House of Lords
Wednesday 22 February 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, before we start Questions, I would like to take this opportunity to inform the House that, as part of our efforts to make proceedings as accessible as possible, starting today live subtitles are available on parliamentlive.tv for all proceedings in the Chamber.
My Lords, the UK has adopted early and ambitious measures to tackle methane emissions. Between 1990 and 2020, UK methane emissions dropped by 62%, more than any other OECD country. The Government recognise the urgency to do more and are pursuing efforts to secure further emissions reductions in line with the net-zero strategy and our carbon budgets. The Government’s approach is consistent with the global methane pledge as a global reduction target.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer, but I am not absolutely sure whether he is saying that the UK itself is committed to a 30% reduction, or whether it is just taking part in a collective reduction. Can he clarify that? I also want to ask him about the vexed problem of landfill sites, where we are still capturing only 70% of the biogas coming from them—and the proportion has declined since 2016. How will the Government increase methane capture rates to nearer 90%, as happens in some sites, by both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and harvesting more useable gas for the economy? If he does not know the answer to these questions, can he write to me?
I do know the answers to the noble Baroness’s questions, she will be shocked to know. In answer to her first question, I say that the UK is signed up to, and helping to implement, a global target. On the waste sector, she is absolutely right that we need to do more. Landfill emissions over the last 25 years have been tackled in two ways: by reducing the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill, with the landfill tax being a key driver, and by increasing the efficiency of methane collection from existing landfills. The other thing we need to do more is to increase waste food collections, so that we can generate more clean gas through anaerobic digesters, which is part of my department’s policies.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the word “urgency”, yet if we look at the North Sea, we are emitting three times the amount of methane compared with the equivalent extraction by Norway. On our side, the Government, through the North Sea Transition Authority, are just saying that there should be an end to the regular venting and flaring of methane by 2030. Should we not be performing as well as Norway now, if that urgency is there?
The noble Lord is right that we need to do better venting and flaring; it is a priority. We set out our commitment to the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative, as the noble Lord said. We are working with regulators and industry to eliminate this practice as soon as we possibly can.
My Lords, I will follow on from the very good question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. One of the worst methane leaks happened with the rupture of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Our report on UNCLOS detected a possible lack of protection of seabed pipelines. Can the Minister assure your Lordships that the MoD is making extra sure that these are better protected in future?
The explosion in the Nord Stream pipeline was truly shocking, with large quantities of gas released. I do not think that any investigations have yet shown who is responsible for that; I am sure we all have our strong suspicions. It was an appalling act of sabotage. I am sure that the authorities in the MoD and the security services are looking very closely at all our own interconnecting pipelines.
My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I point out that we are three times as bad as Norway in the published figures. However, I am sure the Minister is aware of the study out in the past month from Princeton University and Colorado State University, which says that the real figures are five times as bad as the published figures and that methane release data is based on outdated, unpublished, publicly unavailable or generic figures. Will the Government ensure that the best peer-reviewed research and methodology is used to calculate methane emissions from oil and gas?
Of course we will want to make sure that the information and published figures are as accurate as possible, but I think the noble Baroness does us a little bit of a disservice. We have reduced our methane emissions in the UK, as I said, by 62%. That is much better than the US and the EU 27. Clearly, we need to do more, but we have a good record in this area.
My Lords, with respect to greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, will His Majesty’s Government take into account, first, that the UK cattle herd has reduced by over 30% since 1975? Given the short half- life of methane in the atmosphere, that represents a similar permanent reduction in our national herd’s contribution to atmospheric methane. Secondly, we currently produce beef per unit of weight at less the half the global average greenhouse gas emissions.
I know that the farming sector has a good record, but of course ruminant livestock are one of the largest causes of farm emissions and one of the largest emitters in this country. We need to do more and we need to do better. I am straying into the territory of my noble friend Lord Benyon, but this is an area that we do need to improve our performance in.
The Minister rightly highlights the successes that the UK has shown in reducing methane emissions by 62% between 1990 and 2020. We welcome the UK signing up to the global methane pledge after COP 26. If the Government now say that UK emission reduction will have reached only 64% by 2030, where is the commitment to the pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% from the 2020 levels? Where is the urgency? The memo calls us a global leader. Are we effectively saying that we have done our bit rather than continuing to lead the way?
No, we are not saying that we have done our bit; we are saying that we have an extremely good record that is, as I said, much better than many of our industrialised partners, principally because we have virtually eliminated coal from our energy mix. Because we have done much better, performative-wise, than other countries it makes it more difficult for us to reduce further going forward, but we are committed to doing that. We are committed to working with our partners. Many of these sectors, as has been indicated by the questions, are quite difficult to tackle but we will certainly take a lead in this.
The International Energy Agency estimates that 72% of methane released from the UK’s oil and gas sector could be abated cost-effectively with existing technologies and practices. Will the Government accept the recommendations of Chris Skidmore’s net-zero review and ban routine flaring and venting by 2025—as the Norwegians did back in 1971?
Of course, we have received Chris Skidmore’s excellent report only recently, and we are studying its conclusions and recommendations in detail and will respond shortly. As I said, we will do our best to reduce routine flaring and we have a target—but if we can exceed that target, we certainly will.
My Lords, the announcement that every council will implement domestic food waste collections by 2025 is, of course, welcome, but it will not end the landfilling of other organic waste, such as garden waste and commercial food waste. If the UK were to bring forward its proposed end of landfilling organic waste from 2028 to 2025, it would cut methane emissions by an extra 13%, as a result of the time lag between waste arriving in landfill and the production of methane. Will the Minister talk to his noble friend at Defra to encourage it to look again at this point?
I am sure that my noble friend has heard the noble Baroness’s point, and she makes a very salient contribution. It is vital that we implement food waste collection as fast as possible, and I am particularly keen to do that because we have a whole series of anaerobic digestors being rolled out across the country, generating clean green gas that can feed directly into the gas mains. We have a subsidy policy in place for that; it is an excellent scheme, and we want to expand it.
My Lords, as well as failing in most areas of public policy, the Government are failing in the insulation of homes. Would not it be good for them to actually do something about this, as it would reduce pollution and help people with their energy bills?
It would indeed be good for the Government to do something about it—and, indeed, we are. We have an excellent insulation programme; we are spending something like £6.6 billion over this Parliament on insulation schemes. If the noble Lord would have a little patience, we will announce new schemes shortly. The Chancellor has already committed another £6 billion from 2025 for those schemes. Of course, there is always more that we can do—we have one of the biggest problems in Europe in terms of having the oldest housing stock, as many of our homes were built before the First World War. There is a lot to do, and we are doing a lot—and in essence the noble Lord is right, in that we can of course always do more on insulation, but let us not pretend that we are not doing anything at all.
Immunisation: Winter 2023-24
My Lords, there are many viruses that cause mild and severe respiratory tract infections, with vaccination programmes against influenza and Covid-19 and a target immunisation offer against respiratory syncytial virus for children at high risk in England. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recently published advice on influenza and Covid-19 for 2023-24, and is reviewing new products for potentially improving and expanding the RSV immunisation offer. The Government will announce those in due course.
I thank the Minister for his Answer, but obviously I am looking for a little more on a time and a date for that vaccination programme for next winter, which could see the introduction of several new immunisations for RSV. Indeed, I understand that one vaccine received its licence from the MHRA last November. What are the Government doing to ensure that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is able to rapidly access these new technologies in time for the next winter season, and thus help to mitigate the problems faced by the National Health Service?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question and pay tribute to the work that she does on behalf of us all as the allergy champion in Parliament. In line with the JCVI recommendation, the NHS currently offers a targeted monoclonal antibody programme to a small number of infants at high risk of severe complications from RSV infection. However, there are potential changes to this programme: a new monoclonal antibody which provides longer-term protection than the one currently used has been developed, and the JCVI is reviewing this in time for the 2023-24 season. The new monoclonal antidotes and vaccines are being reviewed by the JCVI for potential expansion of the current programme, including a universal offer. The JCVI is expected to conclude advice on this later in 2023. I assure the noble Baroness that I have asked for a specific date, and once I receive one I will certainly notify her.
I thank my noble friend for that question. The Government are guided by the independent JCVI on vaccinations and immunisations. The intention of the vaccination offer to children is to increase the immunity of vaccinated individuals against severe Covid-19 in advance of a potential future wave. When formulating advice in relation to childhood immunisations, the JCVI has consistently maintained that the focus should be on the potential benefits and harms of vaccination to children and young people themselves; prevention of severe Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths in children and young people is the primary aim.
My Lords, will the Minister say a little more about routine vaccination programmes? Although, as he says, in the UK childhood vaccination levels are quite high, they have been going down. Last year, 2021, none of the targets reached the WHO target of 95% for herd immunity. This trend of reducing numbers of children coming forward for routine programmes has gone on since 2012. What are the Government doing to reverse that trend, particularly in the light of the fact that it contributes to health inequalities?
I thank the noble Baroness for that excellent question. The Government are committed to child health, and, after clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health intervention for saving lives and promoting good health. The Government work with the NHS and the UK Health Security Agency to support accurate and up-to-date information on the benefits of vaccines to be available to parents, carers and patients. The NHS has recently concluded a call and recall campaign for parents or carers of anyone aged one to six who has missed their measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, or for anyone who missed it for any reason when invited to their GP, to catch up on their vaccination. GPs offer opportunistic vaccinations for anyone who visits the GP for any reason. There is a lot more we can do, such as using social media to appeal to younger people, but the Government are doing all we can.
My Lords, vaccination is the most effective way of preventing a whole host of diseases, yet the pharmaceutical industry finds it very difficult to invest in this area because it is so costly and full of risks. What encouragement are the Government giving to help the pharmaceutical industry to produce vaccines?
My Lords, there are some half a million people whose immune systems do not respond to vaccines because of genetic disorders, blood cancers or immunosuppressive medications. The Government’s living with Covid strategy reassured vulnerable people that there would be world-leading access to therapeutics, but the current offerings are quite limited and hard to access, which leaves many vulnerable people continuing to need to shelter. What are the Government doing to develop the necessary treatments to protect this vulnerable group from serious disease if they become infected?
My Lords, the potential for new immunisation for RSV being introduced later this year for both babies and older people in time for the next winter season is very welcome. However, the seasonal and contagious nature of RSV raises growing concerns that the UK faces a future with co-circulating RSV, Covid-19, Strep A and other respiratory viruses, and this at a time when healthcare capacity is already overstretched. What is the Government’s latest assessment of the impact of these co-circulating viruses on primary and secondary care and workforce capacity?
RSV has been a challenge for the science community for decades. Up until very recently, we have had only one, very expensive preventive measure. The noble Baroness talks about the workforce. It is very important that we have the talented NHS staff to deal with these issues. We have made significant scientific advances recently, and I will report back to the noble Baroness when I have some data on that.
My Lords, following the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, can my noble friend tell me what the department is doing on the rollout of convalescent plasma treatments for immunosuppressed patients, given that the monoclonal antibody Evusheld has now been rejected by both the US and NICE? If he cannot respond today, might he be willing to meet us both to discuss trials that might be ongoing for convalescent plasma with fractionated blood?
My Lords, will the Minister tell us by what point a decision has to be made on the nature of the protection against whatever Covid variation might apply next winter so that sufficient time and stocks can be available to provide for all those who need it?
My Lords, the Government’s regular flu and Covid-19 surveillance reports tell us that vaccination rates continue to vary widely between different demographic groups. Will the Minister share with the House the Government’s latest thinking on how they are going to improve vaccination take-up in those harder-to-reach groups so that everyone can benefit from that protection?
The noble Lord has mentioned digital connectivity several times in this place, and that is a very important part of how we can appeal to young people, along with working with education, schools and colleges. As I said in a reply a moment ago, when you visit a GP practice, you will be offered these treatments.
My Lords, given that health is a devolved matter, will the Minister give us some assurance that the information and data collected in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as in England, are on a consistent basis? If he is uncertain, could he link up with those respective Governments to ensure that that is the case?
Local Housing Allowance Rates
My Lords, the local housing allowance policy is kept under regular review. We monitor the average rents and shortfall levels for claimants to assess the impact of the policy. A significant support package was announced in the autumn Budget, including uprating benefits by 10.1% and extending the household support fund for 2023-24. Further support—discretionary housing payments—is available, and since 2011, nearly £1.6 billion in DHPs have been provided to local authorities.
My Lords, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, this further freeze in private rental support means that two-thirds of lower-income private renters must cover at least a quarter of their rent from elsewhere. For many, this means a real cut in the value of inadequate benefits that are supposed to cover basic needs such as food. Cash-limited local authority discretionary housing payments are no answer, especially as their budgets have also been cut. Does the Minister accept that one consequence of this freeze is likely to be increased homelessness? What is his advice for those faced with a growing, unaffordable gap between help with housing costs and actual rents?
I absolutely hear the noble Baroness, because we recognise that rents are increasing—there is certainly lots of anecdotal evidence of that in the press. However, the challenging fiscal environment means that difficult decisions were necessary to ensure that support is targeted effectively. That is why the Chancellor announced at the Autumn Statement a substantial package of cost of living support to target the most vulnerable households. As I mentioned earlier, one of the initiatives for those who require additional support is the discretionary housing payments available from local authorities, which are best able to target those funds.
My Lords, the overall level of housing benefit indeed remains a difficult political decision. However, does the Minister agree that it is the way the current local housing allowance system is structured that produces such an arbitrary and unfair system, particularly for private sector renters in high-rent areas? In the face of such overwhelming IFS evidence to prove this, are the Government giving any consideration to reframing the way that housing benefit is calculated in order to remove this growing unfairness?
Again, I note the comments made by the noble Baroness. We are very aware of this, and we are aware of the juxtaposition of what central government can do and the role of local authorities. As I said earlier to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, local authorities are best placed to understand exactly where the funds that we give them are best targeted. However, there is more than that; I mentioned the discretionary housing payments, but we also have the household support fund. There are a number of other initiatives which are important to mention as regards helping people, particularly to stay in their homes.
I accept what my noble friend says about the Autumn Statement, but is there not one sector of the public who are particularly badly affected? That is the people who are unfortunately unemployed and who are totally dependent on the local housing allowance and therefore disadvantaged, according to the local authorities that I have checked with.
Yes, indeed, and this plays into what we spend a lot of time doing in our department, which is looking at universal credit and the benefit cap, including the need for housing. We therefore recognise the importance of safeguarding the welfare of claimants, particularly those who, I am afraid, have got into debt. Looking at how they are able to afford housing is a key part of that.
My Lords, in the light of the rise in rents in the private sector, the likely rise in local authority rents and other social housing and the inadequacy of the local housing allowance to make good that, what is the Government’s estimate of the number of evictions that are likely to take place in both the public and private sector—that is in both social and private sector housing?
I certainly do not have an estimate of what the evictions will be, but we are very aware of the pressures around and we focus on the homelessness prevention grant, which is given out. That is to ensure that people are not evicted from their homes. It is very important that we do whatever we can to support people with their houses, particularly in areas where there is the greatest pressure, and the homelessness prevention grant will help as an extra comfort blanket for that.
My Lords, let us try to understand the system. The Government set up a system where you were meant to be able to rent one of the cheapest 30% of properties in an area on the local housing allowance rate and then they froze those rates in cash terms while rents kept going up. That forces people on low incomes to compete for fewer and fewer properties in their local area. This is not at the margins. Roughly 1.5 million people on universal credit get the housing allowance. Over half of those are having to top up their rents by an average of £100 a week. The inflationary increase that the Minister mentioned for the adult allowance on universal credit was a top-up of £100 a month, but £34 extra a month is coming in. How does that work?
The noble Baroness might like to be reminded that the LHA was originally set at 50th percentile of local market rents and then the policy was reformed, as she will know, in 2011, when it was reduced to 30th percentile. The reforms were made for a reason, because the scheme was unsustainable, with excessively high LHA rates in some areas. Having said all that, we are very aware of the pressures at the moment, as I said earlier, and that is why we have other initiatives to help those who are really struggling— I acknowledge that they are—in some cases with their housing costs.
My noble friend has mentioned several times discretionary housing grants, which are available to top up the difference between the local housing allowance and rents. Should not more be done to make those better publicised and if, as the noble Baroness said, there is pressure on the local authorities that have these grants available, would it not be more economical to top up the discretionary housing grants for local authorities if the Government are unable to review local housing allowances?
Yes. My noble friend makes a good point, and it may well be that better communication is required. I will certainly look into that. However, local authorities, as I said earlier, have broad discretion to spend in line with their local priorities, supported by the non-statutory guidance provided by my department. That provides a list, crucially, of priority groups to assist with their decision-making. Obviously, that needs to be informed perhaps by better communication in terms of where the needs are. There is no evidence that it is not working, but I will look at that.
My Lords, there is evidence that the freezing of the local housing allowance affects families most severely, particularly those subject to the benefit cap and, most particularly, lone families. In his reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble Viscount mentioned the importance of targeting resources where they are needed. How can he justify this policy given that we know what the effect will be?
I would answer that by saying that it is not a question of justifying it but of looking at the whole way in which we are helping people at the moment. That is why it is worth reminding the noble Baroness that, for example, working-age and disability benefits will increase by 10.1% in 2023-24, which I will be speaking to later in the Moses Room. In addition, the benefit cap will be increased in line with CPI. We understand the pressures that people are under and that is why we will also deliver further cost of living payments worth up to £900 for claimants on means-tested benefits, £300 for pensioner households and, as I mentioned yesterday, £150 for those on disability benefits.
I will see whether we are able to publish the findings, but perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord that there is continuous interaction between central government and local authorities in terms of the funds that we give them. As I said earlier, it is for them to prioritise the targeting of the funds but, equally, we want some feedback on how well those have been targeted. That is happening.
Water Companies: Pollution Penalties
To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reconsider their proposal to increase to £250 million the maximum penalty for serious pollution incidents by water companies; and what assessment they have made of the reported remarks by the chair of the Environment Agency describing the proposal as “crazy”.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. Defra is preparing to consult on plans to expand the use of, and raise the cap on, penalties that the Environment Agency can impose on water companies for serious breaches of rules, as the Prime Minister and our Secretary of State have made clear. All options are on the table, including a £250 million cap. The Environment Agency’s chair supports the review of penalties and is working closely with Defra as the consultation progresses. We will ensure that our regulators have all the powers they need to hold polluters to account.
I thank my noble friend for his Answer. The noble Duke would like to ask: is the department contemplating resiling from the Government’s current position stated at the Dispatch Box that water companies will incur very heavy fines of up to £250 million for breaking the law on illegal discharges? My noble friend will recall that two years ago Southern Water was fined £93 million for serious illegal discharges; there were warnings at the time that the fine was too low, and indeed the company was not deterred from continuing to discharge sewage. Does my noble friend think it appropriate for the chair of the Environment Agency to state publicly that a proposed £250 million fine is “crazy”, and does he share my concern that the chair of our main regulator should express such lack of confidence or belief in the regulatory regime that he oversees?
I think that if the chair of the Environment Agency was here, he would hope that I could voice more clearly his views and the distinction that is understood between unlimited fines, which the EA can pursue through the courts, and penalties which can be delivered by the Environment Agency and Ofwat. We are absolutely not resiling from anything that has been announced. It is right, for example, to look at the variable monetary penalties. They are currently capped at £250,000, which we do not believe is a significant enough deterrent. However, very serious fines can and should be a sanction for water companies that knowingly break the law. There is the criminal sanction as well.
My Lords, in the last financial year, 22 water company bosses received over £14 million in bonuses, despite sewage spilling out into our rivers and on to our beaches, killing wildlife and harming swimmers. Why are the Government not looking at stopping water company bosses from being given bonuses until they clean up their act?
Through the regulator, Ofwat, we have provided for water companies to be held to account where they are rewarding people in a way that is disproportionate to the service that they provide. That is a change that this Government have made, and it is being followed through by the regulator.
My Lords, the Minister says that there will be a review of the £250 million cap. Is lowering the amount being considered? Most people would be appalled if that is the case. Will it be a minimum of £250 million or are the Government thinking of having it higher? Can they reassure us about the scale of the review that is taking place?
The review is looking at everything. There is no attempt to resile from that figure. That figure relates to one area of sanction. It may be that we should look at unlimited fines to be decided by the courts. We are not suggesting a floor or a ceiling at this stage, but we want to ensure that water companies that knowingly, incompetently and against permitted agreements release sewage into our water and environment are sanctioned. I assure the noble Baroness that there is no attempt to resile from this.
My Lords, am I alone in wondering how it can make sense to impose large fines on companies when investment is required and that money is no longer available, rather than holding the management and the directors responsible personally to account?
I think that fines have their place. Certainly, how we have changed the rules in terms of, first, how the Environment Agency can recover the costs of doing inspections and, secondly, how the fines that it recovers can be spent on the natural environment and improving it is entirely right. We are determined to see continuing investment. We have the largest investment in our water sector now: £56 billion. That will continue, but we must be able to fine those companies that breach the rules, and that is what we are doing.
My Lords, following directly on from the noble Lord’s question, the Environment Agency was calling for prison sentences for chief executives and board members whose companies are responsible for the worst spills, and for company directors to be struck off so that they cannot move on after illegal environmental damage. Does the Minister believe that this would be more effective than continuing to rely just on fines to change behaviour, and will his increased penalties review include this as an option?
This has been going on for some time now, and we are at the point where ecosystems have been destroyed that are irrecoverable—we cannot get them back. This is the fault of the Government because of their slowness and inactivity on this issue. I am sure that the Minister knows that over the past year, the water industry has paid out £72 billion to shareholders. How can that be right when it is responsible for so much destruction?
The water companies have paid out dividends on profits of about 3.8%, which, compared with other industries, is not immense, but we want to make sure that they do not pay out in either reward to senior executives or in dividends to shareholders where they are underperforming. That is why we have a regulated system that does that. Coupled with the determination of the Government through our requirement of more investment and the measures we are bringing in through the Environment Act and other environmental legislation, we will see an improved environment. There is much to applaud; for example, the fact that 94% of our bathing waters are either good or excellent, which is considerably more than it was in 2000.
The number of spills per overflow per year in England in 2021 was 29. That compares, for example, with Wales, where it was 44. It is undoubtedly the case, in a river that I know, that there is a problem. There are eight villages up that valley. Every one of those villages has increased in size—in the number of houses—over the past four decades by between 25% and 40%. There has been a consistent, decadal problem of investment to match that. We are now requiring water companies to play catch-up, and they are, in that catchment and many others. We are complying with regulations such as the urban wastewater treatment directive, which has seen £1.4 billion invested in stopping just 50 storm overflows in the River Thames. There are 14,000 storm overflows in England. To deal with them all is a massive job and will require billions of pounds of investment to restore our rivers.
My Lords, one of the most glorious rivers in this country, the Wye, has been defiled in an unimaginable way. Is there not a personal culpability here, and would it not be right, following up the points made by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, for individuals to be held responsible and punished if they defile in this way?
The principal problem in the River Wye is poultry farming and the run-off of phosphates from poultry farms to satisfy people’s demand for free-range eggs. The lesson we learn from this is that our planning system has to match our environmental policy and our economic policies. In the case of the River Wye, which my noble friend is absolutely right to mention, at times of the year, parts of the river are ecologically dead. We are trying to return it to what it should be: one of the great rivers of this country. We can do that only by learning from those mistakes and making sure that they do not happen in future.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That, in the event of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill having arrived from the House of Commons, Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Monday 27 February to allow the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day and that, in accordance with Standing Order 47 (Amendments on Third Reading), amendments shall not be moved on Third Reading.
My Lords, we are expecting the introduction of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill later today. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal will shortly move a motion seeking to enable us to consider all stages next Monday, but, before he does, I want to set out how the process will work. It will be the same as for consideration of the previous Northern Ireland Bill on the same topic. The speakers’ list for Second Reading is already open, and noble Lords can sign up to it in the usual way. Noble Lords will be able to table amendments for Committee after the Bill is introduced and until one hour after the conclusion of Second Reading. As the Bill is expected late this evening, in practice amendments can be tabled at the Public Bill Office from tomorrow morning. A Marshalled List with any amendments will be published on Friday evening to assist the House, and noble Lords will be kept abreast of further arrangements on the day, with further announcements in the House and on the annunciator as necessary.
Packaging Waste (Data Reporting) (England) Regulations 2023
Alcoholic Beverages (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2023
Motions to Approve
Restoration and Renewal Programme Board
That this House concurs with the Commons message of 8 February, and
(1) notes the report from the House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords Commission on the membership of the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board (HL Paper 138), published on 24 January;
(2) notes the names of the Members of the House of Commons appointed to the Board on 7 February;
(3) appoints Lord Collins of Highbury, Lord Morse, Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury, and the Clerk of the Parliaments, as members of the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board; and
(4) agrees with the Commons that Paul Duffree, Steve Hails and Sir Jonathan Stephens should be appointed as external members of the Board and that Nigel Evans MP should be Chair of the Board.
My Lords, this Motion invites the House to note the decision of the House of Commons to appoint members to the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board. The Motion further invites the House to appoint the proposed Lords Members, the external members of the programme board, and its chair. The parliamentary and external members proposed were agreed unanimously by the Restoration and Renewal Client Board, which comprises the House of Lords and House of Commons commissions. The membership proposed for the programme board is set out in the report to your Lordships, which the House is also invited to note. The appointment of the programme board delivers the final piece of the new governance structure for the restoration and renewal programme, as agreed by both Houses in July last year. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wonder whether I could just ask my noble friend a question. He very kindly answered a Written Question from me quite recently, which indicated that the cost spent on restoration and renewal in the last two years is over £200 million, and the cost in respect of this coming year is anticipated at a further £85 million. That is £300 million being spent largely on design and corporate costs and other matters. It does seem to be an excessive amount, so can he assure me that this new body will have the necessary expertise and resources to ensure that money is spent wisely and carefully?
My Lords, further to the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I often get asked by people outside this House, “When did you agree to that?” It was agreed by the House of Lords and was passed, I am told—but I cannot remember it because we do it on the nod. We do too much on the nod in this House, and this is one example. Again and again we have been looking at this.
Going back over 10 years, we had the pre-feasibility study; we discussed it and set up a whole structure. That structure has been continuing and—as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said—we have spent hundreds of millions of pounds already, and nothing has happened. If we had agreed what some of us were suggesting—that we should build a new, purpose-built building away from here that would satisfy all our needs, have offices for every Member and for staff, have facilities for the disabled, who have great difficulty getting around this awful building, and provide proper services, that could have been built now, for a few hundred million pounds—well, a few billion. Then we could have sold off all the buildings around here—Portcullis House and all the others.
We could have moved out of this building, so that it could be restored slowly, securely and made into a good museum—a museum of democracy. Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower would still be there. As was suggested at the time, we could recreate great events in history in the other Chamber and here. We could have used this whole building in another way. But we did not do that and we are now going into yet another phase which will cost more hundreds of millions of pounds. We are already going to spend £7 million just on the front door.
£9 million is it now? You see, it has gone up £2 million since yesterday. We have been putting up scaffolding all around the place, spending millions and millions of pounds, but this building will never be satisfactory. It will never be good for people to get around and do a proper job.
I mean no disrespect to those who have been suggested as members. They are excellent. They are all younger than me, particularly my noble friend Lord Collins. Of course, the Clerk of the Parliaments is the youngest of all; he is the baby of the lot. The other two are only in their 70s. Will they still be around when we even get to the next stage of this hilarious—no, not hilarious: awful—exercise that we are undergoing at the moment? At some point, is someone going to say that this is all going in the wrong direction and we should not be doing it? In the 21st century, a modern and dynamic country, as the United Kingdom purports to be, ought to have a modern, dynamic parliament building and make this into a museum, which it could be appropriately.
My Lords, I am not looking to join the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in his garden shed across the way, but there is a very real issue of accountability. We are already talking about millions and millions of pounds. Nobody is quite clear how this has happened. I am delighted that we have a new commission. Who is making the decisions and when will they be made accountable to Parliament for this huge spending of public money that a lot of us disagree with?
My Lords, I remember when we moved from the old governance system to the new one. Without any disrespect to the Members mentioned today, I am not at all confident that we have the expertise inside this House and in the Commons to do the job. An outside body should be doing it. This has been going on for 10 years. Only this morning, I was leaked on by water coming from yet another falling ceiling. It is a national disgrace that we have been talking about this for at least 10 years. We have no answers on when and if we are going to move out—and, if so, where. We do not know when the work will start and when it will be completed. We spend more time discussing governance than getting on with the job. I want to see it started.
My Lords, I too have no disrespect for the members who have been suggested. The composition of the programme board is common to noble Lords and external advisers. Can the Senior Deputy Speaker confirm that there is some oversight to ensure that the members appointed by the three bodies are gender-balanced? We have ended up in a situation where are spending significant public money and there are only three women—all appointed by the other place—on the programme board. In the run-up to International Women’s Day, we should be giving the best example to companies, charities and other bodies by having a gender balance on such an important body.
My Lords, first, I would like to be excused from any future museum of democracy. Secondly, I have a very simple question, as someone who served on the scrutiny committee for the now long-forgotten 2019 legislation: could the Senior Deputy Speaker give us an idea of the timeline for the first report back?
My Lords, we should remind ourselves that we had agreed a plan in both Houses. Mr Rees-Mogg had other ideas. If the bill is to be placed on anybody’s desk, it should be on Mr Rees-Mogg’s.
I strongly disagree with what my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said about museums and this building. To use the word rightly for once—it is misused almost every day—this is the iconic parliamentary building in the world. We have a duty to keep it as such, and to ensure that it is passed on to future generations as a living Parliament and that it is in good order. We need to resurrect the plan that was agreed and get on with it.
My Lords, before we go any further on this matter, we should look to what has been done so far. A number of people have raised the issue of the modernisation that has taken place already. Scaffolding has been around this building for three, four or five years. I do not know whether anyone knows about construction, but that needs to be paid for. As far as I can see, we have spent millions of pounds on scaffolding and achieved nothing.
My Lords, noble Lords’ interventions show how strongly we all feel about this matter and that we do need to make progress. Even the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, cares about the building, even if he wants a different story to it than many of us do. Personally, I believe we have a responsibility as this generation’s custodians to get on with the task.
One of the reasons why it is really important that we pass this Motion is to get the governance arrangements agreed. I do not think that we can go backwards: the decision of both Houses was that we needed to change the governance arrangements. That is where we need to be today.
I obviously entirely endorse the essential nature of scrutiny, of financial probity and of transparency. That is why it is really important that there are these layers of scrutiny. In the new arrangements, the client team will scrutinise and provide assurance of the delivery authority’s proposed annual estimate. The programme board will review and, if satisfied, recommend the estimate to the R&R client board, which reviews and, if satisfied, approves the estimate for submission to the Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission. That commission must take advice from His Majesty’s Treasury.
In addition—and I think this is helpful to noble Lords on probity—I am delighted that one of the nominations from this House is the noble Lord, Lord Morse, a former Comptroller and Auditor-General of the National Audit Office. I think I can say that he is going to become vice-chair of the programme board, which is extremely helpful. I should also say that the delivery authority has its own accounting officer, internal audit function, and risk assurance and audit committee. This is subject to the external audit of the National Audit Office.
When asked about the supplementary estimates recently, His Majesty’s Treasury described them as “taut and realistic”. Those who are conversant with the Treasury will understand that well. I would be the first to say that it is absolutely essential to have the scrutiny not only of our own Finance Committee but of the two Houses’ audit committees into the activities of the in-house client team, which is the new joint department within their purview.
Bearing in mind what my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, it is also important to emphasise the expertise and experience, and the essential nature of what we went through in having 102 applications, from a range of diverse backgrounds, for external members of the programme board. We came forward with three people who were clearly outstanding and will be of immense benefit to the programme board.
What I would also say is that it is very important that we all take responsibility; this is our task and that is why all these decisions—picking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—will come back to the House. For instance, towards the end of this year Members of both Houses will be invited to agree a strategic case for the programme, setting out a shortlist of options for delivery of the works as considered by the programme board and the client board. A final business case will be brought to both Houses one year after the agreement of the strategic case.
I have one last point I should mention because it is very important. The very considerable sum of money that has already been spent has provided us with surveys, which we otherwise would never have had, of the condition of the Palace, design work to inform the future end-state of the Palace and indeed any future temporary accommodation. On investment in digital capabilities—I am afraid I am not very conversant with some of these—I am assured that the development of essential tools such as information modelling is now vital to a building of this complexity and a programme of this scale.
So, in picking up the points made by noble Lords today about a range of matters, I ask the House to recognise that the most important thing is to get this moving and to get us into a better state so that we can fulfil our responsibilities regarding the custodianship of a building that is iconic not only to this country, but to the world—as is apparent to the many noble Lords who travel the world—so we must look after it.
The noble Lord has heard the views expressed from around the House. I feel very privileged to come and work in this beautiful building every day and, like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I want to see it preserved for future generations, but we have to get a move on with this now. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, we need proper financial scrutiny and probity; we cannot spend hundreds of millions of pounds and not see anything happening. That is really important. I fully support the report and I wish the body well, but we have to get our act together and get a move on with this now.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and that is why this is imperative. Subject to the passing of this Motion, the programme board will meet next Monday. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, one of the requirements of the external candidates is a knowledge of heritage. That is clearly important, and given that this is a UNESCO world heritage site, it is absolutely our responsibility to do this project well, caring for this great and magnificent building.
May I just ask the Senior Deputy Speaker to bear in mind that it is not just people from around the world who admire this building and see it and its purpose as iconic? I have taken dozens and dozens of groups round this building over the years and not a single person has said to me, “I wish this was made of glass and concrete and stuck somewhere outside the capital”. I do not know whether anyone else has come across someone who said that—maybe my noble friend Lord Foulkes, but no one else.
My noble friend and I are noble friends. It does not need to be glass and concrete. Other countries, such as Australia and Brazil, have done it, and they are some really good buildings. In the United States, the Capitol is a really effective building, because Senators have offices where we do not. I do not understand why we cannot keep this as a building for all sorts of other purposes but have a proper place to carry out the work of a proper legislature. I will introduce my noble friend to many people who think the same—my noble friend Lord Maxton is one of them, by the way.
Many years ago I was brought in to give a view on this, because I had been involved in major projects, and I agree totally with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I have never come across something of this size where the number of committees involved is just extraordinary but where nobody has any real authority. Most of all, the management structure—who actually runs it and gets it going in its format—does not have people from my background with the experience to be able to do it.
My Lords, what should go in a museum is not the building but the methods by which we try to hold an enormous Executive to account. That requires a totally different approach through the strengthening of the structure and resources of committees to get to the bottom of what the Executive are up to. When we do that, and improve the committee system, we could begin to see what improvements we need in committee structures—quite a different approach from the one in use.
My Lords, the Netherlands and Canada have reused their fine and ancient buildings to good effect, and that is what we must seek to do here. On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, made, one of the areas that will be considered—we have already considered it in some of the committees I chair—is the sort of facilities we will want for committees in a repurposed Parliament. We should make progress and get this on its way.
Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill
Order of Commitment
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Organ and Tissue Donation) Bill
The Bill was read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 21 February.
“Democracy is precious. The United Kingdom’s electoral system has a hard-earned reputation for transparency and integrity, and that needs regular review and, where appropriate, enhancement to ensure that it works today just as it did in the past.
One of the most basic principles of voting is that the people who cast their votes are eligible to do so. The introduction of voter identification at polling stations from May will be another lock in ensuring that the integrity of our democracy is protected for the long term. Nor is this anything new: voter identification has been in place in Northern Ireland for nearly 20 years. As for elections in Great Britain, this Government stood on a manifesto that said we would introduce it, won on the basis of doing so, introduced legislation to fulfil that commitment, and are now delivering on that promise. We will not shirk our responsibilities to protect the integrity of the ballot box.
According to government research, about 98% of the electorate already have an accepted voter ID, whether it is a passport, a driving licence or one of nearly 20 other eligible types of identification. That includes, for some, expired identification, in order to maximise participation. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people already have what they need to fulfil this new protection at the ballot box. For those who do not, the Government have made available a voter authority certificate, which can be applied for today. It is free of charge and can be issued to everyone who wants it in readiness for May. To date, more than 21,000 applications have been made. Honourable Members will likely have seen—as have I, along with many millions of others—the extensive communications campaigns now under way, run by the Electoral Commission and, at a local level, by individual councils. Those will continue all the way up to May.
There are few tasks more important in public life than maintaining the trust of the British public in our electoral institutions and our electoral processes. A huge amount of work is under way, and that will continue until May. I am grateful to officials, to the Electoral Commission and to councils up and down the land for the work that they are doing. We are taking action to strengthen the integrity of those institutions and processes and to protect the sanctity of the vote. It is now incumbent on all Members—having had the debate and having resolved to do this last year—to send a collective clear signal that this change is important to protect the integrity of the ballot box, and that we should all get ready for this to happen in May.”
My Lords, according to research, 99% of election staff do not think fraud has occurred in their polling stations and 88% of the public think our polling stations are safe. Studies show that making elections more accessible, not less accessible, improves electoral integrity. Does the Minister agree that we should spend time and money on increasing voter registration and participation rather than on disfranchising people when there is very little evidence of voter fraud in this country? Considering that local authorities say they are not properly prepared for its introduction, will the Minister commit to conducting and publishing a review of the impact of voter ID after this May’s elections?
My Lords, the Government stood on a manifesto commitment to introduce voter identification in Great Britain, and we are delivering on that promise. Voter identification is not a new concept; it has been in place in Northern Ireland for 20 years, where it is seen as increasing the security of the ballot.
According to government research, 98% of the electorate already have accepted photographic ID from a wide list available under legislation. For those who do not, the voter authority certificate can be applied for today free of charge. The rollout of these measures is progressing well, and it is now incumbent on all of us to prepare. I urge noble Lords to support their local authorities in raising awareness and ensuring the successful implementation of this important safeguard for our democracy.
It is inexcusable for anybody to cast another person’s vote in a polling station. We must be alert to any weaknesses in our processes which may undermine the strength of our democratic processes. Deception within a polling station is exactly that: deception. You cannot count it because you do not necessarily know it is happening. We need to be sure, as many others have told us we should be, in order to be more secure in those polling stations.
My Lords, this is about protecting the integrity of the electoral system. It is welcomed by those of us who previously represented areas which have been bedevilled by electoral fraud—in my case, Peterborough, where we had a very famous case of personation in 2004. I would like to bring the attention of the House in more detail to the research in May 2021 from IFF Research, which found that 98% of voters have access to voter ID and that there was no difference across young and old, black and minority-ethnic people, and the general voter cohort. I ask my noble friend the Minister this: if it has been good enough for Northern Ireland since 2003, and it is good enough for Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and Canada, then why is it not good enough for the rest of the United Kingdom?
My noble friend is absolutely right. It is good enough for Northern Ireland—which is part of the United Kingdom, and we should be following it—as it is for many other countries across the world. That is why we are rolling it out and why it will be successful.
My Lords, I have relevant interests recorded in the register. Experience tells us that there are likely to be very large numbers of last-minute applications for the voter ID certificate, and local electoral offices might struggle to get them processed in time and returned to the voter. Will those voters, through no fault of their own, be denied their democratic right to vote if that occurs?
Many people do not see an urgency to apply if there are no upcoming polls. Only 50% of the country will be polling in May when we first use this process. Any voter can apply for one of these certificates within six working days of the poll itself. If they apply within six days of the poll, that is time enough to get their certificate printed and sent out to them for it to be used. There is a huge advertising campaign from the Electoral Commission and local authorities. I have even heard in London that some local authorities are putting leaflets through doors about this, and they are not even polling in this May election. A lot of work is going on to make sure people are aware of it and apply in time. As always, there will be people who do not want to vote who will not register, and therefore will not look for identification.
I understand from my noble friend that the Constitution Committee will look at this issue shortly. The idea that certain communities or people will fail, or be unable, to vote if these certificates are introduced is a serious matter in a democracy. I am not saying that we should not do it; I am saying that, because it is so serious, it feels correct that the Constitution Committee should look at it in detail and examine what the benefits and costs or downsides would be. Let us then have a much more informed debate about whether this should go ahead. I hope that the Minister will agree.
We have had this informed debate; we had very long debates on this subject, and the Bill was passed and is now an Act. So it is in legislation, and it will happen in 50% of the country in May this year. It is good that it is happening in 50%, because the electoral officers for the other 50% will help if there are any issues with getting those ID cards to people on time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned. Let us get back to the fact that 98% of people in this country already have those forms of identification. I quite agree about people with protected characteristics, and we are working with them: we have engaged with over 70 civil society organisations about this change in electoral law. The Minister responsible in DLUHC, Minister Rowley, is working and continuing to meet all sorts of organisations to make sure that we have everything in place so that those particular vulnerable people have every opportunity to vote.
My Lords, has the Minister read the report on a smart ID card for all by Sir Tony Blair and William Hague—the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond—which was published in the Times today? This includes the ID card recognition that the Government and the Minister are demanding.
I have not read it; I have been working since 8 am, so I am sorry that I have not had time to read the Times. This is an identification card for voting; it is not a full ID card, which I think the House would want to debate with far more time than we have this afternoon.
My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, where she gets her information from. I am with minority communities day in, day out, and we discuss voting and elections because I want more people from my community to be engaged. I am afraid that this ruse, which I hear in this Chamber over and over again, that they will not want to contribute and participate is a load of rubbish.
Public confidence in our electoral system is critical. For many years, international observers have said that we should have better identification at our polling stations. The Electoral Commission recently showed that two in three electors say that a requirement to show identification at polling stations would make them more confident in the security of the voting system. If the public are more confident in our democratic system, they are much more likely to participate in it.
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Statement of levelling-up missions
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(2A) The levelling-up missions must include missions which relate to—(a) pay, employment and productivity;(b) research and development;(c) public transport connectivity;(d) broadband and 4G and 5G coverage;(e) primary school attainment;(f) skills and training;(g) life expectancy;(h) wellbeing;(i) pride in place;(j) home ownership;(k) violent crime;(l) devolution.”Member's explanatory statement
This inserts the Government’s levelling-up missions into the Bill.
My Lords, my Amendment 7 would insert levelling-up missions into the Bill. I will also support and come to a number of other amendments in this group, and I have tabled Amendment 59 on health outcomes, which I will discuss in due course.
On Monday, we heard much about the fact that, in February of last year, the Government announced their levelling up White Paper with much fanfare. I start by reminding noble Lords of what was in that White Paper and what it proposed. It set out the 12 medium-term levelling-up missions, which we will debate in this group. They look to do things such as increase pay, employment and productivity and boost well-being across the UK, all by the challenging target of 2030. Also, sitting behind those missions are what the White Paper called the “six capitals”, which were identified as
“the factors that will help drive”
the levelling-up missions. We have not really debated those, but it is important that we remind ourselves of what the White Paper proposed. These capitals are:
“Physical capital—infrastructure, machines and housing … Human capital—the skills, health and experience of the workforce … Intangible capital—innovation, ideas and patents … Financial capital—resources supporting the financing of companies … Social capital—the strength of communities, relationships and trust … Institutional capital—local leadership, capacity and capability.”
The White Paper goes on to say:
“Levelling up is about aspiring for every place … to have a rich endowment of all six capitals, so that people do not have to leave their community to live a good life.”
I am sure that every Member of this House would support that ambition and those principles.
This all underpins the new policy regime, which is based on five mutually reinforcing pillars: establishing the 12 missions; reorientating government decision-making; empowering decision-makers in local areas; transforming the government approach to data and evaluation; and creating the new Levelling Up Advisory Council. I draw your Lordships’ attention to this, because we need to remember the huge ambition contained in the White Paper and how that has been translated into the Bill we are debating in Committee. That is why we are disappointed that the measures in the Bill are not enough to meet the Government’s 12 missions for reducing regional inequality by the proposed date of 2030. For example, the Bill provides a new source of funding for councils, which will be given a fixed share of the new infrastructure levy on local developments, which we will discuss later. However, the money involved is likely to be very small as a share of overall council budget, falling far short of the Government’s ambition in the White Paper to simplify local government funding. That is why we are disappointed that the proposals, including the missions themselves, are not clearly spelled out in the Bill.
While I am discussing the subject of funding, the Government have been criticised for allocating more funds to the south than to parts of the Midlands and the north in round 2 of the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. Projects in London and the south-east received £360 million, which is three times more than schemes in Yorkshire and the Humber. One reason is that competitive bidding remains a stumbling block, and we should remind ourselves that the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, described the process as a “begging bowl culture”. It pits communities against each other, discourages co-operation between areas and leads to authorities submitting bids based on government criteria rather than on genuine local needs.
If this is how the Government intend to approach levelling up, I fear that the already numerous challenges of addressing regional inequality will only continue to grow. The country is also sitting on the tipping edge of a recession, and this is very likely to impact areas such as rates of employment and productivity, housing, well-being and transport interconnectivity, and threatens the ability of the Government to make progress on these levelling-up missions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, will shortly introduce her amendment on metrics. I drew the Committee’s attention to my concerns about metrics on transport in our last debate, but there are also wider concerns about the metrics that the Government have developed. For example, the Institution of Civil Engineers has said that the more detailed metrics for measuring progress on levelling up should be geared towards local outcomes in areas such as skills training, higher life expectancy and pride of place. These are central missions that will need to happen if they are to be achieved.
In general, more weight should be attached to the whole-life benefits of projects and programmes and the role of improved interconnectivity through enhanced infrastructure investment, instead of fixating on achieving the lowest capital cost in delivery. This is to ensure that there is sufficient value for money for households who are under significant pressure due to increasing inflation and living costs. It is imperative that any project scoping takes into account additional inflationary impacts in order to mitigate against any delivery problems. We know that this has already been affecting many projects that were granted funding from the first round of the levelling-up pot.
Furthermore, the Institute for Government found that only four of the 12 missions are clear, ambitious and have appropriate metrics—outcomes the Government will measure to demonstrate the progress towards their 2030 target. It says that the other eight all need to be recalibrated if they are to have any chance of delivering on the Government’s promises to level up the UK. It also calls on the Government to put the right systems in place to ensure that Ministers and civil servants are held accountable for progress on the levelling-up agenda. It believes the proposed levelling-up advisory council cannot provide rigorous expert advice and scrutiny when it operates only at the discretion of the Government and cannot perform independent analysis. We had some debate about this on Monday. If we have no idea which departments will be leading any co-ordination of policy relating to each mission, it will be even harder to hold the Government accountable if things start to go off track.
My amendment does not ask the Government to include the exact missions as printed in the White Paper, particularly as there is concern that some of them are potentially not good enough or achievable. What we are trying to do is build into the Bill the areas that we believe the missions should be compelled to cover and address.
I turn to my Amendment 59 on health. Other noble Lords have similar amendments that we are happy to support, and I look forward to hearing from them. My amendment looks to include health outcomes in geographical disparities. I assume someone else will be introducing the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London’s amendment that would require that at least one levelling-up mission introduced by the Government focuses on addressing health disparities. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, seeks to put in a new clause inserting a health and well-being mission. We would fully support these amendments, because we are particularly worried about the geographical inequalities in health outcomes, not least because the health disparities White Paper has been scrapped. Perhaps the Minister can explain why.
We know that good health remains out of reach for far too many people in the UK. The deep inequalities in health between the poorest and the wealthiest are widening. Failing to address poor health and economic inactivity will slow the economic recovery that our nation so desperately needs. If we have poor planning—residential or economic—people’s health is impacted. If we have poor transport planning, if pollution reduces life expectancy, if someone has a cold, damp house or faces housing insecurity, they will have poor educational outcomes and are likely to have a poor job, poor pay and poor prospects and to get trapped in a cycle.
Surely, one aim of levelling up is to break this cycle. Although there is an existing legal duty on local authorities and the Secretary of State to improve public health in England, there are no corresponding legal duties on local authorities to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being, despite the fact that it is they that will need to deliver this agenda.
I shall give an example from where I live, in north-west Cumbria. Like many areas, we have a shortage of GP services and a lack of dentists—but I would like to look at cancer treatment. In the north of Cumbria, 59% of people with a cancer diagnosis are not seen within two months of their diagnosis and are not being treated for the first time for more than 62 days after diagnosis. This is simply not good enough, and we are not going to change this for the better unless the deep inequalities in health provision and outcomes are tackled head-on.
Finally, I offer our support for the remaining amendments in this group—on housing, from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and on education, from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. All these things are important and should be in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 15 in the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Watkins of Tavistock, and me. For this stage of the Bill, I draw attention to my housing and planning interests as in the register, including as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association and president of the Sustainable Energy Association.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London is not able to be with us on this Ash Wednesday, but I know she feels deeply about this issue, not least from her distinguished career within the health service. I hope that I can cover some of the points that she wanted to make, and I know the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds will join in the debate.
Amendment 15 would ensure that health disparities are included in the Government’s levelling-up missions by getting this issue into the Bill. Improving public health and reducing health inequalities was a centrepiece of the original levelling-up White Paper. Two of the original missions, seven and eight, were aimed respectively at covering the gap in healthy life expectancy between localities and addressing determinants of mental and physical ill health, but these ambitions do not feature in the Bill. Ominously, it now seems that the promised health disparities White Paper may not see the light of day. There seem to be delays, too, in producing strategies for tackling the so-called obesity epidemic and for smoking reduction.
However, health inequalities in the UK have grown worse over the past decade after centuries of increased healthy life expectancy. Gaps have widened: the Inequalities in Health Alliance of 155 member bodies, convened by the Royal College of Physicians, notes that there is now a 19-year gap in healthy life expectancy between the least and the most deprived communities, and health inequalities cost the country £31 billion to £33 billion a year.
I declare an interest as the chair of the Oxford University Commission on Creating Healthy Cities, which reported last year. We concluded that, if central and local government gave priority to achieving better outcomes for physical and mental health, they would simultaneously address wider inequalities in society, improve productivity, support efforts to tackle climate change, and reduce the escalating costs of the NHS and social care. The Oxford study, driven by Kellogg College’s Global Centre on Healthcare and Urbanisation and the Prince’s Foundation, recommends that health creation should be the key focus of efforts to level up. Our commission supported the Government’s White Paper and its health objectives, and these deserve to be incorporated into the legislation before us. The whole levelling-up agenda can be a massive contributor to improvements in health and well-being.
This amendment is a necessary precursor to later amendments that link specific policy measures for the built environment—for planning, housing, transport and the environment—to the core issue of health. These important amendments would be greatly assisted by a backdrop of the Bill having a clear focus on health inequalities as one of its key missions. This would match advances in Scotland and Wales, where the emphasis on the health dimension in public policy and guidance has been strengthened over recent years.
Finally, in support of the right reverend Prelate’s amendment, I add that using health as the touchstone for levelling-up policies increases wider understanding and public support for the varied local projects that will follow enactment of the Bill. What assurances can the Minister give that we will see a focus on health, and specifically on health inequalities, in the levelling-up missions? What can the Minister tell us about the missing health disparities White Paper? I support the amendment.
My Lords, at Second Reading, I remember applauding, broadly speaking, the ambitions of the White Paper. However, I share the concerns of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who of course brings to this much more experience than I do.
I am pleased that, already, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has alluded to the interconnectivity of all these different missions; they cannot be seen in silos or in isolation. For example, if you have children who are turning up at school unfed or living in poor housing, you can try teaching them what you will but it may not be very successful, and that has an impact not only on individuals but on communities and their flourishing.
I will speak to Amendment 15, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and briefly to Amendments 7, 30 and 31. Health disparities require discrete attention in the Bill. It is not an optional extra. The Bill as it stands states the missions but does not provide mechanisms for action or accountability. How will we be able to measure whether they are effective or not? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has said that, although assurances by the Minister are very welcome, they are not enough; they have to be backed up in the Bill with measurable implementation gauges.
Good health is key both to human—that is, individual—and social flourishing. As I said, we cannot separate out such things as housing, education, health, transport and so on as if we can solve one without having an impact on the other. However, there are inequalities between the regions in many of these areas. I speak from a context in the north: the whole of west Yorkshire, most of north Yorkshire—but do not tell the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that—a chunk of Lancashire, one slice of County Durham and a bit of south Yorkshire. The inequalities are serious. The economic squeeze, in the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, is an incubator for inequalities, and we know the impact that inequality has across the board.
The White Paper rightly recognises the centrality of health to levelling up, but the actions by which this will be achieved could be argued to be lacking—and we certainly need long-term solutions and not quick fixes or slogans that sound good but do not lead to content. Can the Minister therefore offer assurances of the Government’s commitment to health within the levelling-up agenda in ways that can be measured and accountability upheld?
I support Amendment 30, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. The Government must give formal consideration to the inclusion of social prescribing. Why? Because social prescribing recognises the social determinants of health and the importance of community in improving health at every level. There are good examples already of where this is being explored, such as the National Academy for Social Prescribing, and I endorse the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, at Second Reading in this regard. There are examples of services run by faith and community groups in London and beyond, and the pilot by the DHSC in Wolverhampton is promising. The key to all of this is the relational dynamic in the well-being of both individuals and communities. This leads me to ask how social prescribing might be used to tackle inequalities in health and well-being. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that.
I turn briefly to Amendments 7 and 31. The text of the missions might be important but we need evaluative measures in the Bill so that they can be measured. Otherwise, they are merely aspirational and all we can do is trust the word, however well-meaning, that is applied to it. Moreover, how can the Government be held to account on delivery? Commitment to the missions can be measured only by some process of assessment on implementation, and this needs to be in the Bill.
I conclude with the obvious statement that healthy life expectancy is surely a key measurement of our effectiveness in tackling health inequalities.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 20 in this group, calling for the provision of safe and affordable homes for all. It references a definition of affordable homes that appears in Amendment 242, to which we will come in due course.
Mission 10 in the White Paper—although they are not actually numbered as such, but it is the 10th mission —sets a target that is only seven years away, focusing on creating a secure path to home ownership. According to the technical annexe to the White Paper, it aims to ensure that everyone has access to good-quality housing, with a particular focus on improving areas where quality is low—I underline that. That is a very big ambition and a very worthy one, and seven years is an awfully short time to deliver it.
It is very important because it is also going to be the gateway to tackling a whole set of other missions, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, set out in her speech on Amendment 7—which of course we support very much. Health and well-being are essentially connected to the housing quality of the people who are being measured, and that includes their overall capacity to participate properly in education. Is there somewhere for children to spread out their homework? Is there a bedroom that they can sleep in properly? There is no argument that this is a good idea, and indeed the Government have, within planning policies, an intention at least to make sure that affordable housing is provided.
However, what those non-governmental organisations, the homeless organisations and many local councils’ housing departments fret over is that affordability as defined in the planning regulations is actually unaffordability in real life. If we do not shift that definition of affordability and take a more realistic view about what it is, it is absolutely clear that, however much effort is put into housing and affordable housing, it will fail to deliver what the Government want to achieve by 2030. Homes will be simply too expensive for lower-income purchasers, while renters will remain trapped in overpriced and undermaintained property well beyond that seven-year target.
This amendment is designed to come to the rescue. It sets out clearly a route for the Government’s missions to deliver genuinely affordable and safe housing for everyone, creating enough space in the housing market for people with limited means to afford a roof over their head through either renting or buying or through shared ownership schemes. The amendment also requires homes to be safe. I have to say to noble Lords that 10 years ago it would not have been seen as necessary to include that point in a Bill, but the devastating revelations following the horrific Grenfell Tower fire have undermined that complacent view. Again, we know from Shelter and others working in the field that too many people are living in unsafe as well as unaffordable homes.
However, the substantive part of this amendment and the part I want to explore a little more is “an affordable home for all”. It is a great slogan, and of course it is at the heart of the housing debate currently running in our town halls and planning departments, and of course throughout the Government and particularly among their Back-Benchers, among many others. Every local planning authority has an affordable housing policy—and so do the Government. As I am sure the Minister will tell us, they are spending a lot of money on it. Why, then, does it turn out that so many affordable built under these carefully crafted policies are in fact unaffordable to those who need them most? The fact that undermined so many good intentions is that affordability in planning policy is being calculated by the Government by reference to house prices and not by reference to buyers’ income or spending capacity. Obviously, a home which is going on the market at 80% when the 100% figure is £1 million is a very different animal from one that is going at a time when the housing price is £500,000 or £250,000.
This amendment addresses the slippery word “affordable” head on and proposes a definition of affordable that is based on the income of those seeking a home and not, as at present, a notional discount on current market prices. That definition is set out in detail in Amendment 242, which obviously we shall come to in a different group in due course, which is referenced as “Meaning of ‘affordable home’” in Amendment 20. Briefly, we define affordable in terms of local housing allowance for units provided for renters and as a percentage of income in relation to the mortgage costs for buyers. It provides a fundamental reshaping of the term “affordable” so that there is an objective framework within which policies and funding can be deployed, with the knowledge that the homes delivered via that policy will be affordable to those in pressing need of them.
If we continue to misuse the term “affordable homes” in our public discourse and policy-making, we will continue to miss the targets and the Government will fail in their missions. Much worse than that, families across the country will continue to be left out and left behind, and the circle of deprivation will continue with it. I will add that many of the other missions which also have deadlines of 2030 will be compromised or fail completely. This amendment opens the door to a solution by reframing “affordable” in terms of the income of the family rather than the capital price of the home, and I beg to move.
My Lords, my Amendment 21 joins a queue to add, amend or clarify missions. This queue can feel a little like a fanciful—farcical, even—wish list, but the Government only have themselves to blame for the fact that some of us are just trying to pin down these missions rather than rely on guesswork.
My guess is that, as much as the Bill relates to planning, it is not unreasonable to assume that there will be a housing mission. Indeed, in the missions published in February 2022 we are told so. However, I was shocked when I read its content: increase home ownership and housing standards, tick; more first-time buyers in all geographical areas, tick; and a 50% reduction in non-decent rented homes, tick. But, extraordinarily, there is no mention of increasing the supply of houses or of targets to build more homes at a time when we need that to happen with missionary zeal if we are to stand a chance of making levelling up more than a slogan.
If the Government are serious about increasing home ownership, having more first-time buyers and ensuring that the rented sector expands and improves, we need more houses or the policy will run into the housing affordability road block. We heard a lot about affordability from the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. At present, the average home costs over eight times average annual earnings, as against the historic norm of three to four times. Put bluntly, house prices and rents have risen beyond what any reasonable person would think it acceptable to spend on one of the most basic human needs. Those high prices and rents are responsible for many of the social ills that the Bill is allegedly designed to address—from worsening living conditions, falling home ownership, rising homelessness and the spiralling costs of housing benefit.
Half of all first-time buyers—rising to two-thirds in the south-east—rely on the so-called “bank of mum and dad”, which is fine if you have parents who can do that for you, although, with more and more mums and dads suffering the brunt of the cost of living crisis, that might be on the wane, anyway. Those who cannot turn to their parents are not only left behind but, ironically, end up paying a lot more in rent each month than their peers with a mortgage. Meanwhile, renters in London spend 40% of their income on rent, which is simply unaffordable, and rental prices are being pushed up by supply not meeting demand. We therefore need to build more houses to bring prices into line with earnings, whether we are buying or renting.
The hugely impressive housing campaign group Priced Out, staffed by young people who are passionate about housing, explains this well. It says:
“The affordability of housing is a significant concern for millions of people. If we don’t fix the root cause of this problem, we will continue to ruin lives and futures”.
Priced Out has hopes that the Bill will tackle that root cause. So do I, and that is what my amendment is about.
Of course, there is more to this than a demand for paper targets. Just because something is written down, I do not necessarily trust it. Over the years, we have all heard endless pledges from Governments of all stripes included in all political parties’ election manifestos, yet we still have a supply problem. The UK remains one of the slowest and least prolific homebuilding countries among all 28 members of the OECD. Too often, under previous Administrations’ versions of housing missions, we have seen distractions from the core issue of increasing the supply side.
This Government in particular have tended to fall back on headline-grabbing demand-side quick fixes, such as help-to-buy schemes. However, this arguably makes things worse. Demand skyrockets by giving young, aspiring homeowners a state loan. But that means that prices go up, especially if we plod along with a fixed, stagnating supply of homes.
This just leads to a transfer of ownership of existing housing stock without necessarily prompting any new building. Big housebuilders benefit from the state subsidy, with little incentive to build more. However, how much time opposition parties especially spend fetishising the types of new homes that should be built and who should build them has also been frustrating. This has ranged from demands for sustainable houses to—with no disrespect to the previous speaker—a focus on affordable homes. It often takes the form of stating that, for example, social housing should be prioritised. Surely who builds the homes that people need and what labels we give them should not be a matter of ideological dogma. We need a greater ambition than piecemeal political silos. If we built the number of houses that we need, more homes would be affordable.
The Bill needs to tackle the National Audit Office’s declaration that we need to build 250,000 more homes a year to take into account decreasing building since the 1960s and the deterioration and demolition of current housing stock. That is a conservative figure to deal with the actual shortfall. Some experts suggest that it is more like 340,000 a year until 2030 to tackle the backlog, and as PricedOut notes, even that figure fails to include the wider homeless population and those under 40 who are struggling on exorbitant rents.
However, even if we stick to the NAO’s target, surely that ought to be easily achievable given that in the 1960s, when housing and construction technologies were far less developed, 300,000 new homes were built annually. Too often, politicians suggest that we face insurmountable social challenges today, that all sorts of problems besiege us, but that can be used as an excuse. Politicians coming out of a world war in the 1940s and 1950s did not hold back from doggedly realising housing ambitions—ambitions that did not seem feasible but which created whole new towns. Lord Reith at the time called the new town plan an “essay on civilisation”. My theory is that in 2023 this Bill, unless it tackles housing supply, might indicate that civilisation is in decline.
We need to be ruthless—ruthlessly honest, anyway—in asking why it has become so difficult for Governments across the party spectrum to provide the homes that society needs. We need to identify what has gone wrong if this Bill, or the whole project of levelling up, is to tackle it. We know that it is not a problem of space or land shortage. Nearly 90% of land in England is not built on. Only 1.1% is used for residential housing, and that includes gardens. One problem is getting planning permission to build. We will be looking at that, and I will be commenting on it in a lot more detail, later in the Bill. However, it is frustrating that plenty of land does have planning permission but is held by big builders and land agents who see it as more productive to sit on it than to build homes in the present period. Yes, the Bill must tackle land banking, although it is not a black and white issue as it is sometimes portrayed.
We also know that there is one quick fix that could free up land now and allow building to start. The Government have access to land that could easily be released for development at the stroke of a pen and allow construction projects to start immediately. The problem is that this land is being banked but under the artificial designation of “green belt”. The green belt covers 12% of England’s land and ring-fences off large swathes of land around towns and cities that, despite its name, certainly does not comprise our green and pleasant land, nor is it the green space that the Government and all of us say that everyone should have access to. At the very least, a debate on the green belt should be part of the solution rather than being ruled out of play for fear of upsetting green lobbyists. That would represent a radical shake-up of land to build on and it is preferable to being restricted to the paltry drip-drip supply of previously developed brownfield sites that politicians suggest. As author James Heartfield notes, millions of new homes are not going to be built
“on a handful of derelict RAF bases”.
We must acknowledge that the many blocks to housebuilding are political choices. Increasingly, planning decisions and policy decisions are likely to prioritise fashionable eco concerns over citizens’ needs, prosperity, development or growth. Indeed, green ideological restrictions on housebuilding are now giving old-fashioned nimbyist concerns a veneer of progressive righteousness.
To finish, my question to the Minister is: why do the Government say they are listening to home owners, when they crumbled in the face of the Villiers amendment in the other place, but fail to hear the voice of young, self-styled yimbys saying gladly, “Yes, in my backyard” and declaring, “New homes welcome here”? I am wary of scapegoating nimbys, however, and the Bill could put forward a persuasive alternative vision. It should be not a caricature of plonking new builds on the edge of a beautiful village but offering housebuilding as part of a dynamic plan for areas that are neglected. Young people are leaving them because of a lack of infrastructure, homes and jobs, but they could come alive if we use housing in the right way. Levelling up should surely mean bringing towns, city outskirts and suburbs—even villages—alive with roads, rail links, schools, hospitals and investment in new industries, skills, jobs and training. This will make places where people want to live and work, and that is why we will need houses there. People will welcome them, even if they were previously nimbys.
I just emphasise that housing is not just a desperately urgent social need but part of the mix of creating thriving multigenerational communities across the UK. Tackling housing supply and putting it front and centre of any housing mission is part of making this vision a concrete reality, and I really hope that the housing mission goes beyond mere platitudes and says, “Build more houses now!”
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, who has given us a very persuasive insight into a subject that I know we shall return to. I look forward to her contributing to further debates on the housing supply issue when we get to those parts of the Bill—perhaps in a fortnight’s time. We will have had a chance to take on board her excellent arguments.
I do not want to repeat what I said on Monday; I shall just precis it to this extent. I do not think we should put the missions in the Bill; we should have a process in the Bill that permits this House and the other place to consider the missions and metrics in detail every time the Government publish a statement. We can do that either by way of what I suggest in Amendment 25, which would give the two Houses the opportunity to debate such a statement; or the Government might at some point say that they should be published in draft and be the subject of debates by the two Houses. We are having that kind of debate today; it is exactly the kind of debate we ought to have every time there is such a statement or one is to be renewed, but at the moment, the Government simply lay it, publish it and that is it. That is not good enough.
I want to talk about two missions. I was not planning to say much about the first, but I was prompted by the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Best. I feel that we have been here before. My noble friend Lord Howe and I have definitely been here before. We published and introduced—he will have done it in this House—the Healthy Lives, Healthy People White Paper of November 2010, which followed and reflected into policy at the time Sir Michael Marmot’s Fair Society, Healthy Lives work, which we and the previous Government supported prior to the White Paper.
We are talking about a very difficult mission to define. We are talking about reducing inequalities in society, because the inequalities in society are the source of the inequalities in health outcomes. Let us at least look at how we can tackle the many things that are the social determinants of health and try to capture them in something like, for example, disability-free life expectancy. The Government have used healthy life expectancy, which I think is the same thing. We know that it is poor in this country, and we know of the lack of public health support—notwithstanding that we had a shift a decade ago to support for local governance in public health, which I think has actually been proven to be a good thing, but which has not been funded in the way that local government and the health service would have wished it. We had a very good and helpful debate on that when the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who is in his place, had his Private Member’s Bill, but I will not repeat all that now.
When one looks at the metrics intended to support the Government’s mission, it is very curious. Yes, we need a tobacco control plan, although I do not know quite what the Government’s tobacco control plan now is. Yes, we must reduce the prevalence of obesity, but I do not now know precisely what the Government’s obesity strategy is. But as far as the reduction of prevalence or impacts of diseases are concerned, only cancer is mentioned. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, here; I thought that in the NHS we had escaped from trying to elevate certain diseases to the point where they were regarded as more important than others. Certainly, when we talk about parity of esteem between mental and physical health, surely we must have parity of esteem between cardiovascular health and cancer diagnosis. Why do we regard one as more important than the other? There are metrics that could help us; the NHS outcomes framework was first established in about 2011 and is a work in progress, but is absolutely instrumental. It should be the basis, not the Government having a mission which picks one or two things out of the outcomes framework and regards them as important when others are not.
When I was Secretary of State, over a decade ago, we had, over time, been improving life expectancy in this country on average by one month in every year. That means that if you want to improve life expectancy by a year, on average it is likely to take you 12 years. Where does “five years” come from? Things have actually got worse, not better, since a decade ago—particularly since 2017, on the data. Based on what I remembered, it would take us 60 years to improve our healthy life expectancy by five years. The Health Foundation last March, after the missions White Paper was published, produced its own data. It believed that on the previous data it would take 75 years, but it had run it with the most recent data on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy since 2017, and the figure was 192 years. If we are to have a debate about the missions and metrics, let us get down into whether the metrics are reasonable. If they are not, they should be revised, because if we are going to be standing here in 2030—I hope we all are; disability-free life expectancy in the Lords is pretty good—we want to have achieved these missions. We do not want to have excuses for why we did not—for example, because the metric was not a reasonable one in the first place, or the Government have abandoned it.
I want to mention one other thing; at Second Reading, quite well on in the debate, the role of the private sector was mentioned. I just want to come back to mission 1 and this issue of the economy, because I am not quite sure why measuring pay is there. It is a measure of relative economic well-being, but targeting pay is not the answer. Targeting employment is a good answer; if people are in employment, pay will differ in different parts of the country because the cost of living and the economic structures differ significantly. Let us improve the economic structures, reduce the economic disparities and improve the economic growth in the less advantaged parts of this country, and the pay will come with them.
Productivity is essential. Lying behind it is the issue of how much private sector there is in the less advantaged regions of this country, as compared to the more advantaged. For example, London has 14.7% of the total workforce, but 20.5% of the private sector workforce. The difference between London and the rest of the country is dramatic. It is not that the Government give London a lot of money. My own area is the east of England. We are the only other region where the same applies, but to a lesser extent. We have 9.5% of the total workforce and 10.7% of the private sector workforce. If we do not target the development of the private sector in the regions where the economy is less advantaged, we are completely missing the point.
How do we do this? I looked at other data. It is interesting that, in each of my two examples—London and the east of England—the number of small and medium-sized enterprises is much higher relative to the total workforce. Again, this is pronounced in the case of London. London has 14.7% of the workforce but 19.3% of small and medium-sized enterprises. The east of England has 9.5% of the workforce and 9.8% of small and medium-sized enterprises. Why is there not a metric in the first mission about improving the economy in the less advantaged economic regions, focused on new business formation and the creation of a number of SMEs in these areas?
All across Europe, the European Commission is fighting to increase the rate of new business formation and to add more small businesses. It is the starting point for the scaling up of businesses. Why are we not doing this in this country and in this mission? Why is there not a higher number of small and medium-sized enterprises in places such as the north-west? We know that the enterprise is there, but the data is telling us that it is not turning into the number of sustained businesses and the opportunity to scale up.
My Lords, I will speak first to Amendment 31 in my name. It aims to ensure that initiatives and funding to achieve the aims of the levelling-up mission will be measured by a systematic, statistically accepted and agreed set of metrics. It fully supports Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which seeks also to have the missions put into the Bill. These metrics will be used to measure progress. If they are not in the Bill, I do not know how we will get the public to understand what is being achieved—or not.
Amendment 31 is unashamedly lifted from the technical and metrics annexe to the levelling-up White Paper. This seems to have been the will of the Government when it was written and published a year ago this month. Let us put this very acceptable set of measurements into the Bill and use them. This would give it some power and make it known that the Government are determined to put the missions into effect. It would make a difference in narrowing the gap in the spatial disparities.
The amendment sets out the key components of the metrics and references the main drivers of economic and social outcomes for places, which are named “capitals”. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, listed those capitals. We are using such strange terms—“missions” and “capitals”—but let us use them because that is what they are in the White Paper. To remind us all, the six capitals are physical, intangible, human, financial, social and institutional, so they cover a whole gamut of individual and community well-being. The missions are attached to them, and the metrics are then attached to the missions.
The basic assertion in the levelling-up White Paper is that in too many places those capitals are in poor shape. When they are, those places are the ones where spatial inequalities exist. The evidence in the annexe—the Government’s own document—demonstrates that
“economic decline in the former industrial heartlands and coastal towns exacerbated poor health outcomes, which in turn led to lower levels of human capital. The lower levels of human capital then reduced the incentives for business to invest in the region and skilled workers left to seek employment elsewhere, further reducing the incentives to invest. The result was a self-perpetuating loop in which lower human capital fed into lower levels of investment, thereby reducing productivity and earnings growth, depleting social capital and pride in place, and further exacerbating the migration of skilled workers and capital out of the region.”
That says it; let us put pressure on the Government to do it.
That is the argument for the metrics. All these need to be measured and reported to Parliament if spatial gaps are to be considerably narrowed and seen to have been so following independent scrutiny, as we discussed on Monday. For example, pay and productivity are rightly seen as key to improving the life chances of people living in areas where spatial disparities are greatest. Thus, pay levels for those in employment must rise to help break the cycle of decline. As the annexe to the White Paper states:
“This mission is directed at closing the significant and persistent spatial disparities in productivity, wages and employment”.
That might answer the plea from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for a measure of business and investment, because if you get business and investment at the right level, wages, productivity and employment will rise. That is what the White Paper says. Maybe his Government are at fault.
This metric could be readily measured by gross value added and by ONS data on pay. These measures are used by the ONS and can be applied to check progress, so putting this metric in the Bill would ensure that progress on raising incomes in areas of special disparities, as compared with the country as a whole, will of itself be a driver for change.
Improving skills and encouraging inward investment that requires higher skills will lead to higher-paid employment. Currently, there is a tendency for low-skill jobs in warehousing and distribution for online retailers to be created in areas that already have low pay and low skills, thus re-emphasising problems that are already there. Measuring the changes to skill levels, as defined in the metrics for mission 6 in the annexe, will be a driver for change and raising skill levels. In 2012, nearly 2 million adults were in funded FE and skills training—that figure is in the annexe. By 2020, that figure had dropped to below 1 million. The simple requirement of having to report to Parliament on progress on improving skills will be a significant driver to encouraging more adults to train or retrain, and there is no doubt at all that one of the negative pulls on economic growth is the poor skill levels in some parts of the country.
Another of the metrics set out in the annexe to the White Paper is the numbers who travel to work by public transport. In London that is over 50%, according to the data in the annexe—I was not quite sure that I believed it, but that is what it says—and in most other places in the country the figure is around 10%. So, measuring the modal shift that will be needed is important, not just for narrowing gaps but in supporting the net zero aim.
Currently bus services outside of London are in crisis with services being slashed, making it more difficult for those who rely on public transport to get to jobs, take up jobs and go to better paid jobs. The public transport mission is to improve local public transport connectivity in order to be
“significantly closer to the standards of London”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is smiling because she has just one bus per week, so if she had two, that might help.
We are laughing but in the end, it is no joke. It means that people are isolated and unable to get to employment. It is not just rural areas such as the noble Baroness’s. In one of the villages in my area—an urban area of west Yorkshire—you cannot get a bus after 5 pm. Come on! If we are serious about narrowing these gaps, we have to be serious about public transport. Many of those of us who live outside London will applaud that measure, because once it is part of a regular public reporting process, it will force change both in funding and in governance models.
I will not go through all 12 missions, you will be very pleased to hear, but that gives noble Lords a thread of an idea of what needs to happen if we are serious about helping parts of the country that suffer from not just one area of poverty, but which are deprived in all of these “capitals”, resulting in a serious negative pull on their lives and the lives of their communities.
The question for the Government is: are they serious about levelling up? If they are, the missions will be in the Bill, as in Amendment 7. If they are, the metrics should be included—in headline form, because I take the point that you cannot put in the Bill every way in which you are going to measure. All I have put in the amendment is that we will measure healthy life expectancy —about which we have had a bit of debate—which can be measured in a variety of ways.
If we do not include missions and metrics, we are not being serious about this. I feel very strongly about it, as perhaps you can tell, because unless we do, we are not being serious about helping people who do not have the same advantages and lifestyles as others are able to enjoy. We have to something about it; it is not acceptable.
I know this puts the Minister under pressure, but I want the Government to just say that they are serious about this and want to put this in the Bill, because these spatial disparities scar our nation and affect it negatively, through unfulfilled talent, lost opportunities and the cost to the public purse in subsiding low wages.
As party spokesperson, I would just like to comment on one or two of the other points made today. I will not delay the Committee too long. I have said already that on these Benches we totally support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman; we must put this in the Bill.
We had a really good debate on health disparities and the social determinants of health, which we may be able to do something about if we put the missions in the Bill. Obviously I support what the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said on their concerns about how we measure that. I am open to whatever measure we think will work to improve the healthy lives that people can lead.
It is all tied up in these wider determinants of health, as is housing, which my noble friend Lord Stunell ably explained when speaking to Amendment 20. We are anxious for safe homes. If the cladding scandal has taught us anything—it should have—it is that we need to really focus, even more than the Building Safety Act has, on creating safe homes for people. It is not just safe buildings but safe environments for those homes. I hate the word “affordable”, so we will get that changed if we can.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that we all agree we need more houses, but there is too much focus on numbers. The number of new homes is important, but so is the type of homes we build—for example, homes for extra care or small family homes, rather than large, executive four-bed homes, which are what developers always want to build. I look forward to having a debate on that.
We should remember that house prices in some parts of the country, such as my own, are not anywhere near those in London. If anybody is short of cash and wants to cash in their London home and move north, near two great national parks, you can buy a house for £100,000 near where I live. It might be a bit colder, but you get the national parks to enjoy. I hope we can have that debate as well.
This has been an excellent debate on something I feel strongly about. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The contributions we have heard in Committee this afternoon get to the heart of the question as to whether the Bill, in practice, will have real-world impact. The discussions we have just been having on healthy life expectancy and homes really illustrate that general question mark. I suggest to your Lordships that two ways in which the Bill potentially could have impact would be, first, if, as amended, it forced a focus on the means by which the stated missions would be achieved; and, secondly, if it forced a more horizontal view across public policy to show how different aims connected in a shared way.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on healthy life expectancy. He quoted the position that I think existed in 2000s, when health life expectancy in this country was growing by about five hours a day. That is an extraordinary fact when you think about it. It means that, since the House has been sitting this afternoon, your Lordships would have gained about half an hour extra of life expectancy. Sadly, that no longer obtains, and the slightly draining sensation noble Lords may have had this afternoon more correctly corresponds to our physiological prospects.
The question is: does this Bill, in any way, in setting missions for healthy life expectancy, force a debate within the country and in government about the means by which you would actually do anything about it? My concern is that even having a mission and metrics potentially on the face of the Bill does not get you to the skin of the onion, peeling away the chain of causation by which you would reverse the unfortunate position we now find ourselves in. Looking at the amendments in this group and throughout the Bill, the question for me is: do they drive a focus on what real-world implementation would need to be to get the result we all want?
In relation to this, I was with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, on her point about 250,000 homes and the need to deal with the supply side. I thought “My goodness, this is a speech from the noble Baroness I can actually agree with”—until she spoiled it at the end with gratuitous remarks about how we do not need green planning for housing, when of course that is precisely what we need. That is not the impediment to housebuilding in this country. We would be committing a historic error if we embarked on the necessary scale of housing construction without designing in congenial neighbourhoods and healthy lifestyles. The fact is that, in many developments that have been built, we are designing in, for example, car dependency. Your Lordships may be astonished to be reminded that, according to one estimate a few years ago, on average in this country we spend more time each week on the toilet than we do exercising. We are not going to change that fact just by the recitation of that rather startling insight; we are going to change it by doing precisely the opposite of what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, suggested.
My Lords, as I have set out in earlier debates, it has always been the Government’s intention that the first statement of levelling-up missions would contain the missions from the levelling-up paper. I want to repeat what I said yesterday about why we are not putting the missions on the face of the Bill. The missions will be published in a policy document laid before, and debated in, Parliament. The first example of this document will be based on the levelling-up White Paper and future iterations will include the headline and supporting metrics used to define the missions and measure progress towards them.
If we put them in the Bill, it would make this part of what we want to do—and what we think it is right to do—very inflexible. This way, Parliament and the public will have the opportunity to scrutinise progress towards the missions, including annually when the report is published. This is comparable to other key government objectives documents such as the Charter for Budget Responsibility, which is laid before Parliament for scrutiny. That is why we are doing it this way, and I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for supporting that way forward for the second day running.
I now move to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which inserts the Government’s levelling-up missions into the Bill. As I have said, that is not what we are going to do, because we do not feel that there would be flexibility if anything changes—for example, economics, data, pressures and issues in particular areas of the country. We would not have the flexibility to change the missions and scrutinise them, as I have said.
The 12 levelling-up missions are the product of extensive analysis and engagement. They cover the areas that require improvement to achieve an increase in the six capitals in the White Paper—human, physical, intangible, institutional, social and financial—and are needed to reduce the geographic disparities that we discussed today and that are identified in the White Paper. They are designed to be ambitious but achievable. They are necessarily spatial in their nature and definition, and they are neither national nor aggregate.
The missions are supported by a range of clear metrics, used to measure them at an appropriate level of geography. These metrics take account of a wider range of inputs, outputs and outcomes needed to drive progress in the overall mission. The metrics cover a wide range of policy issues but are all clearly linked to the drivers of spatial disparities.
I reiterate that the Bill is designed to establish the framework for missions, not the content of the missions themselves. The framework provides ample opportunity to scrutinise the substance of the missions against a range of government policies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, brought up the allocation of levelling-up funds being made according to government priorities, rather than local need. Places are invited to submit bids—under the themes of the regeneration of town centres, local transport and culture —that they feel best meet the levelling-up needs of their area. Part of our strategic fit assessment test is on how far a place’s bid locks into its wider levelling-up plans and how well it is supported by relevant local stakeholders and community groups.
My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond is not here and will therefore not move Amendment 13, but a number of noble Lords brought it up and I felt I ought to respond to it quickly. The levelling-up White Paper highlights the importance of the educational attainment of primary schoolchildren and sets out a clear mission to significantly increase the number of primary school- children achieving the expected standards in reading, writing and mathematics. In England, this will mean that 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst-performing areas will have increased by over a third. As we know, reaching the expected standards in these subjects is absolutely crucial for children to succeed at secondary school, which paves the way for success in later life. Ensuring that as many children as possible have these skills, regardless of their location or the current quality of their school, is an ambitious target, particularly as we work to recover lost learning from the pandemic.
We are already starting on that. The Education Endowment Foundation, which gives guidance and support to schools, has a £130 million grant. Importantly, we are supporting 55 education investment areas, including starting interventions in schools with successive “requires improvement” Ofsted ratings. We are also delivering a levelling-up premium—a tax-free additional payment to eligible teachers in priority subjects—which is very much weighted to those education investment areas. We have started already, with over 2 million tutoring courses, particularly for young people who were affected by the lack of education during the pandemic.
From Second Reading, I know that many noble Lords are interested in health inequalities in this country—we heard that again today. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London is not here, but her Amendment 15 was nobly spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Best. It puts forward that the missions must include reducing health disparities. I note Amendment 59 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and Amendment 30, tabled my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who is not here, although it was mentioned by noble Lords. All of these would mean that geographical disparities include health outcomes.
As part of the levelling-up White Paper, we have already established a dedicated health mission, with the aim of improving the healthy life expectancy across the United Kingdom, improving health, well-being and productivity, and reducing the pressures on public services. The mission and supporting metrics are set out in the levelling-up White Paper and the technical annexe, and will be formally set out to Parliament in the statement of levelling-up missions. We believe that health is already sufficiently captured in the clause setting out interpretations of Part 1, where the term “geographical disparities” is interpreted as
“geographical disparities in economic, social or other opportunities or outcomes”—
and that will include health disparities.
I turn to the importance of community-centred ways of working, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds brought up. Recognising this, the NHS has committed in its long-term plan to improving access to community care and things such as social prescribing. The number of social prescribing referrals is a key metric used to measure progress on implementation of this commitment. Indeed, as of October 2022, there were already 2,793 link workers in place, who have already taken over 1.3 million referrals and continue to do that, thereby improving lives in communities across the country.
My noble friend Lord Lansley brought up the issue of metrics. The missions are supported by a range of metrics to measure them, taking into account a wider range of inputs, outputs and outcomes needed to drive progress. Metrics cover a whole wide range of policy issues. We worked across government to identify these missions and metrics, most appropriately for tracking progress. They are deliberately stretching and designed to force innovative thinking, as I know my noble friend would expect.
The reason we focus on healthy life expectancy incentives and activities across life is that they will incentivise activities across the life course and drive the prevention of the breadth of causes of ill health. If you talk to anybody in the health service, you will learn that prevention will be one of the important issues for them in the future. This not only impacts on mortality but supports a more rounded target which aligns with the levelling-up agenda. It seeks to ensure that people live longer, in good health, and are able to work, and therefore to contribute to local economies and national productivity, and place less demand on public services.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds brought up health disparities very strongly. We believe, as a Government, that this is of course a very important issue to the country as a whole. In January this year, we announced that we will be publishing a major conditions strategy to achieve integrated whole-person care. It will alleviate pressures on the health system, increase the healthy life expectancy and tackle conditions that contribute to morbidity and mortality.
A number of noble Lords talked about the tobacco control plan. The new tobacco control plan was published in 2022, with a focus on reducing smoking rates, particularly in the most disadvantaged areas and groups. The Autumn Statement makes available £8 billion for the NHS and adult social care services for 2024-25, which is on top of a record settlement for the Department of Health and Social Care announced at the spending review. So we are taking health disparities seriously, and the way we are doing so is through these missions.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, brought up private sector involvement. I think—I know—that the missions will also serve as a clear anchor for the expectations and plans of the private sector. It is important to look at the missions in a wider context. He also talked about business investment. Obviously, we want to see more successful businesses in the United Kingdom. We have already introduced a £1.4 billion global investment fund. I hope noble Lords can see that we are doing a large amount to ensure that we are dealing with health disparities and the health of the nation in the Bill.
I turn next to housing. Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, would require mission outcomes to
“contribute to achieving a safe and affordable home for every family”
in this country. Amendment 21 from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, also addresses the role of housing in the missions. We all know that housing has a critical role in levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom. It unlocks productivity and growth, provides people with a tangible stake in their community, and underpins the physical and mental well-being of our communities. This is why we are setting out a housing mission in the levelling-up White Paper, which states:
“By 2030, renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas; and the government’s ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas.”
The Bill recognises the need to build more houses in England. The department is currently consulting on revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework published in December and due to close in March, which includes seeking views on how best to embed levelling up in the planning system. The department will respond to this consultation by spring 2023, publishing the framework revisions as part of this, so that the policy changes can take effect as soon as possible. We agree that we need to maximise the supply of new, affordable housing and make sure that more people in housing need can have access to good-quality homes. Our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme will deliver thousands of affordable homes for both rent and to buy across the country. Already, £10 billion has been invested in housing supply since the start of this Parliament, and it will unlock 1 million new homes. As I said, we have also made a £11.5 billion investment in affordable housing. In 2022—this is particularly for the noble Baroness, Lady Fox—we delivered, in this country, 232,000 additional homes. More affordable homes have been built in the last 12 years than in the last 13 years of the previous Labour Government. We still have a target to deliver 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s.
Given the extent of the Government’s actions on what are really important priorities, I hope that this provides the noble Baroness with sufficient assurance to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, this has been a really important discussion, not just more broadly around the missions and the metrics and whether they should be in the Bill, but the debate we have had about health and health inequalities—that has been extremely important. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for introducing the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London’s amendment. It is a very important amendment on the issues of health inequalities getting worse. The noble Lord talked about the 19-year gap between the wealthiest and poorest communities, and I think that is very shocking. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds picked this up and talked about the serious inequalities in Yorkshire and the importance of long-term solutions and also referenced the importance of social prescribing. I absolutely agree with him that this is something that needs to be taken more seriously and more into account.
What really concerns me are the health ambitions in the White Paper. If we are to tackle what we have just been debating, they really will not cut it—they will not meet this huge challenge. We have talked about metrics, but I want to talk about metrics in the health section. One of the key metrics is that the “ambitious set of proposals” will
“go further on reducing disparities in health … in the forthcoming Health Disparities White Paper”,
but where is it? It has gone; it has been ditched. How can we have a metric on one of the most important things we need to tackle to achieve levelling up when one of the major parts of the metric is no longer in existence? I would be grateful if the Minister could address that point.
There was also a debate on housing. The important connection between quality housing and health and well-being was made very clearly and well by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, talked about the importance of increasing the supply of housing. That is absolutely right, we need to do that, but I also stress that there has been almost no social housing built in this country in the last 30 years. That is partly why we have such a problem.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about the importance of both Houses of Parliament debating any further proposed missions. We need to make sure that we have oversight of what is being proposed. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, asked a very important question about the means by which the Government are intending to do anything about health and life expectancies. What will actually be happening? What will be the causations to make the difference going forward? This is why, as I say, I am so concerned about the accompanying metrics not being fit for purpose.
On metrics, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, introduced her amendment to put the metrics in the Bill. We have heard in this debate and through other organisations that many people do not have any confidence that the metrics as currently set out—I have just talked about health, and I talked about transport on Monday—will actually achieve the ambitions that the missions want, or come close to it, to be honest. We talked on Monday about a number of areas that really ought to be part of the missions but are not included at all, such as the environment or child poverty. These will also be critical.
I thank the Minister for her detailed response. She says that we cannot put the missions in the Bill because it would make it unacceptably inflexible. Would it be unacceptably inflexible if we had the headline issues—the issues that need to be tackled—so that we knew what we had to deal with to meet levelling up? Perhaps this could be accompanied by something along the lines of the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on any further detail being debated across both Houses. Could we not also have this being the case with the metrics, so we can ensure that everything that the Government want to bring forward to tackle levelling up is fit for purpose and will make a difference?
The Minister talked about allocation of funds; that was something I raised. She said there is not a problem with allocation because everyone can submit bids, but that is the fundamental problem. I reiterate what I said: competitive bidding remains a stumbling block. I remind her that the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, described the process as a “begging bowl culture”. This is the not the way to do allocation.
If you pit communities against each other, that does not just necessarily mean that the right community does not get the funding it needs—you stop co-operation. If we are going to succeed in this, we need areas to work closely together and support each other. So I find the Government’s continued belief that competitive bidding is the way forward very disappointing.
Finally, can I ask the Minister, having listened to today’s and Monday’s debates, whether the Government will consider revisiting the missions and metrics as they stand, with a view to coming back to the House with an improved offer? In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendments 8 and 9 not moved.
10: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(2A) A statement of levelling-up missions must include an assessment of geographical disparities in the United Kingdom, broken down by local authority and, wherever possible, by postcode area.(2B) An assessment of geographical disparities must consider—(a) levels of public spending, both capital and revenue,(b) levels of private sector inward investment,(c) levels of disposable household income,(d) levels of employment, unemployment, and economic inactivity,(e) levels of home ownership,(f) levels of educational attainment,(g) numbers of young people not in education, employment or training,(h) levels of child poverty,(i) success in reducing health inequalities,(j) the availability and cost of public transport, and(k) levels of fuel poverty.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would define criteria that could be used to evaluate the success or otherwise of levelling up policies that aim to address geographical disparities
My Lords, this could be a brief debate on this group of amendments. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her conclusions on missions and metrics—and I shall come back to that in a moment. I also agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, said a moment ago. I hope I quote him correctly, but I think he said, “The Bill will be useful if it forces a focus on the means of delivering levelling up”. That was particularly helpful, because it is really what these amendments in this small group are about.
In moving Amendment 10, I shall speak also to Amendment 58, to which I have added my name, and I want to support Amendment 48. There has been a lengthy debate on missions and metrics, the existing and the new ones. When I read the White Paper and then the Bill for the first time, particularly the missions and metrics, I concluded that we had to start with how outcomes would be evaluated. The metrics as set out will in most cases be impossible to interpret in the context of levelling up because they cover too large a spatial area. We need to know what exactly needs levelling up and where.
As an example, I take bus services, in the context of services in the past year being cut by 10% across the country. Yet in the document about measuring the progress in levelling up, in figure 16 there are mentions of buses—but it always assumes that there is a bus. It is about whether the bus is running late or not and whether you can get to work by bus on time, whereas the issue is actually whether there is a bus at all that will get, for example, a student in a school doing a T-level to the employer providing the 20% of work experience required for that T-level.
I concluded very early on in considering the Bill that we have to define the Bill’s use of the words “geographical” as well as “disparities”. A lot has been said about “disparities”, so I shall concentrate on “geographical”. Many statistics exist now, but not all the statistics that we would like to have. Some of those statistics that are available now are national, while some are regional and some are local, depending on which body produces them. I propose that we need to assess outcomes with independent assessment of what happens at a very local level, hence my suggestion of using area postcodes—or the first few digits, such as in mine, which are NE3. You cannot get it down to a street level, I concede, and I also concede that another way of addressing the issue is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, said, by doing it by council area and council ward. You could do it by council ward: 40 years ago we were doing assessments and metrics of this kind at a ward level in Newcastle upon Tyne. Most local authorities were able to produce evidence like that.
We have to be much clearer about how we are going to assess outcomes, for we have to do outcomes—it cannot just be about missions. How else will we know that levelling up is actually happening? I have a proposal for the Minister, which is what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, ended up saying. The Government should take back all the missions and metrics that they have put in the Bill’s documentation and then add to it everything that has been recorded in Hansard in all the excellent contributions that have been made. Then they need to reissue all those missions and metrics by the time we reach Report, which, because of recess dates, will be some weeks hence. I have absolutely no doubt that the department can easily do it in the time before we get to Report. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is rather a shame that this Bill appears to have become a bit of a Christmas tree Bill, with everything hung on it. As my noble friend Lady Hayman has said, in truth it is three Bills—a levelling-up Bill, a planning Bill and a structure of local government or devolution Bill. In truth, it would have been better had it come forward in that way.
If the Bill is to be true to its title as a levelling-up Bill, it must surely take the serious aspects of regional disparities as essential to making the Bill work. The amendments in this group—I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, as well—are tabled to ensure that the geographical differences between communities are properly assessed so that a baseline can be established and success then measured. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said that without evaluative processes in the Bill they are just aspirations, and I agree. We can have as many dreams as we want about what might happen but, if we do not actually say where we are trying to get to, it is like setting out on a journey without a destination in mind. You do not know where you are going to end up, and that is really key.
The evidence on disparities between and within communities in the UK is irrefutable. The Government’s own figures show that 37% of disposable household income in the UK went to just one-fifth of individuals with the highest incomes, while only 8% went to those with the lowest. The Equality Trust has demonstrated just how unequally wealth is spread across the UK, with the south-east having median household wealth that is well over twice that in the north of England. It is true to say that some of this is driven by property wealth, but with the north-east, Wales, Yorkshire and the Humber and the east and West Midlands at less than half the wealth of London and the south-east, the impact on economic opportunities is stark. The Equality Trust research states that the UK has the highest level of income inequality than any other European country other than Italy.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds referred to the need to have discrete attention paid to the most serious causes of inequality, which is absolutely correct. We had a debate under the previous group of amendments around health inequalities. Those key areas of disparity between our regions are stark. The Health Foundation shows, for example, that a 60 year- old woman in the poorest areas of England has a level of diagnosed illness equivalent to that of a 76 year-old woman in the wealthier areas. Children in poorer areas are much more likely to be living with conditions such as asthma and epilepsy and, as they get into their 20s, with chronic pain, anxiety and depression—and for the over-30s in those areas there is the prevalence of diabetes, COPD and cardiovascular disease. There are demographic differences, too, with people from ethnic backgrounds all having higher levels of long-term illness.
We have already commented on the missing health disparities White Paper. It is terrible that that has been scrapped, because it would have made the assessment of levelling-up needs in relation to health far easier. We need to find out from the Minister what has happened to that health disparities White Paper. We will continue to support work which means that the Bill will show how levelling up will tackle health inequalities.
There are many areas of disparity. I shall also speak about educational attainment. While educational attainment in London and the south-east outstrips much of the rest of England, evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that a 16 year-old’s family income was more than four times as strong a predictor of GCSE attainment than their local authority of residence. Both the Sutton Trust and the Education Policy Institute have raised concerns that the pandemic has seen a widening of that educational attainment gap and that that has a lifelong impact on young people. I noted the Minister’s comments on this, but it is hard to see how the current lack of a fair funding system and the regressive nature of council tax will not continue to build in the inequalities that disadvantage those young people. As an example, I was very pleased to see that the Mayor of London used the increase in business rates he had had, which most areas of the country may not benefit from, to provide free school meals for all primary schoolchildren just this week.
As well as disparities between regions, it is important that the Bill recognises that there are also stark contrasts within areas. My noble friend Lady Hayman’s amendment refers to this. Even in London we have the classic examples of increasing levels of inequality as you go along the route of underground lines. This means that, on all measures—economic, health, education and well-being—there are great disparities. If we take the line between Kensington and Barking and Dagenham, we can see that the disparity grows as we go along that route. Similar disparities apply all across the south-east. Even in my own area, the county council division I represent has a difference of nine years in life expectancy from another area in my borough which is just three miles away. These differences are very stark.
I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talk about bus services. The lack of bus transport in some parts of our country is a real issue, and it affects particular groups of people who do not have access to other forms of transport—to name some, the elderly, students and those on low incomes. It effectively places them under a curfew and stops them having access to all the opportunities of work, school, college, hospital and health access, and social and welfare opportunities that they could take advantage of. It is a really big issue, depending on where you are.
I loved my noble friend Lady Hayman’s example of one bus a week. Obviously, in Cumbria, two buses a week would get us closer to London services, and that shows the difficulty with using faulty metrics: it is not helping anybody much to have two buses a week. I remember discovering, on my early visits to the Local Government Association here in London, that there was a bus literally every three minutes between Victoria and Westminster, which takes about 10 minutes to walk, if you can walk it. It was a revelation to me. Even 28 miles away, where I live, that is not the case. There are big differences and regional inequalities in those services.
I listened with interest to the powerful speeches earlier on housing, another area of inequalities between our regions, but I fear we would probably be here even later into the night if I started on housing. I shall just say that the Housing First provision we have made in my own area—where we put a roof over the head of someone who is street homeless first, in purpose-built accommodation, and then provide a package of complex-needs support—is making a real difference. That probably cannot be done everywhere, but these things make a difference and start tackling the real inequalities between our areas.
I hope the examples I have used, on the economy, health and education, demonstrate how important it is to be able to effectively measure the progress of levelling up if we are to be able to truly demonstrate its impact. The amendments in this group are key to ensuring that the Bill recognises the importance of the evaluation process, including the independent oversight which has been the subject of previous discussions in our first session on the Bill. I hope we can persuade the Minister—I know she has a lot to think about on the Bill—to reconsider some of those issues. If the Bill is truly to meet the aspirations of its title as a levelling-up Bill, we need to think about how we tackle those regional disparities.
My Lords, I want to talk briefly about the granularity of data, the choice of data and its use, and the need for independent assessment and evaluation of the use of that data in judging the success or otherwise of attempts to level up. On Monday, I raised the need for granularity of data, particularly in relation to my concern about the disparities between urban and rural areas. I am very pleased to see that Amendment 10—I support my noble friend, and my name is on the amendment—proposes that the granularity could be done perhaps at local authority level and even, where possible, at postcode level. The noble Baroness’s Amendment 58 talks about data collection at the level of
“regions, counties, councils and council wards”.
We should all be thankful to the Minister, because she has already very helpfully responded to many of these concerns in a response on Monday to my request for granularity. She agreed with the sentiments but then went on to provide rather more detail, which she said was very complicated. I promised to go away and put a wet towel on my head and look at it in detail afterwards, as she promised she would—I suspect we both now have. It is very interesting to read. She told us what is happening within government to better identify geographical disparities, and talked about
“data visualisation and experimentation techniques”
“a transformative data analysis strategy at subnational level.”
I still do not really know what that all is, which is the point of what I want to say, but crucially, the Minister said that:
“The spatial data unit will also consider the differences between geographical areas, such as regions, counties, councils, and even down to council wards, according to the needs and objectives of specific missions or policy areas.”—[Official Report, 20/2/23; col. 1482.]
We should be enormously grateful that that is on the record.
However, the problem is that we also have to be very clear about how the data is going to be used. We might collect it at a granular level but I hope we will also be able to have more detail about how the data is going to be used. Why? Because, sadly, there have been examples where this Government claim to have collected and used data but that does not really seem to follow.
I note, for example, that the current Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a tranche of the levelling-up fund allocations. In the press conference that followed, when he was asked how this money had been allocated, he said it was
“based on an index of economic need which is transparently published”.
However, when people went to look for this transparently published documentation, they could not find any. The Treasury had to come up with a statement afterwards to say that the information was coming “shortly” but was unable to say when that would be. When at a later stage people questioned how this all worked, the Treasury spokesman, in explaining the bandings which had apparently been used to allocate how the money was spent, went on to say:
“The bandings do not represent eligibility criteria—and money will be allocated to the areas most in need. Further technical details will be published by the government in due course.”
When, in due course, it eventually came out, and there were queries about all this, the Treasury announced that the factors used included
“strategic alignment with government priorities”,
whatever that may mean.
My point is that it is really good that we are going to have granular data, and I think we should specify in the Bill how that is going to be done. But we also need openness and honesty about how the data is going to be used. That is why the other amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is so important, talking as it does about the independent body that will analyse this information.
My final point is simply that I absolutely accept what the Minister says about her concern about putting all the missions on the face of the Bill. But it seems to me that the public have a right to know the key areas of concern that we will use to judge whether levelling up between the various areas of the country has taken place or not. My noble friend on the Front Bench used a very good phrase: she said we should have it in “headline form”. That is really what my noble friend’s Amendment 10 does. It makes a suggestion; I am sure he would accept it is a starter for ten. Other issues have been raised; I could raise, for instance, the issue of home insulation, which is a hobby-horse of mine. In any case, we have time, as my noble friend said, between now and Report to actually get consensus across the House on what the key headline issues are that we are keen to tackle. We can then have separate debates elsewhere about the details. So I think all three amendments in this group cover these three crucial areas of having granularity of data, having a clear understanding of how the data is going to be used and independently evaluated, and what the data is actually going to cover: what are the key issues of concern that we have in the whole effort to level up?
My Lords, I am beginning to think that eight days is not enough for Committee. I am sorry about that, but it is such an exciting Bill and we all have so much to say. The point about which data to collect is interesting, because, of course, there is data that is extremely negative and it would be difficult, perhaps, to find a category for it. For example, so far, a huge amount of money has been wasted by the levelling-up funds, because local authorities have often used a lot of time and energy putting together bids that have failed. Are the Government going to collect the data on that waste of money, which obviously —in these days of 13 years of underinvestment in councils and the loss of EU structural funds—means a lot to councils and will affect the service that they can give to their residents? There has been a failure of levelling up already and perhaps we are not measuring everything we should be measuring.
There are a couple of dozen local authorities run by Greens as part of the administration. Many Green councillors have expressed their dismay to me at the level of waste in the levelling-up fund, and it very much concerns me. Instead of taking a long-term view of what is needed, the Government sought quick wins, quite understandably; I can entirely support that idea. However, they demanded submission of “shovel-ready projects”, combined with tight deadlines for submissions, so local authorities had to quickly piece together bids, rather than taking the time to develop what they might have thought were the most impactful and valuable project proposals for their areas. Personally, I see this as a continuation of Boris Johnson’s natural urge—which I saw quite a lot of when he was Mayor of London—to splash money around on grand ideas that grabbed headlines but often failed to come to any sort of fruition.
So far, I do not think the levelling-up fund has been value for money, and it has not been targeted at areas that need it most. There has been a lot of political decision-making about where the funds go, and it is alleged that they have disproportionately benefited Conservative-voting areas. The Government now need to give local authorities a long-term view of what is needed and let them put together long-term proposals. They need capital funds that will be made available over a period of years and support them to dig deep into what would benefit their own areas, because they will know best. I can see a lot of late nights in my future with this Bill, and I do hope that the Government will listen to what we are saying.
My Lords, I support Amendment 10 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Foster of Bath, and Amendment 58 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. The work on this Bill needs to take a very careful approach to geographic disparities. It can be typified as a north/south issue or even as an inter-authority issue, but disparities do not just exist at regional or local authority level but operate in small, distinct areas of multiple deprivation that are embedded in even the most affluent areas of this country. This is so in rural areas and in urban areas as well.
For eight years, I ran health services for Kensington and Chelsea, where areas of tremendous wealth and privilege sit cheek by jowl with pockets of the most extreme poverty in England. I remember taking a new Conservative Minister of Health around the patch, and he expressed extreme doubt about the value of health visitors visiting newborn children and their mothers to check on their progress. He said, “I don’t think my daughter needed that. That’s what the nanny was for”. I took him around an area about 200 yards north of where his daughter and said nanny lived in Ladbroke Grove, to a squat with a single-parent 16 year- old new mum living in a single room with no electricity, with the loos purposely blocked with concrete by the landlord, who wanted them out. There was slime running down the walls. I think at that point he did see the value of health visitors, but that degree of poverty was within a 200-yard strip of pretty wealthy—certainly comfortable—living. It is also the case in rural areas. Rural poverty is often hidden in small pockets in dispersed communities, and in small communities where everybody knows about it but it is not very visible to anybody in authority.
I am afraid that I was not here on Monday, but the Minister must have said then that the tools do exist for looking at data on levelling-up issues at a very fine-grain level. That has been enhanced in the last few years by modern mapping and big-data analysis techniques, which is the shortform for the thing that got the noble Lord, Lord Foster’s, towel around his head. I am proud of the fact that it was the Labour Government who set up the Neighbourhood Statistics Unit in the early 2000s. As a result, we have a long history of fine-grain, small-area statistics based on what is snappily known as “lower-layer super-output areas”. There are almost 33,000 of those that are mapped on a continuous basis for a whole range of parameters across the country. It is that kind of level of statistics that we need to use to track levelling up within and between neighbourhoods.
If you read the White Paper, you see that it talks about that sort of issue. It talks about being able to differentiate and to have data as one of its five pillars. However, that really does not reflect in other measures in the Bill. We may have the data, we may have the commitment to small-area identification and levelling up on that basis, but I am not sure that we have anything in the Bill that then takes that forward.
I very much welcome the expansion proposed by these amendments to what is basically the index of multiple deprivation, which is the current most-used official measure of relative deprivation in England. I would have liked to have seen environmental poverty and quality of environment added. People in poorer areas tend to be landed with a poor-quality environment. In Victorian days, as you got richer, you moved up the hill to get further away from the smog. That is still the case now in terms of people’s aspirations to get out of the crap environments they often live in as soon as they have got the money to be able to do so. We simply cannot continue with that. Will the Minister say how the Government intend to ensure that levelling up focuses on this fine grain of geography in both rural and urban areas, in order to be effective and to ensure that they do not miss out in higher-level aggregate monitoring of the levelling-up process?
There is, rightly, much focus on the role of local authorities and local institutions in this. However, the Government need to show how we will monitor that that work is happening within local authorities in an effective way if levelling up is to become a reality for many of these people, who spend their lives in pretty poor circumstances, watching their rich neighbours nearby.
My Lords, as this is my first time speaking in Committee, I lay out my interests as in the register as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Shipley and have listened carefully to this debate. Technically, it does not matter how small and granular the information is; it is how it is evaluated and reported against the aims of the mission that is important. That is why I want to speak in particular to Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock.
If you look at the Bill, you see that the only person who will evaluate the homework of whether the geographical disparities are actually narrowing against the missions in the Bill is the Minister. The Minister will not only set the way in which the task is set but will then be the person who marks his or her homework on that. That is why it is particularly important that Amendment 48, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is accepted by the Government, as it proposes an independent review of whether the geographical disparities are narrowing.
I ask the Minister a very simple question: why would you object to an independent body assessing whether the Government are meeting the requirements in the Bill which they say they are so eager to meet? That is why, as Amendment 48 proposes, regardless of how data is collected, at what level and what criteria are used, it has to be independently measured to ensure that the Government’s desired requirements and policies are working to achieve the levelling-up issue in a geographical area.
My Lords, three issues have been raised by this small group: defining geographies—we talked a lot about geographies and spatial disparities— and granularity; independent scrutiny, which is really important; and then funding allocation and how that happens. I am beginning to think that the Government and the Minister may regret the publication of the levelling-up White Paper because it is a fountain of really good information.
On geographies, we need to understand what we mean by “geographies”. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about very small pockets of multiple deprivation, and largely we have been speaking in the previous debates, yesterday and today, about big, regional or county-wide differences across the country. We need to understand at what level—or is it at all levels?—levelling up will take place. The levelling-up White Paper is quite handy in that regard—the Minister is nodding, so that is a good start. It has not taken IMD—the index of multiple deprivation—but it has a great map; I love maps which are mapped out according to datasets of this sort. It is figure 1.13 in the book, if noble Lords want to know. It has mapped, across local authority areas, gross value added, weekly pay, healthy life expectancy and level 3+ equivalent skills in the adult population. It is very revealing.
The map shows where there are all four of those indices in the lowest quartile of the measures. Where are they? According to this map, it is not always where you suspect. One of the areas is north Norfolk— I would never have thought that. Another area is where we would expect: the north-east, shown as a great, dark blob where that is a problem. Then there is the area down the Yorkshire coast and then obviously on the Lancashire coast, where you would expect—and then central Devon. So this is a very important sort of dataset to use. That is on a big scale. However, when my noble friend Lord Shipley introduced this, he talked about being able to go below that level of dataset to understand where the highest levels of multiple indices are occurring on a regular basis and how that can be tackled.
So that is the first point: it is not defined in the Bill, and we need a definition of what we are tackling in terms of geographies. So I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Foster about the granularity and importance of the data, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Scriven on supporting the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hullock—I am so sorry, I always do that; I meant the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock—on the importance of independent scrutiny.
Finally, on the allocation of levelling-up funding to date, if this is a symptom of how it is going to occur in the future, we may as well abandon levelling up. The House of Commons Library has a report on the funding to date and where it has gone. The Government have put local authority areas into priorities 1, 2 and 3, with 1 being the most needy. I would expect that, unless there were exceptional circumstances, the money would go to priority 1. But no: 59%, only just above half the money, has gone so far, in the first two rounds of funding, to priority 1 areas. Some has even gone to priority 3 areas, which, by the Government’s own definition, are doing okay. So what is this about levelling up?
In response to the question about the cost of bids, I know, because I spoke to the chief executive of Leeds City Council, that it spent a third of a million pounds on drawing up bids for level 2 and got not a penny piece in return. When local government across the country, or certainly where I am, is cutting its budgets—£43 million has to be found in my own budget in Kirklees because of rising energy prices, inflation and all the rest of it—local government cannot afford to spend a third of a million pounds on making bids that then get turned down because the Government decide to hand the money to local authorities in priority 3 areas. It is not right, it is not levelling up and it needs to change.
My Lords, this group of amendments addresses the assessment of levelling up. Amendment 10 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, with whom I am more than happy to have a teach-in on data for anybody who would like to come and learn more about the technicalities—please just let me know. The amendment would define criteria that could be used to evaluate levelling-up policies that aim to address geographical disparities.
As I set out in detail to noble Lords in our first day of Committee, the missions contained in the levelling-up White Paper are a product of extensive analysis and engagement. The missions are supported by a range of clear metrics, used to measure them at the appropriate level of geography, and these metrics take account of a wider range of inputs, outputs and outcomes needed to drive progress in the overall mission. These metrics cover a wide range of policy issues but all are clearly linked to the drivers of spatial disparities. This has been set out in the White Paper.
I turn to Amendment 48, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. This amendment would require an assessment by the independent evaluating body to be included in any review of statements of levelling-up missions. We have accepted in this Chamber that scrutiny and seeking expert advice will be important in ensuring that we deliver on our missions and level up the country. That is why we have established the Levelling Up Advisory Council to provide government with expert advice to inform the design and delivery of the missions. The council includes voices from different parts of the UK.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, might not have been here for the debate on a previous group but I should say that the advisory council is chaired by Andy Haldane and its membership was published in the White Paper. The council members are not tied to government views and the council is made up of renowned independent experts in their field, such as Sir Tim Besley, professor of economics and political science at the London School of Economics; Cathy Gormley-Heenan, a former deputy vice-chancellor of research and impact at Ulster University; Sacha Romanovitch, the CEO of Fair4All Finance; and Sir Nigel Wilson, chief executive at L&G. All are independent experts in their field. We welcome the challenge and expert advice that the council provides and have been clear that we want it to provide us with candid views and challenging recommendations for how the Government are delivering levelling-up policy.
The noble Baroness read out a list of eminent people and said that their voice is important. If that is the case, why cannot their assessment and report be in the Bill, as the amendment seeks, and part of the Government’s independent assessment of geographical disparity? Under the present Bill, there is only the Minister’s assessment of whether the missions are narrowing geographical disparity. If these people are so eminent and important, why cannot that be part of the report to both Houses of Parliament?
No one has said that those views cannot be taken when the missions are scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament. However, we will not put it in the Bill, as in our opinion that would not be appropriate.
Amendment 58, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would change the definition of disparities in the Bill. The amendment is right to note that geographical disparities may include differences between regions, counties, councils and council wards. However, in the course of our work on the levelling-up White Paper, it has become clear that the appropriate unit of comparison will vary depending on the mission or policy area.
To help us tailor analysis and policy to the UK’s complex economic geography, timely and robust spatial data have been made a foundational pillar of the new policy regime for levelling up. More granular spatial data is crucial to ensure that policy fully recognises the different characteristics, opportunities and challenges of different places—including, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, on two occasions now, rural and urban areas.
There may be more questions but I am coming on to some of that.
That is why my department has established a new spatial data unit, transforming the way in which the UK Government gather, store and manipulate subnational data so that it underpins transparent and open policy-making and delivers decisions. This will include improving how we collate and report on UK Government spend and outcomes, including building strong capabilities on data visualisation and insights. Working closely with other departments, the unit will consider differences between geographical areas, such as regions, counties, councils, council wards and so on, according to the needs and objectives of specific missions or policy areas. I am more than happy to have a teach-in about this, as it is important.
Is the Minister willing to consider her department publishing for each local authority area the gap between the need for and availability of adult social care? That data is available already, and if the department started to publish it, it would build confidence across the House that the department would advance this agenda without the need for placing requirements in the Bill.
I would like to go back on that specific issue because we would need to work with the Department of Health and Social Care and get its agreement. We are quite early in the establishment of the unit in order to do that, but I will take back that issue and come back to the noble Lord.
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. I am coming back to a point that she raised a moment ago on the Levelling Up Advisory Council, which I mentioned on Monday but did not at that time get an answer on whether it had met, what it discussed, what it said and to whom. I now discover that on 14 February a Minister in the department wrote to Clive Betts, the Select Committee chair, to say that the council had met several times, had met Ministers and was engaging in a research programme. It was interesting, because the letter said that the council had
“engaged in discussions on levelling up policy with stakeholders externally, including members attending an event with Carsten Schneider … Minister of State for East Germany and Equivalent Living Conditions, hosted by the German Embassy”.
Might the council engage at all with Parliament? We are told that the council has been around for a year, but I have had no engagement—no one from the council has come anywhere near me to suggest that it might talk to us about the levelling-up missions.
I do not know, but the council is already in train and working. On the fact that it has not come to Parliament, I will ask what the remit has been for the past year. It may have been a remit just to get together on some early work, but I will get an answer to my noble friend on that.
I do not know whether it has any views on it at the moment, but I will ask that question.
Alongside this, my department has also established a new deep-dive team, to take a new place-based approach to policy-making. This is quite important. This team gets to know specific places. To date, these places have included Blackpool and Grimsby. It combines the granular data that we are beginning to put together with local knowledge, to identify a set of policy interventions to make a noticeable difference to the people living there.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Young of Old Scone, brought up individuals. We go down to council wards, but there are people. We are talking about people. The levelling-up White Paper is a plan for everyone. The focus is on the left-behind places, but the ultimate goal of levelling-up policies is to improve the living standards and quality of life of the people living in those places. This means that where individuals with certain protected characteristics are disproportionately affected, they will benefit from the whole levelling-up programme policies and systems change. For example, some ethnic minority groups have, on average, poorer health outcomes. They are more likely to be living in non-decent homes. By aiming to reduce these disparities across the UK and in places where they are most stark, levelling up will have a positive impact on the places and, as importantly, on the people.
There were a number of questions or comments on the levelling-up fund, which I would suggest are probably for the sixth group of amendments. However, I will answer a couple of them; they were all more or less the same views. The levelling-up fund index identifies those places in greatest need, as we have heard, of this type of investment. In this round 2, 66% of funding has gone to category 1. Those are the places of greatest need. Over rounds 1 and 2, 69% of funding has gone to category 1. I can also say that in investment per head of population, the highest investment went to Wales, followed by the north-west and then the north-east. The money is going to the right places but that is just as an aside because this will come up again in group six.
This approach, set out in the Bill, sets a clear, uncluttered and long-lasting framework for measuring the progress of levelling-up missions. I hope that this provides the noble Lord sufficient assurance to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the Minister’s response, but the more I learn, the more worried I get. I have learned tonight that the independent assessors have met several times. I have not seen any public report about what they are doing. Parliament has a role in this. It is reasonable in the context of this Bill proceeding that more information is provided to us.
We have learned that we have a spatial data unit in the department, and that we have a deep-dive team, but what this team is doing is ill defined. I have said several times in this Chamber that you cannot run England, with its 56 million people, out of London. It is simply too much. Therefore, the question will be: what exactly is the spatial data unit doing and what exactly is the deep-dive team doing? To whom are those bodies speaking at a local level so that they are properly informed?
I was encouraged that the Minister did talk about councils and council wards. I was aiming at postcode areas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, was aiming at councils and council wards, so at least we have some progress. There is an offer of a teach-in. A seminar, at the very least, has become fundamental. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, said, how about the Government starting by publishing the gaps in social care? I had not realised that those gaps have not been published, even though they are available.
There is a fundamental set of issues here about the public’s right to know. If this is a Bill which is levelling up, surely the metrics of that must be discussed by us before it gets very much further. So I repeat my suggestion that the Minister takes all the missions and metrics away, takes account of everything that noble Lords have said in this Chamber in the two days in Committee so far, and rewrites the missions and the metrics so that we can produce the outcomes that a levelling-up Bill should be producing. Having said that, I will come back to this on Report.
On the deep-dive teams, of course they are working with local people. I have said that this combines the granular data that we have with local knowledge, and works with local organisations, local councils and other organisations in areas to identify those interventions. Surely this is what your Lordships would want a good Government to do.
I would be very happy with that, but I did not know about, and I think that no one else in this Chamber was aware of, the deep-dive team. That raises another set of questions. Perhaps the Minister can write to us about this, explaining exactly what this deep-dive team is doing and where it is working. I have a fear that we are going to see the regional directors for levelling up appointed at some point. There has been mention of having regional directors. Can you imagine in a country of 56 million people having regional directors for levelling up? It is an absurdity as a concept. I hope that the Minister is willing to tell us that this will not be actioned. That was reported in the i newspaper about 10 days ago. However, somebody has decided where the deep dives are taking place. It may well be that all kinds of bodies are being talked to, but this information needs to be more publicly shared. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Amendments 11 to 27 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendments 28 to 31 not moved.
Clause 2: Annual etc reports on delivery of levelling-up missions
Amendments 32 to 38 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
39: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Reports: local authoritiesA Minister of the Crown must publish guidance for county councils, unitary authorities and combined county authorities to publish annual reports on the delivery of levelling up missions.” Member’s explanatory statement
This means that a Minister of the Crown must publish guidance for county councils, unitary authorities and combined county authorities to publish annual reports on the delivery of levelling up missions.
My Lords, I am assuming, optimistically, that local government will be a key partner in levelling up; I hope that is the case. It is therefore a bit disappointing that we had so little knowledge among us about the Spatial Data Unit, the deep dive team and the Levelling Up Advisory Council. I hope that we can put that right as we go through the Bill.
In speaking to these amendments, I hope that the wording of Amendment 39 has not caused consternation among my local government colleagues. If it has, they can blame my inexperience in your Lordships’ House for that. It was certainly not intended to represent a burdensome, bureaucratic reporting process; I have had plenty of those in my time as a council leader.
My point in tabling the amendment was to reflect our overall concern that it is currently difficult to determine from the Bill what mechanisms will be introduced to enable the effective monitoring and management of levelling up, either between government departments or by consolidating the actions of local government with what happens in government departments. I have suggested that guidance be published for the exact opposite reason than burdensome bureaucracy: to give local government clarity about how we would contribute to that monitoring mechanism. That is Amendment 39.
My second amendment in this group refers to the perceived gap between the planning framework and the levelling-up missions. If the two do not correlate, we will once again be in a position where what happens in the day-to-day business of local government is in danger of being disconnected from the overall aim of levelling up. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, referred earlier to the critical role that housing delivery can play in levelling up and my noble friend Lady Young spoke about the importance of the environment. Planning can certainly help tackle poverty of environment. The last example refers to the earlier comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about the ability of planning to provide the framework to drive local economies. These are vital issues for levelling up. My second amendment is a probing one designed to determine both how that will be done and how the link will be made between the National Planning Policy Framework and the levelling-up missions.
Amendment 55 reflects my experience in local government, where there are always additions—they are generally helpful but sometimes are not quite so helpful—at the end of reports on legal, financial and equalities issues, climate change et cetera. The wide-ranging nature of levelling up means that it stretches right across government, and the business of local government is not necessarily an easy fit with government departments. It has been interesting for me since I came to your Lordships’ House to see that adult social care, for example, which is very much part of everyday local government life, does not sit in the local government department in central government but sits with health and social care. I have a big domestic abuse unit in my council in Hertfordshire; that sits very much with the Home Office in central government. There is not always an easy link so part of the mechanism to ensure that the Bill is considered properly as legislation goes through should be that those impact assessments refer specifically to how legislation reflects the aims of the Bill. Of course, in this case, I am thinking specifically of local government legislation as it comes forward.
I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, has raised some significant points in her amendments in this group. The first is to include in the Bill the engagement of local authorities in reporting on levelling up in their areas. My noble friend Lord Shipley said in our debate on the previous group how there has been an obsession in government, from Governments across the decades, with ruling England from Westminster and Whitehall down to minute areas of decision-making. Certainly on this side of the House, we believe that local people and their locally and democratically elected representatives are best placed in this context to determine what areas within their council boundaries would best benefit from the levelling-up missions and funding. They would also be able to report on them because they have a depth of understanding and data that would help to make clear what progress has or has not been made.
That is a point well made, as is the point that the National Planning Policy Framework, which is currently in review, will relate to many of the missions in the Bill. Are we going to build new homes that are car-reliant or will we ensure that they can access public transport? Are we going to make them safe places in a safe environment for housing? Is there going to be in the framework allocation of land so that businesses are in appropriate places and are accessible for people who want jobs? All of that means that that is a very important point well made. No doubt it will be pursued at later stages of the Bill.
My Lords, this group of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, looks at the role of local government and the National Planning Policy Framework in delivering levelling up.
First, Amendment 39 would mean that county councils, unitary authorities and combined county authorities would publish annual reports on the delivery of levelling-up missions. I hardly need to re-emphasise that local authorities and local leaders have a crucial role to play in levelling up places across the UK. Empowering local leaders, including through agreeing devolution deals and simplifying the funding landscape, is a cornerstone of the levelling-up agenda.
This principle of empowerment is absolutely critical. Noble Lords have tended to criticise the Government for any suggestion of the centre telling local authorities what to do; writing this amendment into the Bill might appear to do just that. Having said that, many organisations outside central government, including All-Party Parliamentary Groups, academics, business bodies, think tanks and local organisations, have been debating and scrutinising the levelling-up agenda and how it could be taken forward in particular areas of the country; I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. The provisions on reporting in the Bill will further enable such independent assessment and thinking but requiring local authorities to report in this way, as I think the noble Baroness herself recognised, would surely be disproportionate and unnecessary.
Amendment 55 would mean that a Minister must publish a report on the impacts of this legislation on local government and a strategy to consider how this part of the Bill will impact local authorities through future legislation. The new burdens doctrine, established and maintained by successive Governments, requires all Whitehall departments to justify why new duties, powers, targets and other bureaucratic burdens should be placed on local authorities, as well as how much such policies and initiatives will cost and where the money will come from to pay for them. It is very clear that anything which issues a new expectation on the sector should be assessed for new burdens. As the Government develop new policies to deliver against their levelling-up missions, they will fully assess the impact on local authorities and properly fund the net additional cost of all new burdens placed on them. Therefore, this provision already ensures that the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies, legislation and programmes on local government and fully fund any new burdens arising.
Amendment 54 would mean that a Minister must publish draft legislation for ensuring that the National Planning Policy Framework has regard to the levelling-up missions. Although it would not be appropriate to legislate to embed the levelling-up missions in planning policy, the levelling-up missions are nevertheless government policy. Planning policy to achieve these will be a relevant consideration when developing local plans and determining planning applications.
The department is currently consulting on updating the National Planning Policy Framework. The consultation document was published in December 2022 and the consultation is due to close in March 2023. It sets out a number of areas where changes to national planning policy might be made to reflect the ambitious agenda set out in the levelling up White Paper, and invites ideas for planning policies which respondents think could be included in a new framework to help achieve the 12 levelling-up missions in the levelling up White Paper. The department will respond to this consultation by the spring of 2023 so that policy changes can take effect as soon as possible.
In summary, I suggest that these amendments, though well intended, are unnecessary. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 39 and not move Amendments 54 and 55.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for his thoughtful response. On the first amendment, Amendment 39, I explained that I thought that perhaps the wording was a little confusing. I did not intend to impose a burdensome doctrine on my colleagues in local government; I do not think that they would have forgiven me if I had done that—I want to walk out of here unscathed. I think that is really important. However, it is important that local government understands what its role is going to be in measuring and monitoring the success or otherwise of the levelling-up missions. I will withdraw my amendment, but I hope that Ministers will consider how local government is going to take part in that essential exercise of determining whether the levelling-up missions have been successful and, just as government departments are going to have to pull that together, how local government will be required to do so.
In relation to the second amendment, Amendment 54, I understand that the National Planning Policy Framework is being revised at the moment. I hope that it will be revised with the levelling-up missions embedded in it, because that will help clarify matters for local government. When we get legislation coming forward without the documents to support it, it is difficult to say whether that is going to happen. I hope we will get the opportunity to have good scrutiny of the National Planning Policy Framework when it comes forward so that we can make our decision at the time about whether it actually works in terms of having a countrywide set of levelling-up missions.
On the last of my amendments, Amendment 55, it is always good to hear that financial aspects are being taken into account. I understand all about the new burdens funding—which, I have to say, sometimes works and sometimes does not in practice—but that was not exactly the point that I was making. I was referring to how local government contributes to those missions. We have the Levelling Up Advisory Council, which I presume is going to draw together the work of different departments and how they contribute. My point was about how we make that assessment as legislation is issued and how that legislation contributes to the missions. If this is to be the biggest change we are going to have across local government, then surely it is important that any legislation coming forward talks about the contribution that it is going to make. Of course, it will need funding, and I would welcome new burdens funding for new challenges that it brings with it, but we also need to understand how it works in terms of new legislation that will come forward. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his response.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
Clause 3: Reports: Parliamentary scrutiny and publication
Amendments 40 and 41 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
42: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Levelling-up missions: leasehold reform(1) Within 90 days of the Minister of the Crown laying a statement of levelling-up missions for the first time which contains missions that relate to housing, a Minister of the Crown must publish a report in accordance with this section.(2) The report must consider whether new legislation on leasehold reform would have any effect on the delivery of the mission which relates to housing. (3) The report must recommend whether the government should introduce legislation relating to leasehold reform for the purposes of delivering the missions, including to—(a) amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 to limit the right of landlords to recover legal costs in excess of a prescribed scale;(b) make tribunal judgments binding on all leaseholders and to require landlords to account to all leaseholders;(c) amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to prevent landlords recovering service charges where they have failed to comply with their disclosure obligations under that Act;(d) commence section 21A of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 insofar as it is not already in force;(e) require landlords to disclose commissions earned on insurance policies;(f) make provision requiring landlords exercising a right of forfeiture or re-entry in relation to a property subject to a long lease to account to the tenant for the tenant’s equity in that property and to hold the tenant’s equity on trust;(g) restrict the landlord’s right to legal and administrative costs;(h) amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to provide for service charges to be reduced where they do not reflect the landlord’s actual costs in providing goods and services;(i) make fixed service charges subject to reasonableness requirements.(4) If the report recommends the introduction of new legislation, a Minister of the Crown must publish draft legislation to implement the recommendations within 90 days of the publication of the report.”
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a leaseholder. Secondly, these are issues that I have raised repeatedly in the House over many years, and I want to put on the record my thanks to Liam Spender, Katie Kendrick and all the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership for their great work on the campaigns here. These broader issues began to get real attention in the House, and in the country, following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower on the 14 June 2017, which will be six years ago this June. From that, there was resultant attention on building safety. Then, we have had the building safety work done by Dame Judith Hackitt, and we of course wait for the results of the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
After that, attention began to focus on the problems of leasehold as a tenure in itself. These problems have been rumbling away for many years. I first of all say that there are many good freeholders and managing agents—there is no question about that. But, as usual, it is the rogues that are the problem, and we have rogue freeholders and rogue managing agents. In some cases, they are connected, but that is the problem. They see leaseholders as an easy cash cow and that is what we want to address. I hope that we would all agree that this form of tenure has had its day, and that the sooner it is abolished and confined to the history books, the better.
I know that my constant raising of this issue in the House can be a bit irritating for the Government, but for me it is the only way of getting any action. Whatever else I do or do not do, I am quite good at being irritating when I need to be. We need to raise these issues to get some real action. Over many years, I have raised issues and have engaged with the noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Greenhalgh, who is in his place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook. Generally, I have received loads of support. Everyone agrees with me: “We’ve got to sort the problem out. Absolutely right, Roy, it is on the Government’s priority list; we’re gonna deal with it”, but we do not actually get much action. We sit here time and time again.
With my Amendments 42 and 43, I hope that we can get some clarity from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and from the Government, on what we are going to do in the next Session of Parliament. I am also a bit confused; maybe it is me, but I am. We keep being told that this is going to come in the King’s Speech—“Don’t worry about it, Roy, it’s all coming”—but then we are not quite clear about what actually is coming down the track. The Government are not being clear. Is it a Bill to reform leasehold tenure of residential housing, or is it a Bill to abolish this feudal system of residential housing? I do not think that it can be both; it is either/or. We need some clarity.
I will give an example of why I think there is confusion. In a recent article in the Sunday Times, which covered the issues arising from Grenfell, Mr Michael Gove, the right honourable Member for Surrey Heath in the other place, said that he intended to abolish the feudal system for residential housing—wonderful news. On the same Sunday, he also appeared on Sophy Ridge’s programme on Sky News. He could not have been clearer. He made it crystal clear that he intended to abolish leasehold housing before the next general election. He said:
“In crude terms, if you buy a flat, that should be yours.”
He went on to say that leasehold is an unfair form of property ownership.
“You shouldn’t be on the hook for charges that managing agents and others can land you with which are gouging.”
I watched that again today in my office. I agree with all of it. I was really pleased to watch the programme, and it was great to read the article in the paper. But then there was his Statement in the House of Commons, in which he did not quite say that. He talked about reforming leasehold as a tenure in the next Parliament—not abolishing it. The Statement was great and there were some really good things in it, but it was not saying the same thing. I hope to get absolute clarity: is it abolition or reform? At the moment, people are saying different things to different audiences. That is not right. We need to know what the issue is. It is great that a lot has been said about reform, but we must get this right.
I apologise that I could not be in the House this week when my Question was asked. My noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage asked it for me. The Minister could not have been clearer that the intention was to abolish leasehold housing. She answered the Question in about 20 words. Again, this is not what is being heard elsewhere. We need to be absolutely clear as to the intention.
My amendments in this group are intended to help the Government. Amendment 42 sets out what the Government should do within 90 days of laying a statement of levelling-up missions. It focuses on all the issues around the reform that we want, such as tribunal judgments and insurance and forfeiture. There have been scandals about insurance payments. This amendment deals with those. I hope that the Government can accept it, or at least be in discussion with us about what can happen before the next stage of the Bill.
My Amendment 43 talks about abolition. We have two choices. Let us know what it is and let us get it sorted.
I hope that the Government can accept these amendments. If they are not prepared to do so, we have a series of Private Members’ Bills on the green sheets which refer to all these issues. There is the Leasehold Reform (Reasonableness of Service Charges) Bill, the Leasehold Reform (Disclosure and Insurance Commissions) Bill, the Leasehold Reform (Tribunal Judgments and Legal Costs) Bill and the Leasehold Reform (Forfeiture) Bill. The Government could easily adopt these Private Members’ Bills and agree their stated intention without problem. I am sure that they would have the full support of the House. My amendments seek clarity from the Government: is it reform or abolition? Which do they want to do? We do not want to trundle along into the next Session without being clear. Everyone will just become upset and confused. I am sure that the Minister will respond well to this debate. Can he be absolutely clear as to what is going to happen to this Bill in the next Session? We can all then work to make sure that it is delivered. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the probing amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which he has moved modestly from the Back Benches and which presses the Government on their approach to leasehold reform. This issue was raised on Monday, as the noble Lord has just said.
I will concentrate on proposed new subsection (4) in the amendment. This requires something which I have asked for on many occasions, namely, draft legislation in advance of a Bill. We now know that the next Session of Parliament will not start until the autumn, whereas I believe that the department had been planning to introduce the Bill shortly after the State Opening in May. This Bill was originally planned for the current Session, so gestation should by now be well advanced and a draft Bill should be oven ready.
There are two consequences that flow from the postponement of the next Session. First, the next—and last—Session of this Parliament may be shorter, with less capacity to pass Bills. Bills that might have got a provisional slot in the longer Session originally planned, may drop out if the Session is shorter. This is the equivalent of legislative musical chairs when the music stops. Secondly, there is now time to publish the Bill in draft, to iron out any wrinkles and so accelerate and simplify its passage. I am sure that my noble friend is in favour of this. This would also avoid the risk of getting caught in an early Dissolution next year. I must say that I did not follow the argument deployed on Monday that publishing in draft would “slow the process down”. I would argue that the contrary is the case.
My noble friend may not recently have read the Cabinet Office Guide to Making Legislation, updated last year, which says:
“The Government is committed to publishing more of its bills in draft before they are formally introduced to Parliament, and to submitting them to a parliamentary committee for parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny where possible.”
It goes on to say:
“While publication in draft does not guarantee a place in the following year's programme, it is a factor that the PBL Committee”—
the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee—“will look on favourably”. The reasons are amplified:
“There are a number of reasons why publication in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny is desirable. It allows thorough consultation while the bill is in a more easily amendable form and makes it easier to ensure that both potential parliamentary objections and stakeholder views are elicited. This can assist the passage of the bill when it is introduced to parliament at a later stage and increases scrutiny of government legislation.”
Finally, on timing, the guidance says:
“Draft bills should be published in time to give the committee carrying out scrutiny at least three to four months (excluding parliamentary recess) to carry out its work and still report in time for the department to make any necessary changes before the bill is introduced.”
So we have plenty of time.
Against this recently stated government policy of publishing Bills in draft, the Government have under- performed. They have published one draft Bill for the current Session—the draft mental health Bill—compared with an average of 5.6 Bills per Session for the previous 17 Sessions. It published only two Bills in each of the preceding two years.
The House will excuse my lack of modesty when I say that, in 2012-13, when I was Leader of the House in another place, we published 13 Bills in draft. Here we have not just an opportunity to get this Bill right, but to improve on the less than impressive record on draft legislation. Indeed, not publishing the Bill in draft is contrary to government policy, as I have just explained.
I turn briefly to the substance of the proposed new clause. On 6 December 2022, my noble friend Lady Scott held a round-table meeting on leasehold reform, which was attended by officials and a number of noble Lords. I am very grateful to my noble friend for holding that meeting. We were asked what our expectations of future legislation were. I handed over a very long shopping list. It included existing commitments, such as on collective enfranchisement, but also many of the items in the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, such as banning forfeiture and additional measures of consumer protection.
Can my noble friend confirm that the Bill will enact all the commitments that the Government have made in this area—both in their manifesto and subsequently? Can he confirm what the Secretary of State has said that it is the Government’s intention to abolish the outdated feudal leasehold system? In other words, after a given date, will it be illegal to sell a property on leasehold, so all sales will have to be on commonhold?
We need clarity soon, and a draft Bill would give that. Leaseholders thinking of extending their leases need to know whether to wait and take advantage of any new rules on costs of extension, or to play for safety, extend now and then possibly regret it. The same applies to collective enfranchisement. There is an element of blight on the market until such time as the Government can shed light on their proposals.
I hope that my noble friend will reconsider the decision not to publish a draft Bill and show as much ankle as he is able this evening on the Government’s proposals for this Bill.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for keeping the issue of the problems facing leaseholders very much alive, to the point of nagging, repetition and maybe boring the Government into submission. It is so important that he has done that, and those who support him really deserve to be commended.
That is why I support Amendments 42 and 43, but they should not be controversial at all; they should be welcomed by the Government. I also commend recent announcements by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, clarifying—I hope—that the Government are committed to abolishing leasehold and will bring that forward imminently. Hear, hear for that. On this issue at least, many of us across the House, regardless of political differences, will be keen and willing to work with the Government on what we can maybe call the 13th mission of abolishing leasehold.
I want to look at what this has to do with levelling up, because it is a key point. There are 4.6 million leaseholders in the UK and many are first-time buyers, which the Bill seeks to encourage more of. Many of them are from parts of the country that the Bill seeks to level up. We should remember that, in earlier iterations of regional development, the regeneration and gentrification of so-called neglected city and town centres across England and Wales took the form of building blocks of flats. One argument was that densifying areas by building on brownfield sites would allow new housing without urban sprawl or nimbyist objections. My goodness, we even saw such blocks spring up in towns such as Buckley—the place I am from. We joked at the time about the area going posh, with its apartments and café society, never imagining that this would be a source of problems for people rather than a dream come true.
It is tragic to see endless newspaper reports of how this has turned into a nightmare for so many. A recent Manchester Evening News report says that leaseholders in one of the city’s most eye-catching apartment blocks are
“‘pulling their hair out’ over what they claim are ‘obscene’ management fees”
and monthly service charges exceeding £500—for a service charge in Manchester. Think about it; that is a lot of money. It is often even more than mortgage payments.
We should also remember that Margaret Thatcher’s home-owning democracy project of right to buy meant that many former council tenants bought their own home. In fact, they became leaseholders. These former local authority properties are now in the general housing stock and they are relatively cheaper to purchase, especially in London and the south-east. That makes them popular, affordable options as they put home ownership within the grasp of those who otherwise would be priced out of the market. Indeed, when I bought my first house—well, the only house I have ever bought—at 40, it was in those circumstances: the only way I could afford it was to buy an ex-council flat. That was me declaring my interest as well.
Sadly, it has all been a bit of a con, which was only revealed because of Grenfell, as has been explained. It has become clear that leaseholders are not home owners at all. Yes, they have the huge debt in the form of a mortgage, but really leaseholders are a sort of glorified tenant. I will come back to this with my Amendment 210 later in the Bill. However, unlike renters, leaseholders not only have the mortgage but are saddled with maintenance costs, not just of their own property but of whole blocks in the local area. They have no control over expenditure. We should note that there is a new leasehold crisis on the horizon, with local authorities demanding ever-spiralling costs from their leaseholders for building repairs, as councils rush to renovate poor-quality housing to meet the Government’s decent homes standard and to remedy flats to comply with recent fire and building safety legislation.
Council renting tenants are rightly not liable for such maintenance and repair costs, but the bill for entire blocks is then divided between local authority freeholders and individual leaseholders, who have no right to decide the scope or timing of proposed works, or, in fact, to request comparative quotes for contracts. That means that leaseholders are footing the bill for years of underinvestment in council housing stock.
Growing numbers are getting demands for eye-wateringly unaffordable sums. Neil Hosken, a south London teacher, has received a bill for £44,000. In Lambeth, there have been shock bills of up to £98,000. Sebastian O’Kelly from the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership says that his organisation is contacted every week by residents—leaseholders in council blocks—facing financial ruin, and one local council has officials to deal with right-to-buy sales on one side of the desk and on the other officials dealing with buying back council flats from leaseholders who have been wiped out by major works bills. It will be a real problem if we have a Bill about levelling up and we do not tackle this. We will be fooling ourselves if we do not deal with it.
Meanwhile, leaseholders of private flats find themselves, to quote one, “Fighting off one money-making caper after another by landlords and managing agents”. I take the point that we are talking about rogue incidents of freeholders who rip people off, but leaseholders none the less feel that they are being overcharged for insurance, utilities and everything from window cleaning to major building works. The main thing is that they do not have any control.
I think the reason why the Government rightly and perfectly reasonably say that home ownership is something that many people should aspire to, and the reason why a lot of people do aspire to it, in particular many young people, is because people want to have the freedom, autonomy and control of owning their own little place—or big place—so that they will not be dependent on the landlord or anyone else. That is what you think you are getting, but instead leasehold robs you of that control, which instead often belongs to absentee or offshore freehold landlords or their agents, or councils. It is they who call the shots on what happens in your block and even in your own flat. That is why the issue of control of insurance costs is fast becoming a critical battlefield in excessive charges for leaseholders, who are forced to pay towards a group insurance policy but have no control to, as it were, “go compare” which is the best insurance policy to choose.
I do not know whether noble Lords have been following the heroic work of Angie Jezard from Canary Riverside, who spent three years of her life uncovering that she and her fellow leaseholders had spent £1.6 million in secret insurance commissions to a freehold-linked company. This is potentially corruption, and leasehold campaigners and their tireless volunteer legal reps, such as Liam Spender, estimate that excessive costs have been paid that run into thousands of millions across the UK. That is why the proposals in Amendment 42 from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on mandatory disclosure and so on, are important as a first step, but as I hope I have illustrated, and as he has regularly illustrated, the myriad problems associated with leasehold as a system mean that it has to be abolished. This is a Bill that suits that cause, because we can say that we believe in levelling up and that the whole system of leasehold is holding back that project when it comes to housing.
My Lords, I declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. I am also proudly now a vice-president of the Local Government Association—finally.
I rise, as I naturally do, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who is flanked by his formidable wife, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who sticks up just as doggedly for Generation Rent. I am very pleased to support this amendment. It is a grand coalition, if you like, of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, my noble friend Lord Young—who I used to describe as part of the awkward squad, but obviously I am on the Back Benches now so that is irrelevant—and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, who are poised to ensure that this is taken really seriously by the Government. That is why, as a former Leasehold Minister, I join and add my voice.
I want to summarise each of these individuals in one word, which is hard, but I have thought about it for about five minutes. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is dogged—I can remember that there was not a single week when I was a Minister when he would not pop up, and probe, and cajole, and gently swipe, to get stuff done on behalf of all those poor leaseholders when it came to leasehold reform, and to ensure that we got the Building Safety Bill that we needed; that is a truly great contribution and I recognise that.
But I am going to answer some of the points that he raised, because unfortunately I am a bit immersed in the policy detail. There was some action by this Government. When I was the Leasehold Minister, we brought in the first stage of leasehold reform that removed escalating ground rents from the equation, which was the fuel that generated the whole business of leaseholders being exploited by very tricky freeholders. It was the first part of the LKP model—the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership model—of reform, so we got stage 1 done. Now we are set for stage 2 that brings in very important measures for existing leaseholders to enfranchise and get a share of the freehold.
Equally, I chaired many a session of something called the Commo