Housing: Section 21 Evictions

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Tuesday 20th February 2024

(4 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we keep this matter closely under review. We do not see evidence of a reduction of available rental properties in the market and would be concerned if we did. We have worked very hard to make sure that these reforms work for landlords and tenants.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, do the Government agree that the housing shortage has in some cases led to people queueing up to get access to a rented property? Under those circumstances, does the Minister agree that the contract between the landlord and the tenant is often not fair, because one is at a serious disadvantage?

Local Planning Authorities: Staffing

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Monday 12th February 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we recognise this as a source of delays. In addition to the planning skills delivery fund, we have put in place the “planning super-squad”, backed by £13 million of funding. It deploys teams of specialists into planning authorities to accelerate the delivery of homes and developments.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, it certainly will not wash that, after 13 years of cuts, including to these departments, the Government then in the last two years start to increase it slightly. It will not compensate anything near what has been lost to local authorities in their planning and other departments.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, one of the things we have done in our recent changes is make provision for the indexing of planning fees going forward. That will ensure not only that local authorities will benefit from the substantial increase in fees that were put in place in December this year but that, on an annual basis, the value of those fees will be retained in future.

Housing: Accessibility Standards

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Monday 5th February 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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It is under this Government that we have seen some of the highest housebuilding rates in 30 years. We are on track to deliver 1 million new homes during the course of this Parliament. We are not trading off different standards, but we do need to consider whether any new standards we bring in are deliverable by builders and allow us to meet the needs of local communities and of our environment, and the need to build more homes.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government do not seem to like timelines. The Minister says that there is an organisation responsible for bringing this about, so why does she not open a discussion with it to find out how long this will take it to implement, and have some timelines that people can work to and understand?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I reassure the noble Lord that the Government are in regular contact with the building safety regulator. It was created by the Building Safety Act in 2022 and will become fully operational next April. Since its inception, it has been building its capacity around a number of standards, as we have heard—and we have not touched on the broader building safety standards attached to fire and cladding. It is taking forward its work at pace.

Green Spaces

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Thursday 1st February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I am happy to look in more detail at the proposal put forward by the noble Baroness and to write to her on what the Government can do in this area.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister talks about open green space, but many urban areas do not have any, as we have heard. Is there a case for allowing some development in the green belt if the developer agrees to have green space in urban areas for people to access?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I do not believe it should be an either/or. The green belt is rightly protected, and the Government’s approach to that is set out clearly. For urban green space, that is also reflected in the National Planning Policy Framework. It is clear that access to high-quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and physical activity are important to the health and well-being of communities. Planning policies and decisions should enable the retention and development of accessible open spaces. That is what local plans should seek to do.

General Elections: Party-political Spending

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Wednesday 29th November 2023

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I am not sure of exactly what my noble friend refers to. None the less, it sounds like a serious matter that I would want to speak to him about after this Question.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Given the past scandals of money going into the Tory party over the last few years and influence that has been given to those people as a result, should we not reduce, and not increase, this amount of money?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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Perhaps the noble Lord will be reassured that a process of consultation went on in regard to uprating these spending limits. Members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel were first consulted by the Cabinet Office in 2020. Since then, we have uprated the limits for local government elections, which I believe has passed without problem. In September 2022, the Government again wrote to members of the panel. There is a need for change; some of these limits have not changed for over 20 years. We are simply restoring the levels that were previously set out in law by Parliament.

Local Authorities: Budgets

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Tuesday 19th September 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I repeat what I said about the recent spending review being the largest increase to core spending powers for local government in over a decade. Additionally, we have put significant support into the arts and culture sector through not only the culture recovery fund during the pandemic but, for example, support to swimming pools— they face high energy costs during the current period of inflation—in the last Autumn Statement. We continue to provide that specific support.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, have the Government not been fiddling with the local government finance system for years? Do we not now need an academic study to come forward with a plan for local government funding that takes into account deprivation and the need to spend?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I do not agree with the noble Lord’s analysis but, as I said to the noble Baroness in my Answer, our approach takes councils’ relative needs into account. We recognise that this may need to be looked at again but, to provide councils with certainty, that will not be done during this spending review period; it will be looked at after the next Parliament.

Inheritance Tax: Cohabiting Siblings

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Tuesday 20th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I have to disagree with my noble friend that the wealthiest do not pay inheritance tax. Statistics from 2019-20 show that tax paid on estates valued at £1 million or more accounted for 82% of total inheritance tax liability for that year. When it comes to reforming inheritance tax and looking at areas such as agricultural property relief and business property relief, we would need to be really careful about considering the impacts of changing that approach on family farms and family businesses before taking forward such changes.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister said that the Government introduced the pension changes to help GPs to be retained in the National Health Service. However, is it not the case that the majority of the savings will go to rich people rather than GPs?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I have to disagree with the noble Lord. The feedback we have had comes not just from the medical profession but from people in many other public service jobs who benefit from defined benefit contribution pension schemes and who have found their annual allowance and the lifetime allowance to be a real barrier to staying on in their work. It was in response to campaigns such as those from the BMA that the Government took action.

Tourist Spending: VAT

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Wednesday 24th May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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As I have said to noble Lords, the Treasury took into account a wide range of information when reaching its decision. Indeed, the Treasury was judicially reviewed on the decision to withdraw the VAT RES scheme in Great Britain and successfully defended it, with the judge noting the thorough government analysis. As more evidence and data emerge in this area, we will of course keep it all under review.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, perhaps the Minister could give us two figures. What has been the increase or decrease in VAT since this change took place, and what has been the increase and decrease of sales in duty-free shops?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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It is difficult to disaggregate the impact of this policy versus the overall take of VAT, which will be affected by a wide range of economic factors during this time. When we think about the tourism sector, we must remember that China represents a large number of visitors to the UK and China opened up only at the beginning of this year. Based on that, we hope to see a stronger recovery this summer, compared with previous summers.

Theatre Tax Relief

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Thursday 9th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the creative industries are one of the most successful industries in the UK. Is there not a lesson in that the more support the Government give them, the more successful they are? Do we need a cross-party approach to this, so that all departments contribute in the way that they do, for example, in Ireland?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I absolutely agree with the noble Lord about the contribution made by the creative industries to our economy and society. That is why the Government put such world-leading support into them. I am sure that we welcome the cross-party approach of Labour supporting the Government in this area.

Wales: Additional Financial Resources

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Wednesday 18th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, there was a considerable extension to the Welsh Government’s powers relatively recently, and I would put the emphasis on those powers being used to their fullest effect before we return to this question again.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that the allocations to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were made before the Tory Government wrecked the economy? Is it not time that we reviewed those allocations and, at the same time, the pay issue, which was also set before the Government wrecked the economy? That has had a dramatic effect on both.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, if the noble Lord is talking about levels of inflation, they have been largely driven by external factors such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As I have already reassured the House, in addition to the fact that the 2021 spending review settlement was the largest since the devolution Act, it is also growing in real terms this year and over the spending review period, even taking into account that higher level of inflation.

Stock Markets

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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The noble Lord will know that risks come alongside being a premier financial centre. The important thing is that we take action to address those risks. That is what the Government have been doing and will continue to do. We had part one of the economic crime Bill in the previous Session and part two will be forthcoming.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the rest of Europe faces the same problem as the UK. Why are we are being hit harder than many other European countries?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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The noble Lord is right in one respect: both the rest of Europe and the UK face heightened energy prices as a result of the war in Ukraine, and jurisdictions such as the US do not face equal pressures. But the UK also faces a tightness in its labour market that we see in the US, for example, that is not seen in other European countries. Factors have come together to make things harder for the UK in the current circumstances.

Primary Care: Quality and Access Improvements

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Thursday 21st July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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On infection control, the NHS continues to keep in place the right infection control measures proportionate to the risk. While free testing is not available to the general population, tests are still available where they may be needed. On the vaccine, my understanding is that it continues to be effective against the variants, and last Friday we announced our acceptance of the JCVI recommendation that all over-50s be offered a booster this year. We will also continue to keep in place the extended flu vaccine eligibility that we had last year.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that this crisis has been made worse by the changes to the pension scheme for GPs? What are the Government going to do about that?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have taken action in terms of the annual pension allowance. We are also aware of the issue of the lifetime allowance for GPs. However, it is generally still in the interests of GPs to stay in the profession even when they hit their lifetime allowance. The NHS is working to raise awareness of pensions and the true value of the pension reward package. We know that the lifetime allowance is not the only driver for early retirement. Last year’s GP Worklife Survey reported that the most considerable job stressor is GPs’ increasing workloads, which is why we are so focused on increasing the number of staff in those practices to help deal with that workload.

Contaminated Blood Scandal: Interim Payments for Victims

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Wednesday 20th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is extremely important that all those who have suffered so terribly get the answers that they have spent decades waiting for. The chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, has made clear his determination to complete his work as quickly as thoroughness allows. Many of the infected will not live to see the inquiry’s conclusions. When that work is complete, I am sure that Ministers will want to return to the House to reflect on the outcomes of the inquiry.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, are the Government considering introducing a similar system to that introduced for miners’ compensation? That took away the need for individuals to make claims and speeded the process up. Have they looked at that as a potential model?

Ambulance Services and National Heatwave Emergency

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord will know very well, we have put increased funding into our social care system, but we also have in place a national discharge task force to drive further progress and support regional and local system arrangements. That has membership from local government, the NHS and national government. Local health and social care partners are already standing up the use of additional action to support discharge and improve patient flow. The task force is looking at a number of interventions—for example, identifying patients needing complex discharge support early and ensuring multidisciplinary engagement in the early discharge plan. There is more support going into social care, but there is also a specific piece of work with the national discharge task force.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, have not the Government created the perfect storm? First, they cut the number of beds available, then they cut social care, then they do not plan for the number of doctors that we need, then they have Covid and now they have heat. What are the Government doing to address the long-term problem of hospitals that are underfunded and do not have enough beds, not enough GPs, accident and emergency units stopping functioning and the ambulance services being in crisis? What are the Government doing?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I am not sure that the Government are responsible for Covid. The pressures that we have seen on ambulances have come since the pandemic; we were seeing a much more effective ambulance service prior to that. But we need to fix that so, as well as the specific action that we are taking to improve resources in ambulances, including more staff, more call handlers and more funding into the 111 service, we also have a long-term plan for the NHS that is putting record funding into the NHS. We have also created integrated care boards to ensure integration between health and social care in local areas.

Financial Inclusion

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Monday 11th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I absolutely agree with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend about the importance of financial inclusion. The Government recognise that there has been strong interest in the proposal for the FCA to be given a separate “have regard to” financial inclusion duty. However, at present the Government’s position remains that the FCA’s existing objectives and regulatory principles are already well aligned with the objectives of financial inclusion. We do not believe that a separate “have regard to” financial inclusion duty would necessarily lead to a different approach or tangible improvements over the current arrangements with regard to the aim that we all want to see: greater financial inclusion and less exclusion.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government say that they are in favour of this, but they are watching as banks close in many communities. Many poor areas have no bank, at a time when those banks have seen soaring profits. When are the Government going to act to do something about this, to make sure that people have access to banking services?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, there are existing obligations, which are enforced by the Payment Systems Regulator, but noble Lords will also know that the Government are committed to legislating to protect access to cash. Those measures will be included in the forthcoming financial services Bill.

Insurance Industry: Travel Premiums

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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Age can be a risk factor in the provision of insurance. It is right for the market to take that into account but, where there are examples of discrimination that go beyond assessment of the risk factor, that is for the FCA to consider as the regulator of the market.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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The Government rely on the regulator, but is not the problem that many regulators do not do the job, be it water, insurance or many other areas? What are the Government doing to monitor the performance of regulators and, when they fail, to remove and replace them?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I think I have explained one action that the regulator has already taken in respect of this question, on the signposting agreement that came into place in April last year. The FCA has also acted on general insurance pricing practices, where it was found that existing customers renewing their insurance were being charged unfair rates so that insurers could offer new deals to people who were prepared to move. As I said, the FCA has taken action on that front. Since 1 January 2022, new rules have been in place. As I also said, the Government have the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum, bringing together market operators and the regulator to look at questions of financial inclusion and see what we can do. The Government publish an annual report on the action taken within that forum.

School Governing Bodies: Diversity

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Thursday 28th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I know that there are arrangements in place to allow people to take leave to fulfil voluntary obligations. I know that it is unpaid at the moment. I will take that suggestion back to the department.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government have weakened the role of local authorities in schools. How are governing bodies that are faced with failed schools going to get the level of support that they need to bring about change in those schools?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, there are effective arrangements in place to ensure that governing bodies in maintained schools and boards in academy trusts get the effective support they need to fulfil their role in our education system.

Chelsea Football Club

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Thursday 31st March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I have heard reference to Chelsea as DCMS FC, but I should be clear that financial sanctions do not change the ownership of the frozen assets. The Government would like to see the club sold to an appropriate owner before the end of the season, but we do not want to prejudge that process; that is for Chelsea to undertake. I understand that the initial bidding round has now closed and the Government expect to hear soon regarding Chelsea’s preferred bids.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the Government’s position that they are leaving it to the Premier League to decide whether people are fit and proper to run a football club? Is not the Premier League having a regulator imposed on it because it has failed to do its duty in the past?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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The noble Lord is quite right that football has had numerous opportunities to get its house in order. It has failed to do so. That is why we undertook the fan-led review and are considering its recommendations very carefully.

Financial Conduct Authority: Financial Inclusion

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Tuesday 22nd March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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As I am sure my noble friend knows, since 2019 the Government have chaired the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum, which brings together the Government, the FCA, industry and consumer groups to deliver on the aims that he has set out. We are aware that there have been responses to the recent future regulatory framework review on the question of a “have regard” duty to financial inclusion. The Government are considering all the responses to that consultation and will set out their response in due course.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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When the Government last discussed this, they said they would try to make sure that there was a bank left in every community, and that they were working on that policy. I remind the Minister that there are record numbers of closures, leaving many vulnerable communities without a bank. When are the Government going to take some action—or are they going to wait until all the banks have closed before they do anything?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we are taking action in a number of areas. As we have committed to previously, we will ensure that we legislate to ensure access to cash. There are also some industry led-solutions under way, with five new bank hubs set up this year that allow different banks to pool their services together to ensure that communities still have access to those important services.

National Insurance Contributions

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Penn
Monday 7th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I say to the noble Lord that it is important to take the impact of national insurance and income tax together. When you do that, the combined tax rate for those earning in the lower bracket is 32% and, in the upper bracket, it is 42%. So, overall, we still have a progressive system.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, there is no doubt that the social care and health sectors need money from the taxpayer, but why can it not be from those people who are the richest—the large companies that pay no tax? When will the Government get round to them, rather than oppressing ordinary working families?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, an important aspect of the health and social care levy is that it is paid by employers as well as employees—because they benefit from having a healthy, supported workforce. Of course, we have also announced increases in corporation tax, because the Government did an awful lot to support businesses during the pandemic and everyone needs to contribute now to getting us back on to a path of sustainable finances.