Debates between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh during the 2019 Parliament

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

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
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, it is a pleasure to see this Bill through to its conclusion.

The pandemic has had far-reaching and unexpected impacts and the business rates part of this Bill seeks to address its potentially distortive effects on the rating system and local government income. By clarifying that coronavirus and the Government’s response to it will not be considered a “material change of circumstances” for the purpose of property valuation, the Bill ensures that the rating system will continue to operate as it was intended to. It also removes a significant source of uncertainty for local councils.

I thank noble Lords for the engagement we have had during the passage of the Bill. We have sought to strike the right balance between getting this important measure passed quickly and leaving space for legitimate discussion on the wider issues at play, for instance the future of business rates. Considerable expertise has been in evidence, which will be of great value when we come to debate the more substantial changes that the Government have announced. In particular, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Pinnock, for their careful scrutiny and, ultimately, the very welcome support they have offered.

The new power to investigate the conduct of former directors of dissolved companies and seek to disqualify them where appropriate will have far-reaching benefits to the economy, in terms of improved confidence in lending, and to business and the wider public, in protecting them from the actions of rogue directors.

Of course, there is the very pressing matter of ensuring that the Government have the tools they need to tackle those reprehensible individuals who have taken advantage of a public health crisis to line their own pockets, and this new measure will play its part in bringing them to task. I am sure noble Lords will agree with me that it is only right that the retrospective provision in this measure will mean that the investigation of those individuals may start immediately upon Royal Assent.

As well as the noble Baronesses, I extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Leigh, who have provided thoughtful and constructive contributions to the debate on the director disqualification part of this Bill. Finally, I thank the Bill teams in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Insolvency Service for bringing me up to speed on some of the more detailed provisions and helping me get a proper understanding of the Bill. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, it is fair to say that there has been some significant consternation from noble Lords at the way this Bill was initially put together. However, in the main, we support its passage to get help to those in serious need.

We expressed our ongoing concerns at different stages of this Bill. It is obvious that the whole area of business rates needs urgent review and root-and-branch reform. Likewise, enormous concerns remain as to whether the Insolvency Service is sufficiently resourced to meet its obligations under the Bill with regard to the significant increase in business, as outlined.

I put on record my appreciation of the informed contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Leigh, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I thank my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Sikka for their invaluable insights and knowledge on these matters.

From these Benches, we express our gratitude to the Bill team, the clerks and the staff of the House, and the Insolvency Service for the in-depth briefings it provided. I also thank both Ministers involved in this Bill: first, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh—I particularly acknowledge the further detailed investigation he went into when the cause of our concerns over the business rates issue came to light—and the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, for his continued courtesy in offering regular briefings from his team and the insolvency support service on the various matters under consideration.

Finally, I thank both Ben Wood and Dan Harris, our excellent advisers, for their unfailingly high standard of support throughout the proceedings.

Clearly, both matters leave further work to be undertaken in both Houses, as has been outlined. I will watch the implementation of provisions with great interest.

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

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I will do my very best. I start by saying that local authorities are protected by what is known as the local tax income guarantee; I know the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, knows about that. Three critical questions have been raised, and I will take time in answering them to reassure noble Lords that this has been well thought through.

First, there is a false equivalence between the £1.5 billion and the material change in circumstances. We do not see the £1.5 billion as a like-for-like compensation for Covid-related MCC claims. The statistics show that it would have seen reductions applied indiscriminately to properties whether or not their occupiers needed support. The £1.5 billion relief we are introducing is not—and should not be—designed to mimic or replace the MCCs that were submitted. It is better than that: it is focused on those who submitted MCCs who genuinely needed support and may have had to wait years. They will be able to access it more quickly because the approach is more targeted, and industries that have received quite considerable support are excluded from that amount. That is why we are taking this important approach.

I think the critical question that the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Pinnock, asked is how the £1.5 billion will be distributed. I have to say that I have taken quite a long time to understand that myself; I put that right on the table. I have had some help from the former chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, and I have had meetings with colleagues and Ministers in the Treasury about this. I think I broadly understand it. The marker that will be used at the national level is the ONS data around the gross value added reduction for those industries that have not had support. That is very robust information at the national level, but unfortunately we do not have very good data at the regional level for the last two years. So we will use the data we have at the local level around industries, because we know, broadly speaking, which businesses are at the local council level. Therefore, it is not something that is going to be gained. There is a clear proxy metric in GVA with the good data we have at the local level. I am satisfied that this is the best we can do in these circumstances and a sensible way in which to divide the cake.

The last question is around the timing of the guidance and implementation. I have spoken of the benefits of using locally administered business rates relief, rather than the appeals system, to funnel support where it is needed. One of these is pace, and since Parliament is agreed on the principle of the Government’s approach, we have a responsibility to avoid unnecessary delay. We need to move, and that is one of the real benefits of this course of action. The best course of action is to speed the Bill through to Royal Assent. On that basis, I hope noble Lords will not press their amendments.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for taking our concerns very seriously and for going away and having conversations with some very senior people. I am sure I speak for the noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches when I say that we appreciate that. In Committee this concern was repeated from whichever Bench someone was speaking from. This is a very real concern, so I sincerely thank the Minister.

The question that will remain, of course, is how this is maintained and monitored and how we make sure that there will be recourse to additional funds if the £1.5 billion is not adequate. I am not sure that I have quite got that security of knowledge.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Government always keep these matters under review. We recognise the importance of business rates in providing the financial stability and underpinning for local councils, and I can make that commitment, as with all government policy.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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With those reassurances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Islamophobia

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Monday 15th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising the concerns of the Muslim community, for his contribution to how we tackle the issue of Islamophobia and for his advice on how best to proceed. We remain committed to tackling Islamophobia where it exists across our communities, and we will continue to consider this issue with the utmost seriousness.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government’s own hate crime statistics show that nearly half of all recorded religious hate crimes were against Muslims. What specific urgent steps have the Government taken to end this abuse and will the Minister commit to working with Muslim groups to ensure urgent progress?

Levelling Up White Paper

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Monday 15th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I expected this Question to go in any number of directions. It is important to address the barriers for people getting on in life. We are looking to spread opportunities and, of course, we need to address issues such as alcohol harm, which the noble Baroness has raised.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. Will income disparity be addressed in the forthcoming White Paper, given that people in London are paid £16,150 more per year on average than people in Burnley? Do the Government plan to level up wages?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am not sure that is the way to think about these problems. We need to recognise that, as well as the income disparity, there is the cost disparity. Admittedly, living in a great capital city comes at a price. We want to level up some of the areas that have been left behind. That does not mean we want a reduction in income in places such as London. We need to ensure that we lift all boats—that is the philosophy behind levelling up.

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

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Wednesday 10th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for drawing attention to the inadequacies of the situation that we are in. Until February this year, I was leader of Leeds City Council and we had the difficult job of working with businesses, when the complexity of the welcome resource that was available was challenging, to decide who was worthy of getting the relief and who was not. The comments made today just highlight the difficulties that local authorities are still having to face. I speak now as a vice-president of the LGA and am mindful of its input to this debate.

I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt for focusing on one specific sector and area, because that helps us to understand just what particular sectors are going through. We know that language schools are not the only area having problems but the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to the loss of expertise, knowledge and experience. All those things add up to what we hope will be viable businesses as we emerge from this. In line with the comments they made, and continued by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, we are faced with a situation across business and local authorities where there is now a lack of confidence, and concern at the lack of consistency and certainty. I hope that the Minister will be able to put our minds at rest on this.

We have had a good discussion regarding our concerns about how the figure of £1.5 billion was achieved. My concern here is that while we talk in terms of billions, we actually need to drill it down to the cost for businesses. I think what we are looking for collectively in the answers is a recognition of the urgency and the detail, and to hear when and how this is to be brought forward.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the opportunity to speak to the benefits of Clause 1 of the Bill, which has received broad support throughout its passage. I will shortly come to the particular concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, so ably put by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. They eloquently set out their objections, wanting to promote a wider debate about the need for clarity around guidance and the urgency of this measure. I will endeavour to respond to those concerns.

Clause 1 provides that coronavirus and the Government’s response to it should not be considered a legitimate basis for a successful material change of circumstance appeal. There are many thousands of these appeals currently in the system; the passage of the Bill will ensure that they do not stand. It is important that we clarify through this legislative measure that the impact of coronavirus will be accounted for at the next revaluation, rather than becoming a legitimate ground for appeal between revaluations. Failing to do so would clog up the courts, undermine local government finances and cause the MCC legislation to be used in a way that was not intended when it was passed. As noble Lords will recall, the provision for MCCs was not intended to reflect market-wide economic effects, which are rightly considered at general revaluations, the next of which will be in 2023.

The Government have received widespread support from parliamentarians in both Houses for this measure. There has been general approval of Clause 1 as a necessary measure to remove a significant source of financial uncertainty from local government, as well as to ensure that the law relating to business rates appeals operates as intended. The noble Lords who tabled this amendment provided by way of explanation that they wish to prompt a wider discussion of the Government’s plans relating to the £1.5 billion of business rates relief that we have promised, on top of the £16 billion of relief already provided to businesses throughout the pandemic.

As the Government have made clear, the £1.5 billion is intended to enable local authorities to provide targeted support to the sectors most affected by the pandemic but which have not benefited from support linked to business rates. Within those sectors, the relief will enable councils to award relief to businesses that they consider the most affected by the pandemic, using their local knowledge and, obviously, having regard to the government guidance. I am confident that it will prove to be a far more effective and faster way of directing support to businesses impacted by the pandemic than the MCC challenge process. That is in part because councils use their local knowledge of their area and ratepayers will ultimately be responsible for decisions on the award of relief. It would not be right for Ministers here to say whether particular ratepayers or types of ratepayers will benefit from the £1.5 billion scheme.

Work is ongoing between my department, the Treasury, the Valuation Office Agency and local authorities to prepare guidance to support the relief process. The shape of the final guidance, and how in practice we will smoothly pass decisions on this relief scheme to local authorities, will need to reflect various factors, including the existing framework of government support, information held by local authorities and their capacity to administer schemes quickly. We will continue to work on the relief fund and prepare the guidance for publication as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. We are of course mindful of local authorities’ need for an effective set of parameters within which they can design their local schemes. Local authorities should stand ready to develop and deliver their schemes as soon as they are able.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, wanted to know where the £1.5 billion figure came from. It is quite clear that local government made provision, as reported, of almost £1 billion for Covid MCC challenges for 2020-21. That was, in effect, being held in reserve rather than being spent on local public services. This measure enables that £1 billion that is currently provisioned to deal with challenges to go towards the effective delivery of local public services. Of course, it is a matter for local authorities themselves to determine. That certainly gives them the freedom to release that money that is currently tied up if we do not proceed with this piece of legislation.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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Thank you for those contributions. There is no doubt among any of us about the real sense of urgency and the importance of the amendments that we are discussing in this group. Again, it is inevitable that the question of the £1.5 billion comes up, but we also need to keep a very close eye on the economic prospects as we go forward. I have to say, the confidence around that is not as great as perhaps we are being led to believe.

Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for putting her name to Amendments 1 and 2, and for the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton; he really got across that sense of urgency. I can confirm that Labour has called for the longer-term abolition of the current system of business rates, to be replaced by a new system that is better balanced between high-street businesses and the out-of-town online giants, as we have been hearing.

On Amendment 2, does the Minister agree with the assessment that we are in a very lumpy situation, and will he be looking at how the playing field can be levelled out? That is a really important question that we need some certainty on. Again, Labour has called for an increase in small business rate relief next year from the current threshold of £15,000 to £25,000. Does the Minister accept that we need an increase in relief to help small businesses cope?

I turn to the amendment in my name. It is important, at every opportunity that we have in this House, to really spell out the dire situation facing local authorities, particularly regarding the financial position that they are in. This is one reason local authorities are asking for clarity and a sense of urgency. They are also asking that, once the criteria are established, the way that this unfolds is kept under review, and for local authority guidance to be published as soon as possible. We made a very strong case for that at Second Reading.

We know that Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on local authority finances, with a combination of income falling and costs rising. The income element for local authorities, I am afraid, is one which the former Secretary of State would not take into account in terms of the losses that local authorities have been facing. This is on top of the fact that Conservative Governments since 2010 have cut £15 billion from central government funding to local authorities.

We are looking at a situation, according to the LGA, where councils in England will face a funding gap of more than £5 billion by 2024 just to maintain services at current levels. It estimates that the Government will need to find an extra £10.1 billion per year in core funding to local authorities by 2023-24 just to plug the existing funding gap. New research by the BBC, I understand, has shown that UK councils have found a £3 billion black hole in their budgets as they emerge from the pandemic. Put in that context, I think we can all understand why there is so much concern from local authorities about how much is going to be available to them to distribute, to enable businesses in their areas to survive and to continue to pay the rates due to them. Again, I ask whether the guidance can be issued to local authorities as a matter of haste and whether it is possible for us to have an understanding of when that will be.

I was actually in the room when the former Secretary of State told local authority leaders that the Government would provide

“whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side”.

Again, I ask: does the Minister believe that this promise has been kept? I do not think we need a list of all the different resources that have been given to local authorities, welcome though they have been. Unfortunately, they do not match the need and we know from the impact of the pandemic that need in our communities, through a whole raft of measures, is really going through the roof.

In that context, I hope that everyone will recognise the urgency required to resolve these matters but also the enormous challenges facing local authorities in the years ahead.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I will start with the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox. This would require the Government to carry out an assessment of whether the business rates measure in the Bill improves the wider system of business rates.

I remind noble Lords that Clause 1 is limited in scope. The Government are making a targeted intervention through the Bill to ensure that the law concerning material changes of circumstances operates as it should do as regards the impact of coronavirus on rateable values. The Government are not, by contrast, offering the Bill as a means of introducing significant reform to the business rates system. Indeed, it would be wrong to do so. The Bill is narrow in its focus precisely so that Parliament can deliver certainty on this issue, with minimal delay, to those that need it, particularly local authorities.

I appreciate that many noble Lords wish to see more substantial changes to the business rates system, as pointed out eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and I can provide good news in that regard. Noble Lords will have seen the Chancellor’s Budget Statement and may have read the final report of the Government’s business rates review, published alongside the Budget. The Government have committed to changes to improve the business rates system through delivering more frequent revaluations, starting from the next revaluation in 2023. This answers widespread calls from stakeholders and will help deliver a more timely, and hence fairer, distribution of business rates.

Council Tax: Second Homes

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 4th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I point out that 96% of second homes pay council tax in full, even though they may use local services only on an occasional basis. We believe that, in the sharing economy, where people run businesses and meet the threshold, it is reasonable for them not to pay council tax and to be subject to the business rates regime. No local authority has lost out, because they are covered by various grants in the business rates retention scheme.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I refer to my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. Last year, the Chancellor announced a major reduction in stamp duty, which also covered buyers of buy-to-let properties, holiday homes and other second homes. Can the Minister confirm how much the tax cut for second home owners cost the public purse in total?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My understanding is that we have introduced a stamp duty surcharge of some three percentage points on top of the standard rate for those who purchase additional properties. That covers all second home owners, so they are not getting off lightly when they are buying their homes, and the Treasury is doing very well out of that regime.

Gypsies and Travellers

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 4th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we will continue to encourage all local authorities to access funding for both permanent and temporary sites through the affordable homes programme of some £11.5 billion. I reiterate that it is the responsibility of local planning authorities to make an assessment of need for both permanent and transit sites and to identify sites in their local plan. Of course, these local plans are independently assessed by an inspector.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, earlier this year, reports emerged that Pontins had used a blacklist of common Irish surnames allegedly to attempt to prevent Traveller families staying at its holiday parks. What recent assessment have the Government made of levels of similar discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers? Can the Minister say what steps are being taken to end this?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we have previously discussed this in the House and it is an absolutely disgraceful example of discrimination. No one should be discriminated against because of their race and ethnicity, and we have invested in a programme of some £150,000 to tackle discrimination. We will continue to challenge companies such as Pontins, and I think the media did a fair job of ensuring that this does not happen again.

Buildings: Cladding

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 28th October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, there is no doubt that a number of groups, beyond developers, have contributed to the cladding crisis, not least the construction product manufacturers—the noble Lord mentioned the French manufacturer—and many other professionals who did not build these building to the standard of building regulations at the time. We are looking, with fresh eyes, at how we can hold them to account.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I refer to my interest as laid down in the register. We have, on a daily basis, yet more distressing personal experience from the fallout of the cladding scandal—I am sure all of us would agree. We have heard quite a lot about numbers today but, if I could go back, the Government’s announcement of £5.1 billion in yesterday’s Budget to deal with the cladding scandal was simply a re-announcing of policy, as the Minister suggested. An additional £2 billion is estimated to come from the developer tax, but would the Minister agree that this is only a drop in the ocean, given the estimates I have heard that this could cost up to £50 billion? Why are the Government not doing more to insist that innocent leaseholders should not be left with the bill?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Government are looking carefully at the prevalence of buildings that require substantial remediation of cladding which causes the spread of fire, but the £5.1 billion is not the only measure that the Government are taking. It should be noted that the Building Safety Bill introduces new measures that will legally require building owners to prove that they have tried all routes to cover costs. If this does not happen, leaseholders will be able to challenge these costs in the courts. We are also extending the Defective Premises Act from six years to 15 years retrospectively. These are all measures designed to help protect leaseholders.

Public Services

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Tuesday 26th October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, could I point to a case in Shropshire? The Conservative-run council has spent £1,000 a day on a pothole consultant. Does the Minister believe that this private contractor represents value for money?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I am not going to get into the use of consultants by a particular council, irrespective of the administration currently in control. A number of councils, both Conservative and Labour, have been subject to Secretary of State interventions because they have failed to fulfil their best-value duties. I point to the most recent intervention in Liverpool City Council, where, sadly, we have had to step in.

Rural Poverty

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Monday 25th October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, we hear on a daily basis about the impact of the rising cost of living but not so often about the very real problem of rural poverty. Levels of poverty in rural communities are worsened by the high cost of living that people in these areas are often faced with. Last year the Guardian reported that people in isolated rural areas spent an average of £71 a week on food compared with £61 a week in cities, and I am sure those figures have worsened. Could the Minister please inform us what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the increasing cost of living on people in rural towns, villages and hamlets, especially with the added increase in the cost of fuel?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we recognise the impact of the escalating cost of living, but we have set out a very clear plan around how to tackle that in both rural and urban areas. More details around how the money will be spent will be given in the forthcoming spending review announcement later this week.

Prime Minister: Meeting with First Ministers

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Wednesday 20th October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, that is absolutely an opportunity to learn. The pandemic will probably have been the most memorable event in my lifetime, as someone who was born well after the Second World War, and it is important that we learn the lessons from divergence and different approaches so that we are better prepared for the next time, should this ever happen again.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I would like to extend the debate to the devolved entities in England. Earlier this year, PoliticsHome reported that some metro mayors are growing increasingly frustrated with the Government’s favouritism towards certain mayors by way of, for example, meetings with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor and access to officials. What steps have the Government taken to increase engagement with all metro mayors regardless of their party affiliation?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am certainly aware of a number of meetings that have taken place— I have had numerous meetings with the Mayor of Manchester and the Mayor of the West Midlands, and many with the Mayor of London. Of course, we recognise the importance of effective engagement. It is through effective engagement with our mayors that we can support each other so that we recover from this pandemic.

Regulation of Property Agents Working Group

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Wednesday 20th October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The noble Lord will know that the creation of a new regulatory regime requires a legislative underpinning. We are considering how to move forward on this and other areas and will come back to this House in due course.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Hayter, all the working-group members and the progress made towards adoption of the codes of practice as outlined. I add my support to the calls for the Government to implement the report at speed. Last year, a court ruled that letting agents are no longer able to advertise properties as unavailable to those in receipt of universal credit. What steps have the Government taken since to prevent this discrimination? Does the Minister agree that implementing the codes of practice would prevent such discrimination in future?

Leasehold: Building and Fire Safety

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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First of all, the duty to keep the building safe is on the building holder. There seem to be a small number of isolated cases in which the building owner is able to access funds and is not doing so. We would like to be apprised of that situation, so that we can see what we can do to encourage them to do the right thing.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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Earlier this month Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the independent review of building regulations, urged homeowners to seek a second opinion on fire safety bills, warning that many are being “fleeced”. Do the Government support this advice?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the Government support the principle that—in the same way you might go to a doctor and get an opinion, then seek a second opinion—we get the opportunity to have a second opinion on these matters, particularly where there are eye-watering costs. We do not want to see eye-watering costs levied when other mitigations provide a much more cost-effective solution.

England: Historic Counties

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My noble friend has called for that realignment, but we do not have any plans, so I cannot reassure him. But things in government change and he is making his case strongly.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I am happy to emphasise the strong feeling about Yorkshire in this Chamber. As we have heard, Britain’s historic counties are central to local identities and Yorkshire is the perfect example of that. Unfortunately, the Government have resisted the locally led One Yorkshire devolution deal, supported by 20 out of 22 local authorities, which would celebrate our historic county by bringing power, resources and jobs to the region, allowing it to develop its full potential. Do the Government have any plans to reassess their policy on this and support the ambition of the Yorkshire leaders board and the One Yorkshire committee, which has cross-party support from Members of these Benches?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we continue to look at devolution matters. As the noble Baroness knows, we considered One Yorkshire, but we are some way down the line in creating mayors in the different regions. We recognise the real, proud tradition in Yorkshire, which we should reflect in our national way of life.

Supported Housing: Funding

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Tuesday 14th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I declare my interest as laid out in the register. The Resolution Foundation has said that the Chancellor’s planned cuts in universal credit, along with other major decisions to be made in the autumn,

“are likely to shape the living standards of millions of families for years to come.”

Have the Government made an assessment of the impact of the Chancellor’s universal credit proposals on levels of need for supported housing?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, it is important to recognise that that was always going to be a temporary uplift in universal credit. We also need to recognise the current amount of money that goes into welfare costs for supported housing. Way back in 2015, the estimate was £3.5 billion, and the sum will almost certainly have risen since that time, when it was last measured. That goes some way to ensuring that there is support for people in supported housing.

Net-Zero Emissions: Planning and Building Regulations

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 9th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My noble friend is an inveterate champion of sustainable urban drainage, which is far better than the use of grey infrastructure. Of course, we will reflect the desire to see sustainable planning and urban drainage solutions where practicable.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Last month, the i newspaper reported that homes in the UK heat up twice as fast as the European average during heatwaves. As a result, demand for air conditioning units has increased, which in turn uses energy and increases emissions. Can the Minister outline what steps the Government are taking to address this, especially considering that temperatures are expected to rise in the coming decades?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, above all, we recognise the need to move away from fossil fuel heating to meet our commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We are approaching that by continuing to set performance-based standards rather than mandating a solution. We are making progress to achieve that and we will continue to come up with ideas that drive progress in this area.

Council Tax

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I note that my noble friend again calls for a new, higher band of property. If that higher band were based on 1991 values, the Valuation Office Agency would need to revalue all properties in the current top band. That would certainly be cheaper than a full revaluation.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I refer noble Lords to my registered interests. The impact of the pandemic has led to the worst recession of any major economy. With the virus still not under control, local councillors will again be forced to raise council tax this year to protect vital local services, just when many families are struggling to make ends meet. Will the Government remove the necessity for planned council tax rises by giving councils the resources they need and stand by their pledge, so far not honoured, to do whatever is necessary to support councils?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I do not recognise the picture that the noble Baroness paints. Throughout the pandemic, we have provided considerable additional funding for local authorities. Local authorities received £3.8 billion in social care grant funding through the social care grant and the improved better care fund. We continue to support councils throughout this very difficult period.

Business and Planning Act 2020 (Pavement Licences) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Wednesday 14th July 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Faulkner for bringing this really important issue into the Chamber. His very well-informed and passionate speech does not need too much adding to.

I want to bring in a slightly different dimension. My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, both referenced the speeches in Grand Committee, which were really well put together; I recommend that everyone have a look at them in Hansard. We should also look at what we have learned over the last 18 months of the devastating impact of the coronavirus. We have been on an incredibly steep learning curve in understanding how the virus has impacted on the people who live in our communities. We have a duty, surely, to look at all the evidence before us.

Covid-19 is often described as a cruel virus and it has exposed health inequalities in the most vicious way. Surely we must learn from the knowledge that those suffering from underlying health conditions have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Smoking is a major contributory factor to those health conditions. Do we not have a responsibility to do everything in our power to reduce exposure to the impact of smoke inhalation? I am referring to both the customers and the staff in the premises we are talking about.

I would also like to emphasise the points that the noble Lord, Lord Young, made in Grand Committee about the lack of evidence and the lack of consultation with local authorities, which would have demonstrated that there has just not been the evidence that we should be concerned about the impact on the businesses we are talking about.

We have an opportunity to make an improvement to the provisions in the Building and Planning Act 2020. Of course, the irony is that the Act was brought in specifically to deal with the impact of coronavirus. I hope we will recognise the public health improvement outlined in my noble friend Lord Faulkner’s amendment and that we will all come together to show our support accordingly.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for tabling this amendment and I thank noble Lords for an interesting debate on this matter. I will take this opportunity to respond to the noble Lord’s amendment. In Grand Committee I was not able to answer fully all the questions noble Lords raised on smoking issues relating to the temporary—I emphasise that—pavement licence extension regulations. I welcome the opportunity to address these issues in greater detail.

In Grand Committee, the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness Lady Wheatcroft, all challenged me on the passing of these regulations and the potential passive smoking impacts. The impacts of passive smoking are very much a key concern and a top priority for this Government, which is why we should look to tackle this issue strategically. We will be a publishing a new tobacco control plan later this year, setting out our ambitious plans for England to be smoke free by 2030. The tobacco control plan will consider areas of regulation to strengthen in support of this aim.

In the very short term, it is right that we act to support hard-hit hospitality businesses to boost their capacity and continue their recovery. For this 12-month extension of the pavement licence provisions, the Government consider local and business-led discretion over implementing smoke-free policies to be the most appropriate approach. Businesses are able to introduce their own smoke-free policies if they wish to go further than the regulations require.

As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned, local authorities are also able to set their own local smoking conditions where appropriate and where local decision-makers believe it is reasonable to do so. A number of local authorities have already implemented such local smoking ban conditions within outdoor seating; these include the city of Manchester, as mentioned by a number of noble Lords, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Durham and Northumberland. This makes it clear that local conditions can be implemented where it is appropriate and desired locally.

I also remind noble Lords that the pavement licence guidance sets out ways in which the requirement for provision for seated and non-seated smokers could be met, such as displaying clear no smoking signs, the removal of ashtrays from smoke-free areas, and a minimum two-metre distance between smoking and non-smoking areas wherever possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referenced international comparisons. I emphasise that the UK is a world leader in tobacco control, and it is important that we share our learnings on the journey towards a smoke-free 2030. We must also learn from the successes of other countries. We will be closely monitoring the outcome of the Canadian approach. International studies of smoke-free parks and beaches, including in New Zealand and Canada, have found evidence through litter collections of continued smoking, suggesting that successfully enforcing any restrictions will involve considerable resource, including training people, such as park staff, in enforcing new policies.

I hope noble Lords will recognise that there is a real commitment in government to a smoke-free United Kingdom, but at this stage we are looking for an extension for a year. This is a temporary pavement licence extension of provisions that have worked incredibly well, as many noble Lords commented in Grand Committee. I emphasise that this Government are committed to reducing the smoking impacts of outdoor eating and drinking, both in terms of these regulations and, importantly, in future policy. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to withdraw his amendment.

Housing: New Developments

Debate between Baroness Blake of Leeds and Lord Greenhalgh
Thursday 17th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I point out that permitted development rights have enabled us to deliver a net additional 72,000 homes in the last five years and make an important contribution to the planning system. Our planning reforms are all designed to get effective community engagement at the front end of the process.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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The expansion of permitted development rights is taking away the voices of local communities in the planning process and handing them to Whitehall’s appointed boards of developers. Are the Government consulting local government representatives about these changes? If so, what representations have they received?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, at this stage of the planning reform process we have had 44,000 responses and have continued engagement with the Local Government Association and other important stakeholders, and we will be responding to those responses in due course.