Debates between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 26th Apr 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 4th Apr 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading
Tue 29th Mar 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Report stage: Part 2
Wed 2nd Mar 2022
Thu 24th Feb 2022
Mon 21st Feb 2022
Building Safety Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage
Mon 7th Feb 2022
Tue 11th Jan 2022
Tue 26th Oct 2021
Wed 17th Mar 2021
Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Lords Hansard
Mon 1st Mar 2021
Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No. 2) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Lords Hansard
Wed 24th Feb 2021
Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 22nd Feb 2021
Thu 4th Feb 2021
Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No. 2) Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 29th Oct 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Tue 22nd Sep 2020
Tue 28th Jul 2020
Mon 20th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 13th June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unfortunately, that last bit is not accurate. If the landlord provides a nine-volt battery smoke alarm, that will last only six months. That is at the heart of what I am asking. Some landlords will not make lots of attempts to get in to make sure that the smoke alarms are there and will not see that they are properly fitted, so all this will unravel. If we are having regulations, and I am glad we are, surely there has to be something about a long-lasting solution.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

The noble Baroness is of course right that that would make sense—I should declare my interest as a private landlord, although these regulations affect social housing. It would make sense to put into guidance something that would enable the quality threshold to be met so that we would not have that eventuality of smoke alarms with a very short battery shelf life becoming the de facto norm when you could come up with solutions such as alarms that are either hardwired or have a long battery life. That point has now been made by several noble Baronesses and I will take it away for my officials who will be drafting these regulations to take on board.

With that, I have done my best to answer noble Lords’ questions—and if I have not, I will follow up in writing, as I have already undertaken to do.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is good to recognise that the Bill has indeed been transformed during its passage through Parliament, but the major transformation point was initiated by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, when he said that

“leaseholders are shouldering a desperately unfair burden. They are blameless, and it is morally wrong that they should be the ones asked to pay the price.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/22; col. 283.]

I agree, as many others across the House will. Unfortunately, however, the Bill currently does expect some leaseholders to pay. My colleagues and I are asking the Government today to think again.

The Government argue that Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights ensures a balance of rights between property owners and leaseholders, which in their view means that leaseholders have to pay towards the costs. That is the basis of the Government’s argument for the cap of £10,000 and £15,000. However, that view was comprehensively challenged by my noble friend Lord Marks, whose argument was endorsed fully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, on Report. Senior legal minds in this House agree that it is possible within the ECHR for innocent leaseholders to pay nothing.

This legitimately opens up the opportunity, which must be grasped, for the Government to accept that leaseholders must not pay a penny whatever the height of the building, hence Motion D1 in my name to include buildings under 11 metres so that leaseholders in those buildings do not pay. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, rightly reminded us, a building under 11 metres has been destroyed by fire in under 11 minutes. We really need to think again about those buildings under 11 metres. However, I thank the Minister for the assurances he has given to those leaseholders in buildings under 11 metres at the Dispatch Box today and for urging them to get directly in contact with him if they get any invoices for remediation works. I am sure I will be holding him to account on that one, as will the leaseholders, and I am sure they will get in touch with us across the House to make sure that they do not pay. They must not.

What I do know is that the Government need to think again about the leaseholder cap. My Motion H2 reduces the cap back to zero, where it should be. I remind the House of the commitment by Secretary of State Michael Gove that leaseholders should not be paying the cost incurred as the result of the sometimes deliberate actions of others. The Minister himself has acknowledged tonight that some leaseholders will still pay, when we agreed in January at the very start of this great transformation that they are blameless and it is morally wrong that they should have to be the ones to pay the price. We have looked after many leaseholders but not all.

Obduracy in the face of moral right is a failure of political leadership. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Motion H1 to achieve a degree of improvement to the lot of leaseholders, who have shouldered the burden of anxiety and fear for too long and whose campaigning efforts have achieved so much.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I must thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I am not sure; maybe we are close to that point where we can say, “One more heave”. I want quickly to turn to Amendment 94 and Motion D1, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to the Government’s Motion D, where she disagrees with the Government. I explained in my opening speech the reasoning behind our Amendment 94A and I do not propose to repeat my arguments. I simply remind noble Lords that the approach the Government have proposed is sensible. Setting the threshold at 11 metres will help restore proportionality to the system, as also argued by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the Government have committed to consult on how best leaseholders in collectively enfranchised and commonhold buildings can be protected. On timescales, in response to my noble friend, I think we said “soon”. I shall strengthen that and say “as soon as possible”. That is a big concession.

I turn to Motion H1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as an amendment to the Government’s Motion H. It would replace a zero cap in a previous amendment with £250 for leaseholder contributions, while Motion H2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, disagrees with the Government’s caps.

Motion H1 would make changes to the leaseholder contribution caps in Schedule 8 and reduce them to £250, up from the zero cap in her previous amendment. Motion H2 disagrees with the Government’s Motion and would return the caps to zero. As I said in my opening speech, the Government have been clear that setting the leaseholder contribution caps to zero or to a nominal level, such as £250 or £25 a year for 10 years, would not be a proportionate approach. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to protecting leaseholders. Indeed, it is hard to overstate how far-reaching our proposed protections are. They represent a hugely significant and robust improvement on the existing position for leaseholders.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I start by thanking the cladding and building safety campaigners who have been resolute and unremitting, since the Grenfell fire tragedy, in pursuing justice for leaseholders and tenants. Without them, this Bill would not be in the shape it is today. It has been transformed but not transformed enough, as we have heard from others. Across the House, people have worked together to make it a better Bill. I thank them for the way we have worked together to make improvements, but it is not yet enough.

I, too, urge the Government to accept the amendments that we accepted on Report. I, for one, am not giving way. I hope that the Government, at the other end, will say that the argument has been made for a nil cost to all leaseholders. That is where I shall firmly stand to the bitter end. Leaseholders are the innocent victims; they must not pay a penny.

I pass on my thanks to the Minister for being so free with his time, discussing the various amendments, and to the officials from various parts of the Government for explaining the detailed changes that had been proposed. Particularly, I thank Sarah Pughe in the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office, and my noble friend Lord Stunell. Without their expertise, knowledge and experience, we would not have been able to do the job that, between us, we have done. I look forward to the Bill coming back, having been accepted by the Commons.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I beg the indulgence of noble Lords: as my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked pretty much the same question, I thought I would respond to that very briefly. They wanted to know what happens to orphan buildings, where there is no polluter to pay. I do not feel that this works in this setting, but I have this wonderful diagram that makes it pretty clear to me what happens. This is the so-called “non-cladding costs waterfall”, which I am going to try to have put on the Government’s website. Let us be very clear: we need to look at this in terms of cladding and non-cladding.

There is, of course, the £5.1 billion building safety fund for the remediation of cladding in high-rise residential buildings, which is open to orphan buildings. My department is seeking a further £4 billion voluntary contribution. In the first instance, it is a voluntary contribution from the developers for the remediation of unsafe cladding in medium-rise buildings, which is also open to orphan buildings. Then, we have this wonderful government waterfall for non-cladding costs: the developers must pay. In instances where the developer is not available to pay, the landlord must pay. The landlord or freeholders who pass the government test, which is a net worth of £2 million per building, become legally liable for all the costs. The landlords must comply with the law, as set out by Parliament. Freeholders or landlords must pursue those responsible, as well as any applicable grant schemes, before they can pass costs on.

Finally, as it says on this wonderful chart, which even I can read with my poor eyesight, costs are shared equitably between freeholders, lessees and leaseholders, subject to robust leaseholder protections detailed in the Bill—and sent back to the other place with some other parameters that perhaps the Government might not have wanted at this stage.

I want to make a final point about landlords. Sadly, some landlords are polluters. A number of large freeholders have appeared on the Government’s “name and shame” list for not remediating their buildings. Some freeholders or landlords have gone so far as to force leaseholders to take loans to remediate their buildings. As I said, we all agree that, in those instances, the polluter must pay.

Housebuilding: Target

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Wednesday 30th March 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

That is an incredibly good point, because the wider public sector counts for about a third of the money that is spent in the construction industry in any given year. We need to encourage small and medium-sized builders who are more innovative and bring new things with them, rather than simply the large-volume builders.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister understands the difference between affordable housing and housing for social rent. In response to a previous question on social housing, the Minister’s answer was “Affordable”—which is not the same thing at all. So can the Minister help the House to understand, with construction costs soring and social housing dependent on government grants, whether the Government will increase the size of the grants so that more social housing can be built to meet the desperate need in this country?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the House will be unsurprised to know that I do understand the difference between types and tenures of housing. What I said in response to a previous question was that we had pledged to build 32 socially rented homes, and that the amount in this current programme is double that of the previous programme. To be clear, I meant 32,000 and not 32—I must get my numbers right. There is a real commitment to build not only socially rented homes but the houses between that and outright home ownership.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I was a little slow in rising to introduce the government amendments. I was, perhaps, a little punch drunk after the length of the debate today.

It is only right, and I am sure we all agree, that building owners and landlords should share in the cost of fixing dangerous buildings. We have carefully engineered this Bill to ensure that those responsible, and otherwise those with the broadest shoulders, will be the first who are required to pay. Where there is no party that clearly should pay in full, and only in this scenario, our approach spreads the costs fairly and equitably and, above all, ensures that the most vulnerable leaseholders are protected. These measures are a robust and unprecedented legislative intervention, reversing the existing legal presumption that leaseholders must bear the costs of historical building safety defects.

The Government have listened to the comments raised by noble Lords, and we have tabled amendments which go even further in protecting leaseholders. Before I set out the detail of these further protections, I would like to be clear that the protections we are putting in place are extensive and, as noble Lords will be well aware, that these must remain in balance with the demands placed on landlords and building owners in ensuring that building safety defects are fixed and paid for where no wrongdoing on their part has taken place. There is an element of fairness here that we need to deliver. The Bill changes the private contract between the landlord and the leaseholder by stating that leaseholders will not pay any costs except in certain circumstances. Government can do this if it is in the general interest to do so, provided there is a fair balance between all the parties. Therefore, we need to make sure that the Bill is both proportionate and fair to all parties.

As I have said, leaseholders need to be protected, and we have brought in the most wide-ranging and expansive set of protections ever seen, allowing the courts to look through to associated companies to find both who is responsible and who has funds to remediate properties as there is no point in having money while properties remain unsafe. However, we are also aware that not all landlords were involved with the developer or have deep pockets, and we need to make sure that we consider the issue of building safety from all sides. We have therefore legislated on the side of the landlords by providing numerous robust routes for recovery of funds from those truly responsible: developers and the manufacturers of defective construction products.

To be clear, and bearing in mind my noble friends’ proposed amendments, let me put their minds at rest. The Bill makes it very clear that leaseholders will not pay anything in the majority of cases. These are where the landlord is the developer or is linked to the developer, where the landlord is wealthy and, finally, where the leaseholder’s property is valued at less than £325,000 inside London and £175,000 outside.

Where these absolute protections do not apply, the leaseholder’s contributions will be heavily capped. On leaseholder contribution caps, it is important to bear in mind that these caps are a maximum that leaseholders can be charged, not a target, and that, as above, they apply only where the landlord is not linked to the developer and cannot afford to pay in full. In addition, costs paid out in the past five years, including for interim costs such as waking watches, will count against the caps. Overall, we consider that in most cases leaseholders will not have to pay the full capped amount and many will pay nothing at all. Nevertheless, the Government agree it is critical that those leaseholders who are least likely to be able to afford to contribute towards historical remediation costs receive the greatest protection. That is why we have tabled amendments to provide that any qualifying lease with a value below £175,000, or £325,000 in Greater London, will be protected from all costs relating to non-cladding defects and interim measures. This is in addition to the protections for cladding remediation costs, which apply to all qualifying leases, and to all leases in buildings owned by or connected to developers.

Amendment 164 sets out that the value of a qualifying lease at the qualifying time is to be determined by the most recent sale price on the open market, prior to 14 February this year, uprated in accordance with the UK House Price Index published by the Office for National Statistics. Uprating values for this purpose will be set out in legislation.

Amendments 118 and 119 expand the definition of “enfranchised buildings” to ensure that all types of enfranchised buildings are covered.

We have listened very carefully to concerns about leaseholder affordability in the small number of cases where leaseholders are paying up to the caps. That is why we have tabled Amendment 166, to double the repayment period from five to 10 years. For leaseholders whose property is not below the threshold and whose building owner or landlord is not liable for the full remediation costs, Amendment 166 will mean that with regard to the capped costs the monthly repayments will be halved.

We have also listened carefully to those who were worried about buy-to-let investors who may be holding leasehold properties instead of a pension. As a result, we have amended Clause 121 to provide that people owning up to three UK properties qualify for the protections. As before, the principal home will always qualify, irrespective of how many additional properties are owned.

As well as going further to protect leaseholders, we have tabled a number of amendments which add key detail to the measures. We are clear that developers must fix the buildings they developed. That is why we have tabled Amendments 141 to 143 to Schedule 9, which clearly state that, where the landlord is or is linked to the developer, they will not be able to pass costs on to any leaseholder. This includes non-qualifying leaseholders such as commercial leaseholders and those with more than three UK properties. We have also tabled Amendment 145, which extends the definition of a developer to include persons who were in a joint venture with the developer. If you commissioned the work, you will also count as the developer.

We have also tabled Amendment 152, which will amend Schedule 9 to provide that where the landlord meets the contribution condition—defined as having a total net worth of more than £2 million per in-scope building as of 14 February 2022—they will not be able to pass any costs on to qualifying leaseholders. The calculation for net worth will be set out in regulations and will take into account parent and associated companies. This will ensure that those who have used complex corporate structures, such as special purpose vehicles, cannot evade liability where they can afford to meet the costs of remediation.

We are also amending Clauses 120 and 122 on the definitions for relevant buildings, landlords and works. These amendments will extend provisions to include work undertaken to remedy a defect and will clarify that buildings that are leaseholder-owned are out of scope because, in such buildings, the leaseholders are effectively the freeholders as well. With Amendment 121, we set out how the height of an in-scope building and its number of storeys will be calculated.

Amendments to Clauses 122 and 136 cover further definitions, including clarifying that associated partnerships are included, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, raised in Committee. Amendment 169 to Schedule 9 inserts a new definition of cladding remediation, which now means the removal or replacement of any part of a cladding system that forms the outer wall of an external wall system and is unsafe.

Amendments 170 and 171 provide that the landlord cannot pass on costs to a qualifying leaseholder relating to professional services, in addition to legal costs. Amendment 177 provides that certain leases are taken to be qualifying leases without the tenant providing a certificate, unless steps are taken. It also provides that landlords are taken to have met the contribution condition unless they provide a certificate proving otherwise. This means that the legal burden will be on the landlord to prove that they are entitled to pass on capped remediation costs.

The amendments also make minor technical and consequential amendments to clauses to ensure the provisions work as intended, remove extraneous powers and commence the provisions two months after Royal Assent.

It is right that leaseholders be protected from extortionate costs of remediating historical building safety defects, in a manner that balances the demands placed on landlords and building owners, where no wrongdoing on their part has taken place. I ask your Lordships to welcome and support this significant and important set of amendments, which go further to protect leaseholders and provide that fair balance.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is probably the most important group of amendments we are considering today, because it is absolutely at the heart of the building safety scandal that started nearly five years ago with the loss of 72 people in the Grenfell fire. I always think it is worth remembering that: 72 people died and the lives of many families were changed for ever, and that happened because of systemic and long-term failures in the construction industry.

It is also worth remembering that leaseholders since that time have found themselves under the enormous pressure of anxiety when they receive invoices, maybe for £100,000 or more. Some of them have not been able to cope with that level of anxiety, thinking that nothing would change, and have chosen bankruptcy as a consequence and therefore lost everything they had saved and worked for. For some whom I have heard about, sadly, this pressure may have contributed to something even worse: in the face of the bills and a long dark tunnel with no solution, they ended their lives. That is the backdrop. That is the tragic impact this has had on individuals across the country, and which has brought us to this place. This set of amendments is at the heart of those concerns.

I first raised my worries about leaseholders being liable for all the costs of cladding, removal and remediation of all the fire safety defects when the Fire Safety Bill was first debated in 2020. Unfortunately, I did not succeed in amending it at that stage, but what has happened since has been remarkable—the number of people on all sides of the House who have taken up the cudgels to argue the case, rightly, for justice for leaseholders. I give enormous credit to the cladding campaigners from all groups and different cities around the country who have got together and done the investigation, found the facts and put the case to the Government, who, to their credit, have listened and made the changes we have seen today. I think there are over 200 government amendments to the Bill today.

The question of justice for leaseholders is still at the heart of the Bill, and I contend that the Government still have not gone far enough in fulfilling what the Secretary of State and the Minister have said: that they should not pay a penny. They have done everything right and nothing wrong. They should not pay anything towards this remediation, because the flammable cladding, sometimes knowingly, was put on buildings, as was exposed in the Grenfell inquiry. Shoddy construction, sometimes deliberate, to cut corners and save costs, has also been exposed during the Grenfell inquiry.

I want to speak to Amendment 156 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stunell, but also to Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and to Amendments 158 and 159 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to which I have added my name. They focus on trying to solve the problem of justice for leaseholders, who should not pay a penny.

Unfortunately, the Minister has said today that “the majority” will not pay. Well, if the majority will not pay, the minority will—and the minority should not, because none of this is of their making. My Amendment 156 seeks to establish that what the leaseholder should pay is a peppercorn—a grand, historical way of saying zero, zilch. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for his support for Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which uses the word “zero”. I use “peppercorn”, but they get to the same place, and he has acknowledged the justice of this case.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Are we allowed to see the draft regulations? It would be really useful.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

They are published.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we were waiting for the government Minister to introduce his amendments, so that we can then respond.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Sorry, my Lords, I am just learning as we go, as they say. I really admire this House because, obviously, this is the day following the night when Ukraine, a sovereign state, was invaded by Russia, and yet the serious business of government continues, as we consider this group of amendments. I always distil groups of amendments into three words or fewer, and I can do this one in two: these are “technical amendments”—it is not that hard really.

Before introducing the government amendments, let me start by saying that I have listened to speeches from two of my favourite speakers—everyone should have favourites. I have known the noble Lord, Lord Best, for some time; let us say that I was in my prime when we first met—a young man, with a future ahead of me—and we went off for a retreat in Windsor Castle, where Richard—the noble Lord—and I thought about big thoughts. I have a lot of sympathy for what the noble Lord said, but I shall read out my speech. However, the bottom line is that he has raised important points about how we can strengthen the new homes ombudsman—indeed, we need to make sure that the complaints process works across all types of housing and all type of tenures.

I should say to the noble Lord that we are probably going to look at this in a different way, so if I come across in any way negative, it is not because I do not agree with him, but we need to find the right vehicle to do this, which is probably, as I said before, through improved warranties. It is an absolute shocker that the warranty system for housing, which is the single biggest expenditure for an individual, is so poor—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has brought up on a number of occasions—and I have met with the warranty providers. We need to ensure that we extend the period of coverage that is available when you buy your own home. The period is slightly longer for public or social housing, where it is 12 years, but it is 10 years for private housing—and that in itself is odd, as these are still homes, whether they are social homes or private homes. So I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his thinking.

My absolute favourite rhetorical speaker is my noble friend Lord Blencathra. To be honest, I always remember to declare my interests because he always starts off by declaring his interests, so I declare all my interests—residential and commercial property interests—as set out in the register. I follow my noble friend in doing that. Also, I love the passion with which he says that, actually, it is important that people who break the law are penalised. Effectively, he is saying that what they have done is a crime and they should pay a lot of money for it, and I completely agree with those sentiments. If I in any way seem to be resisting in my speech, he will know—he has been in government and understands these things—that I am with him in spirit.

I will now speak to my amendments, which are government Amendments 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 27 and 29. These technical amendments make changes to Clause 41 and Schedule 5, to create an information sharing gateway between the regulatory authorities of the building control profession in England and Wales. The information sharing gateway also extends to a person to whom the regulatory authority has delegated registration functions under new Section 58Y.

Some registered building control approvers and building inspectors will operate in both England and Wales. These amendments will ensure that, if the regulatory authority in one nation identifies that a cross-border registered building control approver or building inspector has breached professional conduct or operational standards rules, it can share this information with the regulatory authority of the other nation, if appropriate. The regulatory authority of the other nation may then wish to take investigatory action to discern whether similar breaches are taking place by the same registered building control approver or building inspector in their jurisdiction. These amendments will therefore ensure that regulatory bodies can share information with one another to effectively regulate the building control profession.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am sorry; I will slow down. Amendment 23 is a drafting change to Clause 52 and should be read alongside Amendment 26, which amends the same section of the Building Act 1984. Amendment 26 is a tidying-up amendment and is consequential on the repeal of Section 16 of the Building Act 1984, provided for by paragraph 20 of Schedule 5.

Amendment 133, to Clause 135, relates to the requirement for a regular, independent review of the building and construction products regulatory system, which must cover the effectiveness of the building safety regulator. This minor amendment defines the regulator’s functions to be covered by this review, using the same definition of those functions as in Part 2 of the Bill.

I turn to government Amendments 21, 25, 30, 41, 42, 61, 138 and 146. They do three things. First, they extend the application of the Building Act and building regulations to work on Crown buildings and by Crown bodies. The Government believe that the ownership of a building should not determine whether the new building safety regime, or building regulations requirements, should apply. There should be a consistent approach in how building safety legislation operates across the whole life cycle of a building.

Parts 2 and 4 of the Building Safety Bill apply to the Crown by virtue of Clause 137. The arrangements during the design and construction stages are being implemented by way of changes to the Building Act and, in due course, through building regulations. To apply the requirements for gateways and the golden thread to Crown buildings, the Building Act and the building regulations will need to be applied to work on Crown buildings. This new clause does that.

There is an uncommenced provision in Section 44 of the Building Act which would allow the substantive requirements of building regulations to be applied to the Crown. The drafting of that section has limitations, however, so we consider it better to start afresh by repealing and replacing Section 44. There are also some necessary exclusions to reflect that the Crown cannot be subject to criminal sanctions.

Secondly, the amendments make provision about the application of the Building Act and building regulations to work on the Palace of Westminster and other buildings on the Parliamentary Estate. At Second Reading, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester asked in his valedictory speech that the building regulations should apply to the restoration of the Palace of Westminster. This change to the Building Act will ensure that happens.

Finally, this new clause provides that if, in future, a building on the Parliamentary Estate came within scope of Part 4 of the Bill, that part would apply, subject to equivalent exclusions to those which affect how the Building Act and building regulations are being applied to the Crown and Parliament. These new sections of the Building Act and the Bill therefore ensure a consistent approach to building safety for Crown and parliamentary buildings.

Finally, I turn to government Amendments 90, 91, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 142 and 143, which relate to the new homes ombudsman provisions and expand them to Northern Ireland. These provisions have already been expanded to Scotland and Wales, so this ensures that new-build home buyers will have improved protection when things go wrong, no matter where they live in the UK.

Amendments 97 and 98 enable the provisions to work practically in Northern Ireland as a consequence of extending the scope of the provisions. Amendments 90, 91, 100, 103, 104, 105 and 106, include consultation requirements so that the Secretary of State must consult the relevant department in Northern Ireland designated by the First Minister or Deputy First Minister acting jointly before exercising powers concerning the scheme, or consult the Executive Office in Northern Ireland when a department has not been designated. The Secretary of State must consult the Northern Ireland Executive before making arrangements for the scheme, before making regulations requiring membership of the scheme, and arranging for that requirement to be enforced, and before a developers’ code of practice is issued, revised or replaced, either by the UK Government or by a third-party scheme provider with the Secretary of State’s approval.

Amendment 99 confers a power on the relevant national authority in Northern Ireland to add to the meaning of the term “developer” in the new homes ombudsman provisions in relation to homes in Northern Ireland, through regulations as appropriate, and following consultation with the other relevant national authorities. Amendments 95 and 96 include provision so that any externally run new homes ombudsman scheme involves the provision of information to the department in Northern Ireland designated by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister acting jointly.

I hope that your Lordships will be pleased that the government amendments in my name today will help to deliver the effective implementation of the new regulatory regime, as well as providing redress for homeowners across the union.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

After that rapid run-through of about 40 amendments in this group, I shall respond to all of them as follows.

The first three amendments are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and I have to say that I have a lot of sympathy with what he said. Too many times, when new homes are built in the ward where I live and which I represent—and I declare again my interest as a councillor in Kirklees—roads are not completed to adoptable standards, because that is a good way of saving money. You sell the homes and move on quickly, and it is then really hard for enforcement to be effective, especially when the fines imposed are paltry in relation to the costs of enforcement. So I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has said, and I hope that the Government could look again at that element of the building safety regime.

The next amendments referred to are those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, Amendments 94A, 94B and 97A, about the new homes ombudsman. I agree completely with what the noble Lord, Lord Best, has said—and the Minister is nodding, so I assume that he does too, and will make changes at Report. That is excellent. It is especially about the issue in relation to Amendment 97A, about extending the time limit to six years. People buy a new home, starry-eyed, and move in—excited, obviously—then one or two snagging issues arise; they try to get them resolved, they fail to do so, time runs out, the two years has gone and they have nowhere to go. So it is an excellent move to extend that to six years.

In my capacity as a local councillor, I have had to try to help people, and I have to say that I have failed, because we did not have these powers in place at the time, to do with people for whom simple things like plumbing was not done adequately. Their kitchens were being flooded out, and nobody would take on the responsibility because their time had run out. So I totally endorse the views expressed, and the hope expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Best, that the timeframe for the new homes ombudsman should be six years.

I heard what the Minister said before he introduced his great long list of amendments: that the Government were considering extending the warranties for new homes from 10 years. The trouble with warranties, unless they are really tightly worded, is that developers can find a loophole. You end up with a new home owner on their own trying to get recompense from a powerful business—often a David and Goliath situation and, in this case, David often does not win. That is why I support the move of the noble Lord, Lord Best, to give the new homes ombudsman—him or her; would it not be good if it was a woman?—power to deal with defects in new homes.

That brings us to the many government amendments that the Minister introduced, which he called technical. I always worry when Ministers call amendments technical. It is like saying, “Don’t worry about these. We will rush them through, nobody will notice and you might regret what we have to say.” I am pleased that he was very clear that the building safety regime will apply equally—I hope this is what I heard—to all buildings, regardless of where they are in the UK, be they Crown buildings or, indeed, the Palace of Westminster. I would love to have a discussion about the impact that will have on the restoration project.

Extending the scope of the Bill to include the devolved Governments has been rather rushed over. I have here the Welsh Government’s legislative consent memorandum on the Bill, in which the Senedd says that its consent is required to Clause 126, to which the Government have an amendment, about remediation and redress. I seek from the Minister some explanation that the Government will not ride roughshod over the powers of the Senedd. We have devolved Governments in three parts of the UK, and we need to respect their powers and work with those Governments. I am sure they would work with the Government as long as they do not try to act quickly, not get their consent but try to rush over them. That is no way to work.

I have here a long paper, which I am sure the Minister has seen, which outlines exactly what the Senedd hopes the Government will do. I am sure his civil servants will be able to give him a form of words which will enable me to reassure those of my colleagues who are concerned about Welsh affairs that the Government do not intend to intrude on the powers of the Senedd. With those words, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. “Drectly” is what they say in Cornwall, which means “This year, next year, some time never”. I should like a bit of clarity. Timing is key. I should like to hear what the Minister is going to do about trying to get it done. How will we stop the developers and all those who we are going to try to get the money from through a levy wriggling out of their obligations? That is one of my fears in all this. Then there is the rate of the levy. Can we be given assurances that the rate will be of a sufficient level to pay for the remediation? That is key. I know that the Minister cannot give us a figure, but a broad brush assurance that the levy is going to do it would be good.

Retrospective compensation for those leaseholders who have already paid out should be considered. Some folk have gone bankrupt because of this. That is because it took time to get everyone together to deal with the problem. I know that retrospective compensation is hard to do, but we are putting back the clock 30 years in looking at these defects. If we can do that, we can look at retrospective compensation.

Leaseholders should pay nothing—that is where I am. We on this side support an amendment that gets there. As I say, I am full of admiration for people who, with their expertise, have tried to bring the Government to the place where they need to be. If the Minister is going to say yes to all these things, we will all leave happy.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this has been a very good debate. I have enjoyed listening to virtually every speech, including that of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I am not going to pick out any speech that I did not like, but the contributions were very good. I am reminded of when I met someone who worked for Senator Cory Booker when he was mayor of Newark, which is a deprived part of the United States. Apparently, at a Democratic National Convention he came out with a phrase that sticks with me. He said:

“If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”


When it comes to making sure that we get the polluter to pay, this Government are not proud about picking the best ideas that people have put forward today and putting them into the toolbox to ensure that we do precisely that.

I think of my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra, to whom I will add the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, as the three wise men. I was Faith Minister, so that description is appropriate. I have to say that the prize for the wisest of the wise goes to my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who seems to have that intellectual agility to change his position based on circumstance. He is someone who was a distinguished chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee one week, and the next week says, “Well, that was last week and this is this week. Come on Secretary of State—think about these ‘just in case’ powers”. We will think about them, but I thank him for providing us with that breadth of thinking.

I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Blencathra for suggesting that we look at reordering the Bill or setting objectives, as the Fisheries Act does. He also gave some advice; I will read out a note about why there needs to be a maximum for the levy. These are all great tips. To the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I say that we will look at whether we can produce a written Explanatory Memorandum and of course we need to do impact assessments. These are all jobs of work and we will see how quickly we can get those things done. This is all in the spirit of wanting to be helpful and to have a better Bill, so I take all those points on board.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Lord for giving me that get-out. He is absolutely right that this is a complicated matter. You often have an old office building from which you create a new residential dwelling. We will check whether that is included in the purview of this Bill, and I will write to the noble Lord on that matter.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Permitted development rights are not about just the conversion of offices into homes. Where I live, many old mill buildings have been converted. Some of them, particularly the one called Titanic Mills, are very large. There are additional risks in those buildings. Will the elements in this Bill apply to those conversions as well?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

I will combine the letter for the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Essentially, they want an answer to this question: “If you take a non-residential building, whether it is an office block or a Yorkshire mill, and you create a residential dwelling, will that be in scope when it comes to a new build?” The start point does not matter—it is non-residential—so is it included? I will answer both noble Lords in writing and lay a copy in the Library.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we come to the—I am sorry, it is the turn of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is far too eager.

During the course of the debate on this group of amendments, it has struck me that the challenge of this Bill is that it is primarily in response to a terrible tragedy. That has meant that the scope of the Bill is quite narrow, in response to the terrible Grenfell fire—perhaps rightly so but then, from what we have heard, opportunities to improve building safety do not come round that often. So it is not surprising that noble Lords across the piece are trying to say, “Why don’t we include this?” An opportunity to do so will not come again for a long time.

The passionate argument made by my noble friend Lord Foster is a case in point. Climate change is the most serious challenge facing all of us. If we do not address the building regulations to deal with the challenges it poses, we are definitely missing an opportunity. I apologise for my cough; it must be all this sitting and standing on crowded trains. Excuse me; I am okay. There is an opportunity for the Government to think about including the issues of the particular challenges of climate change as they relate to buildings during the debates on the Bill, otherwise it is an opportunity lost.

On Amendments 6 and 149 in the name of my noble friend Lord Stunell, who has spoken on them and to which I have added my name, building safety is not just about construction; it is about the safety of people once they live in them. Having been a councillor for a long time, I have heard about a number of issues from private sector and housing association tenants. The dangers of stairways in particular often come up. That is the reason for Amendment 6 in my name and that of my noble friend. We need to consider those risks and how they are going to be addressed. If people are concerned about them, what are we going to do about it? There is no obvious way of doing that at the minute.

Any new system—such as the one we have now, which is quite complicated in parts—ought to be reviewed. There is a huge gulf between theoretical improvements to building safety and actual improvements. Does the new system work? I bet that parts of it will not; that is almost inevitable. So let us agree to Amendment 149. I know that the Minister is going to stand up and say, “All the others I have said no to, but this one is such a good idea that we will agree to it”.

Building Safety Defects

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 7th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am used to the interventions from the noble Baroness. I had four years of it in City Hall and it is nice to join this great place and continue where we left off in 2016. However, I believe there is a process, which is getting Royal Assent. It is very clear that the passage of the Building Safety Bill is critical to ensure that we have those protections for leaseholders and that the polluter pays.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there is a big difference between protecting leaseholders and ensuring that they do not pay a penny piece for wrongdoings that were none of their making. Will the Minister give an absolute guarantee that leaseholders will not have to pay a penny piece, whether or not it is after the Building Safety Bill has passed into law? As for leaseholders who have been forced into bankruptcy or those who have already paid their bills, will they still have to pay or will there be compensation?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is very clear that we must differentiate the need to protect leaseholders from finding the funds to pay for these buildings. That is why my right honourable friend in the other place has sought to raise, voluntarily in the first instance, some £4 billion for medium-rise cladding. But we need to look at how we protect the leaseholder and get the polluter to pay. For the detail, as I say, noble Lords will have to wait until Valentine’s Day.

Levelling Up

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 7th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as a member of Kirklees Council, a vice-president of the Local Government Association and someone who lives in a part of west Yorkshire where there are significant areas of deprivation; I see it every day.

Nearly three years have passed since the levelling up slogan was first used. It is good at last to read some definition of what it may mean. It is good that there is a recognition that deep-seated economic and social deprivation can be tackled successfully only through long-term sustained change. Batley in west Yorkshire, has, for example, been the recipient of City Challenge and Single Regeneration Budget funding—the earlier iterations of levelling up. Yet, sadly, Batley remains an area of considerable deprivation, partly because this earlier funding failed to deal with the basic issues of a lack of well-paid jobs, poor transport links and health inequalities. Therefore, a commitment to sustained and very long-term investment for change is welcome.

However, the challenge for the Government is that of investment—or, in this case, the lack of it. Fundamental and continual gradual change such as that described in the White Paper takes many years to achieve. Without substantial additional funding, change will be imperceptible to those who live in the towns and cities described. Further, any additional funding is on the back of huge cuts to the very local services in the so-called 12 missions.

Let us take public transport. We already know that HS2 to Leeds has been axed, HS3 is a pipe dream and even basic electrification of the trans-Pennine route is to be partial. What about bus investment? Even today, mayors and council leaders in the Midlands and the north have exposed a 50% cut to improving bus services. Access to jobs and opportunities are rightly emphasised in the White Paper. Will the Minister explain how mission 3, on public transport, can be realised when the starting point is even more cuts to services?

Then there is the issue of enabling all children to reach their potential, especially in the crucial areas of numeracy and literacy. It is a great metric to measure, but the widespread closure of Sure Start children’s centres due to major cuts in funding, combined with schools funding falling, is hardly the backdrop to enabling school improvement. At this point I ought to bring the House’s attention to my interest as a local school governor. Does the Minister agree, and will he point to an increase in funding that would enable the skills, literacy and numeracy targets to be reached?

A key metric, which I was genuinely pleased to see, is narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy. This is such an important measure because it is linked to many key determinants of health: quality of housing, affordability of healthy food, access to skills providers and the quality of local health services and the environment. Perhaps the Minister can say how the Government will improve access to GPs for residents in my area, which has many fewer GPs per capita than the average.

Access to dental health is also vital. Yet Dentaid, a dental charity that operates in developing countries, also provides services in my area due to the lack of NHS dentists. It is shameful. Will I be able to assure those residents that the Government will provide easy access to NHS dental care for all who need it?

The creation of skilled, and thus better-paid, jobs is a basic requirement for improving the economic well-being of areas such as mine. Perhaps the Minister can explain how inward investment can be achieved and combined with providing local people with the skills to take up the higher-skilled jobs that are created. Seeing cities as the centre of development is insulting to the local towns that are supposed to be providing the jobs for these cities.

Finally, the governance issues are not highlighted but are slipped in almost under the radar. I have come to the conclusion that the Government despise local government. They want to abolish district councils and create more mayoral authorities without any evidence that reducing democratic representation and involvement leads to better decision-making and accountability.

Levelling up, however desirable, will not be effective without also levelling up funding. The shared prosperity fund, for example, shows the direction of travel the Government are going in. The north of England loses over 50% of that replacement funding for EU structural and regional funds. In total, it amounts to nearly £100 million lost money for the north. Will the Minister commit to levelling up funding through fair funding for councils, equivalent transport funding with the London area, and the shared prosperity funding for the north of England that fulfils the promises made during Brexit? Until any of that can be agreed to be a starting point, levelling up will remain a pipe dream for most of us.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is difficult to follow those two speeches because we have had a speech that is more balanced from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and, I am afraid, quite a pointed speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock.

As a relatively new Minister, I understand that there are so many examples of government policy that never get published. Those who have served in government will know that there are very many areas where policy is discussed, debated and raised but never sees the light of day. The first thing I want to do is to pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, as well as one of the most tireless, policy-heavy and thoughtful Ministers I have had the pleasure of working alongside: Neil O’Brien. Minister O’Brien has even signed my copy of the levelling-up White Paper, which, in decades to come, will be worth a lot of money.

I think it is a tremendous document with a very clear plan to level up this country. As someone who spent 20 years in local government, with some of the most deprived areas alongside some of the wealthiest, I believe in the mission to level up without levelling down. That is not to forget the technical annex of this plan, which, I have to say, I have not read yet but I am happy to say that I will be reading it, probably after this Statement.

There is no single policy or intervention that can achieve change on its own. This is a plan for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Levelling up across the United Kingdom does not mean levelling down, as I have said; it means boosting productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector. We on this side of the House recognise the importance of the private sector and spreading opportunities and public services, especially in those places where they are weakest, and restoring that sense of community.

I am very interested that both the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Front Bench accuse this of being a White Paper without the necessary resources to level up. I did a word count of this document—that is the kind of thing I did. In first place, mentioned nearly 1,000 times—994 times—were “fund”, “funding pot” and “grant”: plenty of opportunities to channel the money that was committed in the spending review at the end of the last year into the means by which we will level up. In second place, with only 31 mentions, was “tax” or “taxation”. This is a plan with plenty of opportunities to channel that money precisely to ensure that we level up this country.

I want to deal with the two specific points around skills and an area I feel very strongly about—as a former deputy mayor for policing and crime at City Hall, serving the then mayor and our current Prime Minister—that is, ensuring that we reduce violent crime and that our cities are safe. It is fair to say that if we do not feel safe walking around and being part of our community then there is no chance for some forgotten areas to regenerate and to revive. I take very seriously that commitment around public safety.

Surely, if you have a clear mission around crime, which is safer streets by 2030—homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crimes will have fallen—focused on the worst-affected areas and you back that up with money channelled into the safer streets fund, you are doing precisely that. You are ensuring that communities that are riven by crime and violent crime have the funding they deserve on top of their existing funds to tackle the very thing that has been raised.

There is a very clear mission on skills—how we can improve skills and therefore see the productivity improvement that this nation really yearns for. I discussed this today with Rob Halfon, who is very much a champion of skills in the other place. He said it was so great to see skills front and centre in an agenda and see it with its own mission statement. Interestingly enough, when we want specific examples about how skills will be improved, we should look at the plans in Blackpool and Walsall, two of the three pathfinder areas that bring employment and skills provision together. Bringing employment and skills provision together will enable people to get into work and to get on in their lives.

Frankly, it is quite hard to stomach the idea that this is an empty vessel when there is so much detail in here. I could spend the next 45 minutes—although time eludes me—explaining point by point what levelling up means and how we can deliver those 12 missions. This is a Government who want to deliver—not over a couple of years; these missions are set to 2030. This is clearly a Prime Minister who does not want to be elected again but again and again. That is why this levelling up is precisely what this Government will achieve. It will take time but here is the mission and we will deliver it in due course.

Building Safety

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the cladding campaigners, whose extraordinary persistence in conducting a fact-based, solutions-offered campaign is largely responsible for the content of the Statement today. Their efforts on behalf of blameless leaseholders and tenants are a worthy memorial to the tragic victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The words of the Secretary of State are welcome. He says that the Government have to take a “share of responsibility”, that manufacturers have “shown insufficient contrition”, that those who profited will “pay the price” and that leaseholders are “blameless”. These are all quotations from the Statement and I welcome them.

On the face of it, the Government are responding to the fire safety and cladding crisis with bold proposals. However, the most important of these are more aspirational than concrete. The aim—to extract £4 billion from the companies that developed the buildings to pay for the removal of dangerous cladding from blocks of between 11 and 18.5 metres—is based on the polluter pays principle. Can the Minister explain how this will be achieved?

Special purpose vehicles and shell companies are devices that have been used to ring-fence the parent company from liability. Will the Government nevertheless expect the parent company to pay up? Then there are the distant freeholders, not based in this country. How do the Government anticipate extracting funding from them? Will action be taken to prevent construction and development companies ring-fencing their liabilities to prevent losses from parent companies?

Then there are the backstop arrangements to raise £4 billion, which seem rather confused to me. Will the Minister clarify whether further taxation of construction funds will follow if the requisite funding is not raised? The letter from the Treasury seems to suggest that, if all else fails, departmental funding will have to be used. Is that right? Will it be taken from the £12 billion set aside in the department’s funding to support affordable and social housing? If so, I am not sure I would be able to support it.

My next question is this: the £4 billion is to remove flammable cladding only. We know that a major element of the remediation costs is in the lack of firebreaks and compartmentation. Who do the Government expect will put these right? I appreciate that the Statement includes a commitment to create a 30-year period of limited liability, during which leaseholders could sue, although this would be a David and Goliath contest.

Then there is the question of timing, which is crucial. Leaseholders already have bills for remediation, many of which are in the tens of thousands of pounds. The date by which they must be paid is April this year. Time is running out. I understand that the Government rightly wish to protect leaseholders from forfeiture and eviction, but what about bankruptcy? Will that protection be in place by April? If not, I fear leaseholders may still find themselves at the mercy of the unscrupulous.

The whole area of social housing barely gets a mention. Those social housing providers that are raising capital to remedy defects are doing so at the expense of new homes being built or existing homes being improved. Can the Minister describe the plan for the social housing sector?

Finally, can the Minister assure us that sufficient funding will be made available if the costs rise above £4 billion? I appreciate that I have posed many questions. If the Minister is not able to provide full answers, will he please provide a written response?

Despite all the questions, I am pleased that the Secretary of State has been so forthright in this Statement and has taken a very large step forward in addressing the plight of the thousands of leaseholders and tenants who have lived for four years in fear and anxiety, and who must not pay a penny piece to put right the wrongs of others.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in paying tribute to Jack Dromey. I never met him, but it is fair to say that he touched my political career. All political careers end in failure—I do not know said that; it might have been Enoch Powell—but at the height of my political powers, Jack Dromey, then deputy general secretary of Unite, said at the TUC conference on 15 September 2009 these words, as recorded in the verbatim report

“there are two visions in our country. There is our vision, on the one hand, of every one with a decent home at a price they can afford, a new generation of council homes, green homes, in mixed communities with decent facilities, council homes so good you could walk down any street in Britain and not be able to tell the difference between private and council. On the other hand, there is the Tory vision. Do you remember Dame Shirley Porter? Wait for it! The flagship Tory council on housing, Hammersmith & Fulham, has drawn up plans that involve the demolition of thousands of council homes ending security of tenure and hiking up rents to market levels”.

I did not agree with his assessment of my time as leader of Hammersmith & Fulham council, and for ever more, I was described as Dame Shirley Porter in drag by some of my political opponents, but Jack was a phenomenal political figure. He was not just a trade unionist and distinguished parliamentarian who campaigned for good-quality housing, he was an extremely effective politician. It was because he noticed me and because of his comments that I suddenly became the 71st most influential right-winger according to a league table in the Daily Telegraph, and it has been downhill ever since. I want to thank Jack Dromey for noticing me. I wish there were more Jack Dromeys out there who listened to what I had to say on things.

I join the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in paying tribute to the cladding groups. I suppose that I am the longest-serving Minister in government focused on the building safety crisis. I was appointed in March 2020. I had Covid and, as many of you know, I lost my mother the following April, so I was not really effective until then, but I had been working on this issue and thinking about it and getting to know many of the cladding groups and some of the leasehold groups personally through Zoom and Teams. I want to pay tribute to them as well. I have had meetings with Sarah Rennie of Claddag and am very impressed with what it is doing on behalf of disabled leaseholders. Ritu Saha of the UK Cladding Action Group is literally indefatigable. It is clear that she does not necessarily appreciate what I do, but I appreciate her tireless efforts, together with those of Liam Spender, who is obviously a very good lawyer. Julie Fraser from the Liverpool Cladiators is campaigning for leaseholders up in Liverpool. Giles Grover of the Manchester Cladiators is very effective. As many Bishops know, there is also Steve Day. Not a day goes by without Steve Day contacting me by some means or other—at any time of the day, I hasten to add. He has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of RAQ residents and come up with constructive ways in which we can strengthen the Building Safety Bill.

It is not just the cladding groups. There are also the leasehold groups such as the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership: Sebastian O’Kelly is a very distinguished former property journalist and Martin Boyd has an encyclopaedic knowledge of matters to do with leasehold.

Lastly, as a junior Minister, I should pay tribute to the new Secretary of State, Michael Gove. I really mean it when I say that he is a phenomenon. He has worked incredible magic to come up with a profound and brave reset around building safety. My right honourable friend is very clear about the principles that underpin this reset. We should just reflect on what he said in the Statement—first, on proportion:

“We … need to ensure that we take a proportionate approach in building assessments overall. There are too many buildings today that are declared unsafe, and there are too many who have been seeking to profit from the current crisis.”


That is absolutely spot on; we need a greater sense of proportion.

On protection, leaseholders are the victims. He said that leaseholders living in their own flats should not bear the burden of fixing historical fire safety defects that are no fault of their own. That too is absolutely spot on; we need to protect leaseholders.

The third principle, on pollution, is that the polluter must pay. My right honourable friend said:

“We should not ask hard-working taxpayers to pay … taxes to get developers and cladding companies making vast profits off the hook. We will make industry pay to fix … the remaining problems and help to cover the range of costs facing leaseholders.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/22; cols 283-285.]


These are very clear principles set out by my right honourable friend. In yesterday’s Statement, he came out with some significant steps, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, such as the withdrawal of the consolidated advice note. That died yesterday. It could not have come a day too soon. It should have come earlier, but it now rests in peace—I hasten to add that it was published in January 2020 and I only became a Minister in March, so I had nothing to do with it.

It is important that we do not have government by diktat and that we get a sense of proportion. That will be possible with the publication on Wednesday of PAS 9980, which allows a risk-based assessment of external walls. We will also commence the Fire Safety Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was a fearsome adversary during its passage. We have a good Bill. We will commence that with the building prioritisation tool. The phrase is “shortly”, but it will be a matter of a few weeks; we need to get the IT right for that.

Underpinning proportion, we need a call for innovation. If we are to have more buildings made safe not by costly remediation where people profit—let us be clear, they profit from remediation—let us make mitigation a possibility in more homes. That is why I am delighted that we are beginning to fund some innovative ideas, some of which will work and some of which will not. I mention the Intelliclad system that has been funded by the Waking Watch Relief scheme. I shall not go into exactly how that works, but it is a form of innovation that may make mitigation an option more often than remediation. We have funded that system in two buildings, the Interchange building in Croydon and the Guildhall Apartments in Southampton. If noble Lords would like to join me to visit those, it may be useful and interesting. We need more innovation such as that, so here is a call for innovation.

Protection is the second principle, as was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman. We announced that, essentially, we are seeking a moratorium on forfeiture, so that those who live in buildings with historic safety defects do not lose their home as a result of their landlord forfeiting the lease. We are working with government to make that happen.

Importantly, not mentioned was the Defective Premises Act 1972, on which I became an expert and talked to some of my colleagues who are construction QCs. The limitation period in that at the moment is only six years. We have extended it prospectively to 15 years but retrospectively to 30 years, which covers the vast majority of buildings affected by the crisis. It means that people who built rubbish are liable through law to fix that. It is very important that there is statutory underpinning, and it is an important development in terms of protecting leaseholders.

Lastly, there is more money now. During my time as Minister, £600 million was made available in the first instance, then we announced a further £1 billion for the building safety fund. Under my right honourable friend Robert Jenrick, a further £3.5 billion was announced, followed by this £4 billion under my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. We now have £9.1 billion committed towards the remediation of unsafe cladding.

Of course, questions have been raised about how we make the polluter pay. Those are legitimate, but let us just take stock of the fact that this Government have effectively declared war on the polluters. Those polluters are not just developers; they are the manufacturers of cladding systems that do not work and are flammable; they are the manufacturers of the insulation that is flammable and all those defective construction products. It is pollution in the round; it is not just developers. Even construction companies that put up very poor-quality buildings are included. Everybody who has profited from this crisis is a polluter and they must pay.

In declaring war, we have a series of measures. To use a Second World War analogy, we have bomber command with levies and taxes which mean, at a very high level, you tax. We have had announcements from the Treasury about the developers tax on companies with profits above a certain amount, which will contribute £2 billion. There is also the building safety levy. I also count within the bomber command scenario the voluntary scheme where we come to you. Over two months, we are asking people who have polluted to stump up the £4 billion to pay for the historical problems they caused.

As a backstop, we have what I would call fighter command. That means looking at all kinds of measures —this was obviously heavily leaked and I know that the Secretary of State has launched an inquiry into the leaks. We are looking at taxes or legal means to extract the money if it is not given voluntarily. That is essentially the plan. As it says in the widely trailed letter, the department is the backstop—the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, not the Treasury. The money is there, effectively, and it is now about getting it from the polluters—that is the plan.

Non-cladding costs were also raised. I would say that cladding is a large proportion of the bill. I have seen quite a few of these. When we met the cladding groups yesterday, we spoke to Sophie Bichener, a leaseholder who has a £200,000 bill. About £60,000 of that is non-cladding costs, so 60% or 70% of the bill is cladding costs. In some cases, the amounts might be equivalent, but to say cladding is an insignificant amount would be a misrepresentation. We have taken a major chunk of this by focusing on cladding, which is, after all, the major accelerant of fires.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, also mentioned pace and seemed to have some interesting statistics; I hope she will share the figures which have led her to assume that this will take until 2024 for private housing and 2026 for social housing. We have to get this done and it does take time, but I would point out that, certainly during my time, we have made progress—despite a pandemic—so that virtually every single building with the worst form of cladding has had it removed or fully remediated. There are some places, such as the 20 buildings in Southwark that we suddenly identified—the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has come in right on cue—that we now have to remediate, but we have not known about those for long. It is important that we deal with the riskiest forms of cladding first, namely aluminium composite material, then deal with non-cladding costs. We committed £863 million of the initial £1 billion and, as we work through the process, there will be the further £3.5 billion for high-rises and we now have plans for medium-rises. It is a significant job of work and it would take any Government time to get it right.

Let us not rush it, however. If you rush it, you may do the remediation so poorly that you have to do it again in two years’ time. Of course, we need pace, but we also need quality remediation so that, for the lease- holders and people who rent these homes, the remediation lasts a generation and not a couple of years. That is important to think about as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned buildings of under 11 metres. I really do not see a case for costly wholesale remediation of buildings of that height—you stick in a fire alarm. A simultaneous evacuation alarm system or other mitigation measures should work. I have not seen a fire engineer make the case that you need to undertake costly remediation of low-rise buildings, but am happy to be given examples of where we think low-rise buildings need to have millions spent on them to fix the problem.

I have been told to finish in a very delicate way, but it is important that I do my best to answer the questions and set out the Government’s position. I want to finish by saying that, following all my 20 years in local government—with 16 years as a councillor and council leader, four years in City Hall and now my role in this place—I of course want to work collaboratively with the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats, the Cross-Benchers, including the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who is here specially and who I have known since university, and the Bishops. We will, I hope, work collaboratively to make the Building Safety Bill a better Bill and provide the protection that leaseholders in this country deserve.

Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank noble Lords for raising two important issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked whether we will have data to know whether the £1.5 billion is enough and that we are not short-changing local government in any way. The noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, wanted to know about the future of business rates reform, given that we are seeing the economy shift to online and that many bricks-and-mortar businesses are struggling to pay their rates bills. I will try to address those points in turn.

I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, some assurance on the availability of VOA statistics, which tell us about the adequacy of the Government’s support. During 2022, the VOA will provide new data specifically marking out Covid-related MCCs but, even in the existing data sets, we can get an insight into the nature of these cases. I quote more recent figures from October: as of 30 September 2021, 63,780 challenges were outstanding in England, the vast majority of which are on hold pending this Bill. Far more challenges could come forward from ratepayers who have already made checks—a check being the first stage in appealing the rateable value of one’s property. In the period since April 2020, the VOA has received more than 400,000 checks. So, there is a wealth of statistical evidence out there and it will be enhanced next year. This evidence cautions against any suggestion that we should introduce a like-for-like compensation for Covid-related reductions in rateable value, which, on account of this Bill, will rightly not materialise. That was never the intention, and we should not seek to create an equivalence.

On the point made by my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, we recognise that particular industries have been hit very hard by the pandemic. We have statistics on the drop in gross value added by industry, and there is a wide range of reductions by sector. That comes to the question of how we divide the £1.5 billion, which I will return to in the debate on the next group of amendments.

Let me give the Government’s most up-to-date position. Following the conclusion of the business rates review, the Government will shortly consult on measures arising from that review and seek to bring forward legislation in due course. The consultation was published only yesterday and explicitly anticipates future legislation to deliver major reforms. These include three-yearly revaluations, a major ask of ratepayers, support for property improvements and support for green plant and machinery. So, noble Lords should have complete confidence that there will be an opportunity for them to consider, debate and scrutinise these measures and the Government’s overall business rates policy.

I should have declared my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register; I forgot to do that right at the beginning. I must underline that I have not been involved with any material change of circumstance approach, but I recognise that many businesses, including many small businesses, are waiting eagerly to hear how we will resolve this situation.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. We clearly had evidence of the volume of appeals by businesses. I am still concerned about the value of those and whether sufficient money is being made available to recompense businesses, but we will come to that in the next debate. Having said that, I thank the Minister for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Local Audit (Appointing Person) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Tuesday 23rd November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we have had an interesting short debate on these regulations, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. The problem around audit is long-standing. I remember when I first became a councillor, which was a little later than the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, back in January 1996 —a very cold month, if I remember—there were real difficulties with filing accounts on time, even then. This has been a long-standing problem and is not a recent one. Those who have read the Redmond review will recognise that the best way to deal with it is by investing and providing additional funding to support local bodies to improve standards. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, is important. There is a contribution of some £15 million to support local bodies with rising audit fees, making sure that there is the competence required to file accounts in a timely way.

Often, there will be an issue around reconciliation of accounts, which is quite shocking. If you cannot reconcile your accounts—the fundamental accounts in control—money can be lost. There have been examples of councils losing money. So, having high-quality audit is extremely important, as is the completion of audits, which is vital in maintaining transparency and assurance of local authority accounts. Late delivery of local assurance can have a significant impact, not just on local authority financial planning but on the timely completion of whole government accounts. That is why the Government are continuing to implement all recommendations of the Redmond review, including the regulations before us today.

I will do my best to answer some of the questions and I will follow up in writing if I am not able to. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Jones, the appointing person is specified by the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It is not a salaried position; they are paid by the local authorities. Importantly, we are keen on the use of the scheme through the Local Government Association and Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd, which has the specific technical expertise. Of course, local authorities can choose who they like. We recognise that this is a good scheme, which happens to be over a five-year period.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I will write on her specific points about shorter appointments, but all appointments require local authorities to voluntarily opt in. We recently consulted on proposals to establish the audit, reporting and governance authority, which is due to replace the Financial Reporting Council as the new systems leader for local audit. We will publish our consultation response in due course.

This is a largely technical provision, which I think has the support of noble Lords.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the noble Lord sits down, I asked whether the standardised variations of the fees would be in proportion to the accounts that were being audited.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Baroness for that specific point. It is obviously technical in its nature. Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd will be required to consult local bodies and local auditors before setting standardised fees.

Leaseholders: Costs

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Thursday 18th November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I remind the House of my relevant interests as in the register. If the Government are to avoid a torrent of bankruptcies by April next year, as has been predicted by Inside Housing, action must be swift. In particular, I ask the Minister about shared ownership. Somebody with shared equity of 25% is being asked to pay 100% of the remediation costs. That might be right in law, but it cannot be right in fact. What on earth are the Government going to do to safeguard shared owners?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I feel the burden, particularly on shared owners, who have a fraction of the equity in their home but face intolerable bills. I am surprised when I hear that social landlords, who should be caring for the people who live in those homes—the nurses and other people who support our NHS—are considering massive remediation schemes, very often for buildings that really require only mitigation at far lower cost instead. An MP raised a case with me yesterday of a nine-metre building where shared owners are facing bills of £20,000. That is because there is no sense of proportion. Let us get a sense of proportion, protect leaseholders and shared owners, and make sure that the polluter pays.

Buildings: Cladding

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Thursday 28th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my relevant interests in the register.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

We have provided £5.1 billion to remediate cladding in high-rise residential buildings, targeting funding at buildings we know to be at greatest risk of fire spread.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Despite the Minister trying to blind us again with statistics, the hard fact is that thousands of leaseholders are living in limbo, suffering anxiety and in despair. Some are even being held to ransom; they are being asked to sign a commitment to pay many tens of thousands of pounds for the remediation of building safety defects that are exposed when cladding is removed. No cladding work is done until they sign that bit of paper. Leaseholders are being held to ransom; they cannot move and they cannot get anything done. Surely the Minister will agree with me that this cannot be right. What is he going to do about it?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I mentioned only one statistic; I do not think that one statistic or one figure—£5.1 billion—is blinding anybody. I point to the progress: despite a pandemic, the ACM funding of some £600 million has seen around 16,500 homes being fully remediated. That is an increase of 4,700 since the end of last year. The new building safety fund, topped up so that the total remediation amounts to £5 billion, is estimated to cover around 65,000 homes in high-rise blocks. So there are many tens of thousands of leaseholders who are benefiting from government funding.

Public Services

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Tuesday 26th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, given my local government interest, I know it is not how services are provided but if services can be provided. For example, social care—a service provided by both public and private organisations—requires an extra £2 billion a year. Does the Minister agree with the Conservative County Councils Network, which says that council tax will need to rise by 8% each year so that basic social care needs can be met?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is for every council to decide what level of council tax it needs to set. Obviously, there is a latitude to increase council tax by up to 2% to help support the additional social care costs, but the Government have set out their plan to increase funding to social care, as the noble Baroness knows.

Regulation of Property Agents Working Group

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Wednesday 20th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we recognise that having an overarching code of practice will be an important step in addressing these issues around discrimination. That is why we are looking forward to receiving the draft code compiled from the hard work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and others. We will come back in due course on how we take that forward.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, leaseholders in cladding-scandal-ridden flats have seen a meteoric rise in their service charges. Emily in Leeds has seen hers rise from £400 per year to nearly £3,000 per year. The Minister has said this afternoon that he is committed to leaseholder fairness. Regulation is urgently needed to save these leaseholders from bankruptcy. When—not if—will the Government introduce regulation?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, the Building Safety Bill is currently going through the other place. We strongly believe that all fees and charges should be justifiable, transparent and communicated effectively. By law, variable service charges, and pollution and administration charges, must all be reasonable, and, where costs relate to work or services, those must be of a reasonable standard. There are already significant legal protections in place.

Building Safety Defects: Costs

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 18th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I do not think it is as simple as that this was at the hands of failed regulation, although we recognise that there was regulatory system failure. That is why we are bringing forward the Building Safety Bill. We have put a substantial amount of money towards remediation costs, and we will do what we can to pursue those that have caused this crisis in the first place.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, a leaseholder in Leeds has received a remediation bill of £101,267—to be paid in the next 12 months. She has no access to the means to pay. What should Emily and thousands of other leaseholders do next, or are the Government accepting that thousands of bankruptcies will ensue?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am happy to look at that specific case, because that sounds like an eye-watering sum of money. In the first instance, is full-scale remediation the answer? Has the freeholder looked at mitigation measures that may also achieve an acceptable way of improving things and lowering the fire safety risk? However, that does seem an extremely large sum of money, and I am happy to look into that case.

Leasehold: Building and Fire Safety

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is not present, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister has just said that he is considering a further levy on developers to enable leaseholders not to have to pay huge bills. One leaseholder I know has a bill of £200,000 landing on their doormat to pay now. Why are the Government so willing to protect developers’ profits while throwing leaseholders to the wolves?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I do not recognise that as a sensible position to hold. Admittedly, this is a situation that has built up over many decades and leaseholders face those eye-watering costs, but we need to recognise that in the 18 months since I have been a Minister, the amount of money put up by the Government, recognising that we needed to step up and in many cases support the leaseholders, has increased from £0.6 billion to £5.1 billion. That is a staggering sum of money. You could always do more, of course, and that is why we are trying to bring forward measures in the Building Safety Bill to make sure that this failure of regulation and of construction quality never happens again. That is what this Government are trying to do.

Grenfell Tower: Demolition

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 6th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am happy to clarify that there has been ongoing engagement not only with the bereaved and survivors but also with the community. I also want to put on record that there are no immediate safety concerns and that safety and maintenance are ongoing as part of a programme of works that will be completed only in the spring of 2022. Therefore, the coverage reporting that the school is in danger is absolutely wrong. At this stage, the tower is safe and is being kept safe until next spring.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests. As we all know, Grenfell Tower is the site of an appalling tragedy. The sight of it is a constant reminder of the building safety and fire safety crises that Grenfell exposed. Does the Minister agree that the demolition of Grenfell is also the removal of that potent symbol, which is a much-needed reminder of the absolute necessity that the Government solve the cladding and building safety crises that are destroying the lives of thousands of leaseholders? Does he also agree that demolition before the end of the Grenfell inquiry might remove some absolutely important information and facts that could lead to the resolution of this problem?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I have been very clear that the police have said that they do not require any evidence from the tower as part of their investigation. I am also aware that we need to engage very carefully on the future of the site. That is why we have asked an independent commission—the Memorial Commission— to look at options for the future. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, no decision has been taken at this point.

Fire Safety: Leaseholder Bankruptcies

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 24th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My noble friend is right. We believe that developers should contribute and make buildings safe without passing the costs on to leaseholders. There have been a variety of announcements by developers: Bellway has announced a cladding removal fund of £46.8 million, Persimmon one of £75 million and Taylor Wimpey has pledged £125 million. The Government have also announced a gateway levy on high-rises, as well as a developer tax that will raise £2 billion over 10 years.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests. Given the answer to the previous question, will the Minister provide any valid reasons at all for the Government expecting innocent leaseholders to pay the huge costs of remediating cladding and non-cladding fire safety defects, while those who created the problem—the developers he just mentioned—get off virtually scot free?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we are very clear that we expect building owners to make buildings safe and not to pass on costs to leaseholders where possible. We have provided a substantial sum of money to ensure that the costs of cladding will be affordable for those in medium-rises and that those in high-rises will not have to contribute to the remediation of the most dangerous element of the building.

Tower Blocks: Cladding

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Wednesday 12th May 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I start by pointing out that on 95% of the buildings that were identified at the start of last year as having the same cladding as Grenfell Tower either the cladding has been removed or work has started to remove it. We have made great progress in the past year, with some 159 starts on site. The building safety fund is open and continues to approve a number of works that will ensure that other forms of unsafe cladding are removed.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

[Inaudible]—the management companies for their blocks are refusing to sign up to a grant from the building safety fund unless leaseholders also sign an agreement that commits them to pay for all other remediation works. As a consequence, essential and urgent fire safety work is not being done. Leaseholders cannot commit to pay when they have no means to do so. How do the Government intend to break this impasse in the interests of fire safety?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we have to be clear that the agreement is with the building owner and not with individual leaseholders. No leaseholder will be required to fund additional works as a condition of government funding for cladding remediation. Of course, where building owners voluntarily decide to carry out works at the same time, we need assurances from them that this can be covered.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall follow the previous two speakers in keeping my comments brief. That is not because the amendment does not have merit—on the contrary, it does—but because a lot of the issues it raises have been discussed in full earlier. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy is right to pursue the extent of rate relief provision. There is an anomaly in restricting relief to standalone public toilets. We heard from the Minister during the debate in Committee that it would be difficult to achieve rate relief for public toilets in public buildings for reasons of complexity for the Valuation Office.

I appreciate those challenges in the administration of such a change, but where there is a will, there is a way. If rate relief were granted for public toilets within public buildings, it might just be the sort of relatively minor additional support that kept the toilets, the building and the facility provided there open. That would be a triple benefit.

What concerns me is that the Government are less than willing to find a way to enable more public toilets to remain open by extending rate relief. I understand that that is difficult—but let us hope that the Minister will be able to have a good think about it and come up with an answer. Maybe the report provision in the amendment offers a way forward; perhaps he will be able to agree to accept that part of it. Whatever happens, we have had a good debate on an important issue concerning public health and public facilities that is of concern to many people. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, and I hope the Government are listening. I know the Minister has been listening.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am conscious that everybody has kept their remarks relatively brief, so I am busily trying to pare down my speech in response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.

I appreciated the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about the importance of town and parish councils in providing public toilets, and the fact that they have facilities that would benefit from, for instance, the Changing Places scheme. Because of the points that he has raised this evening, it is important for me to say that we will be looking at including in the guidance and the prospectus a call for councils at all levels to work together to think about provision, which I hope will help to ensure that town and parish councils are more involved than they otherwise would be. I thank the noble Lord for raising that point.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for tabling the amendment, which is similar to those previously discussed. I realise that his intention is to understand the difference this legislation has made, and I assure him that the Government keep under review the effectiveness of all business rates reliefs.

Nevertheless, as I set out earlier, the ability to keep a public lavatory open depends on a number of factors, and I do not think it would be possible to separate out the impact that this relief has had from the other aspects which determine local toilet provision. In addition, the amendment would require a report to consider whether the scope of the relief should be extended. I recognise that this is an issue in which many noble Lords are interested, so I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for the opportunity to set out why the Government have designed the scope of the Bill as we have.

Subject to Royal Assent, this Bill will deliver a 100% business rates relief for properties that consist wholly or mainly of public toilets in England and Wales. The relief has been deliberately designed to benefit those toilets for which removing the cost of business rates will make the greatest difference to the operators’ ability to keep the facilities open, and stem the decline that we have seen over many decades in public toilet provision.

Officials from my department regularly engage with the Valuation Office Agency and the Local Government Association ahead of the introduction of any business rates measures. Depending on the way in which the scope of the relief was extended, it might be necessary for an additional valuation exercise to be carried out by the VOA. I understand that the VOA has advised that such an exercise could require the assessment of hundreds of thousands of properties, at an estimated cost of around £90 to £120 per property. The total cost of carrying out an additional valuation exercise would therefore be significant, and would be disproportionate to the potential benefits to ratepayers of expanding the scope of the relief.

A different approach to extending the scope of the relief could reduce the burden on the Valuation Office Agency but instead require local authorities to identify qualifying hereditaments. On the basis of conversations with the LGA, my department considers that this would be likely to create additional administrative burdens and costs for councils, which would have to go beyond simply using the existing “public conveniences” category on rating lists, and would have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, suggested in Committee that most qualifying ratepayers would self-identify, therefore reducing the burden on local authorities. I agree that this could be the case, but some element of scrutiny would still be likely to be required on the part of each council to identify fraudulent or spurious claims, so the creation of administration and oversight would remain unavoidable.

While the Government set the legislation which informs the structure of the business rates system, the burden of implementing a relief of this sort and the process of ensuring that it is operationally sound fall to local councils and the Valuation Office Agency.

In the case of this relief, the Government consider that this balance has been met in the Bill as currently drafted. By ensuring that the criteria for the relief reflect a pre-existing category on rating lists, we have found a happy medium between ensuring that the measure delivers value for money and is straightforward for local authorities to implement, while providing targeted support for those facilities for which removing business rates costs will make the greatest difference.

It would be extremely difficult to isolate the changes this measure has had on increasing the number of toilets and changing places facilities from wider factors. Nor do I agree that it would be a good measure of the impact of the relief. However, I can assure the House that we will continue to keep all reliefs under review and, together with my colleagues in the Treasury, to listen to representations on how to improve the business rates system. I hope that, on this basis—and on the basis of the points made earlier this evening—the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No. 2) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant interests as vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Kirklees Council. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has tabled a comprehensive amendment, which addresses issues of concern that were raised and debated in Committee. The Minister was unable to provide sufficient reassurances at that stage, hence today’s amendment, which has the support of the Liberal Democrats, as already clearly stated by my noble friends Lord Stunell and Lady Bakewell.

The Bill as it stands simply changes the date of the assessment of the revaluation to 1 April of this year and to delay the publication of the rateable values until 31 December in the year prior to its implementation. As was debated in Committee, these simple changes may have a profound effect on businesses, the prosperity of our high streets, local government finances and on the appeals waiting lists.

First, I will take the effect on local government finance. During Committee, the Minister sought to provide assurances about the financial impact on council income, and I thank him for that. However, there is a wider point of the double whammy on town centre businesses of the impact of Covid lockdowns and the competitive advantages enjoyed by online business. This is likely to mean that town centres will have several empty shops, which will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on the remaining businesses.

The Government have some support for town centres, but much is limited and scattered around the country. It does not provide sustained help. Part of the answer lies with the radical reform of the whole business rate system. Will the Minister provide the House with a draft timetable for the introduction of a reformed approach, which, as several noble Lords have stated, has been promised for several years.

My noble friend Lady Bakewell has spoken from her experience of the impact of long appeal waiting lists on businesses and council services. As the Minister will know, councils have to set aside considerable sums for the refund of any possible successful appeal. Will he tell the House the total amount set aside by local authorities for this purpose? If he is not able to do so today, will he agree to set out the information in a letter to those taking part in today’s debate? Is the Minister able to consider an alternative to setting aside large sums for potential refunds that clearly make an impact on the day to day services—as described by my noble friend Lady Bakewell—that a council is able to provide?

The current system of business rating is failing, in that it considerably disadvantages those who have a physical presence as opposed to those purely providing an online retail offer. I am not opposed to online shopping but urge the Government to appreciate the value to communities of physical shopping. As the various lockdowns have shown us, there is an intrinsic value to individuals of physical shopping. One simple benefit is that of meeting another person, in the shop or serving at the till. For too many people living on their own, this may be the one chance in the day that they have to speak to someone.

There is also the benefit to communities as a whole. Local high streets provide a sense of belonging to a place. The importance of place-based services has shone through during the pandemic. Local shops and services are part of that sense of place and play a significant role in supporting well-being. We lose it at our peril.

That leads me to repeat the example I gave in Committee of a small shop in the town centre of Cleckheaton, which pays at the rate of £250 per square metre on its 30 square metres of shopping space. In contrast, a large online-only retailer, with an out-of-town warehouse occupying 40,000 square metres, also in Yorkshire, pays just £45 per square metre. If that online retailer were to pay at the same rate as the small town-centre shop, it would be paying a rates bill of £5 million. That would solve a lot of local government finance issues. The retail playing field is hugely skewed to the benefit of online retailers. The Government must act with urgency to address this imbalance and demonstrate that they really do support prosperous local high streets.

The further problem for the Government and Valuation Office Agency is the timing of the valuation assessment. My noble friend Lord Stunell said today that the changes that the Bill will bring may be too late to save more retailers from closing their high street shops. He suggested bringing forward the implementation date to put it in line with the proposals of Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill, which was discussed last week.

The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, drew attention in Committee and today to the timing of valuations, when so much of the high street has been closed for several months. Equally, it is not of benefit to town-centre retailers that the current valuation will be that on which their rates bills will be based for the next two challenging years. The Government should address this issue with urgency, but there is no evidence that they are doing so. I look forward to the Minister’s responses on a number of these issues and hope that they are more positive than those we received in Committee.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for tabling this amendment, which allows us to return to the important matter of how the revaluation will impact on various parts of our economy. I entirely understand that the House wants to consider the impact of the next revaluation on sectors such as the high street and small business. I point out to the noble Lord that the £1 billion future high streets fund is not insubstantial and forms part of the £3.6 billion towns fund. It is an important part of helping our high streets to bounce back. Also, as has been mentioned by noble Lords, there has been the business rates relief scheme throughout the Covid pandemic, which has cost in the region of £10 billion. It is for the Chancellor to signal how that will continue in his Budget later this week.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, referenced the shift over many years, even before the pandemic, towards online and away from place-based shopping on our high streets. It is a matter for the Chancellor, who is carrying out a fundamental review of business rates, to consider how to address that. The interim report is due on 23 March and the review will conclude in the autumn.

Businesses have been calling for frequent revaluations and we had planned for the next one to take effect this year. It would have been based on rental values as at 1 April 2019. In the difficult circumstances in which we now find ourselves, this was clearly unsatisfactory, as those new rateable values would not have shown the impact of the pandemic. Instead, the Bill will move the date on which the next revaluation takes effect back to 2023. This will allow us to use rental values as of 1 April 2021, which will better reflect the impact of the pandemic.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill 2019-21 View all Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 131-I Marshalled list for Committee - (19 Feb 2021)
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I draw the Committee’s attention to my interests as listed in the register: as a member of Kirklees Council and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to which I have added my name, challenge the scope of the Bill in its restriction to public toilets that are stand-alone and not part of a larger public building, such as a library or community centre. I thank the Minister for the opportunity to discuss these amendments and for the letter that he sent explaining the reasons for confining the scope of the Bill to stand-alone public toilets. However, we have to remember that one consequence of the long period of cuts to local government funding has been that many public toilets have been closed permanently. In my local authority, which serves nearly half a million people, there are now no stand-alone public toilets. The Bill is welcome but it is very much like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

These amendments are intended to encourage the Government to appreciate the wider need to increase the availability of public toilets. There is already pressure for some public toilets in public buildings to be closed because of the costs associated with keeping them open, as they are not part of the focused purpose of the building. For example, a public library is having to use scarce funds to keep the public toilets in its building open when there is barely sufficient funding to staff the building. That is the dilemma facing local authorities, certainly in the northern urban areas that I know well.

My noble friend Lord Greaves’s points are well made. Local people regard public toilets within a public building as being the same as stand-alone public toilets. The challenge is explained in the letter that I referred to earlier—the volume of work it would impose on the valuation office—but my noble friend Lord Greaves’s amendment seeks to find a way round this for public toilets that have separate access. I hope that the Minister is able to respond positively to that amendment.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is an expert on these matters. He has said that valuation for rating is not just about facts and figures. One example that he provided was the relief given to charities. The Government would do well to take heed of the arguments that the noble and learned Lord made, and that view has been well supported by my noble friend Lady Randerson. As well as making those arguments and supporting my noble friend Lord Greaves’s view, she argued that improved public toilets are more secure and can be more easily kept clean if they are within a public building, rather than being stand-alone.

The Government have a responsibility to ensure adequate availability of publicly funded public toilets. It is a responsibility that has been accepted since the days of the great Victorian public heath reformers. The Bill demonstrates that the Government continue to accept that they have that responsibility. It is not sufficient, in fulfilling this obligation, to make those public toilets that have survived the cull zero rated. The Government must provide the means for local government to increase availability to meet local need. That is what these amendments seek to do and I wholeheartedly support them.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the points highlighted by his amendment and for his valuable and knowledgeable contribution to the Second Reading debate, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and, with great knowledge, by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I point out that the horse has not bolted entirely. There are nearly 4,000 separately assessed public toilets in England and Wales—3,990 as of 31 March 2020—and therefore this is a very important relief for those properties.

The effect of the first amendment would be to extend the scope of the relief to include publicly owned properties, such as libraries, community centres and other local authority properties, where they contain free-to-use public lavatories. In effect, this would mean that the local authority-owned buildings that contained a non-fee-paying public lavatory would be exempted from paying rates.

It is the Government’s firm view that public bodies, like other ratepayers, should pay rates on the properties they own and occupy, and it is therefore right that the legislation should broadly reflect this principle. The Government’s policy aim, and the purpose of Clause 1, is clear in that it provides a targeted relief to support the provision of public lavatories in specific circumstances. In particular, we want to support facilities that exist where there are unlikely to be any other publicly available toilets, such as those along our coastline or in towns, where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a significant difference to the ability of councils or others to keep the facilities open.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there are important and relevant issues to explore in Amendments 3 and 10, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Greaves, respectively. When a financial benefit is to be gained, as there is in this Bill, it inevitably becomes an issue of dispute at some time in the future when some realise that they are not getting rate relief on their provision of public toilets while others are. That is why it is important to explore what the Government are proposing here.

As we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Kennedy, there is a considerable range of public toilet facilities. Some are open only during the day and some not at the weekend; some require payment, and some do not. We need to understand the implications of this variety of provision for the purposes of the Bill. Is it acceptable to make a small charge for a public toilet facility and get the rate relief proposed in this Bill? What will happen if that small charge becomes ever larger? Is it still right, then, that that facility is zero-rated? These two amendments indicate that what may appear to be simple, straightforward changes can have inconsistent consequences once the detail of the implementation is exposed, as it has been so expertly this afternoon. I look forward to hearing the reply from the Minister.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, wanted to know the evidence that this would cause a burden disproportionate to the level of relief provided. The reality is that, under these proposals, we are not asking local authorities or the Valuation Office Agency to do anything in addition to what they already do. But where we are widening the scope, we are asking local authorities to do something they do not currently do, so by definition that will increase burdens on them and, in some cases, on the Valuation Office Agency.

The effect of the amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, would be to apply a set of conditions that would need to be satisfied before the relief could be granted. I will expand on the reasons why I do not believe these are helpful in the operation of the relief. As a principle, I do not agree we should be moving away from the clear and simple aims of the policy by limiting this much-needed support.

The effect of Amendment 3 would be to exclude those who own and run facilities where a small fee is charged from receiving this relief. The Government’s policy aim and purpose in Clause 1 is to target the relief to best support the provision of public lavatories. In particular, we want to support facilities that exist where there are unlikely to be any other publicly available toilets, where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a real difference to the ability of councils or others to keep the facilities open. I understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about free-to-use public toilets. Nevertheless, the purpose of this Bill is to provide targeted support to separately assessed public lavatories, recognising the particular circumstances they face, not to draw a distinction between those that charge and those that do not. Such a distinction would add complexity, uncertainty and an unnecessary administrative burden for local authorities and would increase the pressure on those facilities that are not able to access this support. I do not agree that those ratepayers that operate a public lavatory and charge a minimal fee for the first service should be excluded from this vital support.

I understand the practice of charging a fee is reducing, but those that charge do so on the basis of a commercial decision. In some cases, that fee may be charged to meet the ongoing costs of maintenance and cleaning, which is entirely reasonable. Nevertheless, I recognise the importance of knowing which facilities charge and what services they provide, so I welcome the work of the British Toilet Association, which provides an online service called the Great British Public Toilet Map, which has been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. This provides visitors with critical information about toilets in a specific area, including whether they are free to use, whether they are accessible and whether they have baby-changing facilities. Users can then make a decision in good knowledge and plan appropriately. I also commend the community toilet scheme, which was first devised by the London borough of Richmond upon Thames and is now used by local authorities across the country. This enables local businesses to work with councils to widen lavatory access so the public can use their facilities without making a purchase.

Amendment 10, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would limit the relief on the condition that the facilities should be open at set times and days as reasonably necessary. As I have outlined, our aim is to increase the support for the provision of public toilets, not to reduce the level of assistance for facilities that are most in need of support. I would not support the creation of a further burden on authorities to assess and police the opening and closing times of a toilet before awarding relief. The establishment of such a regime would be disproportionate to the value of the relief and would not represent good value for money to the taxpayer. As I have set out, the relief applies only to occupied facilities and is awarded only in these circumstances. While I understand the intention of the amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, in practice, they may, at best, be unhelpful and, at worst, unnecessarily increase pressure on toilets to close.

I hope that I have helped clarify the Government’s intention about how the measure would apply. With these assurances, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, can agree to withdraw this amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, these amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, explore the opportunities for public toilets within a public building that are not separately rated, so that they may benefit from the purposes of the Bill. In particular, Amendment 6 seeks to achieve the benefits of the Bill for those facilities providing changing places. These are inevitably included within public buildings, where there is the large amount of space available to provide changing places.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has shared his expertise on these matters. He provides alternative thinking about derating hereditaments that provide public toilet facilities. The principle is sound; we all seek today to find ways of supporting public toilets through the financial benefit provided by the Bill, and not just those which are stand-alone. I hope that the Minister will, with his department, think carefully about the solution that the noble and learned Lord is pointing to. I certainly hope that we will be able to explore it on Report.

I for one support any means for exempting non-domestic rates where there is a public benefit. This debate has revealed the total incoherence of non-domestic rating. For example, in my own town of Cleckheaton the public toilets we have as part of our small market hall are separately rated and cost the council £15,000 a year in rates. These are no grand-affair public toilets; they are just two toilets, one for men and one for women. The cost of the rates is by far the largest element of expenditure on the upkeep of these toilets, yet they provide a free public benefit. The rate charged on this humble public toilet block is far in excess, in ratio terms, of that charged on an out-of-town warehouse providing storage for online shopping. This is all out of kilter.

Fundamental reform is essential and the Government have for too long avoided taking these difficult decisions. I hope that the Minister will consider all the helpful suggestions made this afternoon and be willing to think again about the contents of the Bill. I look forward to his reply today, and to further discussions and further debate on Report.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I appreciate the backing that the Committee has given to the measures in the Bill and recognise the arguments made in support of extending the relief further still. The first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would provide for relief to be given to properties which contain public toilets that are not separately assessed, and for that relief to be determined according to the proportion of that property occupied by the public toilet. The second would have the same effect, but separately for properties which contain Changing Places facilities.

In designing the scope of the Bill, the Government have given due consideration to the benefits to our communities of extending the relief to those toilets that are not currently separately assessed. However, these benefits must be weighed against the significant practical and financial implications of implementing such a relief. I hope that my colleagues present today have received a copy of the letter of 2 February setting out these implications in detail—actually, I think most noble Lords today have referred to it. For the benefit of the Committee, I will set them out again now.

The Government have taken the deliberate approach of targeting the measure within the Bill at supporting those toilets that appear separately on business rates lists. This means that this support will be available to those facilities for which the cost of business rates has the largest bearing on their ability to remain open. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require the separate assessment of the rateable value of public toilets that sit within larger properties, and for the awarding of a business rates discount relative to the proportion of the property that the toilet occupies.

A valuation exercise to provide an apportioned relief would be extensive and require the Valuation Office Agency to first identify where the facilities are, and then to assess the specific rateable value of each toilet relative to the property of which it forms a part. This exercise would carry significant financial and temporal costs, as pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. It would require business rates valuers to carry out assessments and, where needed, to make site visits up and down the country. As such, it would divert critical VOA resources from the priority of delivering the 2023 revaluation and could potentially delay the implementation of the core measure of the Bill before the Committee today.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, mentioned a formula-based approach to derating. This would also result in considerable burdens, for example by requiring the VOA to identify the location of the public toilets. Obviously, the scale of the intervention is different from that for mines in the 1928 Act, but I am happy to discuss that technical approach with my officials between now and Report.

I am proud to be here today championing a measure that will be of great value to our communities. While I recognise the importance of all publicly accessible toilets, the cost of extending this relief according to the amendment would be significant—far greater than the financial benefit to operators of such facilities. I hope that the Committee will agree that a relief with implementation costs disproportionate to its financial benefits would not represent good value for money for taxpayers.

Although extending relief to toilets that form part of larger properties would undoubtedly bring about significant and disproportionate costs and practical difficulties, I appreciate that the second amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, concerns Changing Places toilets in particular. I therefore hope that the Committee will allow me to set out the steps that the Government have already taken to support these vital facilities.

I am proud to belong to a Government who are delivering on their commitment to provide more Changing Places toilets. At the last Budget, the Chancellor announced a £30 million fund to further extend the provision of these vital facilities and my department will shortly set out the allocation of this funding. I would be happy to provide my colleagues in the House with further details on this funding once they are available.

The funding comes on top of the £2 million announced by the Department for Transport to provide Changing Places toilets at motorway services and the £2 million made available by the Department of Health and Social Care to install these facilities in NHS hospitals across England. I hope that that reassures the Committee that where a Changing Places toilet is separately assessed, the measures in the Bill, subject to Royal Assent, act to reduce the business rates liability of these facilities to nil. While there are significant practical reasons why the Bill does not cover toilets—Changing Places or otherwise—within larger buildings, the Government are delivering on their commitment to supporting Changing Places toilets directly through grant funding.

I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will withdraw the amendment.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I draw the Committee’s attention to my interests as listed in the register: as a member of Kirklees Council and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to which I have added my name, challenge the scope of the Bill in its restriction to public toilets that are stand-alone and not part of a larger public building, such as a library or community centre. I thank the Minister for the opportunity to discuss these amendments and for the letter that he sent explaining the reasons for confining the scope of the Bill to stand-alone public toilets. However, we have to remember that one consequence of the long period of cuts to local government funding has been that many public toilets have been closed permanently. In my local authority, which serves nearly half a million people, there are now no stand-alone public toilets. The Bill is welcome but it is very much like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

These amendments are intended to encourage the Government to appreciate the wider need to increase the availability of public toilets. There is already pressure for some public toilets in public buildings to be closed because of the costs associated with keeping them open, as they are not part of the focused purpose of the building. For example, a public library is having to use scarce funds to keep the public toilets in its building open when there is barely sufficient funding to staff the building. That is the dilemma facing local authorities, certainly in the northern urban areas that I know well.

My noble friend Lord Greaves’s points are well made. Local people regard public toilets within a public building as being the same as stand-alone public toilets. The challenge is explained in the letter that I referred to earlier—the volume of work it would impose on the valuation office—but my noble friend Lord Greaves’s amendment seeks to find a way round this for public toilets that have separate access. I hope that the Minister is able to respond positively to that amendment.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is an expert on these matters. He has said that valuation for rating is not just about facts and figures. One example that he provided was the relief given to charities. The Government would do well to take heed of the arguments that the noble and learned Lord made, and that view has been well supported by my noble friend Lady Randerson. As well as making those arguments and supporting my noble friend Lord Greaves’s view, she argued that improved public toilets are more secure and can be more easily kept clean if they are within a public building, rather than being stand-alone.

The Government have a responsibility to ensure adequate availability of publicly funded public toilets. It is a responsibility that has been accepted since the days of the great Victorian public heath reformers. The Bill demonstrates that the Government continue to accept that they have that responsibility. It is not sufficient, in fulfilling this obligation, to make those public toilets that have survived the cull zero rated. The Government must provide the means for local government to increase availability to meet local need. That is what these amendments seek to do and I wholeheartedly support them.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the points highlighted by his amendment and for his valuable and knowledgeable contribution to the Second Reading debate, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and, with great knowledge, by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I point out that the horse has not bolted entirely. There are nearly 4,000 separately assessed public toilets in England and Wales—3,990 as of 31 March 2020—and therefore this is a very important relief for those properties.

The effect of the first amendment would be to extend the scope of the relief to include publicly owned properties, such as libraries, community centres and other local authority properties, where they contain free-to-use public lavatories. In effect, this would mean that the local authority-owned buildings that contained a non-fee-paying public lavatory would be exempted from paying rates.

It is the Government’s firm view that public bodies, like other ratepayers, should pay rates on the properties they own and occupy, and it is therefore right that the legislation should broadly reflect this principle. The Government’s policy aim, and the purpose of Clause 1, is clear in that it provides a targeted relief to support the provision of public lavatories in specific circumstances. In particular, we want to support facilities that exist where there are unlikely to be any other publicly available toilets, such as those along our coastline or in towns, where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a significant difference to the ability of councils or others to keep the facilities open.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there are important and relevant issues to explore in Amendments 3 and 10, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Greaves, respectively. When a financial benefit is to be gained, as there is in this Bill, it inevitably becomes an issue of dispute at some time in the future when some realise that they are not getting rate relief on their provision of public toilets while others are. That is why it is important to explore what the Government are proposing here.

As we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Kennedy, there is a considerable range of public toilet facilities. Some are open only during the day and some not at the weekend; some require payment, and some do not. We need to understand the implications of this variety of provision for the purposes of the Bill. Is it acceptable to make a small charge for a public toilet facility and get the rate relief proposed in this Bill? What will happen if that small charge becomes ever larger? Is it still right, then, that that facility is zero-rated? These two amendments indicate that what may appear to be simple, straightforward changes can have inconsistent consequences once the detail of the implementation is exposed, as it has been so expertly this afternoon. I look forward to hearing the reply from the Minister.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, wanted to know the evidence that this would cause a burden disproportionate to the level of relief provided. The reality is that, under these proposals, we are not asking local authorities or the Valuation Office Agency to do anything in addition to what they already do. But where we are widening the scope, we are asking local authorities to do something they do not currently do, so by definition that will increase burdens on them and, in some cases, on the Valuation Office Agency.

The effect of the amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, would be to apply a set of conditions that would need to be satisfied before the relief could be granted. I will expand on the reasons why I do not believe these are helpful in the operation of the relief. As a principle, I do not agree we should be moving away from the clear and simple aims of the policy by limiting this much-needed support.

The effect of Amendment 3 would be to exclude those who own and run facilities where a small fee is charged from receiving this relief. The Government’s policy aim and purpose in Clause 1 is to target the relief to best support the provision of public lavatories. In particular, we want to support facilities that exist where there are unlikely to be any other publicly available toilets, where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a real difference to the ability of councils or others to keep the facilities open. I understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about free-to-use public toilets. Nevertheless, the purpose of this Bill is to provide targeted support to separately assessed public lavatories, recognising the particular circumstances they face, not to draw a distinction between those that charge and those that do not. Such a distinction would add complexity, uncertainty and an unnecessary administrative burden for local authorities and would increase the pressure on those facilities that are not able to access this support. I do not agree that those ratepayers that operate a public lavatory and charge a minimal fee for the first service should be excluded from this vital support.

I understand the practice of charging a fee is reducing, but those that charge do so on the basis of a commercial decision. In some cases, that fee may be charged to meet the ongoing costs of maintenance and cleaning, which is entirely reasonable. Nevertheless, I recognise the importance of knowing which facilities charge and what services they provide, so I welcome the work of the British Toilet Association, which provides an online service called the Great British Public Toilet Map, which has been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. This provides visitors with critical information about toilets in a specific area, including whether they are free to use, whether they are accessible and whether they have baby-changing facilities. Users can then make a decision in good knowledge and plan appropriately. I also commend the community toilet scheme, which was first devised by the London borough of Richmond upon Thames and is now used by local authorities across the country. This enables local businesses to work with councils to widen lavatory access so the public can use their facilities without making a purchase.

Amendment 10, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would limit the relief on the condition that the facilities should be open at set times and days as reasonably necessary. As I have outlined, our aim is to increase the support for the provision of public toilets, not to reduce the level of assistance for facilities that are most in need of support. I would not support the creation of a further burden on authorities to assess and police the opening and closing times of a toilet before awarding relief. The establishment of such a regime would be disproportionate to the value of the relief and would not represent good value for money to the taxpayer. As I have set out, the relief applies only to occupied facilities and is awarded only in these circumstances. While I understand the intention of the amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, in practice, they may, at best, be unhelpful and, at worst, unnecessarily increase pressure on toilets to close.

I hope that I have helped clarify the Government’s intention about how the measure would apply. With these assurances, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, can agree to withdraw this amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, these amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, explore the opportunities for public toilets within a public building that are not separately rated, so that they may benefit from the purposes of the Bill. In particular, Amendment 6 seeks to achieve the benefits of the Bill for those facilities providing changing places. These are inevitably included within public buildings, where there is the large amount of space available to provide changing places.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has shared his expertise on these matters. He provides alternative thinking about derating hereditaments that provide public toilet facilities. The principle is sound; we all seek today to find ways of supporting public toilets through the financial benefit provided by the Bill, and not just those which are stand-alone. I hope that the Minister will, with his department, think carefully about the solution that the noble and learned Lord is pointing to. I certainly hope that we will be able to explore it on Report.

I for one support any means for exempting non-domestic rates where there is a public benefit. This debate has revealed the total incoherence of non-domestic rating. For example, in my own town of Cleckheaton the public toilets we have as part of our small market hall are separately rated and cost the council £15,000 a year in rates. These are no grand-affair public toilets; they are just two toilets, one for men and one for women. The cost of the rates is by far the largest element of expenditure on the upkeep of these toilets, yet they provide a free public benefit. The rate charged on this humble public toilet block is far in excess, in ratio terms, of that charged on an out-of-town warehouse providing storage for online shopping. This is all out of kilter.

Fundamental reform is essential and the Government have for too long avoided taking these difficult decisions. I hope that the Minister will consider all the helpful suggestions made this afternoon and be willing to think again about the contents of the Bill. I look forward to his reply today, and to further discussions and further debate on Report.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I appreciate the backing that the Committee has given to the measures in the Bill and recognise the arguments made in support of extending the relief further still. The first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would provide for relief to be given to properties which contain public toilets that are not separately assessed, and for that relief to be determined according to the proportion of that property occupied by the public toilet. The second would have the same effect, but separately for properties which contain Changing Places facilities.

In designing the scope of the Bill, the Government have given due consideration to the benefits to our communities of extending the relief to those toilets that are not currently separately assessed. However, these benefits must be weighed against the significant practical and financial implications of implementing such a relief. I hope that my colleagues present today have received a copy of the letter of 2 February setting out these implications in detail—actually, I think most noble Lords today have referred to it. For the benefit of the Committee, I will set them out again now.

The Government have taken the deliberate approach of targeting the measure within the Bill at supporting those toilets that appear separately on business rates lists. This means that this support will be available to those facilities for which the cost of business rates has the largest bearing on their ability to remain open. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require the separate assessment of the rateable value of public toilets that sit within larger properties, and for the awarding of a business rates discount relative to the proportion of the property that the toilet occupies.

A valuation exercise to provide an apportioned relief would be extensive and require the Valuation Office Agency to first identify where the facilities are, and then to assess the specific rateable value of each toilet relative to the property of which it forms a part. This exercise would carry significant financial and temporal costs, as pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. It would require business rates valuers to carry out assessments and, where needed, to make site visits up and down the country. As such, it would divert critical VOA resources from the priority of delivering the 2023 revaluation and could potentially delay the implementation of the core measure of the Bill before the Committee today.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, mentioned a formula-based approach to derating. This would also result in considerable burdens, for example by requiring the VOA to identify the location of the public toilets. Obviously, the scale of the intervention is different from that for mines in the 1928 Act, but I am happy to discuss that technical approach with my officials between now and Report.

I am proud to be here today championing a measure that will be of great value to our communities. While I recognise the importance of all publicly accessible toilets, the cost of extending this relief according to the amendment would be significant—far greater than the financial benefit to operators of such facilities. I hope that the Committee will agree that a relief with implementation costs disproportionate to its financial benefits would not represent good value for money for taxpayers.

Although extending relief to toilets that form part of larger properties would undoubtedly bring about significant and disproportionate costs and practical difficulties, I appreciate that the second amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, concerns Changing Places toilets in particular. I therefore hope that the Committee will allow me to set out the steps that the Government have already taken to support these vital facilities.

I am proud to belong to a Government who are delivering on their commitment to provide more Changing Places toilets. At the last Budget, the Chancellor announced a £30 million fund to further extend the provision of these vital facilities and my department will shortly set out the allocation of this funding. I would be happy to provide my colleagues in the House with further details on this funding once they are available.

The funding comes on top of the £2 million announced by the Department for Transport to provide Changing Places toilets at motorway services and the £2 million made available by the Department of Health and Social Care to install these facilities in NHS hospitals across England. I hope that that reassures the Committee that where a Changing Places toilet is separately assessed, the measures in the Bill, subject to Royal Assent, act to reduce the business rates liability of these facilities to nil. While there are significant practical reasons why the Bill does not cover toilets—Changing Places or otherwise—within larger buildings, the Government are delivering on their commitment to supporting Changing Places toilets directly through grant funding.

I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will withdraw the amendment.

Building Safety

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 22nd February 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the repeat of this important Statement on the Government’s response to the cladding crisis. I remind the House of my interests, recorded in the register, as a member of Kirklees Council and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I was pleased when I read the heading of the Statement, “Building Safety”, and the opening paragraph, which refers to the mission of the Secretary of State being that of “safety and fairness”. Unfortunately, the Statement then fails to live up to those laudable words. The first issue I have with it is that throughout, there is reference only to “unsafe cladding”. In fact, what has become clear, as the vast scale of the problem that the Grenfell tragedy exposed, is that the building safety failings go far beyond “unsafe cladding”. As flammable cladding is removed, in some buildings further significant construction failings are revealed: flammable insulation has been used; firebreaks have not been built into the structure as a way of slowing the spread of a fire; balconies are not made of fire-retardant material; and spandrel panels are also seen as a potential safety concern.

How do I know this? In January 2020 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued guidance note 23, relating to the seven building components under review, requiring building owners and managers to take urgent action on these. The question for the Minister, therefore, is: will the additional government funding pay for all the defects revealed when the unsafe cladding is removed? If, for instance, it becomes evident that there is an absence of firebreaks, will the funding cover the costs of installing them? If not, the leaseholders will still be faced with large bills to pay for failings in the construction.

The next fundamental question that I hope the Minister can answer is: why has 18 metres been chosen as the bar above which cladding removal is funded by the Government and below which the leaseholders and tenants are required to pay? Is the 18-metre figure an historic one that needs to be reassessed? Serious fires can occur in blocks of varying heights: for instance, the fire in a block called The Cube, in Bolton, was very serious—although fortunately, there was no loss of life—but the building was lower than 18 metres.

That leads me to the question of fairness. As noble Lords will recall, this is the mission of the department in respect of building safety. Can the Minister explain how it is fair for leaseholders in blocks below 18 metres high to have to pay for remediation? I recognise that low-interest loans are available and that the currently anticipated maximum payment is £50 per month. This will, no doubt, be added to the service charge and will be one of the costs that potential buyers will consider. It will make these flats less attractive to buyers and they will almost certainly command a lower value. How is it fair to require leaseholders to pay for building remediation which is not in any way of their making?

One of the roles of government is to ensure that safety regulations are appropriate to the task and that there is an inspection regime. The Government have failed to do this, so they are partly culpable, must bear the cost and recoup it from those who share culpability.

Then there is the question of building regulations. It is alleged that some of the buildings affected by this scandal failed to comply with building regulations at the time of construction. Can the Minister confirm this and provide some estimate of the numbers involved? Where breaches of regulation are involved, will the Government require full remediation costs to be met by the developer? This is what happens with the manufacturers of cars and white goods, for example. Surely it should also apply in these instances. Does the Minister agree?

Next, I turn to the total funding package. The additional funding provided by the Government is a start, but this £5 billion needs to be put into context. During the debate on the Fire Safety Bill, the Minister confirmed that the total cost of remediation was likely to be in the region of £16 billion. Does that imply that £10 billion or more will be paid for by leaseholders through the loan scheme? Perhaps the Minister will let us know whether this is what the Government have calculated.

It is proposed to recoup some of these costs from developers by raising £200 million per annum via a tax on the sector. The cost of the minority of the remediation to be recouped from developers is pathetically small. During the last four years, the five largest developers made profits of around £16 billion, which rather puts the proposed figure into context. Will the Government reconsider the level of this tax to make it fairer?

Finally, I hope that the Government do not need to be reminded of the terrible, personal cost of the cladding scandal. For instance, Laurel and Jonathan in Manchester are seriously considering bankruptcy as the only way out of their predicament. Hayley in Leeds has already been forced into bankruptcy. In an Inside Housing survey last year, 23% of respondents said that they had considered suicide. Such is the stress of living in an unsafe home and being forced to pay huge increases in insurance and service charges. For leaseholders and tenants, this building safety crisis is not in any way of their making, yet they are expected to pay the price while those who created it are not being similarly expected to pay in any significant way. Can the Minister explain how this adheres to the department’s mission of fairness? Will he press for a review of the current proposals as more information comes to light?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, around £3.5 billion in direct, additional grant has been committed. This is a significant amount of money which dwarfs the £1.6 billion previously promised. More than £5 billion has been committed to support the ending of the cladding crisis. The plans go a long way towards ensuring that affordability is not an issue for any leaseholders in medium-rise properties. It also ensures that, where there is no warranty outstanding or insurance available to protect the leaseholder, the taxpayer—through the Government’s additional grant—will step up and provide the funding necessary to ensure that the cladding system is removed.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about progress. Despite Covid, we saw 50% more starts in 2020 than in any other year. Workers were on site and, by the end of the year, 95% of high-rise buildings with the same sort of cladding as at Grenfell had either started or completed remediation. We know exactly where these buildings are. The vast majority of the remaining cladding will have been removed from them by the end of this calendar year.

The main thrust of the questions was around the scope of the fund. It is important to recognise that height is a huge factor when it comes to safety and the risk to life. The higher the building, the more risk there is to the residents. People who live in buildings between 18 and 30 metres high are four times more likely to have a fire involving a fatality or the need for hospital treatment. In buildings above 30 metres, this rises to 35 times more likely. We know that height is a factor. Eighteen metres is the cut-off point for the definition of a high-rise building. This has been part of building regulations for a considerable number of years. The definition that we are using for scope is above six storeys, so The Cube would fall within the remit of a building where an application could be made to the building safety fund to remove its cladding. The threshold is six or more storeys or a height greater than 18 metres.

The long-term safety advice makes it clear that the external cladding system acts as accelerant, helping the fire to spread. This is why the government money is focused on the removal of external cladding systems. Internal compartmentation, firebreaks and fire doors are designed to stop the spread of fire. It is right that taxpayers’ money should focus on the material that accelerates the spread of fire.

The £3.5 billion and the finance scheme will together help hundreds of thousands of leaseholders. For those in medium-rise properties, it will cover a significant part of their costs. For those in high-rise buildings, there will be no cost. To date, 13,000 leaseholders in ACM buildings have been supported by the government grant scheme. Between 70,000 and 90,000 leaseholders in buildings with non-ACM cladding systems will not bear any cost. A further 150,000 leaseholders in buildings between 11 and 18 metres high will also be helped.

It is important, however, that building owners step up to the plate to support remediation where the government grant is not available. We do not expect this cost to fall entirely on leaseholders. With the ACM fund, more than 50% of owners did the right thing and ensured that the cost did not fall on leaseholders. We expect to see that with the non-ACM buildings as well. Here, warranty schemes can often still be drawn on and protect leaseholders.

It is worth looking at the cladding manufacturers. I will take that point away because, as well as the developers, they are culpable for the situation that we find ourselves in—a point that has been made by both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. That is something that we can look at in due course.

This is a five-point plan looking at significant sums of money to support the removal of the external cladding systems. It is those systems that have accelerated the spread of fire and their removal makes it far more unlikely that Grenfell will ever happen again. We know that the future building safety regime will be focused on ensuring that the new buildings will be of far greater quality and then provide the greater confidence that is required in the housing market to ensure that it begins to function properly in future years.

Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No. 2) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 4th February 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Act 2021 View all Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 146-I Marshalled list for Grand Committee - (1 Feb 2021)
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I remind the Committee of my interests, as recorded in the register, as a member of Kirklees Council and a vice-chair of the Local Government Association.

The debate on these amendments has been a relatively short but, I trust, helpful for the Government. As we have heard from my noble friend Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Bourne, to cover the cross-party contributions to this debate, there are significant concerns about the timing of the assessment—or the antecedent valuation date, to give it its official title—of new rateable values. Some have experienced enormous challenges over the last year, none of which are of their making. The challenges of the pandemic have brought large parts of the hospitality and retail sectors to their knees. Now is not the time to undertake an assessment of rental values, which is in large part the basis of the valuation.

Will the Minister agree to discuss with the department the possibility of a delay to the AVD? This concern is at the heart of the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornhill. A six-month review would establish whether it is practicable to assess new rental values that feed into the final valuation. A delay is preferable but, failing that, a review is essential as it would highlight the difficulties of doing this while a pandemic is rife. The concerns from those of us who have had extensive local government experience is that local authority finances will be adversely impacted. Of course, the Government have given assurances that any loss of income from business rates will be fully compensated—at the moment. However, they have not, as yet, given such a commitment for when the revaluation comes live in 2023. Will the Minister provide copper-bottomed assurance that no local authority will lose income from the revaluation, and that any necessary top-ups will be provided? I look forward to the Minister’s response to these questions, which will inform any amendments to be tabled at Report.

As we discussed at Second Reading, the Government have chosen a particularly inopportune time for the revaluation of business rates. The valuation day is set for April of this year, and I urge the Minister to consider delaying the date and accepting the proposal in both these amendments. I look forward to his reply.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I first point out my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the points highlighted by his proposed new clause. The business rates system is unusual among taxes because its implementation is split between the Valuation Office Agency, which is an agency of HMRC, and local authorities. Many noble Lords have, like myself, experience of working in local government and know and understand how important the relationship is between the VOA, local authorities and my department in running the business rates system.

As the Committee would expect, one of the issues raised in our discussions with local government has been how revaluations impact on local government funding, so I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Thornhill, for tabling their amendment on that subject.

In relation to the provisions of this Bill, we have worked closely with the VOA to ensure that a revaluation in 2023 can be delivered on time. The antecedent valuation date of 1 April 2021 was set by a statutory instrument laid on 6 August last year, since when the VOA has been preparing for the revaluation. It has already started to collect the information it needs to value 2 million properties and is on target to complete the exercise to plan.

As I discussed at Second Reading, Clause 1 also moves back the latest date by when the draft rating list must be published before the revaluation to no later than the preceding 31 December. In practice, we expect this to be around the time of the autumn fiscal event, when the multiplier and the transitional relief scheme are also announced. That will mean that rating lists will come to local government a little later than previous revaluations, but we do not expect this to mean any delays in the process of billing or estimating business rates income.

Local government of course needs the multipliers and details of relief schemes before it can calculate liabilities, and it is only once that full package is confirmed that bills can be issued. That is the case whether we are in the year of a revaluation or not. Nevertheless, I can assure my noble friend Lord Bourne and the Committee that my officials meet representatives of local government regularly and will continue to discuss these matters with them to ensure the smooth delivery of business rates bills.

More generally, my department and the VOA are continuously looking at how we can improve consultation and closer working with local government. In recent years the VOA has introduced a data gateway under which it is able to share information about ratepayers with local authorities in order to support the billing process, and last year we made regulations empowering local authorities to provide the VOA with information on a quarterly basis about the properties that ratepayers occupy. This was introduced with the support of local government and will ensure that the VOA has up-to-date information ahead of 1 April 2021, which is the intended valuation date for the 2023 revaluation.

One specific matter we have discussed with local government is how to reflect in the local government finance system the changes in business rates income at revaluation—and I recognise that this is the matter on which the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Thornhill, seek reassurance through their amendment. The purpose of the revaluation is to ensure that business rates bills reflect the up-to-date rental value of properties.

This of course means that some ratepayers will see increases and some will see reductions as a result of the revaluation, and it follows that the business rates income for individual local authorities will fluctuate in the same way. Some local authorities will see their business rates income rise at the revaluation and others will see it fall. Between revaluations, local authorities can increase their business rates income by supporting growth and investing in their area. Their share of this type of growth is retained by them through the rates retention scheme.

In contrast, the changes we see in local authority income levels at the revaluation come mainly from the trends and variations in the wider national economy and the commercial property market. These factors are largely outside the control of individual local authorities and the Government’s view is that such changes in business rates income levels at the revaluation should not feed through into local government budgets.

Therefore, our intention—as it was at the previous revaluation in 2017—is that we will, as far as is practicable, ensure that retained rates income for individual local authorities under the business rates retention scheme is unaffected by the 2023 revaluation. For the 2017 revaluation we achieved this by adjusting the tariffs and top-ups in the scheme to reflect the change in income at the revaluation. We consulted local government on the mechanics of these adjustments from as early as the preceding summer. This was a collaborative process and one which we intend to repeat for the 2023 revaluation. This process will give local authorities the budget assurances they need regarding revaluation. As such, the timing of the revaluation and how it affects the distribution of business rates income should not impact directly on local government finances.

I hope, therefore, that I have reassured the Committee on the degree to which my department and the VOA work closely together and in partnership with local government on business rates matters, and on the steps we will take to protect local government finances at the time of the revaluation. These working relationships are important, and we are indebted to those in local government who offer their time and expertise to support us in running and improving the rating system.

I hope that, with these assurances, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Thornhill, will agree not to press their amendments.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this group of amendments relates to the impact of the timing of business rate revaluations on the retail sector and, hence, the future of our town and city centres. In the first group of amendments, we discussed the timing in general terms, but my colleagues and I ask the Government to fully consider the implications of a revaluation on business profitability and survival.

For many small businesses, business rates are a significant overhead, along with the rent for the property. As my noble friend Lord Stunell reminded us, the Government’s original intention was to have a revaluation assessment in 2019, but this was moved because of negative forces affecting retailers. That negative impact has not gone away, as he said. We support the relief provided by the Government as part of their Covid response, but these are very uncertain times. This Bill proposes to push back the date on which the multiplier is announced from the September to the December prior to the new valuations coming live—in this instance, it means an announcement in December 2022. This will give businesses just three months to analyse the implications for them of the new rates bill they will be paying from April 2023. The amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stunell would enable the Government to consider the consequences of the new valuation for particular business sectors and particular regions before the multiplier was determined. An impact assessment would have to consider all the angles of the proposal and would throw light on the effect of the revaluation. It is a positive amendment which would help the Government get to a fair outcome in the revaluation of business rates.

As the Minister will know, in 1990, when the system was created, the multiplier was 34.8%. In 2020, that had risen to 51.2% for large businesses and just under 50% for small businesses. The multiplier is a crucial factor in the final business rate bill. The consumer prices index is the relevant figure used for the multiplier. Does the Minister think it is now time to reconsider the level of the multiplier? I suspect that the answer to my question will be that we should wait for the business rate review that the Government constantly promise. That will give no comfort to businesses, who will know from this Bill that they are expected to pay business rates under this outmoded scheme for at least another five years. There is obviously an effect on the profitability of individual businesses, but there is also the cumulative effect on town and city centres. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, reminded us, one in 10 shops currently lies empty.

The revaluation is just one of the uncertainties that businesses are having to grapple with. The town centre funds and high-street funds that the Government have announced are all well and good, but they just paper over the cracks while the main issues affecting business survival are largely ignored in policy definition and implementation.

My noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, have raised an issue close to their hearts: the effect of business rates on amateur sports clubs. Both were right to do so and made the case with knowledge, experience, and powerful arguments which we fully support. Every community will have an amateur sporting activity at its heart, one that provides enjoyment and an opportunity to develop skills and teamwork through physical activity. They are vital ingredients of a healthy community. I urge the Minister to take note of the arguments made and come to Report with a proposal for action to help amateur sports clubs. I look forward to his response on all the points made.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this group of amendments allows us to consider the impact of the 2023 revaluation on rates bills, the multiplier and, specifically, our high streets, town centres and amateur sports clubs. Understandably the Committee, businesses and all ratepayers would like to know how the 2023 revaluation will affect rates bills. However, it will be some time before we know that. The carrying out of a business rate revaluation is a significant exercise which requires the careful application of the considerable expertise within the Valuation Office Agency. The two-year gap between the date on which valuations will be based, 1 April this year, and the date on which the next revaluation will be implemented, 1 April 2023, is necessary to ensure accurate rateable values. For this reason, we will not know the result of the revaluation until much later, in 2022. The Government will not therefore be in a position to make an assessment of the next revaluation in respect of any specific sector or the rating list as a whole within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, as is sought by some of these amendments.

However, I can say that, once enacted, the Bill will ensure that business rate bills from 1 April 2023 will be based on rental values as of 1 April 2021. This means that the business rates due on properties based on our high streets and in our town centres or in the leisure sector will be up to date and better reflect the impact of the pandemic.

Certainly, an important part of rates bills when we reach the 2023 revaluation will be the level of the business rate multiplier. It may help the Committee if I explain more about the process of setting the multipliers for 2023-24. As with all years, we are required to finalise the multipliers as soon as reasonably practicable after the local government finance report has been approved, normally in February. For example, at the last revaluation in 2017, the multipliers were confirmed on 9 March. Therefore, we expect to finalise the multipliers for 2023-24 in late February or early March 2023. In contrast, the new rating lists will not be compiled until 1 April 2023. Therefore, it would not be possible to publish the assessment sought in the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, before the multiplier was confirmed but after the list had been compiled.

Nevertheless, I appreciate of course that noble Lords and businesses will want to understand the impact of the revaluation as early as possible and before the multipliers are confirmed. In practice, we will announce provisional multipliers and the transitional relief scheme much earlier in the process, at the time of the autumn fiscal event.

It is our intention at the same time to publish the entire draft rating list. This means that, as well as being able to see the sectoral or regional impact of the revaluation, individual ratepayers, be they on the high street or in the sports sector, will be able to check their own rateable value and calculate their own rates bill. This will give an overall picture of the revaluation and allow ratepayers several months’ warning of their new rates bills.

I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that the process of setting the multipliers is controlled largely by rules in legislation. We are required to make an adjustment to the multipliers for 2023-24 to offset the estimated change in total rateable value due to the revaluation after allowing for inflation and forecasted future appeals. It is that adjustment which drives the level of the multipliers in 2023-24.

We cannot by law set multipliers higher than that calculated from the adjustment. The Chancellor may by order set a lower multiplier, however. Noble Lords will understand that that is a fiscal matter decided by the Treasury as part of the normal Budget process, balancing the pressures on businesses with the need to fund vital local services, but I assure the Committee that the Government will have full regard to the impact of the revaluation before deciding whether to exercise that power and set a lower multiplier.

Our town and city centres are important hubs of our communities, and I am proud of the steps that the Government have taken to support this crucial part of our economy. While this Bill represents a postponing of the next revaluation, I know from the comments made at Second Reading that noble Lords appreciate that this is a step taken in the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic. However, as I have said, once we reach 2023, the new rateable values will better reflect the impact of the pandemic on rental values in locations such as the high street.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for a further opportunity to speak about our high streets. As I outlined when we debated the second group of amendments today, we will not know the impact of the revaluation on rates bills until later in 2022, so it would not be possible to produce now the report outlined in the amendment we are discussing. However, we can be sure that, once we publish draft rateable values alongside the multiplier and the transitional relief scheme later in 2022, ratepayers will be able to see precisely how revaluation will affect their rates bills.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised an important point about online businesses compared to those that operate on the high street. Businesses which sell mainly or wholly online do not avoid business rates. They may also operate shops—many high street retailers also sell online—and they will require significant warehouse and distribution facilities, often in high-value locations. Nevertheless, business rates are a tax on the use of property and the rates bill is based on the value of the property. It follows that business models that occupy less property and perhaps operate from less valuable locations will pay less in business rates.

Property taxes have several key advantages over other forms of business taxation: they are relatively efficient to collect, they provide a relatively stable source of revenue to local government that helps ensure the provision of essential public services, and they provide relative certainty for ratepayers from one year to the next. However, there is undoubtedly a click-and-collect revolution, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The Treasury’s fundamental review of business rates is considering alternatives taxes, including a potential online sales tax. The review will need to consider matters such as the economic impacts of such a tax and assess the concerns and risks that have been raised in the call for evidence.

Supporting the high street is a priority for us. In this year alone, no retailer on the high street is paying business rates. With the assurance that the matter of online business is being considered as part of the fundamental review and the updating of rateable values to better reflect the impact of the pandemic which will come from the 2023 revaluation, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, can agree to withdraw their amendment.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contribution to this short but very important debate. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, has stressed again the nigh impossibility of assessing rental values in the current climate. I hope the Minister will discuss with his department how rental values are to be assessed while the pandemic is rife.

My noble friend Lord Shipley reminded the Government of the potential of an online tax to create a level playing field for all retailers. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his support. All noble Lords who have spoken have emphasised the urgency of responding to the situation facing our high street retailers. A revolutionary reform is needed. How much longer are online businesses to escape a fair assessment, compared with physical retailers? I am pleased that the Minister has just said that the Government are considering online taxes in the business rates reform, but I remind him that town centres cannot wait much longer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I draw the attention of the House to my interests as a member of Kirklees Council and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

This annual announcement of the funding package for vital local government services is never given the attention it merits. In the last year, it has become ever more apparent how dependent our communities are on the services provided by local councils. In March, it was local councils that ensured that nearly all rough sleepers were placed in accommodation. Contact tracing by local council officers has been over 90% successful, as compared with the approximately 60% success rate for the private sector, which has had vast resources to do the task. It is local councils that have encouraged and enabled hundreds of thousands of local volunteers to support their communities by befriending the lonely, and that have provided food and meals for families on the breadline and have continued to provide essential services, carried out by unsung heroes—the key workers in waste collection, social care and children’s services, to name just three.

The Public Services Committee of your Lordships’ House has reported that, in the nation’s efforts to combat the pandemic, it was locally delivered services, provided by local councils and the voluntary sector, that were able to rise effectively to the challenge and respond to new demands in very different circumstances. On behalf of Liberal Democrats in this House, I express thanks for the amazing effort and leadership of councillors and council staff across the country.

That is the context of this funding settlement. It is, then, disappointing to read that those sterling efforts are not to be rewarded by the provision of funding that will enable councils to provide the additional services that their communities will need in the months and years ahead. For example, all predictions are that there will be a considerable rise in unemployment and business closures.

The funding settlement has a top-line figure of an increase in spending of 4.5% in what is described as “core spending power”. However, this is predicated on councils increasing council tax by the maximum amount permitted by the Government before triggering a local referendum. Unpacking this top-line increase reveals that 85% of the increase in funding comes from council tax payers—hard-pressed council tax payers. There will be a 2% council tax increase and, on top of that, a 3% increase in the social care precept, resulting in an expectation by the Government that council tax payers must pay an additional 5% this coming year.

Since the social care precept was first introduced by this Government, it has resulted in council tax payers being required to pay 15% more, over and above the 2% maximum allowed. For an average band D council tax payer, the extra imposed by this could mean a further £260 each year. Do the Government intend to pile the pressure on council tax payers every year via this social care precept? Can the Minister let the House know when proposals for social care funding reform will be published?

It is welcome that the Government have recognised the cost pressures on councils as a result of Covid. Those cost pressures come in the form of lost income for, for example, leisure services teams, but there are additional costs in tackling the pandemic. Unfortunately, the Government appear to be willing to fund only 75% of the losses, which simply puts even greater pressure on service delivery at a time when this is needed as never before. The consequences are, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just said, inevitable job losses in local government and a reduction in vital services at a time when they are needed as never before.

If the Government’s levelling-up agenda is to be meaningful, it has to include enabling local government to extend its services—for instance, in the regeneration of local economies and improving skills to open up better-paid opportunities for local people. Can the Minister give any assurances to the House that the Government’s thinking on the levelling-up agenda includes a substantial and properly funded role for local government?

Of course, fundamental reform of local government funding and business rates is the basis of a secure future for local government when the role of public services, locally determined and delivered, has been never clearer. Therefore, can the Minister tell the House when the fair funding reform for local government is to be published and determined, and when business rates reform is to be tackled? I look forward to his answers to those questions.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, unfortunately I do not have the ability to declare an interest in local government as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, despite 16 years as a local councillor, six years as council leader in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and four years in City Hall as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, but that gives me the ability to talk with some confidence about why I think this settlement by the Government is particularly generous at this time.

Even when you unpack the numbers, as has been done by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the reality is that there is a headline increase in core spending power of 4.5% but we see not a single reduction in grant income. Indeed, in some areas the grant income has increased considerably. Of course, if local town halls want to maximise their core spending power, they have a choice in how much they increase council tax. This coming financial year is not disproportionately different from the previous one in assuming increases of 2% in council tax and 3% for adult social care, as compared with 2% in the previous financial year, but, as a balancing item, that is a choice for council leaders and their Cabinets up and down the country to take, with, in some cases, elections looming. They have a choice in how much they increase council tax for their residents.

The Government have honoured their commitment to support local government through the pandemic. I too pay tribute to the amazing work of people in our town halls, providing services on the front line at a particularly difficult time. I commend them, and I agree with both previous speakers that they have played a phenomenal role in this pandemic. Long may that continue. As we have heard, the Government join both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in supporting the work of people throughout the country delivering local services to their local communities.

So far the Government have provided—I am sorry to hesitate, but I am not seeing too well at the moment—£6.2 billion in support specifically to meet the pressures of the pandemic. Sorry, I got that figure wrong; it is £7.2 billion. I can add an extra billion for you: there has been £7.2 billion in support through the pandemic. As mentioned in the other place, the estimate of what local councils have spent is £4.4 billion. My maths is not terribly good, but that is less than the £7.2 billion given to councils. Frankly, that is putting our arms round town halls and supporting them through those inevitable pressures during a pandemic.

It is estimated, rightly, by local government itself, that that expenditure will increase and hit £6.2 billion. But again, within this settlement is £1.55 billion for Covid-related pressures. That shows a tremendous commitment from the Government, and tremendous work by my right honourable friend Robert Jenrick in negotiating with the Treasury for a great settlement for local government, and one that honours the support needed for our town halls.

It is fair to say that we face tough times. The economy has contracted, and people may be unable to pay their council tax. I can declare an interest as a council tax payer, and as a director of a business that pays business rates. Yes, businesses are struggling, and people are struggling to pay their bills. But covering 75p in the pound, without knowing the downside, is a pretty good deal from the Treasury, rather than the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, described it.

There is the same commitment to ending rough sleeping, and a 60% increase in funding. There is also the same commitment to people with no recourse to public funds. The derogation for London has been widened to the rest of the country, which is commendable. We have also told local town hall leaders that they have the discretion to support people without recourse to public funds who are not EEA nationals, as they see fit. That is the leadership we need to see in our town halls.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that we need to think about council tax, and about balancing council tax and grants. I will say more about that later, because I want to save some of my ammunition for speakers to come.

Leaseholders and Cladding

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Government do accept that leaseholders are victims in this situation. We recognise that the £1.6 billion of public funding that has been put up so far to pay for the costs of cladding remediation go some way to protecting leaseholders from the costs they face. We also recognise that this public funding does not absolve the industry from taking responsibility.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests in the register. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, just said about the growing public concern over this issue. The Health and Safety Executive gave evidence to the House of Commons scrutiny committee on the building safety Bill, which includes some clauses on cladding and fire safety of buildings. It said in the committee’s report that leaseholders should not

“have to worry about the cost of fixing historic safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause.”

Does the Minister agree with the Government’s own Health and Safety Executive?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, with the greatest respect, the bill for remediation of historic cladding defects cannot simply be passed to the taxpayer. We expect developers, investors and building owners who have the means to cover remediation costs themselves to do so without passing on costs to leaseholders.

Towns Fund

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

I am very sorry about my diction. Can you hear me better now? I hope so. I was saying that the top 40 towns were chosen for town deals and that Ministers used their local knowledge to conduct a qualitative assessment when picking the remaining 61 towns. A deals process, rather than an open competition, was used, as many previously left-behind towns lacked the capacity to bid. In that sense, the process was very clear and fair in relation to the basis for allocating the considerable amount of money involved.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have relevant interests, as set out in the register, and I also welcome the towns fund. however, it is not quite correct that, as the Minister has just said, the top 40 towns, as assessed by the criteria, were chosen for the money in the towns fund. There were many towns in the highest-priority category that were not selected. Can the Minister explain why they were rejected? What can I tell their local representatives about why they are failing to meet the eye of the Minister when they meet the criteria?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

I want to make clear that the process was driven by officials using an evidence-based methodology. The top 40 high-priority towns were chosen for town deals. For the remaining 61 towns, there was ministerial involvement but using a process designed by officials in my department. I add that I am delighted that Dewsbury in the borough of Kirklees has been selected to develop proposals for a town deal. My department is looking forward to receiving its town investment plan early next year.

Fire Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 View all Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 132-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (12 Nov 2020)
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests, as recorded in the register, as a councillor in Kirklees and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I turn first to Amendment 6, through which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has raised concerns about the inclusion of all multi-occupied domestic premises within the scope of the Bill. The issues raised relate to leaseholders who find that they are, in effect, unable to move as their property is within the scope of the Bill and, therefore, that the fire risk exists but is not quantified. The later amendment in my name explores these issues in more detail.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, spoke on behalf of the Minister and confirmed that the Government intend that all multi-occupational buildings are within the scope of the Bill and the fire safety order 2005. He also argued in Committee that the height of a building is only one factor in assessing fire risk, and others have given recent examples of fires in such buildings that support that argument. The issue, then, is about prioritisation, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has so expertly explained, and what actions the Government are able to take to minimise the impact on properties deemed low priority and, therefore, presumably of lower risk. It is that issue that the Minister needs to clarify. Will the Government bring forward regulations or guidance to demonstrate the criteria to be used to fire assess properties? Can these be used by leaseholders to demonstrate low risk, and thus release their property from being frozen out of the housing market? I look forward to the Minister’s response to these concerns.

The other amendment in this group, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, raises issues about consultation. It lists consultees, as a very similar amendment did in Committee. My colleagues and I are always in favour of the widest possible consultation on any issue. However, there is an inherent risk in a list that becomes exclusive while intending to be inclusive. The list of consultees is one which we would expect, however, to be involved in all relevant consultations. As my noble friend Lord Shipley said, the list is inherently sensible, so I hope the Minister will be able to accept such a list. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising the issue of engagement to make sure the right groups and organisations are consulted on any changes or clarifications to the types of premises that fall within the scope of the fire safety order. The Government have given this matter further consideration since Committee stage. I support the noble Lord’s aim of ensuring that the widest range of groups are given an opportunity to comment. It is sensible to seek views from all groups impacted by any future changes, which is why Clause 2 of the Fire Safety Bill provides a requirement to consult anyone appropriate, which is likely to include all the parties highlighted in the amendment.

Robust policy-making can be achieved only by reaching out to all sections of the fire sector and other interested parties, such as responsible persons and residents, not by relying solely on the expertise of certain groups. To be clear, of course we will consult with the National Fire Chiefs Council but equally, we will consult with the Fire Brigades Union and with tenants’ and residents’ associations.

The Government are committed to considering the most appropriate means of conducting any future consultation before making any regulations—regulations which Parliament would have an opportunity to scrutinise, should it so wish. It remains the case that the specified list as presented identifies groups whose role, name or function may change over time, potentially creating the need for future primary legislative changes or making such provision ineffective. However, the Bill as drafted safeguards against this while ensuring that relevant groups are not excluded. I want to assure your Lordships’ House that we recognise the importance of consulting relevant stakeholders, but the wording of Clause 2 already allows us to do just that, without the need to be prescriptive in the way the noble Lord’s amendment suggests.

I turn now to the very important consumer issues raised by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. I had a meeting with my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Shinkwin, and I am very happy to commit to a further meeting before the introduction of the building safety Bill. These are huge consumer issues, and I praise my noble friend for being a champion of the consumer. We recognise that many leaseholders’ properties have been valued at zero, they are waiting for remediation of their properties and they are unable to remortgage or to move. They are effectively trapped, and the Government recognise that that is a considerable issue for them. We also recognise that the costs of historic building safety and fire safety remediation will be considerably more than the £1.6 billion already committed. It is important to address that in a way that is affordable to leaseholders, and there are only certain ways of doing that. We will make announcements on that in due course.

Equally, we recognise that the pace of remediation is important. I have talked to many people in the social housing sector about the fact that they have probably overspent on waking watch. I am very pleased that we provided guidance on waking watch, the cost of which is exorbitantly high; it can be replaced by a fire alarm system within six or seven weeks, which reduces some of the costs of interim measures. I draw the attention of those using waking watch for extended periods to the most recent guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council and the work on waking watch costs. I am very happy to commit to a further meeting.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The report continued:

“I therefore recommend that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law:


a. to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date plans in both paper and electronic form of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems;


b. to ensure that the building contains a premises information box, the contents of which must include a copy of the up-to-date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by the fire and rescue services.”


So last year, the Grenfell inquiry report asked for the speedy introduction of these recommendations. A year later, we are waiting.

I know that the Government have stated a firm commitment to implementing the recommendations of the inquiry, and the amendment seeks to rectify this absence of government legislative action. As my noble friend Lord Stunell so wisely said, we all agree that this action needs to be taken and we are all impatient for it to be put in place.

The Government said that this was a high priority. However, even the building safety Bill is silent on the matter. How then can we be assured that it is a high priority for them? Here we have an opportunity to show intent, as a consequence of that tragic fire at Grenfell, to ensure that others do not endure what Grenfell residents endured. If the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, pushes this amendment to a vote, we on this side will vote in support of this vital change.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy of epic proportions. It was the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. We have to recognise that a lot has happened and that a lot of actions have been taken by the Government since that event over three years ago.

The Government took early and decisive action to announce an independent Grenfell Tower inquiry. They took decisive action to start the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, and they took decisive action to establish the building safety programme. The Government took decisive action in setting up a comprehensive aluminium composite material—ACM—remediation programme. They took decisive action in setting up an independent expert panel to provide advice to government and building owners. They took decisive action in providing £600 million to help with the remediation of ACM high-rises. They took decisive action in providing a further £1 billion to remediate high-rises with other forms of flammable cladding. They took decisive action to ban combustible cladding on buildings within the scope of the ban. The Government took decisive action in introducing a protection board.

I accept that the pace of remediation has been slow, but I point to the progress that has been made this year in particular. This was a year when we had a global pandemic with two national lockdowns, and nevertheless we have seen a considerably greater number of on-site starts in those buildings—high-rises with the same cladding as Grenfell—and we are on track to see that around 90% of buildings will either have had the cladding removed or people will be on-site to complete that in a matter of months. That is real progress. This is cross-party; I thank Mayor Burnham, and Mayor Khan in London, but also the local authority leaders for their work to make sure that there has been real pace in the remediation this year. It is not easy to continue these construction programmes in that sort of environment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for the amendment on the duties of an owner or manager. It is important that we discuss this amendment given the attention it has already received in the other place and in Committee in your Lordships’ House. I know that the noble Lord and other noble Lords have strong views on this issue and wish to see the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations implemented as soon as possible. I share that intention. However, the Government do not consider that this amendment provides the most effective means of giving effect to the inquiry’s recommendations.

I hope to reassure the noble Lord that our shared objective can be achieved without the need for his amendments, which may in fact work against the swiftest possible implementation of the recommendations. I reiterate, as I said in my all-Peers letter and in Committee in your Lordships’ House, that the Government are, and always have been, committed to implementing and, where appropriate, legislating for the inquiry’s recommendations. This was a manifesto commitment and I am determined to ensure that we deliver on it.

I will set out our approach on this issue. It is right that we consulted before making regulations to deliver the Grenfell recommendations. As I set out in Committee, this was not solely because we have a statutory duty to do so—but we do, and this amendment is not in keeping with that duty. It also reflects Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s own view on the need to ensure broad support for recommendations and an understanding of the practical issues associated with implementing them. Our 12-week public consultation, which closed on 12 October, is allowing us to do just that. I am pleased to say that over 200 responses were received. It is important that we consider carefully those responses before finalising the precise policy detail to implement these new duties. Due consideration has to be given to the views of those who have submitted a response to the consultation.

I will highlight an example of that. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord prescribes a minimum set period for checks of both fire doors and lifts. As we consider our responses to the consultation, other approaches may be suggested that may provide more practical and proportionate options which are no less effective. The amendment may hinder our ability to deliver what may be a better solution for the safety of residents. I hope that is not the noble Lord’s intention, but I ask him to reflect on that fact. Understanding and acting on the consultation responses will ultimately help us to produce better, informed legislation, which we will deliver through regulations under the fire safety order as soon as possible after the Bill is commenced.

I reiterate that this amendment is not necessary and will not speed up the legislative process. It requires us to make regulations to amend the fire safety order to introduce new duties on the face of the order, but we consider that we already have the ability to implement such new duties through the power in Article 24 to make regulations, which we plan to use to implement a number of the Grenfell inquiry recommendations. Our intention is to introduce these regulations as soon as possible after the Bill is commenced.

I am also concerned about the impact of the misleading media coverage—even in recent media coverage written by Pippa Crerar that quotes the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark—after this amendment was voted on in the Commons on the Grenfell community’s faith in our commitment to deliver the Grenfell recommendations. I reassure the Grenfell community that the Government remain absolutely steadfast to their manifesto commitment to implement the inquiry’s recommendations.

I think that all noble Lords are seeking the same thing—the swift implementation of the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations—and that is what the Government are committed to. While I understand the spirit of the amendment, it will not do that and may risk undermining our efforts. As such, I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for their Amendment 13 on remediation costs. I often think that we need to apply a Daily Mail test to discover whether the opinion of the House will be tested. We have had an article in the Mirror from Pippa Crerar indicating one Division, and an article on this amendment from a different Mirror journalist—the online political editor. So I am not surprised that there will be a test of the opinion of the House.

I want to make clear the sincerity of our view that we need to understand the scale of the problem. Removing the cladding is like unpeeling an orange. You then find greater defects: the internal compartmentation issues, the missing firebreaks, and the issues around fire doors and wooden balconies. These historic structural defects will involve a colossal sum of money. We do not know how much; there are estimates and there are guesstimates, but we accept that there is a significant job of work to be done to deal with the historic defects that have accrued over many, many years.

As the Minister with responsibility for building—as well as fire—safety, I am regularly in contact with leaseholders hit with high bills for remediation to help make their homes safer. I fully understand the anxiety and distress that these people are going through. These are people who have done the right thing, investing their hard-earned savings into a home for themselves and their families, yet now many of them are facing unaffordable bills. I fully understand the intention behind this amendment, and I want to assure noble Lords that we are working very hard in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to improve the situation that people find themselves in.

Finally, we have already committed £1.6 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings, and we have been putting pressure on building owners to step up to the plate, as well as using warranties and recovering costs from contractors for incorrect or poor work.

However, I can assure noble Lords that we want to go further to protect people from unaffordable costs. Noble Lords will be aware that we published the draft building safety Bill on 20 July 2020. This includes important public safety measures; the Government are committed to progressing the Bill as quickly as possible so that reforms can be implemented in a timely manner. The Bill will be introduced to Parliament once the Government have considered the scrutiny committee’s recommendations.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is committed to updating our position on remediation costs when the building safety Bill returns to Parliament. Michael Wade, senior adviser to MHCLG, is accelerating work with leaseholders and the financial sector to identify financing solutions that protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs while ensuring that the bill does not fall entirely on taxpayers. We have had regular meetings with leaseholder groups, on this and a range of other issues, since the draft Bill was published.

While I support the underlying intention to protect leaseholders and have gone on the record today saying so, this amendment falls down in three main areas, which might make the problem worse rather than better.

First, the safety of residents in their homes is of the highest priority. This is the intention behind today’s Bill and all the Government’s wider work on building safety. There is a range of options for meeting the costs of safety-critical remediation work, which will be appropriate in different circumstances. It would be irresponsible to close off one of the potential routes to funding these works. This amendment risks leaving a building with known fire risks in a position where the work is not taken forward.

Secondly, this new clause would stop all remediation costs from being passed on to leaseholders. For example, service and maintenance charges would at present meet the cost of safety work required as a result of routine wear and tear, such as worn fire door closers. These costs would now fall to building owners—who are, in many cases, also not responsible for original building defects, as they did not build the property—rather than being determined by the terms of the lease.

Thirdly, the fire safety order is not the appropriate legislative framework to resolve remediation costs. The primary focus of the fire safety order is to place duties on any person who has some level of control in a premises—the responsible person or the dutyholder—to ensure that they identify the fire safety risks for the buildings they are responsible for and, if necessary, put in place general fire precautions. As I have said, we are looking to the building safety Bill to address the issues raised in this amendment.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his comment about orphan liability. He underlined the point that we need to keep the options open. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his comment about construction warranties. Typically, the market leader is the NHBC. I met the council very recently and, effectively, that is only a 10-year protection: two years for defects, with eight years insurance-based. While we are looking at ways of increasing the compliance period to align with the 10 years, it would be possible through other legislative means to extend the period, because I do not see why someone who has put their life savings into a home has such minimal protection when they purchase a property. I buy a pair of tweezers to take the hair out of my ears and they have a lifetime guarantee. When someone puts their entire savings into a home, they deserve protection over time. That is something we as a Government need to look to do, and will do in due course. This is not the moment to resolve this particular issue, but it is well noted.

I ask that your Lordships’ House recognises the complexity of this policy area, which cannot be solved through this amendment, and considers the assurances I have given today. For the reasons set out in my response, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. This is about saving thousands of householders from crippling debts when none of the fault for this awful situation is of their making: none of it. I accept what the Minister has said; this is a problem that is hugely costly and complex. However, Governments regularly—daily, probably—have to find solutions to complex and costly issues, and this is one. I trust that the Minister can find a fair and just solution to it.

I again thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in particular for sharing his expertise in this matter. He has rightly pointed out that this is a difficult, complicated and knotty problem, but the principle must be right: somewhere in government legislation we need the principle to be accepted that these leaseholders and tenants have, in good faith, bought a flat, or are tenants or residents of a flat, and that these problems have arisen through no fault of their own. They should not, as my noble friend Lord Stunell said, be held to ransom for these problems when it is not their issue. They have every right to expect, as my noble friend said, to have bought a home that is safe, when they have all the guarantees and insurances in place.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who spoke about flats that are worthless and residents who are being penalised through no fault of their own. I thank the Minister for his reply, and I know that this is difficult. What I want him to do is to accept that the principle we are putting forward is the fair and just one. It is no good, to my mind, saying that nobody is going to expect house owners to have to pay anything more than is affordable, whatever that means. Worse still came from the lips of the Minister when he said that what is happening is that, when they take off the cladding, they are revealing and exposing further terrible defects. Frankly, that makes matters worse and the principle of what the amendment proposes more just.

I fully understand the Government’s intention to try and find a fair way to pay for this. My view, and the view of my colleagues, is that the costs should not fall on those who in good faith have bought their home and, through no fault of their own, are in this terrible and difficult situation. Good intentions are okay but the path to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. In this regard, good intentions are not sufficient. We need the principle to be accepted that none of the costs of the remediation of poor building works or poor standards and fire hazards should fall on leaseholders or tenants. Given that I have not had a sufficient reassurance from the Minister, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Fire Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 29th October 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 View all Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 132-I Marshalled list for Committee - (26 Oct 2020)
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the “responsible person” definition has a key duty in this legislation, which is why I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which seeks to clarify it. I apologise to the Committee that a lack-of-sound issue has meant that I was not able to hear the contributions by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley or Lord Whitty, or the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, so my remarks are going to be quite basic as a consequence.

I agree with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that it is not just or practical to expect a tenant or leaseholder, unless they are owners or part-owners of the freehold, to fulfil the responsibility of being the so-called responsible person. I agree completely that it is important to have no room for uncertainty as to who is indeed the responsible person.

My noble friend Lord Stunell has just raised the very important issue that the responsible person has to actually be a person, not an entity—someone with an address and a telephone contact within the UK. I cannot imagine how awful it would be if the responsible person were some distant corporation based in the Cayman Islands, a fire arose and there was no obvious route to seeking a practical or legislative remedy for that disaster.

I have heard a little about the importance of water sprinklers and water misting in high-rise blocks, and of course I know that in 2009, Wales introduced a requirement for that. I look forward to learning what others have said about this important issue when I read Hansard, because I understand that it has been a priority of the fire and rescue services for a long time. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for this amendment, which seeks to amend Article 3 of the fire safety order. It seeks to remove leaseholders from being a responsible person unless they are also owner or part-owner of the freehold for the premises in question. It is important to remember that the fire safety order places the onus on the responsible person to identify and mitigate fire risks. In multi-occupied residential buildings, the leaseholder of a flat is unlikely to be the responsible person for the non-domestic premises. The exceptions to that would be where they own or share ownership of the freehold, which is acknowledged in the amendment. However, a leaseholder can be a duty holder under Article 5 of the fire safety order, which provides that the responsible person can be determined by the circumstances in any particular case.

Depending on the terms of a lease or tenancy agreement, the responsibility for flat entrance doors could rest with the building owner, having retained ownership of the doors, or the tenant/leaseholder as a duty holder. The lease can also be silent. Accepting this amendment would undermine the principles of the order and could have the unintended consequence of leaving a vacuum in terms of responsibilities under it. That, in turn, could compromise fire safety.

We will look at the responses to our fire safety consultation, which contained specific proposals to support the identification of responsible persons, with a view to ensuring that they are not the entities described by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. It also contained proposals to support greater co-operation and co-ordination between multiple responsible persons within a single premise. The Government are also committed to providing guidance on this issue. That, alongside our legislative proposals in the consultation, will support all those with responsibilities under the order in understanding and complying with their duties.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for tabling Amendment 18. Water-based systems can be an effective and appropriate fire-fighting tool in the event of a fire, and they command broad support across the fire and rescue service and the broader fire sector. However, a water-based system is just one of many measures that can be adopted to counter the spread of fire within a building.

The amendment seeks to ensure that responsible persons for multi-occupied residential buildings consider the installation of sprinklers or water-mist systems as “appropriate fire-fighting equipment” options. On the retro-fitting of sprinklers or water-mist systems, it is up to the responsible person to decide whether those are appropriate mitigating measures.

Noble Lords may be aware that earlier this year the Government amended approved document B to require the provision of sprinkler systems in new blocks of flats over 11 metres in height. This amendment will come into effect next month to ensure that this is the new standard for buildings of that height in the future.

For existing buildings, the fire safety order requires the responsible person to maintain and keep in an efficient state and working order fire-fighting equipment, which may include water-based systems. In blocks of flats where these are not present, retro-fitting water-based systems may not always be a cost-effective solution, if they are desired at all by residents. Existing guidance suggests considering alternative fire safety measures, taking into account the absence of sprinklers.

The Government do not support using the fire safety order to promote one form of equipment over other measures which, depending on the building, might be more effective. The fire safety order rightly places the onus on the responsible person to have regard to the specific characteristics of their building in determining which fire-fighting equipment and mitigating measures are appropriate to ensure the safety of relevant persons.

It is important that the legislation leave open the range of options available to responsible persons, who, with the support of competent professionals and government guidance, which we are reviewing, are best placed to make those decisions based on local need. Some building owners may decide to install sprinklers as part of their overall fire strategy, while others might choose alternative measures, provided that they are effective. Nevertheless, the Government will review our fire safety order guidance for responsible persons, including references to fire-fighting equipment and other fire safety measures available to them.

I hope that I have provided sufficient reassurance and that the noble Lord is content to withdraw his amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, mindful of my interests as declared at the opening of Committee, I support Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, although an additional cost must not be imposed on local authorities as a consequence of the requirements of the Bill. It is well documented that many local authorities are already facing very challenging circumstances as a result of the costs of dealing with the local impact of the pandemic. This is on top of years of deep cuts in government funding.

The new burdens agreement between central and local government is supposed to ensure that the costs of new duties required by the Government are met by the equivalence of the costs. This amendment seeks to underline this commitment and to ensure that sufficient additional finances are made available. The consequence of failing to do so would undermine the purposes of the Bill, for which there is unanimous support.

There has already been an extensive debate on skills shortages and the definition of competences during consideration of other amendments. Many noble Lords have expressed their concerns. I wish to underline the importance of this issue, which has been expressed throughout Committee.

Amendment 10 seeks to ensure that the Scottish Government consider similar legislation. It highlights how Governments across the UK are slowly beginning to mirror a federal system. I find this fascinating. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, Amendment 10 seeks to introduce a review of Scotland and Northern Ireland, to take place no later than 24 months after Royal Assent on the Fire Safety Bill, which would subsequently be laid before Parliament.

From the outset, I remind the Committee that the Fire Safety Bill applies only to England and Wales. Fire safety is a devolved matter. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, does not consider the vastly different fire safety regimes in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is unlikely that the Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly could make an equivalent legislative provision to reflect the fire safety legislation in England and Wales. In any event, the review proposed would not have any legal effect in either Scotland or Northern Ireland as the Bill extends and applies to England and Wales only. Such a review would be to no purpose.

I accept that noble Lords have an interest in fire safety in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. However, these matters are the responsibility of the respective devolved Governments, who are best placed to provide an update.

The fire safety regimes in Scotland and Northern Ireland are significantly different from that of England and Wales. There is no direct equivalent of the fire safety order in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Existing fire safety legislation does not have the same features as in England and Wales. This includes a review of the fire safety regime for high-rise domestic buildings in Scotland and delivery of the recommendations from that review. A single source of fire safety guidance for those responsible for these buildings is now available online and fire safety information has been delivered to residents in all high-rise buildings in Scotland. I have been in close dialogue with Kevin Stewart, my opposite number in the Scottish Parliament, about the issues we have been debating in Committee.

I am pleased to inform the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that the Scottish Government have today published a formal response to the Grenfell phase 1 report. I look forward to reading it. It is an important step in advancing fire safety in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, a cross-body building safety programme group has been established and is sponsored by the Department of Finance. The group will consider what actions are necessary in Northern Ireland to improve and develop building safety and how best to incorporate relevant recommendations arising from the Grenfell public inquiry phase 1 report. The group is in the earliest stage of development, identifying relevant representative group nominations to centrally co-ordinate the Northern Ireland response from an operational, regulatory and legislative perspective.

I turn to Amendment 11 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the issue of the Bill’s potential impact on local authorities. Obviously, we should mention not just local authorities but fire and rescue services. On a point of principle, we are very clear on the purpose of the Fire Safety Bill, which is to clarify that the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings are within scope of the fire safety order. However, this should not prevent local authorities from acting under their existing powers to address safety risks in multi-occupied residential buildings. They have a duty under the Housing Act 2004 to review areas of risk relating to social housing for which they are responsible, which we would expect to include issues relating to both fire and building safety. With regard to the private rented sector, local authorities also have a duty to take enforcement action if they consider that a serious category 1 hazard, including fire, exists on any residential premises.

We expect that the initial impact on local authorities and fire and rescue services under the Bill to be limited, with the focus being on responsible persons updating fire risk assessments on high-risk buildings, as considered under the risk operating model. I will address this in more detail when responding to amendments on commencement. The costs of the Bill have been set out in the published economic impact assessment. This shows that the costs are shared across all responsible persons for high-rise residential buildings, the majority of which are privately owned rather than social housing. We will keep the impact on local authorities under consideration in future spending reviews as work progresses on fire and building safety in their capacity as both landlords and enforcing authorities. I will also give an undertaking that we will consider the impact on local authorities of the Bill and consultation in line with the new-burdens principles. I should also inform noble Lords of the additional funding support being provided. We have invested £20 million in funding fire safety protection and a further £10 million for the fire risk review programme.

As regards the draft Building Safety Bill, we are planning measures to strengthen the fire safety order, and the impact of these on fire and rescue services and local authorities will be considered. I should warn noble Lords that the Bill will have about 140 clauses, whereas this Bill has three clauses, which we seem to have spent several hours debating in some detail.

Amendment 12 calls for a review of fire skills 12 months after the passing of the Bill. Significant work has been undertaken by the industry-led Competence Steering Group and its subgroup on fire risk assessors and fire engineers, to look at ways in which to increase competence and capacity in these professions. This includes proposing recommendations in relation to introducing a register of fire risk assessors, a competence framework and a system of third-party accreditation for fire risk assessors. The final report from the CSG was published on the Construction Industry Council’s website on 5 October and the MHCLG, the HSE and the Home Office are considering the recommendations of the report in detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will be aware that we recognise the concerns raised by the fire risk assessor sector on its capacity and competency to undertake and update fire risk assessments for the buildings in scope of this Bill. We want to ensure that we will take a proportionate approach to commencing the Bill that limits any potential impact on the fire risk assessor sector. The noble Lord has raised a very important issue with this amendment. The Government have been working with the fire risk assessor sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. The Home Office and the MHCLG are jointly funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to assess the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support industry to upskill more professionals to take on this work and will increase the quality and consistency of these assessments.

Although this amendment is in line with our plans to develop the capacity and capability of the sector, I do not think that this work needs to be enshrined in legislation. I also think that a slightly longer timeframe for such a review of 18 to 24 months would be more appropriate, as such a period would allow for more meaningful change, given the need to recruit against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, I emphasise that understanding the skills shortage and having a plan to address that, as raised by the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Stunell, must be a driving mission of this Government. Therefore, I would be happy to meet with the noble Lords in relation to Amendment 12 before Report to discuss the ongoing work that I have outlined. In the meantime, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Porter, is not able to move his amendment today, as his is a good idea. A fire safety code of practice would draw together many of the issues raised elsewhere in the debate into one place. I am confident that there will be, of course, prioritisation of buildings at risk, but this amendment would ensure that this is set out and therefore legitimised. Sharing the costs of fire risk assessments according to assessed risks is another important element of fairness that has to be acknowledged, and putting it in the Bill, as this amendment does, is wholly positive.

Throughout today’s debate, it is clear that there is full support for the Bill and its purposes. All the amendments seek to do is to improve it for the benefit both of fire safety and for residents’ peace of mind. I look forward, therefore, to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Porter for his sterling efforts regarding building and fire safety, and for his leadership over many years in local government and as a former chairman of the Local Government Association. I thank him for tabling amendments on a proposed improved code of practice to support the commencement of the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for stepping up in his stead, and for his amendment, which would ensure that the Bill is not commenced until the Government have completed a full review of the capacity of fire safety inspectors to undertake the duties set out in the Bill.

I will respond to the amendments relating to commencement guidance. As noble Lords are aware, the Home Office established a task and finish group, chaired jointly by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, whose role was to recommend the optimal way to commence the Bill. Members of the group were drawn from local authorities, housing associations, private sector developers, the fire sector and selected fire and rescue services. My noble friend is aware that the Local Government Association was represented—as I said, he served as chairman until July last year.

The Home Office received the group’s recommendations on 28 September. It advised that the Bill should be commenced at once for all buildings in scope on a single date, subject to prior conditions being met: first, that responsible persons should use a risk-based tool to develop an effective strategy to prioritise their buildings for an updated fire risk assessment—a tool is currently being developed by a sub-group of the task and finish group; and, secondly, that the Government issue statutory guidance to ensure that this tool is used by responsible persons.

I thank the task and finish group for providing its expert views to the Home Office. I understand the intention behind this amendment: that guidance—whether or not it is defined as a code of practice—needs to have the appropriate legal status to ensure effective use of the risk-based tool by responsible persons. I am aware my noble friend also has concerns that fire engineers and competent professionals might increase their fees, making it difficult for social sector landlords to get expert advice on buildings that may be high-risk.

This Government want to ensure that the resources of fire engineers and other competent professionals are targeted to buildings based on risk. Equally, this Government want to ensure that there are no delays to commencing the Bill. I am sure this is a view we all share. The Government are concerned that this amendment will delay the commencement of the Bill; for example, it would place a statutory duty on the Government to undertake a public consultation on a draft code of practice and to lay the final code before Parliament before the Bill and the code come into effect by order. This process will delay the Bill’s commencement until at least summer 2021.

I do not consider that guidance alone will resolve my noble friend’s concerns about how fire engineers and other competent professionals prioritise their resources. The right building blocks need to be put in place to create system change. That is why we are working with the fire risk assessor sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. The Home Office and MHCLG are jointly funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to assess the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support industry to upskill more professionals to take on this work and increase the quality and consistency of these assessments.

We continue to work closely with the joint chairs of the task and finish group, as well as the LGA, to ensure that the Government provide a proportionate response to their advice.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, aims to ensure that the Bill is not commenced until the Government have completed a full review of the capacity of fire safety inspectors to undertake the duties set out by the Bill. The Bill clarifies the role of fire and rescue services in enforcement against responsible persons who have not adequately assessed the fire safety risks of a building’s structure, external walls or flat entrance doors in multi- occupied residential buildings and, where appropriate, put in place general fire precautions. The amendment aims to ensure that before the Bill is commenced the Government undertake a review of the fire and rescue services’ capacity to carry out inspections and, where appropriate, take enforcement action in line with the clarification the Bill provides.

Fire and rescue services have the resources they need to do their important work. Decisions on how resources are best deployed to meet their core functions are a matter for each fire and rescue authority. This includes deciding on the number of fire safety officers needed to deliver their fire safety enforcement duties under the fire safety order.

The amendment is unnecessary as the Government issued an impact assessment for the Bill, which considered the impact on fire and rescue services. The impact assessment sets out that additional work for fire safety inspectors arising from the Bill will cover reading and reviewing of relevant parts of the updated fire risk assessment and, where appropriate, undertake a visual inspection of the external walls and flat entrance doors. Our central estimate of the additional cost to fire and rescue services is £5.9 million over the 10-year period assessed.

Overall, fire and rescue authorities will receive around £2.3 billion in 2020-21. Stand-alone fire and rescue authorities will see an increase in core spending power of 3.2% in cash terms in 2020-21 compared with 2019-20. The Government have invested a further £30 million of funding in fire and rescue services and the National Fire Chiefs Council this year. This includes: £10 million allocated to fire and rescue authorities to improve protection capability and undertake more audits of high-risk premises; £7 million to allow fire and rescue authorities to respond effectively to the findings of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry; £3 million to bolster the NFCC’s Grenfell improvement capacity and capability and to drive strategic change from the centre; and £10 million to deliver the Government’s building risk review programme and to form a central protection hub within the NFCC.

The National Fire Chiefs Council published a revised competence framework document earlier this year for business fire safety regulators to assist fire and rescue services in assuring the competence of their fire safety staff. This work will support common competence standards across fire and rescue services’ protection staff.

Housing Delivery Test

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Tuesday 13th October 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

Getting developers to build out is a problem. Having been a local authority leader, the noble Baroness will know that you can tell those developers who are intending to build and those who are intending to hold, but planning permissions do not last for ever, and that is the main sanction that we have at the moment.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my relevant interests as set out in the register. In my council of Kirklees, the government-agreed plan is for 1,750 new homes each year. The latest figures show that there are 7,518 with live planning permissions that have not been built. Does the Minister agree that the failure to build in this typical example lies with developers and that this factor should be included in the housing delivery test?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, another fellow former council leader raises a very important point. It is reliant on the market and developers to step forward and build the homes that this country needs, and that is taken on board by this Government.

Housing: Rent and Covid-19

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Thursday 8th October 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we recognise that this is a terribly difficult pandemic, and a number of renters have had to move back home on losing their jobs. That is the kind of mobility you see in a seismic pandemic such as this, but the Government have increased the benefit cap, which has cost £9 billion in total. We will take further measures if necessary.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Noting my register of interests, I ask the Minister this: more than 1 million households are registered on council waiting lists; the number is rising, due to the Covid crisis. Meanwhile, the number of homes for social rent has plummeted. Can he explain how the housing needs of desperate families are to be met now?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the statistics do not bear that out. We have seen a slight drop in social housing, down from 20% in 1999 to 17% in 2018, but there has been a seismic collapse in the levels of home ownership. Of course, we need social homes, but we also need those intermediate homes that enable people to get on in life.

Housing: Cladding

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we recognise that there are a number of enforcement approaches, both through the Housing Act but also through the fire safety order, which is being updated and will be debated in this House next week. We continue to use a joint inspection team to look at the best way of enforcing against those building owners that are not moving to remediate unsafe cladding.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government stated in January that they were considering extending cladding risks to buildings of between four and seven stories. There are around 100,000 such buildings in England, some with dangerous forms of cladding. What investigations have been undertaken to determine the extent of this fire risk, which affects upwards of half a million people, and what remedies are the Government considering?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, at this stage we have not made a decision to move the high-risk regime beyond those buildings above 18 metres. As Dame Judith has said, it is those high-rise buildings that have the greatest risk, and we are attempting to stop the multiple fatalities that we saw at Grenfell. That is where we will focus our efforts.

Planning Rules

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

My noble friend knows that open space, sports and recreation facilities are taken into account in the National Planning Policy Framework, and there is no suggestion made by the Government that that will not continue to be the case.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am a councillor. Under these changes, a local business could be demolished and replaced with flats. The existing residents would be badly affected. Such residents would contact councillors like me as they want to have their say on this development. I would have to tell them that they will have no say—their rights have been removed by this Conservative Government. Does the Minister accept that this is a fair response, and if not, what would he say?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

My Lords, as someone who was a local councillor for 16 years and the leader of a council for six years, I point out that simply because you have prior approval does not mean that local communities are unable to comment. They can comment on individual applications for prior approval under the consultation requirements set out in the general permitted development order of 2015. There are ways to make your voice heard, even if there is a presumption that things will go ahead in the ways outlined in the PD rights.

Business and Planning Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 20th July 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Business and Planning Act 2020 View all Business and Planning Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 119-R-I(Corrected-II) Marshalled list for Report - (15 Jul 2020)
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we have heard, as we did in Committee, powerful arguments about taking this opportunity to exclude smoking from new pavement licensed areas. The case for ensuring that those of us who do not wish to inhale second-hand smoke are not excluded from that enjoyment is well made.

The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Northover is a vital step in making our country smoke-free. It had strong and detailed arguments in support of it from the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Grey-Thompson, the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Balfe, and many other noble Lords.

However, Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, lacks clarity for businesses and shies away from the paramount public health concern. It is a cop-out. When an argument relies on pointing to the drafting issues of a stronger amendment, as hers did, you know that it is very weak.

We have heard that the overwhelming majority of people do not smoke: a mere 14% do. Protecting the interests of a minority does not extend to a situation where, by doing so, harm is created for the majority, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has just explained. Smoking kills and second-hand smoking kills. Surely the Government should take every opportunity to restrict it.

The choice is clear: do we use this opportunity to keep the health needs of customers paramount or not? The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is supported by the Local Government Association. I hope the Minister will provide a full response to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to have further consideration on Amendment 15 prior to Third Reading, so that progress on this issue can be made.

Other amendments on this matter fudge these vital health concerns, and we on these Benches wholeheartedly support the cross-party amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Northover.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we would do well to remember that the pavement licensing clauses in the Bill provide vital temporary flexibility to aid the recovery of hospitality businesses over the summer months, and that we need to proceed quickly to achieve that. Noble Lords have voiced some concerns and requested clarity in relation to the position on outdoor smoking under these temporary fast-track licences. I am not going to go into the respective roles of the hard cop and the soft cop in achieving the Government’s amendments, as my noble friend Lord Young put it. However, in recognition of the mood across the House the Government have tabled Amendments 13, 14 and 25 to provide the clarity that local authorities, businesses and customers need.

It is important to recognise that we are winning the battle against smoking: Great Britain has one of the lowest rates of smoking in Europe, at 13.9% of adults. Fewer than one in six adults smoke today and, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, over 1 million people have given up during the lockdown, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bethell earlier today.

This Government have taken great strides in reducing the harms caused by smoking. We committed to doing so in the prevention Green Paper. We will publish the prevention guidance response in due course and set out our plans to achieve a smoke-free England by 2030 at a later date. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, supports that mission. I emphasise to her that there has been no stop in providing smoking cessation support. The Government continue to provide those programmes of work, which address smoking harms nationally and are delivered locally through the tobacco control plan for England and the NHS long-term plan’s commitment to provide smoking cessation support in hospital settings.

In the debate noble Lords expressed their support for the temporary, urgent and necessary reforms brought forward in the Bill to support the businesses hardest hit by this pandemic—our pubs, cafés and restaurants—and to protect jobs in those sectors. We recognise that the Covid restrictions mean that customers are encouraged or required to eat and drink outside, and that clarity is critical as we support businesses to recover. That is why the Government have tabled an amendment requiring proper provision for non-smoking seating via a smoke-free seating condition. This amendment does not prevent the portion of businesses which wish to cater for smokers from doing so. It requires proper provision for non-smoking seating. This means that customers who want to choose to sit in smoking or non-smoking al fresco dining areas will be able to do so.

The Government’s position means that all businesses eligible for pavement licences can share the benefits of this new fast-track licence, while ensuring provision for non-smoking seating. Of course, businesses can already make their own non-smoking policies for outside spaces to reflect customer wishes without the need for regulations, and the Government support that. I say to my noble friend Lord Balfe that a blanket ban can be imposed by businesses themselves. Our guidance will further reinforce this point, making it clear that the licence holder has to make reasonable provision for seating free of smoking.

The guidance is available on the GOV.UK website and was circulated to noble Lords and noble Baronesses before this debate. It includes clear no-smoking signage, displayed in accordance with the Smoke-free (Signs) Regulations 2012. No ashtrays or similar receptacles are to be provided or left on furniture where smoke-free seating is identified. Licence holders should aim for a minimum two-metre distance between non-smoking and smoking areas, wherever possible. That is the framework, so I do not see the confusion raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

It is also worth reiterating that businesses must continue to have regard to smoke-free legislation under the Health Act 2006, and the subsequent Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2006. This is restated in our guidance, as it is absolutely right to stress it, and the Government are committed to working towards a smoke-free society by 2030, as I have said.

Now is not the time to prevent businesses catering to their customers, or to use a temporary provision on pavement licences to ban smoking outdoors. Now is the time to support our hospitality industry and ensure that all businesses eligible for pavement licences can share the benefits of this new fast-track licence. This point was made by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is to withdraw her Amendment 11 and I thank her for her support for our amendment, which seeks to achieve what she set out in her amendment.

However, I fear that Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is not the way to proceed and would be unfair to businesses. While undoubtedly not its intention, it would create confusion. The effect is to create an unfair playing field between businesses applying for these new licences, which need to abide by the condition, and those with existing licences, which do not. This point was made by several of my colleagues. Her amendment also cuts across the ability of business owners to make their own non-smoking policies for outside space, without the need for regulations. Of course, there are cases where the regulations are already clear. The existing power, set out in the Health Act 2006 and subsequent Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2006, made it illegal to smoke in public in enclosed, or substantially enclosed, areas and workplaces. The Bill changes none of this.

On the other hand, the Government’s amendment has the proportionate approach advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. He said that we needed proportionality and this is what we deliver with this amendment. It rightly requires proper, fair provision for non-smoking seating, while not undermining business owners whose customers include smokers. It supports our hospitality sector in continuing to operate, while following the Covid restrictions necessary to protect public health. I thank my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe, Lord Sheikh, Lady McIntosh, Lord Lansley and Lord Young for supporting the government amendment, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. I therefore urge noble Lords to support government Amendments 13, 14 and 25, which will ensure that consumer choice remains. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, has already indicated that she will withdraw her Amendment 11, but I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, does not move her Amendment 15 when called.

On a couple of points of clarification, the guidance being issued is joint guidance from the MHCLG and DHSC. It will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. In response to the noble Lord, Lord German, there will be no physical barrier between non-smokers and smoking areas but a two-metre gap. I hope that answers the questions raised in the debate.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I rise to speak to government Amendments 84, 88 and 89—tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe—which are grouped with Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, and Amendments 61, 62, 64, 68, 69, 70, 72, 76 and 77, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley.

I turn to Amendments 84, 88 and 89, government amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe, and Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. The purpose of these amendments is to secure that mayoral development corporations, Transport for London, urban development corporations and parish meetings are subject to the power in Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which enables the making of regulations to allow these bodies to meet remotely until 7 May 2021.

They correct the omission of these bodies from the Coronavirus Act, which was an accidental oversight due to the pace at which the Act was drafted. It is wholly consistent with the current policy of the Government that bodies such as local authorities—in the broadest sense—should be able to meet remotely, carrying on their business while protecting the health and safety of members, officers and the public. The Government have received representation on this matter from, among others, the Mayor of London—particularly on behalf of the London Legacy Development Corporation—Transport for London and the National Association of Local Councils with regard to the inclusion of parish meetings.

I will answer both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, by saying that the Government’s intention is to make the amended regulations with urgency following Royal Assent. In fact, Amendment 89 specifically allows early commencement of Amendment 84 and, in addition, we will move at pace to ensure that the regulations are in place in a matter of days, as opposed to the typical 21 days. This is a similar pace to the laying of regulations following the passing of the Coronavirus Act.

I note Amendment 85 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which would have put the change to Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act in the Bill in respect of mayoral development corporations, and Amendment 86, which seeks to include a specific reference to the highway authority for the Greater London Authority in the local authority remote meetings regulations. We support the spirit of these amendments but, in the light of the government amendments, we hope that noble Lords will not move those amendments. I hope that will also be the case for the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, for Amendment 56. We agree that local planning authorities should have sufficient information about the impact of extended construction hours on the community and environment to enable them to make a timely decision. We believe that the most appropriate way of ensuring that this happens is through guidance. There is likely to be a range of possible responses from the construction industry to this measure and variation in what will be requested—from an additional hour or so on some sites, so that workers can have staggered start and finish times, to longer evening extensions on others. Therefore, we need a flexible and proportionate approach that can be tailored to the circumstances.

However, we listened to noble Lords’ views during Committee and we hear their concerns. We recognise the need for balance and to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect amenity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, have asked for. We have strengthened the draft guidance so that it also lists an assessment of impacts of noise on sensitive uses nearby as something that local planning authorities may wish to encourage an applicant to provide to aid swift decision-making. This is in addition to providing a justification for extended hours and mitigations to aid swift decision-making, which were already covered in the guidance.

We have also taken the advice of the Institute of Acoustics, the Association of Noise Consultants and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and gone further still to make other changes to strengthen the guidance, including that applicants provide information on the primary construction activities expected to take place during the extended hours, including the plant and equipment expected to be used. Taking into account these changes, I beg noble Lords not to press their amendment. I also assure my noble friend Lord Balfe that the legislation is temporary and we will not see any diminution to the environmental gains that have been achieved by the planning system.

I turn to the nine amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, which relate to Clauses 17, 18 and 19, and the extension of planning permissions and listed building consents. These amendments would extend the time limit for relevant planning permissions and listed building consents to 1 May 2021, instead of 1 April as currently drafted. I note that he has tabled these amendments as a compromise given my concerns about accepting his amendments in Committee, which would have introduced an extension to 1 June 2021.

I agree with my noble friend that any extension of unimplemented planning permissions or listed building consents needs to be of sufficient length to aid the development industry, given the impact that Covid-19 has had on development. We certainly think that it will take time for many developers to commence new residential and commercial development. I thank him in particular for his insightful points during the debates on these measures, particularly on the potential impacts of the winter months on the productivity of the development industry.

I am pleased to say that the Government will accept my noble friend’s nine amendments. They will provide a modest extension into the more accommodating spring months. I also recognise that this additional time would be welcomed by developers and local planning authorities, given that the development industry is experiencing a slow and cautious return to full operating capacity. We accept that this is appropriate in the circumstances.

The amendments would, in effect, give any eligible planning permissions and listed building consents nine months, or three-quarters of a year, from now to take steps to implement the permission. We will, as previously mentioned, keep the use of powers to extend certain dates in the legislation under review if the impact of the coronavirus continues.

These are modest amendments, but I agree that they will give additional certainty to developers in these exceptional times. I trust that they will be well received by your Lordships’ House, as well as by the industry. On this basis, I am happy to accept my noble friend’s amendments.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who contributed on this group of amendments. I am pleased that the Government’s administrative oversight in connection to the mayoral development agency in London has been put right. I very much thank the Minister for his reply and the information that government guidance will be strengthened regarding applications to extend construction hours to protect communities and the environment. With those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Covid-19: Local Government Finance

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Monday 29th June 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to reports that five of the largest councils in the United Kingdom may have to issue a notice under section 114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, as a result of a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

The Government have made £3.2 billion available to local authorities through an unring-fenced grant so that they can address the pressures they are facing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are working on a comprehensive plan to ensure councils’ financial sustainability for the year ahead, and we will continue to work closely with them to understand the costs that they are facing.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Despite what the Minister has said, Hansard of 28 April records the firm commitment of the Government to

“back councils with the financial resources they need”,—[Official Report, Commons, 28/4/20; col. 203]

including support for the loss of income as a result of Covid. Can the Minister please provide a firm assurance that the financial resources will be made available in any such comprehensive plan?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I can give an assurance that a comprehensive plan will be announced shortly. It is a little unfortunate that the timing of this Question is before that announcement. Of course, these general measures will support the vast majority of councils through the difficult process ahead; any individual councils that have problems should contact the department, or myself or other Ministers responsible.

Planning Process: Probity

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Baroness Pinnock
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State followed entirely the planning guidelines that were set out by the MHCLG. I do not accept the way that this has been put to me —that he in any way broke the law. He sought to ensure that there was no inference of bias and that the planning decision would be redetermined. That was agreed with the local planning authority in Tower Hamlets and the Mayor of London.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my relevant interests as a councillor and vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Failure to declare lobbying, failure to provide reasons for planning decisions and failure to make such decisions in a public session by local planning committees could result in allegations of maladministration. Does the Minister agree that those requirements should also apply to the Secretary of State—and, if so, will the Government disclose all such documents in the Westferry decision process?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

Of course these requirements apply to the Secretary of State, but it is absolutely clear that at every step of the way, he disclosed all that he needed to disclose to the department, and that he followed the rules set out in the MHCLG’s propriety planning ethics.