benefits, which is why there is a long-standing framework under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 for enabling local authorities to dispose of their land for less than best consideration. Under this framework, the Secretary of State’s consent is required, but there is a general direction granting consent if the undervalue is below £2 million.

Prior to 2011 and the creation of police and crime commissioners, police authorities were covered by Section 123, but that is no longer the case. While police and crime commissioners now have broad powers to dispose of land as they see fit, there is no specific provision relating to disposal at less than best consideration. This perceived gap in police bodies’ powers was raised in the other place, and I know that this matter concerns the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Having now explored the issue further with the Home Office, the Government agree that police and crime commissioners should have the same disposal powers as local authorities. Therefore, this amendment extends the scope of Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 to cover these elected police bodies.

These amendments will give police and crime commissioners greater certainty that they can dispose of land at less than best consideration where doing so will deliver wider public benefits. It will further empower police and crime commissioners to act in the interests of their local communities. The associated consent framework—with consent to be given by the Home Secretary in the case of police and crime commissioners —will increase transparency and public accountability.

For the reasons I have outlined, I hope that these amendments are welcome and that noble Lords will support them.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the government amendment, which concedes a principle of public bodies—the police—being able to use less than best consideration for land no longer needed. I am unashamedly seeking to extend that, as a result of the MP for Twickenham, my honourable friend Munira Wilson, introducing in the other place the idea of enabling public bodies to dispose of land for less than best consideration. That was already available in a limited form but the idea here is that it is out of date because of the change in land valuations—that is what the Minister said.

16:00
There are two reasons for changing this. The first is for reasons of inflation in land prices. It is hard to arrive at a conservative estimate—conservative with a small “c”—of inflation in land prices between 2003 and 2023, given that an accurate analysis of the true level of inflation is difficult to ascertain. Secondly, it may be more helpful to refer to increasing or uprating in line with inflation, rather than referring to a concrete figure. For example, according to the UK house price index, average house prices across England have risen by 160% since 2003. Research by Savills suggests that urban land prices in the UK are still below their peak in 2008 and that greenfield land prices have only recently returned to that level. The point is that inflation in land prices is not necessarily the best or most accurate way of making these judgments.
The other way of doing it is by percentage difference in value. The Government’s own land value estimates for 2019 reveal that while the average price of a hectare of land for housing in London was £35.5 million, in the north-east it was just £1.1 million. There is a huge percentage difference and cash difference in land values across the country. What this is attempting to do is to create a fairer way of making these judgments about best consideration, as set out in Amendment 174. That is what we are trying to do.
I accept that the Minister and the Government have agreed that this should be extended to local police and crime commissioners, which is very positive. Our amendment seeks to extend it to all public bodies, for the reasons that I have explained. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, is not able to be here today. He is a signatory of Amendment 174 and has asked me to say what he would have liked to say, if the Committee agrees.
The poorest communities generally have the poorest public facilities of all sorts, including access to open spaces. Therefore, it is desirable that public bodies disposing of land do not further impoverish the community or miss opportunities for creating new local facilities because of the rules governing the sale of land. It is also vital that public bodies work in a more joined-up fashion, considering, for example, how the NHS can support education or social housing and vice versa. The NHS is a national body, and many of its facilities serve wide populations that go far beyond local communities, and it needs to take these wider regional and national health considerations into account when disposing of land. However, it could also be enabled and required to take local community needs into consideration. If the Government do not support this amendment, do they have alternative proposals which would ensure that the NHS takes into consideration local community needs, not just those relating to health, when disposing of land?
In conclusion, there has been a great deal of movement on the idea of changing best consideration to enable public land to be sold for community benefit. The Government have conceded that for police land. This amendment would extend it to other public land and has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who obviously has considerable experience and expertise in the National Health Service. He considers that it would be a very positive change to enable the National Health Service to be able to dispose of land no longer needed for public good. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
Lord Bishop of Worcester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Worcester
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My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name. She regrets that she is unable to be in her place today; I wish to make some points that undoubtedly she would have contributed had she been here.

As already indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the Government’s tabled Amendment 165 is very welcome. The review of Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972, and the correction of the omission of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—and of police and crime commissioners generally—are necessary and positive steps. However, there remain ways in which the general disposal consent 2003 could be improved to better allow public bodies to dispose of assets for less than market value for social, economic or environmental benefit. We believe that such measures would be very much in line with the Bill’s desired outcome: levelling up communities across the country.

Noble Lords will be well aware of the significant variation in land value across the nation’s regions. The introduction of a percentage value discount would help ensure that local authorities, no matter where they are in the country, could offer the same level of discretion when selling sites for community good. I hope that the Minister will therefore accept the proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for an adjacent percentage value to take into account varying land prices in different regions.

I also echo calls for the Minister to confirm today that the Government commit to launching a consultation on a new directive to update the current consent order on the disposal of public land. I am aware that Munira Wilson MP, who has been active in these matters in the other place, has received a letter from the new Housing and Planning Minister in which Mrs Maclean confirmed that the Government will take forward a consultation on a new direction with higher thresholds after the passage of the Bill. Is the Minister able to reiterate this commitment on the Floor of the House?

I also hope the Minister will accept the call by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for a new disposal consent order increasing the cash value amount in line with inflation in land prices. In her letter to Munira Wilson MP, the Housing and Planning Minister recognised that the current threshold of £2 million was provided in 2003 and that land values have increased over the last two decades. Amendment 174 would increase the cash value amount that public authorities can give a discount on to £3 million. It should be noted that this is in fact a conservative estimate of the inflation in land prices over the past 20 years.

To conclude, I repeat my welcome for the government Amendment 165 and urge the Minister to reiterate the Government’s commitment to consult on a new directive, create such a directive and accept Amendment 174’s provisions for an adjacent percentage value. I hope that we can continue in this spirit of co-operation truly to level up our country.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 312A in this group, which would insert a new clause with the heading:

“Duty to optimise the use of public land”.


As this implies, the amendment attempts to ensure that the precious asset of land owned by public bodies is put to “optimal use”. The amendment tries to do two things. First, it would place a duty on local authorities to have a land use management plan for sites in their ownership to ensure that developments are brought forward for the public good. Secondly, since the duty to optimise the use of public land would very often be exercised by disposal of the land to others, the amendment also seeks to define the meaning of the phrase “best consideration reasonably obtainable”, which governs sale of publicly owned land at present.

Earlier amendments in this group would extend the current disposal regime to cover police and crime commissioners, the NHS, importantly, and all other public bodies. This amendment seeks to resolve long-standing complexities and arguments over the treatment of landholdings by public bodies. I pay tribute to the land economist Stephen Hill, who has studied this question for many years, for his preparation of the amendment. He has been aided by Keith Jenkins, the property lawyer, alongside distinguished real estate experts, academics and leading practitioners who all have my thanks for their work on this subject.

An essential feature of the levelling-up agenda is the need to improve the built environment to create better places to live and work. Securing the land for improved conditions—for affordable homes, green spaces, local amenities, et cetera—is the key to this. The amendment’s first objective, therefore, is simply to bring more public land into play. It would do so by requiring local authorities to prepare a land use management plan, demonstrating how use of their land will be optimised.

This approach was advocated by your Lordships’ Land Use in England Committee, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington. Several local authorities are showing the way with land use plans. For example, the West Midlands Combined Authority has set out what is expected of public landowners; its public land charter requires those landowners to

“apply a consistent, joined-up approach to best consideration”

that aims to achieve “sustainable long-term” value for their land. Amendment 312A would spread this good practice everywhere.

However, securing the best economic, social and environmental uses when public land is sold has been constantly thwarted by public bodies’ acceptance of a higher price offered for the land by other bidders for what is often a less than optimal use. We all have stories of hard-pressed providers of public services understandably wanting to secure as much hard cash as they can from disposing of their land assets, even though doing so conflicts with efforts to improve the quality of life for local citizens.

I will use NHS land to illustrate this point. I have been involved in negotiations to acquire a redundant hospital building for an extra care housing development for older people. This use of the old building and surrounding land would lead to substantial annual savings for the NHS and care services, keeping people out of hospital and residential care as well as reducing loneliness and care needs. But the NHS trust was adamant that the sale must be to the highest bidder— in this case, a developer of luxury flats for overseas buyers—irrespective of the benefits to the NHS and care services that our extra care housing project would achieve. Very often, the reason cited by the public body for taking this line is that there is an obligation on it to secure the highest price, which gets equated with the “best consideration reasonably obtainable”. This is likely to mean the land is valued so highly that it prohibits a development that would achieve important social objectives.

Amendment 312A addresses this issue by creating the duty to go for the optimal use of the land, not the highest price offered, defining “optimal use” and interpreting “best consideration” by reference to constraints on the use of the land from predetermined local and national requirements. It spells out that this means fulfilling four imperatives: first, the requirements of the local development plan and the neighbourhood plan, if there is one; secondly, any national development management policies that will follow from the Bill; thirdly, the environmental principles in the Environment Act 2021; and fourthly, any other objectives or requirements determined by the Secretary of State.

In other words, securing the optimal use of publicly owned land must simply but definitively accord with national and local government requirements. The value of the land is thereby constrained and moderated by the need to comply with these legislative and administrative requirements. In this way, the value of the land is captured by the planning system for economic, social and environmental uses.

16:15
I believe this redefinition would help colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who have been trying to clarify the best consideration requirement since their 2018 planning reform consultation. When the Secretary of State appeared before the DLUHC Select Committee to discuss the Bill last June, he said that this was still an outstanding issue. This amendment unlocks that position. I realise that this approach is dependent on the existence of a valid and up-to-date local plan, which we may in future call a local development plan. The amendment’s outcome obviously needs all councils to finalise their plans before it can be made a condition in any sale of publicly owned land for the development to meet local requirements set out in that plan and, where relevant, in a neighbourhood plan. I sincerely hope that other measures in the Bill and in related guidance will ensure that local plans materialise for every council. A plan-led system without a plan goes nowhere.
I will return to the issue of capturing land value with later amendments covering privately owned land. However, this amendment—requiring public bodies to look at their landholdings, determine their optimal use and dispose of their sites on terms that make these optimal uses viable—stands in its own right. It would bring thousands of sites, large and small, into play on terms that make possible all the good things that local communities need. I commend the amendment.
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 312A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best. I declare my interest as a patron of the Community Land Trust Network, and a vice-president of the LGA. I apologise for not being present at Second Reading.

As always the noble Lord, Lord Best, has fully set out the rationale behind this amendment, which is quite complex. He gave an example of a redundant hospital which could have been used for extra care. When considering disposing of land they own, local authorities and other bodies feel that they have to get the best price possible. This often means that local communities are cut out of the equation, even when they may have excellent plans for a site or building. The inclusion of this proposed new clause introduces the duty to optimise the use of public land, which is quite different from getting best value or best consideration.

Often, local community land trusts are formed specifically to provide housing in areas which are either unviable for developers or on small and difficult sites. The local community has, however, identified a need for housing that may be of mixed type and tenure. For example, there may be young families wishing to stay in the area and, equally, there may be older people wishing to downsize but there is nothing of the right size in the area; it could also be for single young people wishing for a space of their own. The price of land is expensive and local authorities are obliged to get best value, which means going with the highest bidder, although this may not always meet the needs of the community. If local authorities are permitted to make the optimal use of public land, this opens up the availability of land for communities to have the facilities and homes that they need. I will try to explain this by giving an example. If a council has policies in certain areas—such as increasing social housing and achieving net zero—the council could then say, “How much would it cost somebody to develop homes on this site to achieve net-zero standards? What would the homes sell for or what would the rent be?” If this cost is deducted from the value of the land, you arrive at the correct valuation that will achieve the optimal use for the site.

It may be that a community is looking not for homes but to enter into a community shop run by volunteers. Both small rural shops and pubs have closed at an alarming rate over recent years; communities are now discovering what a valuable asset they have lost in terms of shopping at a convenient local venue and a venue where they could meet for a coffee and a chat. Perhaps a small local school has stood empty for some time, and it could be attractive to a developer. At the same time, it could be the saviour of the community in bringing residents together to create a much-needed facility for use by all ages. Levelling up is surely about the examples that I and others have given.

This is a complex subject but one that the Government are aware of. The Secretary of State received a letter in December 2021 on it and there has been subsequent correspondence with DLUHC. There were over 34 signatories to the original letter and the amendment is supported by various luminaries of the planning and real estate profession, including Yolande Barnes, professor of real estate at UCL, and various chairs and former chairs of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, including members and fellows.

The credentials of what is proposed have strong foundations. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has made a strong and lucid case for this amendment, which will make a real difference to the way in which local authorities, mayoral development corporations, Homes England and others approach the issue of best consideration for land, which should be a great asset to all communities. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Best, and other speakers on this group of amendments.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and to join her in commending the noble Lord, Lord Best, and his expert collaborators on tackling a huge issue for communities up and down the land, but particularly for some of our most disadvantaged communities. It is important that we put this in the context of where we are now. Since the late 1970s, about half of all public land— 2 million hectares in total—has been sold from public to largely private hands. That means that local government has 40% less landholding than it did four decades ago; the NHS estate is down by 70%.

What we have seen, as we have heard from other speakers in this group, is not just a loss of land—people might or might not have ideological views about that—but a loss of capacity, facilities, access for local people, and the simple destruction of what had been a public resource. I think of one of these that I visited a few years ago on the Isle of Wight, a particularly tragic tale. The Frank James Hospital had been donated as a charity—a beautiful, big piece of land. It was a public facility that over decades—the best part of a century—the public had raised money for and put money into, but was sold 20 years ago to a developer and is still sitting there rotting.

Closer to us here, some noble Lords may know of Caxton Hall, which was a huge centre of historical interest and a place to hold public meetings in the vicinity of Westminster, at one point fairly affordably—something that anyone who has tried to organise one of those will know is a very rare breed indeed these days. Now it is, of course, private flats.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, has hit on something really important here, and I offer to do what I can to work with him if he wishes to take this forward into the next stage of the Bill. We have lost space for political campaigning. We have lost space particularly for our young people—those public spaces were often where young people gathered and where they were not surveilled, overseen, and expected to spend money; they were just a public space for young people to gather. So much of that has been lost. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said through the ventriloquism of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, this is very much a levelling-up issue. When you go to the poorer communities around our country, the public spaces have been sold off, but they also do not have even private spaces that you could rent because there is not enough money to support that kind of private space. This is a crucial issue to pick up in the Bill.

I will briefly comment on the Government’s Amendment 165, which broadly concerns the principle of choosing to dispose of land for “less than best” consideration. It is an excellent idea. The example that comes to mind is of a police and crime commissioner deciding to give at very low cost, perhaps even at peppercorn cost, a piece of land that might be used to build a youth centre on—that facility that we have lost so terribly in most parts of the country. That would clearly be a very good thing for a police and crime commissioner to do, directly serving their mandate.

What worries me a little about this is the Secretary of State consent element, which is just one more centralisation. I wonder whether there should not be a range of local and regional bodies having an input, rather than it coming down to Westminster. None the less, I applaud some degree of progress.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an interesting debate on a number of important amendments. It is, of course, essential that these new combined county authorities and constituent local authorities should be able to use land in their ownership and negotiate with partners to use land resources to create facilities, regenerate their areas, and make best use of the scarce land resources we have. The other reason this is so important is that making best use of these brownfield and previously developed sites affords the ability to make environmental protections to those parts of the country where we do not wish to see development. That is another reason for doing this. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, also takes into consideration the fact that there may be attempts to frustrate development. That certainly struck a chord with me, as the saga of the development of my town to the west of the A1(M) has dragged on for over 27 years without resolution—but that is enough about my personal pain.

I welcome the Government’s amendment on the issue of there being no specific provision relating to disposal below value. This is a big issue for local authorities whenever we are looking at these things. I think there is a degree of misunderstanding about it in local authorities, where a lot of arguments go on between the legal side and the policy side about how the power of environmental, social and economic improvement works, in conjunction with the audit side of having to achieve best consideration. I hope that these amendments will help to resolve some of these issues. The ability to empower PCCs to include considerations other than monetary value alongside local authorities is welcome, although I will come on to some of the issues around that in a moment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, rightly pointed to the very steep price rises and the 160% inflation that is currently linked to valuations. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, channelled through the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised the issue of the assets available to more deprived communities and what we do about making sure that we do not exacerbate that rather than using the powers of the Bill to level up. Using the power of land to provide preventive facilities—as in the example the noble Lord, Lord Best, used—which will do long-term good for the community and potentially save long-term revenue funding for the public bodies concerned is a really important way forward for determining how the value of land is determined in the first place. If it is going to provide facilities for that community and save revenue for the public body in the long term, surely that ought to be one of the considerations we can take into account.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester highlighted the outdated nature of the figures currently used. This has been one of the common themes of the data used that we have highlighted throughout the consideration of the Bill. We must get up-to-date data here, otherwise we will end up giving ourselves problems that we should not need to have.

Turning to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, he made a very clear exposition of why the need to be able to make best use of public land—and therefore improve the built environment—is crucial to levelling up, and how the use of public land charters could help. It was interesting to hear that the work of the Select Committee had looked at that closely and determined it.

We cannot blame hard-pressed public bodies, which are so desperate for cash, for sometimes having to go for the option that will give them the most funding when looking at valuations on their land. Of course, the long-term solution to that is to fund public bodies properly in the first place—they would then not have to make those tough decisions—but we are where we are with that.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the high level of public land that has already been lost. We are where we are with it. The amendments in this group seem to me to be a good way of giving some options around how we can take other issues into consideration.
I was grateful for the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about the involvement of community and local community land trusts. In our debate on this group, we have already spoken about the link between local development plans and, for example, the public land charters proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Best, including how they might work sitting together, incorporating both national and local principles. However, we also have the neighbourhood plans, which are being promoted as part of the levelling-up procedure. Those plans being developed at the local level will also be dependent on the use of public land in some cases to deliver the wishes of that neighbourhood. All that needs to be taken into account.
There is one other item that has not been mentioned in our debate on this group of amendments but is really key: a huge amount of land that belonged to utility companies that were privatised many years ago is also sitting there underused and unable to be used for public use. Perhaps some consideration could be given to that in due course. The land belonging to public bodies other than the council, including police and crime commissioners and the NHS, should be available to deliver the aims of combined county authorities; that certainly seems reasonable, especially where those authorities are members of the CCA and will take part in the discussions around the strategic planning for their area.
Local authorities have such strong requirements on them to achieve best consideration for land sold. I am afraid that case law has shown that, where local authorities seeking the advice of professionally qualified valuers have taken other issues, such as job creation, into account, there is not always a guarantee that that decision will be held in law. So I hope that that sensitive matter can be resolved in the interests of all CCAs and local authorities.
However, generally speaking, the ability to use public land for the benefit of our communities should be right at the heart of levelling up, so I am keen to support the amendments in this group.
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for having participated in this debate. A lot of interesting subjects have come up, some of which will be discussed in greater depth as we go through the Bill.

Amendment 174 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, seeks to give NHS bodies and police and crime commissioners the same powers as local authorities to dispose of surplus land. Government Amendment 165 already addresses this issue in relation to police and crime commissioners, but NHS bodies are accountable to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and there is a separate disposal regime in place for NHS land that enables disposal at “less than best” consideration where it brings public benefits. We do not therefore consider it necessary for those bodies to be included in Section 123 of the Local Government Act. Equally, general disposal consent is granted by way of a direction issued by the Secretary of State. As such, primary legislation is not required to amend it.

On what the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, might have wished to say, as enunciated by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I believe that it is broadly in line with what the Government are trying to achieve. In fact, having listened to all the contributions, I think that we all share the same objectives; the Government just do not believe that we need to legislate quite so much in order to achieve them. So, although I appreciate the sentiment behind this amendment, for the reasons given above we do not consider that any further changes beyond government Amendment 165 are necessary.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for tabling Amendment 312A and for setting out the rationale behind it. It proposes that local authorities, mayoral development corporations and Homes England should be subject to a new optimal use duty when disposing of their land. We all want to see public land disposed of by these bodies being used to support long-term improvements to the economic, social and environmental well-being of an area. However, we are not convinced that this new duty is necessary to achieve this.

As the amendment recognises, local authorities are currently subject to Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972, which governs their disposal of land. Under the Section 123 framework, there is already a general consent which enables local authorities to dispose of land below less than best consideration when it supports the economic, social and environmental well-being of an area. Many local authorities already use the disposal of their land as an important lever to shape and improve places for the benefit of the communities, as the noble Lord acknowledged. We are not convinced that local authorities need these new duties on them to do this. As the noble Lord said, we want the planning system, through local plans, to identify the best use for a particular piece of land. Part 3 of the Bill sets out our proposals to reform local plans to achieve this. We do not think that a separate duty on local authorities is needed. In addition, it is not appropriate for the Secretary of State to impose objectives and requirements on a local authority’s land strategy. That should be a matter for the local authority to decide.

Similarly, mayoral development corporations are specifically designated to regenerate areas using land assembly, particularly to shape and drive forward development to maximise opportunities for the public good. Where appropriate, mayoral development corporations can dispose of land at less than best consideration that can reasonably be obtained with the consent of the mayor, as set out in Section 209 of the Localism Act 2011.

Supporting the creation, regeneration or development of communities is enshrined in Homes England’s statutory objectives, and it is proactively taking action through its land programmes. Homes England is already subject to a formal general consent, granted under Section 10 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, to dispose of land for less than best consideration from the Government. This provides them with the statutory powers to dispose of land at less than best value under the criteria set out in the consent. The criteria include meeting value for money requirements and the undervalue being for the purposes of delivering public policy requirements. More legislation to achieve the noble Lord’s aims is not therefore needed, but I appreciate the underlying objectives behind the tabling of this amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned indexation and the rising inflation problems with land values. We recognise that the threshold for the general consent is out of date, given the rise in land values since it was set in 2003. Following Royal Assent, we intend to consult on increasing the threshold. I think this was the consultation the noble Lord referred to, and which the Minister in the other place committed to, so that best consideration will be increased from £2 million.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about local help for communities. She is probably aware that the £150 million community ownership fund is being used to help communities across the UK value ownership of assets at risk of closure and that it is available until March 2025. On a personal note, I am delighted that through this route, in Pembrokeshire we have just brought into community ownership the local hardware store, Havards, in Newport. I hope that with that reassurance, and the knowledge that Part 3 of the Bill will significantly reform the basis for formulating local plans and hopefully reduce the time it takes to produce a local plan, noble Lords will not need to move their amendments.

Amendment 165 agreed.
Clauses 72 to 75 agreed.
Amendment 166
Moved by
166: After Clause 75, insert the following new Clause—
“Long-term empty dwellings: England - estimatesThe Secretary of State must publish an annual estimate of the number of long-term empty dwellings in England.”Member's explanatory statement
This means that the Secretary of State must publish an annual estimate of how many long-term empty dwellings exist.
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this group of amendments is important as it directly relates to one of the housing missions. This mission states that more first-time homebuyers will be created in all areas and the number of non-decent rented homes will be reduced by 50%. I agree that good quality housing is the cornerstone of levelling up.

We are in a severe housing crisis, with a lack of supply of affordable homes for young people and little opportunity for families to get on to the property ladder. We therefore must make the best use we can of the properties we already have and maximise opportunities for everybody in every part of the country. There are large numbers of long-term empty houses. The Bill as it stands will not give local authorities sufficient tools to start to get a grip on the situation, so despite the Government saying they want to act, this is a missed opportunity. We have tabled amendments on both long-term empty dwellings and short-term empty lets to see what we can do to help the situation.

My Amendment 166 asks the Secretary of State to publish an annual estimate of exactly how many long-term empty dwellings exist. If we are serious about tackling the issue, we need fully to understand the extent of the problem and which areas are particularly affected.

There are a number of other amendments in my name, and in the names of my noble friends Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lord Blunkett. My noble friend Lady Taylor has tabled an amendment to increase the maximum premium chargeable on second homes from 100% to 300%. This is a probing amendment to look at where the figure should be set.

My Amendment 171 would allow the Secretary of State to give CCAs the power to restrict short-term holiday lets, and my Amendment 442 probes the question whether local authorities may request that the Secretary of State limit the number of short-term lets in their area. My noble friend Lord Blunkett’s Amendment 172A would ensure that:

“No change in existing council tax levy can be introduced without an independent economic evaluation”.


Clearly, there are complexities relating to second and unused homes. We believe that local authorities need more flexibility over council tax premiums. Surely, it must be for local authorities to decide whether or not they will charge premiums and how much these should be, depending on their local circumstances. This has been a difficult issue for local government, particularly in coastal and rural areas such as Cumbria, where I live. Locals are often priced out of the market as houses are increasingly being turned over to Airbnb or continue to be marketed as second homes. This is putting even more pressure on the housing situation. Communities can be completely hollowed out when this happens. There are villages near where I live in which the majority of houses are second homes or holiday lets. This hollows out local services and infrastructure. We lose bus services, the local school, shops and pubs, all of which are threatened when the number of people living permanently in the community diminishes.

We believe that this Bill is an opportunity to create some innovative solutions, both through the financial regime and the planning system. At the same time, we need to be aware of any unintended consequences. Loopholes exist through which properties can be pushed into the business rates category, thereby avoiding council tax. This happens too often, and we need to ensure that these loopholes are closed.

My Amendment 445 would allow regulations to be introduced to license short-term rental properties. The Labour Party believes that one way to tackle the challenge of second homes in coastal and rural areas is to introduce a licensing system that identifies genuine holiday lets, as opposed to second homes whose owners leave properties empty while pretending to rent them out to holidaymakers.

The Labour Government in Wales are planning to introduce a similar scheme, which would also allow councils to set a limit on the number of second homes. I ask the Minister whether the Government will take account of what is happening in Wales and use it to inform decision-making in England.

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My amendment also highlights that some properties are occupied on only a part-time basis; they are let as short-term holiday lets from time to time, perhaps not consistently, or they may be empty for a period and utilised some of the time. The challenge is that this removes opportunities for people who desperately want to buy their own home. This is important, because empty homes, especially if there has been a period of bad weather, which we often have in Cumbria, have an impact on neighbouring properties: gardens become unwieldy and overgrown very quickly, in a matter of months, which can impact on the morale of the neighbourhood and on local house prices. Neglected properties can spread damp to each other, which must be a great concern for the next-door neighbours.
Amendment 168, in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and Amendment 168A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, are to do with the lead-in period in the Bill. Amendment 168 would remove the one-year lead-in period and Amendment 168A would change it to nine months. Councils and the Local Government Association have told us that they would want to use this clause at the earliest opportunity. As the Bill currently stands, the Government would have to give a financial year’s notice after the Bill becomes law. If the Bill is not law by 1 April 2023, the earliest the premium could be applied is 1 April 2025. I am sure that is not the Government’s wish, so can the Minister take this back to the department and see if it can be speeded up?
My Amendment 170 would extend the time that people have to make arrangements for their property following a bereavement. This is a particularly difficult time for many. I have been talking about the categorisation of houses and whether they are occupied, but there may be specific reasons why a dwelling is empty. My Amendment 170 would bring compassion to decision-making. It recognises that, when a family has had a bereavement—for example, a parent, but it could be a child or other relative—part of the grieving process is sorting out the house and deciding what to do with it, and whether to sell or to keep it. Homes can hold many memories and it can take time, especially if people live a distance away or have work or caring responsibilities. I am sure that we can all relate to such circumstances; in fact, me and my family and going through this right now. Allowing time for this is important. My amendment suggests two years to enable the process to be done with dignity and without extra pressures on the family. I ask the Minister to consider this very seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, has a number of amendments—Amendments 228, 263, 264 and 265—on second homes and new classes for holiday rentals. We support these measures. They would give local authorities greater powers to shape local housing markets and strengthen local oversight of changes in accommodation in an area. But we also believe that the Government should be making the tools that exist and are available now much easier to use in the first place.
I am thinking particularly of empty dwelling management orders, which basically allow local authorities to requisition an empty home and turn it into a social rented property. These orders are very valuable because they mean property can be brought back into usage, in effect becoming a social rented property under the control of the local authority for a period of seven years. They are most useful because they act as a warning shot to other landlords, and show what might happen to them if they do not make good use of their properties. The problem here, though, is that the process is lengthy, laborious, expensive and difficult. Will the Minister look carefully at beefing up the existing provisions by ensuring councils can use them more readily, and therefore bring more homes back into use?
Finally, I will comment on Amendment 294, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, which seeks to introduce a new use of dwelling-houses, enabling local authorities to maintain the stock of long-term rental properties in an area. We support the noble Lord’s amendment. The CPRE has done research highlighting the surge in the number of homes marketed for Airbnb-style short lets; I have mentioned that previously. When you combine that with the steep decline in the number of new social housing products, it really is adding to a worsening housing crisis. In areas such as mine, you can really see that it is having a huge knock-on effect for rental properties available for businesses wanting to set up in the area, which then struggle to find accommodation for their workers. We know that the Government want to introduce a registration scheme, and this may well be a good step, but we need to see stronger controls and better use of the planning system, so that local priorities are put first and foremost.
I look forward to hearing the debate and to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 294, in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, would oblige the Secretary of State to make short-term rental properties a distinct use class for planning purposes. The amendment is supported by the Local Government Association, of which I am, exceptionally, not a vice-president, and is based on changes made to secondary legislation in Wales in 2022.

A common theme running through all the amendments is the promotion of the country’s housing stock as a main home, either by raising the council tax on second homes or by using the planning system to control short-term lets. The planning system is not just about whether or not a piece of land is to be developed; it is about the use to which it is then put. For example, you need planning permission to convert a block of flats into a hotel. These use classes have been used to control changes that may be undesirable, and in a few cases they have been relaxed to promote changes between uses.

The Government have clearly recognised that we have now reached the stage where some form of control is needed if we are to maintain a proper balance between those who need permanent accommodation for rent and those who are making short-term visits. Clause 210, mentioned by the noble Baroness, introduced by the Government on Report and headed “Registration of short-term rental properties”, is a very useful step which I welcome. I also welcome the statements made about it in another place by Lucy Frazer, the previous Housing Minister. It proposes a new registration scheme for short-term lets, but this will not happen for some time, as consultation on the exact design of the scheme will not start until later this year, with decisions and actions later.

A registration scheme is a good first step but we need to build on this, as proposed in my amendment, and see much stronger controls. We need to do that if the planning system is to determine local priorities. We also need to make faster progress; only then will we see a better balance of housing options which will help families and young people who simply cannot find a place to live in some rural areas but also in London. Were she still able to attend, I am sure my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes would be speaking strongly in favour of this amendment.

A balance is important. Short-term lets can provide a useful boost to the local economy by promoting tourism where commercial accommodation is in short supply or very expensive, and they can be a useful source of income for those who do not need their homes all the time—for example, if they are away on holiday. However, we need a balance between second and first homes. My amendment provides a means of meeting that balance.

The Government’s legislation needs to go further by introducing a new use class for short-term rental properties, which, in turn, should be a precondition for the registration of such properties. We may not need to regulate short-term lets across the board, but making them a separate use class, as proposed in the amendment, allows full planning control in places such as seaside towns and the area just mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, where the growth in short-term letting has become a particular issue, or here in London, where there is pressure on the rental market.

There was a 1,000% increase in homes listed for short-term lets nationally between 2015 and 2021. That is 148,000 homes that could otherwise house local families that are available on Airbnb-style lets. In Cornwall, short-term listings grew 661% in the five years to September 2021. The county has roughly 15,000 families on social housing waiting lists and the same number of properties being marketed as housing lets. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, may mention his county, where short-term lets appear to be worsening an existing housing crisis, with nearly 4,000 homes taken out of the private rented sector and 11,000 added to short-term listings since 2016.

Currently, local authorities outside London have no legal means of preventing this loss of private rented housing to short-term lets. Several cases have come to light of people in rented housing in rural areas being evicted so that the property can be let on a short-term basis. In this context, it is worth mentioning the position in London as it shows a way forward. The Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 —I declare an interest as I was on the GLC at the time—discouraged short-term lets by saying that the use of residential premises for temporary sleeping accommodation for fewer than 90 consecutive nights in London was a change of use, for which planning permission was required, so London residents face a possible fine of up to £20,000 for each offence of failing to secure planning permission. That position was basically confirmed in the Deregulation Act 2015. I see some advantage in simply extending this London provision to the rest of the country.

Finally, there are issues here that go beyond my noble friend’s department. Holiday lets get mortgage interest relief; residential tenancies do not. Holiday lets have no minimum energy and safety standards, and they qualify for business rates and small business rate relief. We need a cross-government approach to get a coherent and better-balanced policy on this important matter. Of course, I hope my noble friend will feel able to accept my amendment. If she cannot go that far—and I see from her body language that that may not be possible—will she commit to consulting soon on building on Clause 210, with a view to getting that better balance between the use of scarce housing stock in areas under pressure and to helping families for whom private renting is the only option?

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I will address the four amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Shipley and comment on some of the others. We have already heard numerous examples describing why we need to address the issues around empty homes, second homes and properties available for short-term rent. As noble Lords are aware, some parts of the United Kingdom have already introduced measures to tackle some of them; for example, certification of tourist accommodation in Northern Ireland and licensing schemes for short-term lets in Scotland and Wales. Sadly, at the moment, England is being left behind.

I am pleased that at long last the Government are tackling one issue—the way in which some second home owners have gamed the system so that they pay neither council tax nor business rates—but many other problems remain. I live in east Suffolk, close to the popular seaside town of Southwold. With the recent growth in second home ownership and the rapid rise in properties available for short-term rent, of the 1,400 properties, now only 500 have full-time residents, while 500 are second homes and 400 are short-term lets; in other words, nearly two-thirds are not permanently lived in, and this has had a significant impact.

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House prices and long-term rents have risen steeply. Local families are being forced out and those working in the local tourism industry cannot find or afford local accommodation, so they go elsewhere. As a result, many of the bars, restaurants and hotels now have staff vacancies. As local councillor David Bevan said recently, soon people will not want to visit
“a soulless toytown where no one lives any more”.
Sadly, similar problems exist in my former constituency of Bath, with the added concern that students from its two universities are having increased problems finding accommodation. So I welcome the Government’s appreciation that something needs to be done. In their recent consultation on a way forward, they provided detailed descriptions of the problems and a long list of places where such problems exist, from Devon and Cornwall to York and Cumbria. However, I am simply not convinced that the way forward as presented in the Bill goes far enough.
On empty dwellings, as with second homes and properties for short-term let, we need more data than is currently available. So, on these Benches, we support Amendment 166 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. A partial solution to the problems caused by second homes does lie in allowing councils freedom to increase council tax on such properties. On these Benches, we have argued previously for a maximum premium of 300%, not the lower amount argued for by the Government; so we also support Amendment 167 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage,
The Government’s plans for registration of short-term lets are necessary but insufficient. We believe that a full licensing regime is preferable so we support Amendment 445C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as well as her probing Amendment 422, which explores ways in which councils could restrict the number of short-term lets in their area. However, I believe that we can go even further: hence Amendments 264 and 265, which propose the establishment of new use class orders for both second homes and holiday rentals. Adoption of these new use class orders—incidentally, supported by the LGA, of which I too am not a vice-president—would significantly improve data on the situation right across the country.
More importantly, when coupled with a licensing scheme, new use classes would enable councils to maintain, among other things, the stock of long-term rental properties in their area. It would give communities the power to decide their own destiny. We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that their Amendment 294 also calls for a new use class order, at least for short-term rental properties, with change of use to STL conditional on registration. I am more than happy to accept that theirs may be a neater solution—I am totally open-minded—but, clearly, we want to move in exactly the same direction. I also entirely agree with the noble Lord about the need for speedy action on these issues and not the rather long timescale currently proposed by the Government.
I am aware that, in its excellent report on short-term lets, your Lordships’ Built Environment Committee argued against nationwide measures of this sort. It argued that it should be for councils themselves to decide. Adopting such an approach, I believe, has two drawbacks. First, it would mean that we would not have nationwide data about second homes and properties for short-term rent. Secondly, it would mean that councils, which would not be able to get the necessary agreement to adopt and then implement such an approach quickly, could potentially be too late to adopt control measures.
After all, we have seen very rapid rises in short-term lets in some parts of the country. In Cornwall, for example, short-term listings went up by 661% in the five years to September 2021, while in South Lakeland there was an increase of just 32% in just one year. However, we will of course listen to the arguments and the Minister’s own thoughts. Whatever route is finally decided, there needs to be adequate enforcement—a problem that has been acknowledged in London, which already has some of the measures that we are supporting. It would be helpful if the Minister could share her thinking on the issue of enforcement and the possibility of strong penalties for those platforms that list unlicensed or unregistered short-term lets.
Given the importance that we in this House have rightly placed on neighbourhood plans, we have tabled Amendment 228, which would enable neighbourhood plans to include policies that related to the proportion of dwellings that may be second homes and short-term holiday lets under the use classes in the earlier amendments. I am aware that the powers to do so may already exist in relation to new properties in the neighbourhood plan area, although in the case of St Ives it took a High Court decision to confirm that. Our amendment would enable the control of changes of use of existing properties as well as ensuring beyond all doubt the power in relation to new properties.
I welcome the Government’s intention to address the problems that I and others have outlined, but I believe that the amendments in this group, including those proposed by my noble friend Lord Shipley and me, argue that even more needs to be done. I hope I will hear words of encouragement from the Minister when she responds.
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 172A in my name, but I want to commend the breadth of what has already been described in the three speeches that we have already heard. I strongly commend Amendment 170, in the name of my noble friend on the Front Bench, about bereavement; we have to be careful what we do here.

I want to make it clear that I am not speaking about empty property. I think there is absolute clarity about taking action to bring back into proper use, as either rented or owner-occupied premises, those homes that have been empty for a length of time. However, I shall touch on some of the complexities relating to second homes. I declare a very long-term interest from 1987 onwards, because I was involved in having to have a second home as a Member of Parliament, as MPs outside a radius of 25 miles of London will inevitably have to do if they are serving their constituency appropriately. Not all do so, but these days most see it as their duty to have a foothold, a footprint, in their constituency, even if they spend more time than would otherwise be necessary in London.

Perversely, because of the nature of our housing market, even with the new rules through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—which will pick up, on behalf of the public purse, the cost of second homes—there can be the very perverse situation where someone chooses to designate their second home in one place when actually it is their main home, because they do not want to be caught on their death in relation to capital gains, or when they move. There are all kinds of complexities that many people speaking today know more about than I do when it comes to the housing market.

I want to address the importance of the devolution of decision-making to local authorities, but with the proviso that those authorities are encouraged, in whatever way is appropriate, to do a proper research review themselves of the impact of the actions that they take, because the intent—and I have to say it is a very socialistic intent—of the legislation before us, in the debate that we are having, can have completely perverse consequences. Today we have heard references to short-term lets and Airbnb, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter mentioned last Thursday, and to holiday lets. They are very different, but all have very similar impacts in the short-term nature of those coming into communities which otherwise would have long-term owner-occupier or renting residents. I separate the two because there are already consultations going out—or pseudo-consultations—from local authorities across the country, consequent on and in anticipation of the passing of this legislation, which fail completely to distinguish between ownership and rent.

Of course, there are people with second homes who rent them on a long-term basis, perhaps on a lease, and those who are the owners of the property. In certain parts of the country, we have very large landowners who are landlords and have built up over the years enormous portfolios of rented accommodation. They are the owners and people are renting—many of them local people who managed to obtain a rent agreement in the past that still holds. There is a residue of old agricultural workers legislation in some parts of the country.

The perverseness I refer to is that, on many of these large estates, when accommodation for rent becomes available because the tenant leaves—for whatever reason—it is turned into holiday lets. They are turned into business rate, rather than council tax, providers, which changes the character and nature of the locality. Of course, many second-home renters or owners may turn up infrequently. However, many, not least because of the experience we had from Covid, are spending a quite lot of time in both their homes using the facility of being online and—if I might touch on a controversial issue—working from home for part of the week. This has also transformed the nature of how the impact might be felt at a local level.

I want to put on record that, although I have no problem at all with this, it is important going forward—and I hope the Government will bring forward their own amendment—we ensure that a proper economic and social impact assessment is undertaken by people who know what they are talking about. I am afraid to say this as someone who spent many happy years in local government, but many authorities, particularly small ones, do not have officers with the first idea how to conduct a proper research survey, never mind analysing it.

If we do not get this right, it will have consequent perverse outcomes none of us wants. The purpose must surely be to try to get as much accommodation as possible available for long-term local provision, either for let or owner-occupation, to keep the life of those communities going. If action is taken that has a very different effect and pushes accommodation that is currently available for rent into holiday lets, we will have achieved exactly the opposite outcome to the one we seek. As I have some experience of this and know what is going on, for example in the Peak District, I counsel very strongly that we build in guidance so that we get what we think we are getting, rather than the opposite. It does not matter if it is a 100% or 300% council tax hike if you get the wrong answer and it switches to national business rates. Neither local people nor the local authority will be the gainer.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I offer Green support for the general direction of all of these amendments. I will attempt not to repeat the tale of woe we heard, but I will make a couple of additional points and also pass on some good news, because I think we need some at this point. In the debate on the last group, I should have declared and put on the record that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

17:15
On the good news, it is worth looking at how great work done is being done around the country, on a limited and small scale, to bring empty houses back to becoming homes again. In Preston, there is a scheme called Making Homes from Houses, which has already refurbished 30 empty homes that, collectively, were empty for a net 112 years. The process is under way for 20 more. In Hastings, a community group called Hastings Commons has been converting so-called tricky buildings into homes and eventually establishing them as community land trusts. So some really good things are happening, but very much on a small scale. We have to understand that where we are now is not any kind of inevitability but the result of decisions and policies that this group of amendments collectively seeks to find ways to change.
This certainly belongs in the levelling-up Bill. According to the most recent figures I could find on long-term empty homes, the top five cities—Birmingham, Liverpool, Durham, Bradford and Sheffield—are areas where properties often may not have a very high value, so people just leave them to sit there because it does not feel worth it to do anything with them. By contrast, I would be interested to hear if anyone has any thoughts on what to do with what I would have to describe as the obscenity of “buy to leave” in some of the wealthiest areas of the country, where people buy what could be a home for someone and just hang on to it as an asset that they assume will appreciate, but never live in it or do anything with it. I wonder whether we could do something about that, because this is not a large group but it is a big issue in areas of the country with the most intense housing pressure.
On short-term lets, it is worth noting some figures that I found: in some areas, renting a home for 10 weeks through Airbnb can pay as much as a full-term year-long let to a normal local tenant. So we have an absolute market failure, and we need to intervene here to ensure that we get the kind of outcomes that we need, which surely should be homes being regarded as secure and affordable places for people to live, not primarily as financial assets. Of course, getting to that ideal scenario will require a lot more change than is proposed in this group, but at least here we are heading in the right direction. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, that some steps are being made, but they are not nearly fast enough.
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly about saturation areas and Article 4 directives that already exist under the planning system. I support the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath. It is important because it would enable neighbourhood plans to include policies relating to the proportion of dwellings that may be second homes and short-term holiday lets under a use classes order proposed by other new clauses in this set of amendments.

Saturation areas already exist and can be defined under the licensing system—for example, for outlets serving alcohol. They operate under the licensing system. Houses in multiple occupation are also subject to a licensing system, but, in my city of Newcastle upon Tyne, they now use the planning system as well, following a lot of work that the administration that I led undertook. Under the Article 4 directives, permitted development rights can be restricted where the conversion of a family home into a house in multiple occupation would continue a trend of making family homes very expensive to buy and not easy to obtain. Without those Article 4 directives, the nature of a neighbourhood can change significantly.

So I ask the Minister what the difficulty is, in principle, over second homes and short-term holiday lets. As we have heard, there is fairly widespread support now for giving local councils and local planning authorities greater powers to restrict long-term residential homes being converted into short-term lets or second homes. There is a range of principles that I think local authorities should be able to decide for themselves. They may decide that they want to encourage short-term lets and second homes because it might increase the number of people who are buying services from local retail outlets and local leisure outlets—restaurants, pubs and so on. There is some evidence in some places that I know that that may be the case, but surely it should be for the local planning authorities themselves to be making those decisions.

The simplest way is through the use classes orders that we have heard about, but the principle already exists within existing legislation, both within the licensing system and within the planning system. My noble friend Lord Foster said that more needs to be done, and that is absolutely the case. Whereas I would support a higher council tax payment for second homes—I think there is justification for that—I am not actually convinced that it will solve the problem. I think we have to use the planning system to resolve the difficulty we face, so I hope very much that the Minister will give further consideration to this issue, which is affecting so many small communities, particularly in rural and coastal areas. The time has come for the Government to act.

Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB)
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My Lords, I will get the guilt off my shoulders through your Lordships’ provision of the confessional: I declare an interest as co-owner of a second home in the West Country and of two short-term let properties in the same area. All, like the house I live in, which is in another part of the country, are legacies of estates that have been broken up and whittled down. Both areas have important family historical and indeed, in some cases, national historical associations.

Having declared that, I ought also to declare to the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, who mentioned the Built Environment Committee, that I was, until the latter part of January, a member of that committee, and very privileged to have been so under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, who I am pleased to see in his place, and before him, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. So I am familiar with the matters that were brought before us. However, I shall leave a lot of that to one side because there has been a bit of disaggregation in the groupings here. We have group 10 coming up, in which aspects of this will recur, and I find that quite difficult to deal with: I shall try to avoid getting up then and saying the same thing all over again and boring your Lordships.

While I have involvement with both normal assured shorthold tenancy properties and short-term buy to let, I certainly do not have anything to do with keeping property deliberately empty: that would be complete anathema to me, and I say so as somebody with professional training: I am a chartered surveyor and I know that all that happens with empty properties is that they deteriorate. They are much better occupied and lived in or used in some way.

I agree with the general premise that residential properties should not be deliberately kept empty for no good reason. I know that in some areas—the City of Westminster is one—there was a thought that foreign investors were buying up high-end residential accommodation and keeping it empty under the premise that perhaps it was less valuable if it had been previously occupied. It takes all sorts, but that is a particular situation. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Amendment 166 because there is a great deal of speculation about how many empty properties there are and where they are. They are not always in the places where people want or need housing and have to live and work. So, first and foremost, there is a distribution problem, along with a numbers problem. We need to sort that out, and there needs to be better data on that.

I would go further and suggest that the reasons why a property might be empty need to be understood before we set about making dramatic changes, either to the amount that is levied or to planning, although I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, that something probably needs to be done in some of the areas that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to—the hotspots. They are not actually everywhere; they are not in every town and city; they are in defined places. Even those who particularly object to the idea of second homes and holiday homes altogether on principle recognise—and the data seems to show—that these are in quite specific areas. They are not necessarily in holiday locations at the seaside; they can be in the middle of cities and in parts of Greater London. We need to identify that.

We should not underestimate the inventiveness of those faced with a surcharge, any more than we should fail to consider the equity of a surcharge where there is a genuine reason the property is empty. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, referred to that and I use the example of the Ds: death, disrepair, dispute, debt, decarbonisation and, of course, redevelopment. Sorry, “redevelopment” is not a D, but noble Lords will get my drift.

Another aspect is that if there are to be additional charges, is that for the purpose of rectifying some particular, identifiable ill or mischief that is occurring, or is it just another tax? If it is just another tax and it is going into some jolly old pot, I am not particularly keen on that. There needs to be some degree of hypothecation. If there is a demonstrable case—for instance, that empty properties affect affordability in a locality or are adversely affecting incomers who might be economically active—the tax yield generated should perhaps be devoted to that or allied purposes and not put in some general pot. Presumably the case needs to be made.

I agree that ultimately, subject to some sort of national framework and means of analysis, the decision should be for the local community to put in place—and not necessarily be dictated from on high. The authorities, having made the case, must accept that the principle stood behind that is binding on them; otherwise, we risk a rather unedifying and opaque state of affairs, where the power is invoked for one reason but implemented for some entirely different objective altogether, and I would not be keen on that. We do not need a knee-jerk reaction to all that. There needs to be a consistent methodology for assessing the nature of empty second properties or short-term letting, and the detrimental effect these are having.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, gave a graphic account of the issue, which I know from—

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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Before the noble Earl moves on to another point I raised, could I ask, through him, for the Minister to perhaps confirm that even in the current legislation as proposed, it will be possible for councils to add a premium on the council tax for empty properties? It would be for the council to determine how that money is used; for example, my own local council has already a debate on this issue and proposed that the vast majority of additional money raised will go towards the building of more affordable homes in the area—to address the problem that is now being created because of the empty properties and short-term lets.

17:30
Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB)
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I thank the noble Lord for his intervention, because that is exactly the point I am making about having a degree of hypothecation. In other words, it should not just go into the general purposes fund. I hope the Minister will comment on that, because there is a question of trust and transparency in this. If these things are to be robust, they will need that.

From my observations, I know that what the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, said about the instances and the impact in some of these hotspot areas is true. However, we need a bit more data to get the visible, empirical facts. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred to that, and I entirely agree with him. We also need to identify the likely economic outcomes of certain actions. Letting platforms were referred to; we need an analysis of how they operate for some bits of businesses but not others, because they are doing lettings direct or whatever it may be, to get some idea of how that is functioning.

There is a bit of incoherence here. For a while, conversions into residential accommodation in rural areas were often subject to the condition that they could not be occupied full-time. They had to be occupied, effectively, as holiday accommodation. Usually, they could be occupied only for something like 11 months of the year continuously, because local authorities did not want to give consent for new, independent dwellings in the countryside; there was an objective not to add to them, which I understand.

When I attended a meeting on second homes at Exmoor National Park, it was asked why there was a reduced council tax assessment for people with second homes. It transpired that only by having the bait of self-declaration could they identify how many second homes they had in the area, so that is how they did it. I say incoherence, because one really feels that the world has gone mad in some of these situations.

There is a good deal of misinformation about what is perceived to be the vast profitability of short-term lettings. When I had the privilege of being on the Built Environment Committee, I ran a little exercise, which established what I knew: that I would be better off in headline income letting full-time on an assured shorthold tenancy. However, that would probably be not to a local person but to some writer, artist or someone who wanted a nice location. The real reason behind this is that, if you are dealing with an old stone cottage which requires constant maintenance and a lot of refitting—never mind that you may have energy issues and things breaking down; things go wrong in old cottages more than they do in new ones—you are constantly in and out. The only way you can keep control of that is short-term letting, because you can take a week out and get in there and fix the boiler and all the other things that have fallen apart. It is really not for the faint-hearted.

When you compare the weekly headline rents for short-term holiday lettings with those of an ordinary assured shorthold tenancy, you are not looking at like for like. You are not dealing with fully serviced accommodation, where all the linen and services are paid for, and where somebody just walks in and all they have to do is buy their own food and go, with all the cleaning and everything else being done in-between. All that costs money. One of the greatest litmus tests of health and well-being in these rural areas is whether you can get a cleaner or someone to fix your windows. That is the real test of what is happening in the economy. With that, I will sit down and wait for group 10.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I will speak briefly and narrowly to the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in which he argued for a national registration scheme rather than one which, as the noble Earl said, the Built Environment Committee said should be available locally and at local option. The noble Lord’s reason was that having a national registration scheme would make it easier for the Government to gather large amounts of data. That is a very weak reason for what would be an astonishing intrusion into privacy and the rights of property.

I believe the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that a national scheme was preferable because it could be implemented more quickly than one implemented by a local authority.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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That was not me.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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I beg the noble Lord’s pardon, but I heard those remarks made. I am simply saying that I do not believe that point; any scheme implemented by the Government at a national level will take a very long time to bring forward, whereas in my experience a local authority, duly empowered and with sufficient interest in the matter, could act more quickly.

One of the important findings of the Built Environment Committee was that this problem exists, as the noble Earl said, in very localised areas. We need to understand the problem if we are to find the solution, and so we need to understand the very important localism and find locally tailored solutions rather than rush into a national scheme which would be applied to the whole country and would involve a great deal of resource being spent to no particular purpose. As the noble Earl said, we will have the opportunity to return to this on group 10, whether this evening or on our next day.

As certain noble Lords have said, there is an anomaly in the taxation of properties, depending on how they are declared. If they are declared to be residential, they are liable to domestic council tax like anybody else, but if they are declared to be in business use, which is what an Airbnb-type property might be, they pay business rates. However, business rates are not paid by anything other than quite large businesses; very small businesses do not have to pay them. Therefore, by declaring oneself for business rates, one then qualifies for threshold exemptions that are not available for domestic council tax payers. Effectively, one escapes any form of tax on the property at all.

That is clearly an anomaly about which it would be worthwhile the Government thinking, but it seems to me that the right way to address it is to change the tax rules rather than introduce a large distortion in the property market. It is giving us a solution at the wrong end; if the problem is with the tax rules, it would be better and easier to remove the anomaly from them. However, we will have an opportunity to return to this later.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, a widow in Thoresby, in Nottinghamshire, is currently being evicted by the office of the Thoresby estate, having lived for 62 consecutive years in a rented property on that large estate. The reason given by the estate managers is that the new higher environmental standards required of landlords by government mean that doing up the property to an appropriate standard would be too expensive.

Therefore, this widow—after 62 years of renting and living in the same property—is currently being evicted. If, as in this case, a multi-landlord—and a recipient of many state grants over the years, as well as lottery money—has not invested sufficiently during those 62 years to bring the property up to a decent standard, there needs to be leverage for the local authority—in this case, Newark and Sherwood District Council—to ensure that a failure by the landlord to upgrade a property over a 62-year family tenancy does not result in an eviction and the emptying of a property. If the amendments in this group are not acceptable to the Government, how will they ensure that some decency prevails and that there will be effective use of existing properties which will become empty under current plans? What precise leverage will they give a local authority to ensure that this absurdity and injustice can be remedied by the local authority?

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will indulge me for a second. I know he knows the area very well and that the Dukeries have very large landlords and estates that he has described. Has he any knowledge in this tragic case as to whether it is likely that such an estate would sell the property, having evicted the tenant and renovated it, or is it likely that it will put it on the market as a holiday let?

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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As reported in the last few days, the estate is saying to the local media that it does not have the money to renovate so the property will become empty. Over the years, I have seen on other comparable estates similar properties: properties in an appalling situation in terms of utility and investment. It is the failure to invest by landlords that is the problem. I repeat to the Minister: what remedy is open to the local authority to ensure that this property remains available for someone to use—preferably so that this widow of 62 years’ tenancy is able to continue to live in what I think it is reasonable to describe as her family home?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments concerns second homes, holiday lets and empty properties. I declare my interest as set out in the register as the owner of a second home in Wales.

In relation to Amendment 166, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I share her commitment to ensuring that we have the best-quality data to inform our policies. Indeed, I also share some of her concerns. I can assure her that we already have good systems in place; for example, local authorities report annually on the number of properties that have been classed as empty for more than six months. This data is published as part of the council tax base statistics. It is also used as the department’s measure of long-term empty dwellings that are published in the live tables on dwelling stock. This latter data includes the number of properties vacant on a particular day, as well as the number of properties that have been empty for more than six months.

As part of our council tax base statistics, we also detail the number of properties that are subject to the existing long-term empty property council tax premium. This shows the number of properties subject to the premium in each local authority area, broken down into the different levels of premium that apply, depending on the length of time that the property has been empty. We will continue to further refine the data we seek from local authorities to ensure that we have data on how many properties are subject to the extended premium, having been empty for more than 12 months. I hope that the noble Baroness is satisfied with that assurance on data that we already collect and propose to collect.

17:45
I turn to Amendment 167, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. The Government understand the concerns that a high concentration of second homes can have a negative impact on local communities. We have already introduced a higher level of stamp duty for purchases of second homes. We are also investing £11.5 billion into the affordable homes programme that will deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes. Clause 76 provides a further power for councils to use, enabling them to apply a premium on top of the existing council tax on second homes. This will generate additional resources for councils to reinvest, as they see fit, into local services and to improve the sustainability of local communities.
We need to ensure, however, that in introducing a premium, we strike the right balance. We must not lose sight of the fact that second homes can benefit some local economies and the tourism sector, particularly when they are regularly used as holiday homes. They can also allow people to work in and contribute to the local economy of the area, while being able to return to a family home in another part of the country.
I know that the Welsh Government have decided to allow councils there to increase the level of the existing premium on second homes to 300% from this April. That is, quite rightly, a decision for them. However, it is telling that while the Welsh Government are increasing the maximum premium that could be charged, only three of the 22 councils in Wales make use of the current maximum of 100%. The Bill includes provision for the Secretary of State to introduce different levels of premium in future, but it makes sense to see the impact and to assess the evidence of this new measure before we consider taking any further action.
I turn to Amendment 168, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and Amendment 168A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. It may be helpful if I set out the rationale for the approach in this particular part of the clause, and to make clear what it does not do. The clause does not require everyone who purchases a second home in the future to be given at least 12 months’ notice of the application of a council tax premium on their home. If a council has introduced a second homes premium in its area, it is quite reasonable to take the view that the purchaser would have taken account of that policy as part of their decision to purchase. Nevertheless, the Government believe that it would not be fair and proper to those individuals who currently own second homes—and who may have done so for decades—to be faced suddenly with a significant change in their tax liabilities without a reasonable period of warning prior to its introduction. Therefore, the clause requires that, prior to the initial introduction of a new premium, councils should give existing owners of second homes an appropriate period to consider how they might want to respond to the measure. They may choose to sell, they may decide to retain it as a second home, or they may wish to explore alternative uses.
As the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, demonstrates, what might constitute an appropriate period of time before a new tax is applied is a matter of judgment. Given the impact that the measure may have, the Government believe that a period of one year prior to a premium’s introduction provides an appropriate window within which individuals can consider their response. Once the premium is in place, it will apply to all liable properties covered by the council’s determination. Although I understand the desire of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to ensure that councils have access to these powers as soon as possible, the consequence of Amendment 168 would be that those owning second homes could suddenly become liable for additional tax, with very limited time to respond.
In relation to Amendment 170, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for setting out her concern to support those individuals who may become responsible for a home following a bereavement, and to protect them from the risk that they may become liable for a premium. It is worth noting that the council tax system already provides significant support in cases where a property becomes empty following the death of the owner. If there is no other liable person, no council tax will be due until the grant of probate. If the property remains empty, there is then a further period of up to six months following the grant of probate before council tax becomes due again.
Where a property is exempt from council tax, a premium cannot be applied to it. In such situations, therefore, neither a second homes premium—as set out in this clause—nor an empty homes premium, as provided for by Section 11B of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, can apply. The noble Baroness makes a strong case for a further period of exemption from the second homes premium in those cases where a property has effectively become a “second home” as a consequence of bereavement. I do understand those concerns; it is certainly not the intention of the clause to capture all those who have unwittingly become a second home owner in such situations.
The noble Baroness has set out the arguments in favour of a two-year exemption where a property is inherited, and I can certainly see that there may be a case for some further protections. I trust that the noble Baroness will be reassured by the fact that Clause 76 includes the power for the Secretary of State to make regulations to prescribe the types of properties that should be exempt from the premium. Those exemptions could be based on the nature of the property or the circumstances of the owner.
Before creating any potential exemptions, the Government would wish to seek views through consultation to develop a well-informed basis on which to make regulations. That will provide the opportunity for everyone to feed in their suggestions and to enable the Government to reflect on any exemptions from the second homes premium that should be introduced. It will certainly be the Government’s intention to make any such regulations before the premium comes into effect.
Regarding Amendment 172A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I thank the noble Lord for setting out his arguments to support his proposal for an independent economic evaluation before the introduction of council tax premiums on second homes. Councils will already be fully alert to the challenges facing their local areas when it comes to the impacts caused by large numbers of second homes. It is clearly right that councils will want to have reflected carefully on the merits of introducing a premium, and at what level, and also how they propose to make use of the additional resources generated by a premium.
I welcomed the endorsement by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, of the hope that devolution to local authorities should enable them to undertake a proper review of these housing needs, and of course this will be helped by having the correct data available on which to base these decisions. As always, the noble Lord made a number of thoughtful observations, including on the way that the use of second homes has changed since the pandemic and with the advent of working from home.
I am sure that, in considering whether to introduce a premium, councils will want to reflect on the potential behavioural responses that might follow. This might include some second home owners deciding to use their homes as holiday lets. Such steps would clearly have an impact on the potential revenues, and I am sure that councils will want to note that. The measures we have set out in the Bill provide councils with the discretion to introduce a premium, and at what level, up to the statutory maximum; it does not require them to do so. We believe that it is right to trust councils to make their own decisions on whether to introduce the premium, informed by their own knowledge and experience of the impacts of second homes. Councils will of course also have the freedom to decide how to make use of that funding.
Councils will be accountable in the normal way for the decisions they make, including the introduction of the premiums and any future changes they wish to make. As such, I believe it is right that we trust local judgments and avoid dictating what considerations councils should take into account prior to making any changes to the council tax premium.
I now turn to Amendments 171, 442 and 445C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, Amendments 228, 263, 264 and 265, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Foster of Bath and Lord Shipley, and Amendment 294 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. These are highly important matters for many, not least the communities that feel the effects of second homes and holiday lets most acutely. As such, although the final design of the scheme will depend on the views we hear in our consultations, in relation to Amendment 171, these are locally specific matters with a strong connection with the planning system.
Amendment 228 seeks to allow neighbourhood plans to set policies in relation to the number of properties in an area that are permitted to be used as second homes or holiday lets. Neighbourhood plans are an important part of the planning system that allow communities to shape developments that meet their needs. Existing legislation, and the changes within Clause 91 of the Bill, already allow for policies relating to the sale or use of dwellings to be included in a neighbourhood plan. Some areas, including in Northumberland and Cornwall, already have such policies in place.
The Government recognise the impacts that the proliferation of second homes, holiday lets and temporary sleeping accommodation can have on communities in some areas. We have heard, for example, the concerns of areas such as the Lake District, Devon and York regarding the impact of increasing numbers of short-term holiday lets on the availability of homes for local people and the broader community. I have already mentioned the action the Government are taking, both through this Bill and elsewhere, to address these issues. We know that solutions for local areas will need us to look at practical solutions that will help to address specific local issues without unintended consequences.
Amendments 263, 264 and 265 all share a common feature by introducing a transaction feature into the definition of development. They seek to require that planning permission be obtained for a property to be used as a second home or holiday rental following a change of ownership. This requirement applies whether or not they were used in that way before the change in ownership. Planning permission is required for development, including the material changes of use; a change of ownership does not constitute development. The implications of treating transactions as falling within these definitions would be ongoing uncertainty and cost for home owners, buyers and the housing market as a whole. The Government are therefore not convinced that this approach is quite right; we already have the power in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to introduce a use class for holiday lets, secondary or supplementary residences.
In relation to Amendments 265, 294, 442 and 445C in particular, we have announced, in addition to the registration scheme in the Bill—on which we shall be consulting—that we will consult on the introduction of a planning use class for short-term lets. This consultation will in particular seek views on the definition of a short-term let. As such uses are not an issue everywhere, we will also consult on the introduction of national permitted development rights for the change of use from a C3 dwelling-house to a short-term let and vice versa. These rights may then be removed by making an Article 4 direction where there is a local issue, meaning a planning application would then be required where there is a material change of use.
We are also exploring how, were this approach to be adopted, the register could support local planning authorities in the application and enforcement of any use class changes, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, can await the outcome of these consultations. Further detail on the timing of this consultation will be provided—and here I have a minor victory for my noble friend Lord Young: I have been able to change it from “in due course” to “shortly”. Sadly, I was not allowed to go further than that, but I do believe that “shortly” really means “shortly”. Subject to the outcome of the consultation, were the new use class introduced, the changes would help local authorities control the proliferation of such uses where existing homes seek to become used for short-term lets.
In relation to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, I will have to take away that very sad story and ponder on it a bit further. But with those comments, I hope I can persuade noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, perhaps I ought to start by saying that I am also not a vice-president of the LGA, seeing as other noble Lords seem to have made that clear. This has been a very good debate with a lot of speakers, and I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. One of the things that has come across is the significant recent increase in short-term lets and the fact that something does need to be done around this.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for his support, his amendments and his speech. He made the very important point that a registration scheme is a good first step, but we do need to make faster progress on this. As he said, a consultation to get a better balance between first homes and second homes would be a very good start. I also congratulate him on his small victory, which the Minister just announced. The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, made the important point of the significant impact on prices and affordability of more homes going to short-term let, and the fact that the Bill does not go far enough as it stands, as far as we are concerned. Again, I thank him for his support for our amendments.

I would also like to thank my noble friend Lord Blunkett for his support for my Amendment 170 regarding bereavement. And, while I am on Amendment 170, I am really pleased that the Minister said that there is going to be further opportunity to look at this, and perhaps some consultation. I would be really pleased to be kept informed of any developments on this area, but it is very good that people are listening and taking account of this particular consideration.

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My noble friend Lord Blunkett made an important point that there needs to be an economic and social impact assessment, and that it needs to be made by people who know what they are doing in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, referenced examples of where empty buildings are being brought back into use as homes. She is absolutely right to make that point—we need to look at where good practice is happening around the country and see how we can then spread that into other areas. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talked about saturation areas, but they can be very difficult to enforce. Perhaps the Government could look at how to make this option more accessible to local authorities and consider the noble Lord’s suggestion further.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was right to say that all that happens with an empty property is that it deteriorates. That is, of course, one of the problems. I thank him for supporting my Amendment 166. He also made the valid point that this is about understanding not just where the empty properties are but why they are empty. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, talked about what can happen when properties are not properly looked after and gave a dreadful example.
On Amendment 167, the Minister referenced stamp duty as something the Government are already doing, but it does not go to local authorities—it goes to the Treasury. I thought I would just make that point. On Amendment 168, I understand her point about an inappropriate time for councils to inform owners of any increase in council tax, but we still think that one year is quite a long time.
I am very glad that, in winding up, the Minister mentioned that the Government appreciate the impact on communities of large numbers of short-term lets and second homes. At the moment, I feel that if something does not happen quite drastically, this is only going to increase. The reasons why we should deal with this were mentioned during the debate. For example, you can get more rent—it is quite simply a matter of sums. So we need to do more.
I thank the Minister. She gave a very thorough response, which is much appreciated. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 166 withdrawn.
Clause 76: Dwellings occupied periodically: England
Amendments 167 to 168A not moved.
Amendment 168B
Moved by
168B: Clause 76, page 85, line 14, at end insert—
“(10) In the case of a billing authority which is a district council in a county for which there is a county council, the increase in council tax arising from a determination under section 11B or this section must be paid into the collection fund.(11) Except to the extent that a billing authority decides that any proportion of the amount paid into the collection fund under subsection (10) should be paid from the collection fund to one or more major precepting authorities which issue a precept to that billing authority, the amount paid to the collection fund under subsection (10) must be paid to the billing authority.” Member's explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that, in the case of a district council for which there is a county council, all of the income from the supplements under section 11B or 11C of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 would be retained by the district council as it is the housing authority. The amendment allows the district council to decide to allocate some of the supplement to any of its major precepting authorities if it so chooses.
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, my Amendment 168B seeks to ensure that, in the case of a district council for which there is a county council, all the income from the supplements under Section 11B or new Section 11C of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 would be retained by the district council as it is the housing authority. The amendment allows the district council also to decide to allocate some of the supplement to any of its major precepting authorities if it decides to do so. I will not go into much detail about this amendment; I think what it is trying to achieve is pretty self-explanatory.

Previous days in Committee have included a lot of discussion about the important role that district councils play in delivering services to our communities. Noble Lords have talked about the fact that, in many parts of the Bill, they feel that district councils are being shut out. They will not have access to the same opportunities within the proposed combined county authorities, and they are not then going to get the support they need to continue to deliver services, including housing and planning. We believe that if the district council is the housing authority, it should be able to keep all the income from these sections of the Local Government Finance Act. It should also be in the district council’s gift to decide how that income should be used. In the previous debate, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, talked about local authorities being able to decide how funds are spent in other areas. Again, we absolutely agree that this is important.

My Amendment 169 would give the owner of a dilapidated property up to a year after acquiring the property to refurbish it before additional council tax rates are incurred. We touched in the previous group on dilapidated properties but, I suggest, from a different perspective. This is an issue that came to me when I was a Member of Parliament in the other place. Constituents would come to me because they were having financial difficulties in being able to update a dilapidated property, which sometimes they had inherited, because of the amount of council tax they were being clobbered with—to be blunt—which made it much more difficult for them to have the funds they needed to do up the property in good time. It was taking them a long time to do it up.

We know that bringing old, dilapidated buildings back into use will benefit the whole community. However, as I said, it can take a long time, depending on what is needed—for example, if there are problems with damp or you need a new roof. It can take a long time for properties to be restored to a good condition. My Amendment 169 recognises that there can be circumstances in which houses will not be occupied while work needs to be carried out. It is also designed to encourage people to bring homes back to a decent standard without being hampered by having to pay higher council tax rates, which, as I said, can impact on people being able to pay the costs of refurbishment.

The other amendments in this group, Amendment 428 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock—I look forward to her introduction of the proposed new clause—and Amendment 474 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, look at the business rates system. Amendment 428 proposes to review it, and Amendment 474 proposes to review it and include consultation to look at how we can bring economic support to businesses, especially in high streets and town centres.

This issue is incredibly important. We know that business rates have had a very negative impact on many of our high streets and town centres, and I am sure we will debate that when we come to the group on high streets later in Committee. Noble Lords know that I feel very strongly that good public consultation and participation for communities is important when we are looking at these kinds of issues. We know that business rates are one of the most important taxes for local government, but they have also been blamed for the struggles of retailers, for the death of the high street and for exacerbating the country’s economic divides.

I suggest that there are three fundamental problems with business rates, which I ask the Minister to take away for further thought and discussion. First, they do not always reflect local economic realities. That became extremely clear during the pandemic, when many businesses struggled to keep going. Secondly, business rates can be far too complex; we do not need them to be that complicated. Thirdly, at the moment they actually disincentivise investment, which is crazy—they should be doing exactly the opposite.

We support these amendments, as we believe that we need a reformed system which will support towns and cities in improving their business environments, raise productivity and boost prosperity.

Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 474. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for allowing me to speak first. We both have the same objective in mind: that there should be a review of non-domestic business rates. The main differences between us are twofold: first, the noble Baroness’s amendment is slightly more prescriptive than mine; secondly, and more importantly, my amendment would provide for a public consultation. Those are the only two differences, really; there is nothing much more than that.

I should declare my interest as the owner of high street investment retail properties, and I am grateful for the support of noble Lords across the House who have signed my amendment. The objective of my amendment is stated in its proposed new clause: to make business rates

“fairer to businesses and to sustain economic activity and growth, especially in high streets and town centres.”

The Bill is an entirely appropriate vehicle for such a provision, since one if its major concerns is that there are empty high street retail properties and failed retail businesses both on the high street and in town centres.

I acknowledge the steps taken in the Autumn Statement to ease some of the economic burden of business rates but, if we want flourishing high streets, we need to look at the system as a whole and not rely on ad hoc changes. Those who invest in retail properties, whether they run small businesses there or otherwise, will want to know what their liabilities are—not what might happen in future—either to raise or reduce business rates or to introduce new ones. This is the one outgoing that is not negotiable. You can negotiate your employees’ wages; you can negotiate the rent; you can go to one of a number of power and energy suppliers; however, you cannot negotiate the rates.

The Government said by way of a manifesto commitment that they would reduce the overall burden of business rates. In fact, the Office for Budget Responsibility reported last year that the Government are

“forecasting that income from business rates will rise to nearly £36bn by 2027/28 (from £28.5bn in 2022/23)”—

a very significant increase that is quite contrary to that manifesto commitment.

There are numerous reasons why it is appropriate to have a review of—and, I would say, a public consultation on—non-domestic rates. Let me mention a few. The uniform business rate multiplier, which is used to calculate rate bills, is running much higher than its historical level, which was 34p; currently, it is 51p or 49.9p for small businesses. Consideration also needs to be given to the empty property rates relief; there is a question as to whether the six-month empty property rates holiday should be extended from the warehouse and industrial sectors to include retail and offices.

Then, there is the question of how often revaluations should take place for the purpose of fixing the level of rates, the suggestion being that it should be yearly. Another question is what is or is not rateable in relation to plant machinery. Finally—these are only a few of the considerations that need to be addressed—there is the question of the appeals system, which is too lengthy, not transparent and not accessible. Those are reasons why it seems essential to me that, if we are to have full and flourishing businesses and retail properties on the high street, we need to look at this one non-negotiable expense, which is running at an historical high, notwithstanding, as I said, the ad hoc reliefs granted in the Autumn Statement.

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Finally, I want to put one possible concern completely to rest. I may be entirely mistaken, but I understood from one of the all-Peers sessions held by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, that there may be a question as to whether the proposed amendments on business rates trespass on the financial privilege of the House of Commons concerning money Bills. First, there is nothing in our amendments to suggest that business rates should be raised—quite the contrary. More to the point, the ways and means resolution in the other place specifically extends the Bill to include matters relating to the charging of fees and other charges. Whatever the privileges of the other place may be, they do not preclude this House from reaching its own views on what should be done about business rates.
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I totally agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, said about his Amendment 474 and the complexity of the system. It is difficult for businesses to negotiate the terms which determine their viability; business rates cannot be negotiated; and the multiplier has risen substantially in the past few years, making the costs to businesses unaffordable in many cases.

Amendment 428 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Shipley addresses a principle of business rates rather than the nuts and bolts. The key to levelling up and realising one of the ambitions of the White Paper—vibrant and successful town centres and high streets—lies in business rates. Too many town centres across the country are blighted by empty, boarded-up shops, which then become less attractive to local people wanting to shop there, causing a downward spiral.

I accept that the purpose of town centres is changing, as in fact it always has done. The balance of provision in town centres is increasingly shifting from the sale of goods towards services such as hair salons, nail bars and the like. However, the growth of e-commerce has put enormous pressure on traditional retail. This is where Amendment 428 comes in, because it would require a fundamental review in principle of business rates.

These are the reasons. The Government call it “bricks versus clicks” and “the tax imbalance” on the government website, which then refers to business rate revaluation, which actually does very little to redress the imbalance. I will give an example of one of the great e-commerce providers, Amazon. Its provision is in out-of-town warehouses and their rateable values are very low. An Amazon warehouse near me in Doncaster is paying rates at £45 per square metre—on average, because things change according to what is provided in a warehouse—whereas a small town centre shop near me has rates of £250 per square metre. We should think about that differential. The massive warehouse is providing retail goods, as is the small shop, but there is this huge disparity between the rates they are being charged, putting the town centre retail shop at a huge disadvantage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, mentioned in an earlier group that the Government are tackling this by reducing town centre business rates by 20% following the revaluation. I always get cross about the use of percentages, because they are ratios, so whether they are percentages of a large number or a small number makes a very big difference. A 20% reduction on this £250 per square metre still leaves them paying £200 per square metre. However, although the Government have raised the rates for e-commerce by 27%, they are still paying only £56 per square metre. The disparity is still enormous, leading to an unfair competitive advantage for the e-commerce sector.

The Government have rejected the idea of an online sales tax, and I can understand why. It will be complex. However, I urge the Minister to respond positively to my suggestion that the Government use the existing business rates system to provide for much fairer competition between e-commerce and retail in physical shops. E-commerce businesses have a huge advantage. Not only are their business rates low but some of them also manage not to contribute much taxation to the country. They lead to significant increases in the volume of traffic, moving the goods between warehouses or from warehouses to pick-up sites or people’s homes. Yet, if they use electric vehicles, which is a good thing, they are not contributing much to the upkeep of the roads. Whichever way you look at it, e-commerce retail is at a considerable advantage. That is not in line with the Government’s ambition, which I totally support, of having vibrant town centres. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, referred to incentives to help out-of-town warehouses. I think I have given the answer to that. The business rates for these e-commerce sectors must be in line so that there is fair competition between the two ways of providing retail goods.

Amendments 168B and 169, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, make a good case for the retention of rates income by district councils. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s response to that argument. On Amendment 169, it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say, but I understood that there is already a grace period for uninhabitable buildings to be made habitable during which they are exempt from council tax. Maybe that is not the case, but I remember taking it through this House and I understood that to be the definition then.

It would also be helpful for us all to understand the definition of empty homes, empty properties, empty dwellings, because it is not always as it seems. Maybe the Minister will put me right, but my understanding is that empty properties are not empty if they are partially furnished. There is a whole debate around definitions of empty properties and uninhabitable dwellings that we probably need to understand more closely with regard to these amendments and the previous group in relation to council tax on holiday lets, short-term lets and second homes.

So that is my proposition to the Minister. We need a fundamental review of business rates because retail is changing fast. If substantial change to level the playing field is not made, the ambition for vibrant town centres will fail. I beg to move.

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB)
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My Lords, I was pleased to sign Amendment 474 tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. I also support the other related amendment in this group, Amendment 428, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

Regeneration of high streets and town centres is particularly important in the context of levelling up. I cannot stress enough how important a thriving town centre and high street are for the morale of a city, for its togetherness and for its onward development. Many high streets and town centres in the regions, including in some areas in Derby, where I live, are struggling with low occupancy and empty premises. This must be resolved urgently if we are truly to level up the regions and bring back the economic dynamism that is required for further developments.

I know that the Government get this, and their plans for enhanced compulsory purchase powers and high street rental options could form part of the solution here. However, in my role as co-chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group, I have canvassed many local stakeholders on what would really make a difference to high street regeneration, and the theme that comes at the top of the list time and time again is business rates.

The current structure of business rates makes it simply unviable for businesses to set up in certain locations. To expand on what the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, a property was being marketed on East Street, Derby last year at a lease of £35,000 per annum. It had a rateable value of £112,000 and rates payable of £56,000, so the rates were significantly higher than the rent. Another example, from the British Property Federation, is a property in a Hull for which the business rates bill was around three times higher than the rent a property in that location could reasonably demand. There are further cases of businesses not being willing to renew leases on their properties, even at zero rent.

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The current structure of business rates is a significant barrier to businesses setting up in high streets and town centres. Although the temporary rate reliefs to which other noble Lords have referred are welcome, compulsory purchase powers and high street rental auctions are tinkering at the edges of the problem; we must avoid the need for these temporary sticking plasters. Landlords do not usually want their properties to be empty. The core of the problem is that businesses need that incentive structure to set up in town centres, and this will be achieved only by the wholesale reform of business rates. Another way of phrasing it is that the problem is not the supply of empty units; it is the demand signal for businesses to set up there.
I am sure that many noble Lords have ideas about how this could be achieved. Clearly, we are not going to propose a new model for business rates in this Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, set out some of the key areas of business rates reform which need to be looked at. The right way forward is a wide-ranging consultation, expanding on some of the evidence heard from noble Lords today, which proposes a new model for rates to make them fairer for businesses and to end the problems we have on high streets in the regions. I hope that the Government will seize this opportunity to bring back vibrancy, purpose and pride to many of our struggling high streets and town centres.
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, my name appears on Amendment 428, together with that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock. I just want to say two things. First, I hope the Minister understands the seriousness of this issue. Proposals for the reform of business rates have been regularly promised in the past, and there is clear evidence that reform is needed.

Secondly, I draw the House’s attention to the announcement this morning, which will be furthered at a conference in Liverpool tomorrow, of the launch of the fiscal devolution report of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. It makes five key recommendations: first, devolution of reform of the business rates system to all mayoral authorities; secondly, the creation of three new council tax super-bands; thirdly, devolution of stamp duty to local councils; fourthly, devolution of 1p of existing employers’ national insurance contributions for local transport services and infrastructure, as is done in France; fifthly, a tourism tax on hotel stays to support culture, protect the environment and improve visitor experiences.

There will be a debate about that and, as we have heard, consultation will be needed on how to reform business rates. The time has come for this to be taken very seriously and for proposals to be initiated. I hope the Minister can tell the Committee that that is what the Government intend to do.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for setting out in Amendment 168B her suggested redistribution of the income raised by the council tax premium from upper-tier councils to district councils. The proposed premium will provide all councils, including district councils, with the opportunity, where they set a premium at the maximum level of 100%, to raise double the revenue from each second home in their area.

Revenue from council tax is essential for a wide range of councils, providing them with funding to make available a range of public services which best fits the needs of the local area. Under this amendment, in an area with two tiers of councils the district council would be able to retain all the income raised by the council tax premiums. This would disturb one of the key components of the council tax system—that local authorities should calculate their council tax charge for local services on the same basis as each other, with equal access to the revenues generated. The long-term empty homes premium has been in place since 2013 and has followed this long-established principle. We trust councils to make their own decisions on where their funding should be spent, and we do not consider it appropriate to engineer the system to direct part of the proceeds of council tax to one particular type of authority in some parts of the country.

Different communities will have their own set of challenges and solutions to second home ownership and empty properties. For instance, this may be through additional funding for transport or education, which falls within the remit of county councils. The current approach provides flexibility for a range of councils and other authorities to generate additional income, which can be used as they see fit. If a council feels that funding should be put towards a particular goal such as housing, this should be discussed with the other authorities in the usual way.

A change in the distribution method for the council tax premiums would also create an imbalance between two-tier areas and areas covered by unitary authorities. For example, in a single-tier area with a high number of second homes, such as Cornwall, the council would be required to share the proceeds of the premiums with the other precepting authorities, such as the PCC or the fire and rescue service. However, in a two-tier area with a high number of second homes, such as Norfolk, the amendment would mean that all additional income was retained by the district council. Notwithstanding the second part of the noble Baroness’s amendment, there would be no obligation to enable precepting authorities to benefit from the increased income. This may be advantageous to the district but would prevent the income being spent on services provided by other authorities in the area that can benefit the local community, such as road maintenance and better care for the elderly.

I turn to Amendment 169, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. We discussed earlier in Committee that the purpose of Clause 76 is to provide councils with an opportunity to apply a council tax premium on second homes. As with all properties, second homes may be in a variety of different conditions. For the purposes of Clause 76, however, a second home would be caught by the provision only if the property was substantially furnished. Indeed, this is an important factor in differentiating such properties from those that might be impacted by the long-term empty homes premium, as set out in Clause 75. Where such properties are substantially furnished, I would not envisage that they are likely to be in a condition to require significant work as a result of dilapidation. Therefore, the premium council tax on a second home applies only where it is furnished. However, in specific circumstances the local authority has tax relief powers as well.

Notwithstanding that potential distinction, I can reassure the noble Baroness that the clause already makes provision for the Secretary of State to make regulations that exempt certain classes of property from the effects of the second homes premium. Similar powers are already in place for the long-term empty homes premium. Obviously, before making any regulations the Government would wish to consult on any exemptions and to provide everyone with the opportunity to say what should—and, perhaps, what should not—be exempt from the effect of the premium.

The noble Baroness’s amendment also proposes a right of appeal against the imposition of a second homes premium. I can reassure her that, under Section 16(1) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, council tax payers already have the right of appeal against any calculation of amounts they are liable to pay, including any premiums.

Finally, Amendments 428 and 474 were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. The Government are of course aware of the pressures facing businesses, including those on the high street, and have acted to support businesses up and down the country. As noble Lords are no doubt aware, the Government have only recently concluded a comprehensive review of the business rates system. A final report on the review was published at the Autumn Budget 2021, alongside a package of reforms worth £7 billion over five years. The review recognised the importance of the system in raising funds for critical local services in England, worth around £22.5 billion in 2022-23, and concluded that there was no consensus on an alternative model that would be of sufficient scale to replace business rates.

At the Autumn Statement 2022, the Government went even further and announced a range of business rates measures worth an estimated additional £13.6 billion over the next five years. As part of that package the Government announced that the tax rate will be frozen for a further year. This is a real-terms cut to the tax rate, worth around £9.3 billion over five years.

In addition, the retail, hospitality and leisure relief will be extended for a further year and made more generous. In 2023-24, it will provide eligible businesses with 75% off their bills, up to a maximum of £110,000 per business. This is worth an estimated £2.1 billion to ratepayers, many of which are on our high streets.

Furthermore, in response to the concerns of businesses in England, the Government will, for the first time and subject to legislation, introduce a transitional relief scheme for the 2023 revaluation. This will be funded by the Government and is expected to save businesses £1.6 billion. This will mean that the 300,000 ratepayers—

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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I apologise to the Minister for interrupting her reply, but she seems to be listing all the ways in which the Government are providing help to businesses via different reliefs for their business rates payments. If the business rates system is so bad that it needs substantial relief from the Government for those businesses to survive—and the amounts that the noble Baroness referenced were substantial—I can only conclude that the business rates system, as it applies to businesses in town centres, is broken. That is the reason for the argument that I have made, and why I hope that the Government will accept that business rates need a fundamental change; otherwise, the Government will be continually asked to provide relief to enable businesses just to survive.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I think I explained to the noble Baroness that we went out for extensive review—the issue is that we and local services need business rates—and there was no consensus on how they might be changed and made different, such that a similar amount of money would be coming in so that local areas could provide services. We tried but came to no consensus.

Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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The Minister referred to, and I think the Government are relying upon, a 2021 review. What was the public’s involvement in that review?

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am sorry; I cannot tell the noble and learned Lord that, but I will make sure that I look into who, including the public, was consulted as part of that review. I will make sure that I get an answer to him and will put it in the Library.

As I said, in response to the concerns of businesses in England, the Government will introduce the transitional relief scheme for 2023. This will mean that 300,000 ratepayers seeing reductions in their rateable value at the revaluation also see an immediate fall in their bills from 1 April this year, rather than seeing those changes phased in over the life of the list. This will make the rates system much fairer and more responsive, and ensure that ratepayers benefit from the revaluation as soon as possible.

The Government also announced a supporting small businesses relief scheme, which will ensure that ratepayers losing some or all of their small business or rural rate relief as a result of the revaluation see their increases capped at a maximum of £600 in 2023-24. This is worth more than £0.5 billion over the next three years and will protect an estimated 80,000 small businesses. This is again on top of generous existing packages of statutory support provided to small businesses through the small business rates relief, which ensures that over 700,000 of our smallest businesses pay no rates at all.

The Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill provides additional measures to address empty properties on the high street, such as the high street rental auctions. These measures will empower places to tackle decline by bringing vacant units back into use and will seek to increase co-operation between landlords and local authorities. Auctions will make town centre tenancies more accessible and affordable for tenants, including SMEs, local businesses and community groups. A review has only recently concluded and the Government remain committed to delivering on its conclusions. The £7 billion reform package announced at the end of that review and the £13.6 billion package of support announced at the Autumn Statement 2022 will, alongside the 2023 business rates revaluation, deliver vital help to those most in need, such as our high streets, and rebalance the burden of our business rates. In the light of these explanations, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who took part in the debate. I have two specific amendments in this group, but the debate has focused mainly on business rates. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, was right when he said that we need to look at the system as a whole and that business rates are not negotiable. That is part of the problem. If the Government are looking to reduce business rates, and they say that quite often, they need to look at how local authorities are funded, because so many are reliant on business rates. The debate has also demonstrated that the appeals system does not work at all. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, talked about the need for economic dynamism for high street regeneration and said that business rates are a problem to achieving it. I completely agree with this.

When introducing her amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was right to refer to the mission to which this relates, which is about increasing pride of place. On that note, I point out that there is not currently any incentive for local authorities to improve their town centres and increase the business base, as they are subject to tariffs. This perverse system actually discourages proper investment.

Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about e-commerce’s advantage over town centre premises and said that we need a fair competition. I am sure that the Government accept that. The challenge for all of us is what to do about it—how do you make that level playing field? I do not think there are necessarily easy answers to that.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her supportive comments regarding my amendments. She asked a question on Amendment 169 around dilapidation and the grace period that councils can bring in. The Minister mentioned something along these lines. What I found, when I had constituents coming to see me who were in this position, was that you only got that reduction or grace period if the council agreed that there was an issue of dilapidation; they do not always do that. You can get people being unstuck if the council will not agree it—then that reduction does not happen, and people get stuck. That was one of the points that I was trying to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, rightly drew attention to the fiscal devolution document that is being published for the north. I think this is really important because we do not believe that levelling up is going to be successful without fiscal devolution.

I thank the Minister for, as always, her detailed and thorough response to my amendments; it is appreciated. I will make one final comment on business rates following the noble Baroness’s response. Rather than tinkering with reliefs and temporary measures, we believe the whole system urgently needs a complete overhaul. It needs replacing with a fairer system that actually works for business. The current system, unfortunately, does not. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 168B withdrawn.
Amendments 169 to 170 not moved.
Clause 76 agreed.
Amendments 171 to 172A not moved.
Clause 77: Alteration of street names: England
Amendment 173
Moved by
173: Clause 77, page 86, line 23, at end insert “and it has considered the historical, cultural or archaeological significance of a name change”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires cultural, historical and archaeological factors to be considered before making a name change.
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
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My Lords, I come to this amendment with a deal of frustration about the clause being in the Bill at all. I have a great deal of support for the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, to Clause 77 in that I really have no idea what such an issue is doing in a Bill aimed at tackling big, strategic issues of levelling up and regeneration—never mind devolution. We have been told many times in debates on this Bill that the Government’s business is not to intervene with matters when they should be devolved to local authorities. So I can only assume this is there to pacify a noisy bee in someone's bonnet, perhaps on the Back Benches in the other place. The inclusion of this clause is even more peculiar when you consider the major issues that we think have either been left out of the Bill or skipped over, like local government finance, the business rate discussion we just had, proper consideration of environmental issues, delivery of social and affordable housing and even the Government's own levelling up missions, which are considered too transitory to be included in the Bill.

In my opinion, councils are perfectly able to deal with issues relating to street names without government legislation or intervention. If there are legal issues relating to that, perhaps they need to be covered. However, being realistic, I am aware even in my short time in Parliament that bees in Back-Benchers’ bonnets can be exceedingly loud and powerful. So if we are not going to persuade the Government that this clause has no place in a strategic Bill, my thought was that we had better make it add some value to the existing process for street naming.

Because I live in a town that was subject to a fantastic and visionary master plan back in the 1940s and 1950s, it was designed so that street names are zoned. For example, in one part of the town, you have streets named after women pioneers, which I really approve of: Ferrier Road, Nightingale Walk and—my favourite—Pankhurst Crescent. Another area is great architects: Telford Avenue, Wren Close, Nash Close and so on. So with a modicum of knowledge of my town, you can navigate your way around. Our street naming committee maintains a list of further names for that area to allocate as developments occur, upon which extensive community consultation takes place, as you would expect from a co-operative council.

I presume that this clause is aimed at tackling issues which arise when it becomes apparent that an individual after whom a street is named does not have quite the gilded reputation that they may have done previously, or when our view of part of our history as a country alters because of cultural changes. That will happen from time to time; there is nothing wrong with that so far. But surely it is in a council’s gift already to consult with local people, set out the reasons for the change and get on with it.

My first amendment is to ensure that appropriate thought is given to the context, history, potential connotation and local perceptions of the proposed change. In relation to the point about archaeology, I think this does need consideration, as a brief search will determine whether any future development is likely to reveal earlier uses of the land which can help in determining new names. For example, the huge hoard of Roman coins which was found on one of our estate developments resulted in the proposed road names being scrapped in favour of Augustus Gate, Valerian Way and Jupiter Gate, to remind us of their Roman history. That is the kind of thing that can occur with a very brief search before naming occurs.

On Amendment 175 in my name, if we must prescribe the process for changing street names—my preference is obviously that we do not—then it is vital that effective consultation is carried out with all of those who live in the area and those who may have businesses there. For those who are resident, I hope it is obvious that they should be consulted. For business owners, there may be a cost involved—sometimes considerable—in changing their business address and ensuring they are given adequate time to assess and comment on any change is clearly vital. I beg to move.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I have given notice that I think Clause 77 should not stand part of the Bill. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for her helpful introduction and explanation of the situation. This is a clause which is out of place in the Bill in the first place, but, more to the point, assuming that we will have to consider it, this is a clause in search of a problem and I cannot find out what the problem is.

If you turn to the impact assessment, the very first questions posed by every impact assessment are: what is the problem under consideration, and why is government action or intervention necessary? The impact assessment for this Bill is 101 pages long; I may not have been a very diligent reader, but I could not find any reference in it to this clause. It would appear that the Government have not answered the question in an impact assessment of what the problem under consideration is and why action is necessary. That has not stopped us getting a clause which is 67 lines long and covers two pages. It has not stopped us getting Schedule 5; I do not suppose too many noble Lords have ploughed through Schedule 5, but what it does is repeal the existing powers that there are for councils to change street names.

So I am none the wiser. Is this clause here to enable residents to change an unpopular street name in the face of a recalcitrant council that will not shift—perhaps they live in Savile Row and the word Savile has dropped out of favour and needs to be changed, but the council will not hear of it? Or is it here to prevent councils introducing an unpopular change that residents oppose? Putting it another way, is the target councils that insist on changing street names or councils that refuse to change street names?

One way or another, I was an elected representative for 37 years on various councils and at the other end of this building and never, in all my time, did I come across a case where either of these things obtained. I did come across cases where people wanted to change names or the council might think it was a good idea to change names. There was a straightforward discussion and consensus reached as to whether it should or should not happen.

19:00
The power that exists at the moment goes back a very long way to the 1907 Act. Section 21 states that a local authority requires two-thirds of the number of ratepayers and those liable to pay council tax in any street to have voted in favour of the street name alteration before it can be made. That exists as one route to change, so there is not a problem that there is no power to change street names and there is not a problem that street names might be changed over the heads of residents without them being consulted. The Minister may say, “Ah, but there’s a second way that councils can change names”, and that is true—but if you simply want to give more power to residents, just insist that all councils have to use the 1907 regulations; do not waste time in this Bill introducing what is in front of us today.
My second question to the Minister is: what has proved to be the harm or defect in the current arrangements in Section 21 of the 1907 Act? Everybody agrees that sometimes changes are needed. It might be because language changes and the street name is clearly now just plain offensive. I have a practical personal example. In my area, going back to before 1907, the inhabitants of a place called Bullock Smithy decided that it would be appropriate to get a different name for their area. They petitioned the local council, and it was agreed that the place could change its name from Bullock Smithy to Hazel Grove. Hence, I became the MP for Hazel Grove, not the MP for Bullock Smithy. It is helpful to know that at that time there was no Secretary of State to write regulations. It was perfectly competent and possible for a whole community to change its name, and street names are surely rather smaller beer than that.
The current practice is that, if residents want a change, they normally get some sort of petition together and a bit of publicity and talk to their local councillors or send a letter to the town hall. The town hall would have some sort of consultation and the name would be changed or not changed. Of course, there are considerable barriers to changing a street name, such as inconvenience to business. I mentioned Savile Row. I dare say businesses in Savile Row would not be very pleased about having the name changed because it is part of their brand to be in Savile Row. There is also a cost to residents and the friends of residents who have to change all their address books. If the council wants to recognise a newly found hero or perhaps some Roman coins, as the noble Baroness said, evidently in Stevenage you put them in the next street you develop; you do not change an existing street name. I would have thought that that is what 99% of councils would do if they had an Olympic winner, for example in cycling. Let us mention Stockport in particular, as we have plenty of them. We do not rename streets; we name new streets for our Olympic winners.
That touches on a point that the noble Baroness raised. I think this is something that has come out of a pigeonhole. I think it has probably come out of a pigeonhole at CCHQ, and it has been there since the 1960s when Conservative MPs were screaming their heads off because roads were being named after Nelson Mandela. I have to say that some of those same MPs came to Westminster Hall a few decades later to give a round of applause to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. There are fashions in these things in the Conservative Party as well as fashions in culture.
The delegated regulation book brings me to the next point. What assessment of the number of local authorities where disputes have arisen has the Minister made? Is this an entirely fabricated case or is there actually a real case, or two or three real cases, that the Minister could relay to your Lordships? I note that in the delegated regulations book—which is quite a slender document, just 400-odd pages—there is a page on the amendments here. It refers several times to the public consultation of 22 May on how the regulations under this new provision might be conducted. Now I have done a fair amount of reading on this, but I drew the line at finding out whether that consultation had actually been published. My question to the Minister is straightforward: has that consultation been published and what were the responses to it? Did it get the very big raspberry that it thoroughly deserved?
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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Raspberry Walk.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My noble friend suggests that Raspberry Close might be what we have as a future name. This provision illustrates everything that is wrong about the Government’s approach to levelling up and this Bill. First, it removes an existing power of councils to do exactly what the Government say they want to control. It adds bureaucracy and cost, and it puts in a new procedure which is not needed at all but, just to be clear, is a centralised new procedure. The word “regulation” appears eight times in 42 lines.

It is a make-work clause for people in Whitehall. It serves no practical purpose, but it goes down to the smallest detail in the text. For instance, Clause 77(3) states that, the name having been changed, a local authority may put up a sign. That is a pretty good point; I am glad they did not overlook that. What kind of sign? Well, it can be “painted or otherwise marked”. Yes, that is another good point. I am glad they did not overlook that. Where can it be put? It can be put on

“a conspicuous part of any building or other erection”.

Is this not getting down to the absolutely absurd? Of course, at first I was worried that trees were not included in the places where you could fix a sign—but then I realised that the Minister would tell me that trees will be covered in regulations. In fact, the whole clause is covered in regulations. The whole Bill is covered in regulations. The only consolation I get out of this is that we have not yet been given the department’s list of approved street names—but possibly the Minister will tell us that that is going to come on Report.

This is an unnecessary clause: it is poorly drafted and dripping with red tape and the Minister should take it out of this Bill and let us focus on the real task of levelling up, to which it contributes in no way at all.