King’s Speech

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Thursday 9th November 2023

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and her thoughtful and thought-provoking speech. I also agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on her powerful speech about the Holocaust Bill. I support a Holocaust memorial and learning centre, but the current proposals reflect the fact that it is the wrong location and the wrong design, at an exorbitant cost of £139 million.

I am here in your Lordships’ House today to speak about housing. In that case, I need to declare an interest in that I have been a landlord in the private rented sector since the 1990s and before that I was a renter in the private rented sector up until my mid-30s. I have seen renting from both sides of the fence.

I welcome His Majesty’s Government’s determination in the gracious Speech to proceed with both the Renters (Reform) Bill and the leasehold and freehold Bill. Both are long overdue, in my view. However, in almost 30 years of being a private landlord, I have never known the situation facing both landlords and private renters to be so bad. We are moving towards an inheritocracy, where only those who inherit will own property and wealth. Social inequality will increase as a result. Better to tax unearned inherited wealth, rather than everyone else, to provide the housing that is so badly needed.

One of the fundamental problems we have heard today in your Lordships’ House is the shortage of property to rent. The Government thus urgently need to increase the supply of socially rented housing to make it affordable for people, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, said earlier today. It is a simple question of demand and supply. When demand outstrips supply, prices, or in this case rents, go up. There are of course other contributing factors; recent rises in mortgage rates mean landlords with buy-to-let mortgages—and there are 1.7 million of them—have seen their mortgages triple or even quadruple. In that event, it is not surprising to see rents in some cases go up by 30% to 40%. There are other factors; tax changes have meant that buy-to-let landlords are the only business owners I know to be taxed on their turnover, rather than profits. Increasing regulation, often necessary, has nevertheless meant costs have been piled on landlords, which they pass on to their tenants.

Let us look at these private landlords. Profits are at their lowest for 14 years. Over the last year, the level of landlords defaulting on their mortgages has doubled, so arrears have been building up. Most landlords just have one or two properties, which they have worked hard to buy, to provide for them in their old age. In the past, property capital growth has enabled landlords to cross-subsidise tenants in lean times, but this is no longer the case.

On the specifics of the Bills, I welcome the abolition of Section 21, so giving security to tenants. But His Majesty’s Government should be careful of the unintended consequences of introducing periodic tenancies to replace assured shorthold tenancies. In city centres and resort areas, short-term tenancies and increased use of Airbnb-type ultra-short tenancies will mean less property is available to local residents and students, not more, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, already mentioned. It does seem bizarre to me that His Majesty’s Government will outlaw longer tenancies, so guaranteeing more security of tenure when both parties want it.

I am glad that pets, particularly dogs, will be banned when the lease forbids them. That should remain at the discretion of the landlord. Dogs may be appropriate in houses, but in flats they can cause nuisance and even be dangerous. We have seen a massive increase in dangerous dog attacks and fatalities in recent years; my wife and I were on the receiving end of one in our own garden from tenants who had a dog in breach of the lease. I would not recommend the experience.

In terms of the leasehold Bill, I welcome His Majesty’s Government’s intention to abolish the feudal and archaic leasehold system, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, referred to previously. For centuries, freeholders and their agents have had a licence to fleece leaseholders, with little or no chance of redress. In particular, I agree leaseholders should be given greater rights to self-manage, ending the opportunity for freeholders and their agents to exploit vulnerable leaseholders with excessive service and other charges.

It is time that lease extensions and valuations were made more transparent, quicker, cheaper and easier, rather than the theatrical system we have today, which is designed to benefit everyone except the leaseholder. The opaque lease extension system in place, its absurd marriage value and other calculations mean leaseholders have little or no control over the process or the cost.

It is regrettable, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, has mentioned on numerous occasions in the past, that property management agents remain wholly unregulated. What other body sometimes dealing with millions of pounds is totally unregulated and requires no professional qualifications and standards whatsoever? On balance, His Majesty’s Government should be supported in reforming the private rented sector and leasehold. They should be awarded six out of 10, but need to do better still.

Social Care Funding (EAC Report)

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Thursday 28th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, and the Economic Affairs Committee on their incisive report. Social care funding has become a postcode lottery, as he said at the outset of this debate, and a national disgrace. Her Majesty’s Government should increase funding by at least £10 billion to restore the 2009-11 levels of quality and access. I agree that social care should be largely funded by general taxation. It should not be funded by local authorities, which, as we have heard, results in variegated levels of care across the country. However, given the challenges facing social care provision, we should be even more ambitious. The old age dependency ratio is increasing, while the number of working-age adults needing care is multiplying. Those receiving social care should not rely on future generations to cover their care costs. Deferred payment agreements should be a right so that no one receiving care is ever forced to sell their home while in care.

Social care should be paid for through taxation. Let me be specific. Those receiving care should pay for it through an inheritance tax, formerly and more properly called death duties, paid on their passing from their estate only if they have the means. The existing £500,000 inheritance threshold could be maintained. A majority of beneficiaries would not be affected; they would receive that inheritance only after the tax was paid. For example, the Tax Research UK blog has estimated that if inheritance tax was raised to 80%, double the current rate and similar to that paid after the Second World War, it could raise £174 billion—virtually enough to pay for the entire pandemic, let alone social care.

We have to recognise that we are facing a wartime-like crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, which requires a wartime-like response. Currently, a lucky half of young people will inherit 90% of the nation’s wealth; the rest will struggle. Of that wealth, 90% is presently owned by just half of elderly households. The desire to leave everything to one’s family and siblings is not as strong as it once was. Equity release is increasingly popular. People want to enjoy their lives now but be secure in their own homes in old age for as long as possible. Domiciliary care is the preferred option for many, and it should be provided by the state.

Instead of taxing the general population and businesses into the ground or looking at a wealth or property tax, we should tax people for their social care only after they have passed. This avoids squeezing the asset-rich and cash-poor while they are alive. It would be a death duty, not an inheritance tax. There would still be plenty to inherit. Inheritance has doubled in the last 20 years and is expected to do so again in the next 20. If the issue of funding social care and other essential public services is not addressed, and the lucky half benefits by inheriting the bulk of the country’s wealth, intergenerational inequality will worsen—something the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned. Instead of levelling up, the Government will find that they have created even more inequality and regional disparities, and our society and public services will be the poorer for it.

Health: Eating Disorders

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Tuesday 19th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The noble Lord puts it extremely well. Instances of those in pregnancy who have eating disorders are particularly heartrending and disturbing. He is right: sometimes, the condition is so extreme that it needs virtual full admission. We have put six new beds in the south-east, five in the Midlands, five in the east of England and 10 in the north-east. We are putting a massive amount into mental health budgets and this provision covers exactly this kind of disorder because we recognise that more resources are needed. I look forward to further announcements of spending in this area.

Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as the Minister said, the statistics outlined by the health survey are of obvious concern, but the survey, published last December, does not cover the period of the Covid pandemic. Has the Minister any evidence that eating disorders have increased during the pandemic? If so, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s response?

Covid-19: Variant

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Wednesday 13th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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I am terribly sorry but the noble Baroness is not right about that chronology. Through backward tracing and by looking at historic data, we were able to identify that the variant had been present in Kent as far back as September, but it was only through backward tracing that we were able to figure that out. Further analysis was commissioned on 18 December and NERVTAG concluded that the variant was much more transmissible than others in circulation. Before that, we relied on hunches. When the science changed, so did our decisions.

Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab) [V]
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Andrew Miller, president of the Australian Medical Association in Western Australia, said:

“Until we get more data that shows that AstraZeneca is as good as the others, the scientific and medical risk that you take is that you won’t get herd immunity. The political risk is that you will get a good vaccine for the rich and a not so good vaccine for the poor.”


Is it not just a fact that the AstraZeneca vaccine is better than nothing but it will not stop the pandemic—especially the new variant?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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I categorically reject that analysis. All the vaccines are effective. The MHRA and the JCVI have been explicit about that, and I invite the noble Lord to look at the data.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation and Linked Households) (England) Regulations 2020

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Thursday 7th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab) [V]
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My Lords, these regulations are, unfortunately, necessary; we are where we are. I wish to make four brief points in the time available.

First, we require a national mobilisation on a wartime footing, as many noble Peers have said, to accelerate the rollout of vaccines. Israel, as previously mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and others, is doing it 10 times faster than us.

Secondly, due to the extreme virulence of the new strain of Covid-19, we need to immediately engage local pharmacies and the independent sector in the vaccine rollout, as many noble Lords have said in this debate.

Thirdly, we need to avoid vaccine nationalism, as witnessed in France, and use any vaccine which is safe and effective. I fear that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is simply not effective enough to counter the new strain, especially if restricted to one initial dose.

Fourthly and finally, we should mobilise the Nightingale hospitals but be wary of them being used simply as massive vaccination hubs, which can themselves be a source of infection as large numbers of unvaccinated people travel to and from them. The more vaccination is decentralised and broadened out, the better.

Covid-19 Update

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Monday 21st September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, all those resident in local authority hostels or accommodation will be tested regularly to prevent the transmission of this disease.

Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, will the Minister commit Her Majesty’s Government not only to an independent inquiry into their handling of Covid-19 but to a public inquiry? The Government need to look at the massive human cost of the pandemic as well as the financial one. Have the many billions of pounds spent on the pandemic been spent wisely?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid that any decision about an inquiry is way beyond my pay scale, but the noble Lord is entirely right: there will clearly be massive lessons that we need to learn about the ways in which we do government, and health, and manage our public health. Those lessons should certainly include the economy since the impact of this disease on it has been profound. We will be living with those consequences for some time to come. We need to learn how to protect the economic future of our children when dealing with these kinds of national epidemics.

Anti-obesity Strategies

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Monday 14th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The noble Baroness is entirely right: we do rely on the advice of charities, academics and experts in eating disorders. We do not do anything without full consultation with those who have expertise in eating disorders. We review the campaign regularly, and we will be taking into account the view and feedback of those experts, charities and patient groups as a part of that review.

Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, what action are Her Majesty’s Government taking to tackle eating disorders, especially among the young, whose mental health may have been severely impacted by the current Covid-19 pandemic?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone with an eating disorder has access to timely treatment. That is why we set up the first waiting times to improve access to eating disorder services for children and young people so that, by 2021, 95% of children with an eating disorder will receive treatment within a week. Figures show that in Q1 of 2020, 87.7% of children with an eating disorder received treatment within one week in urgent cases, and 86.8% within four weeks.

Covid-19 Update

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Thursday 10th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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I shall be extremely careful about how I reply to that question because I would not want to come across as testy. The noble Lord is right: it is a challenge to strike the right balance between guiding towards testing those who truly need tests because they have symptoms and trying to get those with less of a priority away from testing. I reassure him that, even under current circumstances, 90% of those who apply for a test get one within 20 miles and the average distance to travel is six and a half miles. Therefore, even though some of the anecdotes about being recommended to travel long distances might seem extraordinary, the lived reality of most people who go for tests is that they are quick, near, accurate and effective.

Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will not let people die for ideological reasons? Are the Government prepared to buy a vaccine from any country, provided that it is safe and it works?

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Wednesday 29th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab) [V]
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My Lords, while the local lockdown in Leicester was unfortunately necessary, I cannot escape the feeling that the Government are continually playing catch-up during this pandemic. How likely does the Minister see a second wave of the virus, and how prepared are Her Majesty’s Government for the resultant spikes in cases? Will Her Majesty’s Government be prepared to reintroduce a national lockdown if required, as was asked earlier? Will Her Majesty’s Government formally revise their guidance on the advisability of foreign holidays this summer? What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to introduce mandatory testing for Covid-19 at our airports? Finally, when will Her Majesty’s Government confirm that they will hold an immediate, independent and, importantly, public inquiry into their disastrous handling of this pandemic, which has caused so many unnecessary deaths and brought suffering to so many people?

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020

Lord Truscott Excerpts
Friday 24th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Truscott Portrait Lord Truscott (Ind Lab) [V]
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My Lords, when history judges Her Majesty’s Government’s response to this pandemic, I am sure that they will be roundly condemned for their slowness to realise the gravity of the situation. At times, the expert advice to government has been very poor. Does the Minister accept that there is growing evidence that Public Health England, which has seen a 40% cut in its budget since 2013, has been unequal to the task asked of it? In particular, the PHE tracing system put in place last February was abandoned because there were not the resources to scale it up. The failure to involve more than 130 local directors of public health and their 5,000 expert staff in contact tracing was critical. Finally, will the Minister ensure that the promised inquiry into the failures in dealing with the pandemic is not only independent but public?