Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 324, 329, 342, 346, 347, 351, 352 and 360 in my name. I have tabled them on behalf of the emergency services of England, including the following organisations: the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the National Fire Chiefs Council, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the National Police Estates Group and the National Fire Estates Group. I should declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

As extraordinary as it sounds, the English planning system has never recognised the emergency services as critical infrastructure providers anywhere in primary legislation, national planning policy or statutory guidance. The result of this is that, while new development such as housing estates, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, warehouses, factories or even power stations place additional demands on the emergency services that stretch existing resources, it is rare for mitigation in the form of developer contributions from Section 106 and the community infrastructure levy to be put in place to alleviate this.

The failure to recognise the emergency services in legislation is a colossal blind spot in the planning system, which has had dire practical results when the emergency services seek to obtain funding for the essential ambulance, fire and rescue, and police infrastructure needed to support new development of all kinds. This is demonstrated by the following figures. The Section 106 system started in 1990. In the 33 years since it has been operating the emergency services of England have been awarded a combined total of £25.4 million, which is a paltry amount when DLUHC’s own figures show that other infrastructure types such as education receive hundreds of millions of pounds per year from the Section 106 system.

There are 10 ambulance trusts in England, but none has ever received a Section 106 contribution at all. In England, there are 39 territorial police forces, but of this total only 12 have ever been awarded a Section 106 contribution since the system started. Of this total, only four of the 12 forces still receive such contributions on a regular basis. Of the 48 fire and rescue services in England, only five have ever been awarded a Section 106 contribution and none has been a regular recipient.

The situation with respect to the community infra- structure levy, or CIL, is even worse than with respect to the Section 106 system. Since it started nearly 13 years ago, the emergency services in England have been awarded a combined total of only £1.5 million—a terrible contrast with the fact that the CIL system in England raises hundreds of millions of pounds for other infrastructure types every year.

The Government have accepted that these problems exist and that action needs to be taken to solve them, so that the emergency services have an equal seat with other infrastructure providers at the negotiating table. I am grateful for a letter to me on 16 March from Housing Minister Rachel Maclean, which points to the reference to the emergency services in proposed new Clause 204N(3) in Schedule 11 to the Bill, meaning that they are referenced for the new proposed infra- structure levy. The Minister has committed to include emergency service providers as a required consultee for the infrastructure delivery strategy through regulations. The Minister has also committed to reviewing the NPPF as part of a wholesale review and consultation once the Bill has received Royal Assent, to consider whether there can be explicit references made to the emergency services, putting them on an equal footing with other forms of infrastructure such as education. Finally, the Minister has committed to reviewing planning practice guidance to add reference to the emergency services with regard to the use of developer contributions.

The commitments from the Government are very welcome, and it has been helpful to have meetings with my noble friend the Minister, but these measures are not enough, for a number of reasons. The Government have confirmed that the new infrastructure levy will not be introduced fully for 10 years—that is, not until 2033. That means that Section 106 agreements and CIL will continue as the main sources of developer contributions for another decade, and possibly much longer in England. The definition in proposed new Clause 204N(3) refers only to the infrastructure levy. It will not apply to Section 106 and CIL. The new infrastructure levy will be a complex mechanism in its establishment, operation and application, and yet the Bill contains only a single reference that the emergency services may benefit from it, with no other provisions. The experience with CIL of the emergency services demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that they would receive little or nothing from the new infrastructure levy in practice.

Even more seriously, without further amendments to the Bill, there could well be the inadvertent consequence that the current provision will be interpreted by the vast majority of local planning authorities and developers alike as confirming that the Government do not intend for the emergency services to access money raised through Section 106 and CIL. This would close what little access the emergency services have to these two systems, leading to the already paltry amounts being awarded being reduced to zero. That is why the chairs of the emergency services wrote to the Housing Minister on 31 March 2023, offering a way forward—to withdraw six of our eight amendments, provided that two key amendments to the Bill be agreed alongside the measures proposed by the Minister to address their concerns.

The first of those is Amendment 324, to provide a fuller definition of emergency and rescue services. This definition is needed in the absence of one for the emergency and rescue services within the primary legislation governing the planning system. The second is a modified version of Amendment 360, which clarifies that emergency services can receive money from Section 106 agreements and CIL while ensuring that local authorities have primacy of decision-making. This offer was made in a constructive spirit but, so far, we have had no response from the Minister. It would be helpful if my noble friend could provide an update.

We need to find a solution to deal with this issue. If we do not, the existing situation will continue and the thin blue, red and yellow lines will be reduced ever further, as the ambulance, fire and rescue, and police services spread themselves ever more thinly over a greater area to try to cover new developments of all kinds.

Lord Bishop of Exeter Portrait The Lord Bishop of Exeter
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My Lords, I rise in support Amendments 324, 329, 342, 346, 347, 351, 352 and 360 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, and to which I have added my name. They concern planning reform and the emergency services.

A robust and effective planning process is essential for the flourishing of our communities. A key aspect of this is to ensure the adequate provision of emergency services. I welcome the fact that the Bill has included emergency services in the definition of infrastructure under Schedule 11, but, historically, this has not always been the case. It remains the fact that local authorities are not obliged to take into account the views and concerns of the emergency services.

Those living in new developments such as in Plymouth and Exeter, my own diocese, rightly expect to be provided with the same level of service and protection afforded to all citizens. The increased demands on the emergency services posed by new developments require additional funding. In this way, the emergency services are no different from any other infrastructure provider. However, the lack of recognition in legislation and national planning policy has made it extremely hard for emergency services to access funding from the infrastructure levy, Section 106 money and community infrastructure levy systems. The obvious result is that the services provided are diluted.

The Bill in its current form does not mitigate these problems and the thrust of these amendments seeks to address the historic disfranchisement of the emergency services in our planning processes. I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in recognising the vital contribution that those who work in the emergency services make to our common life. It should therefore be incumbent upon us to ensure that in the planning and formation of new developments, the emergency services have an equal seat at the planning table. I gladly support this.

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However, I am content to put on record that the department will happily engage with my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and representatives of the emergency services to explore how revisions to existing national policy and statutory guidance could address the concerns he raised. I understand that the Housing Minister has already written to him to this effect. While it is not the aim of the Bill to introduce changes to the existing system, I appreciate that it is important that payments under Section 106 and the CIL be made at the appropriate time and that local authorities have the tools to negotiate the timing of infrastructure delivery at the right point. We keep the operation of the existing system under continuous review and my officials will continue to engage with the sector to see if anything else may be needed.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I really appreciate that response, but the emergency services replied to the letter from the Housing Minister with a way forward. They are very concerned that the existing community infrastructure levy and Section 106 system is not working. Although, as the Minister pointed out, emergency services are mentioned in the schedule, the principal concern is how the historic system works, as it will take up to a decade for the new system to come into play. Will the Minister respond to the latest representations, so that we can agree a way forward?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I completely understand my noble friend’s issue and, as I have said, we are very happy to have a meeting to look at what can be done in the existing system. We know what is going on with the proposed system, but I understand the issues and we will meet further on this with the emergency services.

Turning to Amendments 331 and 346, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for speaking on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh for tabling these amendments. I agree that ensuring that development is accompanied by the timely provision of the right infrastructure is important to local communities where development is taking place. However, requiring a full payment of the levy up front would impact the viability of development and result in fewer homes, and therefore fewer affordable homes, being delivered. Large developments can be built out over periods of a decade or more, and it is not necessary for all mitigating infrastructure to be delivered in the early stages of that development.

Leasehold Enfranchisement

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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It is very simple: the leasehold Bill was already in production when LURB came in. It is a very complex Bill and the issues in it need their own legislation; it will be here before the end of the Parliament.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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It has been very helpful to hear the assurance that we will see leasehold reform before the end of this Parliament, but could my noble friend push to have the Bill published? It is going to be very complex, with issues around enfranchisement, the right to manage and encouraging and reinvigorating commonhold. Can we publish the Bill so that we can begin the pre-legislative scrutiny as soon as possible?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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We have had this question before, but I can tell my noble friend that we are trying to get the Bill here. We have a short period of time, it is a complex Bill and—I am going to be totally honest with noble Lords—it will not get here for pre-legislative scrutiny, but we will get it in shortly.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for keeping the issue of the problems facing leaseholders very much alive, to the point of nagging, repetition and maybe boring the Government into submission. It is so important that he has done that, and those who support him really deserve to be commended.

That is why I support Amendments 42 and 43, but they should not be controversial at all; they should be welcomed by the Government. I also commend recent announcements by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, clarifying—I hope—that the Government are committed to abolishing leasehold and will bring that forward imminently. Hear, hear for that. On this issue at least, many of us across the House, regardless of political differences, will be keen and willing to work with the Government on what we can maybe call the 13th mission of abolishing leasehold.

I want to look at what this has to do with levelling up, because it is a key point. There are 4.6 million leaseholders in the UK and many are first-time buyers, which the Bill seeks to encourage more of. Many of them are from parts of the country that the Bill seeks to level up. We should remember that, in earlier iterations of regional development, the regeneration and gentrification of so-called neglected city and town centres across England and Wales took the form of building blocks of flats. One argument was that densifying areas by building on brownfield sites would allow new housing without urban sprawl or nimbyist objections. My goodness, we even saw such blocks spring up in towns such as Buckley—the place I am from. We joked at the time about the area going posh, with its apartments and café society, never imagining that this would be a source of problems for people rather than a dream come true.

It is tragic to see endless newspaper reports of how this has turned into a nightmare for so many. A recent Manchester Evening News report says that leaseholders in one of the city’s most eye-catching apartment blocks are

“‘pulling their hair out’ over what they claim are ‘obscene’ management fees”

and monthly service charges exceeding £500—for a service charge in Manchester. Think about it; that is a lot of money. It is often even more than mortgage payments.

We should also remember that Margaret Thatcher’s home-owning democracy project of right to buy meant that many former council tenants bought their own home. In fact, they became leaseholders. These former local authority properties are now in the general housing stock and they are relatively cheaper to purchase, especially in London and the south-east. That makes them popular, affordable options as they put home ownership within the grasp of those who otherwise would be priced out of the market. Indeed, when I bought my first house—well, the only house I have ever bought—at 40, it was in those circumstances: the only way I could afford it was to buy an ex-council flat. That was me declaring my interest as well.

Sadly, it has all been a bit of a con, which was only revealed because of Grenfell, as has been explained. It has become clear that leaseholders are not home owners at all. Yes, they have the huge debt in the form of a mortgage, but really leaseholders are a sort of glorified tenant. I will come back to this with my Amendment 210 later in the Bill. However, unlike renters, leaseholders not only have the mortgage but are saddled with maintenance costs, not just of their own property but of whole blocks in the local area. They have no control over expenditure. We should note that there is a new leasehold crisis on the horizon, with local authorities demanding ever-spiralling costs from their leaseholders for building repairs, as councils rush to renovate poor-quality housing to meet the Government’s decent homes standard and to remedy flats to comply with recent fire and building safety legislation.

Council renting tenants are rightly not liable for such maintenance and repair costs, but the bill for entire blocks is then divided between local authority freeholders and individual leaseholders, who have no right to decide the scope or timing of proposed works, or, in fact, to request comparative quotes for contracts. That means that leaseholders are footing the bill for years of underinvestment in council housing stock.

Growing numbers are getting demands for eye-wateringly unaffordable sums. Neil Hosken, a south London teacher, has received a bill for £44,000. In Lambeth, there have been shock bills of up to £98,000. Sebastian O’Kelly from the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership says that his organisation is contacted every week by residents—leaseholders in council blocks—facing financial ruin, and one local council has officials to deal with right-to-buy sales on one side of the desk and on the other officials dealing with buying back council flats from leaseholders who have been wiped out by major works bills. It will be a real problem if we have a Bill about levelling up and we do not tackle this. We will be fooling ourselves if we do not deal with it.

Meanwhile, leaseholders of private flats find themselves, to quote one, “Fighting off one money-making caper after another by landlords and managing agents”. I take the point that we are talking about rogue incidents of freeholders who rip people off, but leaseholders none the less feel that they are being overcharged for insurance, utilities and everything from window cleaning to major building works. The main thing is that they do not have any control.

I think the reason why the Government rightly and perfectly reasonably say that home ownership is something that many people should aspire to, and the reason why a lot of people do aspire to it, in particular many young people, is because people want to have the freedom, autonomy and control of owning their own little place—or big place—so that they will not be dependent on the landlord or anyone else. That is what you think you are getting, but instead leasehold robs you of that control, which instead often belongs to absentee or offshore freehold landlords or their agents, or councils. It is they who call the shots on what happens in your block and even in your own flat. That is why the issue of control of insurance costs is fast becoming a critical battlefield in excessive charges for leaseholders, who are forced to pay towards a group insurance policy but have no control to, as it were, “go compare” which is the best insurance policy to choose.

I do not know whether noble Lords have been following the heroic work of Angie Jezard from Canary Riverside, who spent three years of her life uncovering that she and her fellow leaseholders had spent £1.6 million in secret insurance commissions to a freehold-linked company. This is potentially corruption, and leasehold campaigners and their tireless volunteer legal reps, such as Liam Spender, estimate that excessive costs have been paid that run into thousands of millions across the UK. That is why the proposals in Amendment 42 from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on mandatory disclosure and so on, are important as a first step, but as I hope I have illustrated, and as he has regularly illustrated, the myriad problems associated with leasehold as a system mean that it has to be abolished. This is a Bill that suits that cause, because we can say that we believe in levelling up and that the whole system of leasehold is holding back that project when it comes to housing.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. I am also proudly now a vice-president of the Local Government Association—finally.

I rise, as I naturally do, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who is flanked by his formidable wife, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who sticks up just as doggedly for Generation Rent. I am very pleased to support this amendment. It is a grand coalition, if you like, of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, my noble friend Lord Young—who I used to describe as part of the awkward squad, but obviously I am on the Back Benches now so that is irrelevant—and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, who are poised to ensure that this is taken really seriously by the Government. That is why, as a former Leasehold Minister, I join and add my voice.

I want to summarise each of these individuals in one word, which is hard, but I have thought about it for about five minutes. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is dogged—I can remember that there was not a single week when I was a Minister when he would not pop up, and probe, and cajole, and gently swipe, to get stuff done on behalf of all those poor leaseholders when it came to leasehold reform, and to ensure that we got the Building Safety Bill that we needed; that is a truly great contribution and I recognise that.

But I am going to answer some of the points that he raised, because unfortunately I am a bit immersed in the policy detail. There was some action by this Government. When I was the Leasehold Minister, we brought in the first stage of leasehold reform that removed escalating ground rents from the equation, which was the fuel that generated the whole business of leaseholders being exploited by very tricky freeholders. It was the first part of the LKP model—the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership model—of reform, so we got stage 1 done. Now we are set for stage 2 that brings in very important measures for existing leaseholders to enfranchise and get a share of the freehold.

Equally, I chaired many a session of something called the Commonhold Council. I am a commonholder in France and I know that you can be a commonholder in Scotland. It is a tenure that I support and it is something that we want to see widespread adoption of. But we have got to recognise that we have to kill this exploitative business for the future, and that has been partly done by the first stage of leasehold reform. We have got to set a direction that encourages people to have a share in their freehold, and also do what Labour failed to do—I am sorry to be party-political here—under someone called Tony Blair and get it right this time to see the widespread adoption of commonhold.

So the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is dogged, and I turn to my noble friend Lord Young, who for me is forensic. There is no element of parliamentary procedure that has not been read by my noble friend Lord Young: he reads everything. The message to the Government is, “Publish the Bill”—which is what the Law Commission advised as well. So I say to my noble my friend the Minister, “Publish the Bill”. We can then start the pre-legislative scrutiny in a constructive way, reaching across the aisle and working together to make this the best possible Bill before we run out of parliamentary time.

I am going to describe the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, as philosophical—we have got dogged, we have got forensic and we have got philosophical. What we have before us—a brilliantly crafted amendment —is the opportunity to level up home ownership, and that is why I am here in support of this grand coalition.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I accept entirely that when the noble Lord was a Minister, we got that first stage of ground rents through, and that was very good to do. The problem of course was that I could not persuade him on the next stage, but hopefully it is coming soon. But the noble Lord certainly got the first thing through, and I am very grateful for that.

Local Authority (Housing Allocation) Bill [HL]

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for sponsoring this Private Member’s Bill and for providing me with the opportunity to highlight this important matter, as well as to draw attention to the upcoming Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which is in the other place.

I start by saying that the Government will be opposing the Bill for a number of reasons. First, the Bill seeks to put into legislation matters that are more effectively addressed through planning policy. We would not want to constrain future ability to make appropriate policy adjustments in response to changing public needs or priorities.

Secondly, local planning authorities when preparing their local plans already establish their own housing requirements, informed by the standard method for assessing local housing need. It is for local authorities to choose how and where to meet their housing requirements in response to the needs of their communities.

Thirdly, neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for local people to shape development in their area to meet their community’s needs. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, gave a bit of background on how that approach to neighbourhood planning had its genesis in the Blair Government and was continued under the Cameron Government. Like all the best policies, it has had support from both parties in government. However, we should not exaggerate the impact of neighbourhood planning. In Bassetlaw, the contribution of the neighbourhood plan was only 459 homes, against an allocation of 4,057 homes. Therefore, while it is important, it is certainly not the silver bullet for the delivery of housing.

The fourth reason we are opposed to the Bill is that, through existing regulations and legislation, communities are able to comment on what a local plan ought to contain.

Finally, we have recently introduced our Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which will reform the process for preparing local plans so that it is simpler, faster and easier for communities to engage with. We are clear that communities must be at the heart of the planning process, and better engagement with them on planning matters is critical. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is taking real steps to address this. The Government are clear that, to help make home ownership affordable for more people and to help more people rent their own home, we need to deliver more homes.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, I say that the target of building 300,000 homes a year by the middle of this decade remains government policy; I made that point in response to a Question. But there is a recognition that we should not just have a drive for volume without thinking about quality. That is why there is a clear commitment that we want those homes to be built particularly on brownfield rather than greenfield developments. It is often cheaper for developers to build on greenfield, but we want more urban regeneration as well as more affordable housing. There is a commitment through the affordable homes programme to have a greater number of socially rented homes, up double from the previous period with 32,000 as the target, should economic conditions allow. So there is a commitment to more affordable housing, and a commitment to quality and not building on greenfield.

To get enough homes built in the places where people and communities need them, a crucial first step is to plan for the right number of homes. That is why, in 2018, we introduced a standard method for assessing local housing need to make the process of identifying the number of homes needed in an area simple, quick and transparent. I have to be clear that the standard method does not set a target for councils to meet. It is a method used by councils to inform the preparation of their local plans. Councils decide their own housing requirement once they have considered their ability to meet their own needs in their area. This includes taking local circumstances and constraints—for instance, the green belt—into account and working with neighbouring authorities if it would be more appropriate for needs to be met elsewhere. This recognises that not everywhere will be able to meet its housing need in full.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having an effective up-to-date plan in place. It is essential to planning for and meeting housing requirements in ways that make good use of land and result in well-designed and attractive places to live. The Government expect local authorities to work together to plan for and deliver the housing and infrastructure that our communities need. Without an adequate up-to-date plan, homes can end up being built on a speculative basis, with no co-ordination and limited buy-in from local people. That is the point the noble Lord, Lord Mann, made, and he is absolutely right. It is why we need these local plans in place.

Further to the local plan-making process, neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for local people to shape development in their area to meet their community’s needs. We know that over 2,850 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process since its introduction in 2012. However, despite all this, we acknowledge that the planning system has a poor record of community engagement and that it can often be adversarial. That is why the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will modernise our planning system and put local people in charge of it, so it delivers more of what communities want.

As noble Lords will know, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was introduced in Parliament on 11 May 2022. The Bill sets out to modernise our planning system and put local people in charge of it, so it delivers even more of what communities want. It will also give local leaders greater powers to improve town centres, bring land and property into productive use, and use the planning system to deliver the beautiful and sustainable homes that their communities want. It will reform the process for producing local plans so that it is simpler, faster and easier for communities to engage with. It will remove barriers to engagement and create a more democratic planning system, and local plans will be informed by a larger and more diverse range of community views. However, the introduction of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is only the first step. We will continue to work on the detail of regulations, policy and guidance—on the guidance, it is incredibly important that local authorities know where they have local discretion, as opposed to central discretion—and we will consult on a number of important provisions as we take this programme forward.

I take this opportunity to reassure noble Lords that the Government continue to listen to the representations of MPs, councillors and communities on the effectiveness of our housing policies. Alongside the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we have set out a number of specific areas where we plan to consult further in the coming months. We will announce details of those, as well as any other consultations, to use the ministerial phrase, in due course.

In conclusion, the Government strongly believe that local communities should have a say in what development takes place and where. As I have explained, a number of provisions are in place to ensure that local communities can have their say about what development happens, and community engagement will be strengthened by the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

Local authorities can already set their own housing requirements through existing policy. It is important that we do not constrain the ability to make appropriate policy adjustments in response to changing public needs or priorities by putting into legislation matters that are quite rightly more effectively addressed through planning policy. The Government must therefore oppose the Local Authority (Housing Allocation) Bill.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. This is the problem with the big state and Whitehall. The Minister just gave the figure of 431 houses out of the 4,500 housing allocation in Bassetlaw coming from neighbourhood plans. I will read the actual figures, because when the people in charge, who make decisions that they impose on local authorities, do not know the facts as determined by law, and then try to impose them on local people, then democracy, which we cherish, is undermined.

Here are the figures on completed plans. For Blyth Parish in 2021, the housing allocation was 62. For Carlton in Lindrick in 2019, it was 560. For Clarborough and Welham in 2017, the housing allocation was 38. For Cuckney, Norton, Holbeck and Welbeck in 2017, the allocation was 35. Elkesley in 2015 had 39. Lound had eight in 2022. Mattersey and Mattersey Thorpe in 2019 had 31. Misson in 2017 had 50. Misterton in 2019 had 187. Rampton and Woodbeck in 2021 had 21. Sturton in 2021 had 21. Sutton cum Lound in 2018 had 45. Walkeringham in 2021 had 66.

The total was 1,163, but those are completed plans. Built into the local housing plans are plans made “with review in progress”. I will not cite them all—there are too many, because neighbourhood planning has really taken off—but Misterton has 194; Hodsock and Langold has 227; Tuxford has 250; and the largest, Harworth and Bircotes, has already built more than 450 in its neighbourhood plan, never mind having it in its allocation. It has already built more than that and can build thousands. It is prepared to keep increasing, as the local plan goes on, to significant numbers. The last number I can recall is 1,130, but that area wants more. Mining villages want housing.

That is what local power is about: building houses and creating land for the houses. It is not the national state—Whitehall—telling people, “Here’s a number that we’ve created by magic. You’ve got to do this.” What happens then is that developers go for easy pickings. They go for the farmer’s field that they can build on and stick 300 houses where no one wants them and that are all the same. They build houses with five, six or seven bedrooms when local people need two or three-bedroom houses to live in, in their own communities. That is democracy, but it is also housebuilding.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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If we are talking about specific numbers, it is important that the noble Lord understands that I was referring to data on the most recent figures for December 2021. That is a window of time whereas the noble Lord is referring to historic achievements in terms of neighbourhood plans. We are quoting different statistics at each other, which I think is confusing for people listening to this. I am happy to write on that point.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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I am quoting statistics about how the local council is allocating land for housing where the numbers have been arrived at using the law in order to reach a target that the Government have arbitrarily set. If the local council had the power to set it entirely, as other local councils did, that council would not just have the housing allocations that were needed; it would have the houses needed in places where people wanted them and in a style that they liked, with popularity, with demand and with agreement. That is what happens with neighbourhood development planning: building is actually happening, of real houses with real people living in them. But across the country the Government are trying to create a national system where the Secretary of State and a few officials make up the numbers arbitrarily and force them on local people and local councils. We ought to reverse that. It is the heart of traditional conservative philosophy that you put power at the local level, which is why so many Conservative MPs support my approach. I beg to move.

Local Government (Exclusion of Non-commercial Considerations) (England) Order 2022

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Wednesday 29th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the draft Order and Regulations laid before the House on 25 May and 6 June be approved.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 28 June.

Motions agreed.

Local Government (Exclusion of Non-commercial Considerations) (England) Order 2022

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Local Government (Exclusion of Non-commercial Considerations) (England) Order 2022.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, this order was laid before your Lordships’ House on Monday 25 May 2022, under Section 19(3) of the Local Government Act 1999, for approval by a resolution of each House of Parliament. The order was considered and approved in the other place on Monday 20 June.

The illegal invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine has shocked the world and has been met by unprecedented global condemnation. Soon after the invasion, many local authorities also gave their own public condemnation of the Russian state’s action. They were clear they did not want local taxpayers’ money to be used to fund this reprehensible attack, and many noted their own intentions to break contracts with Russian-controlled companies. Local authorities are, however, subject to Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prohibits “non-commercial considerations” playing a part in commercial decision-making. Such non-commercial considerations include, at Section 17(5)(e) of the 1988 Act,

“the country or territory of origin of supplies to, or the location in any country or territory of the business activities or interests of, contractors”.

With regard to Russia and Belarus, this element of the Act is untenable.

This limitation was laid out in the Cabinet Office’s policy procurement note 01/2022, which was issued in March. In this advisory note, organisations in scope—government departments, their NDPBs and executive agencies—were asked to review their contract portfolios to identify Russian and Belarusian prime contractors and consider the termination of these contracts. The PPN particularly noted that the Government were actively considering a solution for local government to enable councils to follow the Cabinet Office’s advice. Council leaders have rightly been calling for action, requesting a flexible approach for those councils that wish to divest themselves of any dependence on Russian state-owned companies. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State wrote to leaders on 11 March, preparing them to consider their exposure to Russian and Belarusian-owned companies.

Your Lordships will recall that we held a debate on 24 March regarding Gazprom UK. In that debate, noble Lords made clear their desire to amend public procurement rules to align local authorities with the rest of the public sector, so I am pleased that today we are considering this order, which will enable us to disapply the provisions I have referred to at Section 17(5)(e) of the Local Government Act 1988. The order will enable best-value authorities and parish councils in England, if they so wish, to terminate both proposed or subsisting public supply or works contracts, in accordance with the terms of the contract, where either: first,

“the country or territory of origin of supplies to the contractor”

is Russia or Belarus; or, secondly,

“the location of the business activities or interests of a contractor”

is Russia or Belarus.

As council leaders have requested, this order will allow relevant authorities the flexibility to terminate proposed and subsisting contracts should they so wish. It will allow them to take comparable action to central government, as set out in the PPN, and ensure they are not funding Putin’s war machine. It is important to note that the Government are not mandating the termination of contracts nor creating new burdens on local authorities. This is a permissive power and the decision to terminate contracts rests with the authorities in question. As the PPN sets out for central government, and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has advised local authority leaders, decisions to terminate such contracts should be made on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the terms of the contract, and only where an alternative supplier can be sourced in line with value for money and affordability, and with minimal disruption to public services.

It is important to note that this policy will not enable these bodies to instigate their own unofficial municipal foreign or defence policies, but will not prevent them from undertaking their own divestment measures where these align with official government sanctions, as in this case.

As I have said, this will not add a new burden to local authorities. Nevertheless, the Government remain committed to engaging with any local authority with concerns about its financial position or service delivery or that may be facing pressures that it cannot take steps to manage locally. I reaffirm that commitment today.

This Government send a clear and strong message: Russia and Belarus should not benefit from public contracts and from the British taxpayer. We condemn Russia’s unprovoked, premeditated and illegal war. Across the United Kingdom and at all levels of government we remain steadfast in our support to ensure that Ukraine wins its battle for self-determination and that Russian forces withdraw.

This Government have introduced financial and investment sanctions. We provide military support, humanitarian aid and lead international efforts to support Ukraine’s objectives. We will continue to use all levers at our disposal in central government and, in the case of this order, local government, to cut off funds to Vladimir Putin’s war machine and demonstrate that we will not tolerate this abhorrent attack on Ukraine. I hope your Lordships will join me in supporting the proposed order. I commend it to the House.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the Minister in what he has said and thank him for his introduction. I also thank him and his department for the Explanatory Memorandum, which is lengthier than usual, and very helpful. There was an echo of these matters in the Chamber less than an hour ago in one of the Questions, which was about Russia. This order is the consequence of the gangster style of Russian leadership, with its cruel and dreadful impact on the nation of Ukraine.

Time is of the essence. I will pose several questions to the Minister and, if he cannot answer at the moment, I ask that he write. First, does he know how many contracts might be involved as a consequence of his order? Following that, what might be the employment consequences? It is a question of numbers, and some answers on these matters might be helpful. Lastly, can he give an example or two—or more—of the sorts of contracts that shall be terminated? In the departmental consideration of the making of the order, surely examples were brought forward. It might help the whole House if answers to these questions were proffered, either now or later.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I refer noble Lords to the register, which details that I am still a local councillor in the finest borough in the country, Burnley Borough Council. I thank the Minister for his speech outlining the sensible and pragmatic proposal before us, which responds to the sector and ensures that we show our solidarity at not only the national government but the local government level across the United Kingdom.

I am pleased to say that we on these Benches strongly support this statutory instrument. We support the Secretary of State and the Government giving local authorities the flexibility to make the decisions that are right for their localities. It is the right thing to do. We have continuously called on the UK Government to move faster and harder on economic and diplomatic sanctions against Putin’s barbarous regime. Too often we have lagged behind the EU and the US, while some promised measures have yet to be implemented. Ministers need urgently to introduce a new US-style law to act against those who act as proxies for sanctioned individuals and organisations. Supporting this statutory instrument further demonstrates that our support for Ukraine at all levels of government remains undiminished. The UK and our allies have shown remarkable strength and unity in response to President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. We will not be party to funding his war machine. Noble Lords have spoken with great solidarity in relation to the situation in Ukraine and supporting the order.

Having listened to noble Lords—in particular my noble friend Lord Jones, who, like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked some excellent questions—I want to ask the Minister a few questions of my own in the same spirit. How has the department engaged with local authorities to make them aware of these new powers? Will the Minister encourage local authorities to exercise these powers? If so, how? What assessment has the department made of the level of contracts in the public sector with Russia and Belarus?

I just want to pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about highlighting the challenge of overcentralisation. Like the Minister and the department for levelling up, we must look to ensure that, rather than responding after pressure from local authorities, we lead from the front so that local authorities are not put in difficult positions. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Committee for considering the order and for all the contributions to the debate. I am sure we can agree that it will further simplify our already strong message to Russia that we stand firmly with Ukraine and will use all levers possible to cut off funding to this illegal invasion. Allow me to try and respond to the points made by noble Lords.

I start with the points raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and then backed up ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, around what we know about which local authorities have contracts with Russian and Belarusian-backed companies and the value of those contracts. The Government do not hold data on how many contracts and sub-contracts are held by local authorities with organisations under the control of Russia or Belarus. However, we know that there are contracts and that the Secretary of State has been asked by a number of council leaders to amend legislation to allow councils to terminate such contracts.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, wanted some examples of contracts that fall into this. I will give one, which makes two points that have been raised by noble Lords. The first is that Portsmouth City Council has a contract with Gazprom and has decided not to terminate the contract. I make this point because it is not for Ministers or central government to use the bully pulpit. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I say that we are giving a permissive power for local authorities to make the decision about whether they withdraw from these contracts or not. We want them to go through the process and have the ability to do so, which currently in theory they do not, which is why we are bringing in this statutory instrument. We have been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, about the impacts of employment—

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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Did the Minister see the piece of paper his noble friend Lady Scott whipped fast to him under the papers she has just put down?

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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It is Lord Khan, not Ahmad.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Minister’s getting up, but the Minister’s getting confused. I am sorry; I meant “the noble Lord, Lord Khan”. I have been confused by people writing the wrong name. I am just reading from the top of the page—my apologies.

Here is the piece of paper. Going on to the next point, I say that we do not know about the impact on employment, and the impact on business is dependent on whether the country or territory of origin of supplies or location of business activities is Russia or Belarus and whether the relevant authority has decided to terminate contracts. Therefore it is not easy to estimate the impact on employment. But, again, this is a permissive power, and local government will ultimately make the decision in the interest of local services and value for money.

I will answer the noble Lord, Lord Khan, about what local authorities should do when these regulations come into effect. The Government will make sure that we provide guidance to local authorities as and when this order comes into force. There has been considerable engagement, and a need has been identified to do this and to bring forward the secondary legislation. These councils have been writing to the Secretary of State since the invasion of Ukraine, setting out the need for the Local Government Act 1988 restrictions in this area to be lifted, to allow local authorities to act. This statutory instrument will allow them to do this, so there has been considerable engagement, as noble Lords can see, and I hope your Lordships will support me in supporting the order.

Motion agreed.

Local Authority and Combined Authority Elections (Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Local Authority and Combined Authority Elections (Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, this statutory instrument was laid before the House on Monday 6 June under Sections 9HE and 105(2) of the Local Government Act 2000, and Section 114(1) of and paragraph 12(4) of Schedule 5B to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, for approval by resolution of each House of Parliament. This instrument amends local election rules to account for the new disqualification for sexual offences introduced by the Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022. These changes are necessary to ensure that future mayoral candidates continue to correctly declare that they are eligible to stand in elections. This will provide continued clarity for candidates and electoral administrators.

The Local Government (Disqualification) Act closes the loophole which meant that anyone who commits a sexual offence but is not given a custodial sentence could stand for local government election—or, indeed, if convicted once in office, could remain in office following that conviction. The Act passed with cross-party support earlier this year and comes into force today. Election processes now need to be updated through this instrument, which updates “consent to nomination” forms used in local authority mayoral elections. At nomination, a candidate must declare that they are not disqualified by signing such a consent to nomination form. The format and wording of these forms is prescribed in secondary legislation.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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This instrument amends four instances of such forms prescribed in election rules: two instances for county, district and London borough mayoral elections; and two for combined authority mayoral elections. Regardless of the type of office, the amendments to each consent to nomination form have the same effect. The changes update the forms to add a new reference to the updated criteria inserted by the disqualification Act. Further, this instrument updates the forms to require that copies of the relevant new sections from the disqualification Act are reproduced in full and appended to these forms for candidates’ information.

Noble Lords who have been following this matter closely will recall that the disqualification Act was informed by a 2017 government consultation. In our response, we committed to seek to legislate to disqualify sex offenders from local government. This instrument is the last stage to implement this commitment fully.

It should be noted that, alongside this instrument updating mayoral election rules, a similar instrument was made by negative procedure on 30 May. The Local Authority and Greater London Authority Elections (Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) (England) Rules 2022 updated election rules in the same manner for all tiers of councils, the London Assembly and the Mayor of London.

These amendments to election rules follow statutory consultation with the Electoral Commission. We incorporated its suggestions and the changes have its full support. It has updated its guidance to inform candidates of the new disqualification criteria. Following this instrument coming into force, it will update the nomination packs containing the new consent to nomination forms.

I should clarify the remit of these changes. This statutory instrument applies to England only. Wales has legislated to disqualify sex offenders from local government office but the changes did not require amendments to secondary legislation. Implementation of this instrument should not be delayed as the provisions of the Act are in force from today.

This instrument fulfils the Government’s commitment to protect local communities and make sure that they can have continued trust and confidence in their mayoral candidates. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, the regulations refer to today, so time is of the essence. I rise mainly on a point of principle. The Executive should always be questioned by the legislature; it is in that spirit that I always address your Lordships’ Committee. I fought eight general elections—I am glad to say that I won them—but I never saw forms such as are in the schedule. Their drawing up internally in the department must have been quite something; if they are now in their new form, congratulations should surely go to the department. One can only assess the hours that went into painstakingly putting them together. In a general election, one’s nomination form was always of supreme importance; you had to get it right because, if you did not, you did not get on the ballot paper. It is understandable that we need exactitude.

To make progress, can the Minister say how many mayors there are now? There are not many. Everyone knows of the great mayoralty of London but can the Minister itemise their numbers and say what they are so that the record might be up to date?

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I again refer your Lordships to my entry in the register, stipulating that I am a local councillor in Burnley Borough Council.

This instrument will update the candidate consent to nomination forms to reflect the very welcome changes introduced by the Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022, to which the Minister referred. An overwhelming majority of local councillors, mayors and mayoral candidates serve their communities to the best of their ability in the spirit of public service and public duty. I have done so for 15 years as a local councillor. I know that the Minister served as a council leader, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

However, when individuals fall short of the standards we expect from elected representatives we must ensure that action can be taken to remove them from office and, importantly, prevent them standing in the first place. Labour supported the associated Private Member’s Bill, with my honourable friend the shadow Minister, Jess Phillips MP, stating that

“it is important that this change is made in relation to all representatives, but with a special focus on those who act as corporate parents.”—[Official Report, Commons, Local Government (Disqualification) Bill Committee, 1/12/21; col. 4.]

It is great to have some cross-party agreement on what is quite a sensible thing to do. It is vital that we uphold the best standards in public life at all levels of government. I echo my noble friend Lord Jones’s comments. He spoke about the extra effort and hard work that has gone on behind the scenes to get this here.

I shall finish by asking the Minister a few questions, in the spirit of previous speakers. Are any further instruments necessary to implement provisions of the Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022? Finally, can he confirm whether these measures will be in force for any upcoming local authority by-elections? I look forward to his response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Committee for considering this draft instrument. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the sponsors of the Local Government (Disqualification) Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister and the Member for Mole Valley, Sir Paul Beresford—both very distinguished former leaders of Wandsworth Council—for their diligent work to progress the Bill here and in the other place respectively.

I will take a few moments to respond to noble Lords’ questions. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, this has taken a long time, but it was one of those things that came to light. It is a loophole that has been closed because of the Private Member’s Bill taken forward by my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister and Sir Paul Beresford. They are to be commended. It has taken too long, but we have got there. It is one of those things where we are responding to something that, frankly, was not front of mind until, as the noble Baroness said, there was someone in office who chose not to stand down when this became apparent.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan, wanted to know about implementation. My understanding is that the SI will come into effect the day after it is made after the Act commences. The issue is not about speed and delay but whether there is enough time to prepare. Certainly, there was no need for the usual. We are moving at pace. Therefore, by-elections will be covered because of the speed of implementation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, wanted parity, if you like, and asked why not MPs, given some of the recent incidents and cases in the other place. As I previously responded in support of the Bill at its Third Reading,

“standards and conduct for MPs and PCCs are governed under separate regimes, with their own mechanisms to disqualify or sanction unacceptable behaviour.”—[Official Report, 4/3/22; col. 1083.]

We are doing this for members of a local authority, counsellors, local mayors, members of the London Assembly or the London mayor. There are other regimes for MPs. As noble Lords know, MPs can, under certain circumstances, be recalled if at least 10% of the constituency electorate sign a petition.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, really tested me on the number of mayors and having a schedule of mayors. This is not as easy as noble Lords would think. Obviously we have the London mayor and the London Assembly as one model. A number of combined authorities have a directly elected mayor: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, North of Tyne, South Yorkshire, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England and West Yorkshire. Obviously we are covering directly elected mayors, of which we have a number now. There are four in London, in Croydon, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham, as well as all the ceremonial mayors. I am told that the total number of directly elected mayors is 26 in England. That is quite a bit of work in response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Jones.

In conclusion, it is essential that the provisions of the disqualification Act are accurately reflected in mayoral election rules. That is exactly what this instrument achieves, while ensuring that local government can continue to command people’s faith and trust, both now and in future. I therefore commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Roma Community: Levelling Up

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Bakewell Portrait Baroness Bakewell
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how their levelling up plans take into account the needs of the Roma community.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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The Government have set out 12 national levelling-up missions which are already beginning to drive real change across the United Kingdom, including for our Roma communities. They include investing £1.4 million in targeted educational support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. We will continue to work across government to tackle inequalities.

Baroness Bakewell Portrait Baroness Bakewell (Lab)
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I am aware of the Government’s plans to deal with the Roma community, but two weeks ago the submissions from local government closed. What guarantee is there that the funding going via local authorities will be ring-fenced for the Roma community and that it will not bring them into conflict with the new extended police power to move people on?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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It is for local authorities to work on their own local housing need. While tackling unauthorised encampments, we have recognised the need also to provide more opportunities for stopping sites. That is why we have invested £10 million in enabling both more permanent and temporary provision for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, an investigation by the Education Select Committee into the achievement of Gypsy and Roma children is under way. Only 8.1% of those children achieve a grade 5 or higher pass at GSCE English and Maths, compared to 49.9% of other pupils. What percentage of Gypsy and Roma children currently attract pupil premium funding? Is there a case that the level of funding should be higher, akin to that which looked-after children attract?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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More than 14,000 Gypsy, Roma, Traveller or Irish heritage pupils are eligible for free school meals, representing over 40% of GRT pupils. GRT pupils do not attract the pupil premium per se, but the Government have increased the amount of money to £2.6 billion in 2022-23. I will look at and discuss with my noble friend in the Department for Education the level set for GRT pupils.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is contributing remotely.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, mission 7 of the Government’s White Paper on levelling up in the UK aims to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030. However, there is no mention in it at all of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Given that the life expectancy of GRT people is 10 to 25 years less than that of the general population, can the Minister say what the Government are doing to target this disparity?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The levelling-up White Paper does not mention specific communities; it sets the overall ambition. However, it is fair to say that the Government, through the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, have commissioned health guidance for Roma communities. The guidance has been developed by the Roma Support Group, which is part of the Health and Wellbeing Alliance and NHS England, and this will be published as part of the migrant health guide.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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My Lords, in 2019 the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, the Minister’s very effective predecessor, announced a cross-departmental strategy to level out the horrendous inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. I know the Minister is sympathetic to the strategy, but nothing has been announced—no plan, no strategy, no aims, no actions, no lines of accountability—since 2019. Indeed, since then the Education Select Committee, the House of the Lords Public Services Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have all commented on the severe disparities in all the outcomes. What are the Government going to do about the cross-departmental strategy? Does it still exist?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise that we have not yet published the strategy but I take issue with the idea that we have not moved forward. We have made progress: we have launched the £10 million Traveller site fund for 2022-23; we have invested £1.4 million in targeted programmes, with various pilot projects to improve educational outcomes; and, as I said in response to a previous question, we are developing specific guidance to improve health outcomes in the Roma community. So, while we do not have a strategy, the Government have taken tangible steps to level up and benefit the GRT community.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, Roma used to be able to travel the land finding work as casual agricultural workers and stopping in traditional, unofficial places. The police and crime Bill will now prevent this, but local authorities are not required to provide legally serviced sites for them. The Roma are the last group in society to whom equalities do not appear to apply. Is the Minister not ashamed of the appalling inequalities that these citizens suffer constantly?

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Government made a manifesto commitment to tackle unauthorised encampments, but we recognise that not all of them cause harm or disruption. We recognise the financial costs to communities, businesses and landowners of clearing up sites and repairing damages. That is why we have announced the £10 million fund, which has been well oversubscribed. There are opportunities for local authorities to access that fund as well as the £10.5 billion affordable homes fund, but it is the local planning authorities’ duty to work out what they should be providing.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister set out in specific terms what steps he is taking, working with the Department of Health and Social Care, to improve health outcomes for the Roma community, especially as the health disparities White Paper is being prepared and the ICBs are being established?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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We set out a clear mission in the levelling-up White Paper to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by five years. We are creating clear guidance for the community, as I have already mentioned, and I am sure that more of the plan will be revealed in the health disparities White Paper in due course.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend asked about the national strategy and progress, but surely one of the problems is the Government’s ongoing resistance to cross-departmental strategies on race equality issues. How will the levelling-up Bill address this? How will it get that resistance sorted and get departments to genuinely work together to improve outcomes for the Roma community?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we have a lead Minister who is responsible for equalities matters and has taken on the brief as Communities Minister. My honourable friend Kemi Badenoch is charged with those duties and I am sure will bring forward plans in due course.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend explain what happens to the funding awarded to a Gypsy, Traveller or Roma child if that child fails to complete the academic year, which is disruptive not just for that child but for all the children in that class?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I guess I will have to write to my noble friend on the specific point about what happens to funding, but the Government’s focus is on ensuring that we improve provision and keep more GRT children in mainstream schooling.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, the original Statement about the strategy referred to entrenched inequality, and last year we were told that the strategy would be published in due course. Why has it not yet been published? Is there no strategy?

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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For a great period of time when I held the brief before my colleague Kemi Badenoch, we were working on a clear set of plans, some of which have already been announced. Irrespective of whether or not there is a document, we have a plan around improving temporary and permanent site provision, which is why we have announced the fund. We have plans around improving educational opportunities for GRT children by leading with five pilots with local authorities. I am sure that more will be announced in due course.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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My Lords, in a recent conversation with Billy Welch, who organises the Appleby Horse Fair and lives in Darlington, he asked—while recognising the deep problems that have been highlighted in all these questions—that we please start talking about the positive contributions that GRT communities make. Would the Minister like to comment on his view?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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Yes, we recognise that GRT communities make a positive contribution. There is a clear commitment to support them in carrying on their way of life and nomadic traditions. That is why we have announced the fund to give them more opportunities for stopping sites and make it easier for them to live the way that they want to live.

Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 12, Schedule 1, Clause 13, Schedule 2, Clauses 14 to 28, Schedule 3, Clauses 29 and 30, Schedule 4, Clauses 31 and 32, Schedule 5, Clauses 33 to 36, Title.

Motion agreed.

Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
2nd reading
Monday 27th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I am proud to be here today to open this Second Reading debate of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. This Bill will transform the lives of social housing tenants up and down the country. Once it is implemented, more tenants will live in decent, well looked-after homes, enjoying the quality of accommodation that they deserve.

However, it is right that we also reflect on the events that have led us to this point. Just over five years ago, 72 people—18 of them children—died as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire. The horrifying scenes that night ought never to have occurred. The situation in which the residents of Grenfell Tower were placed was unforgivable. The fire at Grenfell Tower exposed failures and decades of malpractice. It is vital that we bring about reform and lasting change so that a tragedy such as Grenfell never happens again.

Noble Lords have debated the Fire Safety Act and the Building Safety Act. The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill represents the next step in this programme of change. Social housing tenants, whether in Grenfell Tower or elsewhere up and down this country, have not been treated with the respect that they deserve. They do not always feel safe in their homes. Everyone should be treated with respect. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home. In 2022, it is a disgrace that there are social housing tenants who are forced to live in damp, cold, unsafe homes. Some tenants wait months for repairs and are ignored by their landlords. We should be ashamed that this takes place. There are many good landlords in the sector. Many provide high-quality, well-managed, well-maintained accommodation. Many listen and care for their tenants, and many run a fiscally sound organisation. However, that cannot be said for every organisation. The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will change this.

This Bill is short but radical. The Regulator of Social Housing is responsible for landlords who register with it throughout England. The regulator will be taking a new, proactive approach to regulating social housing landlords on the issues that matter most to tenants: safety, so that tenants feel protected in their homes; transparency, so that tenants know what their landlord is doing to resolve their issues and can hold their landlord to account; quality accommodation and services, which we would expect landlords to provide; and complaint handling, so that tenants are listened to and their concerns are effectively addressed. The Bill will drive significant change in how social landlords behave, forcing them to focus on the needs of their tenants. Where they do not do this, they will be held robustly to account.

The Bill has three key parts. The first is a brand-new proactive consumer regime. This is the core of this legislation. The regulator will be empowered to hold landlords to account and to proactively ensure landlords are meeting the consumer standards we expect them to deliver. We are changing the regulator’s objectives. This will put tenant safety and transparency at the heart of everything the regulator does. We are removing the “serious detriment” test so that this is no longer a barrier to the regulator enforcing breaches of consumer standards. We are setting out the powers for the Housing Ombudsman to issue a complaint handling code to its members and to make orders to prevent problems recurring in future following complaints.

The Government are also taking a power to bring forward electrical safety regulations for social housing. We are consulting on mandatory electrical safety checks in the social rented sector, and this will align standards with the private rented sector. The new regime will also mean that the regulator will regularly inspect the largest landlords to ensure they are delivering quality homes and services to their tenants. Landlords will need to appoint a person with specific responsibility for health and safety. There will be a new access to information scheme. This will work similarly to the Freedom of Information Act for landlords not currently captured by that Act. Tenants of these landlords will, under the access to information scheme, have the right to request information from their landlord so they can effectively hold their landlord to account.

The second part of the Bill tweaks the current economic regulatory regime. The existing regime has been highly successful. The regulator has been effective at ensuring social housing landlords are fiscally well managed, and that tenants’ homes are not lost. However, we cannot rest on our laurels. The make-up of the sector is changing. New models for how landlords structure their organisations are popping up. We need to future-proof the current regime. We are tightening the definition of “non-profit” so that malign actors cannot play the system. We are forcing landlords to notify the regulator when they change their corporate form. We are introducing a look-through power so the regulator can follow money paid outside of the regulated sector, to ensure probity.

The third part of the Bill will give new powers for the regulator to take enforcement action when things go wrong. These powers will ensure the regulator can take robust action where landlords are failing to meet standards. There will be no limit on the amount the regulator can fine a landlord. Where a survey uncovers a serious issue with a property that a landlord has failed to fix, the regulator will be able to intervene and carry out repairs to fix the problem.

Noble Lords will wish to note that there will be a few targeted government amendments to this legislation in Committee. Among these, we are adding a provision that companies will be required to notify the regulator when there is a change in control of a housing association, as set out in the social housing White Paper. We are also adding a duty on the Housing Ombudsman to monitor compliance with its complaint handling code and a power for the ombudsman to recover any associated costs from its members.

The introduction of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to this House represents a decisive moment for tenants of social housing up and down this country. I beg to move.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank everyone across the Chamber for contributing so constructively to the spirited and very wide-ranging Second Reading. The debate once again highlighted the breadth and depth of noble Lords’ expertise and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Camrose on an excellent maiden speech. He comes with really practical skills—probably more practical than the scribblers out there, even though his family includes very distinguished owners of many of the titles that many of us read today. I am looking forward to his measured and thoughtful contributions to this House over the coming years.

Across all the contributions today there has been a consistent concern to ensure that tenants of social housing receive the housing and respect that they deserve. I share this concern. The Bill will deliver extensive and much-needed reforms. It will continue to drive forward the once-in-a-generation change required to make sure that tenants live in decent, safe and secure homes and are treated with respect. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in praising the contribution of the Grenfell community in advancing this important agenda. I will do my very best to address as many of the points raised as I can—again, this has been an incredibly wide-ranging debate.

A number of questions focused on the supply of social housing, including the contributions from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. This legislation is not about supply, as I think they both realised, but we are committed to increasing the supply of affordable homes. We have invested more than £12 billion in affordable housing over the five years, but we recognise the need to build more social rented housing, which is why this current programme of affordable housing is seeking to double the number of social homes we are building to 32,000. I noticed the focus in the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on the decent homes standard. There is no greater sign that the Government recognise the importance of the decent homes standard than trying to extend it into the private rented sector. It is about raising quality, irrespective of whether you are a social tenant or a private tenant, so we improve quality in the round.

In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Thornhill, I undertake that we will continue as a Government to work closely and engage closely with both the National Housing Federation and the Local Government Association as we bring forward these reforms and improve regulation.

A number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, raised the issue of why it has taken so long to introduce the Bill. We have to recognise that the Bill is just one of many reforms that the Government have delivered in response to Grenfell Tower, including the Building Safety Act and last year’s Fire Safety Act. We spent time listening to residents, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Camrose. We had to hear at first hand about their experiences and how they wanted a sea-change. More than 8,000 residents contributed to these discussions, including the bereaved, survivors and residents of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. There has been a process: a social housing White Paper, which we consulted on, then we responded to the consultation, and now we are moving to legislation. It is important to get these things right.

A number of noble Lords asked about funding for the new regulatory regime, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Watkins and Lady Thornhill, and my noble friend Lord Bourne. We are making significant changes to the regulator, which will drive change in the sector and improve the lives of social housing residents. Given the scale of reform, it is likely that the regulator will need to double in size to deliver the strengthened consumer regulation regime. Further work will be carried out to determine the exact cost of delivering the new consumer regulation regime, in part because the regulator will need to design and consult on the new regulatory framework following the passage of this Bill.

However, the Government are committed to ensuring that the regulator has the resources it needs, both to deliver the new consumer regulation regime and to continue effectively regulating on its economic objectives. A new fees regime will need to be developed for when the new consumer regime has been implemented. This will be subject to engagement and formal consultation with stakeholders. Government policy is to maximise the recovery of costs through fees in the same way that the regulator already does.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford raised, issuing fines is one of the enforcement powers the regulator can use. It is not the only one, and it is for the regulator to decide on the appropriate sanction depending on the circumstances. Government rent policy limits the maximum amount of rent that the social landlord can charge, subject to certain exceptions. It is down to the regulator to get the system of enforcement right, and there are protections on rent levels.

I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in particular that the vast majority of the cost associated with this regulation, estimated at some £174 million, is largely a result of the requirements on providers to perform five-yearly electrical safety checks. That is certainly the largest source of cost. I know that he, in exhorting me to move from “may” to “must”, recognises that we do not want to pre-empt the consultation on electrical safety measures for social housing. However, we are obviously looking at the financial impact of that and would not be putting those powers in the Bill if we were not very serious in our intention to level up between private and public housing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, asked a difficult question about how the electrical safety power and associated costs affect shared ownership properties. I was scratching my head; I undertake to write to her with details on this critical issue.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Thornhill and Lady Hayman of Ullock raised the issue of how we listen to tenants’ voices. We launched this social housing quality resident panel only in March, which brings together social housing residents from across the country so that they can share their views with government and Ministers. Let us see how that plays out. However, I note that the Mayor of London has called for a commission. We will look at that seriously and, I am sure, respond to those points.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, has really been into the details of this Bill. She wanted to know how we focus inspections and why small landlords will not be inspected. The system of inspections will be based on risk profile to ensure that those landlords at greatest risk of failing, or whose failure might have the greatest impact on tenants, are subject to greatest oversight, which makes sense to me. The regulator will continue to develop its approach and the details of how it will manage consumer inspections.

My noble friend Lord Young, who is forensic in his analysis of all housing legislation, asked why this advisory panel needs to be statutory. Placing the requirement in statute ensures that this happens. It also sets out expectations on the make-up of the panel and the range of matters it would consider. I believe it is sensible to ensure through legislation that this happens, rather than relying on the regulator choosing to do so. In other words, we are making sure that there is no way out and that this will happen.

In my meeting before today’s debate and during it, my noble friend Lord Young raised the confusion between the Housing Ombudsman and the Regulator of Social Housing. The Regulator of Social Housing has the emergency repair power. I point out that there is a long track record of close working between the regulator and the ombudsman, and we are ensuring effective information sharing between them. The proposals in the Bill will reinforce and strengthen the co-operation that already exists. We are also delivering a communications campaign to tenants so that they know where to go and are well informed.

There were a series of important contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and my noble friend Lord Young about what has happened to the government consultation on energy efficiency and what the Government are generally doing in this important area, particularly with respect to social housing. The Government agree that improving the energy efficiency of homes is a must. In the 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy, we committed to consider setting a long-term regulatory standard to improve social housing to EPC band C, and we will consult the sector before setting any standard. The Government have committed some £3.8 billion to the social housing decarbonisation fund, which will help councils and housing associations to upgrade social housing. In fact, Lancaster West Residents’ Association has been a beneficiary of that fund.

I have to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, is incredibly dogged and has raised right to buy on pretty much every occasion, certainly in recent weeks. I know that a number of your Lordships are concerned about the impact of right to buy on social housing stock. The Government agree that it is important that homes sold under right to buy are replaced, and we want to see an increase in the number of replacement homes sold by local authorities. Following a consultation on the use of right-to-buy receipts, the Government introduced a package of reforms in 2021 to help local authorities build more homes. This set of reforms, combined with the abolition of the borrowing cap in 2018, certainly gives councils more flexibility to build council homes. That is what we are seeing: councils are building more council homes. With regard to the replacement of homes sold under the extension of right to buy to housing associations, tenants will be central to the scheme design. I am sure that the replacement of stock sold through that voluntary scheme will be foremost in getting the scheme right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, raised the issue of tenant satisfaction measures. We believe that these measures provide a snapshot of a landlord’s performance, so they will not include everything. I know that the regulator has worked with the sector, the National Housing Federation and others in developing a balanced set of tenant satisfaction measures that cover the issues that tenants have told us were important to them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, asked a very specific question about whether the Government are looking at compensation for deregistered registered providers. I will take this important issue back to the department, as I do not have an answer here and now.

With regard to the focus on including net zero in the decent homes standard, as I said, we committed in the Heat and Buildings Strategy to consider setting a long-term regulatory standard to improve social housing to EPC band C. We will consult the sector before setting that standard, as I said in an earlier response.

It has been an incredibly wide-ranging debate, but I thank noble Lords, because I think there is a genuine desire to get behind the Bill to make sure that the voices of tenants are heard. I am sure there will be many opportunities to come up with practical proposals. Having taken forward legislation in this area, I look forward to working with those on all sides of the House to get this important legislation right and I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.