HMRC Self-assessment Helpline

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The helplines that would have closed relate to VAT and PAYE and self-assessment. HMRC is putting in various digital solutions to ensure that people can access A1 forms as quickly as possible and, as with all other forms of tax, accessing online is quicker, can be more convenient and certainly offers the best value for money for the taxpayer.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that the people who carried out this assessment are the same people who have been failing the public for many years? Who carried that assessment out? Does the Minister understand that many people who try to contact the tax office do so after they have failed to get through or get any answers from the online service?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I accept that that can be the case. There is a digital assistant in the first instance, which is like a chatbot which can help with very simple inquiries; then it goes on to web chat; and then if the person on the other end of the web chat says that they cannot help, of course one is then able to phone HMRC. HMRC monitors all its channels for levels of confidence, levels of access, emotional state, mental health capability, comprehension and disability, and those people are referred to the extra support service team.

Electronic Payment Devices

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(3 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Regulations that were introduced at any particular point in time have become out of date very quickly. Underpinning the work we are doing is the Equality Act 2010. The whole point about having an independent regulator in the FCA is that its rules can change quickly. The FCA issues guidance which sets out how financial services organisations need to ensure that people with disabilities, who may be more vulnerable, get the support they need. That is better than regulation: having the FCA as an independent regulator is more agile than having straight government regulation.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government’s regulators fail to protect the public. Virtually every regulator is failing to do its duty, while the Government stand by and do nothing. We need a regulator for the regulators.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I am here to speak for all regulators. However, the consumer duty was introduced, whereby the FCA must ensure that the financial services sector is delivering good outcomes to prevent harm. That was introduced only in July 2023 and will take a little while to bed in. We will monitor the outcomes of that consumer duty to ensure that it is having the impact on disabled and other vulnerable customers that we need to see.

Overseas Territories: Tax Haven Status

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Monday 26th February 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I absolutely agree that we need to support the overseas territories. We have the skills, capacity and capability to do that, and that is what we do—but recognising that the relationship with each of them can be very different. They have elected Governments of their own. Those Governments are responsible for their domestic affairs. The noble Lord mentioned timeframes of five years. The British Virgin Islands, which I admit is probably towards the end of introducing the beneficial ownership registers, is looking at putting a framework in place no later than quarter 2 of 2025.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, can the Minister explain why, at a time when British people are paying more tax than they ever have done, the richest people in the world and in this country are avoiding tax altogether—people such as the part-owner of Manchester United, who now apparently wants the taxpayer to give him billions of pounds to invest in his business? Where is the fairness in that?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Obviously, I cannot comment on any individual’s tax affairs, but it is the case that overseas territories are non-sovereign jurisdictions. They have a unique relationship as part of the British family, but they set out their own tax legislation within their own legal structures and it is certainly not for the UK Government or Parliament to drive a coach and horses through that.

Buy Now, Pay Later: Regulation

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Wednesday 7th February 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I do not always. There seems to be a “computer says no” attitude to newfangled things. I absolutely reject that. While noble Lords may or may not use buy now, pay later, I know many young people who do, and they do so very successfully. I would not want to overregulate a product or get it wrong, thereby causing that product to be removed from the market.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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The Minister says that there needs to be regulation, that the Government have gone out for consultation and that they are now considering it. To ask the same question I ask of Ministers all the time: where is the timeline for that? When will the Government act rather than talk?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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We will act by publishing the results of the consultation and our response to it in due course.

NatWest: Account Terminations and Branch Closures

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Wednesday 10th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to highlight to the House that that statutory instrument, laid before Christmas, comes into force today. It means that banks should not treat all politically exposed persons the same; domestic politically exposed persons, as well as their family members and close associates, will be subject to a lower level of checks. In terms of “know your client”, it is important that we have the right balance between the information the banks have about the client and any concerns about their involvement in illicit finance. There are money laundering regulations in place but they are not prescriptive—firms must apply them in a proportionate fashion and appropriate guidance for banks on customer due diligence has been published by the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, does it not show the weakness of the present regulation when banks are closing thousands of their branches all around the country, withdrawing services to their customers, and then promising banking hubs that they do not introduce? Do we not need stronger government and stronger regulation?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I have to disagree, because that is exactly what we did, by making the change in the Financial Services and Markets Act. We are now putting that into place. Now, of course, we cannot do that immediately. A consultation is live at the moment and it will bring together all the information we need to ensure that customers get the banking services they need.

Financial Stability: Private Equity Firms

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Wednesday 13th December 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am not aware that there was a question there—but if the noble Lord wants to send his sympathies, I am sure they will have been heard.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Given the recent problems with the Truss Budget, was the Bank of England informed of the Budget before it was announced—and if not, why not?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am afraid that the noble Lord speaks about things I have no knowledge of.

Great British Railways

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Wednesday 28th June 2023

(12 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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There are so many factors involved in looking at comparative performance between the different train operating companies, and the Government publish as much data as they can. I pay tribute to staff at LNER, and agree that it offers a great service. However, I took a train up to Norwich last week, and I had great service on that too.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, amid the claims about the number of journeys, what about the cost? It is now cheaper to fly to New York than to travel from Manchester to London on the train.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government are always looking at what we can do to improve the services and passenger experience on our railways. We are looking at simplifying fares. The noble Lord will know that we have introduced single-leg pricing on LNER and are looking to potentially do a trial around demand-based pricing. All of these things will serve to put downward pressure on prices.

Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 13th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government have already recognised the strong case for sustainable aviation fuel for all types of flying, whether short- or long-haul. We will implement a sustainable aviation fuel mandate requiring operators to use 10% SAF by 2030, which acts as a pull on the market. Therefore, we are considering what else needs to be done to make SAF plant projects in the UK investible. This will not be a government-sponsored contract for difference as the SAF mandate does an awful lot of the heavy lifting, but we are working very closely with industry to look at an industry-led solution to improve the revenue certainty when it comes to SAF.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that this small island is crying out for a land strategy policy, and that the House of Lords Land Use in England Committee recommended that we have the strategy and resources for it, and that all departments take part? Does the Minister share my disappointment that this is not happening?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I understand that it is happening, but I am slightly more excited by the biomass strategy, which will look at all the elements of biomass—what their potential uses are for our domestic environmental goals but also how they interact with our land-based goals. Therefore, we will also have the opportunity to look at our sustainability criteria, and how they can be strengthened in the context of looking at land strategy.

Railways: Trans-Pennine Express

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 23rd May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I absolutely agree with my noble friend. The railways are in a very poor financial place at the moment, with revenues between £50 million and £130 million less than they were before. That is why we must see reform of the railways if they are to have a viable future. That reform can happen only if we get the co-operation of the unions, which I am sure want to ensure a long-term future for their workers. I am grateful for all the work that my noble friend does in the north. The Secretary of State has asked officials to review services across the north to look for performance improvements and delivery certainty, and is looking to work with northern mayors and other stakeholders to make those improvements.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, before the strikes took place, the railway was still a shambles. Can the Minister tell us why every European nation seems to be able to run a train service, while Britain cannot? Is it because the dogma that runs this Government means that they will not look at privatisation and bringing the railway system back into public ownership, like many other countries?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am not wholly sure where the noble Lord gets that evidence from. Certainly, if he goes back to look at the period before industrial action really took hold, he will see that many of the train operating companies were working exactly to contract and better, and therefore getting performance fees. I want to point out as well—I think it is important—that while I absolutely note that some noble Lords will have had trouble travelling recently, those noble Lords who have not, such as me, will not say that they actually had a very good service. But I have had a fantastic service on LNER, on South Western Railway and on Avanti.

Bus Services

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Thursday 30th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I absolutely accept what my noble friend is saying. From the Government’s perspective, we have had to see what happens to patronage and where service levels have ended up, given the current levels of support. We are also looking at the impact of the £2 bus fare cap. All these things are going into our analysis of what we may be able to do to support the bus sector after 30 June.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that what is called for is regulation, and that if we reintroduce it right across the board and give those powers back to local authorities, they will be far more efficient in their use of bus resources?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I keep hearing this from the Labour Party, and I am not entirely sure which regulations and powers Labour is proposing to give back to local transport authorities. As the noble Lord well knows, at the moment, local transport authorities are required to produce an enhanced partnership, which is between them and the bus operators. If they do not want to do that, they can take all the powers they want and franchise the whole system.

Train Services: North of England

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Monday 27th February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am not sure about the subsidies to which the noble Lord refers. There are complex contractual arrangements around what Avanti is entitled to, and the Government make sure that we abide by those contracts. The key here—I do not think I have emphasised this sufficiently previously—is that we need to ensure that we get the workers back to work and get the workforce reform that we need. I am very concerned that rail workers are being led by their union leaders towards a point where there will be no long-term jobs for them, and no railway system for passengers either. It is not the case that when a railway worker strikes they lose their pay just for that day; we are also weakening the system as a whole for the future.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case, though, that the publicly run rail service is far more effective than the ones run by Avanti and the private sector? What lessons has the Minister learned from the difference in performance figures between those in public and private ownership?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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There are all sorts of reasons and criteria as to why one train operating company runs better than another. Often, it can be due to engineering works—if you are upgrading a main line, for example. There are all sorts of different things that can happen. However, the Government do learn lessons from train operators’ performance, comparing one against the other. We take those lessons forward and, particularly for those TOCs in the north, we make sure that those lessons are put in their action plans.

Cars: Headlight Glare

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Monday 30th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend, as that is precisely what we are looking at. Indeed, it was the UK that asked the UNECE to look at the automatic systems available, do the research and assess whether they should be implemented in new vehicles. The discussions on this matter will proceed in April 2023.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister says that her department is carrying out a review of road safety. Will it cover cyclists, who often travel with no lights, go through red lights, travel at high speeds and cause danger to the public?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right. Road safety is not just about motorists; it is about everybody who uses the roads, including cyclists and pedestrians. We need to make sure that all road users can interact safely with each other to try to reduce deaths.

Rail Strikes: Impact Assessment

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Thursday 8th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My noble friend raises a very important point here, because the Christmas period is always a time when the rail sector endeavours to make important improvements, such as the one that she noted. Some of these improvements are safety upgrades. I really want those to go ahead, and the situation is therefore deeply disappointing: Network Rail will try and make as many of the changes as it can, but to be striking over a period when there are so many engineering works planned is not only disruptive to passengers in the long term but may of course be dangerous.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, can the Minister explain why it is wrong for public sector workers to try and maintain their living standards at the same time that corporate bosses and bankers are filling their boots with excess profits and extra pay? Can she explain the difference between the two?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, let us focus a little on the railway workers themselves. I have the utmost respect for the work that they do. During the pandemic, the Government supported the rail industry to an enormous amount. In fact, it was not the Government: it was the taxpayer. The amount was £31 billion, which is equivalent to £300,000 for every single worker in the industry. Not one of them lost their jobs and, even more, not one of them was even furloughed. The railway sector now needs to modernise. We need a seven-day railway and, in return for that modernisation, it is right that the Government have put a reasonable offer on the table. We believe that there should be a referendum among RMT members about that offer.

Aviation: Cost of Travel

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Wednesday 7th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I can reassure the noble Lord that the numbers of flights per day between Northern Ireland and Great Britain are the same as they were before the pandemic. However, he is right that Aer Lingus has had to make a change to its schedule. What happened was that the Aer Lingus flights were taken up by another operator in the International Airlines Group, so there was no diminution in the number of services. We hope to see Aer Lingus back on that route soon.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has not answered the question. Price per mile—both by air and on trains—is much higher here than in many parts of Europe. Why is that, when there is supposed to be competition?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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There are numerous factors when it comes to that, but in Flightpath to the Future we set out the 10 points that we can do in terms of making our aviation sector as competitive as it possibly can be. We will look at airspace modernisation and slot reform, and we will look at decarbonisation—and that will bring down prices.

Swing Bridges

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 15th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am not aware that the Canal & River Trust has an interest in the Faversham swing bridge, but I would be very happy to hear from it about its work and the funding it receives.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister said that the Government have a fund to encourage traffic off roads and on to water. How much is that fund, and how much has been spent?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I believe that it is about £20 million, but I will have to write to the noble Lord. The fund encourages road freight off the road and on to both inland waterways and trains.

HS2: Wales

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 8th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble Lord and I have had many conversations about Old Oak Common in the past. The Government remain committed to the construction of Old Oak Common; we believe that having trains stopping there will mean that the station becomes a vital integrated transport link in west London, which would lead into many other parts of London and beyond.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that the taxpayer is being ripped off by contractors because there is a lack of oversight of this scheme? What are the Government going to do to bring it back into budget?

Airports: Delays

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Thursday 30th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Yes, I agree with the noble Lord that it is a very complex ecosystem, not just within our own borders but internationally. Issues outside our borders can have quite a significant knock-on impact. The 22 measures that I have already mentioned today will be published as a WMS today, but if there is not enough detail then I will happily write to him with the full detail on what they are. The noble Lord mentioned the Government not getting involved. When he looks at the 22 measures, he will see that there are things that have been in train for a very long time, so the Government have been working on this over a significant time. The Government do not intend to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the airports; these weekly meetings are very much about taking a medium-term view of emerging risks.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware of the increasing use of fast track by airports, which demands a fee to get through the airport in a reasonable time? Does she not agree that the airports have a duty to do that for every passenger, not just for those who pay an extra fee?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I absolutely agree that every passenger should get a good service at an airport and be able to get through security within reasonable time. I know that the airports are beefing up their staffing. The Government have done an enormous amount in this area as well: we have ensured that UK security vetting now has no delays; we have also changed the regulations to ensure that training for these new security staff can start while background checks are ongoing.

Bus Improvement Plans

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 8th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, we committed to £3 billion of new spend over the course of this Parliament, and that is what we will deliver. In addition, the noble Lord will recall that my noble friend Lord McLoughlin asked a question about other parts of funding within the system. There will be a letter in the Library, which I will also share with noble Lords who have spoken in today’s debate, setting out exactly all the different funding streams available for buses. They are significant. Some are very long standing, some came from Covid and others will be part of the funding from BSIPs and CRSTSs, et cetera.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, noble Lords have asked about how the Government are to allocate resources to the different regions. Given that this seems to be done in some mysterious way that bears no resemblance to need or the levelling-up agenda, can the Minister say exactly how allocations will be made under this funding?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Yes, I can. There will be probably three different tranches of funding. Some areas—those that produced the best BSIPs, matching all the stated outcomes set out in the national bus strategy—will get transformation funding. A second tranche of local authorities will go into the improvement category, whereby they are on their way to preparing the sort of BSIPs that take into account all the outcomes from the NBS. Other areas will probably need more support, in terms of capability and capacity, so that they can fully understand how buses can meet the needs of their communities. We understand that no place must be left behind. We hope to provide support to areas where the BSIPs are not fully developed but where there is huge potential to do so.

Bus Services: Covid-19 Emergency Funding

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 1st March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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I am not sure of the latest figures, but it used to be that something like 70% of the funding for buses came from the public purse. Is it not time that we regulated the buses again to make sure that the taxpayer gets value for money?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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To a certain extent, I think that is what we are doing, but perhaps not in the way that the noble Lord would expect. The requirement that we set out in the national bus strategy is that every single local transport authority has to have an enhanced partnership, which brings together the right people—the bus operators and local authorities. Managing it from Whitehall is definitely not going to work, but managing it from a local authority level, where local authorities can provide local services for local people in collaboration with bus operators, is what we are hoping to see. We know that the enhanced partnerships will be available in the early part of this year.

Electric Vehicle Charge Points

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Wednesday 26th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I apologise to my noble friend—I was not aware that Westminster did not charge. That may be an anomaly and not something that can go on for ever.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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How difficult would it be to adapt street lights to be charging points?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble Lord is stretching my technical knowledge at this point. I am sure that those things are being considered. Obviously, the Government are working closely with the industry on the design of charging points, because we want to make sure that they are accessible and do not obstruct the pavement—and we have seen much innovation in the area.

Hammersmith Bridge

Debate between Lord Watts and Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Tuesday 7th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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I cannot answer that question, because I have not received a proposal. At the moment, the costs for repairing the bridge are estimated to be £120 million but this is a very early stage of the process. We should recognise that TfL has already stepped up to the plate and committed £25 million to make sure that the early work can start. It is its intention to go to award of contracts for the next stage in the spring.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Prime Minister was in charge of this area of responsibility when he was Mayor of London. How much did he put aside for the repair of this bridge?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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I am afraid I cannot answer that question because that was many years ago. If I can find out any information, I will write to the noble Lord.