Leasehold Reform

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(5 months ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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We are dealing with it—it is a big piece of work, but we are dealing with it. It is happening all the time. What I have said to the noble Baroness and others many times at the Dispatch Box is that, if there are individuals who have complex issues and want to discuss them, we have a team of people in the department who will do that. I am happy to talk to her further about that.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, is the delay due in any way to the fact that we have had a significant number of ministerial changes at Secretary of State level?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question—but not as far as I am concerned, no.

Building Repairs: VAT

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2023

(6 months ago)

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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the National Churches Trust and of the Lincolnshire Churches Trust, and one who has been a churchwarden for 36 years. It really is crucial that the Government recognise that the most important group of historic buildings in our country are our parish churches and give them some assistance. The Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme is coming to an end, as my friend the right reverend Prelate said, and we do not wish to see the parish churches of England crumbling into decay.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I absolutely recognise the points that my noble friend is making, but the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme is making a real difference to churches, as recognised by the right reverend Prelate. It gives grants covering the VAT on repairs of over £1,000 to listed buildings used as places of worship. It is not coming to an end; it runs until the end of March 2025. Of course, any decisions for the spending review period after that will come in due course.

Residential Leasehold for Flats

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Thursday 30th November 2023

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are absolutely committed to increasing supply. The noble Lord is right that that is part of the solution, particularly when we have in place the provisions to ban new leaseholds in new houses. But the Government are delivering on that promise. We are on track to deliver our commitment to 1 million new homes during this Parliament. We are investing £10 billion in increasing the supply of homes, and in the last few years we have seen some of the highest rates of home delivery in decades.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend convey to Mr Gove the most generous offer made by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, on behalf of the House, which was apparent from the reaction to his question? Why does she not tell him that this House can put right what he has not yet got right?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I am sure that this House will communicate its views to the department as we progress the Bill throughout the scrutiny. It will go through the Commons first and I look forward to debating the provisions in detail when it reaches the Lords.

General Elections: Party-political Spending

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Wednesday 29th November 2023

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I completely reject the premise of the noble Lord’s question. We have transparency in our system so that people can see who donates to political parties. The alternative to donations to political parties is government funding of political parties and campaigning. That is not something that we on these Benches wish to see.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, in view of the influence that the press very often has on elections, will my noble friend the Minister read the admirable article by my noble friend Lord Hague in yesterday’s Times, which indicated that it would not be a service to democracy for one of our notable daily papers and one of our notable weekly magazines to be bought by foreigners?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I always enjoy reading articles by my noble friend and I will undertake to read that one.

Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in farming as set out in the register. I will add one or two comments to those made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Parminter and Lady McIntosh, on the progress made on nutrient neutrality, its effect on the farming community and the wish not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

It appears that the Government are concerned that the speed of the supply of mitigation options is holding up planning consents. Has the Minister considered the possibility of delaying the requirement for developers to have nutrient mitigation in place to a defined date after build, rather than before building commences, as is currently the case? This would ensure that existing processes and tools are kept in place and not wasted, and that those who have invested in mitigation schemes are not left with stranded assets—for example, many local planning authorities have purchased land and farmers have invested heavily in feasibility and planning works. In maintaining the emphasis on requiring developers to fund the measures, the essence is that the polluter must pay.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, briefly, I associate myself with the remarks made in a very fine speech by my noble friend Lord Deben. We entered the other place on the same day, in June 1970—I have been here continuously since, and my noble friend was briefly absent from the other place for a year or so. I think that we both feel exactly the same: a deep sense of shame that the Conservative Party should behave like this. I thought that I had got over feeling ashamed after the two last disastrous Conservative Prime Ministers. I have a great feeling of support for our present Prime Minister, but I am deeply saddened. It must be because he does not have the long parliamentary experience to see how Parliament should be treated by the Executive. This is no way to legislate.

On this extraordinary Bill, I pay genuine tribute to the stamina and energy of my noble friend the Minister. If anyone ever drew a short straw, she drew a whole packet full and got one free. She has behaved impeccably, but she has been landed with something that no Minister should be landed with: a Bill, at its very last stage, being added to in such a way without proper consultation or discussion.

This does not need to part of this Bill. If the Government believe there is a problem over house building and the environment, it can bring in another Bill in the King’s Speech that can have a proper Second Reading in the other place. It will not get scrutiny in the other place; Bills do not get it there these days. It could then go through all the necessary processes and be through before the end of the next parliamentary session.

Homelessness: Vagrancy Act 1824

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The noble Lord should know that we have the private renters’ Bill starting in the Commons shortly, which will include the repeal of Section 21.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, surely these consultations have gone on long enough. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham got the date slightly wrong, but can my noble friend Lady Scott confirm that this will be well off the statute book by 2124?

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. I will speak to Amendments 485, 505, 510 and 512 in her name and mine, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I declare one or two interests that have not been relevant before: until last year I was a Church Commissioner, and my wife is a member of our local parochial church council.

The amendments would clarify a grey area of the law and ensure that local parish and town councils can make grants, if they wish, to projects that involve ecclesiastical buildings. At last, we have an amendment that costs the Government nothing, does not require anyone to do anything they do not want to do, helps build and sustain local communities, chimes with the principles of devolved decision-making, involves no political controversy and deprives lawyers of undeserved fees for pointless legal cases.

The amendment addresses the situation facing a local council that wishes to support a local initiative by an ecclesiastical charity. Making grants to such bodies toward building works of any kind was prohibited by Section 8 of the Local Government Act 1894. It is believed that the Government intended to remove this barrier to local grant-making through Section 215 of the Local Government Act 1972, but doubts remained as to whether the 1972 Act achieved this intention.

On behalf of its 10,000-member local councils, the National Association of Local Councils obtained legal advice which it has been obliged to share. The advice was, unfortunately, that the 1894 Act still stands because it is a specific prohibition, despite the intentions of the 1972 Act, which addresses generalities. There is no point anyone blaming the messenger; the fact is that the legal position appears to be clear: parish and local councils cannot give grants toward works by ecclesiastical charities.

As a result of this interpretation of the legal position, some church bodies, of different denominations, have had grant applications rejected by local councils and many more are put off making applications, even though those councils may be keen to help. Often, the applications have been for small but locally significant initiatives. Typical examples collected by the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance of church-based projects where support was refused include the funding of a disabled toilet in a church hall not used as a place of worship but by a range of secular groups. Support could also not be offered for a nonconformist hall creating a meeting place for Guides and Scouts.

Many local church organisations have converted church buildings into centres for community activity—for classes, a café, food banks, youth clubs, et cetera—often while retaining use of the building as a place of worship. Similarly, ecclesiastical charities have modified their church halls for the benefit of local people. Grants for the retention of what is often a landmark building, frequently in the centre of town, for a renewed or extended purpose, give new life to places that have served local communities for sometimes hundreds of years. The alternative of demolishing a redundant church building not only loses this opportunity for the benefit of the locality but takes away a visual asset that can enhance a sense of place and belonging.

It has been suggested that local councils should take cases to the courts, as the right reverend Prelate has mentioned, to test the legal position. If it then becomes clear that no such grants can be made, new facilitating legislation could be introduced. However, this forgoes the opportunity to act now through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. There might be a very long wait before another legislative opportunity arises. Anyway, it seems unfair that Parliament should pass the buck to the courts to decide this matter instead of expressing its will clearly and definitively. Moreover, going to law is a costly business and should clearly be avoided if at all possible.

The wording of these four amendments may well be imperfect; I am sure the right reverend Prelate and all of us supporting them would be more than happy with a government amendment that achieves the same outcome more elegantly. There are only winners here. I look forward very much to the Minister’s response.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Best. I agree with everything they said. I begin with an apology to the Committee; I have not played the part in debates on this Bill that I would like to have done because I have been caring for a wife recovering from an operation and have not been able to be present late into the night. I am grateful that things came to a halt in the Chamber on Monday, which enabled us to be here today.

I declare an interest in that I have been a church warden of three churches for a total of 36 years, in each of which I had to be in charge of or strongly supporting an appeal. I remember being church warden in the early 1970s in the village of Brewood in Staffordshire, when we suddenly discovered dry rot. We had to raise some £40,000 very quickly, and we did it. When I was church warden at St Margaret’s, Westminster, we had to raise £1 million in the early 1980s, and we did it. At Enville, in Staffordshire, where I was warden for some 16 years, we had to raise something like £250,000, and we did it—but with great difficulty. As one who has been a trustee and then a vice-president of the National Churches Trust for well over 40 years, president of the Staffordshire Historic Churches Trust for some 20 years, and vice-president of the Lincolnshire Churches Trust for a very long time, I speak with a little knowledge and great feeling.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, that was, I think, half a good answer. It was not perfect, by any means.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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It was promising.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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Yes, it was promising. It is good that the department will look at this matter, but I hope that, as part of that reflection on the matter, the department will get the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol in and speak to her and other people. It is one thing that we are all saying that it is fine, but if the department gets legal advice that it is not fine, no one will do anything, will they? That is the basic problem we have here: there is legal advice saying this is not fine. Then people will be nervous, saying “If I do this, I will be going beyond my powers”. That will cause all sorts of problems. If there is ambiguity here but all of us agree that what has been suggested is a good thing, I really do not understand why we cannot clear up the ambiguity. I hope that we can address that. If we all agree that it is good, then let us make it absolutely crystal clear and not leave it so that we have problems with legal opinions that are different from what the Government are saying.

Residential Leasehold

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Wednesday 17th May 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not agree with the noble Lord. The Secretary of State has made it clear that we want to bring forward reforms to leasehold, and we want to do so during this Parliament. We wish to extend the benefits of freehold ownership to more home owners. In line with our manifesto commitments, we will continue leasehold reform during this Parliament. We are working with the Law Commission to bring forward game-changing reforms to the system, and we thank the commission for all the work it has done in this area. As I have said, I cannot at this Dispatch Box pre-empt the King’s Speech.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend in answer to a question a moment or two ago referred to people taking legal advice, but how can lawyers give advice if they do not know what the Government are proposing to do?

Voter ID

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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No, I do not agree that we have done it in haste, because I have spoken personally to the LGA and many leaders across the country who are having polls. I have also spoken to the Electoral Commission. The processes that were put in place worked well; the IT worked well, and we will know after tomorrow what the outcome is. As I said yesterday in this House, the number of people who have not registered for a voter authority card will come out in the data. Whether or not we need to look at any changes, this Government and the people of this country want voter ID. Two out of three people asked said they would feel more confident in our democratic process if it was in place.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I return to a subject that I raised yesterday. It would be so much easier and sensible for all of us if we had an identity card that we could produce on all necessary occasions. There would then be no question of some people not having one of the designated documents, because they would all have the same. Could this please be looked at again if, as I suspect, the figures from tomorrow are disappointing?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Just to let my noble friend know, the Government have no intention of looking again at identity cards, as I said to him yesterday.

Voter Authority Certificates

Lord Cormack Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, there are multiple reasons why voters have chosen not to apply for a voter authority certificate at this time. Not everyone will have elections in their area, for a start, and not everyone will choose to vote in a polling station. Those who vote by post or by proxy will not need voter identification and therefore have no need to apply for a VAC. While we would not seek to predict turnout on 4 May, in previous local elections over the past decade a significant proportion of votes have been cast by post. For example, in the May 2022 local elections, postal votes comprised 38% of overall turnout and proxy votes a further 1%. We also have to accept that, while we hope that every elector takes part in the democratic process, this is simply never going to be the case and many will choose not to vote. The cost of this is £2.42 per elector over a 10-year period.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the best form of voter authority certificate would be an identity card? Will she also reflect on her own remarks about postal voting? Where there has been manifest corruption in recent years, it has been not at the ballot box in the station but among postal voters.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The discussion about ID cards is a whole new question that I do not intend to go into. As for postal votes, the Elections Act 2022 contains further measures on postal votes to secure that vote.