Affordable Housing: Supply

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Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to address this very important issue, which affects all of us directly or indirectly. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, in Ynys Môn. She certainly made us aware of the fact that she will represent the interests of Wales during her time here, but perhaps the extra value will come from what she has to say about a generation that many of us have long left behind. It is wonderful to welcome a fellow Welsh person, and on such an important issue.

Many speakers have quoted statistics of one kind or another. Some, by the weight of repetition, have brought home in a focused way the needs of the moment and the dire situation in which this whole area is dragged down. One statistic that has not been mentioned is that we are in the year of the 16th Housing Minister since 2010. Having 16 Housing Ministers in 14 years is not something to glide over or just have a chuckle about; it represents where housing sits on the agenda of this present Government. We must, therefore, as gravely as we can, point to that. We would like to wish the present Minister in our House a long life in her current job, but there is a bit of me that does not want to go that far in this year of grace.

We have to admit that initiatives, programmes and financial packages have been attempted or implemented by the present Government that we should at least recognise as pointing in a direction that we all want to travel in. However, the House magazine issued just a month ago, focusing on housing, recognised that this is a moment of crisis, when the Government are facing unprecedented pressure over their housing record. I like to quote voices other than those of our own parties, to make the points that need to be made as being more general than simply the result of one’s own party-political position.

The wonderful briefing notes that we had from the Library omitted from the title of the report one word which is integral to my noble friend’s Motion before us—the word “genuinely”. As others have mentioned quite properly, if “affordable” just means 20% off the going rate, it is certainly not affordable for the large majority of people. So “genuinely” must claim its place in the phrasing of this Motion and in our discussion of the issues it raises. House prices are 8.3 times higher than the median wage, which means that even people with 20% or 30% discounts will not be able easily to arrange mortgages or pay rents. We have heard how many of them have to resort to alternative forms of accommodation because housing is now beyond them.

I hesitated long and hard before putting my name down to speak in this debate, because I have never owned a house in my entire life. I have lived in tied accommodation, and so many of the issues mentioned here have never been within my direct experience. But I have three children, and these issues lie very definitely within the ambit of my children’s generation. They themselves have come up with mixed responses, and abilities and inabilities, as to how to fashion a housing future for themselves.

It is admittedly a very complex area. National plans and strategies have been mentioned again and again, and they have to take in many diverse and often conflictual strands of experience. I received, as I am sure we all have, briefings ahead of this debate—for example, from Women’s Aid—about not forgetting the needs of women who have been domestically abused, who will have housing needs. Then there is the news that there is no guarantee that the ban on no-fault evictions can be implemented before the election. That took us all by surprise too, and affected radically the way we were thinking about a particular piece of legislation before us at the moment. Then the Residential Freehold Association came in, all guns firing, to have its own particular interest defended too.

It has all left me feeling, in agreement with those who have said it already, that we need some kind of bipartisan national effort for what is a universal need. It is no good having my plan versus your plan; rather, we need to be thinking together to achieve an outcome that would and can, as is the only way, benefit the world at large.

I have a couple of personal examples, which I use not because of the personalities involved but for illustrative purposes. I have been in conversation this week with a young person—although it is some time since I was young. Having graduated during the Covid years, and looking to his future career and the rest of it, he has received a very good offer of a further degree in one of our prestigious universities. But as he says, unless he can find funding, with £48,500-worth of debt already, how does he do it? Some £3,500 of that debt is the interest accrued on the debt last year—what is that all about? We are eliminating this from the frame of young people’s possibilities and needs, by the punitive way that these things happen.

I shall perhaps a bit more personal, if noble Lords will permit me. My parents divorced when I was a child. I still have at home, and I thought to bring it, just to wave it around, the letter from my father’s lawyer that ordered my mother and her boys out of the family home at one week’s notice. It was October. The winter was nigh on. We had nowhere to go. In the little locality where I lived, various neighbours took us in for a week or a few days at a time until my grandparents, who were caretakers in a factory, decided that they would share the three rooms that they lived in with my mother and her two boys, so I was raised in one room in a brickyard. I mention this not to alarm people or to draw attention in some kind of pathos moment, but because I can never forget my mother’s feelings, which were never expressed verbally, of panic, fear, depression, and—what the Centre for Economics and Business Research refers to as being the case for people who have gone through that—long-term scarring. Long-term scarring is what people who have been thrown on the garbage heap carry with them for the rest of their lives. I have to say that in my worst moments I give evidence of it myself. I feel that we must keep in view the needs at large of young people, marginalised people and those who have no hope or stake in society when we utter our fine words, analyse the statistics and form the resolve that as a nation we need to do better than we are doing right now.

Homelessness: Vagrancy Act 1824

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Monday 10th July 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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As I have said, this is a really complex issue. We need to get this right and to be talking to people. The noble Lord is right that we have committed to repeal the Vagrancy Act as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. We have started the consultation, we are discussing with stakeholders but, as I have said, we will look for the proper place in legislation, and the proper piece of legislation is not LURB.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I am happy to hear the formula about the right place and the right time. My experience of working with homeless people is that there is only one right time, and it is now. In view of the fact that so much has already happened in the recent past—so many exchanges, so many decisions—do the Government not feel that the right time and the right place is as near now as possible?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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That is exactly what I have just said—the right time is now, and we are making our final consultations and will look for the right piece of legislation as soon as possible. My department will work very closely with the Home Office so that this new legislation ensures that vulnerable individuals are always directed to the most appropriate support. It is not just about getting rid of an old-fashioned law.

International Women’s Day

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Friday 10th March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise as an unconfident man hoping to make some kind of contribution of a positive nature to this terrifically important debate. A week ago today, my wife and I headed for the Old Vic, where we saw “Sylvia”. I did not see and hear it; I experienced and lived it. Funk, soul and hip-hop—I never thought that my degree in theology would allow me to say all those things in the same sentence—have released the story from the tight embrace of social historians, and even parliamentary debate, to come alive for our age. While mentioning that, I have to say that my wife is descended from the Pankhursts. I remember her old grandmother, who was a cousin of Sylvia Pankhurst. Despite downsizing when we retired, my wife insisted on the yard of books relating to the Pankhursts coming with us, whatever the cost. The shelves, suitably bent, tell their own story.

It was a wonderful, alarmingly brilliant production, reminding us to remember. We remembered the Holocaust just a month ago. Zachar is the great Hebrew word for “to remember” and remembering is what we must do with these key moments in the drift towards equity, which is at the heart of the debate today. There was more to do after Sylvia did her job, but what courage, resilience, determination and strength she and her supporters showed. “Like a mighty army” is an idea that has come of age, whose time is right. If only we could centre some of the disparate thinking that we have on this and other similar issues in a focused way. A younger audience, which was ethnically very diverse, with a significant proportion of women compared to men, was there for “Sylvia” last week. It was clear to me that what the suffragettes, as mentioned in debate earlier, achieved was to energise society to give it the courage to embrace new ideas. How can we do that again? That was the question I came away with last week.

Last Friday was the churches’ international day of prayer. The material that churches around the world and in this country were motivated by this year was formulated by women from Taiwan. It so happens that the day before, a young Taiwanese couple—two of my friends—came to have dinner here because their parents had come from Taiwan for the first time since Covid. The women there, as well as the material in the notes provided for the worship last Friday, reminded me of the fears of Taiwanese women and girls, knowing what is happening in Ukraine at the hands of the Russians, that something not dissimilar might happen to them at the hands of the Chinese. They are already in a defensive mode.

It does not help that only 13 countries out of 193 members of the United Nations have recognised Taiwan, no doubt out of fear of, and of offending, China. But for all that, it makes them feel very vulnerable indeed. The Taiwanese people I met last week, and whose plight I became aware of, reminded me that in a country like this we must do our darndest to stand in solidarity with women in countries like Taiwan—countries not in the headlines, with women and girls who have genuine fears for their future that are never noticed by anyone. Those were my experiences last Friday.

When I first entertained the idea of speaking in this debate, I thought I would want to talk about the rights of migrant women who have suffered domestic abuse and whose plight is still not addressed by our embracing the Istanbul convention. I am a member of the migration committee of the Council of Europe. I will be in Paris next week talking about precisely this and leading a seminar on it in Parliament on Monday. But I did not dare allow myself to talk about this issue relating to migration in a week when a wretched Bill has been put before us. I fear that a theologically correct, properly brought-up nonconformist boy like me would have had to use vocabulary I keep secret for the most part, as I denigrated the Bill. That is the speech I did not make; I hope you will hang on to one or two of the ideas in the speech that I did.

International Holocaust Memorial Day

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Thursday 19th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, this is the first time I have spoken on this subject at an event of this kind, and I am terrified that my words will go towards trivialising the important subject that we are discussing. I begin by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for her courageous stance on the question of the memorial that is intended to be locally placed, whose line I fully support for the reasons that she has given.

In the 1990s, I lived in Golders Green and was chair of the Hendon and Golders Green branch of the Council of Christians and Jews. We had some wonderful and profound times together, but the most searing memory of those years was when my wife and I attended an early showing of “Schindler’s List” in the local cinema. In the darkened interior of the cinema, we were a small minority of non-Jews. The sighing and the sobbing were searing: I have never forgotten that, and it has posed the question of how I as a non-Jew respond to this in its most radical way.

First, it made me aware of the depth of the suffering, and the continuation of that suffering. But it also asked a question of me about what happens to the memory of such an important event when it is handled in a way that is basically entertainment. Groups of children were going to Auschwitz as part of their education; once again, Auschwitz turned into a visitor centre. My own capacity to say smooth words, which I am a professional at, raises the possibility of using my very gifts to go towards trivialising what is such an inexpressible event. With all that in mind, and with due apologies to people who find this a little difficult, at the time that I lived in Golders Green, I had just finished reading—just one of a whole number of things—a book called Shadows of Auschwitz: a Christian Response to the Holocaust. That led me to include a poem in a publication of devotional material that I launched at that time.

There are two things that have challenged my Christian faith more than anything else. One is the Holocaust; the other—again, something with which I have had close connections and involvement with over many years—is slavery. The poem is like this, and I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I read it:

“I look at the photographs


in silence,

deep, deep silence.

One question rises

imperiously:

Where is God?

Bodies are carted into

the inextinguishable blaze

of gaping ovens;

human bones piled in little hills

waiting to be turned into fertilizer,

macabre transubstantiation;

Where is God?

Three corpses hang limply from a gibbet,

swollen tongues loll heavily,

a soldier, an ordinary man, poses for a snapshot

beneath this grim Calvary

proud, it seems, of his part

in blasphemy;

Where is God?

Cadavers strewn at random

in a common grave

big as a football field;

featureless bodies who

once were ordinary men and women

boys and girls

made for life and love;

Where is God?

Human hair made into rugs

flesh turned into soap

skin into lampstands

gold fillings extracted

melted down.

Nothing wasted;

nothing lost;

Where is God?

In a world like this

Where is God?

In the world you made

Where are you God?”

Zakar—remember.

Sewel Convention

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Monday 13th June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I always consider the interventions of the noble Lord to be consistent, and to require a straight bat. We do understand when it is a reserved matter and when it is a devolved matter, and we will obviously look very carefully at how the Scottish Government spend their money.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, as part of promises made during the debate about leaving the European Union, an assurance was given to Wales that it would not suffer one penny less in terms of the money that had come from Brussels when it fell to the British Government to supply that money, but I am constantly bemused by the fact that this simply has not happened and is not happening. Although the Minister’s reply to my noble friend’s Question was perhaps what it ought to be, she quoted a Minister in the Senedd who said something quite contradictory. There is a difference of view that I think this House would benefit by understanding in greater depth.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, it is important that we get the Sewel convention to work, and that is why it is one of two items on the agenda for the upcoming inter-ministerial steering committee. We have had a working group on the Sewel convention. I cited the figures in response to another question; considerable sums are going through the UK shared prosperity fund, and it is important that we use those funds for the benefit of all four nations.

Constitutional Commission

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Thursday 9th June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I am a shooting star for a minute and a half, with due thanks to my noble friend Lord Wigley.

In the time that I have been in your Lordships’ House, I have noticed a number of measures moving through to completion that had constitutional dimensions to them. Therefore, I feel that a situation we thought we understood has, either by accretion or erosion, been sometimes quite severely affected. What I pick up from the Question as central to a need felt more keenly now than it could have been before is that we need to take time out to have a convention—call it what you like—where we look at what is happening in a situation where, if we are honest, power is not only held and disposed of centrally but disposed of by the Executive at the expense of other aspects of government.

Granted the anomalous situations that exist in Scotland and in Wales, and ominous possibilities of what might or might not happen in Ireland, this should be a moment where we stand apart and take a good look at what has become of us. I would like the methodology that underpins such a convention to resemble more what happened to bring the Good Friday agreement into being in Northern Ireland: namely, endless talks behind and out of sight to achieve something that gives us an opportunity to create ideas we can live with.

I do not think a debate of this kind, for all the worthiness of some of the things put forward, can possibly achieve the outcomes we are looking for, but it can hint at something. I end simply by taking other lines of WB Yeats’s poem that was partly quoted earlier. Yes, it is true that “Things fall apart”, and “The centre cannot hold”. It is true that

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

and that

“The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

Was there ever a description of now better than that, although it is 100 years old? Was there ever a statement of how things are that better describes our need radically to look at where we are and how we can move forward, with trust and respect, one for another?

Inclusive Society

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Wednesday 14th April 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, poverty lies at the heart of what I want to contribute to this debate. My noble friend Lady Lister is publishing a second edition of her seminal work on this very subject, and we must be grateful to her for securing this debate at such a critical time. The second step in the road map that will see us emerge from Covid inevitably begins to focus our minds on the future. Her book is a clarion call to all policymakers to recognise the factors that lie at the heart of poverty, and to assess programmes and proposals that will deal with them adequately as we prepare ourselves for the post-pandemic future. By the way, she and I share a huge respect for and admiration of the work done on this subject in the past by Peter Townsend, whose memory we cherish.

In her book, my noble friend emphasises the need to go beyond the measurable when discussing the meaning of poverty. It cannot be a matter simply of listing a number of deprivation indicators, for example, or identifying a percentage of median income. Quantitative factors must have their place, but mere statistics will not tell the whole story on poverty. It is important to set alongside the idea of an “insecure economic condition” the experience of a “corrosive social relation”; those are my noble friend’s terms. It is necessary to assess how people in poverty exercise, or are unable to exercise, their agency as social actors. There is a psychosocial dimension to poverty. People who suffer poverty must not be dismissed with lazy stereotypes as passive, victims or welfare dependants. A radical look at the broader aspects of poverty is of the utmost importance, especially now.

It is with all this in mind that I read the report published earlier this week by the Office for National Statistics. It indicated, as the Guardian states, that

“41.6% of black people aged 16-24 were unemployed … Unemployment among white workers of the same age stood at 12.4%.”

It went on to say that in the nine months since the outbreak of the pandemic

“the unemployment rate among young black people had shot up by 64.4% compared with 17% for their white counterparts”.

We may not be systematically racist—the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who is normally cheerful, was rather splenetic in his outburst on these points—but we have a problem to consider. These figures should ring alarm bells. The average age of noble Lords means that almost all of us remember what happened in the early 1980s when we faced a similar statistical situation.

However, we must go beyond mere statistics. Young black people are much more likely to have been in less secure employment before the pandemic, with zero-hour or fixed-term contracts or cash-in-hand employment with little or no contractual certainty. These will be people who have been less protected by schemes such as furlough; no one can tell how things will turn out for them once the present crisis is over.

On Monday, so many people in this House paid tribute to the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Those tributes will not be worth a bean if we cannot find ways to ensure that the work done by him and his son, the Prince of Wales, in creating opportunities for young people—especially young black people—continues and intensifies. If not, we are storing up trouble for ourselves if we fail on this matter. It is of the utmost importance that black lives matter to those of us who are not black as much as they do to those who are.

Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers

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Thursday 12th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we want to build on what works. I will take away this idea, make sure we give it due consideration and find out how we can support the Salvation Army in its policy ideas—and potentially scale them up, if they are working well.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, we have almost a repeat scenario of the situation we discussed earlier this month relating to free school meals. A very good government initiative earlier in the year—Everyone In—was widely praised, but now it is no longer in that form the responsibility is being passed, through the funding agreements that have been mentioned, to local authorities. That is the answer we got about free school meals. But, as we see in this morning’s press, local councils are facing widespread financial failures and are terrifically strapped for cash. A previous question supposed that the money had to be hypothecated for people suffering from homelessness and rough sleeping—but local councils have so many priorities that will match that. This will be another postcode lottery, if we are not careful. Why can the Government not have another Marcus Rashford moment, and do a U-turn? This month of lockdown is already under way, and the Question is about this month.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I was, unfortunately, a local council leader during a previous Administration under the leadership of Gordon Brown, when there was no Government more focused on ring-fencing every fund. My point was that if a fund is specifically for rough sleepers, it is right and proper that it be targeted on those who are sleeping rough. Most of the money that we are providing—the £6.4 billion—is non-ring-fenced money for local councils to put where their local communities need it most.

Covid-19: Places of Worship

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Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the focus on evidence. Following the meeting that I chaired on behalf of the Prime Minister of the Covid-19 places of worship task force, Public Health England is looking at the evidence around places of worship and proliferation of the virus. I am aware that a tremendous amount of effort has been put into ensuring that places of worship are Covid secure.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am glad to hear the Minister’s recognition that churches have acted diligently in making sure that things are safe. Over the last 10 weeks, I have either led or attended acts of worship in three different churches, and meticulous attention has been given to all aspects of proper behaviour in such circumstances. Methodists are even reduced to not singing our hymns: we are reduced to humming behind our masks or, indeed, some kind of Trappist silence. On behalf of the many elderly people for whom the act of worship is the only social activity they have from one week to another, when can their needs be taken seriously into account so that they can enjoy a sense of well-being, even in these difficult times?

Covid-19: Churches and Places of Worship

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Thursday 9th July 2020

(4 years ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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I note the comments on the financial state of the abbey and St Margaret’s. We are looking to see what we can do. As I mentioned in my previous answer, there are a number of schemes available to churches to support them during the pandemic.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, apart from cathedrals and larger parish churches, what about the ordinary street-corner churches? These offer community services, and in the case of the one I attend, concerts and cultural events, visits to care homes, accommodation for rough sleepers during the winter months, and art classes, with some 10% of the income it raises given away to charities. Will the Government recognise that if, as the Minister says, there are indeed avenues of help available, they must be well enough known for those in need to take advantage of them?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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My Lords, my department, MHCLG, is making that information available to all faith communities and places of worship. It should be noted that the Prime Minister has asked Danny Kruger to look into how we can support those that provide many of the community services referred to by the noble Lord, and the social action that has been so helpful during the recovery phase of Covid-19.