Debates between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 22nd Feb 2023
Mon 15th Nov 2021
Mon 25th Oct 2021
Tue 14th Sep 2021
Mon 24th May 2021
Wed 28th Apr 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 20th Apr 2021
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
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
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
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
Wed 16th 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
Mon 13th Jul 2020
Tue 16th Jun 2020

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leasehold Reform: Forfeiture Provisions

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a leaseholder.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. The Government believe that forfeiture is an extreme measure which should be used only as a last resort. In practice, forfeiture happens very rarely, and the leaseholder may apply for relief from forfeiture subject to the court’s discretion. We asked the Law Commission to update its 2006 review of forfeiture law, Termination of Tenancies for Tenant Default, to account for wider leasehold reforms currently under way, and we are considering what action may be needed.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, there is a desperate need for root and branch leasehold reform. Does the Minister agree that the execution of forfeiture, or even the threat of forfeiture of a lease on a home, to recover a debt or deal with a dispute is totally disproportionate in comparison with the value of the asset, and that what should be in place is a simple procedure to recover the debt or deal with the issue at hand commensurate with the issue or the value of the debt concerned?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that forfeiture is an extreme measure. We have asked the Law Commission to look into this and it has come back not with removing forfeiture but with simplifying the process, making it more transparent and coming up with a mechanism that is more proportionate. We are considering these as part of the second stage of our leasehold reform.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising that. I am conscious of that way of starting the process; when you get the Bill written, pre-legislative scrutiny is a good way of getting broad support. In fact, that is how we started the process of scrutiny for what is now the Building Safety Act.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, as we are not going to have the Bill in this Session of Parliament, which is very disappointing, would the Minister welcome seeing a number a campaigners to discuss the reform with him, so as to get ready for the Bill period in the last Session of this Parliament?

Elections: Multiple Voting

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Tuesday 14th June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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Of course; to make it absolutely clear, where you pay council tax on two properties, you can vote legally in their local elections. Approximately 495,000 households can legitimately do so.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, could the Minister estimate how many eligible citizens are not registered to vote? What action is the Minister and his department taking to rectify that situation? Today of all days, can we also remember the 72 victims who lost their lives in the fire at Grenfell Tower five years ago today?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, it is very important to mark the Grenfell tragedy in which 72 lives were lost—the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. As the noble Lord knows, with his background in local government, we have a system of electoral registration officers—EROs—who know their patch very well, and they go out and do great work in terms of expanding voter registration. This is very much a locally led matter; we have not looked to centralise the electoral registration process.

High-rise Buildings: Evacuation of Disabled Residents

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her recognition of the hard work it has taken to get to this position. There were nearly 400 responses. All were carefully gone through and responded to as part of the previous consultation. I join her in encouraging all parties to come forward and respond to the EEIS+ consultation. The Government really are listening and it is important that we hear from as many diverse stakeholders as possible.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, the Government’s position is that personal emergency evacuation plans for people who would struggle to get out of a burning building are not proportionate, practical or safe to implement. Can the noble Lord please explain the Government’s reasoning for coming to that conclusion? I am sure he can acknowledge that disabled people, their families and friends and campaigners are very worried about that. We need an explanation of why the Government have taken this position.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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There are real concerns based on the previous consultation around practicality—the measures that get mobility-impaired residents out in advance of fire and rescue services, which on average respond in six to seven minutes—proportionality in a residential setting, where there are rarely 24-hour staff to carry out evacuations, and safety around evacuation of all residents that does not hinder the fire and rescue services fighting the fire. Those are the concerns we have outlined in the current consultation.

Building and Fire Safety: Leaseholders

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 14th March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so I refer the House to my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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Leaseholders living in their own properties in buildings over 11 metres will be protected from all cladding remediation costs. The Building Safety Bill will require developers to pay to fix historical building safety defects in buildings they own above 11 metres. We will legislate to make sure that other building owners who can afford to pay cannot pass historical building safety defect costs on to leaseholders. Leaseholders who are liable to pay for some non-cladding costs will have those capped in a way similar to Florrie’s law.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response and for the progress made, and I accept that good progress has been made. However, the situation remains that there are general building safety issues and some of these leaseholders are still left in appalling situations. Does the noble Lord accept the principle that if you are not responsible for the poor workmanship, you never signed it off as satisfactory and you did not insure it, you cannot be expected to pay for what is now deemed not fit for purpose? If he accepts that, he is the one person who can do something about it. He is the Minister responsible and has the ear of the Prime Minister, so what are we going to do?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for putting me in the hot seat. We have done an awful lot. It is fair to say that through regulation we can ensure that we protect leaseholders, who are very much the victims, from bearing anything apart from, I hope, very minimal costs. Those have been capped at £15,000 over five years in London and £10,000 outside London. That is for the narrowest shoulders, particularly shared owners, who are protected as well. We can always do more, and I appreciate that that campaign reckons that we should take this down to zero. However, we continue to ensure that we protect leaseholders wherever we possibly can.

Building Safety Defects

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 7th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating Her Majesty on her 70 years on the Throne and her service to our country and the Commonwealth. I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, industry must fix the buildings that it was responsible for developing. The Building Safety Bill will protect leaseholders from remedial costs beyond the removal of dangerous cladding by providing a legal requirement for building owners to exhaust all ways to fund essential building safety works before passing on costs to leaseholders. Building owners must provide evidence that this has been done. If this does not happen, leaseholders will be able to challenge these costs in the courts.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I have been raising these matters for some considerable time, so I thank the Minister and acknowledge that progress has been made. Having said that, more needs to be done. I heard what he said about the courts, but I want to hear what the Government are going to do. What specific enforcer measures will be deployed to deal with building owners and developers who refuse to take reasonable action to correct mistakes and poor construction, to deal with fire safety failures, to make their buildings safe and to protect the people living in them—whatever tenure they hold?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I salute the tenacity of the noble Lord. He will understand that next Monday will be a very special day: it will be the day he writes a card to his wife, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, but it will also be the date when we will see a series—a slew—of amendments from, I am sure, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Cross Benches, my noble friends behind me and also from the Government as we reach Committee on the Building Safety Bill. We have two objectives in mind: to protect leaseholders and to ensure that the polluter pays. We are starting a process to encourage voluntary contributions, but we are very clear that, if they do not pay up, there will be measures in law to make sure that they do.

Building Safety Defects

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 5th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so refer the House to my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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A new levy and tax will ensure that industry contributes; building owners and industry should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders. We are examining the support offer for residents in 11 to 18-metre buildings where the fire risk is lower. The Government have stated that leaseholders should not be paying for excessive building safety costs and the Secretary of State is looking into the issue closely.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, we come to this issue again. Will the noble Lord set out to the House what actual measures additional to those previously announced he intends to take to protect the innocent victims of this scandal?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, it is for my right honourable friend to set out this approach. It is entirely proper that he should do that, and he has undertaken to do so. He has set out the principles around greater proportionality, protecting leaseholders and getting the polluter to pay, as I have said previously at the Dispatch Box. We must wait for that detailed announcement, but I am taking a personal interest. I have called in registered social landlords who seem to be passing on costs to shared owners and leaseholders, and held them to account. The chief executive of Optivo has indicated to me that it is now not proceeding with costly remediation for Oyster Court or Mill Court. I am also calling in another RSL—Shepherds Bush Housing Group—which seems to be considering passing on costs on a medium rise to shared owners who do not have the bandwidth to be able to pay it. Actually, Shepherds Bush Housing Group was the original developer and was subsidised to do the development; I think it wrong that these registered social landlords are in some cases seeking to pass the costs on to people whose shoulders are not broad enough to bear them.

Conformity Assessment (Mutual Recognition Agreements) (Construction Products) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Tuesday 23rd November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, it is good to be back in the Moses Room with the Minister. As other Members have said, the regulations before us are technical. I can say at the outset that I am happy to support them.

My noble friend Lord Jones asked about consultation. I am sure that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, will come back on that point, particularly in regard to consultation with the devolved Administrations. My noble friend mentioned the Senedd, but it would be interesting to hear what consultations have taken place with the other Administrations. I also noted from the Dispatch Box that there was no consultation with the public because it was not deemed necessary.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised an important issue in respect of Regulation 6. It is absolutely fine to agree the regulations as they are here now; there is no problem with them whatever. But the question is always, is it not, what happens when things go wrong. I think that was the noble Baroness’s point. It is a fair point. We are authorising a body in another country to certify that products are correct and stuff, but further down the track, if things go wrong, what processes are there? How do we deal with that? This is the nub of the question that the noble Baroness and I want answered.

I will leave it there. I accept that, if the Minister does not have an answer now, he will write to colleagues and place a copy in the Library. As I said, I am content with the regulations as they stand.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I particularly appreciated the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who I gather has had more than half a century of parliamentary service. That is quite incredible; I am almost the same age as the number of years he has served in both Houses. The noble Lord is obviously very passionate about Wales. He wanted to know about the consultation. No public consultation was carried out, because it was not considered necessary.

I understand a bit about the principles of this. It is all about opening up markets. We know that there is a shortage of construction products; that was the nature of the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Although it is good in principle, how do we ensure in practice that the construction products that are recognised by a conformity assessment body that is not our own do not result in any dumbing down in standards? Obviously, as the Minister for Building Safety, that has been the key question on which I have wanted reassurance. We are absolutely committed to maintaining high standards for construction products. We know what we saw in the tragedy of Grenfell; indeed, I referenced Lakanal House in Southwark and Garnock Court in 1999. Every decade, we have had a tragedy.

I assure noble Lords that this legislation does not amend the standard of construction products being placed on the market. That is the critical thing for everybody to recognise. However, there is a shortage of construction materials, so we will get high-quality products, increase availability and encourage the flow between the UK and Canada. That can only be a good thing, but I take the point. I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and answered the specific point on consultation.

If there is anything else, I will be happy to pick it up and write to noble Lords, for example on some of the technical points.

Islamophobia

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 15th November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, as someone who has spent time with and engaged with Qari Asim—I met him in my previous role as Faith Minister—I recognise that he has much to contribute and I am sure we will continue to make best use of his undoubted reputation and track record.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Islamophobia is a real problem in the UK. Prejudice against Islam must be taken very seriously. The Government are certainly proceeding very slowly—there is no question about that—as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. Can the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s intention to adopt a definition, or are they not planning to do so? It is very easy, either way.

Council Tax: Second Homes

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 4th November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, there are a number of schemes. I have mentioned the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme; there is also the first homes scheme, which has a minimum discount of 30% but which, with local councils, can be increased to 40% or 50%, so that new homes are offered first to people who live locally. Those kinds of initiatives will help local people get on the housing ladder, which is what the vast majority of people want.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my entries in the register. Holiday lets, as we know, can be much more lucrative than tenancies, with landlords frequently able to bring in the income they would get over the course of a whole year from tenants in just the summer months. Small business rate relief also means that they can pay very little tax. Should the Government not do more in this area, perhaps with a larger levy, to encourage landlords to rent to tenants instead and help deal with the housing crisis that we spend so much time talking about in this House?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we are approaching this by ensuring that people do not game the system. It is perfectly proper, if you have a business, to be subject to the business rates regime. We have not yet finalised what that threshold will be. We are also consulting on whether there is a need for registration of these homes, as I have mentioned.

Gypsies and Travellers

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 4th November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I can provide only the statistics that I have been given, which are that since 2010 there has been an increase of 1,291 new affordable permanent pitches, and in the January 2020 Traveller caravan count there were 354 transit pitches, of which 138 were vacant transit pitches. We recognise the need to increase supply, which is why we are providing the affordable homes grant that local authorities can bid into. I also point out that there is a very high bar for criminality—members of the community committing actual harm—before criminal proceedings begin.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my interests as set out in the register. Does the noble Lord accept that the lack of places for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities is a huge problem? This is a community that is expected to abide by the law, as we all are, but it also needs to be protected by the law. Its members need to be treated with respect, to be free from discrimination and to be able to live their lives peacefully. What are the Government doing to support that? So far, all he has said is that it is a matter for the council.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I have also said that there is a high bar for criminality, that no one should be discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity, that we are investing in measures to reduce hate crime and that we recognise that the Government play a part, particularly in funding. That is why there is funding available in the affordable homes grant, and I am sure there will be further announcements of funding that will increase the supply of authorised permanent sites and transit provision. We will continue to encourage negotiated stopping as another way of dealing with these issues.

Net Zero: Social Market Foundation Report

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 1st November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my interests, as set out in the register. I will follow up on the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. Rural areas, communities and local authorities face a range of problems, such as a reliance on private cars, a lack of charging points and distance from the decarbonisation of industrial clusters. Does the noble Lord agree that the specific, unique issues of the countryside need addressing to ensure that no one is left behind? If he does—he said that the Government do not plan to have a separate strategy—what is he doing to meet this challenge?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Government are providing many mechanisms to support rural areas. I point to the community energy projects, through the rural community energy fund, which is a £10 million fund to support community-run projects in England that benefit the transition to net zero. Net zero is half the story; adaptation to the consequences of climate change is equally important, and the Government are committing £2.8 billion in a six-year capital investment plan to reduce flood and coastal erosion risk.

Rural Poverty

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 25th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her insight into the local challenges faced by rural areas. That is very helpful as we consider our approach to targeting the upcoming UK shared prosperity fund. That fund will help to level up and create opportunity right across the United Kingdom in places most in need and for people who face labour market barriers. We will set out more detail, as I have mentioned before, in the upcoming spending review.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my interests as set out in the register. First, has the Minister actually read the report referred to in the Question? Secondly, addressing in-work poverty is a subject that should concern us all. Taking that point, does the Minister accept that more rural locations have had their needs obscured and been disadvantaged by recent funding rounds, and would benefit from a fairer distribution of national funds?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I have to declare to the noble Lord that we have a phenomenal army of policy officials who have dissected the guts out of that report. I am happy to acknowledge that I have read a summary from my officials rather than the report itself.

I would point out that of the two funds that we have been talking about, the UK shared prosperity fund, which has been piloted through the community renewal fund, targets rural areas in design—to the extent that 29% of those have a higher index of local resilience and are therefore being focused on and being captured, compared with a lower percentage of 22% for urban areas—so we are seeing a great focus on dealing with rural poverty, while of course the levelling-up fund is designed with the different outcomes in mind.

Building Safety Defects: Costs

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 18th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and refer the House to my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are investing £5.1 billion to remediate unsafe cladding in residential buildings over 18 metres. The Building Safety Bill will require building owners to consider other cost-recovery routes for remediation before passing them on to leaseholders. A new developer tax and levy will make sure that industry contributes. Finally, for the small number of 11-to-18 metre buildings with cladding remediation costs, our support offer will ensure that leaseholders are protected.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, that is a very disappointing and, frankly, repetitive response. There has been a clear failure on the part of the Government to protect the innocent victims of this scandal in building safety. The leaseholders need to be supported by their Government and they need to hear clearly from the Government that they are no longer expected to pay for other people’s mistakes. Why cannot the Government just say that and make it happen?

Leasehold: Building and Fire Safety

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I refer the House to my interests as set out in the register and say that I am from the wonderful borough of Southwark.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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I declare my interest in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The Government have invested more than £5 billion to remediate unsafe cladding in buildings over 18 metres. For the small number of 11 to 18-metre buildings with cladding remediation costs, our finance scheme will ensure that leaseholders pay no more than £50 per month towards this. A new levy and tax will ensure that industry contributes, and under the Building Safety Bill building owners must explore all reasonable ways to meet remediation costs before passing these on.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, the action taken by the Government to date is just not good enough. Leaseholders feel abandoned by the Government. All the talk of levelling up and supporting communities means nothing. It is deeds not words that the victims need today. What will the noble Lord do today after this exchange to persuade his new Secretary of State that further action is needed? Will he come down with me to Parliament Square at 1 pm today to meet some of the victims and listen to their heartbreaking stories?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am very happy to join the noble Lord in visiting the people who will be demonstrating today at 1 pm. This is continually a moving feast. I am happy to announce that we are increasing the amount of money we are putting in the waking watch relief fund, which has been a crippling cost for many leaseholders, by a further £5 million to the initial £30 million. That has helped around 20,000 leasehold dwellings and 264 buildings to date. We continue to ensure that we find ways to make sure that the original developer pays wherever possible.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [HL]

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords from all sides of the House for the constructive approach that they have taken to this important legislation. The Bill leaves your Lordships’ House as better legislation than when it arrived, and I thank noble Lords for their engagement with me both here and elsewhere. Leasehold legislation can be incredibly complex, but we are lucky in this place to have the benefit of a vast amount of knowledge and experience on these matters. I express my gratitude in particular to my noble friends Lord Hammond of Runnymede and Lord Young of Cookham, and to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for the time they have given to me and my officials in sharing their knowledge and expertise, which has led directly to amendments that have improved the Bill.

I am pleased to say that there has been recognition across the House of the importance of getting this Bill on the statute book. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and, before him, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on the Benches opposite, for the constructive nature of the conversations that we have had on this legislation. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for her work on the Bill, particularly on the vital issue of transparency.

There were, of course, other issues raised with the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Stunell, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for their engagement on the issues of the retirement sector and the transition period that the Government have proposed. Noble Lords who have been carefully watching the Bill’s progress will know that there have been competing views on the length and, indeed, existence of this transition period, including how it should apply to developments that are part-sold. While I remain convinced that our proposal strikes the right balance between the sector and consumers, I have appreciated debating the issue with noble Lords.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for their scrutiny of the Bill; both have made valuable contributions to the debate. My thanks also go to the officials who have worked so hard to get us to this position: the Bill team of Jo Cagney, Rosie Gray, Tom Sedgwick, Sema Ashami, Isabel Hendy, Jenny Frew, Ian Martin, Harriet Fisher, Elly-Marie Connolly and David Gethin, my own private office, Sam Loxton, the Whips, Senedd officials, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and clerks in this place.

Finally, I will take the opportunity to thank the Competition and Markets Authority for its work on behalf of existing leaseholders who have found themselves at the sharp end of unfair practices in the leasehold sector. The CMA’s ongoing investigation is playing a vital role in reforming and improving the sector, and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to its efforts. The Bill will provide transparency and fairness to a new generation of leaseholders. It is a vital first step towards realising our vision of a reformed and improved leasehold system free from the unfair practices that have been the experience for far too many homeowners. I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I join the Minister in thanking Members on all sides of the House for their contributions and expertise in working to get the Bill to where it is today. I also thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his courtesy in his dealings with my noble friend Lord Lennie and myself. We appreciate that very much. I also thank all the officials and his Bill team for their work with us. I place on record my thanks to Ben Wood and the office of the Leader of the Opposition for the work that they did.

My involvement was in the Second Reading of the Bill. I then became the Chief Whip, so I departed the scene, leaving it all to my noble friend Lord Lennie. I have come back to make these final remarks as my noble friend cannot be here today. I thank him in particular for all the work he did in taking up the Bill very much at short notice. I think we have made the Bill better than it was when it first came to this House. This is the first stage in leasehold reform; there is very much more to be done. We look forward to the work of the Law Commission and to a Bill that will address other leaseholder problems—but this is a good first stage and I am very happy with where we have got to so far.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I too offer my thanks to those who have contributed to the improvement of the Bill and, in particular, to say that the Minister has been exceptionally helpful and generous with his time in proceeding with it through Committee and at the intermediate stages. My noble friend Lady Grender would have liked to be here, but I am speaking in her place on this occasion.

I have given notice to the Minister that I believe there is one aspect of this that still requires a word of clarification, which I hope he will be able to give as we move on. It is clearly very important that this Bill makes rapid progress, and even more important that the second Bill, long promised, follows close on its heels. The issue relates to retirement homes and those blocks that are partially occupied at the time that the changes instigated by this Bill come into force. There is a serious risk of a two-tier market in those blocks if this is introduced wholesale across every part of the same block. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the Government’s intent and the effect of this legislation, so that those who have made representations to me can have some understanding of the direction in which this legislation will now proceed. With those few words, I am very happy to see the Bill pass into law.

Grenfell Tower: Demolition

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 6th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question of which I have given private notice. In doing so, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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The Government recognise how important and sensitive this decision is, particularly for bereaved families, survivors and local residents. Following important independent safety advice, the Government are engaging closely with the community as we consider what the future of Grenfell Tower should be. No decision has been made.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, over the weekend, survivors, victims’ families and the local community found out about the plans to demolish Grenfell Tower through reports across the media. The decision to speak to the media before any consultation with those affected was completely wrong. Can the Minister confirm what discussions have taken place with structural engineers and other professionals regarding the demolition of the tower and the future of the site? Can he also confirm that full discussion and consultation on the demolition of the tower and the future of the site will take place urgently with survivors, victims’ families, Grenfell United and the local community, and that he will ensure that there are no more of these lapses and no more of this frankly disrespectful treatment of those people by the Government? Also, will he take the opportunity now to apologise for the briefing over the weekend and the reports in the media?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I want to be absolutely clear that this was not a briefing by the Government; it had nothing to do with the Government. On Friday, I had a meeting where it was made very clear that no decision had been taken—so I was as surprised as the noble Lord by what we read in the Sunday papers and subsequently. The Government have embarked on a phase of concentrated engagement on the future of the tower; this started around a year ago and has intensified since May, when we published a series of engineering reports that included a peer review of the major review that was carried out by Atkins. I can certainly continue to make the point that the Government will proceed by very carefully engaging with and consulting the community on this very sensitive matter.

Mortgages: EWS1 Form

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Tuesday 29th June 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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We will continue to challenge industry on inappropriate use of EWS1 forms. We have asked lenders to publish data, so that home owners can see how the guidance is being applied, as well as the impact of the process on mortgage applications. Data from one major lender suggests that an EWS1 form already exists for 50% of mortgage applications where one is requested. We are working with industry to ensure this picture improves.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, the problem is that mortgage providers are insisting on a form that is not necessary, against the guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. People cannot sell their homes because of the actions of overzealous financial institutions, and buyers cannot get mortgages. Can the Minister say more? Has he spoken to UK Finance to sort this issue out? Sadly, for me, this is another example of woeful failure by the Government—all promise and no delivery. Again and again, home buyers have been let down. Issues of fire safety, building safety, poor construction and financial failure are not going away. The Minister will be brought back here, again and again, until the Government finally take some action.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we have had repeated engagement with both UK Finance and also the Building Societies Association on this matter. We are seeing a picture that is troublesome but is continuing to improve, bit by bit. We have taken a number of measures to ensure that we encourage lenders to take a more proportionate approach.

Homeowners: Cladding-related Costs

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 24th June 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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The Government will fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for leaseholders in residential buildings of 18 metres and over in England. This will make homes safe and protect leaseholders from costs. There is no reason to suggest that there will be a funding shortfall for eligible applications to our remediation funds.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) [V]
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My Lords, the response from the Government is woefully inadequate. When will the noble Lord, the Government and the Prime Minister get a grip? The thousands of people trapped in this living nightmare need their Government to help and support them. When are we going to see action on the failures of the companies who built these buildings; the professional failures; the insurance companies not delivering on their obligations; the increased insurance premium costs levied on people; the building safety fund contract terms, which are not fit for purpose; the unrealistic bills being sent to innocent victims; the dangerous fire safety and building safety defects which have not been addressed; and the EWS1 form fiasco, which is making buildings unsaleable? What will it take to get the Government to make those responsible pay up, so that innocent victims get the justice they deserve?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I think that extended beyond two points. In addition to the unprecedented sum of £5.1 billion towards the remediation costs, we recognise the need to strengthen redress mechanisms. That will come forward as part of the building safety Bill. We have also stepped forward to support the installation of many hundreds of alarms to ensure that people do not have to pay for a costly waking watch, with our waking watch relief scheme of some £30 million. We recognise that it is for the building owners to shoulder their statutory responsibilities to keep their buildings safe. We will continue to work with all levels of government to make sure that that happens and that the costs are not passed on to the leaseholders.

Rogue Landlords Register

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 26th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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We have taken a balanced approach whereby we have tried to ensure that we do not see the mass evictions the noble Lord refers to. Equally, it is important that we crack down on rogue landlords. We have invested close to £7 million to improve the enforcement powers of local authorities, because those who do overstep the mark need to feel the full force of the law, whether that is the criminal law or housing legislation.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Does the noble Lord think that the whole concept of the rogue landlords database has so far been a failure? Notwithstanding his answer to that, what is he planning to do to make the intent behind the concept a reality? Can we have a bit more detail on the White Paper and future measures?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I do not accept that it has been a failure, partly because of the time taken going through the process of charging and convicting individuals. As I pointed out in the previous answer, it is one of a number of measures that we introduced to tackle the issue of rogue landlords. Obviously, we are consulting on a number of wider measures, including increasing the scope and accessibility of this database as part of that White Paper. More will be announced later in the year.

Fire Safety: Leaseholder Bankruptcies

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 24th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I point out that our approach prioritises action on the risks of unsafe cladding, which is what accelerates fire. The costs for remediating this, and the risk posed by it, are high. We are putting in unprecedented sums to cover those costs.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, when does the Minister think the Prime Minister will take action to honour the promise he made in the House of Commons, when he said:

“We are determined that no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing … defects that they did not cause and are no fault of their own”?—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/21; col. 945.]

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have now committed more than £5 billion to the remediation of unsafe cladding. That will ensure that remediating the most risky element of a building will be covered in its entirety for those in high-rises and a substantial part of it for those in buildings of medium height.

Social Housing

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 24th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I do not accept that characterisation of our planning reforms. They look to simplify the developer contribution through a new infrastructure levy that I am sure will capture the land value uplift so that that can be put into social and affordable housing.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Can the Minister explain why, when asked about social housing, he often refers to affordable housing? They are not the same thing. We need a greater percentage of government spend on social rented homes to address the chronic shortage of homes for people on low incomes. Many of the affordable homes he talks about are just not affordable for these people.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I was very clear in my original reply that this programme will deliver approximately double the number of social rented homes, but there are also ways to provide subsidised housing that gives a discount on the market price, which is the definition of affordable rent.

Rent Arrears: Covid-19

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 20th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we continue to review other examples of support, including that in Spain, as well as those in the devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. We will consider what impact they might have, but we will continue with the policy we have about not encouraging further debt.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my interests as set out in the register. Right now, an estimated 353,000 private renters are in arrears. Rent arrears have doubled since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government promised that no renter would lose their home due to the pandemic. Is it not time for the Government to accept the need for a Covid rent debt fund to clear Covid arrears for the most financially destitute renters, who are at severe risk of homelessness? If not, with the ban on evictions that has been in place during lockdown being lifted next month, how will the Government stop evictions because of Covid rent debt?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we are aware of the exhortations from many organisations, but we consider that the increase in rent arrears is not statistically significant between the two surveys. It went from 7% to 9%. We also recognise that we have provided a substantial package of support for renters during the pandemic, including legislative protections and unprecedented financial support.

Tower Blocks: Cladding

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 12th May 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to a fire at a tower block in Poplar, London which left two people hospitalised and others injured, what plans they have to remove flammable cladding and ensure buildings are fire safe.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the residents affected by the fire at New Providence Wharf and pay tribute to the swift response by the London Fire Brigade. We are providing an unprecedented £5.1 billion to fund the remediation of unsafe cladding, with expert support for those who need it. New Providence Wharf itself has received £8 million.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register.

I join the Minister in expressing my sympathy to the victims of the fire and expressing my thanks to the London Fire Brigade. The fire in the tower block in Poplar is another devastating reminder of the dangerous, stressful, worrying and wholly unacceptable situation that thousands of people find themselves in today. Leaseholders and tenants are the innocent victims in a scandal that the Prime Minister promised they would not be picking up the bill for. So why are the Prime Minister’s words and promises to the victims so far removed from the reality and actions of the Government? When does the Minister expect the Government to start delivering on the repeated pledges and promises that the Prime Minister has made?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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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.

Leaseholders and Property Management Companies

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 29th April 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, I want to say that I am so proud to be able to ask a Question on your last day, Lord Speaker. You have been an exceptional Lord Speaker; thank you so much.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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The Government are committed to promoting fairness and transparency for homeowners and ensuring that leaseholders are protected from abuse and poor service. Following Law Commission reports on enfranchisement, right to manage and commonhold, the Government are taking forward a comprehensive programme of reform to end unfair practices in the leasehold market. We are also considering the recommendation from the independent working group on property agents, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Best.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Does the noble Lord accept that, in many cases, leaseholders are trapped, paying expensive fees to management companies for the care and upkeep of communal areas or the property that they live in, and that the provisions that enable fees to be challenged and management companies to be replaced are not fit for purpose and need to be radically updated to place real control and choice in the hands of the leaseholders?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we believe very strongly that any fees and charges should be justifiable, transparent and communicated effectively and that there should be a clear route to challenge or address things if they go wrong. That is why we commissioned the noble Lord, Lord Best, to do his report.

Fire Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I express my thanks once again to everyone for their contributions to this important debate. The other place has now consistently voted against four different amendments on the issue of remediation. It is a vital issue but it is not for this Bill. This House has a choice about whether to prioritise finalising this important Bill or to delay it to the point where it falls.

The Government’s position on the Fire Safety Bill has not changed. I will repeat our key points. We are all in agreement about the importance of getting the Fire Safety Bill on the statute book. Residents have a right to be safe and feel safe in their homes. As I have said repeatedly, without this Bill the legal ambiguity around the fire safety order will continue.

Let me be clear about what is at stake if we do not resolve this: responsible persons for multi-occupied residential buildings will be able to continue to argue that it is lawful to ignore the fire safety risk of the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors; and fire and rescue services will lack the legal certainty to support enforcement decisions taken to keep people safe.

Failure to get this Bill to the statute book will lead to a delay in delivering the Grenfell recommendations. This is not a political point. This Bill must come first as it provides the legal certainty that I have just referred to. That certainty will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations with reduced risk of challenge to place duties on responsible persons in relation to the external wall structure and flat entrance doors, as the inquiry recommended.

It might help the House if I provided an example. The inquiry recommended a frequency of checks on fire safety doors, including flat entrance doors and communal fire doors. That cannot be done easily and in a way that is relatively free from legal risk if we have not identified that flat entrance doors are within the scope of the fire safety order. Equally, enforcing authorities would not be able to take appropriate action in this regard.

I thank your Lordships for recognising the substantial government support—to the tune of £5.1 billion—for leaseholders for remediation of unsafe cladding. Our five-point plan to bring an end to this cladding crisis helps provide certainty to the housing market. Noble Lords yesterday raised some points about uncertainty in the housing market and about the concerns of lenders and insurers. Our five-point plan addresses these.

More needs to be done to ensure that those responsible for fire safety defects should contribute to paying the costs of remediation. Industry must play its part and pay its way, and through our high-rise levy and developer tax we will make sure that developers with the broadest shoulders pay their contribution.

I agree that leaseholders need stronger avenues for redress and I made that clear yesterday. The building safety Bill will bring forward measures to do this, including making directors as well as companies liable for prosecution. We are bringing about the biggest changes in a generation to the system through the building safety Bill.

Finally, I reiterate the comments I made yesterday about forfeiture. It is a draconian measure that should be used only as a last resort. This measure should be considered as part of our wider programme on leasehold reform. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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Moved by

Leave out from “House” to end and insert “do insist on its Amendment 4L”

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, in moving this Motion, I express my thanks to noble Lords from across this House for their helpful insight and support throughout proceedings. In particular, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock, Lady Thomas, Lady Andrews, Lady Randerson and Lady Greengross, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

I also thank the National Association of Local Councils, the Local Government Association and the Valuation Office Agency for their engagement during the passage of the Bill. I am especially grateful to the British Toilet Association for its support of the Bill and for taking the time to meet me and noble Lords last month.

Finally, I thank my department’s Bill team: Rhys Tomlinson, Nick Pellegrini, Luke Turner, Alan Millward, Nick Cooper, Lee Davies and Tom Adams, as well as Sam Loxton from my own private office, for their support throughout the passage of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his engagement in this small but important Bill. I am pleased that it is finally now going to pass; this is the second time I have worked on this Bill—because it was lost before the general election—so it is something I am very well aware of. I thank the noble Lord; he has been very helpful, as always. I join him in thanking all the organisations he mentioned—the LGA, the National Association of Local Councils, the British Toilet Association and others—for their helpful advice, guidance and support. I also thank Ben Wood from the Labour group office for his help and support on the Bill.

I thank all noble Lords who engaged in the Bill, particularly Lord Greaves, whose last speech in this House was on this Bill, as noble Lords may remember, some weeks ago, before he sadly passed away. Although Tony was in a different party from me, he was well respected in the House and was a very good man. He worked as a local councillor and as a Member of this House and he will be missed by us all. I am delighted that the Bill is going to pass.

Planning: Net Zero Emissions Targets

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 19th April 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we recognise the interdigitation between the national standards and other forms of regulation. That is why we started with the implementation of an interim 2021 Part L uplift for new homes as swiftly as possible, in advance of the 2025 new home standards. We are working closely with local government to ensure that consistency.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. One problem is the timidity of the Government’s actions. When they had the chance to do something about this during the passage of the dreaded Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Government voted against the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in this House and opposed them again on ping-pong. I refer the Minister to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, at the time. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government are finally serious in this matter?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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We are very serious about the move to a net zero economy and using planning as a vehicle to do that. Further announcements will have to await the review of the consultation that is currently being processed.

Gypsies, Travellers and Roma: Racism and Discrimination

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 25th March 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Bill is not the draconian legislation that it is painted as by the noble Baroness. The focus is on people who wilfully break the law, wilfully trespass on property, and wilfully damage public amenities. They are a very small minority. Regarding property, the police will need to consider their obligations around human rights legislation.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, my good friend Conor McGinn, the Member of Parliament for St Helens North, was asked by Pontins to make representation to get its sites open last year, only to then discover that, as a McGinn, if he tried to book a holiday, he and his family would not be welcome at any Pontins holiday camp since his name was on the banned list. This is a scandal against Gypsies, Travellers and Roma people. Does the Minister agree, and can he discuss with colleagues in government whether the laws are strong enough to ensure that the people who have perpetuated this disgusting racism are prevented from doing so again, either at Pontins or any other company that they may work for or be associated with in the future?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I join the noble Lord in condemning those actions. I am very glad that his name was not caught up in that ridiculous policy. It is important that a full review of hate crime is carried out. The Law Commission started it last year and will be reporting to Ministers shortly on whether we need to build on the approach taken by the current hate crime action plan.

Northampton Town Football Club

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 3rd March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so I declare my registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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We are aware of the public interest report concerning Northampton Borough Council. However, it is for the council to consider and respond to the issues raised in the report. On 22 February, the council set out its response to the report’s recommendation, and it will be for it and its successor council to implement.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, agree that this is a terrible scandal—a failure of due diligence, of governance and of leadership which has let down the residents of Northampton and lost them over £10 million, and has let down the supporters of Northampton Town Football Club, who have a half-built stand? The club was formed in 1897 and was affectionately known as “The Cobblers” in recognition of the town’s historic connections to the boot and shoe industry. Northampton Borough Council is about to be abolished, so can the noble Lord tell me how those responsible for this scandal will be held to account and made to pay?

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

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I am very happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in his amendment. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made a very powerful case when we were in Committee and they have made an equally powerful case today. I am very happy to support them.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, we want to be healthier; we have to get people doing more physical activity, because it will have great effects on their health. That is a good thing as people will live longer and have fewer problems with disease, and that will have a knock-on effect on our health service. That is the most important thing behind all this—getting people to be more active and healthier. The Government are currently running a major campaign, quite rightly, which you see on television, at bus stops and everywhere. I fully support that.

It is also important to ensure that local amateur clubs doing a variety of activities in their communities actually get people doing things. Where I live in south London, there is the Francis Drake Bowls Club—I often go past and see lots of people playing on the bowls green. There is also Lewisham Borough Football Club, an amateur club, and the athletics club that takes part on the track in Ladywell Fields. Those are the things that local people can do to become more active and physical, and if we can support them through the rating system, we should.

As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, all the amendment is asking for is a biennial report. The amendment is much more generous than I would have been as I wanted one every 12 months. If the Government accept this amendment, they will have to do everything that is in it anyway because they need to have good policy, and good policy needs facts and proper information.

I hope that the noble Lord will tear up his speaking notes to resist this and say, “I agree”. I look forward to hearing his response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, in my rush to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on the first amendment, I forgot to declare my relevant commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register, so I do so now.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan for their suggestion that I tear up my speaking notes and do what the amendment says. I will seek to reassure them that we have a real commitment to community and grass-roots sports. In that spirit I will refer to a number of things that the Government are doing. My family, friends and I all benefit from community sports and it is right that we do all we can to support community and grass-roots sport, as Members have highlighted.

As I explained in my response to the previous amendment, we will not know the effect of the revaluation on ratepayers for some time and certainly not within six months of the passing of this Bill. The same points apply to this amendment. However, I appreciate that the noble Lord and others want to understand how the revaluation will affect amateur sports clubs. It may therefore assist the noble Lord if I explain how these clubs are valued for business rates—I will try to make the incomprehensible comprehensible.



First, the Valuation Office Agency must, by law, value a property having regard to its current use. This means, for example, that when valuing the site of an amateur cricket club the valuation officer must have regard to its value to the cricket club and not its value to a developer. As you would expect, this important principle means that the rateable value of sports grounds is generally quite low.

The VOA publishes statistics on the rateable value of different categories of properties. The average rateable value in England of sports grounds is £12,000 but the value of many is much less than this and the median rateable value of sports grounds is only £6,000. That equates to a full annual rates bill of about £3,000, which for many will be reduced by the 80% mandatory rate relief. Under those circumstances, many sports clubs will find themselves with a rates bill of as little as £600 per year or £50 per month.

Of course, I appreciate that some clubs will find themselves paying more than this. Business rates reflect the specific circumstances of the property so some clubs, for example with more facilities than others, may find themselves paying more. We also heard in Committee that some clubs may be not eligible for the 80% mandatory relief for community amateur sports clubs. That is a matter specific to the individual clubs but I can understand that some will still have a particular interest in understanding whether their rates bill may change at the 2023 revaluation.

As I have said, we will not know the answer to that until much later in 2022, at the point when all clubs will be able to see their new rateable values. These valuations will be prepared over the next 18 months and, as with all properties, the VOA will first search for evidence of rents paid on sports grounds as a guide to value. As I have explained, to be good evidence these rents will have to reflect the value to the sports club. These rents should not reflect matters such as the development value where, for example, the club happens to be in a prosperous area. To the extent that the rental evidence, where available, shows that values have risen or fallen over the last six years, this will be reflected in rateable values at the 2023 revaluation.

The VOA expects to use rental evidence for most clubs but, whatever the valuation approach adopted for the property, the VOA is clear in its guidance that for non-commercial clubs valuers can also have regard to ability to pay before setting rateable values. The valuer should ask themselves if the rateable value represents the rent that clubs or organisations of the kind which occupy the type of sports ground concerned could reasonably be expected to pay. The VOA’s guidance specifically recognises that where income is generated from the occupation of these grounds, the costs of occupation will be barely covered despite voluntary assistance. Although I am unable to tell the noble Lord how amateur sports clubs will be impacted by the 2023 revaluation, I hope that this background to how they are valued is helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has established to the House the vital importance of our community sports clubs. While the value of the 80% mandatory business rates relief to eligible community amateur sports clubs cannot be understated, I recognise the need for the Government to provide support beyond this, particularly throughout the duration of this pandemic. This Government’s commitment to sport is evidenced by the £220 million provided by Sport England to support community sports clubs and exercise centres since March 2020. In addition, the Government have put in place a £300 million sports winter survival package, which has been used to protect the immediate future of major spectator sports over the winter period, and a £100 million support fund for local authority leisure centres. In total, the Treasury estimates that around £1.5 billion of public money has gone into sports in the last year. I hope the House will agree that this constitutes a significant package of support that this Government have made available to sports clubs and exercise facilities of all sizes.

I hope that I have given the House some assurances about both the financial support that the Government are providing to our grass-roots sports sector, and the process and approach which will be taken over the coming months as amateur sports clubs are revalued by the VOA. We will continue to keep in mind the points on how we can support community sports at the grass-roots level. I appreciate the passion from both the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan, but, reluctantly, I cannot tear up my speaking notes. Therefore, I hope that with these reassurances the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I have nothing really to add: the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has set out very clearly and carefully what he seeks to get from his amendment. As we have heard, it is a very good probing amendment that gives the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, the opportunity to set out carefully for the Committee what is meant by “or mainly”. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, this is a good House of Lords way of getting into the detail of the Bill, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. Amendment 7 seeks, of course, to provide a welcome definition of what “mainly” could be construed or interpreted as, giving weight to public use of public lavatories. I will leave it there, and I look forward to the Minister’s explanation.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am beginning to learn how the House works, and I appreciate the education; I am sure I will get used to this way of drawing out important information. These amendments probe the current definition of a public lavatory that would qualify for this relief, and seek to amend this definition to capture some of the facilities that the Bill does not currently cover.

The Government have carefully drafted the scope of the Bill, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out for the House the rationale behind this decision. Subject to Royal Assent, the relief within this Bill will apply to all hereditaments that

“consist wholly or mainly of public lavatories”.

Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, probes the meaning of “mainly” in this provision. The phrase “wholly or mainly” can be found across government legislation and, in particular, exists within that legislation which provides for an 80% business rate discount to properties used

“wholly or mainly for charitable purposes”,

as the noble Lord mentioned. Local authorities are responsible for deciding which properties are eligible for business rate relief, and the use of “mainly” provides for some discretion on their part.

However, I will directly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on how this would work in practice. Councils should reflect on all relevant matters, including any relevant case law and guidance, when making these decisions. The use of “mainly” means that an authority may, for example, look at the floor area of a building and see that less than 50% is being used directly as a public lavatory, but it may still feel that it meets the criteria for this relief because the remaining area is used as storage or for other matters of little consequence. That is very similar to the example that the noble Lord gave. The Government consider it right that the Bill provides local authorities with this level of discretion because these are decisions best taken on the ground and on the basis of local knowledge.

The second amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, follows on from the first and would act to define “mainly” within the Bill in reference to the extent to which a property is used as a public lavatory, rather than for other purposes. I appreciate that the intention of this amendment is to provide for the relief to be available to buildings that do not constitute separately assessed public toilets but that serve that purpose to a large extent. As I set out earlier, an expansion of the relief beyond those toilets that are separately assessed and have already been identified and separately rated would bring with it significant administrative burdens and costs.

In the case of this amendment, local authorities would be required to not just identify qualifying facilities but assess the extent to which the public are using them for different functions. The public use test would be particularly cumbersome because it would go beyond an assessment of a property’s physical elements and would require an analysis of the extent to which these elements are used by the public. The results of such a test could change relatively frequently, and local authorities may need to make the required assessment on a regular basis.

As currently designed, the measure in the Bill does not carry implementation costs disproportionate to the benefits to ratepayers, nor any significant implementation difficulties for local government. As such, we are not in favour of any amendment to this relief which would increase the complexity of its implementation, create unnecessary burdens for local authorities, or indeed create administrative costs disproportionate to the total benefit to ratepayers. However, I would be keen to engage with noble Lords on some of the technical reasons for not expanding the scope of the Bill.

I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his amendments, which probe the design of the relief before the Committee. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I do not consider that the potential benefits of the amendments would outweigh their substantial costs and I hope that the noble Lord will not press them.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. We are identifying issues the Government should reflect on before this Bill comes back on Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, has not sought to challenge my general point from my earlier remarks, that the position of the Government, in resisting any amendment here today, is that we are creating burdens on local authorities that far outweigh the benefits. Yet, as I have said, I have looked and cannot find any organisation from local government—the LGA, the Welsh LGA, the District Councils’ Network, London Councils, the National Association of Local Councils—or, in fact, any local council or local authority in England or Wales that would support the Government’s position. If they actually asked them, I suspect there would be a lot of support from local authorities for increasing the benefits of support for their network of public toilets. I will leave that point there, and at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Amendments 4 and 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, enable us to debate important issues. He seeks to ensure that lavatories that operate in accordance with national standards benefit from this relief.

The trade union Unison has campaigned on the issue of disability and the barriers that disabled people face when using a standard toilet. Many disabilities are hidden. The sign that we often see indicating disabled facilities is a person in a wheelchair, but fewer than 10% of people who meet the Equality Act definition of disability use a wheelchair. Signs that say “Some disabilities are invisible” have become more prevalent given the requirements of the pandemic restrictions. Crohn’s disease and colitis are two examples of conditions that may mean that a person has to use a disabled toilet facility while having no outward signs of disability.

As we move forward we need a greater understanding and respect for difference, and we must ensure that people are protected. These are not easy issues; if they were we would not be debating them today. What we also need is many more Changing Places toilets, which are a very important to cater for. We will get on to this later.

The comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, reminded me that all the toilets by the reception at Southwark Council are gender-neutral, individual toilets. They are there for public use. So things are certainly changing, but we must at all times have respect for difference and for people. As we move forward on these issues we must ensure we keep those thoughts to the forefront and provide the facilities that people need.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his amendments, which would provide the Government with the power to limit this relief to only those toilets that meet prescribed criteria of their choosing. The underpinning nature of the amendments is the desire to see toilets for all, and I am very supportive of the need to have toilets for those who need disabled access, gender-neutral toilets and gender-specific toilets. As I set out to the House earlier, the Government do not intend to limit the measure within the Bill to only those toilets that meet certain criteria. Subject to Royal Assent, the Bill will support the provision of separately assessed toilets across the country. I therefore do not agree that it would be right to make any amendments which could limit the benefits of this measure.

Furthermore, limiting the relief to only those public lavatories that fit a prescribed description would place a significant burden on local authorities, which will be responsible for administering the relief. Well-intentioned though the amendment is, it would weaken the effectiveness of the legislation were we to require its provisions to be subject to a new, locally administered system of controls.

While I appreciate the arguments that my noble friend Lord Lucas made in support of the Government having the power to make this relief more specific, any benefits must be weighed against the consequential impact on local authorities of using such a power. Although I do not think that the Bill would be improved by these amendments, I appreciate the points that my noble friend makes about the standards of our public toilets.

The Government are interested not just in the total number of public toilets in this country but in ensuring that everyone in our communities feels confident and comfortable using them. This means maintaining hygiene standards and ensuring fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets.

Noble Lords may therefore wish to note that the technical review of toilets launched by the Government will consider the ratio of female toilets needed versus the number for men and take into account the needs of all members of the community, to ensure fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets. The call for evidence, which closes on Friday, has received over 15,000 responses; a government response will be published in due course. As part of this review, the merits of any best practice guidance on the provision of gender-neutral toilets will be considered, alongside any guidance on the necessary provision of access to disabled toilets. These considerations also include provisions for older people and parents with very young children who need changing facilities.

I hope this reassures my noble friend that the Government are supportive of not just the total number of public toilets but the vital importance of ensuring that appropriate facilities are available to all. On this basis—and the basis that the potential administrative burden resulting from these amendments would outweigh the benefits—I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I was particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his explanation of what would appear to be a far simpler method of achieving what I am seeking to do. I might have a look at that before Report as it seems to be a simpler method.

I thank the Minister for his response. Obviously, I am pleased to learn of the additional government expenditure on Changing Places facilities. It is good to hear but we need to do more and go further. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments would require the Government to carry out an assessment of the impact of the relief on the provision of public toilets. The first, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require an assessment to be made within a year of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, while the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, would require an assessment of the impact to be published on a recurring, annual basis. The amendment tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Pinnock, would require an assessment to be made with particular reference to accessible toilets and Changing Places facilities. The fourth amendment, which has been tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Pinnock, would require such an assessment to review the impact of the relief on the cleanliness and maintenance of public toilets and the provision of baby changing facilities, in addition to the impact on the overall provision of public lavatories.

I appreciate the interest that noble Lords have in the efficacy of the measure within the Bill and assure the House that the Government keep all business rate reliefs under review. I also want to meet with interested noble Lords and the British Toilet Association before Report to see how we can review implementation of this relief. That is an important step and, I hope, will be an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that have been raised.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I will respond to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that I failed to answer earlier. I can confirm that the relief for all separately assessed toilets applies irrespective of ownership. I want to be clear on that point.

On the provision of public lavatories, the Committee may be interested in the data that is already published annually, to which I have already referred. There are some 3,990 separately assessed public toilets in England and Wales, and this figure is constantly updated and monitored. We do not want to see reductions, and it is clear that by significantly reducing the operating costs of these facilities, the measures in the Bill will help to keep public toilets open up and down the country.

While these measures constitute a significant element of support for these facilities, a number of other factors determine whether a toilet is able to remain open. Ultimately, the decisions on whether to maintain or close a facility must be made by the operator of the facility, often the local council. These decisions will usually be based on wider funding pressures, as well as the number of toilets elsewhere in the local area.

The Government strongly support the continued operation of our public toilets. As I set out earlier, we are providing £30 million of grant funding to directly support the provision of Changing Places toilets in particular. I also set out at Second Reading some of the good work that councils have undertaken through community toilet schemes to maintain and increase provision in their local areas. However, it is clear that there are a number of factors that determine whether a toilet is able to stay open, and it would not be possible to attribute any future changes in the overall provision of public lavatories, or facilities of any specific type, solely to the measures in this Bill. Equally, I do not envisage any direct link between business rates relief and the maintenance and cleanliness of existing public toilets. For this reason, and because the number of separately assessed public toilets is already published on an annual basis, I hope that noble Lords will agree that any assessment of the kind proposed would be unnecessary and an ineffective use of government resources.

However, I welcome the fact that the Bill has shone a light on the interest from across the Committee in our public toilets, and I recognise the passion with which my colleagues have spoken of the need for adequate provision of accessible toilets in particular. I hope that the Committee will therefore allow me to conclude by reiterating the support of the Government for these vital facilities.

A number of noble Lords spoke about the importance of accessible toilets. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, again raised the issue of Changing Places toilets and the disbursement of the £30 million of funds. I am happy to give further details on the progress of that, I hope before Report. It is important to many people in the country that we ensure that the absence of accessible toilets is reduced, because lack of accessible toilets reduces the ability of people with a disability to make use of our public spaces with confidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised the important question of design and doors opening inwards, thereby reducing space. That is a good point, and everyone here nodded in agreement with that sentiment. So I am pleased to let the Committee know that a technical review is looking at the ergonomics and features of toilets and will I hope take some of these points on board. We hope to see an improvement in design in the future.

While the Bill is important, the provision of public toilets is rooted in a number of factors, and in the particular case of accessible toilets, the Government are providing direct grant funding. On this basis, and as the number of separately assessed public toilets is already published on an annual basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I agree with the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Greaves, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas of Winchester and Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lady Andrews. The decline in the provision of public lavatories is a matter of great concern. The adequate provision of toilets is a public health matter, as my noble friend Lady Andrews said in this debate.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that many accessible toilets are poorly designed, despite considerable sums of money having been spent on them. I also agree with her that the need to provide more toilets for women and for men, and more gender-neutral toilets, as well as accessible and Changing Places toilets, is of paramount importance. As I have said, it is about understanding needs, the lack of provision of toilets for women, and ensuring respect for difference, along with the provision of facilities that are clean, safe and secure, and which people feel are safe to use.

The Bill does not address these issues because of its narrow scope, but I am sure we all agree that those are important matters. They are relevant issues that need to be addressed. I was very pleased by the offer of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, to meet interested Peers between now and Report, along with representatives of the British Toilet Association, and I look forward to taking part. However, at this stage I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I have nothing really to add: the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has set out very clearly and carefully what he seeks to get from his amendment. As we have heard, it is a very good probing amendment that gives the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, the opportunity to set out carefully for the Committee what is meant by “or mainly”. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, this is a good House of Lords way of getting into the detail of the Bill, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. Amendment 7 seeks, of course, to provide a welcome definition of what “mainly” could be construed or interpreted as, giving weight to public use of public lavatories. I will leave it there, and I look forward to the Minister’s explanation.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am beginning to learn how the House works, and I appreciate the education; I am sure I will get used to this way of drawing out important information. These amendments probe the current definition of a public lavatory that would qualify for this relief, and seek to amend this definition to capture some of the facilities that the Bill does not currently cover.

The Government have carefully drafted the scope of the Bill, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out for the House the rationale behind this decision. Subject to Royal Assent, the relief within this Bill will apply to all hereditaments that

“consist wholly or mainly of public lavatories”.

Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, probes the meaning of “mainly” in this provision. The phrase “wholly or mainly” can be found across government legislation and, in particular, exists within that legislation which provides for an 80% business rate discount to properties used

“wholly or mainly for charitable purposes”,

as the noble Lord mentioned. Local authorities are responsible for deciding which properties are eligible for business rate relief, and the use of “mainly” provides for some discretion on their part.

However, I will directly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on how this would work in practice. Councils should reflect on all relevant matters, including any relevant case law and guidance, when making these decisions. The use of “mainly” means that an authority may, for example, look at the floor area of a building and see that less than 50% is being used directly as a public lavatory, but it may still feel that it meets the criteria for this relief because the remaining area is used as storage or for other matters of little consequence. That is very similar to the example that the noble Lord gave. The Government consider it right that the Bill provides local authorities with this level of discretion because these are decisions best taken on the ground and on the basis of local knowledge.

The second amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, follows on from the first and would act to define “mainly” within the Bill in reference to the extent to which a property is used as a public lavatory, rather than for other purposes. I appreciate that the intention of this amendment is to provide for the relief to be available to buildings that do not constitute separately assessed public toilets but that serve that purpose to a large extent. As I set out earlier, an expansion of the relief beyond those toilets that are separately assessed and have already been identified and separately rated would bring with it significant administrative burdens and costs.

In the case of this amendment, local authorities would be required to not just identify qualifying facilities but assess the extent to which the public are using them for different functions. The public use test would be particularly cumbersome because it would go beyond an assessment of a property’s physical elements and would require an analysis of the extent to which these elements are used by the public. The results of such a test could change relatively frequently, and local authorities may need to make the required assessment on a regular basis.

As currently designed, the measure in the Bill does not carry implementation costs disproportionate to the benefits to ratepayers, nor any significant implementation difficulties for local government. As such, we are not in favour of any amendment to this relief which would increase the complexity of its implementation, create unnecessary burdens for local authorities, or indeed create administrative costs disproportionate to the total benefit to ratepayers. However, I would be keen to engage with noble Lords on some of the technical reasons for not expanding the scope of the Bill.

I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his amendments, which probe the design of the relief before the Committee. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I do not consider that the potential benefits of the amendments would outweigh their substantial costs and I hope that the noble Lord will not press them.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. We are identifying issues the Government should reflect on before this Bill comes back on Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, has not sought to challenge my general point from my earlier remarks, that the position of the Government, in resisting any amendment here today, is that we are creating burdens on local authorities that far outweigh the benefits. Yet, as I have said, I have looked and cannot find any organisation from local government—the LGA, the Welsh LGA, the District Councils’ Network, London Councils, the National Association of Local Councils—or, in fact, any local council or local authority in England or Wales that would support the Government’s position. If they actually asked them, I suspect there would be a lot of support from local authorities for increasing the benefits of support for their network of public toilets. I will leave that point there, and at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Amendments 4 and 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, enable us to debate important issues. He seeks to ensure that lavatories that operate in accordance with national standards benefit from this relief.

The trade union Unison has campaigned on the issue of disability and the barriers that disabled people face when using a standard toilet. Many disabilities are hidden. The sign that we often see indicating disabled facilities is a person in a wheelchair, but fewer than 10% of people who meet the Equality Act definition of disability use a wheelchair. Signs that say “Some disabilities are invisible” have become more prevalent given the requirements of the pandemic restrictions. Crohn’s disease and colitis are two examples of conditions that may mean that a person has to use a disabled toilet facility while having no outward signs of disability.

As we move forward we need a greater understanding and respect for difference, and we must ensure that people are protected. These are not easy issues; if they were we would not be debating them today. What we also need is many more Changing Places toilets, which are a very important to cater for. We will get on to this later.

The comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, reminded me that all the toilets by the reception at Southwark Council are gender-neutral, individual toilets. They are there for public use. So things are certainly changing, but we must at all times have respect for difference and for people. As we move forward on these issues we must ensure we keep those thoughts to the forefront and provide the facilities that people need.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his amendments, which would provide the Government with the power to limit this relief to only those toilets that meet prescribed criteria of their choosing. The underpinning nature of the amendments is the desire to see toilets for all, and I am very supportive of the need to have toilets for those who need disabled access, gender-neutral toilets and gender-specific toilets. As I set out to the House earlier, the Government do not intend to limit the measure within the Bill to only those toilets that meet certain criteria. Subject to Royal Assent, the Bill will support the provision of separately assessed toilets across the country. I therefore do not agree that it would be right to make any amendments which could limit the benefits of this measure.

Furthermore, limiting the relief to only those public lavatories that fit a prescribed description would place a significant burden on local authorities, which will be responsible for administering the relief. Well-intentioned though the amendment is, it would weaken the effectiveness of the legislation were we to require its provisions to be subject to a new, locally administered system of controls.

While I appreciate the arguments that my noble friend Lord Lucas made in support of the Government having the power to make this relief more specific, any benefits must be weighed against the consequential impact on local authorities of using such a power. Although I do not think that the Bill would be improved by these amendments, I appreciate the points that my noble friend makes about the standards of our public toilets.

The Government are interested not just in the total number of public toilets in this country but in ensuring that everyone in our communities feels confident and comfortable using them. This means maintaining hygiene standards and ensuring fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets.

Noble Lords may therefore wish to note that the technical review of toilets launched by the Government will consider the ratio of female toilets needed versus the number for men and take into account the needs of all members of the community, to ensure fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets. The call for evidence, which closes on Friday, has received over 15,000 responses; a government response will be published in due course. As part of this review, the merits of any best practice guidance on the provision of gender-neutral toilets will be considered, alongside any guidance on the necessary provision of access to disabled toilets. These considerations also include provisions for older people and parents with very young children who need changing facilities.

I hope this reassures my noble friend that the Government are supportive of not just the total number of public toilets but the vital importance of ensuring that appropriate facilities are available to all. On this basis—and the basis that the potential administrative burden resulting from these amendments would outweigh the benefits—I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I was particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his explanation of what would appear to be a far simpler method of achieving what I am seeking to do. I might have a look at that before Report as it seems to be a simpler method.

I thank the Minister for his response. Obviously, I am pleased to learn of the additional government expenditure on Changing Places facilities. It is good to hear but we need to do more and go further. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raises an important point and I hope that the Minister will able to provide some clarity on it. The amendment, on the face of it, highlights what would be an incentive to keep a public lavatory open. I look forward to the Minister’s response because, from what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, it would be perverse if, by closing a public lavatory, one would be eligible for rate relief. I am sure that that is not the Bill’s intention but it is important to get clarity from the Government on the issue that the noble Lord rightly raised.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am happy to give that clarification. I understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his amendment and support what he is trying to achieve. However, let me set out why it is unnecessary. His aim is to ensure that the relief cannot be applied in circumstances where a public toilet is permanently closed and out of use. I can assure the noble Lord that this is the Government’s intention. The Bill is therefore structured to reflect that aim. The Bill will amend only Section 43 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which relates only to occupied hereditaments. The Bill would therefore ensure that the relief would apply only to eligible occupied hereditaments, not to unoccupied public lavatories. As usual, local authorities will be responsible for determining the award of relief, having regard to the legislation, as they do with other relief schemes.

I hope that that clarification on how the measure would apply will help the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments would require the Government to carry out an assessment of the impact of the relief on the provision of public toilets. The first, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require an assessment to be made within a year of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, while the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, would require an assessment of the impact to be published on a recurring, annual basis. The amendment tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Pinnock, would require an assessment to be made with particular reference to accessible toilets and Changing Places facilities. The fourth amendment, which has been tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Pinnock, would require such an assessment to review the impact of the relief on the cleanliness and maintenance of public toilets and the provision of baby changing facilities, in addition to the impact on the overall provision of public lavatories.

I appreciate the interest that noble Lords have in the efficacy of the measure within the Bill and assure the House that the Government keep all business rate reliefs under review. I also want to meet with interested noble Lords and the British Toilet Association before Report to see how we can review implementation of this relief. That is an important step and, I hope, will be an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that have been raised.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I will respond to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that I failed to answer earlier. I can confirm that the relief for all separately assessed toilets applies irrespective of ownership. I want to be clear on that point.

On the provision of public lavatories, the Committee may be interested in the data that is already published annually, to which I have already referred. There are some 3,990 separately assessed public toilets in England and Wales, and this figure is constantly updated and monitored. We do not want to see reductions, and it is clear that by significantly reducing the operating costs of these facilities, the measures in the Bill will help to keep public toilets open up and down the country.

While these measures constitute a significant element of support for these facilities, a number of other factors determine whether a toilet is able to remain open. Ultimately, the decisions on whether to maintain or close a facility must be made by the operator of the facility, often the local council. These decisions will usually be based on wider funding pressures, as well as the number of toilets elsewhere in the local area.

The Government strongly support the continued operation of our public toilets. As I set out earlier, we are providing £30 million of grant funding to directly support the provision of Changing Places toilets in particular. I also set out at Second Reading some of the good work that councils have undertaken through community toilet schemes to maintain and increase provision in their local areas. However, it is clear that there are a number of factors that determine whether a toilet is able to stay open, and it would not be possible to attribute any future changes in the overall provision of public lavatories, or facilities of any specific type, solely to the measures in this Bill. Equally, I do not envisage any direct link between business rates relief and the maintenance and cleanliness of existing public toilets. For this reason, and because the number of separately assessed public toilets is already published on an annual basis, I hope that noble Lords will agree that any assessment of the kind proposed would be unnecessary and an ineffective use of government resources.

However, I welcome the fact that the Bill has shone a light on the interest from across the Committee in our public toilets, and I recognise the passion with which my colleagues have spoken of the need for adequate provision of accessible toilets in particular. I hope that the Committee will therefore allow me to conclude by reiterating the support of the Government for these vital facilities.

A number of noble Lords spoke about the importance of accessible toilets. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, again raised the issue of Changing Places toilets and the disbursement of the £30 million of funds. I am happy to give further details on the progress of that, I hope before Report. It is important to many people in the country that we ensure that the absence of accessible toilets is reduced, because lack of accessible toilets reduces the ability of people with a disability to make use of our public spaces with confidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised the important question of design and doors opening inwards, thereby reducing space. That is a good point, and everyone here nodded in agreement with that sentiment. So I am pleased to let the Committee know that a technical review is looking at the ergonomics and features of toilets and will I hope take some of these points on board. We hope to see an improvement in design in the future.

While the Bill is important, the provision of public toilets is rooted in a number of factors, and in the particular case of accessible toilets, the Government are providing direct grant funding. On this basis, and as the number of separately assessed public toilets is already published on an annual basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I agree with the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Greaves, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas of Winchester and Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lady Andrews. The decline in the provision of public lavatories is a matter of great concern. The adequate provision of toilets is a public health matter, as my noble friend Lady Andrews said in this debate.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that many accessible toilets are poorly designed, despite considerable sums of money having been spent on them. I also agree with her that the need to provide more toilets for women and for men, and more gender-neutral toilets, as well as accessible and Changing Places toilets, is of paramount importance. As I have said, it is about understanding needs, the lack of provision of toilets for women, and ensuring respect for difference, along with the provision of facilities that are clean, safe and secure, and which people feel are safe to use.

The Bill does not address these issues because of its narrow scope, but I am sure we all agree that those are important matters. They are relevant issues that need to be addressed. I was very pleased by the offer of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, to meet interested Peers between now and Report, along with representatives of the British Toilet Association, and I look forward to taking part. However, at this stage I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

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

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Amendment 4, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, seeks to insert a new clause into the Bill which, as we have heard, would require an impact assessment of the timing of rates revaluations on local high streets and, importantly, would look at the impact on their ability to compete with businesses that operate online.

We have a serious problem with our high streets. The problem was in many cases a crisis before the pandemic, as we have discussed today on previous amendments. We can all point to the closed and boarded-up shops in areas that we know. The pandemic has created an even more serious problem for high streets and has put many businesses at risk. We need action from the Government to deal with all the issues that are destroying our high streets and our shopping parades.

We will all have seen the news that Boohoo is purchasing Debenhams and that ASOS is purchasing Topshop, but they are purchasing the names and not continuing with their high street presence. Why they are doing that is the question we need to look at. Clearly, they have taken the view that they do not need, or that it is too expensive to operate, a high street presence. This is why urgent action is needed. The issue with online retailers needs to be addressed. It has been discussed in the other place. My honourable friend the Member for Manchester Central, Lucy Powell MP, has said:

“The pandemic has accelerated changes to the way we shop, yet the government continues to disadvantage bricks and mortar businesses against online companies … The support on offer for struggling business has been a series of sticking plasters. Unless the Government puts in place a long-term plan to help high street businesses survive this crisis and recover on the other side, we will see more well-loved high street names vanishing, and many more jobs lost.”


I could not agree more. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, that we need vibrant, healthy town centres. As he said, the power to help the high street is in the hands of the Government. I hope the Minister will address that point.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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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.

No-fault Evictions

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I will look at what it will take to ensure that there are proper securities for renters, while recognising that we also need a healthy private rental sector and the role that good landlords play in that process.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. In March 2020, the Government made a commitment that no renter would lose their home due to coronavirus. Can the Minister tell the House how ending the evictions ban aids that commitment?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I point out that billions have been provided in welfare support. In addition, raising the local housing allowance of the lowest 30th percentile is adding nearly another £1 billion of support—some £600 of support to people—in the private rental sector. There is a great deal of support in addition to the discretionary housing payments. All of this shows that we are committed to supporting renters at this time, but we need to get the balance, with support for landlords.

Covid-19: “Everybody In” Scheme

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Monday 11th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the most important thing is to define terms. Certainly “rough sleepers” are very much considered to be a priority category. The right reverend Prelate makes a case for whether we should consider the broader category of those with a statutory duty to be housed, who may be in accommodation but not settled accommodation. I will take this forward and see how we can make sure that the vaccination goes to the most needed groups, which I am sure is the point behind the question.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. On the Minister’s responses, the solutions are by no means world-class, world-beating or world-leading; they are extremely disappointing. We had people sleeping rough on our streets last week and last night, and we will have them again tonight. If the Minister goes to Waterloo Station, he will see a whole group of tents there, with people sleeping under the bridge between the station and Waterloo Road. The Prime Minister and members of the Government tell us that this pandemic is serious; it is deadly serious, and lives will be lost. There is no justification for not getting every single homeless person off the street today. They have particular vulnerabilities and we must do this, because we are not doing what we did last time.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The noble Lord has reminded me to declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. I thank him for that. I understand where he is coming from. As a Government we have a moral mission to end rough sleeping. That is not an easy task, as the noble Lord knows, but we will do our utmost. The first thing is to prioritise the cash, with escalating amounts of money to do precisely that. We will need the support of local government. He points to Waterloo, and I know that is in the noble Lord’s “patch”, if you like, so we need the support of the London Borough of Southwark to show the leadership required to deal with this issue.

Leaseholders: Properties with Cladding

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 7th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, that is a very pertinent question and I thank my noble friend for raising it. There are ways to deal with that. Frankly, they have made large sums of money in the last few years and their profits are often publicly available. There is a soft power aspect: developers want to continue to build if they are in business, and they can afford £60,000 for a fire alarm and to pay for remediation costs. They do the right thing. We saw with the aluminium composite material programme that around half of building owners did the right thing and did not to have to resort to payment and subsidy by the taxpayer.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Does the Minister agree that it is important for all building owners and managers to be open, honest and transparent with leaseholders about the fire safety defects and other risks in their buildings as part of dealing with the cladding and fire safety scandal and future problems? Will he agree to look at what specific legislative measures could be included in the building safety Bill, including serious criminal sanctions for those who fail to do so?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, there will be a lot of legislative work in the next calendar year on the building safety Bill, and we still have the Fire Safety Bill to play ping-pong with. I will ensure that we consider the noble Lord’s proposals very closely indeed to ensure that we hold building owners to account. That is the whole idea of the building safety Bill: that there is an accountable person.

Religious Groups: Financial Support

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I completely agree on the role of British Sikhs. It is fundamental to their faith to help people in need, and, although I have only 15 followers, I specifically tweeted out my support for Langar Aid in Kent. It is alongside many charities, including the Salvation Army, which provided much needed sustenance at a very difficult time throughout the Christmas period.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, throughout the pandemic, faith groups have provided comfort, care, guidance and support for people and communities—as we saw in Gravesend with the Sikh community. We should pay tribute to them and thank them for that, but, as the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, said, we should go further. Will the Minister agree to speak to his colleagues in the Treasury to see what could be done through the tax system to provide bespoke levels of support to faith communities? I also join the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, in condemning those who wrongly seek to blame the Muslim community for the pandemic.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I will always commit to talking to the Treasury. I am not sure it will always listen to me, but I promise to make every endeavour and possible representation to ensure it sees the light and takes up the noble Lord’s suggestion.

Housing: Leasehold

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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All I can say is that there is a real commitment to drive forward reform. I am now the Minister responsible for leasehold, and the noble Lord will see action.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that any mechanism to enable leaseholders to acquire the freehold of their property should include all parts of the property, as recommended by the Law Commission, so that we do not end up in a situation where a leaseholder acquires the freehold of their flat and then another freeholder owns the communal staircase and the roof? In that case, you would have all sorts of problems in the future. If we are to have reform, we need to reform it properly.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is a very wise man. I cannot give him any particular position on enfranchisement today, but it is important that we take these points into consideration before we adopt a formal policy position.

National Planning Policy Statements: Climate Change

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the point around brownfield is very well taken. It is much better to build on brownfield than on greenfield land, although I have to say, from my own experience of 16 years as a local councillor, that CPO powers are not frequently used by local authorities. This is something that we need to think about; that power could be used to good effect.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Many local authorities have declared a climate emergency, but at the same time have opposed renewable energy developments or other developments in their areas that would be consistent with their policy intent. There is a real tension and a real inconsistency here, and it is the responsibility of the Government to deal with that. Does the noble Lord agree on that point and, if he does, what plans does he have to deal with it?

Leaseholders and Cladding

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests, as set out in the register. We are clearly making some progress with this Statement, but we need absolute clarity that no leaseholder or tenant will face any cost as a result of this scandal. Does the Minister accept that tenants and leaseholders are the innocent victims here? Does he also accept that redress for this scandal has to be by the builders who built the unsafe buildings, the people who signed them off as safe, and those organisations which provided insurances, warranties, guarantees and protections? It is regrettable that some of these companies are now trying to wriggle out of obligations that they gave.

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

Fire Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, in moving this Motion, I want to thank all those around the House who have taken part in the Bill’s passage so far. I am proud that this is the first Bill I have taken through your Lordships’ House solo.

The Bill represents a significant step towards delivering meaningful change so that a tragedy like that at Grenfell Tower can never happen again. The Government are, and always have been, committed to implementing the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 recommendations. The Fire Safety Bill is the first legislative step in this process, and, as I have stated before, we are committed to delivering the Grenfell recommendations through regulations following the fire safety consultation.

The building safety Bill will also deliver significant change in both the regulatory framework and industry culture, creating a more accountable system. Taken together, the Fire Safety Bill, the building safety Bill and the fire safety consultation will create fundamental improvements to building and fire safety standards and ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes.

Although this is a short, technical Bill, it is important to ensure we get the legislative sequencing right. I am therefore committed to delivering this Bill, which will pave the way for the Government to introduce regulations that will deliver on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 recommendations. We received 200 responses to our consultation, and I thank everyone who responded. I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his engagement with myself and the House in general as we have considered the Fire Safety Bill. The noble Lord engaged with Members of all parties and none in his friendly, engaging style. I very much appreciate that; it is the only way to do business in this House. I think the noble Lord will have a long career on those Benches, and I wish him well there. The Bill goes back to the other place in a much better state than it arrived here in. Important amendments have been passed. I hope the Government will reflect carefully on those amendments and not just seek to overturn them in the other place.

It was good that the noble Lord again confirmed that the Government are committed to implementing the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report. I am delighted to hear that, and we have passed amendments to facilitate that. I will say to the noble Lord and the Government that it is ridiculous that the Government keep voting against the pledges they make at the Dispatch Box and had in their manifesto. I hope they will take that on board in the other place. Surely it is right that a public register of fire risk assessments is available and kept up to date.

Finally, we must end the leasehold and tenant cladding scandal. These are the innocent victims; they must not bear the costs. The costs must be borne by the people who built the building—the warranty provider, the guarantors and the people who signed the buildings off as being fit for purpose—not by the poor tenants and leaseholders. All the amendments agreed by the House have gone to the Commons. I hope they will do the right thing in the other place and not just oppose them and send them back. I thank everybody who engaged in this Bill.

Towns Fund

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I welcome the towns fund, as getting funding to communities is always welcome news, but this whole issue has arisen because of concerns about how the funding is allocated. It must be fair and based on understandable criteria and a proper assessment of the need and must have clear goals. At no point should there ever be any suggestion that funding is taking place on political terms. What assurance can the noble Lord give the House that this has not been the case with funds allocated to date? Can he provide information on the different areas where funding was allocated or refused and on the criteria used by his department to make such decisions?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am very happy to provide an outline of how the towns were selected. Officials ruled out 541 towns based on their lower levels of deprivation. The remaining towns were ranked as higher, medium or low priority based on an evidence-based methodology. The top 40 high-priority towns were chosen for town deals. Ministers used their local knowledge to conduct a qualitative assessment when picking the remaining 61 towns. This involved—

Fire Safety Bill

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

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I am very happy to support government Amendments 7 and 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh. These amendments respond to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding, whose amendments I moved in Committee because he was having connectivity issues.

I have read the briefing from the Local Government Association, which confirms its support for the government amendments but reflects the concerns it raised about the fact that there were far too few fire risk assessors competent and insured to carry out the fire risk assessments of buildings with external wall cladding systems required under the Fire Safety Bill. We need to implement these powers quickly, and this is a reasonable way forward. The LGA is happy and I, too, am happy to support what the Minister is proposing today.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I will address a couple of points. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that I will endeavour to see that the regulation is written in plain English that even I can understand. In response to the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I agree that the timing is important, and guidance will be available at commencement.

These government amendments ensure that the risk-based guidance issued by the Secretary of State to support commencement of the provisions in the Bill that apply to all relevant buildings has the right legal status to incentivise compliance. These amendments also ensure that the Government can commence the Bill for all relevant buildings as early as possible after Royal Assent and at the same time as the risk-based guidance is issued.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that there should be no delays in bringing this Bill into force. I thank the task and finish group for all its hard work in developing the advice to the Home Office, which I consider the optimal solution for commencing the Bill. It is important that we get this right, which is why we have listened to the views of the experts who will have to implement the Bill. I beg to move.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to support the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on their amendments in this group. Both have comprehensively explained the intent of their amendments and, as I said, I fully support them. If the noble Baroness decides to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 10, I can assure her that the noble Lords on these Benches will support her in that endeavour.

Amendment 10 is particularly important as it talks about the public register of fire risk assessments, and I fully support it. As we heard from the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry and from elsewhere, the complete lack of important information about buildings is a huge issue. This amendment requires the Secretary of State to make provision for a register of fire risk assessments that is publicly available so that tenants and residents can see it. Importantly, the amendment also requires the register to be kept up to date. The relevant regulations would be brought before Parliament and subject to parliamentary procedure. I very much agree that there must be a safety-first approach to fire risk, and that is why I fully support these amendments.

Amendment 11 provides for a public register of fire risk assessors, which we have talked about. This amendment again raises an important issue that has arisen in a number of amendments throughout our consideration of the Bill; namely whether people are sufficiently qualified to do the assessments. Like many other noble Lords, I am concerned that we must never have fire risk assessment on the cheap. We need to have properly qualified people who know what they are doing and who can spot and correct the problems. A publicly available and up-to-date register of such people will make the difference.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, in speaking to Amendment 12, again made the point about permitted developments. It is absolutely right that fire safety and the work of the fire authorities is paramount when we are building buildings.

I fully support all the amendments in this group. As I said, if the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, tests the opinion of the House on Amendment 10, these Benches will support her.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord for raising this important issue on establishing a public register of fire risk assessments. The fire safety order currently places no requirement for responsible persons to record their completed fire risk assessments, save for in limited and specified circumstances. The self-regulatory and non-prescriptive nature of the fire safety order is the cornerstone of the legislation. It provides for a proportionate approach to effective regulation of fire-related risks across the wide range of buildings that fall within its scope.

I do, though, agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that it is of paramount importance that residents have access to the information they need to feel safe and be safe in their homes. However, the creation of a fire risk assessment register would place a new level of regulation upon responsible persons that could be seen as disproportionate. There are also questions in relation to the ownership and maintenance of such a register and where the costs would lie. There is a delicate balance to be struck.

The Government do, however, acknowledge that there is work to be done and that improvements can be made in respect of the sharing of important information with residents and other relevant persons. That is why the fire safety consultation set out a range of proposals to ensure that those persons are provided with vital fire safety information.

First, the fire safety consultation proposed to change the current position that a responsible person does not have to record their fire risk assessment by including a proposed new requirement on all responsible persons to record their full fire risk assessments. This would provide a level of assurance that their duty to complete a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been fulfilled. In addition, the consultation also included proposals for responsible persons to take steps to provide vital fire safety information to residents, including the fire risk assessments on request. We are considering responses to the consultation to ensure that we take the needs of residents into account when establishing the final policy approach. The full consultation can be found online at GOV.UK and we will publish a response at the earliest opportunity.

I turn now to the related amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, which seeks to create a public register of fire risk assessors. I agree with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that there is a clear need for reform in relation to fire risk assessors to improve standards. That is why the Government included a proposal for a competence requirement for fire risk assessors and other fire safety professionals in the recent fire safety order consultation.

Noble Lords will recall that, in Committee, I mentioned the work of the industry-led competency steering group and its subgroup on fire risk assessors. The group published a report on 5 October, which included proposals in relation to third-party accreditation, a competence framework for fire risk assessors and the creation of a register of fire risk assessors. The working group recommend that the register should be compiled from the existing registers and should be easy to use, with open public access to records of individuals and organisations. It is right that industry leads this work and continues to develop the competence and capacity of these professions.

I wish to assure your Lordships’ House that the Government are committed to working with the fire risk assessor sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. However, it is necessary to establish this basic principle of competence before we consider how the sector can be further professionalised. Again, the responses to the fire safety consultation proposals will inform the approach on issues relating to competence.

The right approach is for the Government to first establish a basic principle of competence and consider the competency steering group’s and subgroup’s proposals in relation to a register of fire risk assessors. The Government’s position is that this work should continue to be led and progressed by industry. We will support industry in taking forward this vital work.

Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Thursday 12th November 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant registered interests. We are in a second pandemic, the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer and colder, but we have a squabbling No. 10 and a shambolic Government, with no homelessness tsar in post. Can the noble Lord tell the House why there is such a poverty of ambition to prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets this winter? Where is the noble Lord’s zeal? Where is the fire in his belly to get homelessness finally sorted out?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, families do tend to squabble a bit, but that has nothing to do with the massive ambition we have for ending rough sleeping. Some £700 million has been committed to end rough sleeping with a world-class policy, a programme in three stages, and the recent announcement of a further stage of the Protect programme. Our swift action has been praised by leading stakeholders, including Shelter, Crisis, St Mungo’s and Thames Reach. The policy speaks for itself: lives are being changed for the better and I see that my colleague, Minister Tolhurst, continues to lead in this regard, under the benign direction of the Secretary of State.

Planning: Accessible Homes

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Wednesday 4th November 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend is right: we are living longer and getting older. It is important that we have accessible housing for the elderly and learn from models across the country where there is both public and private housing. Proposals for accessible housing have to be relevant to older people, as she so rightly states.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Charity in Southwark. As part of the modern almshouse that we are building, 11 of the 57 units will be for people with physical disabilities and fully wheelchair-accessible. This whole development has been the result of collaboration, with the developer delivering on its obligations to the community, Southwark Council providing the land and investment from United St Saviour’s to develop and manage the facility. What guarantees can the Minister give to the House to reassure us that this sort of development will be encouraged and supported in the new planning regime?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we recognise the importance of the almshouses and that they are growing at their fastest rate in more than a decade. We are currently consulting widely on the proposals for reform set out in the planning White Paper and will listen carefully to all the representations made, including from those representing almshouses.

Covid-19: Places of Worship

Debate between Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise that this is a difficult time for people of all faiths. Remembrance Sunday services are of course an important part of celebrating what generations before have done for this country, but they can take place at the Cenotaph in a Covid-secure way. I recognise the point that my noble friend makes but we should also recognise that British Hindus will not be able to celebrate their version of Christmas—Diwali—during this period, and there is also the birthday of Guru Nanak for British Sikhs. We understand that these are sacrifices but, as someone who, during the first lockdown, lost his mother, who was very much a believer, spent three days in hospital before she died and said her rosary every day, I understand what it means to have faith. On Sunday, for the first time, I was able to take my father, who survived, to the church where they worshipped every week. That was very difficult for me—he was very emotional—so I understand the point that my noble friend makes.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, will the Minister, if he has not done so already, read the letters to their congregations from the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the most reverend John Wilson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark? In times of great trouble, worry, hardship and national emergency, places of worship of all faiths offer beacons of light and comfort to many. The Minister has already heard the feelings from across the House about the points raised today; will he agree to talk to the Secretary of State and other ministerial colleagues to see what can be done to allow socially distanced worship to commence in some form as quickly as possible?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise that a difficult decision has been taken by this Government and we are bound by collective responsibility. However, I am very happy to make those representations on behalf of people of all faiths and none to ensure that the core mission of places of worship can be fulfilled at the earliest opportunity.

Fire Safety Bill

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

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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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)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of mhs homes. Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, with cross-party support, and Amendment 24, also in the name of the noble Lord, seeks to put improvements and protections for people living in high-rise residential buildings in the Bill.

As we have heard in this short debate, electricity causes more than 14,000 fires each year—almost half all accidental house fires. The amendments seek to provide practical protection for residents living in high-rise buildings, which total more than 1 million people. We are all sadly aware of the tragic and sometimes fatal consequences of people caught in fires in their own homes. As we have heard, these amendments would build on the regulations that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, worked so hard to introduce. It took some time for them to come into effect; the noble Lord was always committed to them and I always pushed him to bring them in sooner, but we are grateful to him for this work. I also join him in paying tribute to Electrical Safety First, which is a great charity that highlights the problems we have with electrical fires and how we need to ensure that electricity is made as safe as possible for us all.

These regulations go further and extend the protections in the regulations introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, so that tenants living in high-rise buildings will benefit from mandatory electrical safety checks every five years, with records kept by the responsible person and made available to the fire services, local authorities and, importantly, the residents association if one is in place.

In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord made a powerful point, in that those who live in a high-rise block of flats include social tenants and owner-occupiers, neither of whom need electrical safety tenants, but private tenants would now need checks. If you are not checking the whole building, it is not safe at all. That is an important and powerful point, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, addresses it in his response.

Secondly, these amendments would require the responsible person to keep a register of white goods in the high-rise buildings for which they are responsible. I am supportive of these proposals, as we need high standards to keep people safe from the risk of fire started by electrical ignition. We have already mentioned the tragic incidents in recent years—not only Grenfell but Lakanal House and Shepherd’s Court—but equally I accept that there can be issues with getting access to flats and keeping the register of these goods up to date, which can provide a logistical challenge for people. There is also the question of new and second-hand goods.

I entirely accept that the product recall system is not working well. The London Fire Brigade had its Total Recalls campaign, which highlighted the problems with the recall system. We need something better than we have now because, as I said, keeping track of white goods is a huge challenge. Whether we accept these amendments or not, what we have at present cannot continue. We have to do something else.

I hope that, when the Minister responds to the debate, he sets us on that path. I suggest that he facilitates a meeting between Electrical Safety First, his officials and Members of this House who want to discuss how we can find a practical solution to the serious point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I also suggest that the London Fire Brigade in particular is involved in those discussions because of its campaigning work. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate and his delivery of that meeting.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I would say first that we do need to look at the effective Berlin Wall between social housing and private housing, and in mixed sustainable communities where there are different tenures, we need to look at how we can ensure consistency and thus the safety of all residents. I am of course prepared to meet the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Electrical Safety First and other groups as soon as possible.

I thank my noble friends Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, for the amendment. This is clearly an important issue. Faulty electrical appliances are often the causes of fires in high-rise residential buildings, a point that has been made clear. However, before turning to the amendment, I would like to explain the work being done across government to improve electrical safety in residential buildings.

As my noble friend Lady Eaton pointed out, in 2018 a new national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, was created to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system including responding to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it is placed on the market and to ensure that manufacturers monitor products already on the market where appropriate and undertake sample testing of equipment. There are criminal sanctions for those who do not comply. Importantly, the draft building safety Bill proposes an obligation on residents to keep electrical installations and appliances that they are responsible for in their property in working order. There is also a provision for the accountable person for a building to take action where they or a competent person have reasonable grounds for believing that a resident or their landlord is failing to meet this obligation. In addition to this, the Home Office’s “Fire Kills” campaign plays an incredibly important part in promoting electrical fire safety messages, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Bourne.

The new Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 are now in force for new tenancies and will apply to existing tenancies from 1April 2021. These regulations require that electrical installations must be inspected and tested by a qualified and competent person at least every five years, as highlighted by noble Lords, and that an electrical installation condition report be provided to tenants and local housing authorities on request.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on why mandatory checks apply only to private housing and not to public housing, the situation is that social landlords are expected to comply with the Decent Homes standard from the Regulator of Social Housing. This includes homes being free of hazards, including electrical hazards, as set out under the housing health and safety rating system. In the social housing Green Paper, we asked if new safety measures in the private rented sector should be extended to the social sector, including electrical safety checks. We will bring forward a social housing White Paper soon. I will however take the issue away for further consideration, I have already offered to hold a meeting, and I will provide an update on Report.

My noble friend Lady Couttie raised the practicalities of the implementation of such a system by registered social landlords and local councils with a large amount of council stock. I want to reassure your Lordships that we will continue to work across government to identify any further gaps in the electrical safety regime.

I now want to explain some of my concerns with this amendment. In particular, it does not achieve its intended effect. For example, there is doubt that the amendment would result in electrical appliances in private dwellings being brought within scope of the fire safety order. I suspect that this was not the intention. In any case, my noble friend will be aware that domestic premises are specifically excluded under the fire safety order, so this amendment intends to significantly broaden the scope of the legislation. I am also concerned that it proposes to require occupiers to provide access to the responsible person to enter the private dwellings. This would result in a significant level of intrusion and the implications of this need to be carefully thought through before any decision is made to legislate on the issue.

The proposed new schedule also intends for the responsible person to keep a register of electrical appliances for their building. This proposed duty will have a significant impact on the responsible person. For local authorities, and indeed all responsible persons, I do not want to create this additional burden. It is unrealistic to expect responsible persons to have an up-to-date register of electrical appliances for their building. This will also have a significant impact on fire and rescue services, who will need to check whether the electrical appliances register is accurate, which could involve inspecting all homes in a block of flats.

Given the assurances that I have provided, coupled with my commitment to provide an update on the next steps with regard to the social housing White Paper, along with my commitment to the meeting requested by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for making those points and representing the deep issues faced by consumers. Essentially, there are three. Thousands of leaseholders are facing the terrible situation that their property is valued at nothing. They have put in their life’s savings to buy a property, and they cannot remortgage or move. The pace of remediation has now slowed because of an inability to get assessments carried out by the relevant person or because they do not feel that they have insurance cover to do it. That is another issue. At the same time, because the pace of remediation has been affected, they face interim costs. I pointed out that they could be dramatically reduced, in most instances, by putting in an alarm system.

My noble friend is quite right—I have had these discussions with the insurance industry—that there are great measures, such as sprinklers, that reduce risk and ensure that a building is safer. That is why the Government legislated to put in sprinklers in all new builds above 11 metres. I am happy to meet my noble friend and any other noble Lords on these important issues, because we all share the objective of finding the right approach to deal with these great issues that face many hundreds of thousands of leaseholders in high-rise residential buildings up and down the country.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, it was good to hear the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, in responding to this debate. I have no doubt of his sincerity in wanting to address the issues raised by the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, but my view, held with equal sincerity, is that we have not moved as quickly as we should have. The Government have moved too slowly. They need more urgency in dealing with the issues that arose from the fire at Grenfell Tower, which took place on 14 June 2017—some 40 months ago.

Capacity to deliver the requirements is an issue, which has been raised in a number of groups of amendments, as is the qualification level of the people undertaking this work. We must have professionally qualified experts undertaking such important work. If unqualified people are approved to do work arising from the Bill, it would show me that the Government have not learned the lessons. This is a slippery slope to further failures in the future. If one more life is lost, it will be one life too many. It is really important to get this right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentioned sprinklers; she is absolutely right. Sprinklers have been in new homes, flats and halls of residence in Wales since 2011. It was the Labour Member Ann Jones who passed the legislation through the Welsh Assembly, some nine years ago. That is one case where the Government could learn from what has happened in another institution in our United Kingdom.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As in other debates, we have highlighted significant outstanding issues. The Government should take this opportunity to reflect on the issues that have been raised in Committee; I hope that they will agree to come back on Report and actually move on some of them. Although we all want to make progress, speed is the issue for us and we want to move forward where we can. As I said before, it is 40 months since the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

I will come back to this and many other issues on Report. I will make it clear to the noble Lord now: if we do not see some progress, we will divide the House many times on Report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has spoken in this debate, which has been very useful. In particular, I thank the noble Lord for his response.

I agree very much with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about the need for swift action. As we have discussed on previous amendments, there is the whole issue of building owners, insurance, guarantees and warranties, and we need to get to the bottom of that. I know that in the weeks ahead the noble Lord will be meeting people who are concerned about that, and that is very good.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that the responsible person must actually be a person. It cannot be a company or some entity, particularly one based on the other side of the world. It must be a real person in the UK, and we must have their name, address, phone number and email address so that we know exactly how to get hold of them. That is really important.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley spoke about the importance of sprinklers. The Government have made so