Lord Curry of Kirkharle debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities during the 2019 Parliament

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I have one amendment in this group, Amendment 12. It asks for an evaluation of progress towards each mission from an independent advisory council, to include the variances of delivery between different nations and regions—the geographical disparities that we have heard about from other noble Lords in this debate.

As I said in Committee, where we had a similar amendment, we believe that independent oversight enables good governance and good government. Clear, trusted and impartial analysis makes for better policy decisions. It delivers far better outcomes, and it can be only a good thing for our democracy. An independent body such as this can also ensure that progress in the development of the missions is being monitored on the road to being achieved. One of the things that concerned noble Lords throughout Committee and now on Report is that it is all very well having missions written down, but how do you achieve them and how do you monitor that progress? We already have good examples of independent scrutiny within government. The Office for Budget Responsibility is one example, and the Select Committees that sit here and in the other place also do independent scrutiny and provide advice and recommendations.

I am aware that in Committee the Minister said in answer to my proposals on an independent advisory council that scrutiny is in place through the Levelling Up Advisory Council. I appreciate that such a council could provide scrutiny, but where is the proper, clear independence in where it sits and how it reports? On the understanding that the Minister is going to mention that again, I ask her what reassurance she can provide that it is the Government’s clear intention that this council will be fully independent and that that independence can be demonstrated and achieved.

I will comment on some of the other amendments in this group, and I thank noble Lords who have introduced them today. When he moved Amendment 2, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made some extremely good points about the timescales. When we look at the length of time before we see some of these reports, things can change an awful lot, not just with government but with policy and priorities. We were both involved in the debates on the Procurement Bill, for our sins, and we made progress on some of these kinds of issues in that Bill. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to some of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, because it is important that Parliament gets the opportunity to consider the statement and to have a look at whether it thinks it is the correct statement for the time or whether changes need to be made—or it needs to be started over again, for that matter. The noble Lord made very important points.

I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. It is of course important for Parliament to be able to debate the missions, but he came back to the question of how successful government is on delivery, or otherwise for that matter. That is one of the core areas of concern coming through in our debates when we look at missions and even the term “levelling up”.

The noble Lord also made the important point that this is about cross-departmental delivery, priorities and funding. We all know that government likes to work in silos, in individual departments; it is not straightforward. Even when I was in the shadow Cabinet—so looking at this from the shadow perspective—it was not easy to get cross-departmental working in the long term, although you could do it on short-term issues. This will be critical if we are going to deliver, so his amendment looking at the indicators of how we can achieve cross-departmental working is really important. I assure him that, if he wishes to test the opinion of the House on this matter, he will have our support.

I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath. He very clearly laid out why his amendment is needed. As someone who has spent their life living in rural communities and was brought up in a rural community, he does not have to convince me. Every Government seems to talk about rural proofing to ensure that rural areas are considered, yet the concept as it has been formatted, both previously and now, has clearly failed. Had it been successful, we would not have so many existing challenges facing our rural communities.

We know that rural communities are being hit hard. My area in Cumbria is a good example of this: young people leave to seek better opportunities, older people move in to retire and then you have what they call “super ageing” rural communities without so many young people to work in them. It is therefore harder to deliver care and support for an ageing community. We also know that there have been cuts to rural police services, and we hear that houses in rural areas are less affordable, yet these areas have twice the proportion of officially “non-decent” homes as compared with suburban residential areas.

We talk about rural proofing in relation to the impact of policies on rural areas. I think we are looking at it from the wrong end of the telescope. Policies should be developed for rural communities in the first place, reflecting the challenges that we face. If are going to rural-proof properly, we need to do both. I have probably said enough on this, but I am sure noble Lords have gathered that, if the noble Lord, Lord Foster, wishes to test the opinion of the House, we will be very happy to support his amendment.

Finally, on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, as we said in Committee, he is absolutely right to raise the potential of robotics to assist with the levelling-up missions. It is an opportunity that we should not miss, and which could also provide jobs in this country—much-needed jobs in skilled work. I hope that the Government will work further with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on how this could be achieved.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to support a number of amendments in this group. I absolutely endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in identifying disparities that should be taken into account when we assess the impact of this levelling-up Bill, and taking action as a consequence seems to make logical sense. I particularly support the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Foster and Lord Carrington, and the amendments that they have tabled on rural proofing. I share the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in having cantered round this course so many times before without having had a satisfactory conclusion.

This is no way a reflection on the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, but because the responsibility for rural proofing currently lies with Defra, its influence within government as a whole is very limited. Yet it is essential that the whole of government engages in the rural-proofing agenda, which is why it is important that this item is discussed and considered within the Bill, so that it is seen as a government responsibility to deliver rural proofing.

Queen’s Speech

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Monday 17th May 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I would like to congratulate new Members on their excellent maiden speeches.

I shall comment on Her Majesty’s gracious address, as far as the Government’s policies on agriculture, the environment and rural issues are concerned. Let me state from the outset that I applaud their intention to introduce a Bill on animal welfare and look forward to the debate on it, and on the imminent Environment Bill. Both are of crucial importance and present an opportunity for this country to set new global standards. This is of particularly import in view of hosting COP 26 in November. As a country, we are proud of our commitment to high standards of animal welfare—it is one of our global claims. The intention to raise welfare standards for farm animals will, I am sure, be welcomed by the public, and elements of the Bill will also be supported by farmers provided that the trading field is level.

I am aware of the substantial work that has been done by Defra to design an enhanced animal welfare element of the ELM scheme. To reward farmers, willing to go beyond the norm and improve their facilities and standards, is a big step forward. However, if this is overlaid by further legislation that will apply to all farmers, significant additional costs will be incurred that are unlikely to be compensated for by government support through the ELM scheme.

I have a similar concern about the Environment Bill. We absolutely have to embrace the measures proposed in the Bill, to improve biodiversity and resource efficiency, the quality of air and water, to reduce waste and pollution, to limit abstraction, and so on. These are essential and worthy ambitions, but it is inevitable that these measures will lead to cost increases for farmers and land managers, and these could be substantial in some cases.

In addition to these two topics—animal welfare and the environment—we have the overarching challenge of climate change, as articulated by many Peers today and very convincingly, by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, in this debate.

There are only two sources of income that farmers and land managers will have access to for ensuring that they successfully deliver on these ambitions: the public funding through ELMS and the rewards in the marketplace for the food that we produce. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the public goods that we can and need to deliver to achieve real success in meeting government objectives will soon drain the Treasury commitment within the current agricultural budget. No values have yet been determined for the various elements of the scheme, but the ambition and the list of desired outcomes continues to increase. Can the Minister inform us whether the Government are regularly reviewing the potential cost of funding ELMS as our ambitions increase, and whether the department is doing this in conjunction with the Treasury?

Moving to the marketplace and the potential for the market to reward farmers for the higher standards that they will be committed to deliver, this was raised as a matter of serious concern in debates on the Agriculture Bill and subsequently on the Trade Bill. The Government’s decision to establish the initial Trade and Agriculture Commission was very welcome, and the confirmation in the Trade Bill that this would be given a statutory role was finally agreed after much debate and negotiation. The TAC delivered its report as commissioned earlier this year, yet so far the Government have not responded to its recommendations. Can the Minister confirm when this response is expected? Also, when can we expect progress in establishing the new TAC on a statutory footing? The Trade Secretary is making very good progress in negotiating trade deals. These deals must be urgently scrutinised by the non-existent TAC to ensure that they do not undermine the high domestic standards that we aspire to on the environment, climate change and animal welfare.

I very much supported the Government’s post-Brexit promised land ambitions for our countryside. The vision is an exciting one, but to extend the Old Testament analogy, the country is likely to flow with substandard imported milk and honey, fruit, vegetables and meat if those are not subject to the same high standards. How counterproductive would it be if our investment in even higher standards led to a fall in domestic production and did not result in any net national benefit due to an increase in lower-quality imports? The delay in establishing the TAC is becoming a real concern.

Finally, I fully endorse comments made in this debate on concerns about planning policy and the importance of the levelling-up agenda regarding rural areas and how the Government intend to address this.

North of England: Investment

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My noble friend is right that we need to look at the emerging economy and encouraging fintech clusters so that we get more high-skilled jobs located in the north. That is why the Chancellor’s decision to locate the national infrastructure bank in the north is also helpful in this regard.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. In the north, we have a double challenge. We need not only north/south levelling-up but rural/urban levelling-up. Can the Minister confirm how soon the Government will announce details of the shared prosperity fund and whether there will be a dedicated rural element to it?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I am not in a position to announce further details on the UK shared prosperity fund.

National Planning Policy Statements: Climate Change

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Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, that is a misrepresentation of the thrust of the planning reforms. We need to engage with communities. The idea of the planning reforms is to ensure that engagement happens up front and that it works within a framework to make sure that we get sustainable development and that we also hit the objectives that we have set as a Government.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a potential conflict between the Government’s intention to build 300,000 new housing properties each year and the risk that, under pressure to deliver this ambition, local authorities and local planners are ignoring advice from the Environment Agency in approving housing schemes that are at serious risk of flooding if, as it is assumed, global temperatures rise by more than two degrees centigrade due to climate change?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, in 89% of cases, the advice from the Environment Agency is followed. There is a commitment to maintain and enhance the objectives on avoiding environmental damage in the White Paper—certainly to maintain if not to enhance. There is also a commitment to review whether the current protections via the National Planning Policy Framework are enough, and, importantly, to boost transparency, data collection and reporting where the Environment Agency or the lead local flood authority advice is given; so they are shining the spotlight of transparency. There is a pledge to review what is done in those cases where the Environment Agency flood advice is not taken, as well as to review the current approach to flood resilience design. I hope that that is a full enough answer for the noble Lord.