All 1 Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Foster of Bath

Mon 23rd Oct 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Foster of Bath
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I too speak to Amendments 4C and 4D in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We are essentially discussing four non-contentious words: “throughout the life course”. The Government have gone out of their way to address most of the concerns expressed about the welfare of children, for which everyone is extremely grateful. However, it is puzzling why these four words continue to be resisted. We know that health disparities begin in pregnancy, even before birth, as the noble Baroness said, and continue until advanced old age. Surely any levelling-up Bill has to acknowledge that continuous investment at every stage will result in a healthier and more productive society. The Government argue that this is implicit in the Bill, but why not make it explicit in the Bill? I honestly fail to understand this reluctance on the part of the Government and, should the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, decide to press her Motion to a vote, I will follow her into the Lobby.

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Motion D, which relates to rural issues, and my concern about the absence of rural issues in the Bill. Indeed, at Second Reading I made reference to this issue and pointed out the enormous disparities between urban and rural communities. I gave a range of examples from the way in which, for instance, housing costs are higher and yet wages are lower, to that the cost of delivering services such as education, health and policing is higher, yet government funding is lower. There were many other examples. These disparities have been referred to in your Lordships’ House and the other place on many occasions over very many years. Indeed, proposals were made several years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and were responded to by the then Secretary of State, Liz Truss, who said:

“This Government … is committed … to ensuring the interests of rural communities and businesses are accounted for within our policies and programmes”.

More recently, I had the opportunity to chair your Lordships’ special Select Committee on the Rural Economy. Again, we made a number of proposals, in response to which the Government said:

“Without doubt, these distinct characteristics”

of rural areas

“must be recognised in policy making and the government believes that rural proofing is the best”

way of doing it.

The most recent handbook on how to carry out rural-proofing—the Government’s Rural Proofing: Practical Guidance to Consider the Outcomes of Policies in Rural Areas—makes it abundantly clear that the rural-proofing process must take place before the presentation of legislation for consideration in your Lordships’ House and the other place. Yet, looking through the Bill as it was presented to us, I saw an absence of any reference to the distinctive nature of rural communities and the differences between them and urban communities. I also saw no evidence that a rural-proofing process had been done in advance of the Bill being presented to us. So, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I proposed a couple of amendments.

The first said that, in developing the mission statements, the Government must have regard to the specific needs of rural communities. That has been rejected time after time at various stages in the passage of the Bill. However, as we have just heard from the Minister—I am enormously grateful to him for the meeting that we had to discuss this issue—the Government have now conceded that amendment. It is now to be included within the Motion brought forward by the Minister. Again, I am enormously grateful to him.

My second amendment proposed that evidence of rural-proofing should be presented to your Lordships’ House before the Bill is able to be enacted. That has been rejected and, as we have just heard from the Minister, it is to be rejected again. In his opening remarks, the Minister said that I need not be concerned because there is clear evidence that the Government have gone through a rural-proofing process in relation to all government legislation. I will not argue with the Minister, but I gently say to him that, when independent experts have looked at this matter—for instance, the Rural Services Network looked at the most recent government report on rural-proofing—they have made it absolutely clear that, in their view, there is no evidence of rural-proofing processes having been carried out. There are a lot of mentions of some good things that the Government are doing to support rural communities but not of a specific process having been carried out. The precise conclusion of the Rural Services Network was:

“Nowhere … is anything evidenced anywhere to show if these processes were followed”.

I will take the Minister’s word for it that he has been given total assurance that this procedure was adopted for the passage of the Bill. For that reason, I will not press and have not put down an amendment to repeat what my earlier amendment said. But it would be enormously helpful if, for the sake of those of us who are still somewhat sceptical, he could provide written evidence of the procedure having been carried out.

As I have said, I am enormously grateful that—through the amendment he has brought, repeating the one I originally proposed—we now have reference in the Bill that the specific needs of rural communities will be taken into account in drawing up the mission statements. I am enormously grateful for the work he did to ensure that this happened, so I end by once again expressing my thanks to the Minister.