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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Volume 830: debated on Monday 22 May 2023

Committee (14th Day)

Relevant documents: 24th and 31st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee

Clause 176: Designated high streets and town centres

Amendment 415

Moved by

415: Clause 176, page 222, line 14, at end insert—

“(2A) Designations under subsections (1) and (2) may only be made following consultation with the local community.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require designation of a high street or town centre to be consulted upon.

My Lords, before I start, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for all his work on the REUL Bill, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Chapman.

Welcome back to the levelling-up Bill. We have a large number of amendments in this first group today. They address vacant high street premises and provide us with an opportunity to consider how best we can address our declining high streets and town centres, so I beg your Lordships’ patience: there is quite a lot to say here. Recent data from the British Retail Consortium shows that shopping centre vacancies are running at nearly 19% and high street vacancies at around 14%. These are significant figures, and communities need the tools to improve the situation. There are clearly a number of reasons why this has been happening, and we cannot ignore the impact of online shopping. That was already a significant area of growth before the pandemic, which of course increased the amount of online shopping that people were doing. Vacant shops are also a symptom of a weak economy, and we have had slow economic growth for more than a decade.

That said, there are things we can do to get vacant shops into use and create the conditions for the growth of community enterprises, social enterprises and co-operatives, all of which are good business models and generally more resilient to global events; this certainly proved to be the case during the pandemic. First, I will look at a number of amendments we have tabled that specifically look at how the high street has declined. Amendment 431 probes the impact of business rates and council tax on the number of vacant high street premises. We know that business rates have become extremely problematic for many retailers and other small businesses on the high street, and we believe it is time for the Government to review business rates. I hope the Bill is an opportunity for the Minister to explore that further than we have so far.

Amendment 432 probes the impact of pedestrianisation on the number of vacant high street premises. How people feel about their high streets when they do not have traffic going up and down them is an area of real interest. Evidence shows that it makes it a nicer place to shop. Maybe if we looked at pedestrianisation within the context of vacancies and business rates, we could see how we could make improvements.

Amendment 433 probes the impact of vacant pubs on high streets. Unfortunately, a lot of public houses are closing and I know from public houses on the main street near where I live that business rates are a major problem in that area. Perhaps we can look at business rates around pubs particularly, because they have had specific challenges during the pandemic.

Amendment 434 is about the impact of access to cash and high street banks. Unfortunately, too many banks have been closing high street branches and often we also lose the cashpoint and the ability for small businesses to manage their finances effectively and efficiently. One of the problems is that banks seem to think that bringing a van and parking it in the supermarket car park every now and again is providing a sufficient service. We do not believe that to be the case; we think we need to look at how we can stop the loss of banks on the high street.

Amendment 435 probes the impact of disparity in costs between online and high street retail. We know that online shopping is having a major effect on our high streets which, again, is why we need to look at business rates. Surely the way to resolve that disparity is to see how it can be ensured that retail on the high street is not put at a disadvantage through business rates, and that online retailers are properly taxed and there is a better balance between the two.

Amendment 436 in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage looks at how increasing dwell time can support regeneration. Dwell time is how long you actually spend there. We have asked for a Minister to publish a report on how leisure, culture, sport and tourism in town centres can increase dwell time for the purpose of regeneration. For example, if retail is not going to fill every shop unit, how can we use leisure, culture, sport and tourism to do so? How will that encourage more people to come into the town centre and shop more?

Looking specifically at some clauses in this part, Clause 176 sets out the arrangements for local authorities to designate where our town centres and high streets are—in other words, the places that will be in scope for premises to be subject to rental auctions, which come later under Clause 188. This is an important first step in the process. Amendment 415 in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage would require any designations of high streets or town centres to be consulted upon. This is a pretty modest proposal, we believe. It just means that local communities affected by the designation of high streets and town centres would be consulted. We believe that is the right way forward; nobody knows what is or is not a high street or a town centre. Who knows better than the people who use it and live near it?

Amendment 416 in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage probes the possibility of new incentives to fill empty shops. This develops that previous amendment further by including consultation with local businesses on possible incentives as to how empty shops can be filled. Again, they will know their local community well and may have some interesting ideas as to how the local situation can be improved.

Amendment 417 allows the local community to apply for a street or an area to be designated as a high street or a town centre. This builds on the previous two by adding a protection to ensure that any local community is empowered to seek that a street or an area of their choosing could be designated as a high street or town centre—in other words, giving the community the right to initiate. We believe that communities should have some say as to where their high streets are.

Amendment 437 in my name defines “local community”. To make Amendments 415 to 417 make sense, Amendment 437 defines what is considered “local” in this regard. We have specified people “in the vicinity” to add in protection from potential outside interference. This is an important point. It is about demonstrating that levelling up should not be something done to communities but is something done with them. As part of that, there need to be protections and powers for our communities; our amendments would ensure that these exist.

I will now turn to what constitutes “vacancy”. My Amendment 419 removes the Henry VIII powers for the Secretary of State to alter the circumstances of vacancy. Amendment 424 removes the Henry VIII power that allows the Secretary of State to add or remove grounds of appeal. In general, though, we think the Government have got this right. According to the Bill, vacant premises must have been vacant for a year or for 366 days in the previous two years. We think this is a sensible balance between detriment to the local community and commercial pressures. Our issue is with subsections (5) and (6). Subsection (5) reads:

“Regulations may amend this section so as to alter the circumstances in which the ‘vacancy condition’ is satisfied in relation to premises”.

Subsection (6) says:

“Those circumstances must relate to the time during which premises are or have been unoccupied”.

So, essentially, Clause 178 legislates for what “vacancy” is, but the Government want to reserve the power to change it later. The arguments for and against Henry VIII powers are well known and I am not going to repeat them again today, but I will say why this part of the Bill is inconsistent with what we think levelling up needs to be.

As we have discussed previously in Committee, levelling up should be about the devolution of resources and power. It should not be about Ministers and officials in Whitehall holding all the cards and making decisions about which town centre or high street will benefit from government investment or involvement. Amendments 419 and 424 seek to remove those Henry VIII powers and give us protection in the future.

My Amendment 421 reduces the period after which an initial letting notice would expire to 28 days. Clause 180 is the first clause in this part of the Bill which provides the detail about how the process is likely to work. It is important that the state does not act in an overbearing way and that there is a balance between private and public interests. Currently, this tilts entirely towards landlords, which can lead to long-running vacant and derelict premises blighting our communities and high streets.

Clause 180 sets out that an initial letting notice will be in force for 10 weeks and that a final letting notice can be served only while the initial notice is in force. Our view is that 10 weeks is too long. If we add on the 14 weeks of the final notice period, that makes it a 24-week process, and if the premises has already been vacant for at least a year, or 366 days in the preceding two years, that is a long period of time for it to be empty. We want the Bill to deliver swift action to bring about the change that people want in their communities, so we do not want to see such a long process. Our amendment seeks to rectify that by specifying a shorter notice period of 28 days. We think that four weeks is enough time for landlords to understand the implications of the notice, to act promptly, and to find new tenants as a last opportunity before that process then kicks into being.

In a similar vein, Amendment 423 would reduce the period before a final letting notice can be issued to two weeks. Clause 183 establishes the final notices. As I have said, these are used when a premises has laid vacant for a year or 366 days over two years and has been served its initial notice but no action has taken place and it is still lying vacant. Obviously, that has a huge impact on the local community. On the face of the Bill, final notice has to take place after eight weeks have elapsed from the serving of the initial notice, but not before the notice itself expires after 10 weeks. As I have just said, we feel that this period is too long. Amendment 423 would allow for the final letting notice to be served after two weeks have passed following the serving of the initial letting notice.

My Amendment 422 would prevent the landlord from transferring the premises between related entities while the initial letting notice is in force. Clause 181(1) prohibits landlords from entering into contracts for the building, other than for the sale of the site, without the consent of the local authority. However, the local authority, as covered in Clause 182, must grant approval, provided that the landlord has agreed a lengthy tenancy that meets the conditions. We welcome that the restrictions aim to prevent landlords from trying to escape their obligations; for example, by entering into a bogus tenancy that includes an immediate break clause. In this case, the new tenant—possibly a friend or family member—might be a tenant for a day, and they could then execute a break clause and vacate the premises, and the clock can restart. It is right that the Government are looking to close these kinds of loopholes. However, the purpose of this amendment is to probe whether the clause still leaves a gap where a landlord might seek to pass ownership of a premises to a friend or family member, or perhaps a related company, in order to establish new ownership and restart the clock, when in reality nothing has changed. The amendment may not be the best way to close such a loophole, but I tabled it for the Minister to consider the matter and see whether a better way could be created.

My Amendment 427 requires the Secretary of State to lay any regulations under this clause before Parliament within 90 days. It reflects our belief that it is important to get as much of the Bill as possible on to the statute book in good time. We support rental auctions so that landlords can use their properties, or other groups can seek to, and we want the powers to have teeth so that they are not easily circumvented and are usable.

My Amendment 429 would exempt from compensation damage that is caused when the authority or its agent needs to force access to a site following the failure to allow such access by the landlord. If Clause 201 is used proactively by local authorities and communities, it will of course mean that it is disruptive: it is meant to be. I have no doubt that there will be cases where some landlords think that the best course of action is to ignore the process entirely, especially if they are based a long way away from the communities where the premises are situated. There have to be powers for the local authority to enter premises, and we fully support that.

Clause 201 provides that where this power has been used and damage has been caused, the landlord has a right to compensation. That is fair, but in certain circumstances, a landlord should be able to seek redress and compensation. Amendment 429 would cover that, and brings two protections: first, that the damage happens reasonably—for example, cutting off a lock or knocking through a wall might not be proportionate—but, secondly, that it follows the refusal of a landlord who has not given the local authority the opportunity to enter, so reasonable action has had to take place. Again, we think this is a fair balance between protecting property and complying within the law. I should be very interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on this.

Finally, my Amendment 430 provides that:

“Within the period of 90 days beginning with the day on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State must publish a report detailing the new resources made available by His Majesty’s Government to local authorities in order to exercise Part 11 powers”.

Noble Lords will be aware that we regularly raise concerns about the finances and resources available to local authorities, and this is just another occasion. It is all very well to bring in new legislation, but local authorities, in particular, must have the resources to be able to deliver it.

I am aware that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, have amendments in this group, and I am very interested to hear what they have to say. I think I have probably spoken for long enough, so I beg to move.

My Lords, I draw attention to my amendment, co-signed by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow—and I am very grateful to him for doing so. The amendment is to Clause 178(4).

Clause 178 is dealing with the vacancy condition, which is one of the conditions for permitting letting or rental auctions by local authorities. My question is probing, to do with certainty. Clause 178 (4) mentions

“Occupation by … a trespasser, or … a person living in premises that are not designed or adapted for residential use”,

but goes on to say that

“this is not to count for the purposes of this section”.

Since the section deals with both what is occupied and what is not to count as occupation, it is unclear what that means. I ask the Minister to make it clear.

I think the intention must be that where a trespasser is in occupation or there is

“a person living in premises that are not designed or adapted for residential use”,

the premises are not to be treated as unoccupied for the purposes of Clause 178(1). That is my understanding. If that is incorrect and it is intended that they should be treated as unoccupied, the amendment provides that if a landlord has taken possession proceedings, they are not to be treated as unoccupied. It is really a question of clarity as to what Clause 178(4) is meant to do here. If the Minister can give a clear explanation from the Dispatch Box, that would help me and may be the end of the matter.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for identifying what I believe to be an unintended consequence in connection with the proposed forced auctions of high street property. I am pleased to add my name in support of Amendment 418.

Following many years of practice as a chartered surveyor, specifically in the commercial property market, I am well aware that one of the most difficult challenges that landlords of vacant property can face is that of the unauthorised or illegal occupation of their premises. Securing legal and legitimate possession from an occupier who refuses to leave is expensive and time-consuming and can easily—and unfairly—add to the long list of bad landlord stories.

If that unauthorised occupation involves residential property, the problems of cost and delay can increase significantly. I appreciate that the clause we are referring to does not refer to residential occupation, but commercial shops are frequently let to sole traders who use an upper floor storage space informally as residential accommodation. It is outside the terms of the lease, but it may remain a fact, so it is worth pointing out that residential occupation comes into this amendment.

Amendment 418 is designed to protect a landlord from enforcement by the local authority of the auction process when they are already doing their very best to secure vacant possession. They are trying to get rid of an unauthorised occupier. Without this possession, it becomes impossible to let the property. Who would conceive of signing a lease for a shop as a tenant with an illegal trader already in place? Surely it is wrong to penalise the landlord who is keen to let their property but is unable to do so. While legal action is under way, that landlord receives no rent and is probably paying interest on a commercial mortgage. They are likely in breach of their rental income covenants with the bank, so may be verging on defaulting on that loan, and are likely employing costly solicitors to pursue legal action for recovery of their property. Yet, by this Bill, they could be accused of keeping a property vacant.

The clock should not start on the period defined as “lying vacant” until the property is vacant and is in the landlord’s gift to be let to a tenant. I do not believe that it is the Government’s intention to auction off commercial premises that are the subject of legal action to recover possession, so I ask the Minister to ensure that, while legal proceedings are under way to secure possession, the landlord does not inadvertently fall into the trap of effective confiscation by the authorities.

This amendment is not a matter of policy or principle. It does not dispute the intention of Clause 178. It is simply a practical matter that, unamended, will lead to confusion and conflict between vested interests, which, I am sure, is unintended.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 426 in my name. I start by declaring an erstwhile interest as a former property manager of retail premises. It had a high street address, but the main shopping area had ceased to be in the high street some 30 years prior so, when we talk about high streets, it requires a little care in what one is actually referring to.

I pay tribute to the British Property Federation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, mentioned in her excellent and substantial introduction to this group of amendments, but I must stress that these views are mine and not those of the BPF.

I observe that 27 clauses and a schedule is a lot of stuff to have in a Bill of this sort for something that I am advised is a really quite narrow application. However, I am looking in the direction of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, because I suspect that she may have other views on this matter that she will doubtless enlighten us on.

The Government seek to attract overseas inward investment at scale, and UK real estate is one of those attractive asset classes across the world which has a great deal of further potential. I am told by the chief executive of Savills that commercial property investment in the UK runs at about £60 billion annually, about £30 billion of which comes from overseas, so this is a matter of considerable moment. However, we risk serial policy interventions, with a potential adding of burdens, increasing uncertainty and raised investor risk, which threaten to undermine this success story. Commercial rent collection moratoriums were one such thing. While I recognise that they were essential in the circumstances, they did not help.

High streets and retail properties are particularly challenged by the burdens from business rates referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and from floor space oversupply, loss of important anchor tenants, major shifts in shopping habits and general changes in work/life balance. Many properties in regions with the highest vacancies suffer from historic business rates levels, with instances of rates liability being in excess of 100% of the rent. That makes tenancies as unattractive as private sector investment and must be addressed.

Any measure that threatens investment should be looked at critically. As far as the retail investment sector is aware, according to the information that I have from the BPF, there is little pressure across the country to introduce these auctions, and the Government admit that they will be relevant in only a minority of cases to deal with empty properties. I appreciate that if a property is creating a particular problem, it must be dealt with, but given what we are being asked to put into this Bill, I wonder whether we are not using a very large sledgehammer to crack a small nut. The BPF tells me that the likely costs of each high street rental auction to a local authority alone would exceed £6,000. At a time when strained local authority finance is prevalent, this is unlikely to make them a priority. That figure, if correct, is just the local authority’s cost—never mind the other costs for the other parties.

The Bill proposes a scheme which I find complex, with exacting compliance criteria and where decisions of local authorities in their own cause appear to be incontestable, such as a refusal of consent under Clause 184(1). Appeals under Clause 187 would be to the county court, which has its own problems of delay and cost, and may not stop there. Therefore, a potential liability to pay compensation assessed by the First-tier Tribunal on top of that makes this look like quite a chancy operation. None the less, if Ministers wish to press ahead with this measure, the Bill should better distinguish between those property owners seeking a tenant but who have been unable to find one, having used all reasonable endeavours, and those who are just being plain unco-operative, where I can see that there is a perfectly good explanation. I pay tribute to the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, in that respect.

Schedule 16, which sets out the grounds on which landlords might have to appeal against a local authority’s final letting notice, should therefore be amended to include a new Clause 8, as set out in my amendment. It provides a facility for the landlord to demonstrate reasonable attempts to market the property at or below what might be described as a reasonable market rent for at least a nine-month period. That is to provide a safeguard against any capricious approach to the matter. We know that there are difficulties on the high street, and in dealing with certain types of shop premises—their shape, their configuration, their position in the high street, and other things that are going on at any given time, possibly to do with planning policy.

Government should not require property owners to undertake any action that places them in breach of their contractual arrangements—for example, if a tenancy required them to undertake works that conflicted with an agreed future use or required expenditure that necessitated borrowing in excess of agreed limits. That is the sort of thing that would apply here. Furthermore, if actions are being taken against tenants who are being dragged through the courts, it would be unreasonable for a landlord to be subject to these provisions in circumstances where that legal process was being pursued. Indeed, it might be seen to be prejudicial to the whole process.

I do not believe that property owners keep shops empty without reason. They lose rental income, face higher insurance premiums, run an increased risk of vandalism to the property and, needless to say, are liable for empty property rates. Many property investors have fiduciary duties to their shareholders that mean they must use all reasonable endeavours to let the property.

Forcing a rental auction is not a harmless exercise; it could result in what is termed, in the cant of the trade, a fire sale outcome, with sharply marked down rental figures. This has implications, such as the precedent that sets in the rest of the locality, and for certain types of shop. That would not be at all helpful.

Store vacancy rates correlate with wider economic health, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said. North-east England has the highest vacancy rates—18.8% in the first quarter of 2022—and the highest regional unemployment at 5%. The north-west and West Midlands also have relatively high levels of vacancies, correlating with higher unemployment. There are wider market factors at play here. Owners of real estate, and retail premises in particular, should not be made to bear the burden, uniquely, of the outcomes of government regional policies, or simply larger shifts in economic activity that are clearly outside their ability to control.

Empty shops are much more frequently a symptom than a cause of the problem. It may be high street decay but turning around the root causes of high street or town centre decline requires a framework to stimulate investment and activity. The British Property Federation tells me it has a model for this, called town centre accelerators. I suggest that His Majesty’s Government work with the British Property Federation to develop these across the country, especially where there is strong local leadership to deliver them.

My Lords, I apologise that I have not been in Committee in recent sessions; I had amendments on housing. I have discovered that, as a non-affiliated Peer, it is difficult to organise the division of labour when there are so many hefty Bills going through the House.

I have a particular interest in a couple of groups of amendments being discussed today. High streets and businesses are a core levelling-up issue for so many people outside of London. The decline of the high street can illustrate viscerally the feeling of being neglected and left behind. Boarded-up shops and closing community resources such as banks and pubs can be demoralising, making it feel like the heart of a community is being ripped out. Amendments 433 and 434 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, are important in this regard; she summed up in a compelling way why this is an important group.

A number of the amendments refer to consultations, which are very important. I was interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, regarding incentives. They show that we cannot simply declare a commitment to reviving the high street; it is a bit more complicated than that, to say the least.

I want to raise the dilemma that arises when government policies with different priorities, in completely different areas from this Bill, inadvertently make matters worse for high streets. I will reflect on and support Amendment 432, from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, on assessing the impact of pedestrianisation.

Pedestrianisation can intuitively seem like a good idea for high streets—a positive contributor to a community atmosphere, with increased footfall and increased likelihood of people popping into premises and so on. But stop and consider Naz Choudhury who, for many years, ran the successful Temple Bar, a halal Lebanese grill and Indian food restaurant in Oxford, which permanently closed recently. Why did it close? Mr Choudhury blames a certain form of enforced pedestrianisation in the council-imposed low-traffic neighbourhoods, specifically car restrictions in the Cowley Road area of east Oxford. Mr Choudhury says:

“The council’s decision to put these bollards up along Cowley Road was the main reason people don’t want to travel here anymore”.

Obviously, that is a subjective view, but there are a lot of controversies surrounding the Government’s active travel policies, which emphasise cycling and walking over driving. Businesses are saying that policies such as LTNs are having a negative impact on them. In Haringey, where I live, many shop owners say that LTNs are causing them to lose business.

The controversy around LTNs in Cowley Road in Oxford even hit the national newspaper headlines, largely because of opposition by Clinton Pugh, who is the father of the brilliant “Little Women” actress Florence Pugh. Clinton Pugh said:

“The council have literally strangled the life out of the Cowley Road and it is having a very negative effect on businesses.”

Mr Pugh, who is the owner of two or three cafés and restaurants on the road, even put up a banner accusing Oxford of censorship, quoting Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Rather than talking to or listening to him, the council’s response was to threaten to fine him for not getting planning consent for the banner.

Beyond the celebrity stories, a serious point for this group of amendments on the high street is to note that policies such as LTNs, which I am sure are very well intentioned, can create a type of pedestrianisation that is bad for business. Too often, councils just will not listen to the complaints or look at the evidence. Cowley Road traders became so exasperated that they produced their own business impact survey of the effects of traffic-reducing measures. It revealed that at least eight shops had closed where LTNs are located; that 153 shops had been directly or indirectly affected through a loss of customers and logistical problems with deliveries to businesses and customers; and that business owners reported a decrease in turnover of 30% in some instances, with some claiming 50%. A letting agent said that the tradespeople they use had increased their call-out fee from £45 to £65 due to the time it takes to get around in a van, the extra fuel used and so on. Hospitality businesses are particularly affected. A staff member at a specialist supermarket, which people travel a long way to get to, noted:

“We don’t sell many large bags of rice now because they’re too heavy to take on the bus”.

Something that looks like “Let’s get everyone walking or on the bus, and it will all be lovely and pedestrianised” is actually destroying businesses and having a bad effect on consumers, who cannot get what they want to buy. We can see parallels between pedestrianisation and the removal of free—or any—parking spaces in town. This is a double blow to both shoppers and SMEs alike, again in the name of anti-car, active travel policies.

Oxford traders say:

“We’ve been asking for an independent business impact assessment to be carried out but the council have ignored us, so we had to do our own”.

If we are to have a levelling-up discussion, Amendment 432 would be a sensible way to sort out the pros and cons of pedestrianisation in local areas. In other words, you cannot have top-down policies that undo any possibility of local residents or businesses having a proper say. LTNs illustrate that.

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee: I should have disclosed before I spoke that I have an interest as the owner of high street retail premises.

My Lords, there is so much that can be said regarding high streets that is very well evidenced, and in fact there is consensus about what does and does not work. Our concern on these Benches is that the various measures in the Bill, even when combined—it is important to see that—probably do not go far enough or are bold enough to really level up or regenerate. However, this is not Second Reading. I am pleased to speak positively to this part of the Bill and to this group of improving and strengthening amendments, which have been well described in appropriate detail by their proposers, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, as has already been mentioned.

I have to confess to becoming mildly excited about the prospect of local government being able to oblige landlords to rent out persistently vacant high street premises through the rental auctions process. As the elected Mayor of Watford, I inherited a high street shamefully branded in a tabloid headline as “Ibiza on acid”, and where the national crime survey showed one of our town centre side streets as one of the worst crime hotspots in the country several years running. Yes, more bad headlines, but more importantly it was backed up by local people’s opinions, experiences and—never to be forgotten—their perceptions. There was much work to be done, and it took years.

Thus I have bitter experiences of first, and most importantly, trying to track down the landlords of vacant premises—in other words, those who have real legal responsibilities and can actually do something and not just pass the buck. It was rarely straightforward, and any improvement that the Government can make to ease that part of the process would be very welcome and undoubtedly strengthen this policy.

For us, the formation of a business improvement district was critical to eventual success, and one hopes that they continue to be supported. In fact, it was the BID team which was able to do much of the footwork that is going to be needed of continuously monitoring vacant units and all the other premises on the high street. Given the skills and capacity issues in local councils that have been mentioned, this is definitely going to further stretch resources, particularly in district councils. Will the Minister reassure us that the Government have plans to target these issues?

On further investigation, we found that there was often a wide range of reasons why properties were empty, many of them legitimate and often complex and challenging. Amendment 426 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, essentially speaks to that dilemma. He may be surprised to learn that I can empathise. I say to him that any good council would and should seek to work with a landlord in the circumstances outlined in his amendment and help and support the landlord in getting the premises re-let. But I recognise that this is not always the case and despair when I hear case studies such as that from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, of when things have clearly gone awry and councils have not listened. I do not believe in being prescriptive about it because I could stand here and tell noble Lords how pedestrianisation revitalised our high street. My instincts are always to say, “Let councils decide what suits their circumstances”, but in the full knowledge that sometimes they mess it up.

What was key was the partnership approach—agents, landlords, businesses, the council and the community working collaboratively to get things to a point where a compulsory rental auction would not be necessary. That would be a measure of its success. But all too often we found that the landlord was not the kind of one described by the noble Earl but a pension group or similar investor with a wide range of holdings and for which a couple of shops in Watford High Street were small beer. For a wide range of commercial reasons it did not “suit their circumstances at the moment” to re-let. I sincerely hope that these are the landlords that this legislation will drive to the table.

The word “community” in my list of partners is important. Amendments 417 and 437 emphasise the involvement of the community, which is the heart of any place, as we know—the hub for getting together to enjoy a wide range of activities and events. In short, it is hard to imagine that a local plan would be found sound if it did not involve a policy for the high street and significantly involve the local community in its formation. Can the Minister confirm this?

Some landlords can be challenging to deal with and, as our experiences in compulsory purchase cases show, if there is a way around a new perceived impediment, it will be found. Indeed, businesses are hatched to help landlords do just this. Try Googling, “How to get out of paying your business rates” or, in the case of this policy, “What to do to ensure your premises aren’t vacant for a year and a day”. Therefore, the second stage after the notice has been served is important. Used positively, it enables partners to get together to sort things out, but conversely it allows landlords time to employ various ruses to try to convince the council that they are sorting it out, so that the council will call off bailiffs. Thus we strongly support Amendments 421, 422, 423 and 424 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for all the detailed reasons that she has so helpfully given. They would speed up and tighten up the process and give ultimate powers to the council as opposed to the Secretary of State.

Amendment 418 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, seeks to support landlords caught in that intermediate position and offers a solution which seems entirely reasonable—that they must be actively seeking possession. That is all the more important, as one possible unintended consequence is that landlords heading towards the one-year vacant point might opt to avoid the auction by reverting temporarily to low-quality residential accommodation, a process made easier and quicker by recent changes to permitted development rights. Noble Lords will have noted the increased use of property guardians. Both actions, while providing some sort of home, can be business-rate loopholes, will not contribute to enhancing or improving the high street, and may even be contrary to what the council is seeking to achieve on behalf of its community. Can the Minister reassure us that the current technical consultation, which finishes in June, and the other one finishing after the Bill on the operational matters of this policy will weed out these and other unintended consequences?

We support Amendment 429 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Given that the council has been driven to a forced entry, it would seem a reasonable presumption that, as long as it can demonstrate that all efforts had been made to effect entry legitimately, costs should fall on the recalcitrant landlord.

The various probing amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, highlight all the possible issues a town centre might have which would affect its viability, and there is much evidence to show that they do. We certainly endorse Amendment 435. The disparity between warehousing and high street business rates must be evaluated.

Even if a high street has been fortunate enough to gain some of the money from the various bidding rounds in the several pots to spruce it up, the sad fact is that the key factor for a high street to be viable is that its residents have enough money in their pockets to go out and spend. Sadly, this is not the case for many towns where levelling up is needed, wanted and has been promised. As for vacant shops, full reform of business rates would be a bigger contributor to reducing empty properties than targeting landlords. I, for one, would be up for a little target practice, and I broadly welcome this part of the Bill.

My Lords, I start by addressing Amendments 415, 416 and 417 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. Clause 176 sets out the criteria and conditions that must be met before high street or town centre designation can be made. Local authorities are uniquely placed to make this designation based on their deep knowledge of their area and we must empower them to do so. The needs of both local people and local businesses may have also been considered by local authorities in the development of their local plans and regeneration programmes. These amendments add complexity and burdens for local authorities, so the Government are not able to support them, or Amendment 437, which is consequential on 415 and 417.

Amendment 418 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, seeks to clarify what is meant by “occupied” for the purpose of assessing the vacancy condition. Clause 178(4) is aimed at excluding occupation by trespassers or property guardians for the purpose of this assessment. Amendment 418 would refine that position so that this type of occupation can count where the landlord is taking steps to remove such occupiers through possession proceedings. The Government see these exclusions as necessary to ensure the policy aims of filling commercial premises for high street uses. We also consider it reasonable to expect landlords to keep their premises secure to prevent squatters, or to take court action where necessary. The Government recognise that there may be more complicated cases of trespassers, but we also consider that many local authorities are unlikely to conduct a high street rental auction on a property that has such complications. While the Government do not feel able to support this amendment at this time, I would add that we do recognise that there may be many challenges caused to landlords by trespassers. We trust local authorities to use these permissive powers sensibly where there are complications caused by certain types of trespassers. I have listened to the noble and learned Lord, and I will give his amendments further consideration.

Amendments 419 and 424, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seek to remove the Henry VIII powers for the Secretary of State to alter the circumstances of vacancy, and the flexibility within grounds of appeal, which are set out in Schedule 16. This power may be needed in future in the light of experience in operation: for example, to alter the vacancy period to ensure that it is targeting the right premises and can respond to changing market conditions; or, in the case of grounds of appeal, where there may be a need to increase the safeguards available to landlords, or to revise these grounds where they are found to undermine effectiveness. We appreciate the importance of parliamentary scrutiny regarding the grounds of appeal, and any amendment will be subject to the affirmative procedure. In the light of that, the Government are not able to support this amendment.

Amendment 420 amends the local benefit condition in Clause 179 so that a property can be let only if it supports regeneration. Currently, the local benefit condition will be satisfied if the local authority considers that occupation of the premises for a suitable high street use would be beneficial to the local economy, society or environment. The local benefit condition is framed by reference to aims that are usually associated with regeneration. Another statutory example demonstrating the use of similar language is Section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. We wish to avoid introducing further considerations for local authorities, inadvertently narrowing the scope; so the Government cannot support this amendment.

Amendments 421 and 423 reduce the period after which an initial letting notice would expire and the period of time after which a final letting notice can be issued. We consider that making the process too quick will place an unreasonable strain on local authorities that are looking to exercise these powers. We also do not consider that these reduced timescales will provide the landlord with a reasonable amount of time to let the premises themselves and, in appropriate cases, to work with the local authority, increasing the risk that high street properties go through the auction process unnecessarily.

Amendment 422 would prevent landlords from transferring premises between related entities while an initial letting notice was in force. An initial letting notice is not affected by any change in landlord, as made clear by Clause 199(7). We do not want high street rental auctions to prevent landlords from selling their interest in the property, provided that the initial letting notice continues to bind.

Amendment 426, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, would add a further ground for appeal against the use of a high street rental auction. Schedule 16 sets out the grounds on which a landlord can appeal against a final letting notice. The amendment would require local authorities to consider whether a landlord had taken reasonable steps to rent the property before undertaking a high street rental auction, preventing them from taking place where a landlord has done so. The amendment would introduce a complex test which could place significant burdens on a local authority and would likely discourage use and lead to it becoming ineffective. There is already a wide range of grounds for appeal, which ensures fairness for landlords. The amendment also raises matters that should feed into a ground of appeal, such as planning. These matters are already being given careful consideration by the Government. In the case of planning, the Government are currently consulting on extending permitted development rights.

Amendment 427 would require that regulations relating to the rental auction process were laid within 90 days of Royal Assent. Clause 188 sets out the principles of the rental auction process. Significant detail in relation to the process will need to be provided, which will be more appropriately dealt with through regulations. While we will make regulations as soon as possible, it is not possible to commit to a timeline of 90 days because the regulations will be informed by extensive engagement with the sector, which will then need to be reflected in the drafting of those regulations. The Government are therefore not able to support this amendment.

On Amendment 429, we consider it more appropriate to provide landlords with a general entitlement to seek compensation for damage where local authorities have exercised their power of entry and to let the Upper Tribunal decide whether there are any circumstances affecting the landlord’s entitlement to compensation, rather than providing specific exemptions. That is the approach adopted in other legislation, such as the compensation provisions in Section 176 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, which relate to the power to enter and survey land. The Government do not feel able to support this amendment.

On Amendment 430, I assure noble Lords that high street rental auctions are being designed to minimise costs incurred by local authorities by streamlining the process and through distributing the costs across landlords and tenants. We agree with the intention of the amendment, which is why the high street rental auction consultation contains questions relating to the distribution of the associated costs and details of a standardised lease, and it would be inappropriate to pre-empt the result of the consultation. We are also making up to £2 million of funding available for support with the costs of rental auctions, and full details of this will be announced in due course. The Government are therefore not able to support this amendment.

On Amendments 431, 432, 433, 434, 435 and 436, the measures in the Bill seek to support lively high streets with activity that attracts people and businesses and avoids long-term vacancies, complementing existing government support that directly addresses the concerns raised in these amendments. There is support available to regenerate high streets, including £3.6 billion-worth of investment in the towns fund, a £4.8 billion investment in the levelling-up fund and a £2.6 billion investment in the shared prosperity fund. That is together with the £13.6 billion support package, announced in the Budget this year, to protect ratepayers facing bill increases over the next five years.

The High Streets Task Force continues to provide essential support to local leaders, with 123 local authorities having received expert advice in topics such as place-making and planning. I recognise that these amendments highlight key issues faced by many of our high streets, but I hope I have provided enough reassurance that these concerns are, or will be, addressed through current government actions.

Finally, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox—

I apologise to the Minister for interrupting, but before she sits down, can she address this point? One of the key arguments made—in that group of amendments to which the noble Baroness referred—by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and by myself and my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lady Thornhill, was about the huge disparity in business rates between online retailers and high street town centre retailers. I will repeat a comparator that I have mentioned previously. A well-known online retailer—not many miles distant from me—pays £45 per square metre in business rates on its premises, whereas a small town high street shop near me pays £240 per square metre. It is that vast difference that is penalising our town centre shops. This is the heart of the problem that this clause is trying to address, and we are supportive of that—but unless we deal with this big difference, nothing much will change. I would be glad to hear from the Minister what the Government intend to do about business rates.

We are simplifying the issue of the high street. I have listened a number of times to what has been said about business rates, and I have explained how much the Government are putting in to supporting properties in the high street through the revaluation process, et cetera. The Government provide rate relief to help property owners all the time, but the issue of empty properties in the high street is much more complex than that, so there are a number of things we want to address, and one of them is what we are doing in this Bill.

I was saying that I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, because I would like some further information from the Department for Transport.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which covered an important part of the levelling-up agenda. I am just thinking about the Minister’s comments. A number of times she said that it was not appropriate to accept the amendment at the moment because it pre-empted the findings of the consultation that was going on. I have said this before, but I think it would be helpful if legislation were brought forward after consultation, rather than during or before it, because that consultation could then inform the legislation. It just seems a bit backwards, as if it is around the wrong way.

Also, there are the levelling-up funds, the towns fund and various other funding pots, but they do not necessarily always go to the most needy or provide the long-term support that is needed. It is how we provide that long-term change that is important. Too often there are sticking plasters with bits of pots of money.

Workington is obviously a town near me; I used to be the Member of Parliament for Workington in the other place. An industry report by planning consultancy Marrons showed that Workington was near the bottom of the 360 provincial towns that it looked at. It has had some funding recently, for example from the levelling-up fund, and we are of course grateful for that, but the money is going to be spent on improving key routes, bringing in new cycling routes and building a new café. Well, that is lovely, but it will not solve the fact that Debenhams and Laura Ashley have gone. If people find they do not need to come into the town centre because those key shops have now closed, they are more likely to go somewhere else to shop. We really need to look at this in a much broader way. Again, that is why business rates are so very important and they are one of the main sticking points.

Again, on the issues around corporate landlords and pension funds, I absolutely agree with everything the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said on those. We are pleased that the Government are looking to do something about empty shop units. As an example from where I used to live, two shops next door to each other are owned by the same landlady and have been empty for over 20 years, purely and simply because when her shops failed she did not want to let them out to anybody else. So the fact that the Government are trying to do something about this is important, but it has to be done with the support of local authorities and the local community and it has to be done in a way that genuinely makes a difference. It is also important, as other noble Lords have said, that we do not end up with exploitable loopholes or unintended consequences but do have proper oversight. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 415 withdrawn.

Amendments 416 and 417 not moved.

Clause 176 agreed.

Clause 177 agreed.

Clause 178: Vacancy condition

Amendments 418 and 419 not moved.

Clause 178 agreed.

Clause 179: Local benefit condition

Amendment 420 not moved.

Clause 179 agreed.

Clause 180: Initial notice

Amendment 421 not moved.

Clause 180 agreed.

Clause 181: Restriction on letting while initial notice in force

Amendment 422 not moved.

Clause 181 agreed.

Clause 182 agreed.

Clause 183: Final notice

Amendment 423 not moved.

Clause 183 agreed.

Clauses 184 and 185 agreed.

Clause 186: Counter-notice

Amendment 424 not moved.

Clause 186 agreed.

Schedule 16: Grounds of appeal against final letting notice

Amendment 425 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 426 not moved.

Schedule 16 agreed.

Clause 187 agreed.

Clause 188: Rental auctions

Amendment 427 not moved.

Clause 188 agreed.

Clauses 189 to 191 agreed.

Schedule 17 agreed.

Clauses 192 to 198 agreed.

Amendment 428 not moved.

Clauses 199 to 200 agreed.

Clause 201: Compensation

Amendment 429 not moved.

Clause 201 agreed.

Clause 202 agreed.

Amendments 430 to 436 not moved.

Clause 203: Interpretation of Part 10

Amendment 437 not moved.

Clause 203 agreed.

Amendment 438 not moved.

Amendment 438A

Moved by

438A: Before Clause 204, insert the following new Clause—

“Power to require provision of certain classes of information(1) Regulations may require the provision of information that is within the scope of a permitted purpose.(2) So far as the regulations are to extend to England and Wales, the permitted purposes are—(a) the beneficial ownership purpose (see section (The beneficial ownership purpose)),(b) the contractual control purpose (see section (The contractual control purpose)), and(c) the national security purpose (see section (The national security purpose)).(3) So far as the regulations are to extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland, the only permitted purpose is the national security purpose.(4) Regulations under this section must, for each requirement they impose, specify—(a) the person on whom the requirement falls,(b) the occurrence or circumstances that gives or give rise to the requirement,(c) the time limit for complying with the requirement, and(d) the person to whom the required information is to be provided.(5) The occurrence or circumstances specified under subsection (4)(b)—(a) must, in the case of a requirement to provide information within the scope of the national security purpose, and(b) in any other case may,be (or include) the giving of a notice in accordance with the regulations to the person on whom the requirement falls.(6) In relation to such cases, the regulations may also make provision deeming notice to have been given at a certain time in certain circumstances.(7) The person specified under subsection (4)(d) must be—(a) the Chief Land Registrar, or(b) another person exercising public functions on behalf of the Crown.(8) Regulations under this section may—(a) make provision about how information is to be provided (including provision requiring it to be provided by electronic means specified in the regulations);(b) provide for, or make provision about, the application of the regulations to persons outside, or information held outside, the United Kingdom; (c) relate to things done or arising before the coming into force of this section.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause and the other new Clauses in the Minister’s name before Clause 204 recast the powers in Part 11 so as to make them exercisable only for stated purposes (along with other minor changes).

My Lords, I am pleased to introduce government Amendments 438A, 440ZA, 440ZC, 440B and 440E, which provide clarity and certainty about how the powers relating to interests and dealings in land can and will be used.

First, the Secretary of State will have the ability to require by regulations the disclosure of beneficial ownership information, where it is not already available. These changes will supplement and reinforce the current transparency regime. Secondly, the amendments give the Secretary of State the ability to create regulations to require information on certain arrangements which control land, short of outright ownership. This will enhance the available information on those arrangements. Thirdly, the amendments would allow regulations to enable the Secretary of State to require certain details of ownership and control about a property, where it appears to the Secretary of State that there is a national security threat linked to that property. That could apply, for example, to critical national infrastructure or sensitive sites.

Government Amendments 438B and 440F define the beneficial ownership purpose, covering information which appears to the Secretary of State to be useful for identifying and understanding the beneficial ownership of land. It will improve transparency over land ownership in England and Wales and deter the use of complex structures to obscure ownership. The beneficial ownership purpose is designed to allow the Government to collect further information in any cases where the ownership of UK land and property is not captured by the Companies House or trusts registers or is under question. However, the Government do not intend to increase the burden on businesses by requiring information to be provided twice. Rather, we will seek ways to cross-reference information already in the public domain, making it easier to link the ownership of legal entities to the ownership of land.

Amendment 438C sets out the detail of the contractual control purposes. It allows for the collection of information if it appears to the Secretary of State that it would be useful for the purpose of identifying relevant contractual rights or the identity of persons holding those rights. The rights that arise under a contract or deed are related

“to the development, use or disposal of land … and … are held for the purposes of an undertaking”,

such as a business. One such type of arrangement is option agreements, which grant the developer the right to purchase the land during a specified option period.

The contractual control arrangements are usually referred to on HM Land Registry titles, but are not recorded in an easily accessible, detailed or transparent way. That means that it can be difficult to work out where and how land is under control short of outright ownership. We want to make it easier for communities and local authorities to understand fully the likely path of development in their area by collecting and publishing information about those arrangements. Greater transparency will also enable public bodies to create policies which support housebuilding. In the 2018 analysis of build-out rates, Sir Oliver Letwin expressed a concern at the lack of publicly available data on land holdings.

My Amendment 438D sets out in more detail the national security purpose referred to in Amendment 438A. It defines the key terms, concepts and scope of the information which may be sought, as well as from whom and in what circumstances.

The threats this country faces to its national security are not limited to England and Wales. Therefore, government Amendments 440G, 440H, 504K and 504L extend the territorial extent of Part 11 to all parts of the United Kingdom, while Amendment 438D specifies that only the national security purpose may apply beyond England and Wales. That will ensure that Ministers can require information about properties which may be used to threaten national security, wherever they are in the United Kingdom.

Amendment 440ZB sets out important restrictions on the retention, sharing and publication of information gathered under the national security purpose. We want to provide assurance to recipients of the information notices under the national security purpose that the Government will not be able to use their personal information for other purposes, including investigating criminality unrelated to the national security purpose.

I therefore commend the amendments to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her clear explanation of the government amendments here. From what she said, it seems to me that there is a dual purpose to the amendments. One is contained in the section relating to national security, which I understand but I wonder why it has appeared in this Bill and not in other Bills related to national security, one of which went through this House not long ago.

The second group of amendments is about aiding the development of land where land ownership is not known. I would like the Minister to help here, because the ownership of a lot of land is not yet recorded by the Land Registry—it is recorded only following a change of hands, through a sale or transfer in some way. I would like to understand from the Minister quite how ownership of land is to be established without the Land Registry having already had that recorded. I understand the direction that the Government intend here, but it seems to me that there is a gap, unless I have misunderstood the purpose of some of those amendments.

Will she explain, first, why this national security element has appeared in a levelling-up Bill, unless it is to do with regeneration? Secondly, if she could help with establishing land ownership that has not yet been recorded by the Land Registry, I would be grateful.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 440A in my name. This amendment is intended to draw attention to a recommendation by the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, in its report on the Bill. Part 11, of which Clause 207 forms part, gives power to the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring the provision of information on transactions and other dealings in land if the Secretary of State considers

“that the information would be useful”

to identify the owners of the land and those with the right

“to control or influence … the owner of a relevant interest in land”.

Clause 207(1) states that these regulations may also provide for

“the sharing of such information with persons exercising functions of a public nature, for use for the purposes of such functions”.

Clause 207(3), to which my amendment is directed, addresses the risk, which is understandable, that there may be an inaccuracy or omission in the information that is provided, arising from the sharing or publication of this information. It states:

“No civil liability is to arise from the sharing or publication of information under regulations under this section by reason of any inaccuracy or omission in the information as provided further to a requirement imposed under section 204 or 205”.

The question then is: who needs this protection? As the Constitution Committee understood it, the intention of this clause is to give that protection to the persons to whom that information has been provided by the Secretary of State. That is because they are the people who will be required by the regulations to share or publish that information. It is obviously desirable that they should have that protection against civil liability if the information that they have been required to share or publish by reason of these regulations is misleading or inaccurate.

It is on that understanding that the suggestion was made by the committee that Clause 207(3) should be more tightly defined in the interests of legal certainty. The suggestion is that it should make it clear that our understanding is correct. That would be achieved if the words

“as respects those persons to whom the information is provided”

were inserted into the clause. As the clause stands, it might be thought to extend the protection further down the line as the information is shared more widely by persons who are doing this not because they are required to do it by the regulations but for some other reason, which may be unrelated to the regulations themselves. However, if it is the intention that the protection should extend that far, the committee suggests that the wording of this provision should be looked at again to make this clear.

I hope this explanation for the amendment may be helpful. It is intended to assist the Government and make it absolutely plain how far the protection the subsection is intended to give should extend.

My Lords, I have a couple of amendments in this group. We have heard that Part 11 sets out a framework for creating powers to require disclosure of certain relevant information relating to ownership and control of land in England and Wales, including transactional information. Of course, if this is implemented, it is another significant layer of disclosure around land ownership and control in England and Wales, supplementing the information that is currently held or is going to be held in a number of public registries. It appears that the Government’s ultimate goal here is to ensure transparency around land ownership and control in England and Wales. We would support this aim.

My Amendment 440 probes the retrospective application of this section. As drafted, the provisions could require the disclosure of information relating to events prior to the enactment of the Bill. Clause 206(4) says:

“Regulations under section 204 or 205 may relate to things done or arising before the coming into force of this Part”.

This amendment probes the benefits of doing this retrospective application and what the Government are aiming to achieve through this.

My second amendment, Amendment 439, probes how local communities can request land ownership information. It would be really helpful if the Minister could provide a bit more information for us to understand how communities are expected to access this information and how that fits in with the role of the Secretary of State.

I thank the Minister for her thorough introduction to the government amendments. Amendments 438A, 438B, 438C, 438D and so on insert clauses before Clause 204. They

“recast the powers in Part 11 so as to make them exercisable only for stated purposes”.

Do these provisions apply to government agencies, such as Homes England, as well? If conditions are attached, they can get in the way when regeneration schemes are being considered. It would be good to have some clarification on that point.

We would support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in what he is trying to achieve in Amendment 440A. If the Minister could either provide clarification to the noble and learned Lord or look at tightening up the wording, as he suggests, that would be extremely helpful.

My Lords, in response to Amendment 439 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I confirm that it will be in the public interest for some of the information that is collected to be published. For example, we intend to publish data on arrangements such as option agreements that developers and others have over land. However, there is some information that we will not be able to publish, so we need to strike the balance between transparency, legitimate privacy, confidentiality and practical or security considerations. Therefore, some information will be shared only

“with persons exercising functions of a public nature, for use for the purposes of such functions”.

At this stage, I want to answer a couple of questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. She asked why we need beneficial ownership. We believe that the property market in England and Wales should be fair and transparent. A lack of transparency can make it hard to identify rogue landlords, the owners of empty properties and those liable under the Building Safety Act, and it can leave the market vulnerable to criminal activity. We believe that this will deter individuals from using complex structures to obscure ownership of property, and it will provide criminal offences and sanctions for failure to comply.

It is difficult to work out where and how land is under control, short of outright ownership. Developers and other actors will often enter arrangements, such as option agreements, which allow them to exert control over the future use, purchase or disposition of land. Although in most cases there will be a notice or restriction on the land register in respect of such arrangements, these will often be limited in terms of information, as I think I have said before. In particular, they will exclude detailed terms. We just need transparency. We need it for local authorities to be able to understand how they can use land in their area and who to talk to about it. That is important.

The noble Baroness asked why national security was also in the Bill. This power relates to land ownership and control information, and we think that it is well suited to this part of the Bill, which includes, as we have talked about, several other information-gathering powers for a number of different policy areas. We think that it fits nicely in this part of the Bill.

Amendment 440, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, looks at why our powers need to be able to apply retrospectively by removing the current provision. The Bill allows for regulations to require information about things done or arising before its commencement, enabling us to collect information about agreements, arrangements and ownerships that are currently in effect. Without this, it could take very many years before we had a sufficiently complete picture for the information to prove as useful as possible. The Government’s intent is to require information retrospectively in as focused a way as possible to achieve our policy objectives.

Finally, Amendment 440A, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, seeks to clarify that the exemption from civil liability applies to those to whom information is provided and not to those who are bound to provide the information. Although I have sympathy with his intention to clarify what this means in practice for who is in scope, we do not believe there is legal ambiguity in the current drafting, so the amendment is unnecessary. However, I will look further at the wording and come back to him.

I hope this provides noble Lords with sufficient reassurance not to press their amendments.

Amendment 438A agreed.

Amendments 438B to 438D

Moved by

438B: Before Clause 204, insert the following new Clause—

“The beneficial ownership purpose(1) Information is within the scope of the beneficial ownership purpose if it appears to the Secretary of State that the information would be useful for the purpose of— (a) identifying persons who are beneficial owners of land in England or Wales, or(b) understanding the relationship of those persons with the land that they beneficially own.(2) For the purposes of this section, a person beneficially owns land if either of the following subsections applies.(3) This subsection applies where—(a) the land is owned by a body corporate or partnership, and(b) the person is, in relation to that body corporate or partnership, a beneficial owner within the meaning given by regulation 5 of the Money Laundering Regulations.(4) This subsection applies where—(a) the land is owned as part of—(i) a trust, foundation or similar legal arrangement, or(ii) the estate of a deceased person in the course of administration, and(b) the person is, in relation to that trust, foundation, arrangement or estate, a beneficial owner within the meaning given by regulation 6 of the Money Laundering Regulations.(5) In this section—(a) expressions that are also used in regulation 5 or 6 of the Money Laundering Regulations have the same meaning as in that regulation;(b) references to ownership of land (except references to beneficial ownership) are to the legal ownership of a freehold or leasehold estate in the land;(c) “the Money Laundering Regulations” means the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/692).”Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the first new Clause in the Minister’s name before Clause 204.

438C: Before Clause 204, insert the following new Clause—

“The contractual control purpose(1) Information is within the scope of the contractual control purpose if it appears to the Secretary of State that the information would be useful for the purpose of understanding relevant contractual rights.(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), understanding relevant contractual rights includes identifying the persons holding them and understanding the circumstances in which they were created or acquired.(3) “Relevant contractual rights” are rights that—(a) arise under a contract,(b) relate to the development, use or disposal of land in England or Wales, and(c) are held for the purposes of an undertaking.(4) In this section—“contract” includes a deed (whether or not made for consideration);“undertaking” includes—(a) a business,(b) a charity or similar endeavour, and(c) the exercise of functions of a public nature.”Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the first new Clause in the Minister’s name before Clause 204.

438D: Before Clause 204, insert the following new Clause—

“The national security purpose(1) Information is within the scope of the national security purpose if— (a) the information relates to land that is within subsection (2),(b) the information is within subsection (3), and(c) it appears to the Secretary of State that requiring the provision of the information under section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information) would be justified in the interests of national security.(2) Land is within this subsection if it appears to the Secretary of State that a threat to national security arises in connection with the location of the land or anything situated or done on it.(3) Information is within this subsection if it appears to the Secretary of State that the information would be useful for the purpose of—(a) identifying persons who—(i) own relevant interests in the land,(ii) have relevant rights concerning the land, or(iii) have the ability, or are in a position that may involve the ability, to control or influence (directly or indirectly) the owner of a relevant interest in the land, or a person with a relevant right concerning the land, in the exercise of that ownership or right, or(b) understanding the relationship of those persons with the land.(4) In subsection (3)—(a) references to ownership include legal and beneficial ownership;(b) “control or influence” includes control or influence by reason of interests or rights in or under a company, partnership, trust, foundation, or legal structure or arrangement similar to any of those.”Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the first new Clause in the Minister’s name before Clause 204.

Amendments 438B to 438D agreed.

Clause 204 disagreed.

Amendment 439 not moved.

Clause 205: Requirements to provide transactional information

Amendment 439A

Moved by

439A: Clause 205, page 239, line 16, leave out “Regulations may require the provision of” and insert “The information that may (if it falls within the scope of a permitted purpose) be required to be provided under section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information) includes”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment makes it clear that details of transactions involving land can be obtained under Part 11 (notwithstanding the recasting of the powers of that Part by the new Clauses in the Minister’s name before Clause 204).

Amendment 439A agreed.

Clause 205, as amended, agreed.

Clause 206: Supplementary provision about information requirements

Amendment 440 not moved.

Clause 206 disagreed.

Clause 207: Use of information

Amendments 440ZA to 440ZC

Moved by

440ZA: Clause 207, page 240, line 13, leave out “section 204 or 205” and insert “section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information)”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the first new clause in the Minister’s name before clause 204.

440ZB: Clause 207, page 240, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) In the case of a requirement to provide information within the scope of the national security purpose, regulations under subsection (1) may be made so as to apply to information provided further to the requirement only so far as appears to the Secretary of State to be justified in the interests of national security.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment provides that information obtained under Part 11 in the interests of national security may only be dealt with in those interests.

440ZC: Clause 207, page 240, line 19, leave out “section 204 or 205” and insert “section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information)”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the first new Clause in the Minister’s name before Clause 204.

Amendments 440ZA to 440ZC agreed.

Amendment 440A not moved.

Amendment 440B

Moved by

440B: Clause 207, page 240, line 24, leave out “section 204 or 205” and insert “section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information)”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the first new Clause in the Minister’s name before Clause 204.

Amendment 440B agreed.

Clause 207, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 440C

Moved by

440C: After Clause 207, insert the following new Clause—

“Offences(1) A person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with a requirement imposed under section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information) commits an offence.(2) A person commits an offence if—(a) the person provides information in response to a requirement imposed under section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information),(b) the information is false or misleading in a material particular, and(c) the person knows that the information is false or misleading or is reckless as to whether it is. (3) But an offence under this section is committed under the law of a given jurisdiction only if the requirement in question is imposed by regulations extending to that jurisdiction.(4) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable—(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the maximum term for summary offences or a fine (or both);(b) on summary conviction in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (or both);(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (or both).(5) In subsection (4)(a), “the maximum term for summary offences” means—(a) if the offence is committed before the time when section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, 6 months;(b) if the offence is committed after that time, 51 weeks.(6) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (2) is liable—(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the general limit in a magistrates’ court or a fine (or both);(b) on summary conviction in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both);(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both);(d) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine (or both).(7) If—(a) an entity within subsection (8) commits an offence under this section, and(b) a person who is, or is purporting to act as, a relevant officer of the entity authorises or permits, participates in, or fails to take all reasonable steps to prevent the commission of the offence,that person also commits the offence.(8) The entities within this subsection are those specified in the first column of the following table; and “relevant officer”, in relation to such an entity, means a person acting in a capacity specified in the corresponding entry in the second column.


“Relevant officer”

A company.

A director, manager, secretary or similar officer.

A partnership.

A partner.

A body corporate (other than a company) or unincorporated body whose affairs are managed by a governing body.

A member of the governing body.

A body corporate (other than a company) or unincorporated body whose affairs are managed by its members.

A member.

(9) An offence under this section committed under the law of Scotland by a person outside Scotland may be prosecuted in— (a) a sheriff court district in which the person is apprehended or in custody, or(b) a sheriff court district determined by the Lord Advocate,as if the offence had been committed in that district (and in that event the offence is for all incidental or consequential purposes deemed to have been committed in that district).(10) In subsection (9), “sheriff court district” is to be read in accordance with section 307(1) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause provides offences of non-compliance with regulations under Part 11.

Amendment 440C agreed.

Clause 208: Enforcement of requirements

Amendments 440D and 440E

Moved by

440D: Clause 208, page 240, line 27, leave out subsections (1) and (2)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes provision superseded by the new Clause in the Minister’s name after Clause 207.

440E: Clause 208, page 241, line 1, leave out “section 204 or 205” and insert “section (Power to require provision of certain classes of information)”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the first new Clause in the Minister’s name before Clause 204.

Amendments 440D and 440E agreed.

Clause 208, as amended, agreed.

Clause 209: Interpretation of Part 11

Amendments 440F and 440G

Moved by

440F: Clause 209, page 241, leave out lines 11 and 12

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes a definition that is no longer required as a result of the new Clauses in the Minister’s name before Clause 204.

440G: Clause 209, page 241, line 17, leave out “England and Wales” and insert “the United Kingdom”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and the third amendment in the Minister’s name to Clause 209 are consequential on the extension of Part 11 to Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as England and Wales (see the second amendment in the Minister’s name to Clause 221, page 250, line 32).

Amendments 440F and 440G agreed.

My Lords, there is an error in Amendment 440H on the Marshalled List. The text being left out of the Bill says “England or Wales”, not “England and Wales”.

Amendment 440H

Moved by

440H: Clause 209, page 241, line 21, leave out “England and Wales” and insert “the United Kingdom”

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the second amendment in the Minister’s name to Clause 209.

Amendment 440H agreed.

Clause 209, as amended, agreed.

Clause 210: Registration of short-term rental properties

Amendments 441 to 447 not moved.

Clause 210 agreed.

Clause 211: Pavement licences

Amendment 448

Moved by

448: Clause 211, page 243, line 20, at end insert—

“(2) Schedule 18 may not come in to force until an assessment has been made of its impact on accessibility.”Member's explanatory statement

This means that schedule 18 does not come in to force until an assessment has been made of the impact on accessibility.

My Lords, during the Covid pandemic, the catering industry suffered huge disruption, and, with the support of local councils, some innovative solutions were found to create outdoor eating, drinking and dining spaces, which helped to provide some opportunity to relieve the pressure on businesses, but also to give some much-needed social space which met the constraints of Covid regulations.

In many communities, this brought a new dimension to high streets, with outdoor seating and catering creating more of a continental feel, which was, for the most part, welcomed by communities. The regulations relating to pavement trading were relaxed, and there was the opportunity to test the impact of these less formal spaces on supporting the regeneration of our high streets. So we welcome the overall aim, which is to encourage a more relaxed approach to pavement trading.

The Nationwide Caterers’ Association website states:

“The past two years have been incredibly difficult for the hospitality industry, and the hope is that refurbished outdoor spaces will help to attract customers with new offerings and a ‘continental culture that will hopefully bring Britain’s high streets to life’”.

However, as ever, the implementation of these street trading spaces during Covid highlighted some of the issues that arise, and the amendments in this group address many of them with sensible additions to the Bill that do not seek to reimpose an overbureaucratic regime.

Our Amendment 448 refers to the critical issue of accessibility. One of the main causes of complaint relating to pavement trading during the Covid crisis was that there was occasionally an inconsiderate approach to the needs of all highway users. Those with disabilities, for example, found that not enough space was left for wheelchairs or mobility scooters to get through and, for those with sight impairment, the unexpected obstacles on the highway presented major challenges. Although we support the overall drive for a more relaxed regime, it is essential that it does not create a street scene which excludes, or impairs access for, some of our community. Amendment 448 would ensure that accessibility is considered, by assessing the overall street scene and then ensuring that any pavement trading offer was compliant with keeping access routes clear.

Amendment 450 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, allows the use of highway shared space between vehicles and pedestrians. We can envisage complexities that might arise in relation to this, but knowing how thoughtful the noble Lord is, we look forward to hearing how this might work in practice. His Amendments 451 and 452 relate to the responsibilities of businesses that trade on the highway to make a contribution to maintenance and cleansing charges. Of course, it might be simpler if there was just more discretion for local authorities to ensure that the licence fee took account of these aspects on application for the licence, but, again, I am sure that the noble Lord will have given careful thought to his proposal, and we look forward to hearing his views.

Amendment 454 from the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Moylan, and Amendment 456, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Holmes, Lord Moylan and Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, make a sensible change to increase the consultation period for pavement licences to 28 days, in line with the Highways Act. We understand that during the Covid crisis, the provisions in the Business and Planning Act 2020 were dealing with an emergency situation, so seven days may have been appropriate, but it is an unusually short period for consultation, particularly where communities are involved, and we agree that 28 days would provide a better opportunity for all those who have a view to comment and have their views taken into account.

Amendment 455 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Blencathra, and to which I have added my name, gives local authorities an important obligation to consider the needs of all users of the highway in granting licences. This reflects my earlier amendment on considering those with disabilities, but would also require consideration of the general flow of pedestrians in the high street, the interaction between pedestrians, traffic and cyclists, and the potential obstruction of access to other businesses, which may be undesirable.

My Amendment 462 would put in place a penalty regime for those pavement licence holders who do not comply with the local authority’s requirement to remove street furniture when the area is not in use, and Amendment 463 gives the power to local authorities to make it an offence not to remove furniture where the local authority has requested it be removed when the area is not in use for drinking or dining. Of course, we anticipate that this would be a last resort power, for use only where licence holders persistently refused to comply with local authority guidelines.

Amendment 457 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Holmes, Lord Moylan and Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, changes the default position in the Business and Planning Act 2020 for expired applications from granting those applications to rejecting them. I see no justification for granting applications that have expired, whatever the reason.

Two of the key issues that arose during the relaxation of the pavement licensing rules due to the Covid crisis were the presence of furniture on the high street when the premises were closed, which sometimes gave rise to antisocial behaviour—for example, this furniture being moved into places where it would cause an obstruction—and the issue of smoking or vaping in those outdoor areas, which rendered them inaccessible for those for whom smoke causes medical issues, and unpleasant for other users. There was a general feeling that to make designated outside eating and drinking areas accessible for all users, they should, for the purposes of smoking and vaping, be treated in the same way as indoor areas. Amendment 458, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, to which I have added my name, would give local authorities the ability to put in place specific conditions in the licence to address this. This enables local authorities to take account of the needs of their own areas, and means that, where appropriate, they can require that furniture is removed when not in use and that licensees have a responsibility to prevent smoking affecting other users in the vicinity of the premises.

Amendment 459 is a more proscriptive approach to smoking in outside seating areas, which we completely understand, given the well-documented health issues. We look forward to hearing from the noble Lords, Lord Young, Lord Faulkner and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, how the practicalities of that might work.

Amendment 460 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, refers to issues of accessibility, which I spoke about previously. It is vital that areas are clearly designated and marked in a way that ensures they can be navigated by all members of the community.

Our Amendment 464 comes back to the issue of the evidence base for the provisions in the levelling-up Bill, which my noble friend Lady Hayman mentioned earlier. It probes whether any assessment has been carried out of the impact on high street footfall. The new provisions of the Bill are being included because it is believed that they will help both businesses and high streets to recover from what has undoubtedly been a very difficult period for them. We are interested to know whether there is an evidence base to support this.

Amendment 465 refers to an impact assessment to test a number of measures in the Bill and those that are the subject of amendments in this group, such as the change to consultation periods, the introduction of mandatory tactile markers or barriers around licensed areas and the removal of the automatic approval of licences. In general, we see real benefits in giving local authorities the ability to manage outside spaces on their high streets in a way that works best for their communities and without unnecessary bureaucracy which makes the application and implementation onerous for either the local authority or the businesses that are applicants. However, it is important that, in doing so, we ensure that we do not create a street scene that is in any way less accessible to those with disabilities, nor create health hazards for other users by turning outside areas into smoking zones that deter them. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. I congratulate her on the efficient and effective way in which she dealt with 17 amendments; she did so with such clarity. I rise to speak to Amendments 449 to 460, all of which bar one are in my name.

In speaking to my amendments and thanking all the organisations that have sent helpful briefings to noble Lords, I want to cover something before we get into the detail: I simply wish to reassert the primary purpose of the pavement. It is not a place for excessive A-boards, advertisements, marketing materials or sprawling seating. It is a place to connect people. It is a place where we can meet on our streets. Yet, all too often, we experience inaccessibility, obstacles and problems when we are simply trying to go about our daily business. This is bad enough for anybody, but for those of us who use guide dogs or wheelchairs it can often be an impossibility. Add to that the excessive dumping and the discarding of e-scooters and you can hardly say that the current usage of our pavements is in any sense optimal, accessible or inclusive.

Let us take a step back to the Business and Planning Act 2020, in which sensible measures were brought in at a time when we were facing a once-in-a-century pandemic. It cannot be right that the lessons we take from that are to roll over some of those provisions in perpetuity now that we are, fortunately, in such a different set of circumstances.

The amendments in my name can be split into three categories: accessibility and inclusion; payment for our pavements; and healthy environments. First, on accessibility and inclusion, the principle of “inclusive by design” should be the basis on which we base everything that we do, be it physical infrastructure or things way beyond. It should be the heart and soul—indeed, the very fabric—of our communities. Yet, as we see with this set of amendments, this is all too often not the case when it comes to pavements.

As has already been set out, Amendment 455 puts the case that, when pavement licences are to be granted, the flow and access needs of users and pedestrians should be thoroughly taken into account. We can call this, if you will, the amendment that goes to the heart of the purpose of our pavements.

Amendment 460 talks about the need for tactile markings and physical barriers to demark seating areas. This is not only to enable them to be safe and demarked for people who may use white canes to navigate and may have buddies who need to get through; crucially, it will also stop the sprawl of seating. Amendment 460 can now be known as the “prohibition of sprawling seating amendment”.

Amendment 458 seeks to put the case that, where licences for seating and other ephemera are granted, such seating must be removed from the pavement when it is not in use for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, has already set out.

Similarly, Amendment 450 puts a real case that not only the pavement should be considered for such licences. If the circumstances fit and are safe, it could be quite proper to include part of the carriageway in that pavement licence. We have already seen schemes to skinny highways; this could be an effective part of that where, in effect, the load of sharing the licence is more equitably shared between pedestrians and the users of the carriageway.

However, access and inclusion are not just about the physical environment; “inclusive by design” is just as important for practices, policies and procedures. That brings me to Amendments 454 and 456, which look at the application and consultation processes for the granting of pavement licences. In 2020, when we passed the Business and Planning Act, there was a particular need for increased speed. Businesses were facing an extraordinary set of circumstances, as were local authorities and, indeed, all of us. Those circumstances have now changed and there can be no case for that consultation not to be returned to 28 days. In fact, I put it to my noble friend the Minister that, if the consultation period is reduced as currently set out in the Bill, it could very well represent a prima facie breach of local authorities’ public sector equality duties and contravene wider equalities legislation; I welcome her view on that point.

I turn to payments for our pavements. Although we can all be supportive of a certain level of pavement usage, such as for cafés, eating and the like, it should be clearly understood that the pavement is our pavement. It is operated and administered on our behalf by the local authority. Amendments 451 and 452 speak directly to this point, not only in terms of the cleansing and maintenance of pavements as a result of the granting of these licences but in terms of the potential profit share. I believe that sharing the profits generated on those pavements—our pavements—should be strongly considered. As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, pointed out, a formula could well be constructed within the licence itself, not least for cleansing and maintenance, but I believe that the profit share point is a critical one. We want to support our local businesses but, when they have a licence and are generating business on our pavements, it is only right and proper that, through the local authority, we should share in that profit.

Finally, these amendments would enable not only safer but cleaner, more accessible and more inclusive pavements, and therefore in all senses much healthier spaces. This cannot be inordinately difficult. It is simply about properly considering and balancing the needs of restaurants and residents, cafes and the community. Unfortunately, this clearly is not happening at any level to the extent it should. If this Bill is about levelling up, if it is about regeneration, then this starts with our streets and with the primary purpose of the pavement. That is what these amendments are all about. I very much look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and thank him for the lead he has taken on this issue. I was pleased to add my name to his Amendments 456, 457 and 458.

I recall our debate on the regulations that were introduced during the pandemic. We were assured that this was a temporary reduction in the notification required and in the rights of local people to object. We all understood that this was an emergency, that businesses were fighting to survive and that restaurants and pubs were doing their best to carry on providing a service at a time when it was clearly unsafe for people to be gathering inside, even if the Government had allowed it. However, there was a debate about this and as I said, we were assured that this this would be temporary.

These amendments are a modest way of ensuring that residents are still given a reasonable opportunity to object to such applications. To this day, the usual way in which people find out about planning applications is via a local notice attached to a lamp post. Most people are not sitting at home scanning council websites on the chance of finding a planning application that applies to their area. Most people object because they see a notice on a lamp post, or their neighbour tells them about it. If you have sight loss, for example, you will need longer to ensure that you are aware and can write in response, because it is not as easy as it is for people with good eyesight.

Therefore, Amendment 457 is particularly important because it would remove approval by default, which is an indefensible approach to local planning. Amendment 458 is important because it would ensure that street furniture is not left cluttering up the pavement, where people fall over it. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has just pointed out, guide dogs have difficulty. I have a neighbour with a guide dog and if cars are parked on the pavement, the dog takes him around them or stops. So, life is made much more difficult.

Finally, public understanding of smoke drift has been transformed in the last decade. As a keen viewer of old television series, every time I watch them, I realise how different our view and tolerance of other people’s smoke is nowadays, compared with 10 or 15 years ago. What is in these amendments is well within accepted and reasonable expectation, so I support them.

My Lords, I have enormous sympathy for the case made by my noble friend Lord Holmes and very much hope that the Government respond as positively as they can.

The background to my Amendment 459, to which Peers from other parties have added their names, is the arrangements made during the pandemic to support the hospitality industry. In the interests of progress, not all four of us will be speaking, and it is good to see today’s Marshalled List down to a mere 68 pages for this last day of our debate. Noble Lords may recall that during the pandemic, when it was not possible to go into enclosed premises such as pubs, arrangements were made to grant pavement licences. When the Business and Planning Bill, which introduced this concession, came before the House in 2020, I added my name to a cross-party amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, saying that a condition of licence would be that outdoor seating areas were required to be 100% smoke-free, paralleling the arrangements inside the premises.

Noble Lords across the House supported that amendment, but sadly it was not accepted by the Government, who instead inserted a requirement in the legislation that

“the licence-holder must make reasonable provision for seating where smoking is not permitted”.

Amendment 459 would reintroduce the requirement for all pavement licences to be smoke-free, which was the view of your Lordships’ House three years ago. This would contribute to the Government’s ambition to make England smoke-free by 2030—an ambition we are currently on track to miss by nine years, according to Cancer Research UK. The current temporary requirements, which are being made permanent in this Bill, would mean that councils have two options on smoking: to implement the national condition to provide some smoke-free seating, or to go further and make 100% smoke-free seating a condition of licence at local level.

Since then, two-thirds of the public, polled in 2022, did not think that the current legislation went far enough. They wanted smoking banned from the outdoor seating areas of all restaurants, pubs and cafes. Fewer than one in five opposed such a ban. That was a large sample, of more than 10,000 people, in a survey carried out by YouGov for Action on Smoking and Health.

Some councils are already doing what the public want, with 10 councils in England introducing 100% smoke-free requirements. These are a mixture of Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem-led councils in counties such as Durham and Northumberland, cities such as Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool, unitary authorities such as Middlesbrough and North Lincolnshire, and metropolitan boroughs such as North Tyneside, South Tyneside and the London Borough of Brent. Therefore, in response to the point about practicality made by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, practicality has already been well established by those local authorities.

When we initially tabled our amendments, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to Manchester City Council, the first council to introduce the requirement for pavement licences to be 100% smoke-free, warning it that this would damage local hospitality businesses and could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs. We do not know whether that letter had the approval of Health Ministers. However, the experience from Manchester and elsewhere shows exactly the opposite: that these bans have proved popular with the public, leading to high levels of compliance, and have not been shown to cause any decrease in revenues. At the time, I reluctantly agreed to the Government’s decision to include the current smoke-free seating requirements, which, while better than nothing, do not go far enough. The current system is not only much more complicated to implement than a blanket ban; it ensures that non-smokers and children continue to be exposed to tobacco smoke, which is both toxic and unpleasant. Of course, those who work for these establishments cannot go elsewhere and will continue to be exposed to smoke.

The Local Government Association of which, uniquely, I am not a vice-president, supports our amendment for 100% smoke-free pavement licences on the basis that

“it sets a level playing field for hospitality venues across the country and has a public health benefit of protecting people from unwanted second-hand smoke … If smoking is not prohibited, pavement areas will not become family-friendly spaces”.

That is why Dr Javed Khan’s independent review of smoke-free 2030 policies, commissioned by the Department of Health and published last year, recommended that smoking be prohibited on all premises, indoors and out, where food or drink is served, as well as a ban on smoking in all outdoor areas where children are present. This 100% smoke-free pavement seating has strong cross-party support from Peers across this House. When the regulations were extended in 2021, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, tabled an amendment to regret that the regulations were not revised to take account of the evidence of the benefits of 100% smoke-free pavement licences. That amendment was agreed by 254 votes to 224.

Last year, the Government announced several new tobacco control measures and said that in place of the long-promised tobacco control plan to deliver a smoke-free 2030, tackling smoking would be core to the major conditions strategy currently in development. The measures announced today are welcome but fall far short of the comprehensive approach that Dr Khan made clear was essential if we are to achieve a smoke-free 2030. When my noble friend sums up, can she confirm that the Government intend to bring forward further measures to reduce smoking in the upcoming major conditions strategy? We should now take this opportunity, provided by this amendment, to move towards implementing Dr Khan’s recommendations for all hospitality venues to be smoke-free indoors and out—a small but important step towards a smoke-free 2030.

My Lords, last week, my esteemed colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, asked whether I would support his amendments on pavement accessibility. I trusted him completely so I said, “Yes, of course, I would love to support them”. Then I read them and, actually, they are quite tough and strict in places, but the more I read them, the more I liked them. I particularly liked Amendment 450, which is about taking bits of the road—I love that idea—and reducing the space for traffic, as well as Amendment 459 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and others, because that is so tough on smoking and I loathe smoking. I support many of these amendments. Obviously, I support all the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. There is, perhaps, some space to bring in the fact that cars park on the pavement. I hate pavement parking and I hate loads of rubbish bins being heaped up on the side of pavements because they inhibit free access.

My local shopping street has gone absolutely bananas with this, and it has changed the whole feeling of the street—it is so much more friendly. At the moment, only the Co-op, Iceland and Boots, I think, do not have tables and chairs outside them, with people eating, drinking and having fun. I am all in favour of this section and look forward to Report, when I would be happy to vote on many of them and perhaps even sign up to them as well.

My Lords, it is always a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. She did say that some of my noble friend’s amendments were quite tough but that she liked them. I think the Committee would agree that the noble Baroness is quite tough and we rather like her as well. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond on the initiative he has undertaken in tabling these important amendments. He is to be congratulated by all disabled people, fighting our corner—or narrow strip of pavement, as the case may be.

I speak from 15 years’ practical experience of navigating my trusty chariot down pavements in this country and abroad. Reflecting on the work I have been doing with the Council of Europe, I have driven it in Paris, Strasbourg and St Petersburg—although I am banned from there now, not because of my pavement driving but because President Putin does not like me and some others. I have driven it in Baku in Azerbaijan, Ankara, Istanbul, Georgia, Belarus and, a couple of weeks ago, in Sofia in Bulgaria—monitoring the elections there—and various other countries. I can tell the Committee, in all honesty, that in the last two years, the pavements of this country, especially in London, have become infinitely more dangerous for pedestrians and disabled people than in any of those foreign countries I have been in. That has increased dramatically in the last two years.

I have added my name to my noble friend’s Amendments 455 to 458 because I share his concern that street furniture will make it extremely difficult for disabled people, especially wheelchair users, to get past inappropriately positioned tables and other items placed on the pavements by cafés and restaurants. Sometimes, while the café has positioned tables that allow pedestrians to pass, the users move more chairs round a table and block the pavement. At this moment, I could take noble Lords down Horseferry Road and they would see that the tables outside Pret A Manger, for example, permit the free passage of pedestrians. That is okay until half a dozen people from an office block pile out and move all the chairs around one table and block the pavement. They usually move when I ask them politely, so I can get past, but I have encountered occasions when some eastern European men are deeply resentful of having to move the chairs—and they were smoking some fairly vile cigarettes. Where is my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham with his portable cigarette fire extinguisher when I need him?

If it was just plastic chairs and tables blocking the pavement, it is an easy matter to move them aside. They should not block the pavement in the first place, but we can move them. However, I have another concern: many restaurants and cafés put out big planters and flower boxes, partly to delineate their pavement space and make the environment more attractive to customers. There are places on Wilton Road, for example, that do that. One also puts out A-boards outside the planters on the edge of the dropped kerb. As a wheelchair user, one suddenly finds oneself dipping down at a potentially dangerous angle to get past. Now, it is no problem for me: I simply flatten their board and drive on, but it is a problem for others with less powerful wheelchairs.

The problem will increase: I looked at the 2020 Act and street furniture is not just tables and chairs but can include these big planters and trees in pots. Technically, they will have casters on the bottom so they can be moved, but they are impossible to move in most cases—and will not be moved. I also suggest that since these licences will be for up to two years, the majority of cafés and restaurants will invest in these planters, flower tubs and screens and the pavement will be permanently narrowed.

That will be compounded by most of these places offering takeaways. So we will find the narrowed gap cluttered with Deliveroo and Just Eat bikes, where the couriers simply do not give a damn about riding on the pavement and leaving their bikes on the pavement right outside the takeaway doors. That is not speculation on my part, I find it outside cafés and restaurants every time I go down Victoria Street.

Thus, it is vital that some amendment is made to Clause 210 to make it abundantly clear that every place getting one of these licences must leave space for people in wheelchairs and parents with child buggies to get through. Also, of course, there are those, such as my noble friend, with guide dogs who need the same width of space to get through. All of us demand the right to do it without hassle and without having to beg people to please move their chairs or tables out of the way.

My final point is this: I decided not to table an amendment on it but to make my rant in the course of these amendments. The Department for Transport must stop pandering to the e-bike and scooter thugs who ride on the pavement and dump their bikes on the pavement. Some of these big electric e-bikes are the same size and weight as motorcycle trail bikes—they are enormous. I congratulate Westminster Council on taking action and, I hope, purging our pavements of this despicable littering. I can tell the Committee that I am helping: every time I find an e-bike or scooter left on the pavement, I shove it over and use my chair to bulldoze it onto the road, where I hope it might be run over by a 30-tonne truck. I usually do about two a day, coming in or going home from this House, and I did one this morning coming here.

I wanted to make sure that I was behaving legally so, a few weeks ago, I asked the DfT a Written Parliamentary Question on what guidance it gives to pedestrians who encounter these illegal hazards on the pavement. The Minister replied as follows:

“The Department has published guidance for local authorities and e-scooter operators on the conduct of e-scooter trials. This makes clear that there will need to be sufficient parking provision in trial areas. Where a dockless operating model is being used, local authorities should ensure that e-scooters do not become obstructive to other road users and pedestrians, particularly those with disabilities.

Pedestrians have the right to use the footway without undue hazards. Rule 70 of The Highway Code advises, but does not require, people to park their cycles where they will not cause an obstruction or hazard to other road users.”

I take that as a green light to assist councils to move these hazards off the pavement. I urge all disabled people to get a bit more militant and reclaim our pavements, in the same way that I urge motorists to reclaim our roads from the Just Stop Oil agitators. We do not glue ourselves to the road and we want the freedom to move. Wheelchair-bound people cannot get into 70,000 public buildings, which have not bothered installing ramps, and the equalities department, obsessed with gender, does not give a hang about it and will not change the law. Now we find the pavements barred to us as well, so let us take them back for genuine pedestrian users who have the right to move freely, unhindered by street furniture and mobile death hazards. Once again, I congratulate my noble friend on tabling his amendments, the noble Baroness opposite on speaking on her amendments, and everyone in this House who speaks up for disabled people.

My Lords, it is normal to say what a pleasure it is to speak after a previous speaker, but it is impossible to speak after my noble friend and provoke as much of the Committee’s interest as he has.

I will speak in support of the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond to which I have added my name, and I do so on the basis of too many years spent on a local authority, much of it responsible for administering legislation that relates to the management of our highways. Much of that legislation dates to the 1980s, but one of the duties in it goes back to the Middle Ages and really to the beginning of having local authorities at all: that is the obligation on the local authority to keep the King’s highway clear. The reason for that is simple: if you operate commercial premises and are a frontager on the highway, you are very attracted by the prospect of trading from that highway, because you can expand your premises rent-free. That makes a great deal of sense commercially.

For centuries, it has been the sad task of local authorities to try to push back people who are trying to trade on the public highway because—here I make two points—the public highway is, first of all, a public asset. It is maintained at public expense primarily for the benefit of the public and not for the private use of frontagers. Secondly, my noble friend Lord Holmes referred to the purpose of the highway, but he was not quite as precise as I would have liked. There is a precise understanding in law of the purpose of the highway—that it allows people to go to and fro. Any use of the public highway for the purpose of trading—in this case we are discussing trading in front of refreshment businesses, restaurants and cafés, but the same applies to shopkeepers—can exist only as a concession by the local authority. In my experience, this is generally a contentious matter with local people and one should be very cautious about granting such licences.

All such caution was thrown to the wind as a result of the Covid pandemic. The Government switched from a carefully balanced system, where local authorities which understood their communities had a clear say in the matter and knew from experience how to balance various demands, to one in which the advantage was given heavily in favour of the commercial frontager, who has the right to do this. The Bill, in effect, seeks to make that even more expansive and practically to continue it permanently. I think this is a dangerous thing to do. It is and should very much be a matter for local authorities, which understand their local communities. The balance should be adjusted back to where it was before—more on the neutral part of the scales rather than heavily weighted, as it is now.

What harms arise? First, it is impossible for me to add to the harms that arise to people with various disabilities, about which we have heard. I cannot and do not intend to add anything to what my noble friends Lord Holmes and Lord Blencathra said from their own experience, but there are other harms as well. To some extent, they arise from the conceptual model that arises when we talk about “the high street”. We talk about the high street as if it were a distinct thing or use but, in most urban areas, if you lift your eyes above the gaudy shopfront, you will see lots of other things happening in the high street above ground, many of which are people living there. If you are overlooking a pavement and there are licences that allow people out on the pavement, you will suffer a harm directly in relation to that.

Some harms are quite acceptable. If the closing hours and hours of operation are sensible, perhaps you can live with that. You want to get on with your neighbours and do not want local businesses to fail, but you are entirely dependent on the licensing regime and the attitude of local councillors as to what hours should be allowed. You are also exposed to poor management and exposed, outside your window—here I speak from a degree of experience—to people talking loudly and having parties, some of which are louder than others. It is impossible to expect any management to control that properly; they simply cannot go around doing that. However well intentioned, they have to work with noisy and difficult people.

We need to get back to understanding what the highway is for, what a public asset is, paid for at public expense, and what its primary purpose is. We need to understand that local authorities are probably the best determinants of this and we need to reset the dial, so that they have the chance to do that.

I cannot sit down without referring to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. No chance goes by in your Lordships’ House for him to propose something restrictive of smoking without him dashing at it very much like a ferret up a trouser leg. Here we are again with yet another restrictive amendment proposed on smoking, and it is purely vindictive and entirely punitive. He endeavours to put a gloss of public interest on it, and maybe he thinks he is contributing to people giving up smoking. I gave up smoking last year and I assure your Lordships that at no point in my consideration did the possibility of being denied access to a pavement café arise, nor would I have given it any weight had it come into my mind. There were other reasons why I gave up smoking last year.

One of the problems with these vindictive approaches is that the people who make them simply do not understand smokers. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who I think said that she “loathed smoking”, possibly does not want to understand them; she just wants to give vent to the loathing. I do not know. My noble friend offered a few other reasons. The first was generosity in favour of the business success of the premises. He said that they would be much happier, attract more business and be family friendly. I do not think that that is sufficient reason to impose restrictions on a lawful activity, because it is not the business of this House to make businesses successful. That is their job: we set a framework and they try to make the businesses successful. That is not our motivation nor should it be, in my view.

I very much hope that the Minister who, in the course of this Committee, has developed a great deftness at turning away suggestions made by Members of your Lordships’ House, maintains that deftness in respect of this amendment and finds a way of saying that this is not an appropriate place for the Government to pursue yet more vindictive legislation against smokers.

I did not say that I loathe smokers—both my parents were smokers. I loathe smoking because of the impact it had on my parents, both of whom died from smoking-related disease.

I did say—and I think Hansard will show—that the noble Baroness said she loathed smoking. I was careful not to say that she loathed smokers. I hope she did not mishear that, because it would have been a mishearing.

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 459, led by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, to which I have attached my name. As noble Lords will know, this amendment has strong cross-party support, and countering smoking has long had cross-party support in this House. The amendment seeks to ensure that all pavement licences are smoke free. I hear what noble Lords have said about such licences, and this amendment would apply if a pavement licence is granted. It seeks to ensure that the rules inside a bar, restaurant or café apply equally to their outdoor area.

These outdoor areas were expanded in the pandemic so that there was more space between people; outdoors thus became an extension of indoors. The same smoke-free rules that apply inside should apply outside, for exactly the same reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, pointed out, the Local Government Association agrees. That makes these areas more family friendly, and I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, that the LGA argues that it makes it easier to implement if this is applied nationally.

The Government have had several opportunities to make pavement licences 100% smoke free over the last three years and have opted not to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Young, has specified those instances. This is despite the clear evidence of the health harms of second-hand smoke, strong public support for smoke-free pavement licences and examples from various councils, including Manchester, of this measure being introduced successfully.

The public health case for this policy is very clear. The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Associated health effects include stroke, lung cancer and coronary heart disease. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, who has just spoken, probably gave up to protect his health. We are seeking to protect others’ as well.

If we continue to allow smoking in pavement seating, passers-by, customers, staff and above all children will keep being exposed to significant amounts of tobacco smoke. The risk is particularly acute for staff, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, specified, who have no choice but to be exposed to people smoking when they work. Of course, children are particularly susceptible to harm from second-hand smoke; we all know that. In Canada, where most provinces have had laws to implement smoke-free patios outside hospitality venues for years, these laws have been popular, easy to enforce and had a positive impact on health. Where smoke-free patios were introduced, second-hand smoke exposure went down by almost a quarter.

Fortunately, the world is changing, as others have said, and smoking is no longer the norm. In the United Kingdom, this House over the last 20 years or so has led the way by helping to reduce smoking—for example, by banning smoking in public in settings, and the noble Earl played his part in that. In 2019, the Government set themselves the worthy ambition of seeking to reduce the number of smokers to below 5% of the population by 2030. While the Government have announced some measures to help deliver this ambition, we are still waiting for the comprehensive strategy needed. Expanding the number of outdoor spaces that are smoke free helps to deliver what the Government say they wish to do.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, raised some of the problems that mean that pavements cannot be pavements. My particular bugbear is cyclists on pavements; they drive me mad. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, raised some of the tensions when deciding how we regulate public spaces, drawing attention to residents who live on streets where maybe there are pavement cafés.

Those things are worth considering but I want to return to the points made at the start of this group, so well explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and to reference the earlier group on reviving the high street. One of the very few positive outcomes of the dreadful lockdown period was the emergence of imaginative ways of creating social engagement outdoors. When lockdown was such an antisocial action that kept us apart from each other, we found ways of connecting.

Café society is indeed a positive innovation, and regardless of the differences between the weather and climate in the UK and, for example, continental Europe, Brits have taken to this way of enjoying hospitality services. It is a great boost to that industry, which suffered so badly under lockdown.

One of the advantages of this spilling out of café society on to pavements is that it has allowed smokers and vapers to have a coffee or a drink alongside a cigarette, which I consider—shock, horror—to be all very civilised. It is certainly better than huddling outside in doorways in between sips of a drink.

I find it rather galling that Amendments 458, 459 and 461—all of which, one way or another, involve restricting smoking outdoors and making those restrictions a precondition of the licence—have been added to this group. Amendments 458 and 461 emphasise that where there is consumption of food or drink, the licence holder must ensure that smoking or vaping does not affect others. This seems an impossible duty. How could it ever be monitored? It is a degree of micromanagement of the life of communities. It seems the licensee is being threatened—they must prevent smoke drift affecting those in the vicinity, or they will not get a licence.

Tobacco smoke in outdoor areas is highly diluted and dissipates quickly in atmospheric conditions. I worry about moves towards such punitive restrictions on people smoking outside, when all they are doing is indulging in a legal, personal activity. Do we need to overregulate in such a fashion? Smokers, a minority no doubt, are perfectly respectable and considerate citizens and it would be wrong in any way to imply that in some or most cases they wilfully blow smoke into people’s faces or are not mindful of others in the vicinity.

As to involving vaping in this, targeting an anti-smoking device seems just wrong-headed. So many people I know who have stopped smoking did so by taking up vaping, and they improved their health in the process. If the proposers of the amendments are worried about any exposure to tobacco smoke outdoors, this would require that a proper scientific study be brought before the House, or at the very least a national consultation. Amendment 459 goes the full hog and states:

“Pavement licences may only be granted by a local authority subject to the condition that smoking is prohibited”.

It seems that an attempt is being made to use this Bill as a backdoor route to banning smoking in public places per se.

This Bill has been packaged as empowering local decision-making. Can we note that local authorities already have the powers at their discretion to regulate smoking in licensed premises and on pavements outside pubs, bars and restaurants with exterior tables and seating? It is up to them. How can we justify using this Bill to bring in central government legislation that threatens that if pubs and cafés do not ban smoking outside, no licence will be given to them? This seems wholly disproportionate.

We should note that such prescriptive rules could well lead to fewer customers, more high street closures and, certainly for many citizens who as adults choose to smoke, less freedom. It goes against the spirit of a levelling-up Bill when you have an imposition from the top of a kind of “we know best approach” to local matters and individual matters such as smoking, and it will grate with many people.

I appreciate that some people do not like people smoking. Some people find it loathsome. One noble Baroness has boasted about not tolerating smoke drift. There are a lot of things that I do not like and that I would rather not tolerate. I am not keen on people chewing gum or putting on make-up in public or eating with their mouth open or talking loudly or on babies crying when I want to sit quietly with my latte and read my book outside a café, but—my goodness—this is society. We tolerate each other; we rub along. There is something really positive about a café society. We should not use it as an excuse to bring in unnecessary regulations that set us at odds with one another as a means of policing and supervising personal, legal behaviour.

To finish, I do not know whether this will encourage or discourage, but I have noticed that smoking on the Terrace outside the Lords has been banned but somehow smoking on the Terrace of the other place is perfectly okay, and guess what? It is packed with people who work in the House of Lords or sit as Peers in the House of Lords because it is the only place to go—not to damage people but just to relax and have a cigarette with a coffee. They are not breaking the law.

Before my noble friend gets up to respond to this debate and at the risk of upsetting the mood of the Committee, I remind noble Lords that we have done three groups. We have another 19 to go and we are going to finish tonight, so unless anybody does not wish to have any sleep, I suggest we perhaps cut our speeches down just a little bit if we can.

I do not know whether I dare speak now, but I am going to. I will not dare venture into the issue of smoking or non-smoking, except to say that I agree with my noble friends Lady Northover and Lady Randerson and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham.

I want to raise two issues because they were raised in the Business and Planning Act and the regulations that we discussed at the time and have been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Moylan. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, rightly brought to our attention Amendment 460, about the use of barriers to delineate a pavement licence from the rest of the highway. It was agreed at the time, and we should ensure that it is included in the regulations under this Bill. It is vital that there is a clear line between where a pavement café ends and the pavement for other users begins, because it stops drift by people using the pavement café area and helps everybody, particularly those with disabilities, so I totally support that argument and I am sorry that it is not included in the Bill.

Secondly, I support Amendment 451, about payment to local authorities for the use of the highway. Hard-pressed local authorities are apparently having to give away public assets for businesses to use without any payment. We would not expect that of any other commercial arrangement, so why should we expect local authorities to support businesses without any payment for the use of the public asset, i.e. the highway? I totally support the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on that score. I hope that when the Minister responds he will be able to say that local authority highways, which local authorities have to clean and maintain, are worthy of a fee from those who use them.

My Lords, this has been a full debate on the numerous issues bearing on pavement licences. I shall begin by addressing Amendments 449 and 450 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, to whom I listened with great care and respect. These two amendments relate to the definition of “relevant highway”. The Government support making it as easy as possible for businesses and local authorities to facilitate outdoor eating and drinking through the use of the streamlined pavement licence process. We believe that local authorities should maintain the flexibility to control pavement licences on highways which are both publicly and privately maintainable. The Business and Planning Act 2020 does not currently distinguish between those two types of highway, and as such any enforcement powers available to local authorities would apply equally, ensuring that local authorities can take appropriate action where there are issues with licences.

There are already a number of ways a local authority can consider the pedestrianisation of a street, including to facilitate the placement of furniture on the highway for alfresco dining. They include consideration of important issues such as whether vehicular access is required. Pavement licences can then be granted to highways that have been considered under those processes. We have seen the success of this in practice across the country, including in Soho in London and in the Northern Quarter in Manchester.

Turning to Amendments 451 and 452, which relate to fees and are also in the name of my noble friend, I can say to him that in developing proposals to make the streamlined pavement licensing process permanent, we have worked closely with local authorities, businesses and leaders from the hospitality sector and communities, and many of the points made in this debate have been raised during that process, including the issue of fees. We are increasing the fee cap from £100 to £500 for first-time applications and to £350 for renewals, having undertaken a detailed analysis of actual costs, to create a sustainable process which will cover the costs to local authorities in processing, monitoring and enforcing the process, while remaining affordable and consistent for businesses around the country, which were seeing inflated fees reaching thousands of pounds per application under the previous process. Local authorities maintain flexibility to set fees at any level under the fee cap to respond to local circumstances. For example, we have seen some areas making licences free to support their local high streets. At a time of rising costs, we are not seeking to impose additional charges on businesses, particularly given that the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

My noble friend asked specifically whether we could include maintenance and schemes for profit-sharing in the licence. The fee cap, on which we have consulted extensively as I have mentioned, is set at a level which will cover the costs to local authorities for the administrative burden that they undertake in issuing licences. As I have emphasised, we are not looking to impose additional costs at this time.

On Amendments 453, 454, 456 and 457, also in the name of my noble friend, the pavement licence process that we are seeking to make permanent has been successful in the past few years because it provides a simpler, more streamlined process to gain a licence. Amendment 453 would introduce an unnecessary new administrative process for local authorities in requiring that receipts are sent to all applicants. It also has the potential to create a delay in the process, meaning that licences could take longer to be determined should receipts not be processed in reasonable timescales. However, we are seeking to double the consultation and determination periods compared to the temporary process to ensure that communities have sufficient opportunity to comment on applications. The total period allowed for consultation and determination will change to 28 days.

We have worked closely with stakeholders, including groups representing disabled people, local community groups, businesses and local authorities, in considering the consultation period when making the streamlined pavement licence process permanent. In working with these groups, we have sought to achieve a balance between a quick and streamlined process and ensuring that the process is sustainable for the long term and gives communities an opportunity to comment on applications. That is why we are setting the consultation and determination periods at 14 days each—double that of the temporary process. Amendments 454 and 456 would create a slower process than that which it would replace.

Regarding Amendment 457, the deemed consent provision would encourage local authorities to make determinations within the 28-day window from submission. In the rare circumstances where local authorities do not make a determination and the application is deemed to be granted, this will be subject to all national and locally published conditions, including the “no obstruction” condition, which seeks to ensure that the pavement remains accessible for all. Where this condition is not met, local authorities can revoke licences.

I turn to Amendments 455, 458 and 460, also in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes. Free flow of pedestrians and other users of the highway is important, which is why the Business and Planning Act 2020 already requires that local authorities take this into consideration when determining applications through Section 3(5) and (6)(a), and prevents licences from being granted where they would prevent pedestrians or other non-vehicular traffic from entering or passing along the highway, or having normal access to premises adjoining the highway.

With respect to Amendment 458, we are aware anecdotally of conditions which would, for example, require that licensed furniture be removed when not in use, and conditions which go further than our national smoke-free condition. We consider that local authorities have local knowledge and appropriate powers to impose such conditions should they consider it necessary. We do not think it is necessary or appropriate to create national conditions for these issues, as there are circumstances where it may not be necessary or appropriate.

With regard to Amendment 460, I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes for raising the very important issue of accessibility and impact of pavement licensing on disabled users of the highway. I listened carefully to the powerful speeches of my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, among others. The existing legislative framework requires local authorities to take these matters into account and they cannot grant a licence if pedestrians are prevented from using the highway as they usually would.

We have taken this issue very seriously in the light of experience since the pandemic. The Business and Planning Act 2020 sets out that all licences are subject to the “no obstruction” condition, which protects pavement users to ensure that they are not prevented from using the highway. In particular, it states that local authorities must have particular regard for disabled people when considering applications, and must have regard to the guidance published by the Secretary of State. This guidance, developed in close collaboration with Guide Dogs and the RNIB, sets out considerations that local authorities should take into account, including whether they should require barriers separating furniture from the rest of the highway—such as colour contrast and tap rails—or more rigid physical barriers. I hope that, taken together, these comments are helpful to my noble friend Lord Holmes and, indeed, to the Committee.

I turn next to Amendment 459 tabled by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The streamlined pavement licence provisions under debate may be granted, as he will know, subject to any condition that the local authority considers reasonable, as set out in Section 5(1) of the Business and Planning Act 2020. As he rightly mentioned, we are aware that a number of councils across the country, including Manchester and Newcastle, have put in place local conditions that ban smoking in pavement licence areas. We believe it is important to allow local areas to make the decisions that are right for them, using local knowledge and the powers that they already have to impose conditions.

But that is not all. Any licences granted under temporary pavement licence provisions will be subject to a smoke-free condition whereby the premises will need to make reasonable provision for seating outdoors where smoking is not permitted. This condition ensures that customers have greater choice so that smokers and non-smokers are able to sit outside. As I have indicated, local authorities are also able to consider setting their own local conditions where appropriate and where local decision-makers believe that it is reasonable to do so.

I turn next to Amendments 462 and 463 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. The Government recognise the importance of having a system that can be properly enforced to both deter and tackle the unauthorised placement of furniture. Powers introduced in the Bill enable local authorities to serve notice requiring that businesses remove furniture that has been placed on the pavement without a licence. If this notice is contravened, local authorities can remove the furniture themselves or instruct to have the furniture removed, and can then recover the costs of this and sell the furniture and retain the profits.

It is the Government’s position that the introduction of the powers proposed will lead to appropriate protection of our communities by giving local authorities powers that both work as a deterrent and directly tackle where notices are ignored, ensuring that the licensing system operates appropriately. Highways authorities already have powers in the Highways Act 1980 to tackle obstructions on the highway, including Section 148, which creates an offence of depositing, without lawful authority or excuse, things on the highway that cause interruption to users of the highway.

I turn finally to Amendment 448, 464 and 465 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. These amendments seek to introduce requirements for assessments of impacts relating to various aspects to be taken by local authorities, by businesses or by government in advance of the measures being made permanent through the Bill. The Government agree that accessibility is incredibly important, and that our towns and city centres should continue to be accessible for all residents. As I set out earlier, we have made it a requirement—set out in Section 3(5) of the Business and Planning Act 2020—that the local authority must consider the impact of the proposed licence on accessibility of the highway to non-vehicular traffic before granting a pavement licence. As I also mentioned a second ago, we worked closely with the RNIB and Guide Dogs on the guidance that supports this.

We also recognise the importance that these measures will have on the vitality and vibrancy of high streets across the country, and encourage businesses and local authorities to embrace the opportunities that this regime offers while considering the impact of new licences on the community. We do not think it necessary or appropriate to require, through legislation, local authorities to consider to what extent a licence will increase high street footfall for the purpose of regeneration, because this would introduce additional burdens on both businesses—in the form of likely needing to undertake analysis and provide evidence of this—and local authorities in assessing this.

Finally, on Amendment 465, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising these important issues, which reflect previously tabled amendments that we have discussed on consultation periods, the introduction of tactile markings and the removal of deemed consent. We do not think it appropriate to require a report to be published on these matters as they have already been actively considered, as I have made clear. I hope these comments are helpful to her as regards the amendments in her name and that, specifically, she will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 448.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for, as ever, a thorough response to the issues that have been raised during this interesting debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated.

I appreciate the frustrations of Government Whips, but the purpose of your Lordships’ House is to give proper scrutiny to legislation that comes before us. This is a long and complex Bill with diverse issues, many of which go right to the heart of our communities’ concerns, and it is only right and proper that we raise the issues that we know they would want us to probe and explore in this House.

I turn to some of the comments that have been made. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for, as ever, championing the needs of the disabled members of our communities and making sure that we consider those, as he often does with legislation. It is important to have his voice making that very clear. I took on board his point about reasserting the primary purpose of pavements. He is quite right to say that they are our pavements, and we need to protect that.

The noble Lord mentioned A-boards, which are a particular bugbear of mine; they have proliferated on our high streets in recent years. What tends to happen is that a local authority makes a representation to a business asking it to move the board; it does so, but two days later the board is back where it was. They constitute an obstruction, as does sprawling pavement furniture.

Regarding the e-scooters that he and other noble Lords mentioned, I was interested to hear the solution proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. Perhaps we all need one of those high-powered buggies that can move them into the road, but maybe there are better solutions. After all, we know who operates e-scooters—they have to be booked and registered for each ride—and it should be the responsibility of the companies that run them to go after the people who irresponsibly leave them in inappropriate places.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, referred to this being the “prohibition of sprawling seating” amendment. I like that description; it is very clear.

There are complexities regarding the use of highways. I am a councillor in a two-tier area, and the district council, not the highways authority, offers pavement licences. Highway closures require a different type of legislation; you need a traffic order to do that. I know that because we have a fantastic farmers’ market in Stevenage, and I had to use my locality budget to pay for the road closure the first few times it operated, because it did so on the highway. It is very successful now and runs on its own. So if we are going to use bits of the road, we may need to look at formal road closures.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said that these were brought in as temporary measures, and that is right. That is why the consultation processes need to be extended. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that they will be extended to 28 days but, ridiculously, the Government still insist that these appear in local newspapers, meaning that any such notices, including planning notices, take a long time to get out to people. If we could do them and advertise them online, that might be a more efficient way of doing things, but that is an argument for a different day.

On the powerful advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Young, for prohibiting smoking in the defined areas, I am pleased to say up front that in Stevenage, smoking is prohibited in those areas. It was interesting to hear that two-thirds of the public do not think that smoking should be permitted in those outside areas. The Minister said that, where local authorities make these designations without specifying smoking or non-smoking areas, both have to be included, but that does not really account for issues such as smoke drift. If you are somewhere where there is both smoking and non-smoking areas—especially outside, where it might be windy and smoke will blow towards you—I do not see how it will be possible to make any of those areas smoke free. That took me back to the days when prohibitions on smoking indoors started to be mooted. Back in the day, it was quite common to smoke in cinemas, restaurants and even, dare I say it, council meetings. We would not dream of doing that now; things have changed over the years, and for the better.

The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, referred to being banned by Putin. That is probably a badge of honour; I gather that my noble friend Lady Hayman is also banned by Putin, so well done for that.

The issue of accessibility is not just for those with mobility issues. A couple of noble Lords mentioned buggies. As a conscientious granny, I am sometimes charged with pushing a double buggy around, and it is incredibly difficult to navigate the streets with one of those.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to ancient obligations to keep the King’s highway clear. Things move on. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who said that these areas have livened up our high streets and made them better and more interesting places to be, so I think we can move on. Still, I congratulate the noble Lord on giving up smoking. It is usually recent converts who are the most powerful evangelists for non-smoking, so it was interesting to hear his intervention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, referred to fees for cleaning and maintenance. The LGA has long advocated that local authorities should be able to set their own fees for such matters. It is important that we are not prescriptive but allow local authorities to set fees that meet their local needs. I said that when I introduced the amendments and still believe it to be true.

The Minister talked in his closing remarks about the vivacity and vitality that these outdoor areas bring to our high streets. We agree; we just need to make sure that the accessibility is right. We need to make sure that they are accessible for everyone and are not creating unnecessary obstructions for those who already have enough difficulty getting around. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 448 withdrawn.

Clause 211 agreed.

Schedule 18: Pavement licences

Amendments 449 to 460 not moved.

Amendment 461 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendments 462 to 465 not moved.

Schedule 18 agreed.

Clause 212: Historic environment records

Amendments 465A to 465C not moved.

Amendments 466 to 467A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Clause 212 agreed.

Clause 213: Review of governance etc of RICS

Debate on whether Clause 213 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I rise to argue that Clause 213 should not stand part of the Bill, as it has absolutely no place within this Bill. That is partly because it has nothing to do with levelling up or regeneration, but it is also because it gives the Government the right to interfere in the activities of an independent, non-statutory, standard-setting members’ organisation—indeed, a chartered body.

It is strange that, of all the actions being taken around increasing regulation, the target is a respected, self-regulatory body with an independent standards board. I am mystified as to why, if Ministers really want to help the residential sectors—tenants, owners and leaseholders—they are not implementing the report of the noble Lord, Lord Best, on the regulation of property agents which, after enormous work with great detail, has come up with some extraordinarily useful proposals covering areas of considerable consumer detriment. Much work went into that report and I then chaired a group, in full collaboration with the department, developing codes of conduct covering letting and estate agents as well as managing agents.

Indeed, back in 2018, the then Housing Secretary announced measures to professionalise the estate agent market, driving up standards and bringing an end to rogue managing agents. As he said at that time, more than six out of 10 buyers and sellers experienced stress. Therefore, he promised, estate agents would be required to hold a professional qualification, with the Government undertaking to bring this industry up to

“the same professional standards as conveyancers, solicitors and surveyors”.

At that point, the department was really keen on regulating that group of residential agents to bring them up to the quality of surveyors. What a shame that this Bill does not implement the report of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the commitment given by the department at that stage, which would bring high standards and proper protections to users of all property agents.

Instead, the Bill proposes a statutory power for the Secretary of State to instigate a review of an independent, member-funded, non-statutory body: any time, any place, with no excuse or cause and no threshold for such an intervention. All this comes with no rationale for the interference in such an independent and professional body, whose standards and enforcements are key to the safety of our built environment as well as to the market valuation of property, which has to be free—like interest rates—of any Treasury interference. So what, one might ask, is behind all of this?

RICS was one of the first professional bodies to split off its member representation role from its regulatory function following the Carsberg review, well before the Law Society and the Bar Council did the same. Since then, RICS and its thousands of members abroad has played a vital role in independent standards setting as well as in the enforcement of those high standards. Across the world, regulators and clients depend on RICS standards of ethics and good practice, as well as RICS technical standards. RICS valuers are recognised and admired worldwide and perform a vital service for a swathe of industries. RICS works with Governments, regulators and international standards setters to adopt common, transparent standards. This fuels the influence of UK professionals and business globally, supporting inward investment. About one-fifth of RICS members work outside the UK, many of them in large, global businesses.

It is, perhaps, for this reason that a firm such as Savills worries about the possible end of true independence of RICS and thus a loss of confidence that it is acting in the public, rather than Ministers’, interests. As James Sparrow, CEO of Savills UK, writes:

“A strong and independent RICS remains key for the well-being and effective operation of the real estate sector ... Any actions which have the effect of undermining RICS or compromising its independence as a free-standing professional institution would … be detrimental. ... RICS plays an important role internationally … influencing the development and standards required of the surveying profession globally. Its independence is fundamental to this”.

Indeed, the UK’s global role could well be at risk if RICS and its standards are seen as being supervised by the Government. Self-regulation via a hived-off independent oversight board, chaired by the redoubtable Dame Janet Paraskeva, gives confidence to consumers that standards will not be lowered to satisfy either RICS members or government requirements. It gives confidence to mortgage lenders that a valuation of a property is robust and a figure that they can rely on in considering the security backing to any loan that they give.

As one of the big lenders said to me, “We’re lenders, not surveyors. We’re not the experts on this, so it is important that we can trust valuations, and having an independent body is important for consistency and reliability. As a lender, we rely on a surveyor whose qualifications and standards are independent, free from any arm-twisting that is not evidence based. The Government are also not RICS-qualified; it is not for them to make decisions in this area. We need independence of standard setting”.

RICS, which operates under a Royal Charter for public advantage, produces what is known as the Red Book Global Standards, which sets out standards relied on by the industry, market regulators—the PRA and the FCA—and the public. Its work underpins confidence in the property and construction markets.

Not only have the Government given no good reason for this clause but—at least as of last Friday—the Commons Minister, despite a promise, had failed to meet RICS to discuss the issue, with its vital perceived independence and reputation possibly affected. Also, the singling out of just one body smacks to me of a hybrid Bill: that is, a public Bill with private elements, one that affects a particular private interest, different from the interests of similar bodies, effectively picking out just one organisation in a way that is injurious to it.

Surveying is not a protected title. The profession does not have any reserved functions and nor does it exercise any statutory powers. RICS holds no monopoly and other bodies also set building standards, so claiming it is a class of one does seem to stretch the definition. Moreover, as a hybrid Bill, the party affected would have the opportunity to put its views to Parliament, not just to a Minister.

However, the real issue is that this clause is unnecessary. RICS asked the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, to review its structure and working, and has made many adjustments in the light of his report. Recommendation 14 of the report called for a similar independent review every five years to be laid before Parliament. In fact, however, RICS, valuing that suggestion and the help provided by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, has decided to do just that—to have another independent review—after every three years, not five. The first will be in 2025. This seems timely and sensible, and enables a report to Parliament, independent of the Government of the day.

The concern about the extraordinary power in Clause 213 that allows a Minister—with no particular evidence or reason, and at any time—to set up an inquiry into RICS is that there is very little, if anything, in terms of a threshold. It does not say, for example, if there are complaints, if the markets are uneasy about it, if it seems to have failed consumers or if it fails to undertake valuations properly. There is no reason given for allowing the Secretary of State—who was here just a few minutes ago but has left now—to decide, at any time, to set up an inquiry into RICS.

There is no threshold to be covered. Yet the very threat of that presents a chilling factor to RICS, as even the launch of such an inquiry—being at any time, rather than at a fixed time, as the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said—could severely damage the reputation of RICS at home and abroad, for no good reason. The Minister will know that his colleagues at the Department for Business and Trade are busy negotiating agreements to promote our service sector, something that I see a lot of in my role of chairing our International Agreements Committee. Again and again, Ministers say to us that one of the UK’s greatest strengths is its service sector. Part of that is the financial sector, but a large part of it is surveying. Along with architecture, it is a key part of our service sector and a major part of our exports. That sector should be supported, not undermined.

The Government have made out no case for Clause 213. It is unnecessary and an unjustified interference in an independent, professional standards-setting body. In a way, just the threat of a review could exercise a chill factor over a chartered institute which works in the public interest. The clause will do nothing to promote the aim of levelling up and it is a wasted opportunity, when the mischief of residential agency could have been regulated along the lines set out by the noble Lord, Lord Best. It is an unnecessary clause and, potentially, a harmful disruptor. It has no place in the Bill and this clause should not stand part.

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, in what she has said. I have put my name to the opposition to this clause standing part. I declare an interest, such as it is, in that I was a chartered surveyor. It took me six years to qualify as one, and I gave up being a chartered surveyor when I was asked to join the Government in 1984. I subsequently gave up my membership of the RICS, because I was not doing that work any more.

I totally agree with what the noble Baroness said about the institute’s independence and reputation, which are hugely important. I found that from personal experience, because I was asked to appear as a specialist witness in a court case. It was my evidence as a professional surveyor that turned the case. Surveyors need to have their independence and a strong reputation to perform their job in the best possible way.

I take a slightly different tack from what the noble Baroness has said. Perhaps I should put it on record that I have not been in contact with the RICS about this. What I say now are entirely my own views; I have not even talked to it, because I thought it was better that I did not.

Ministers have three powers. The first is a statutory power under an Act of Parliament; the second is the law of prerogative, such as Neville Chamberlain used to declare war in 1939; and the third power under which Ministers act is a common-law power, which is applicable not just to Ministers but to every single one of us, and it does not require legislation. Perhaps I could give as an example the ability to buy or sell a building of one’s own without legislation; that is a common-law power.

Clause 213(1) is a classic common-law power. Anybody can set up an inquiry into the RICS—I could, if I had the money, or the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, could. My noble friend the Minister could set up an inquiry into it. While the RICS does not have to co-operate with us—it can if it wants to—we already have that power. It does not need to go into legislation. Clause 213(3) can be done by contractual obligation, while if we did not have subsection (4) it could be judicially reviewed. The point is that an Act of Parliament is to change the law, but this clause does not change any law. It does not give the Minister any new powers or require the RICS to take any action whatever. It is an otiose piece of legislation.

Time and time again, we have been told that any amendment which we put forward has not been necessary because it is covered by existing legislation. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Howe used precisely that argument against my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond on one of his amendments with regard to pavements, which we discussed a few minutes ago: it was covered by existing legislation—the 2020 Act, if I remember rightly—which meant that there did not need to be any further legislation.

As the noble Baroness said, the general council of the RICS commissioned the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, to do a review by its own will. He undertook that review within a very short time, and it reported in June 2022. By the end of November 2022, eight out of 36 amendments had already been implemented and the rest were on their way to being so. If the Government acted with a quarter of the speed with which the RICS acted, that would be a revelation and a bonus for this country.

This clause is a dreadful piece of legislation. It has nothing to do with levelling up or regeneration. It is worthy of the Governments of Moscow and Beijing; it is not worthy of a Conservative Government in 2023.

My Lords, it is a privilege to be a co-sponsor of this proposal, so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and spoken to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. The noble Baroness has far greater knowledge of regulation, which goes back a long time. Especially on the regulations of bodies, that surpasses anything that I could do.

I am a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; I have been a member for 48 years and was at one time chair of one of its expert panels. I am also an RICS-registered valuer. Although I am semi-retired, I still pay a subscription to the RICS. I am governed by its rules and its requirements for continuous professional development, and so on. I must make it absolutely clear that the views I express are my own and are not to be taken as any statement by the RICS on its policy, or as its acquiescence in any way with the conclusions that I draw. Although I have spoken at length with the RICS, my views are essentially my own.

I will give your Lordships a few facts. The RICS has a membership of 130,000, 20% of whom are foreign-based. It has international and national status. It sets standards of technical compliance in areas of valuation, measurement, physical assessment and methodology of appraisals in many areas. It does that within a framework of ethical and competence standards, backed by disciplinary powers over its own membership. Other bodies and sectors have frequently and voluntarily adopted the standards that it sets. It has members who survey the ocean floor and others who auction fine art; such is its range and scope.

It should be noted that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned, RICS does not have reservation of title or function, either of the label “surveyor” or of any sole dominion over the many areas in which its members operate. Core to this is freedom from political and sectoral commercial influences, along with powers of self-regulation. These form the bedrock of trust and confidence in markets across the world and sit behind the inward investment to the UK property market, which is one of the most fluid and effective anywhere. Remove those factors and there is little to distinguish the UK from jurisdictions which seek to control areas such as the judiciary, press freedoms and citizens’ rights of association.

There is much at stake. The noble Baroness referred to James Sparrow, the chief executive of Savills UK and Europe, Middle East and Asia. He tells me that the annual investment in UK commercial property alone is worth £60 billion—a figure I mentioned earlier. Half of that is inward investment from abroad and most of it is through the advice of RICS members and their firms. We also have a substantial residential loan book, supported by valuations, in the main from RICS registered valuers. What other profession makes that level of contribution to national wealth?

All this, as we have heard, could be affected by the Secretary of State’s step-in powers in Clause 213—a perceived, if not actual, loss of independence. Arguably it is a disruptive power for an appointee of the Secretary of State to review at any time, as we have heard, for any purpose—presumably including technical standards—under their terms of reference and sole discretion. The Secretary of State is by definition not politically neutral, so would never be seen as coming to the situation with total objectivity. That is simply how such step-in powers from any Government of any persuasion anywhere else in the world—and now here in the UK, as we see from this clause—will be interpreted.

A great deal reputationally hangs on this. It affects the image both of RICS and of UK plc at home and abroad for investor confidence and an orderly rules-based system. Even more significantly, it affects the ability to offer candid advice based on expertise and experience and to speak truth to power. It is worth pointing out what a huge influence in soft power abroad, as well as international generators of revenue to this country, companies like Savills and other UK-based but internationally focused firms of general practice surveyors are.

Clause 213 also sets a wider precedent for government intervention. By precedent, I mean it could affect any similar body and, by specifically referring to “governance”—the Long Title, on the very frontispiece, refers specifically to governance—of RICS, it proposes Secretary of State powers on a matter that, as far as I know, constitutionally should be between a chartered body and the Privy Council. In the absence of better justification, it is necessary for me to ask the Minister if Secretaries of State generally are to become the gatekeepers on matters of chartered body governance in priority to the Privy Council. If so, what public discussion has taken place about that process?

As to the genesis of the matter, the Government’s actions and other things that led up to this state of affairs, I will skip the chronology to focus on four points. First, it is clear that there has been insufficient departmental appreciation of the differences between such things as critical fire safety in terms of building resilience—the building’s ability to withstand that sort of event—the safety of residents in the face of fire-related hazards and the risk assessment criteria for secured lending. All of them have different technical, ethical and policy criteria.

Secondly, I observe that the reaction to the RICS decision on EWS1—the protocol for dealing with external cladding systems which led to the freeing up of a mortgage logjam—in December 2021 and its guidance to valuers that month was followed by the Secretary of State’s public comments on taking powers vis-à-vis RICS in the following month. Four months later there was the inclusion of these measures in the Bill, then at Clause 186, as introduced. These all took place after the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, had been appointed and before he issued his report. I question the propriety and timing of such a potentially prejudicial intervention.

Thirdly, I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, discussed his review’s terms of reference with the department from inception, regularly updating it on progress, and that the department expressed its satisfaction with the manner in which things were unfolding—and indeed, with the outcome. The expectation—I believe this is common knowledge—was that the clause would probably be deemed unnecessary and be withdrawn. It was not, and it has remained for poorly defined reasons that are difficult to conclude are now either necessary or were ever well founded.

Fourthly, the Government need to understand how the timeline and sequence of events appear to the outside observer. It does not look good and neither does Clause 213 appear a necessary, desirable or proportionate response to whatever it was that triggered this in the mind of the Government. The department seems to believe that RICS somehow governs and controls property markets. If that is the belief, this is a wholly mistaken concept. It fails to understand how markets operate or the role of this professional body in setting technical norms, laying down standards and advising on the use of analytical tools in property which facilitate the opening up and transparent operation of markets by other players.

In the context of purely technical issues, which generate core facts and inform appraisals, and set alongside the normal interpretation of “public advantage” and “proper standards of conduct”, these are never likely to wholly sit ad idem with what a government department has across its desk any given moment. There is a necessity for give and take within departments and recognition that there is a mutual understanding of the importance of professionals being able to offer their views to the Government without fear or favour, with the Government of the day respecting that but acknowledging that, ultimately, they make decisions on public policy as a democratic political exercise at their own political risk.

RICS technical standards are built up painstakingly over decades—I was going to say hundreds of years, but the techniques change rather more rapidly than that—by observing market sentiment and the fundamentals of transaction analysis. These are not rules set by the RICS simply for its own arbitrary convenience so much as observation and codification of how people interact in markets and other property-based relationships, especially those having regard to the fiscal, legal and other similar considerations set by other institutions, wider society, and, most principally, central government itself. To challenge these because a Government of the day may disagree with a professional standpoint is to risk market disarray and to create doubt, mistrust, and, ultimately, investment chill, as we have heard already. I sense that there is also some notion that this independent, self-funded, member-driven body should now be beholden in some way to reporting to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. When responding, can the Minister confirm, categorically, whether that is intended—and, if so, on what justification—or else that it is not intended?

Governance and policy, as well as public versus private interests, seem to have been mixed up here. The Government may not have thought this through, but, assuming they have, I can only assume that there is some other metric at work. Despite the efforts of my noble friend Lord Bichard to ensure that the department was satisfied with what he undertook and that it approved all his conclusions—and, furthermore, he has been retained by the RICS to ensure that the institution delivers on what it has promised—the department seems to continue to find fault with the processes and makes no secret of implications that it might take other unspecified action if necessary. As we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, it would be entitled to do that under common law—and at any time.

Personally, I would prefer the views of my noble friend Lord Bichard, as the reviewer, on what is happening in the RICS—as well as his views expressed to me on the coherence, good order and progress with which things are proceeding—rather than those of a department standing outside that process and, seemingly, wishing to involve itself in some sort of micromanagement while building a negative picture of how the process is unfolding.

The Minister explained in her letter to me of 22 January 2023—following five separate requests by me for an indication as to the policy justification:

“The clause does not change the regulatory status of RICS. It makes clear in law that the Secretary of State may commission a review by an independent person as to whether the RICS is operating effectively while maintaining the ability for the Institution to operate independently from Government. We are not seeking powers to respond to the findings of future reviews because we cannot pre-empt the outcomes of independent reviews. If any further action is required, this can be considered fully upon reflection of the review report. It will also be for the RICS as an independent body to consider the findings and respond accordingly in the public interest”.

However, her letter did not explain the policy justification that I had asked for; it did not inform me why the Secretary of State requires to intervene on governance in particular. If the absence of powers to follow up on findings is intentional, why do we need this clause at all? After all, the RICS, having just had two reviews in quick succession, is indeed considering and acting on its findings, but this still does not seem to be good enough.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, reinforced the point about the willingness of the RICS to conduct its own independent reviews—as it should—but that does not prevent the Government making their own views known at any time, as indeed they should. However, they need to work with the RICS, as they have always done in the past and they claim to want for the future; it is something that the RICS itself clearly welcomes. Yet this should not be done by undermining its objectivity and independence, and, certainly, not by way of suggestions of other forms of action; that is simply inappropriate. Despite the Minister’s and officials’ protestations that the Government want to work with the RICS, that the RICS is of great importance to their plans and that they wish the RICS to be a strong and confident organisation, that is not how the body language reads. So the Government need to explain the circumstances in which this power will be used, and to confirm that it is reserved for specific instances of serious misdemeanour and will not be held as a general threat hanging over the head of the RICS in respect of any issue, great or small, they might happen to alight on, or, indeed, decide to generate from within. Will the Minister give me that assurance? Will he confirm what rules and trigger mechanisms will apply to the proposed power, and if he cannot do so now, can he write to me, copying in other noble Lords, before Report?

I conclude, as have the previous two speakers, that Clause 213 is unnecessary, undesirable, inappropriate and capable of generating more damage than it procures benefit. It is discriminatory in that it singles out the RICS for special treatment in circumstances where nearly every one of its areas of activity has at least one other participant body or organisation over which the RICS has no member regulatory function. Whether this makes it a hybrid Bill is something I have pondered; but I am not expert on this, and it is difficult for me to pronounce on such a matter. Like this Parliament, much is held together by conventions, mutual trust, and the wish to share information and to transact other than through letters of the law. The RICS certainly needs to consolidate its reputation. It has been through a period of turmoil—let us make no mistake about that; that is a matter of common knowledge—but it is on the road to putting things in order, and, with the aid of my noble friend Lord Bichard, I have every confidence that it will achieve that. However, Clause 213 is capable of much wider mischief, which will not, ultimately, be in the power of the Secretary of State to put right, if, as I suspect, it goes wrong. So I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that the clause has no beneficial purpose in the Bill and should be removed.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a former chartered surveyor—I was one for some 35 years; I resigned when I left private practice—and my comments now, which will be brief, are entirely my own.

Why do the Government want to interfere with an independent professional body? I do not believe that architects, civil engineers, solicitors, doctors, nurses or any of the other many noble professions have this sword of Damocles hanging above their professional organisations as is proposed here. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and my noble friend Lord Lytton have mentioned the worldwide influence of the RICS. I was slightly involved with it many years ago; it is extensive and has done ground-breaking work across the world in bringing together the numerous different property-related organisations in the advisory field to try to create common standards internationally. This is the stuff of soft power; it has a royal warrant.

I accept that the RICS has had its own internal issues—pretty serious ones—but it instigated robust, independent reviews and accepted all recommendations. Why does His Majesty’s Government want this power? It is inappropriate. As we have heard, the Bill has all the characteristics of a hybrid Bill anyway, so what on earth is this clause doing in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill?

My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Hayter for her very detailed and clear explanation of the concerns felt by a number of noble Lords about why this clause is in the Bill at all. I thank the noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Lytton, for their very detailed knowledge and perspective from their professional point of view; that was extremely helpful and I think this is a very important debate.

I added my name to the clause stand part notice because we are also extremely concerned by the wording of Clause 213 as currently drafted. As we have heard, it provides a power for the Secretary of State to instigate a review of RICS at any time and with very few limits in terms of scope, rationale or process. At the same time, it fails to set out any related statutory protections for RICS or for the chartered surveying profession more broadly. Our concerns stem from the fact that this seems a very significant step for a Government to take—to actually create powers to instigate reviews of an independent, member-funded institution, which does not itself, as we heard, exercise any statutory powers. Noble Lords have said they are concerned that this could risk creating a perception of RICS’s inability to act independently and in the public interest. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, it has nothing to do with either levelling up or regeneration and could set a highly unusual precedent for any other royal chartered body in the future.

We have heard about the independent review by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and the previous review mentioned by my noble friend. She went into the detail of what the independent reviews have said. Also, recommendation 14 of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, required an independent review of RICS to take place every five years. My noble friend said that it has agreed to do that even more frequently, every three years, so I do not really understand what the Government’s concerns are. It strikes me that, despite the concerns the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, laid out about recent issues within RICS, it has taken concerns raised extremely seriously, has accepted the recommendations in this report and is amending the RICS charter and by-laws to reflect the recommendations in full, subject to the approval of the Privy Council.

So my first question to the Minister is: why do the Government feel the need to interfere in this process? RICS itself, having accepted the recommendations in the review, is looking to ensure that it is held accountable in a transparent, orderly and appropriate manner, so I genuinely do not understand why the Government feel they need to legislate, as other noble Lords have said. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could properly explain.

I also found it very concerning to hear from my noble friend Lady Hayter that there do not seem to have been any recent meetings between RICS and the Government. Can the Minister confirm that and explain what meetings have been held to discuss this and when? It does seem quite an extraordinary step. We support either the removal or the amendment of this clause so that it aligns with the wording of recommendation 14 of the review of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, if it is going to stay in here. Surely the regulation of professions should be overseen by independent governance and decision-making that uphold the public interest and also guard against any risk of improper interference. Can the Minister explain why this clause is in the Bill? Will he also comment on the suggestion of hybridity, because this is extremely concerning?

My Lords, I am grateful for the discussions my noble friend Lady Scott and I have had with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, prior to this debate. I appreciate that they and others have hesitations and reservations around this clause; however, I hope I can persuade the Committee that those reservations should not be given weight.

The Government consider that Clause 213 should remain in the Bill because retaining the Secretary of State’s power in legislation to initiate reviews demonstrates that the Government are committed to supporting RICS in regaining and retaining its reputation after some very serious public failings in 2018-19. The clause also gives the Secretary of State discretion to set specific matters for the independent reviewer to consider that are connected to its governance and effectiveness. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said that there was no rationale for this. The provision is to ensure that a review could specifically include issues that become a public concern, such as providing leadership to the market for the benefit of consumers, rather than always seeking to satisfy members.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, indicated that she viewed the clause as interfering with an independent, free-standing institution. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, made a similar point. While the clause clarifies the Secretary of State’s power to initiate a review, it would create no power to intervene in the workings of RICS, so I disagree with the premise that Clause 213 interferes with the independence of RICS. Indeed, the clause is clear in clarifying the independence of any proposed reviewer and, with regard to the review itself, mandates only the remit and a requirement to publish, and not, for instance, how the review is undertaken.

I point out to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that the power conferred by the clause is strictly limited. The Secretary of State would be required by the clause to publish the independent reviewer’s report but, as he mentioned, the Government are not legislating to act on the review’s outcomes or the independent reviewer’s report, because we cannot, as he said, pre-empt any findings or recommendations. Should the Government require any legislative powers to enact any of the recommendations from a review, we will need to return to Parliament for permission. Once again, this approach will ensure RICS’s ability to operate independently from government while strengthening its accountability to Parliament. The noble Earl asked whether any report would be made directly to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The answer is no: the report would be independent and the Secretary of State is simply required to publish it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said that there would be no reason for the Secretary of State to establish an inquiry under the terms of this clause. RICS is uniquely influential across construction sectors and their links with financial service markets. It is the sole body for bestowing chartered surveyor status in the UK and its reputation took a big hit as a result of the failings of 2018-19, which, given its unique role in these matters, is a very serious issue. We cannot and should not gloss over those failings. Historically, RICS took a very limited view of providing leadership to the market for the public good, being constrained by its internal practices and policies, such as on EWS1 forms, and this contributed to difficulties for leaseholders in selling their flats.

My noble friend Lord Caithness said that the Government do not need this power: he asked what the point was of including the clause. In this clause, we are setting out the scope of any review, and this should act as a reassurance as to the limits of what the Secretary of State is empowered to do. I say again: RICS’s independence of working is not in question. At the same time, the Government are signalling the importance we attach to RICS in protecting consumer interests through its guidance and standards, as well as the regulatory functions it undertakes across the market, improving and managing the built environment and land.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked me what the relevance of this clause is to levelling up. The work of RICS touches on several areas of the levelling-up agenda, such as guidance on how developments should be valued for Section 106 agreements, the approach to valuation for the infrastructure levy, influencing the housing market through guidance on such matters as external wall systems and developing industry-wide methodologies for whole-life carbon in buildings. As an organisation with such influence, RICS needs to demonstrate that it is getting and keeping its house in order, in order to rebuild its reputation following such serious previous problems. The clause, along with our regular engagement with RICS—and we do have regular engagement—will encourage that momentum.

To address a further issue raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Hayman, among others, the Government do not agree that this clause renders the Bill hybrid. A hybrid Bill is one that affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same class. RICS is a body in a class of its own, and this clause does not affect any private interest of RICS because the Government are not legislating to act on the review’s outcomes or the independent reviewer’s report. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, was also concerned that there has been no meeting between RICS and Ministers. She may like to know that the chief executive of RICS, Richard Collins, will be meeting my honourable friend in another place, Rachel Maclean, on 13 June to discuss the clause.

I would ask the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Hayman, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friend Lord Caithness to reconsider their opposition to this clause.

My Lords, I regret that my noble friend has done absolutely nothing to reassure me. He said that the reason for the clause was to set out the conditions and parameters of any review. That can be done under common law now; we do not need a piece of legislation. This clause does not alter common law or the powers of the Secretary of State in any way. Can my noble friend tell me in what way it does alter the powers?

As I mentioned, the way the clause is phrased should give reassurance to those who feel that there might be a danger of the Government interfering with the operation of RICS. The clause does not permit that.

My Lords, I am fascinated by the possibility of using this same mechanism on the chartered accountants, of whom I am a fellow and whom government often wishes would conduct themselves otherwise when looking after and examining the health of companies on behalf of shareholders; and on bodies such as psychiatrists’, which are currently adopting some very strange policies that seem to run counter to the national interest. But do we really want to rob these bodies of their independence, in a way that this clause starts us down the road to doing? Or do we want to encourage—and I have nothing, I am glad to say, to do with the role of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—these bodies to heal themselves when they are sick, as appears to have happened in this case? There are a lot of bodies that have grown up over the years doing very important work within their segments of British public life. Are we really saying that this is the start of bringing them all under the Government, or are we happy to say that they may go wrong sometimes but what matters is that they sort themselves out and stay independent?

My Lords, I would simply encourage my noble friend to read my remarks in Hansard. There is no promise in this clause to the effect that the current or a future Secretary of State will initiate a review, but that there should be a power for them to do so. I would encourage my noble friend to reflect on the justification I gave in the terms that I gave it, which is that we are clear that the independence of RICS in operating as it does is not in doubt.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Lytton, the noble Lords, Lord Thurlow and Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lady Hayman, for their contributions on what I think is a rather significant and important issue. I also thank the Minister; “nice try” is how I would summarise what he has tried to do. Much more serious than that, though, I think he gave the game away.

I did not talk about EWS1, quite deliberately, at the introduction of this because I thought it would put the Government on the wrong foot. I felt that that was not a debate we should get into. I must declare an interest, as I live in a cladded building, so I was very involved from day one with the issue of cladding. I remember EWS1 and I remember before that. I remember when the threshold was 18 metres, which affected where I live. The Government asked RICS whether it would say a building was safe below, I think, 14 metres. RICS felt it could not, in all seriousness, give that assurance. I, as a consumer and a resident of a tall building, was reassured that a standard setter—a surveying organisation—did not give in to the Government and did not say that a building would be safe when it was not.

I deliberately did not use that at the beginning of this debate because I did not want to start a ding-dong about something in the past that I thought the Government had got wrong at the time. They were trying to put together a package, which was very complicated after Grenfell. There was the matter of how much money would go towards the buildings that would be affected, and that would come out of a £6 billion fund that was not there at the time. I understand the Government were having difficulties, but it is giving the game away that the Minister has mentioned that, because it is a row that happened then.

RICS may have been completely wrong—it could have been absolutely safe. It could have said that all these buildings under 14 metres that are cladded are absolutely safe. RICS could have been absolutely wrong, and the Government could have been right to ask them to sign off the form. I think we were on Advice Note 14 at the time, so we have been through a lot of these. I, as the consumer, would prefer an independent organisation, even if it is wrong, to tell me whether my dwelling house is safe, rather than the Government, who obviously had a vested interest because of the amount of money they were going to put into it. I was not going to raise that issue, because I thought it was going back. I do think this has given a lot away.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has asked why we need this, because the Government can do it anyway. The Minister has said that the Government have no powers to do anything; even if they set up an inquiry and it proved everything, they still cannot do anything. So the only thing it does is give a chill factor, a threat factor. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who called it the sword of Damocles. We have had this from the Government before; twice, I have had to deal with it. I dealt with it once before I was in this House, when I chaired the Legal Services Consumer Panel. At that stage, the coalition Government tried to make us—the consumer panel and the Legal Services Board itself—put our websites on GOV.UK. That may not sound very serious, but for an independent regulator of lawyers, it was seen as a real threat to the independence of regulating lawyers. We fought the Government off and just refused to do it.

We then had it again during the passage of the Bill on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, when the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, was the Minister. The Government were trying to take a power over the regulators to decide whether they should, for example, accept nurses, vets and other professionals as part of a trade deal, so they would have been regulating the recognition of the qualifications of people coming here from another country as part of a trade deal. We saw off the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, at the time, and the Bill was much changed, as he admits. We wrote into that Bill a clause saying that the regulators must remain independent of government. So, here we have the itchy fingers of government trying to tell independent regulators what to do. The Minister says there is no power to intervene, and so there is no interference—but the threat is a power to intervene.

I am not going to answer all the points that have been made, because I think they speak for themselves. The Government will understand the unease around the Committee about this proposal. I do not think they have made any argument for the need for this. Frankly, if the Government intervened in every organisation that had gone a bit awry, we would have them looking at the CBI at the moment, which is another important institution in civic society. It is going through much more of a meltdown than anything poor old RICS did, but I assume that the Government are not going to try to interfere in any chartered institute or anything else, or just an independent organisation that has had some troubles.

I do not think the Government have answered how this clause is going to promote the levelling-up agenda. Indeed, if there is any loss of confidence in surveyors, it will do exactly the opposite. The Minister has failed to give assurances that it will not be used as a big stick to make RICS do their bidding in the future.

I am delighted that the Minister has reported, finally, that there will be a meeting between his oppo in the Commons and the chief executive of RICS. It is a bit late, frankly, when we already have a clause in a Bill—I am not going to push it to a vote now, so within a minute or two it will be in the Bill—to have a meeting. We need this self-regulation; that is the right way for independent regulation. I think the Committee and the Minister will not be surprised by me saying that I will return with an amendment to delete the clause on Report.

Clause 213 agreed.

Sitting suspended. Committee to begin again not before 8.50 pm.

Amendment 467B

Moved by

467B: Clause 214, page 246, line 3, leave out “(6)” and insert “(6A)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name inserting new subsection (6A) into Clause 214.

My Lords, Amendments 467B and 467C address consequential amendments to the marine licensing cost recovery powers. Clause 214 gives the Secretary of State fee-charging powers for post-consent marine licence monitoring, variations and transfers. We are now adding a consequential amendment to clarify the position where there is an overlap between the general post-consent marine licensing fees and oil and gas marine licensing fees for the same activity, to provide that the oil and gas fees will apply in those circumstances.

Amendments 467D, 467E, 504GK, 504M, 509D and 513 will support the Government’s response to the eventual recommendations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry. The Building Safety Act 2022 set up the building safety regulator and its functions within the Health and Safety Executive. We continue to support the Health and Safety Executive in delivering these new functions, and I take this opportunity to thank it for its work over the last two years. To future-proof the building safety regulator and its critical work and protect the other important work of the Health and Safety Executive, the Government consider it essential that we have the option to move the building safety regulator to an existing or new body in the future. This will allow the Government to respond quickly, if needed, to the Grenfell Tower inquiry, which we expect to be published at the end of this year. I recognise that there will be concerns about how broad these powers are. To provide reassurance, the powers are affirmative and include a 24-month sunset provision, which can be extended only if needed and only after Parliament’s consideration.

In speaking to Amendment 467F, which introduces a new clause after Clause 214, I will speak also to Amendments 509C, 504N and 514. This new clause addresses a concern of schools that occupy premises held on special trusts for the purposes of those schools. Local authorities have a discretionary power to provide premises for academies, but there is currently no requirement to transfer the land, as exists for maintained schools. Instead, the local authority tends to offer the academy trust company a lease. If trustees hold particular premises specifically for a school and the school moves to other premises, they cannot carry out the purpose of their charity if nothing else is done, as their premises end up without a school.

The new clause ensures more consistent treatment across the system, where the local authority must transfer the new premises it is providing to the charitable school trustees. In exchange, the trustees must pay the local authority the proceeds of sale from the existing premises—or, if the local authority agrees, the trustees can simply transfer the existing premises to it.

I turn to Amendment 504HA. In the light of the successful passage of the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill through the Senedd Cymru, the Government are giving further consideration to the approach to the power under paragraph 7(2) of the new schedule to be inserted after Schedule 15 by government Amendment 412B. As such, I do not intend to move Amendment 504HA at this time.

Lastly, I turn to Amendments 504K and 504L. The United Kingdom faces constant threats to its national security, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made us all too aware. These amendments will ensure that Ministers can require information about properties that may be used to threaten national security, wherever they are in the United Kingdom.

I beg to move.

My Lords, I want to comment on and ask some questions about the amendments in this string that relate to the building safety regulator: Amendments 467D, 467E, 504GK, 504M, 509D and 513. The Minister somewhat skated over their significance; I have some serious questions to ask. It is worth pointing out that these amendments tabled by the Government are so out of scope that one of the amendments is seeking to extend the Bill’s scope so that they can be included.

Briefly, these amendments would give the Secretary of State powers to scrap the building safety regime set up by the Building Safety Act, which was passed just 12 months ago. That regime, with a new building safety regulator under the auspices of the Health and Safety Executive, was a specific and central recommendation of the Hackitt review, which the Government accepted in full at the time and which had the sustained support of your Lordships’ House at every stage of the Bill’s passage. There was criticism of that Bill as it went through this House but it centred on the inadequate compensation provisions and the uncertainty created by the delay in bringing the regulatory regime fully into force, which does not actually happen until later this year. No concerns were expressed about the regulatory mechanism being set up.

The 18-month delay in the coming into force of that regulator was said by the Government at the time to be necessary to allow time for the regulator to set up shop and because of the need for the construction industry to train up qualified personnel and then deliver, in accordance with the regulator’s requirements. Bringing the building regulation system under the Health and Safety Executive was warmly welcomed on all sides. Again, the criticism was that its reach was too limited and should not be confined to high-rise and high-risk buildings; it was said that the regulator’s remit should be expanded. No voice was raised that this was the wrong model, still less that it was unfit for the essential job of upgrading building standards drastically and rapidly following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Last year, the Government resisted the expansion of the regulator’s role on the grounds that it had to learn to walk before it started to run. Since the regulator was appointed, multiple workstreams and training programmes have begun throughout the construction industry in what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging catch-up operations that it has ever faced. The industry has faced up to it because of the unflinching, no-holds-barred approach of the regulator—strongly supported, of course, because of the certainty that primary legislation gives it—means that it had no choice. There is no risk—or, in some quarters of the construction industry, no hope—of the regulator going soft over time because it is there through primary legislation with a very strong remit.

That has led to a settled determination in the industry to face up to the costs and difficulty of compliance. These amendments undermine that certainty and very much risk causing confusion in the industry—real and confected. That may be used as an excuse for delay and for second-guessing the Health and Safety Executive regulator’s requirements. It certainly risks blunting the focus of the regulator in the vital next 18 months, which is exactly when it will need the most muscle and determination.

The abrupt and unexpected departure of the first regulator, appointed earlier this year, can now be seen in that light. Who would want to join a new public body, such as the regulator, and take up a career in an organisation that the Government have announced that they intend to replace at short notice? Who would want to lead it? My first question to the Minister is: what assessment have Ministers made of the impact on the existing regulator’s capacity to recruit and retain high-quality leaders and staff in the face of its imminent dissolution? These amendments thrust the vital building safety regulatory regime into limbo at the most critical moment of its existence. Therefore, there must be a truly compelling reason to introduce them.

The Government’s answer, such as it is, is that there might be a need to respond very rapidly to some dramatic unforeseen recommendations in the final report of the Grenfell inquiry. It is not too difficult to envisage recommendations which could be very wide-ranging and require systemic changes, not least to the aspects of the functioning of the police, the fire and rescue service, local government, central government, housing providers and landlords. It is easy to imagine that there could be very powerful recommendations forthcoming. However, in respect of the building safety regime, its recommendations, if any, are highly likely to be about increasing the remit and scope of the regulator, created directly from the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt and unlikely to propose the dissolution of the building regulator. It would be especially alert to the risks of doing that at such a critical inflection point in getting a rapid improvement in building safety. So my second question to the Minister is: have the Government got further and better information than me about the nature of the recommendations which might come from that inquiry, which contradicts my assumption that they are highly unlikely to require that the building safety regulatory regime be dismantled?

If the Government were right last year that the building safety regulator would need 18 months to set itself up, how long would it take to set up the replacement that the Government propose? If the Government were right last year that the regulator needed to learn to walk before it began to run, how long do the Government imagine that their own back-of-the-envelope new scheme would take from the publication of the statutory instrument to the full performance of its functions? So my third question is: how will the necessary upward trajectory in standards, which is needed right across the building industry, be maintained during any transition period from the system that they dismantle to the system that they propose to introduce via a statutory instrument? If my concerns are misplaced and the Government have got the outcome that they want, and their proposition is a correct one, then the method they have chosen by which to achieve it in the amendment is wrong, in principle and in practice.

In principle, such a dramatic reversal of a recently taken and widely supported measure put in primary legislation ought not to be left to Ministers, using a wholly flawed so-called affirmative procedure, to change completely without proper accountability to your Lordships’ House. In practice, there is an enduring government record of failures of perception and awareness when they draft statutory instruments on the hoof. Blunders are frequently made, obvious consequences are often overlooked and post-publication rectification now happens with over a third of statutory instruments as a result.

However, this is not a statutory instrument about labelling jam correctly or minimum net sizes for catching fish in the Atlantic. It is about the most fundamental job of government: to keep its citizens safe, where blunders have consequences, and where time and again it has been proven that, when there is proper scrutiny, blunders are reduced. There is less sloppy work in the first place, because people know it will be scrutinised, and there is more chance of catching those errors that slip through simply because of that scrutiny. In this case, avoiding Whitehall blunders means lives can be saved.

My fourth question to the Minister is: what assessment has been made of the alternative option of introducing emergency legislation, should some unlikely conjunction of events require it, rather than taking a provenly risky route of bringing forward a statutory instrument as proposed in the Government’s Amendment 504GK? I could spend time pointing out just how foolish this proposition is, but I have posed four questions and, without clear and positive answers by the Minister today, these matters will certainly have to return on Report. This is too important an issue to leave lying as a set of amendments on the 14th day of Committee consideration, shoved into the Bill without detailed consideration and, in my opinion, detailed reconsideration.

My Lords, it was with concern that I read the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s 31st report in relation to the very matter that the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, with his usual precision and excellence, has outlined: namely, the question of the building safety regulator.

It cannot be very often that a committee comes up with statements such as:

“We consider that the Supplementary Memorandum provides wholly inadequate justification for giving the Secretary of State such a broad Henry VIII power to—”

and the third bullet point under that is,

“determine what functions the regulator will have”.

It could have added “and modify them at will”, because that is in fact what the situation is. It goes on to say,

“we consider that Amendment 467D contains an inappropriate delegation of power that should not form part of the Bill”.

It could not be clearer.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, set about providing a whole series of logical and technical explanations to this. However, there is another explanation, and this is my take on the back story of what is really going on here. Throughout the process, post the Grenfell tragedy, the Government have sought to manage risk and control what might otherwise be seen as unacceptable political and economic fallout. Ever since their own consolidated advice note of January 2020, admitting in so many words that many of the issues found at Grenfell Tower could affect other buildings of any height, they have sought to delimit the ongoing and subsequent damage that that caused.

This spawned a reference to the department’s technical advisers and a resultant independent expert’s statement of July 2021. That sought to identify and justify that buildings under 11 metres were of an inherently lower risk. This in turn triggered an approach to RICS to amend its EWS1 scheme and its advice to mortgage valuers. We know the outcome of that was greeted with significant ministerial disapproval.

Clause 213, on at least one level—I am not going back over all that—could be seen as an attempt to silence or modify the views of independent professionals to align with the Secretary of State’s thinking or to cancel concepts of commercial risk assessment. Amendment 467D, for its part, could be interpreted as seeking to make sure that risk assessment and remediation via the building safety regulator is toned down. This would at least fit with differing standards under the Government’s pledged remediation contract, of which we have heard a great deal in recent months, and a fair interpretation of the Building Safety Act 2022 standards.

I leave it to your Lordships to consider whether these are, as I suspect, connected in some discrete or perhaps not so discrete policy aimed at managing risk and potentially seeking to outrun market sentiment. All I say is that Governments will never succeed in outrunning market sentiment; to suppose that that might happen is tantamount to saying that you can walk on water. From that point of view, I do not get it.

I remind the Committee, first, that low-rise does not equate to acceptably low-risk. The independent expert’s statement came 11 months after a disastrous fire at four-storey Richmond House in the London Borough of Merton, which was apparently not seen as fit to mention. Secondly, whatever the various machinations, blame-shifting, smoke and mirrors or other activities, it is government policy that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of home owners, many of whom have written to me, being unable to mortgage or sell their properties and facing enormous recurring charges for insurance and other measures. If the Financial Times is to be believed, leasehold flats are now falling seriously out of favour in the marketplace. This is just when increasing densities, and indeed more housebuilding and better use of scarce urban sites, are called for. It is a matter of government policy that we should build more homes.

The genie is out of the bottle and is not going back in. Around 15 months ago, I said in the context of the Building Safety Bill, as it was then, that the Government needed to get ahead of the curve in dealing with this. They have not done so; they are labouring in the wake of events. This is not good enough. It makes the building safety regulator substantially the sole control of the department, as opposed to being an independent body like the Health and Safety Executive. I just add that it was changing the health and safety regime a few years ago that radically changed injuries and fatalities on construction sites. Therefore, it has form and a track record. This approach to the building safety regulator is totally unacceptable, as far as I am concerned.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow what I have to say are two very important speeches. They were from two expert contributors and I have nothing to add except to say that they have certainly convinced me that there is grave cause for concern here.

I want to speak about another government amendment, Amendment 467F, about requiring local authorities to transfer land to academy trusts. We have to look at this in the context of the huge privatisation of public land—2 million hectares, 10% of the entire British land mass—over the past few decades. In 2018 prices, that was estimated to be worth £400 billion. It is also in the context of the Government in the past month having apparently won—certainly in the High Court anyway—a legal tussle with Annington Homes, owned by the private equity firm Terra Firma, over the privatisation of the Ministry of Defence housing portfolio, which the National Audit Office estimated had left the Government between £2 billion and £4 billion worse off.

The amendment is quite long and quite technical and I have done my best to grind my way through to make some sense of it. What we are seeing here is a swap. What is the Government’s assessment of the risk of this swap and of the lack of clarity that might occur in terms of local democracy and local understanding?

I have a couple of other things to ask about this amendment. Proposed new paragraph 9A(7) talks about the local authority bearing the costs of this swap. Why? There is also the underlying concern of many local residents around the country and many local authorities that potentially an essential resource disappears from public space for the interests of private profit. One of the case studies for this was the Durand Academy, a particularly infamous case in Lambeth where the Department for Education terminated an academy’s funding agreement and it maintained that it still owned the land on the school site, and accommodation and a leisure centre had been built there.

Speaking as a former school governor, I am well aware of the complications that have arisen from school buildings that are also mixed with private accommodation, private accommodation that is leasehold and private accommodation owned by the council. Very complex situations are being created so I am really seeking reassurance from the Minister that this amendment is not going to add further risks in terms of the transfer of lands to academy trusts.

My Lords, following the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I rise to speak in favour of government Amendment 467F and at the outset say that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham, who leads for the Church of England on education, very much regrets that he cannot be in his place.

We are grateful to the Department for Education and the department for levelling up for working together and with us in the Church to fulfil the Government’s commitment to bringing forward legislation to safeguard statutory protections relating to issues arising from the occupation of land by Church academies. The decision not to progress the Schools Bill might have meant that this uncontroversial but important change to legislation would have been lost, so it is very good to have the amendment in this Bill, which will maintain the important legacy of educational endowments that provide land for the purposes of a school with a religious character. This is important for all schools with a religious character, not just Church of England schools, and it will remove a significant barrier on the journey to academisation for Church schools, which is vital in the Government’s policy aims, as such schools make up one-third of the entire school sector and seek to serve local communities up and down the country.

As boards of education implement their strategies for the development of the family of Church schools in each diocese, they need to have confidence to do so in a way that ensures the security of that provision for the future. That still requires further work on governance arrangements which we are developing in partnership with the DfE through the use of the Church model articles, but it also requires legislation with regard to the way land is held on separate charitable trusts for use by academy companies. This amendment provides that legislation and captures clearly the issue as described in the fact sheet that accompanied the now withdrawn Schools Bill.

We therefore welcome this amendment to preserve trustees’ existing land interests once schools whose sites are held on educational endowments become academies. This amendment is a vital step towards ensuring that school sites continue to be used for original charitable purposes, enabling schools with a religious character to engage with the changing educational landscape. It will give greater certainty to the sector, the Catholic Education Service, the Church of England Education Office and our dioceses that together serve nearly 2 million children today and are at the heart of communities across our villages, towns and cities. It ensures that the distinctive Christian ethos of Church schools will be protected in the long term by reassuring the sector that on conversion to an academy, the nature and purpose of the trust deed of the school site will continue to be preserved if the academy needs to relocate. We therefore wholeheartedly support this amendment.

My Lords, I concur with and support entirely the comments made by my noble friend Lord Stunell and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, about the amendments in this miscellany transferring the building safety regulator from the Health and Safety Executive. I hope the Minister will be able to give us a very clear reason why this change is being made in the Bill—indeed, why it is being made at all.

I want to focus my comments on Amendment 467F. It is a good job I am speaking after the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, because it was not at all clear to me that that is what it is about. That is the problem with this group of government amendments; as I said earlier, a miscellany of issues has been put together because this is a levelling-up Bill and we can throw anything in. My guess was that it came from the Schools Bill, but reading the amendment without any explanation, it was not clear at all, so I have a few questions to put to the Minister.

First, can she assure us that the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford are accurate and this is entirely about schools with religious foundations, because that is not clear? In fact, I have a series of questions so that I can understand what the Government are seeking to achieve. Having been a school governor for very many years, I know that it is important that land use for schools is clear—whether they are part of a trust or a local authority—because otherwise future changes are very difficult. I speak from the heart in that regard.

This amendment puts forward four conditions that must occur. The heading of the new paragraph is “Compulsory transfer to trustees”, which is what first made me think that this perhaps needs more questioning. The idea is that a local authority has some premises, and an academy or trust has some, and they can do a swap. As this is to be a compulsory swap, what local consultation will there be and will it be a democratic decision? The implication is that it will not be a democratic decision of the local authority; it will be a compulsory land—or premises—swap. That is one issue on which I would like an answer. The second is, what if the premises to be exchanged are in a different location? If a school becomes located in a different part of the borough, what will that mean for the provision of school places within that council area? Would planning consent be required for schools to be relocated? Who will pay local authorities’ costs for the transfer? What if one set of premises was of higher value than the one that a school is taking over? How does that work? There is a series of questions to be answered. The Government had directed local authorities to sell their assets to help fund local services. What if the set of premises had been earmarked for sale for the benefit of the local authority? How does that work?

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked similar questions to mine, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford explained that it is all about religious foundation schools. That is not clear in the Bill, and there is no Explanatory Memorandum. Apparently, there was one in respect of the Schools Bill; well, that is not very helpful to us.

Having just resigned as a governor of a voluntary controlled school which had a lot of land issues when it became an academy because of land ownerships and trusts, I really do want answers to this series of questions. As far as I am concerned, the building safety regulator and the compulsory transfer of land to trustees are two major issues that should not have been put in this Bill. They are nothing to do with levelling up.

My Lords, I start by commenting on the amendments on building safety. I will not repeat the points that other noble Lords have made. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, went thoroughly into the reasons why there are concerns about these amendments, as did the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, so there is no need for me to repeat the detail; the concerns have been raised extremely clearly.

I want to ask just one thing. This provision seeks to transfer powers to the Health and Safety Executive, so that it will become the building safety regulator. When we left EU REACH, the chemicals regulation system, we raised a lot of concerns about the Government’s proposal that the HSE become the regulator for the UK REACH. The concerns were about the skills and resource levels of the HSE in taking on these new responsibilities. If the Government now intend to give the HSE yet another very large responsibility, how is the department being set up to manage all these increased responsibilities that the Government keep putting on its shoulders?

I was quite interested that the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said that one of the amendments extended the scope of the Bill to allow the others in. I congratulate the Government on finding anything that was out of scope of the Bill—it is quite an achievement.

Amendment 467F, also spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, is about the transfer of lands to academy schools. I reiterate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock: does this mean that local authorities have to transfer land even if they do not want to? How is that being managed and consulted on? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford made an extremely helpful speech for understanding the background to this issue, giving the Church’s opinion about church school academies.

I want to make a point here. The local school in the village next to where I live where all the local children go was a lovely Church of England school. It had a poor Ofsted inspection, where it failed on one small part, and was then forced into being an academy trust. It is a church academy trust and the school is doing well, but the point is that the school did not want to do that; it just wanted to carry on as a Church of England school. I do not think any school should be forced to go down a route that it does not want to go down.

Lastly, I want to thank the Bill manager. He sent me a very helpful email explaining Amendment 504HA, so I put my thanks to him on the record.

I thank noble Lords for that interesting debate on the government amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked why this measure is necessary. The Health and Safety Executive has a strong identity and a regulatory background focusing on safety. That is why it was well positioned in 2020 to deliver the building safety regulator quickly, and why the Building Safety Act specified that the Health and Safety Executive—which, I say to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, comes under the DWP—would be that regulator.

However, it is clear from the evidence given to the Grenfell Tower inquiry that the Government must provide stronger stewardship across the wider built environment, addressing safety alongside issues such as housing standards and the intergenerational impact of new buildings. That may require longer-term reform and could impact on building-related regulatory functions that are currently spread across multiple regulators and arm’s-length bodies. The Government must continue to consider the best vehicle to deliver that intent.

That does not affect the ambitious timeline for the building safety regulator. That is important work. We expect the regime to be fully operational by April 2024 and are determined not to impact on that programme. I say again that we are grateful to the Health and Safety Executive for all that it has done to bring this regime to life.

I ask the Minister to consider the timeline a little more carefully. If the current regulator is not going to be in full flow until April next year, and if the Grenfell inquiry’s final report comes—as she suggested it would—some time next year, are the Government confident that they can maintain a viable building safety regulatory operation using the existing structure based on the HSE, properly staffed and properly led, through that transition period? Is she further satisfied that a two-year window following the publication of the Grenfell Tower final report is sufficient to undertake the very wide-ranging review that she has just been outlining? Would it not make more sense to pause that process and, once the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s report is received, take a measured look at all those together and produce a further Bill in good time, with proper consideration by your Lordships?

No, my Lords, because we are not actually putting anything in place in this Bill. We are giving the Secretary of State the opportunity to do so if the Grenfell Tower inquiry comes out with something that it requires. I have no doubt that the building safety regulator will continue to work as it has always worked—with professionalism —to deliver that, and I am not hearing any issues from the building safety regulator.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked why these measures were not included in the 2022 Act. The Government recognised the need for major reform of the building safety regime to be delivered as quickly as possible, following the tragedy of Grenfell. The priority is now delivering this new regime effectively while remaining open to going further and faster wherever any evidence makes it clear that we should do so. We are just making sure that we are ready if the inquiry decides that we need to.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, mentioned transition, and of course it is important that, if there is to be another system, there is a good transition. The regulations will be taken through the affirmative procedure, as set out in these amendments, in close consultation with the HSE, and we will work with Parliament to ensure that they are delivered in a seamless and exemplary manner.

I am sorry to trespass on the time of the Committee, but can the Minister give a clear understanding that the existing complete independence of the building safety regulator will be maintained when the Government come up with their new alternative? I remind her that considerable time was spent in this Chamber safeguarding the professional independence of the regulator and freeing it from the possibility of interference, by either the Government or other bodies.

What I can assure the noble Lord of is that, if we do have to go down this route, both Houses of Parliament will have a say in that. I am sure that we will have long debates on it. The noble Lord also asked about accountability to the House. As I have said, the powers will be made under the affirmative procedure to ensure that the House is given full and proper opportunity to scrutinise any proposals if they come in due course.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, brought up the concerns raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its 31st report of this Session. I reassure noble Lords that the powers that we are seeking to take in Amendment 467D are intended to allow us to change only the home of the building safety regulator, as created by the Building Safety Act. There is no intention or plan for fundamental policy change in that.

Moving on, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked whether Amendment 467F was entirely about schools with religious foundations. There are also non-religious schools that have these charitable site trustees. We are not talking about academy trusts here: we are talking just about the charitable site trustees. They are mainly religious, but there are others that are not.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, also asked whether the trust required proceeds from the original premises to fund—no, I am sorry, this is something that I asked. It might be interesting to the noble Baroness that, if the trust required proceeds from the original premises to fund new schools, I was concerned about that. It has been made clear to me that capital funds come from local authorities where there is a need to provide sufficient school places, so I hope that will also put the noble Baroness’s mind at rest.

I was asked where the local authority fits into this. It will be in no worse a position than if the same schools had relocated as maintained schools or as foundation and voluntary schools, where the local authority would be obliged to provide the new site and transfer it to the trustees. Land would be held for the purposes of the academy, with appropriate protections for public value, including that the land could ultimately return to the authority if in future it is no longer needed for a school, so the local authority is protected on that.

The noble Baroness also asked whether it is a compulsory swap and what local consultation there would be for the local authority on the swap. It would be a compulsory swap only if the trustees are being asked to surrender their interest in the current site in exchange. We would expect such arrangements to occur only after the usual processes for relocating a school, which would include consultation and a consideration of the impact of moving places from one site to the other. All those issues would have been looked at.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, asked whether—I cannot read this.

We are not placing further responsibilities on to the Health and Safety Executive. The intention is purely to allow the Government to move building safety functions from the HSE to another body in future, if that is needed. That is the important thing.

I think that I have answered all the questions but I will look in Hansard. If I have not, I will certainly write to noble Lords.

Amendment 467B agreed.

Amendment 467C

Moved by

467C: Clause 214, page 247, line 10, at end insert—

“(6A) In section 110A (fees: oil and gas activities for which marine licence needed), in subsection (4)—(a) after “67,” insert “72(3), 72(7) or 72A(2)(a) or (b),”;(b) after “67(2)” insert “or 72A(4)”;(c) after “67(5)” insert “or 72A(6)”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes amendments to section 110A of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (“the 2009 Act”) to clarify the interaction between the different fee charging powers under the 2009 Act in consequence of the expansion of the Secretary of State’s fee charging powers under the 2009 Act by Clause 214.

Amendment 467C agreed.

Clause 214, as amended, agreed.

Amendments 467D to 467F

Moved by

467D: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Power to replace Health and Safety Executive as building safety regulator(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a body (“the new regulator”) to replace the Health and Safety Executive as the building safety regulator for the purposes of the Building Safety Act 2022.(2) The new regulator may be—(a) a body established by the regulations, or(b) another body specified in the regulations.(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision in connection with subsection (1), including provision—(a) conferring new functions on, or modifying existing functions of, the new regulator;(b) establishing or modifying the constitutional arrangements of the new regulator;(c) establishing or modifying the funding arrangements of the new regulator;(d) conferring a power on the Secretary of State to give directions to the new regulator.(4) Regulations under this section may amend, repeal or revoke any provision made by or under an Act.(5) No regulations may be made under this section after—(a) the end of the period of 24 months beginning with the day on which the final report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is presented to Parliament in accordance with section 26 of the Inquiries Act 2005, or(b) such later time as may be specified or described by the Secretary of State in regulations made before the end of that period. (6) In this section—“constitutional arrangements” , in relation to the new regulator, include matters relating to—(a) the name and status of the body;(b) the chair, members and staff of the body (including qualifications and procedures for appointment and functions);(c) the body’s powers to employ staff;(d) remuneration, allowances and pensions for the body’s members and staff;(e) governing procedures and arrangements (including the role and membership of committees and sub-committees);(f) reports and accounts (including audit);“funding arrangements” , in relation to the new regulator, include provision for it to be funded by a Minister of the Crown and the extent of such funding;“Grenfell Tower Inquiry” means the public inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017 as set up on 15 August 2017 for the purposes of section 5 of the Inquiries Act 2005;“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause provides a power for the Secretary of State to replace the Health and Safety Executive as the building safety regulator and a power to make further provision in connection with such regulations. The regulations must be made before the end of 24 months from the day the final report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is presented to Parliament, or such later time as may be specified in regulations made before the end of that period.

467E: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Transfer schemes in connection with regulations under section (Power to replace Health and Safety Executive as building safety regulator)(1) The Secretary of State may, in connection with regulations under section (Power to replace Health and Safety Executive as building safety regulator)(1), make one or more schemes for the transfer of property, rights and liabilities (“transfer schemes”).(2) A transfer scheme in connection with regulations under section (Power to replace Health and Safety Executive as building safety regulator)(1) may provide for the transfer of property, rights or liabilities to the new regulator from the Health and Safety Executive.(3) The things that may be transferred under a transfer scheme include—(a) property, rights and liabilities that could not otherwise be transferred;(b) property acquired, and rights and liabilities arising, after the making of the scheme;(c) criminal liabilities.(4) A transfer scheme may—(a) create rights, or impose liabilities, in relation to property or rights transferred;(b) make provision about the continuing effect of things done by, on behalf of or in relation to the Health and Safety Executive in respect of anything transferred;(c) make provision about the continuation of things (including legal proceedings) in the process of being done by, on behalf of or in relation to the Health and Safety Executive in respect of anything transferred;(d) make provision for references to the Health and Safety Executive in an instrument or other document in respect of anything transferred to be treated as references to the new regulator;(e) make provision for the shared ownership or use of property; (f) make provision which is the same as or similar to the TUPE regulations;(g) make other consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provision.(5) A transfer scheme may provide—(a) for modifications by agreement;(b) for modifications to have effect from the date when the original scheme came into effect.(6) In subsection (4)(f), “the TUPE regulations” means the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006/246).(7) For the purposes of this section—(a) references to rights and liabilities include rights and liabilities relating to a contract of employment;(b) references to the transfer of property include the grant of a lease.(8) For the purposes of subsection (7)(a)—(a) an individual who holds employment in the civil service of the State is to be treated as employed by virtue of a contract of employment, and(b) the terms of the individual’s employment in the civil service of the State are to be treated as constituting the terms of the contract of employment.(9) In this section “new regulator” has the meaning given in section (Power to replace Health and Safety Executive as building safety regulator)(1).”Member's explanatory statement

This Clause provides the Secretary of State with a power to make schemes for the transfer of property, rights or liabilities from the Health and Safety Executive to the new body replacing them as the building safety regulator. See the new Clause inserted by the amendment in the Minister’s name after Clause 214 (Power to replace the Health and Safety Executive as building safety regulator).

467F: After Clause 214 insert the following new Clause—

“Transfer of land by local authorities(1) In Schedule 1 to the Academies Act 2010 (Academies: land), after paragraph 9 insert—“Compulsory transfer to trustees

9A (1) This paragraph applies where Conditions A to D are met.(2) Condition A is that a local authority make premises (“the new premises”) available to be used by an Academy school.(3) Condition B is that the new premises are made available as an alternative to premises (“the existing premises”) which have previously been used by—(a) the Academy school, or(b) a maintained school, Academy or sixth form college that has been or is to be discontinued and that the Academy school replaces.(4) Condition C is that the existing premises are held on trust by a person or persons (“the trustees”) for the purposes of (as the case may be)—(a) the Academy school, or(b) the discontinued maintained school, Academy or sixth form college.(5) Condition D is that the trustees—(a) having sold the existing premises, pay to the local authority a sum that—(i) is just, having regard to the value of the local authority’s interest in the new premises, but (ii) does not exceed the total of the proceeds of sale and any interest that has accrued to the trustees on those proceeds, or(b) if the local authority agree to accept the trustees’ interest in the existing premises, transfer that interest to the local authority.(6) The local authority must transfer their interest in the new premises to the trustees to be held by them on trust for the purposes of the Academy school.(7) The local authority must pay to the trustees to whom the transfer is made their reasonable costs in connection with the transfer.(8) Any question relating to the duty in sub-paragraph (6) may, if not agreed by the local authority and the trustees, be referred by the local authority or the trustees to the adjudicator (see section 25 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998).(9) The questions referred to in sub-paragraph (8) include in particular—(a) the extent of the premises an interest in which is to be transferred by the local authority,(b) whether a sum proposed by any person to be paid by the trustees as specified in sub-paragraph (5)(a) is just having regard to the value of the local authority’s interest in the new premises,(c) the amount of any interest that has accrued to the trustees on proceeds of sale as referred to in sub-paragraph (5)(a)(ii), and(d) the identity of the trustees to or by whom a payment or transfer should be made.(10) The local authority and the trustees respectively must provide to the adjudicator any information the adjudicator may request from them for the purpose of exercising the functions the adjudicator has by virtue of this paragraph.(11) Any sum paid to the local authority as referred to in sub-paragraph (5)(a) is to be treated for the purposes of section 14 of the School Sites Act 1841 (which relates to the sale or exchange of land held on trust for the purposes of a school) as a sum applied in the purchase of a site for the school, Academy or sixth form college referred to in sub-paragraph (3)(a) or (b).(12) In this paragraph, references to premises do not include playing fields.”(2) In section 25 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (adjudicators), in subsection (2), after “2006” insert “or paragraph 9A of Schedule 1 to the Academies Act 2010”.(3) In Schedule 5 to that Act (adjudicators), in paragraph 5(1), after “2006” insert “or paragraph 9A of Schedule 1 to the Academies Act 2010”.(4) In Part 2 of Schedule 22 to that Act (maintained schools: disposals on discontinuance), in paragraph 5, after sub-paragraph (1A) insert—“(1B) This paragraph also does not apply where the school mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(a) is (with or without other schools) to be replaced by an Academy school in circumstances where paragraph 9A(1) of Schedule 1 to the Academies Act 2010 applies.””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new Clause amending Schedule 1 to the Academies Act 2010. Schedule 1 of that Act makes provision for the transfer of land in relation to academies. The new paragraph sets out the circumstances where a local authority is required to transfer their interest in new premises for an academy school to the site trustees who already hold existing premises. The Clause also makes consequential amendments.

Amendments 467D to 467F agreed.

Amendment 467G

Moved by

467G: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Open access mapping(1) The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is amended as follows.(2) After section 9 (maps in conclusive form) insert—“9A Review of maps (England)(1) This section applies where a map has been issued in conclusive form for the purposes of this Part in respect of any area in England.(2) Natural England must before 1 January 2031, to the extent that they consider appropriate, carry out a review of whether—(a) any land shown on that map as open country or registered common land is open country or registered common land at the time of the review, and(b) any land in that area which is not so shown ought to be so shown.(3) Regulations may require Natural England to carry out subsequent reviews, in respect of such matters and in respect of such circumstances as may be prescribed.”(3) In section 10 (review of maps)—(a) at the end of the heading insert “(Wales)”;(b) in subsection (1), after “area” insert “in Wales”;(c) in subsection (2), for paragraphs (a) and (b) substitute—“(a) in the case of the first review, not more than ten years after the issue of the map in conclusive form, and(b) in the case of subsequent reviews, not more than fifteen years after the previous review.”(4) In section 11 (regulations relating to maps)—(a) in subsection (2), after paragraph (j) insert—“(ja) the procedure to be followed on a review under section 9A (including provision as to the period within which, and the manner in which, representations may be made to Natural England in relation to such a review),”;(b) after subsection (3) insert—“(3A) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (2)(ja) may make provision—(a) for appeals in relation to a review, including by making provision applying, or corresponding to, any provision of, or made under, Schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (coastal access reports) (with or without modifications);(b) enabling Natural England to make a determination in preparing a map on a review that any boundary of an area of open country is to be treated as coinciding with a particular physical feature (whether the effect is to include other land as open country or to exclude part of an area of open country).””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new provision into the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to make provision about when Natural England must carry out reviews following the issue of a map of any area in England in conclusive form, and the matters that such a review must cover. The amendment also makes provision for regulations to set out the procedure on a review and makes consequential amendments.

Amendments 467H to 467J (to Amendment 467G) not moved.

Amendment 467G agreed.

Amendments 468 to 471 not moved.

Amendment 472

Moved by

472: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Duty to consult on the licensing of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles(1) The Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate about the merits of amending Part 2 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (hackney carriages and private hire vehicles) such that only upper-tier authorities in England, outside of Greater London and the City of Plymouth, would become permitted to grant licences to—(a) hackney carriages,(b) drivers of hackney carriages,(c) private hire vehicles,(d) drivers of private hire vehicles, or(e) operators of private hire vehicles.(2) In this section—“upper-tier authority” means—(a) a unitary authority, or(b) a combined authority;“unitary authority” has the meaning given in regulation 2(3) of the Local Government Changes for England Regulations 1994 (S.I. 1994/867);“combined authority” means a combined authority established under section 103 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to consult within a reasonable timeframe on the proposal of the Government within its Levelling Up White Paper of February 2022 " explore transferring control of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing to both combined authorities and upper-tier authorities”.

My Lords, Amendment 472 stands in my name. On another occasion, I am sure that this amendment would attract a wide-ranging debate, but I will understand if there are few speakers this evening and I will be satisfied with a short answer from my noble friend, as I intend to explain. This amendment is to probe where His Majesty’s Government are on a proposal in the levelling up White Paper that the licensing of private hire vehicles and taxis be carried out by upper-tier or combined authorities, rather than by district authorities as now.

The need for some sort of consolidation of legislation is apparent when one realises that in England these arrangements are governed in the main by Part 2 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976—except, of course, in Plymouth, where they are governed by the Plymouth City Council Act 1975, and in London, where taxi regulation relies on, among other statutes, the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 and the London Cab Order 1934 made under it. Quite separately in the capital are the minicab private hire vehicles, where drivers and operators are subject to the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998.

The licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles by lower-tier authorities means that there are currently 276 licensing authorities in the country. This has the effect of restricting the field of operation of taxis and private hire. The proposal in this amendment would reduce that to a mere 80—not quite nirvana, but still a considerable improvement. Drawing on my experience as a former deputy chairman of Transport for London, there is a lot to be said for having a single licensing authority covering a wide population in a contiguous area when it comes to contributing to the vitality and vibrancy of the private hire and taxi sector.

The advantage would be to make it less burdensome for private hire drivers. This is a mode of transport, we should remember, that the Department for Transport recognises as an essential feature of our transport system, with particular benefits to the less mobile and to the vulnerable, including, of course, women in the hours of darkness. The Government have not committed to making the changes they floated in the levelling up White Paper, but that was all of a year ago. What they did say was that they were going to listen to people and might undertake a consultation. But since then, nothing has happened.

The simple purpose of this amendment, apart from making the case for change, is to ask my noble friend whether she can say when the Government are going to initiate discussions and conversations, and indeed a consultation, on this proposal so that we can all find out better if it has the merits that it appears to have on the face of it. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for setting out the case for his amendment. However, I am afraid it still looks to me as if he is trying to fix something that is not broken and in doing so is going in the opposite direction of travel to a Bill for devolution.

Taxi licensing in two-tier areas is operated efficiently and effectively and enables local authorities to meet local needs. It also enables local taxi businesses to call into their local authority and have direct contact with it. The enforcement is also done very effectively. The proposal in the levelling up White Paper to transfer taxi licensing powers might be relevant to mayoral combined authorities, but I cannot see the case to justify it for shire counties. Current arrangements for licensing in shire counties work well and do not need to be disturbed. There are more important issues that would benefit shire counties than taking up time on such a consultation; for example, allowing councils to set licensing and planning fees or reforming funding for regeneration so that bidding is not necessary. I could go on, but it is late so I will not.

Even in London, it is not possible to buy an integrated ticket covering tubes, trains, buses and taxis. There will never be an integration of ticketing for obvious reasons of affordability; the cost of taxis and private hire vehicles make them the most expensive form of transport per mile. The White Paper presents no evidence that decisions on licensing prevent the integration of those transport modes into local transport plans. County councils as highways authorities are competent at providing taxi ranks at transport hubs and other appropriate locations in town centres; they do not need taxi licensing powers to achieve that integration.

District councils are not likely to ban taxis from operating half an hour either side of a train arrival, to try to stop private hire vehicles from picking up at or near bus stops, or to say that taxis cannot run at 2 am on Saturday or Sunday mornings to pick up people leaving nightclubs. So could we have more clarity on why Whitehall thinks that there is an integration problem?

A government Minister in the other place has talked of the inconsistency between licensing authorities because there are so many of them. Reducing the number of licensing authorities to 80, as that Minister mentioned, shows the fallacy of the suggestion. One could argue that inconsistencies are local authorities meeting the needs of their communities in relation to taxi operation. However, even if there are problems of inconsistency in policy or practice, the way to address them is by legislating for consistency.

In shire counties, it is likely that the review would be unwelcome and unnecessary. It would remove local decision-making that is sensitive to local requirements and policies and based on local knowledge. It is the opposite of devolution; it would not be an improvement to see decisions on licensing being taken remotely, with no guarantee that they will be people elected by the districts concerned or that they would have any knowledge of the district.

My Lords, the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan would require the Secretary of State to consult on the proposal in the levelling up White Paper

“to explore transferring control of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing to both combined authorities and upper-tier authorities”.

I reassure my noble friend that the Department for Transport plans to engage stakeholders on the proposal set out in the levelling up White Paper to explore transferring the responsibility for licensing taxis and private hire vehicles to upper-tier and combined authorities. The aim is to do so during the course of this year. Clearly, as my noble friend will understand, it is essential that the proposal is considered in detail before any decisions are taken about whether to proceed with the change. I am sure that the issues highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, can be picked up in that engagement process. My colleagues at the Department for Transport reassure me that they are currently working on this, so I hope that that, in turn, reassures my noble friend Lord Moylan sufficiently to enable him to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I was somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, who was speaking almost as if I were suggesting that this power be transferred from local authority to some remote Whitehall bureaucracy and administered by statutory instrument in a way displeasing to your Lordships’ House. We are both committed to local government; it is simply a question of which tier of local government, where more than one exists, is the appropriate authority for doing this.

None the less, I am delighted to hear what my noble friend the Minister said; he offered me the assurances I wanted to hear. The discussions, consultations and engagement will proceed, and he has given a timeline. I have achieved as much as I had hoped to achieve in the course of this debate, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 472 withdrawn.

Amendment 473

Moved by

473: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Regional mutual banks(1) The Secretary of State must report to Parliament, within 3 months of the date of the passing of this Act, on existing barriers to the establishment of regional mutual banks in the United Kingdom.(2) The report must consider—(a) current capital adequacy requirements,(b) other limiting features of the current regime,(c) regional mutual bank structures in jurisdictions outside the United Kingdom and the adoption and adaptation to the United Kingdom of best practice, and(d) the use of dormant assets as seed capital for the establishment of such regional mutual banks.”

My Lords in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, I shall move this amendment on his behalf.

One particular problem that has dogged us for decades is the lack of funding, including sufficient credit facilities, to our critical SME community. We know that SMEs are considered to be the backbone of the economy, the largest private employer, the large companies of tomorrow and so on, but despite this, the funds have never really flowed through from our traditional financial services sector to support SME activity and rightful ambition. The British Business Bank put it perfectly in its March 2022 report:

“Historically, SMEs are underserved by the finance sector, and often don't have the same characteristics that banks and other lenders like about large corporations. This includes lengthy credit histories, detailed audits and financial accounts, and a large portfolio of assets for collateral on debts. For start-ups, whose business models are unproven and yet to be deemed creditworthy, these problems are even more pronounced”.

This is not a universal problem experienced by SMEs around the world. It is done differently elsewhere. In Germany, for example, in 2021 SME funding was more than €600 billion; in the UK in the same period, it was just £57 billion. Even when all the necessary adjustments are applied, it is not a great picture, nor a growth picture. It is hardly surprising then that we are seeing a post-Covid trend of SMEs moving away from the traditional financial services sector. Again, the British Business Bank has noted:

“After the end of the coronavirus loans facility in March 2021, an interesting trend to emerge was that SMEs began to move away from large banks for their finance needs. Instead, challenger and specialist banks made up 51% of lending in 2021, compared with 32% in 2020”.

When it comes to the regional dimension, it just gets worse for SMEs, with those in London receiving over 70% of equity investment, with just 30% for the rest of the UK. This is obviously not great news for the economy, but it also results in lower levels of community and differing levels of well-being. How can we level up this country if we do not urgently address this issue of the extreme and unacceptable regional funding differentials for our SMEs? Although a perennial problem, it is raised now because there are two important pieces of legislation that provide an opportunity to do something about it: the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which has been going through your Lordships’ House; and the levelling-up Bill which is before us. I think a critical need for regional mutual banks is an essential part of the solution.

The clear intention of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, is threefold: first, to dramatically increase financial inclusion for our SME businesses; secondly, to develop an effective patient capital ecosystem across the UK; thirdly, to reignite the positive reality of friendly societies and mutuals. The amendment would force the consideration of current capital adequacy requirements. Are they fit for what we want across all potential financial service models?

It is also essential that such potential sources of regional finance are seen very much against the backdrop of digital transformation. Such banks need a physical presence in all our communities, with business bankers ready to support customers at each growth stage. Benefits must also encompass full digital functionality, alongside the physical. If got right, such banks could bring to bear another element of the financial and digital inclusion story, with the financial inclusion potentially driving the digital.

None of this is about lowering thresholds for SME finance. If we support SMEs by increasing the range and number of regional mutual banks, then the banks will do what they do best and SMEs will thrive, as will the communities and the towns and cities in which they are based. Through this single intervention, one of the fundamental planks on which levelling up will come will have been effectively laid.

As we build our way out of Covid, there could barely be a better moment to consider the benefits of regional mutual banks, built in our great communities with close customer connections and, crucially, with an interest and a stake in all those future economic, social, individual and organisational stories of success. We need regional flows of finance to enable and empower more, and more regionally diverse, SMEs. Regional mutual banks can be an essential part of delivering this, and the Government should look very carefully at the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and consider including it within their levelling-up brief. I beg to move.

My Lords, this country used to have many regional mutual banks. One still remains, in name anyway: the Yorkshire Bank. That is a testimony, I think, to its importance within the great county of Yorkshire. What has been a sad reflection of what has happened in the country in terms of banking is that it is now dominated by the five great big banking consortiums. That is partly why the presence of so-called high street banks in our towns and small towns across the country are disappearing, to the detriment of many people who live there and certainly many businesses there.

Regional banks play a huge role in North America and in many parts of Europe, where they flourish. So this is a really important amendment to ask the Government to look again at what they can do to stimulate regional mutual banking once more. Think how lucky you would be if you lived in Surrey and had a Surrey Bank that might be as powerful as the Yorkshire Bank—and the Yorkshire Bank is in Yorkshire. The big benefit of regional mutual banking is that it can focus its attention to the benefits of the businesses within its region. They can provide capital to small businesses on terms on which they can flourish. That cannot and does not happen with the big banks. The scale of what small businesses need is not really catered for by the big banking consortiums.

I do not want to repeat all the arguments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in favour of regional banking, except to say that I agree with her. I hope that, when the Minister responds, she will be able to say how important it is for levelling up—which, funnily enough, is what this Bill should be about—to have a way in which there is better access to capital by a bank which understands the regional economy and understands the businesses that work within that region and how they can better perform by having access to capital on terms determined by an understanding of the geography, economy and society of that area.

My Lords, Amendment 473, tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, and ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament—within three months of the day on which this Bill is passed—on the existing barriers to the establishment of regional mutual banks in the United Kingdom. I want to make it clear that the Government are supportive of the choice provided by mutual institutions in financial services. They recognise the contribution that these member-owned, democratically controlled institutions make to the local communities they serve and to the wider economy.

However, regional mutual banks are still in the process of establishing themselves here in the United Kingdom, with some now in the process of obtaining their banking licences. It is, therefore, too early to report on the current regime and any possible limitations of this for regional mutual banks. I know that my noble friend Lord Holmes was interested in how regional mutual banks have performed in other jurisdictions and how we could use these examples to consider the UK’s own capital adequacy requirements. In this instance, international comparisons may not be the most helpful to make. The UK is inherently a different jurisdiction, with different legislative and regulatory frameworks from those in the US, Europe or elsewhere.

Abroad, some regional mutual banks have been in existence for centuries and have been able to build up their capital base through retained earnings. In the UK, regional mutual banks are not yet established and are continuing to progress within the UK’s legislative framework. However, the Treasury is continuing to engage with the mutuals sector and other industry members to assess how the Government can best support the growth of mutuals going forward. I hope that this provides sufficient reassurance for the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock—on behalf of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond—to feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I thank the Minister very much for her response. I suddenly thought that I probably should have declared my interests as a member of the Co-operative Party and as someone who believes very strongly in the benefits of the mutual model. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, will read Hansard very carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 473 withdrawn.

Amendments 474 and 475 not moved.

Perhaps the noble Baronesses have the old version of the Marshalled List, which listed Amendment 476 several groups later.

Amendment 476

Moved by

476: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Letterbox height: England(1) In this section “local authority” means—(a) a district council in England;(b) a county council in England for an area for which there is no district council;(c) a London borough council;(d) the Common Council of the City of London.(2) A local authority within subsection (1)(a) or (b) may, by order, direct that dwellings may not include a letterbox which is less than 70cm from the ground.”Member’s explanatory statement

This would allow local authorities in England to direct that dwellings may not include a letterbox which is less than 70cm from the ground.

I apologise; it is late. Turning to our Amendment 476, I appreciate that many Members of your Lordships’ House will not have encountered the vagaries of the British letterbox—

There we go; noble Lords are on my side already. For those of us who get involved in the sharp end of politics, this is a cry from the heart. When you are facing a delivery round of several hundred doors, there are a number of hazards you will encounter: the spring-loaded letterbox designed to slam down on your fingers; the infamous brushes that make it impossible to push through anything other than the most robust card; and the vertical letterbox that is not at all compatible with efficient delivery. Worst of all, always at the end of your round, when your back is aching and your hands are battered by the aforementioned finger bashers, is the dreaded ground-level letterbox.

In a shameless attempt to try to curry favour not just with political activists of all parties but with our beloved posties who have to put up with this every day, we would dearly love to give local authorities a power to specify for new properties that there is an optimum height for letterboxes.

I cannot resist being able to speak about letterboxes. To be honest, letterbox height is important. Even those of us who are seasoned leaflet deliverers do not have the same daily meeting with letterboxes of various heights as the posties do.

From the point of view of the people who are doing their daily rounds delivering mail, we ought to have letterboxes not just at the right height but of the right width, horizontal not vertical, and where you can push thin letters through without their being crumpled up. The hard brushes and spring-loaded letterboxes should be condemned to oblivion, in my view.

Just as important is the number of Royal Mail deliverers who find, when they put their hand through a letterbox to deliver a letter, that there is a dog at the other end that takes a snap at their fingers. When people in my ward help with delivery, we give them a ruler to push through. I can show you the bite marks on the ruler. Dogs are behind those letterboxes and therefore there ought to be safeguards at the other side of the letterboxes for those who are delivering.

I had to go to one house in Yorkshire that said on the door, “Beware of the cat”. When you tried to deliver a leaflet, a paw came out, with claws out ready to strike if you were not quick enough. Beware of cats in Yorkshire, and beware of dogs everywhere.

Although we are making light of this, it is important that it is addressed: that we get letterboxes at a height where posties do not have to break their backs to deliver Royal Mail. Get rid of those horrible hard brushes—there is no need for any of that, and let us get the height right. That will be to everybody’s benefit.

My Lords, I support everything the noble Baroness just said. From long experience of canvassing and getting bloody knuckles as you try to withdraw your hand from the letterbox but the spring bites them, shortly before the dog’s teeth just miss your retreating hand, I think there would be support across the House and general congratulations if the Government were able to do something along these lines, but I suspect it should not require retrofitting. Chewing up people’s front doors would just be too expensive, but any new front door should certainly not have any of these devices on it.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 504GG in my name, and note that I am co-chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group. I thank my supporters, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her help in refining and improving the amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for their support.

I have spoken before in Committee about high streets, and will try not to repeat much of what I have previously said. I do not need to speak about the importance of regenerating high streets in the regions—I know that the Government get its vital importance for levelling up. Their plans for enhanced compulsory purchase powers and high street rental auctions could form part of the solution here.

However, I have spoken to many local stakeholders about these new powers, and the consensus is that they will not do much to move the dial. They are not commensurate with the scale of the change that needs to happen if we are to look toward a future where high streets in our regional cities are bustling with activity, are pleasant environments where people want to come and spend time, and are integrated with transport systems to allow easy transit for people to spend time there.

It has been estimated that the cost of each high street rental auction could be at least £6,000. In a time of strain on local authorities’ finances, they are unlikely to be used. In any case, high street rental auctions and compulsory purchase powers have been set up to address the supply of high street units, but supply is not the issue here. Anyone looking to set up on high streets in my home city of Derby is spoilt for choice. Most landlords would not choose to have an empty property. The issue here is demand, not supply. The Government really need to look much more closely at how they can incentivise businesses to set up on high streets. This critical point should be addressed in the Bill and will move the dial.

The Government need to look at the carrot as well as the stick. Amendment 504GG contains a proposal to do exactly that. Town centre investment zones are based on a proposal from the British Property Federation to utilise the tried and tested partnership model that has worked so well in the past. They bring together key stakeholders, including local councils, businesses, landlords and local people, to create a long-term vision and strategy for the zones and create an environment that really revives an area through a zone on a high street.

Importantly, this is coupled with incentives. You create the plan, designate a town centre investment zone and get some serious incentive for businesses in return. This amendment would give local authorities the power to apply a business-rate discount for businesses operating within such a zone. As we have heard many times in Committee, including in our debates earlier today, business rates are the key problem in terms of having incentives for businesses to set up in town centres at present. This amendment would provide a way through that for town centre investment zones in the absence of longer-term reform.

Related to that, there are several other important features of the amendment that I would highlight. First, the Bill sensibly includes the need for a consultation to drill down into the detail on how this policy will work in the long term. It also includes a mechanism to ensure, critically, that local authorities do not suffer any financial loss as a result of these regulations. The Government have made progress in this area recently. I noted with interest the announcement of high street accelerators in the recent anti-social behaviour action plan; I believe that around £2.5 million of funding has been announced in 10 key areas.

This is encouraging progress but I encourage the Government to look at this issue carefully and go much further. If we are really going to put an end to years of decline on the high street, a more permanent, long-term solution is needed. Policy announcements such as high street accelerators are welcome but, by not having any basis in statute, they are always vulnerable to changing priorities. Without powers to reduce business rates, the incentives on offer may not be sufficient really to change things. Having a clear vision laid down in statute would give investors and other stakeholders the long-term certainty needed to transform the regeneration of town centres and make them the busy centres of retail activity that we all agree they should be.

The benefits to the Government doing this are clear: if the Minister accepts my amendment, the Government will have in the Bill a mechanism that will both begin to drive real change on high streets in the near term, and make the levelling-up agenda real on our high streets for all those who use them and the many more who will do so in future if we can make progress on this issue.

My Lords, I shall finish speaking to our amendments in this group, if that is okay; apologies for the confusion.

Our amendments in this group reflect what we see as a series of missed opportunities in what should be a Bill that will facilitate the regeneration that is needed across the country, both to re-energise our economy and high streets and to harness the opportunities of science and technology, a new green economy and a wave of sustainable housebuilding. We also want to ensure that the regeneration element of this Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill is front and centre, not just for the major cities of the UK but for the towns, new towns, coastal communities, rural communities and market towns that feel left behind by a combination of the austerity measures imposed by government and the intense focus on a few of our major cities.

I was pleased to see in an article in Saturday’s Financial Times that the approach taken in my hometown, Stevenage, is being flagged up in an industry report, More than Stores, which says that town centres looking to reinvent themselves must blend their retail spaces with mixed residential housing, flexible office space, leisure and entertainment options, healthcare and historical heritage, which can turn high streets into lived-in spaces. The need to diversify, with more inventive uses for town centres, comes from a growing shift to online shopping. The Centre for Retail Research says that 17,000 shops closed in the UK in 2022, so our town centres must become community, visitor and business hubs, or they will not succeed.

Our Amendment 487 seeks to understand how areas are expected to have access to equal levels of infrastructure by setting a minimal level of infrastructure provision across the country. It is difficult to see how any genuine levelling up can take place when there is such different provision of medical, education, training, public transport and leisure infrastructure, and green space. Understanding the infrastructure deficit that an area is experiencing could also help us focus on what is needed from the infrastructure levy as that develops.

We do not believe that signage for local areas should be subject to national control. Therefore, our Amendment 489 would enable local authorities to provide the kind of signage that meets their local needs. Markets provide a much-needed boost to local economies. At their best, they enable new businesses to start up with relatively low costs, encouraging diversity in trading, improving footfall for town centres and high streets, and giving a much-needed outlet for growers and makers to market and sell their products. Amendment 490, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman, probes what support is available for town markets and whether the Government see these important contributors to our local economies as part of the wider regeneration picture.

The Bill seems to be silent on some of the key aspects of regeneration. The elements of the most successful regeneration projects must be captured and shared. Our Amendment 491 probes whether the Government will review how the introduction of homes in town centres and high streets and the regeneration of empty spaces to provide flexible working space can form key aspects of regeneration, and then bring forward further legislation to enable that.

Amendments 493, 494 and 495, respectively on market towns, coastal communities and new towns, ask Ministers to act quickly, within one year of the Bill being enacted, to gather information and best practice and to publish strategies for their regeneration. The issues faced by these differing communities are well documented. For example, because the infrastructure of first-generation new towns was built within a relatively short timescale, it is all deteriorating at the same time rather than incrementally, as would be the case for a town that has developed in a more iterative way. Our coastal communities have suffered a loss of their key industries, in some cases exacerbated by Brexit. As their infrastructure deteriorates, they find themselves in a spiral of decline. We believe there is a role for government in supporting regeneration for these left-behind communities.

Amendment 496, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman, reflects the concerns expressed about air quality in many of the previous discussions in Committee. In view of the well-documented health implications of poor air quality, surely it is time we had a national ambition in this respect. We could then begin to implement the planning changes that may be needed to achieve the targets.

I referred earlier to the aspiration we must have to ensure that the economy is geared to decarbonising our economy, and, as we do so, to create the jobs and skills needed for these new energies and to generate the sustainable energy we need for this country’s future. Amendment 497, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman, requires the Government to produce a green prosperity plan in order to be clear about how a new green economy can contribute to levelling up and regeneration.

Amendment 501 again reflects many previous discussions in Committee about the importance of the link between nature and levelling up. We are asking the Government to assess the extent to which they will improve access to nature for deprived communities, give duties to local authorities in respect of the recovery of nature and require them to set nature restoration targets. The Institute for Government has been critical of the process of awarding levelling up funds, saying:

“Those areas winning bids will no doubt welcome the money, and the projects funded will improve some local areas. But as a UK-wide policy the Levelling Up Fund lacks the scale or focus to move the dial on the substantial and persistent gaps in regional economic performance that the government has pledged to address through its levelling up agenda. Nor is the model of awarding money to local projects based on central government competitions an effective one”.

The local government community has also been very concerned about the operation and cost of the levelling up fund and its effectiveness in driving the aims of the White Paper. Amendment 502 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman would require the Government to carry out a review of this fund and what it has achieved so far in terms of levelling up. Our Amendment 504GE would require an equalities analysis of the spending that has been undertaken in relation to the levelling up fund so far, to determine how equalities analysis and evidence has informed spending decisions.

We have seen some welcome relocation of government departments around the regions and nations of the UK, but we question whether this is going fast enough or far enough. The lessons learned regarding flexible and virtual working from the Covid pandemic surely mean that now is the time for a radical redistribution of civil service jobs, still largely concentrated in central London, to different locations. Our Amendment 503 asks for a thoroughgoing review to be conducted by Ministers to maximise the impact of civil service jobs in areas where this would contribute to levelling up.

High quality, reliable and affordable child care is a key factor in ensuring that parents can take their full role in the economy and in supporting their family. Our Amendment 504A probes whether removing the clauses in the Childcare Act 2006 that preclude councils from running their own childcare provision would help to make sure that they can contribute to providing adequate childcare in their area.

We are concerned about reports that the Treasury has withdrawn co-operation on capital projects with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and that this will result in potentially catastrophic consequences for the implementation of the levelling up provisions in the Bill. Our Amendment 504GD probes whether this matter is under active management by the Government and whether the Secretary of State has powers to instigate capital projects that will be essential for levelling up.

We believe a real boost could be provided to town centre regeneration by the introduction of town centre investment zones, so my noble friend Lady Hayman is pleased to be a signatory to Amendment 504GG in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord Mawson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. The conditions set out in subsection (3) of this amendment are the proven elements of a successful regeneration and we believe they should be a precondition for the designation of a TCIZ: a clear long-term vision for the investment zone; a strategy for bringing together local initiatives and council services; existing or historic town centre features within the designated area; a clear collaboration between local residents and businesses to undertake planning for the TCIZ; and the presence of a master plan, business neighbourhood plan or town centre area action plan. For those areas achieving designation as a TCIZ, there should be powers to discount business rates in the area designated. This amendment also includes an important clause to require the Secretary of State to ensure that local authorities will not suffer any net financial loss as a result of such regulations.

Amendment 504GJH in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, requires government to set up a register of schools and hospitals in serious disrepair. We have already seen terrible examples, such as an A&E department held up by steel support bars as medical staff have to carry out their life-saving work weaving in and out between them. The promises, unfulfilled so far, of 40 new hospitals must ring very hollow to the staff working in those conditions. Too many of our schools operate using temporary buildings that are inefficient and expensive in energy terms, and far from ideal in the learning environment they offer. Thinking back to the days of the innovative and forward-thinking Building Schools for the Future programme, one of its drivers was to ensure that the buildings in which young people learned also helped to improve their self-esteem and aspirations for the future.

I am sorry to have taken some time over that, but it is important that the regeneration aspects of the Bill take equal prominence with all its other aspects.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, is absolutely right about the importance of the amendments on regeneration in this group. I want to bring together two of them that I think are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, refers in Amendment 504GG to town centre investment zones. That is a highly original and very important suggestion, so I hope the Minister gives it government support.

The other is Amendment 503 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which is about Civil Service redistribution. It calls for a review into whether redistributing Civil Service jobs to different locations throughout the UK will support implementation of the Bill. That seems an important outcome that the Government should assess.

I suggest that, when Civil Service jobs are redistributed, they should be redistributed to town centres and locations close to high streets. We had a long debate earlier about the importance of investing in high streets, and here is a classic example of how the Government can use public money to bring jobs closer to where those employees will then shop. The Government have an active travel plan at the centre of their transport thinking. If they were to apply that rule to the relocation of Civil Service jobs, they would not relocate any Civil Service jobs to business parks out of the centres of our towns and cities. In other words, if there are proposals from those undertaking town centre investment zones and those in Whitehall who are redistributing jobs out of London to elsewhere in the UK, ensuring that they help generate jobs in high streets and town centres seems a very helpful way of proceeding.

This group contains a number of suggestions for regeneration. I just hope that the Government see the opportunity we have here and ensure that, when they redistribute Civil Service jobs, they do so in existing town centres and high streets.

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Ravensdale’s Amendment 504GG, which is practical and puts some real drive into our town centres.

I want to quote a colleague of mine from the north-west of England about her town centre, the fragmentation that she feels is going on and the opportunity being missed. She said:

“When I look at the 7”

connecting levelling-up schemes,

“what I feel is missing is the coherent and comprehensive consideration of the Old Town as a ‘place’. One ‘place’. A place where people live and have their businesses, not just somewhere people stop by to solely pop into the new health and education hub for an X-ray, or the new Buddhist temple for meditation or the new youth and arts provision or the upgraded theatre to watch a play. What I fear may happen is some lovely new buildings going up in amongst some really run down streets, which will surely only be made to look even worse. I get that the money available isn’t an endless pot. I get that a number of the properties have private landlords, but what I didn’t get is the approach and ambition of aiming to elevate the place as a whole. Many of the shops are vacant and the Council must be taking empty business rates from the landlords. I wonder if there is a strategy to bring those landlords into the debate about”

reconnecting the town,

“so that the 7 schemes aren’t just 7 pieces of a bigger jigsaw where”

the real opportunity

“has been lost!”

As I say, this amendment puts real drive and economic practicality into our town centres. I work a lot across the north of England and see a lot of fragmentation. Individual little schemes will not make a difference. There need to be real practical drivers, and what my noble friend Lord Ravensdale is suggesting is possibly one of them.

My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 491 in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage. Currently, most government funding for affordable housing focuses on net additionality of new homes. This is much needed but it can lead to a loss of development potential and a lack of investment in the physical quality of existing communities. Without housing-specific regeneration funding streams, regeneration is virtually impossible to fund in lower-value areas, where there is little scope for cross subsidy from market scaling.

Last week, Homes England published its strategic plan, emphasising a renewed focus on regeneration. It was welcome to see this plan recognise the key role that housing associations should play in place-making, as well as the importance of sustainability in new communities. However, there is a lack of clarity about whether this would be accompanied by new regeneration funding or a flexibility around the use of AHP funds to deliver regeneration. This amendment, which also seeks clarity over the Government’s regeneration proposals, would be a step in the right direction. At present, there is a lack of strategic direction in the Government’s plans to deliver housing-led regeneration, yet regeneration is crucial if the Government are serious about delivering their economic and skills agenda while also helping to deliver quality and sustainable affordable homes across the country.

I hope noble Lords will bear with me because there was some confusion over the position of this group in the list. Some of us had an earlier list, where it appeared much later.

I have tabled Amendment 504GJH, about the state of schools and hospitals. At the heart of levelling up is the need to provide good-quality education to young people across the country and that means good-quality buildings in which children can go to school. Where schools are in disrepair and cannot be used appropriately, children are at a disadvantage, particularly, say, in secondary education with science blocks that are out of date so that children will not be able to do modern science experiments.

The quality of school buildings in this country is very important and a department report from December 2022 highlighted the critical level of disrepair in many of our school buildings across the country. This prompted me to lay this amendment to this part of the Bill. The annual report said that officials have raised the risk level of school buildings collapsing to “very likely” after an increase in serious structural issues being reported, especially in blocks built in the post-war years, 1945 to 1970.

The type of structure used has led to the quite rapid deterioration of those buildings. I said earlier that I was a school governor for a number of years. The school had a science block built in the early 1970s that was condemned for these very reasons, so I know how accurate this is.

If we are talking about levelling up and regeneration, at its heart should be public services, school buildings and the quality of the education delivered within them. It is school buildings that I am pointing to today. The report said that the risk level for school buildings had been escalated, as I said, from “critical” to “very likely”.

The difficulty is that, because so many school buildings were built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with this sort of metal structure, there is a huge call on government funding. It is called a light frame system, I think; it is a steel structure anyway. Every one of us will have buildings like that where we live. I want this Bill to focus on doing something about school buildings and hospitals that we know about. The Government have committed to 40 new hospitals—five more have just been added—because they are falling down. That is not right. We are talking about regeneration and levelling up. Having school buildings and hospitals collapsing shows the level of investment that will be needed if we are genuinely going to try to level up across this country.

My Lords, Amendment 476, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, looks to give a minimum height for letterboxes. It is important to ensure that doors in homes include letterboxes at a height that does not cause injury, risk or inconvenience. We have researched the safety and accessibility of letterbox heights to establish the evidence with which to amend existing statutory guidance applicable in England. The Government are committed to reviewing their building regulations statutory guidance and any references to third-party guidance on the position of letterboxes. We intend to include the recommended height for letterboxes in statutory guidance.

I turn to Amendment 487 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. Clause 124 and Schedule 11 to the Bill introduce the infrastructure levy in England. The new infrastructure levy will aim to capture land value uplift at a higher level than the current system of developer contributions, meaning that there will be a greater contribution from developers towards the type of infrastructure to which the noble Baroness referred. Under new Section 204Q in Schedule 11, local authorities will be required to produce infrastructure delivery strategies. These strategies will set out how they intend to spend their levy proceeds. In preparing these strategies, local authorities will be expected to engage with the relevant infrastructure providers to understand what infrastructure will be needed to support new development in their areas. In this way, local authorities will be able to take a more strategic view of the infrastructure that will be required to support development in their areas.

On Amendments 489, 490, 491, 493, 494 and 495, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Government agree that regeneration is important in our new towns, coastal towns and market towns and recognise the contribution that markets can make to the vibrancy and diversity of our high streets, which is essential to levelling up the country. In this legislation, we are committed to going further in supporting places to tackle blight and to revive our high streets within these areas. The legislation builds on a far-reaching existing support package for high streets and town centres, including £3.6 billion investment in the towns fund, £4.8 billion investment in the levelling-up fund and £2.6 billion in the shared prosperity fund, along with support from the high streets task force.

On Amendment 496 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, this Government have recently set ambitious new targets for air quality through the Environment Act 2021. These will drive action to reduce PM2.5 where concentrations are highest—often within our busiest towns and cities—reducing disparities as well as reducing average exposure across the country. The Environment Act 2021 established a framework for setting these and any future environmental targets. There is already a comprehensive legal framework governing air pollution, which works in a coherent and complementary way with established national emissions ceilings and concentration targets for a wide range of air pollutants from a variety of sources.

On Amendment 497, the UK has a plan for meeting net zero and the transition will provide huge opportunities for jobs, investment, innovation and exports. The UK is leading the world on tackling climate change and developing green jobs. Between 1990 and 2021, we have cut emissions by 48% while growing our economy by 65%. In 2020, there were over 400,000 green jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains across the country. The Government are committed to delivering a clean, secure and independent energy system for the long term, demonstrated by the British energy security strategy. The Government have published their formal response to Chris Skidmore MP’s independent net-zero review. Through the Budget and the net-zero growth plan, the Government have acted decisively to the historic opportunity that the review set out. Our plans for net zero go hand in hand with the levelling-up agenda. The Government’s major economic growth programmes, such as the levelling-up fund and the shared prosperity fund, have guidance that indicates that proposed projects should be aligned to and support net-zero goals.

On Amendment 501, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Government are already implementing measures that will increase public access to nature, many of which are targeted towards disadvantaged communities. All public authorities already have a legal duty to consider what action they can take to conserve and enhance biodiversity and to take that action. Additionally, local authorities and local planning authorities must publish biodiversity reports every five years, outlining the action that they have taken. Defra has published guidance to help authorities to comply with the duty. In the environmental improvement plan published by Defra in January, there is a commitment to work across government to ensure that everyone, including those in deprived areas, lives within a 15-minute walk of a green or blue space.

On Amendment 503, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Government’s Places for Growth programme is relocating 22,000 roles from London to locations across the UK by 2030. It will also ensure that 50% of UK-based senior civil servants will be based outside London by 2030. Places for Growth is contributing towards the Government’s levelling-up agenda by providing an economic boost in cities and towns across the UK through the relocation of civil and public service roles. It will bring a range of benefits in the context of levelling up as a greater number of roles are relocated over time. These benefits are being considered as part of the delivery of the programme. A full impact assessment will be carried out when the greater concentration of roles has been relocated, towards the end of the programme.

Amendment 504A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to make it easier for local authorities to provide childcare directly. Where local authorities identify a childcare need that cannot be met by other means, or that they deem more appropriate to provide themselves, they are already able to establish their own provision under the powers contained in the Childcare Act.

On Amendment 504GD in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is working within a new delegation approach with the Treasury, which involves Treasury sign-off on new capital spend. Reports that DLUHC requires approval from HM Treasury for new capital projects will not impact on the levelling-up agenda. The recent change relates only to new projects, and there is no change to the decision-making framework for existing capital programmes. Moreover, noble Lords will be aware that in the usual course of departmental business the majority of programmes would require HMT approval in any case.

On Amendment 504GE in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the levelling up fund supports the missions set out in the White Paper through investment in infrastructure that improves everyday life for local residents across the country. The Government have published significant amounts of information relating to the assessment and decision-making process used in the first two rounds of the levelling up fund.

On Amendment 504GG in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, we appreciate the intent behind encouraging partnership working but that can be incentivised more effectively through non-legislative mechanisms; for example, partnership working could be a requirement for high street funding or support, as envisaged in the recently announced high street accelerator pilot programme. The Government already provide generous business rates relief to high street businesses. As a result of small business rates relief, over 700,000 businesses pay no rates at all. Furthermore, in 2023-24 eligible retail, leisure and hospitality businesses will receive 75% off their bills, up to a maximum of £110,000 per business.

Regarding Amendment 504GJ in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the levelling up White Paper set out the importance of investment in human capital—that is, the knowledge, skills and experience of the workforce—and the need for investment in skills to boost living standards and support the transition to net zero.

We are rolling out local skills improvement plans. They will bring together colleges and other providers, employers, Jobcentre Plus and other local players to identify skills needs and the capacity that the area has to deliver them. We are also building on the success of our flagship apprenticeships programme by putting employers at the heart of the system. By summer 2023 most of the country will have an LSIP development approved by the Secretary of State for Education. The Bill already sets out clear timescales for when Parliament and the public will be able to scrutinise the missions via the statement of missions, as well as progress towards them via the annual report.

Amendment 504GJH, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raises the important issue of school and hospital safety. The NHS publishes annually the Estates Returns Information Collection, which already provides detailed information on levels of backlog maintenance across the estate—the main metric used to quantify hospital building conditions.

The Department for Education sent qualified surveyors into nearly every school in England to assess their condition. It has shared reports with the schools and published summary findings. The department plans to publish more detailed data at school level as soon as possible. A new data collection is under way to provide updated information. So moving to a three-monthly review process, as the amendment proposes, would represent a significant increase in the reporting burden that currently falls on NHS trusts and the school sector, for little gain.

With these reassurances, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her full reply. I do not intend to go through all the aspects again; I spoke for long enough earlier on, and it is very late.

I thank noble Lords for their support on letterboxes. I think this is the first time while I have been working on the Bill that the Government have accepted a proposal that we have put forward, for which I will be eternally grateful. I am sure that many of our colleagues across the party-political spectrum, not to mention all those lovely people who deliver our post every day, will be delighted with that response from the Government.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his thoughtful amendment, which we also put our name to, and his key points about how we should manage the regeneration of our town centres. That should be much more front and centre of the Bill than it is. I hope the Government will think about that, and about how we ensure that we put in place the right environment, and the right steps, to encourage that vital regeneration.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Warwick for mentioning the key role that affordable housing needs to play in relation to regeneration. We have had many debates in Committee on affordable housing and what it can do, but we simply will not have levelling up unless people have decent places to live. The current definition of affordable housing is unlikely to deliver that. Again, I hope that we will make some progress on that as part of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about public services being at the heart of levelling up. The buildings in which those public services are delivered are really key. If a child is going into a temporary building for their education, that does nothing for their aspirations or feelings of self-esteem, so that amendment is absolutely key.

I am grateful to the Minister for recognising our amendments on market towns, coastal communities and new towns. Yes, there has been some funding through the levelling up fund but of course those communities have been set in competition with one another for that fund, so some of them get funding and some do not. All those communities need some support.

On the Minister’s comments on the green prosperity plan amendment, I fear that the net-zero nirvana which she talked about is not quite as close as she indicated it might be. In the levelling up fund, there are some conditions around net zero but a lot of that is to do with walking and cycling. The really key issues around skills, training and energy generation have not been reached, so far, in the way that we would want to see levelling up affecting them. There is a way to go with that yet. That said, in view of the late hour, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 476 withdrawn.

Amendment 477

Moved by

477: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Devolution Bill(1) Within 120 days of the passing of this Act, a Minister of the Crown must publish draft legislation titled the Devolution Bill.(2) The Bill must include provisions for CCAs to request further powers for the purposes of supporting local economic growth, rebalancing the economy and equalising living standards across the United Kingdom. (3) The powers may relate to, but are not limited to—(a) housing;(b) energy;(c) childcare;(d) buses;(e) trains;(f) skills, training and employment.(4) The Bill must also include provisions for a new framework of cooperation between CCAs and the Government based on mutual respect.”Member's explanatory statement

This would ensure a Minister publishes draft legislation for a Devolution Bill.

My Lords, the hope for this Bill was that it would be a genuine step towards devolution—the kind of radical power shift that is needed to empower local communities to re-energise our economy, right across the UK, and reshape our public services so that they work equally effectively wherever you live because they are flexible enough to meet local needs. Instead, in too many aspects the Bill is centralising, with government having to give a sign-off to new structures, the introduction of centralised NDMPs and the mysterious office for place, and the imposition of an infrastructure levy, with its inherent risk that the Treasury may see it as a funding pot from which to fund national infrastructure.

The Bill also contains a presumption that areas and regions of the UK will get the funding they need to move forward only if they meet the Government’s model of what is needed. This may very well exacerbate the inequalities that the Bill attempts to address. Surely those operating at local level are more likely to know what is needed for their area. Instead of addressing the power imbalance between the nations and regions of the UK, the Bill attempts to face in too many directions at once. It includes a planning Bill, a local government structures Bill, an environment Bill and so many other projects and programmes, some with fairly tenuous links to levelling up and regeneration, as we have heard today. It has so much hanging from it that it has become a bit of a Christmas tree Bill.

There was so much potential with this Bill to build on the very successful and radical work of community wealth building, in which the UK is taking a very leading role in using the power of public sector funding, combined with key collaboration and innovation from the private sector, to drive local economies. However, this locally driven regeneration of economies is set aside for a set of government missions that are not even on the face of the Bill but against which any funding bids or requests for governance changes are measured and which come direct from Westminster.

We were hopeful that something like a departmental style single grant to local authorities would allow flexibility in determining priorities and strategic goals. There is a strong case for going further and faster. I have commented before in your Lordships’ House on the fact that the UK is the most centralised country in Europe. Currently around 95p in every £1 paid in tax goes to central government, compared with 69p in decentralised Germany. Granting greater revenue raising and borrowing powers to local government would be good for democracy and ensure accountability.

If the Government are nervous about that, they could pick up the idea of local public accounts committees. Comparative research by the OECD has found that decentralisation is positively linked to GDP growth and local investment. It is difficult to see how levelling up will ever reach its full potential without the fiscal firepower to match the political determination.

In the excellent Commission on the Future of Localism, carried out under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—I should declare for transparency that I was one of the localism commissioners on that project—he identified what was needed:

“A fundamental rebalancing of power to people and communities requires more than tinkering around the edges. Localism needs to be approached as part of a complex system which requires radical action. Achieving change in a complex system requires a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviours, as well as changes to underlying structures and mechanisms which drive how the system operates. Change is required in … resources, policies, power structures and values”.

It is hard to see how this Bill as it currently stands will drive forward the radical cross-departmental thinking to make these changes. I concede that it does definitely offer a little more than “tinkering around the edges”, but it does not offer radical reform either.

The problems to an extent start and end with funding. While government funding for levelling up is restricted to the budget of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities—not even that at the moment if it is correct that the Treasury has frozen capital spending for that department—they cannot hope to rebalance power to the people and communities and between our nations and regions.

We also need radical transformational change to financial institutions, such as the move to regional mutual banks outlined so powerfully by my noble friend Lady Hayman in an earlier group. It is interesting to see that the Welsh Government are already making good progress on this.

That is why we think further action will be necessary, so our Amendment 477 requires the Government to pass a dedicated devolution Bill. We must surely give CCAs, by right, powers which include but are not limited to, housing, energy, childcare, public transport, skills, training and development. Most of the provisions of the Bill have been introduced without sufficient consultation with the sector, which is why the second part of our amendment requires that a new devolution Bill introduce a framework of co-operation between CCAs and the Government based on mutual respect. I beg to move our amendment.

My Lords, I will add a very brief footnote to the speech we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. Amendment 477 asks for a devolution Bill. In a sense that takes us back to the beginning.

In September 2019, at my party conference, the then Chancellor announced that there would be a White Paper on English devolution. The Queen’s Speech in 2019 said that the Government would publish a White Paper on

“unleashing regional potential in England”.

The following year the then Minister, Simon Clarke, said in answer to a Parliamentary Written Question on 9 July that

“our English Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper will set out our plans for expanding devolution”.

It was hoped to publish that in autumn 2020.

After that, the line went dead. In 2021, it was announced that the plans for strengthening local accountable leadership would be included in the levelling up White Paper—so what was initially going to be about devolution morphed into being about levelling up. There is inevitable tension between devolution, on the one hand, and levelling up, on the other. Devolution is about pushing decisions down to the local level; levelling up is about ironing out the differences between regions, which, inevitably, means more central control. This dilemma has gone all the way through the Bill, and indeed through the White Paper—it was not the White Paper on devolution, it was the White Paper on levelling up. There are some powerful words in the foreword by the then Prime Minister:

“We’ll usher in a revolution in local democracy”.

But we have not seen that.

To take a very small example, I proposed a very modest amendment that would enable local planning authorities to recover the costs of running the planning department—something that at the moment is set nationally. Far from ushering in new local democracy, that decision has to rest in Whitehall. Instead of pushing spending down to the local level and letting local people get on with it, we have all the pots people have to bid for: the levelling up fund, the pothole action fund—which, I think, has now been added to that list—the future high street fund and the towns fund. The thing about all those funds is that the final decision is taken centrally, not locally. So the question I pose to my noble friend is: when it comes to devolution, is this it? Is this all we are going to get?

We are approaching the end of a Parliament, and there may not be time for fresh thinking, but I agree with the thrust of what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said: we are overcentralised and need to push decisions down locally. To do that, we need a buoyant source of local revenue, which local government does not have at the moment. When I looked at Amendment 477, the word “devolution” caught my eye. I felt that somebody ought to draw attention to the tension between levelling up, on the one hand, and devolution on the other. To my mind, there is too much about levelling up but not nearly enough about devolution. I suspect that, at some point, whoever is in control in the next Parliament will have to come back to devolution.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for reminding us how we got to where we are. He was absolutely right on every single point he made. This is terribly important, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for giving us the amendment. If I have one criticism, it is that I am not sure we are yet at a Bill stage. Although it says “draft legislation” in subsection (1) of the proposed new clause—I understand that—I personally favour a royal commission or something that would actually look at the nature of local government and central government powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, has rightly identified the difficulty of devolving and at the same time levelling up, which, as he said, requires a greater element of centralised control. I have said several times over the course of this Bill, and before, that you cannot run England out of London; with 56 million people, we are steadily learning that. One of the reasons we are having these constant changes in the Government’s intentions for Bills is that they do not know either what they want to do—so, in the end, the Civil Service carries on and Ministers carry on trying to move forward.

There are elements in the Bill which are very important in assisting us down the road of greater devolution, and they lie in the combined county authorities. The more we have combined county authorities—much though I do not like the centralisation which can result, because they do not have, for example, a Greater London assembly; they do not have a structure such as that to underpin them—the more we will have a move away from Whitehall.

I do not want to say any more about that; I welcome what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, has proposed in this amendment. I think we should note what the noble Lord, Lord Young, said about the overall situation that we are in, but I hope that the Government and the Minister will see the importance of trying to bring all this together, because inevitably we are going to come back to this on Report anyway, as we look at the first parts of the Bill that, in Committee, we debated many weeks ago. I welcome the amendment and I hope the Government will see that there would be benefit in moving us forward, not just with structures like the combined counties but actually with real devolution of real things.

My Lords, this amendment, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to place an obligation on a Minister of the Crown to publish draft legislation for a devolution Bill within 120 days of this Bill receiving Royal Assent. We support the principle behind this amendment—that combined county authorities can request further powers which would enable activity to help drive economic growth and support levelling up.

In fact, we have already gone further than this in the devolution offer set out in the levelling up White Paper. This sets out a clear menu of options for places in England that wish to unlock the benefits of devolution, whether that is moving towards a London-style transport system to connect people to opportunity, improving local skills provision or being able to act more flexibly and innovatively to respond to local need. Any area, including those considering a combined county authority, is welcome to come forward and ask government to confer local authority and public authority functions as part of devolution deal negotiations. The levelling up White Paper has confirmed that the devolution framework is not a minimum offer. These asks are typically made as part of devolution deal negotiations.

We recognise that our existing mayors are already playing a powerful role in driving local economic growth and levelling up. That is why the Government plan to deepen the devolution settlements of the most mature institutions. The White Paper committed to trailblaze deeper devolution deals with the Greater Manchester and West Midlands combined authorities. These agreements were announced on 15 March 2023 and include many areas which will support these regions to drive growth and prosperity, including on skills, transport, housing and net zero, alongside single funding settlements and stronger accountability focused on outcomes.

These deals will act a blueprint for other areas with mature institutions to follow. This will include combined county authorities, once established. Ultimately, our aim is to achieve the local leadership levelling-up mission: that, by 2030, all parts of England that want one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

I say to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham that, actually, devolution is what we want to deliver the local leadership that is required to level up this country. Devolution is part of the levelling up in the Bill, along with many other things to enable the levelling up of the United Kingdom. As such, I hope the noble Baroness agrees that this amendment is unnecessary and feels she can withdraw it.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for participating in the debate and to the Minister for her response. The noble Lord, Lord Young, was absolutely spot-on to point to the tension between devolution and levelling up. All the way through our discussions on the Bill, we have felt that tension; we kept coming back to it, because there is an essential tension there. He mentioned the number of funding streams—planning fees, bidding fees, pothole action funds, the towns fund—which are all funds that local areas have to bid for, and they are not a buoyant source of local revenue. They are not renewable: if you want more, you have to go back to government and ask for more. What we actually need are those local revenue-generating sources that would enable that economic regeneration in our own areas. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, suggested that this might need some sort of a commission to run to in order to demonstrate what you need to do to shift this.

When I listen to the comments by the Minister, I understand why she is saying what she is saying about what is being done now, but it is almost as if the Government are too close to this and do not realise that all the things that are on offer—such as the devolution deal that you might get—have to be asked for and approved by the Government. It is not about what you want for your local area; it is whether the Government think what you want for your local area is the right thing. It is the same with funding: if you want a funding bid, you have to go to the Government to get that funding approved. It is still a very cap-in-hand approach. My view is that government should give local areas the powers to generate their own funding, open up regional financial institutions to enable that and let us get on with the job. We know what works best for our local areas. I will withdraw the amendment for now, but I am pretty sure we will come back to this on Report.

Amendment 477 withdrawn.

Amendment 478

Moved by

478: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Solar panel requirements for new homes and buildingsThe Secretary of State must, within the period of six months beginning on the day this Act is passed, exercise the power under section 1 of the Building Act 1984 (power to make building regulations) to make building regulations, including appropriate exemptions, for the purpose of requiring that all new homes and buildings built in England on or after 1 April 2025 must have solar panels installed.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would require new homes and buildings in England from 1 April 2025 to have solar panels.

My Lords, since it is a long time since I last contributed in this Committee, I start by declaring my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. Amendment 478 has cross-party support, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who signed it. Alongside Amendment 504GJE, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the amendment recognises the enormous potential of maximising the UK’s solar capacity, not only in terms of energy production but also in terms of that levelling-up agenda to which we have devoted so many hours in Committee.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to make building regulations requiring all new homes and buildings in England to be built with solar panels from 1 April 2025. It is a simple but sensible and important amendment, which recognises the need for flexibility for different types of building—not every one will be suitable—and gives appropriate exemptions. It could be aligned with the introduction of the future homes standard in 2025. As I said, rooftop solar on buildings can bring many benefits, including reducing bills, enhancing energy security, bringing jobs and skills across the whole country and decarbonising our homes.

I recognise that the Government have made welcome progress on solar since I first tabled this amendment through the commitments they made in their recent Powering Up Britain package, which adopted many of the Skidmore review recommendations. In their new energy security plan, the Government recognise the importance of solar deployment—both rooftop and ground—in decarbonising the power sector. But, as so often with government strategy in these areas of net zero and the environment, the Government use more nouns and more adjectives than verbs. This amendment tries to put some action immediately into the area of solar power. For a true rooftop revolution, much more action is needed.

Analysis by the trade body Solar Energy UK found that further efforts than those outlined in the Powering Up Britain package will be needed to secure the Government’s ambition of 70 gigawatts of solar by 2035. The recent BEIS Committee report also called for more action, recommending that the UK

“ramp up the pace at which new solar capacity is deployed”.

Regulating for rooftop solar on all new buildings is a specific, simple, straightforward action which the Government could take now. As highlighted in the Skidmore Mission Zero report, there is currently no target to make rooftop solar a standard for buildings across the UK.

I hope we have learned some of the lessons of the past when we allowed buildings to be constructed which we knew at the time would not meet the energy needs of the future. In fact, sometimes we got the regulations right once and then reneged on them and went backwards. We have ended up with buildings that are inappropriate and have to be retrofitted, which is more expensive and less effective. This is a real opportunity not to make that mistake again.

Solar for all new homes and buildings is backed by the public, by industry and by the experts. It makes financial sense and, as I say, it is much cheaper than retrofitting in years to come. Other countries have understood this and are making provision for rooftop solar on commercial and residential properties. In March, the EU agreed revisions to the energy performance of buildings directive, which will require all member states to ensure that new buildings are equipped with solar technologies where technically suitable and economically feasible—exactly what I am trying to achieve in this amendment.

The recent letter to the Government from the Environmental Audit Committee urged them to urgently address key barriers to solar deployment across the planning process, which is another debate we have had on the Bill. The committee highlighted evidence of a tendency among developers to just fit the minimum that they need, and the fact that housebuilders will build to the regulations—so we need to change the regulations. It recommended that

“the Future Homes Standard incorporate installation of solar PV … as a minimum requirement for newly constructed housing”.

That is precisely what my amendment is asking for, and it would support the government policy and ambition to increase from 14.5 gigawatts of solar now to 70 gigawatts. On that basis, I beg to move.

My Lords, I very much support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. My amendment is directed at commercial premises. When I stand on the top of the Downs above Eastbourne and look down, I see several hundred acres of white commercial roofs and associated car parks, and there is, I think, one building in that lot which has solar panels on. The reasons for this are entirely structural; they are to do with the difficulties of negotiating between the people using the building, the people who own it and the people who want to handle the electricity that is generated.

I supported the carrot in the Energy Bill—the local energy proposals—to try to get things going and give people a decent price for the energy they are generating. However, we cannot leave commercial spaces untouched if we are to take solar seriously. It is ridiculous to cover farmland with solar panels when industrial roofs and car parks are going uncovered. A carrot having been proposed in the Energy Bill, this is my proposal for a stick. This is something to enable local authorities to get things moving, and to give local landlords and building occupiers a real incentive to come on board a scheme.

After all, these premises are the places where electricity is used in the middle of a sunny day, so they ought to have solar panels to supply directly the energy they need for freezers, charging visiting cars or whatever else. They are the big energy users in the middle of the day, and they ought to have solar panels, and we ought to be pushing that.

My Lords, I should declare my interest as a director of Peers for the Planet. I shall address the two amendments in my name. I strongly support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but, in the interests of time, I shall limit my remarks on them.

Residential and commercial buildings together contribute about 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and figures from the Climate Change Committee tell us that the UK has more than 2.5 million homes and another 1.9 million other buildings—offices, hospitals, shops, et cetera. The majority of those are heated by gas boilers, which also provide hot water, and the bulk of the rest use petroleum.

The Climate Change Committee also tells us that we cannot reach net zero if we continue to use gas for heat, so changing how we heat our homes and buildings is essential to reach net zero. Ending our reliance on gas can also help to reduce the cost of living through lower energy bills—something that should give us all pause for thought during debates on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, and I know it has already been mentioned by several speakers. When we add to that the estimated quarter of a million extra jobs that will be needed, relevance to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill just increases.

The Government should be given credit for introducing the future homes standard, which aims to ensure that new homes built before 2025 will produce 75% to 80% less carbon emissions than homes built under the current building regulations. The heat and buildings strategy states that from 2025 gas boilers will be banned from all new buildings and from 2035 boilers will start to be phased out from existing buildings. As far as we know, that is still the Government’s plan.

The question then is: what will replace gas boilers? My Amendments 504GJK and 504GJL are asking the Government to apply a bit of scientific rigour to answer that question and to be guided by objective evidence as we take these momentous decisions on major changes to our infrastructure that will be with us for the next several generations.

The facts are that there are plans for a hydrogen village pilot. There has already been a heat pump pilot, albeit nearly all air source, which is different and has been shown to be 40% less energy efficient than ground source heat pumps. There have also been various central plant district heating demonstrator projects. That is all excellent, and to be applauded, but there is no plan to pilot networked ground source heat pumps, and that is a gaping gap. A demonstrator pilot is sorely needed, because although networked heat pumps have plenty in common with individual heat pumps and with district heating, and often get lumped in with one or the other, the reality is that networked heat pumps is a very different approach and need to be assessed and evaluated on its own merits.

What is it? A ground source heat pump—which I shall refer to as a GSHP—network works by installing shared network pipework containing water for multiple homes to connect to, as opposed to each home needing the space for its individual ground source heat pump. The under-street network absorbs heat from the ground at a near constant year-round 10 degrees centigrade, and applies it to each home’s heat pump, where it is condensed and increased to the heat required for space heating and hot water. It is worth noting here that in most homes, the heat pump unit will be smaller than a gas boiler.

In a GSHP network, the infrastructure is owned and paid for by a third party, with each home paying an annual fixed network fee. The best way to think about a GSHP network is that the infrastructure reflects the gas grids we currently have, which are owned by utilities, and we would in the same way pay to connect to a heat network. Ground source heat pump networks have the potential to reach parts that other heating solutions cannot.

It is claimed that networked ground source heat pumps provide the best clean heat solutions for many properties for which other solutions are not suitable. Let me just go through some of the other solutions, which are all perfectly relevant and work in the situation to which they are suited. For example, many properties, such as tower blocks or closely packed terraced houses, are not suited to individual air source heat pumps as they lack the space and distance from neighbouring properties. Additionally, as air source heat pumps use around 40% more energy than ground source heat pumps, relying exclusively on the former will place a much greater strain on the power grid and require more electricity generation capacity.

I will move straight on to hydrogen, which provides a heating solution for only a small proportion of homes due to the prohibitively high costs of producing and transporting it. There is also the safety consideration. Hydrogen is the lightest element of the periodic table and is notoriously hard to contain; it is also highly combustible, of course.

Ground source heat pump networks have the potential to reach parts that other heating solutions cannot. We need to evaluate them thoroughly and support them if they can be useful in weaning us off fossil gas. I also want to mention their use in social housing. Currently, around 200,000 high-rise social housing homes are heated by direct electric heating. Networked ground source heat pumps provide a pretty good, if not ideal, solution for many social housing properties. Air source heat pumps are not suitable for most tower blocks and the only other heat options are electric radiators or night storage heaters, which use three to four times more electricity than ground source heat pumps.

To finish, I want to mention a pilot called “Heat the Streets”. It is a world-first pilot project installing ground source heat pump networks on the public highway in the Cornish village of Stithians. It connects around 30 houses to the heat grid. It is delivering results in terms of providing proof of concepts; understanding how people take to it and whether they like it; and identifying the challenges in delivering it on a larger scale. It is proving popular with residents; a positive write-up by the BBC’s Roger Harrabin appears in the FT. It will be critical to follow up on the pilot project in Stithians and build on the lessons learned with a larger-scale pilot project, which is what my amendments are asking for. I look forward to receiving a positive response from the Minister.

Amendment 478 is on rooftop solar. I look forward to the new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, The Rooftop Revolution: Unlocking the Potential of Rooftop Solar in an Energy, Climate and Cost-of-Living Crisis, which will be launched tomorrow. It is such a shame that we have pre-empted its launch by a day. I am sure that it will strongly reinforce the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. It is good to know that since this amendment was first tabled, the Government have made positive commitments on solar, including taking forward the recommendations in the Skidmore review calling for a gear shift in delivery to achieve renewables targets, including the solar and onshore wind revolution. That is all well and good, but more must be done to achieve the Government’s “70 gigawatts by 2035” ambition. It is vital that the new solar taskforce take forward industry recommendations at the pace and scale needed.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. She has made a powerful case for ground source heat network trials, so I will not pursue that, except to note that the case is clearly much more overwhelming than the weak to non-existent case for the hydrogen trial the Government seem to want to pursue.

I will speak to Amendment 478, which has full cross-party and non-party support, and which the Green Party would have attached its name to had there been space. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, with his Amendment 504GJE, is on to an important and crucial point. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, I was going to refer noble Lords to the CPRE report, which is due out in about nine hours’ time, so we are pre-empting that a little. I also reference something that shows where we could have been—the Primrose Hill solar village in Huddersfield, which was built nearly two decades ago. Driven by pioneering local Green councillor Andrew Cooper, 79 affordable homes were built there on a brownfield site. For two decades the people there have been benefiting from the kind of housing we should have been building everywhere in the country, all of the time. That it is in a very deprived area of Huddersfield, classic levelling-up territory, demonstrates how much people have suffered because of the policy failures of the past two decades.

Rather than repeating what other people have said, I want to make a few additional points. The number of households that are retrofitting solar panels has reached its highest level in more than seven years. More than 50,000 installed them between January and March, which shows how much people want solar panels. They are going for it, but through the much more expensive, difficult and complicated method of retrofitting, rather than buying a new home that already has them on the roof, which is what Amendment 478 would provide for.

I will cross-reference certain points rather than go through everything. My honourable friend in the other place, Caroline Lucas, had a Westminster Hall debate on 22 March on rooftop solar for homes. The point was made that about two-thirds of what is currently fitted is ground mounted. It is nonsensical that we are using up ground for that. Earlier today, your Lordship’s House debated the land use strategy and the establishment of a land use commission. Surely, such as commission would be saying that there are so many things we could be doing with that land that we should not be using it for that until every roof—certainly every new roof—has solar panels fitted to it.

I want to pick up on some points that might be made in opposition to this amendment, perhaps pre-empting the Minister. Yes, it could add cost to a new property, but there would also be an estimated saving of between £974 and £1,150 per year per home. Taking into account the cost-of-living crisis, the cost would be rapidly recovered by the people living in these homes.

We want to talk about having affordable housing, and part of affordability is being able to afford to run the home on a year-to-year basis into the future. Plus, we are in a climate emergency, the world is not meeting its carbon targets, and this is one obvious way that Britain should be making a further contribution.

In the debate in the other place, it was suggested that there are other ways of doing this, and that maybe solar panels are not the answer. Of course, this amendment refers to the appropriate housing; it is not saying every single house but, more than that, solar panels do not preclude also having ground source or air source heat pumps. In fact, the combination of those two things is absolutely valuable.

There has been talk of global supply challenges, but the right political will would ensure that it is possible to source these materials outside China, where the bulk of the current issues—particularly human rights—regarding solar panels lie. There is also the question of sourcing silicon, but there are alternatives to that and breakthroughs are being made all the time. It has been suggested this may stifle innovation somehow. This is not just about delivering the basic fabric of a building that should be there; it does not mean that we cannot do many additional things as well, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, has so clearly suggested.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this group of amendments and her amendment in particular. We strongly support amendments that aim to increase renewable energy sources. This is a levelling-up Bill. One of the missions laid out in the White Paper is to increase well-being. When we think about the cost of energy at the moment, surely having well-heated homes has to be a measure of well-being in society. By supporting these amendments, we can make steps towards meeting that mission. As the noble Baroness said in the introduction to her amendment, it is simple but sensible. We completely agree.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is again really important. There is such huge potential for solar panels on commercial buildings that we completely miss. The thing that sprung to mind when I read his amendment was those colossal warehouses that can be seen along the motorways when driving along. They are in completely open space, and surely there is huge potential for putting solar panels on their roofs.

We know that, by 2050, the United Kingdom has a target to cut emissions of CO2 by 80%, but we also know that the Government are way off achieving that target. Again, as the noble Baroness said, it is really good that the Government are beginning to realise the importance and potential of solar power, following on from the Skidmore review, but as she also said, what we need is action—to make the potential of solar power a reality. If new-build homes had solar panels and the ability to store energy in batteries—which is, of course, something that we have to develop further—as a country we would clearly benefit from a fairly significant reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide. To me, it seems completely obvious: the more energy we harness from the sun, the less we need to get from fossil fuels.

Solar panels mean that, for certain parts of the year, households can enjoy being completely self-powered. This would of course bring a significant reduction to their energy bills, helping to meet that mission of well-being—yet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, there is no target for this yet. If you are going genuinely to deliver and make a difference, you need to set targets.

We have also heard that it is vastly cheaper to install solar panels on a new property than it is to fit them retrospectively. They are far more expensive to fit retrospectively. Having mandatory requirements for solar panels on new homes means that installation costs are lower and that home owners can start saving money as soon as they move into their new home.

I will also make a few comments on the interesting amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on the ground source heat network. Unlike gas and oil boilers, ground source heat pumps can heat a home without emitting any carbon into the atmosphere. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, said, we cannot meet our net-zero targets unless we tackle how we heat our homes. How we heat our homes is quite a challenge.

We know that you can have solar panels for hot water, as we have. We have thermal panels on our roof and it has made a huge difference to the amount of oil we use. Living in the middle of rural Cumbria, we have an oil boiler and we have cut back hugely. Of course, we need to use the oil boiler to heat during the winter, as others who live off the gas grid use their gas boilers. We really need to think about how we can invest in renewable alternatives to our gas and oil boilers for heating. While ground source heat pumps need electricity to operate, which is a very expensive energy resource, they use it incredibly efficiently.

In conclusion, it is important that the Government start to look at how renewable energy can be driven forward, whether through solar panels or alternatives to gas and oil boilers. If there is one thing we know, it is that we cannot carry on heating our homes with fossil fuels for ever, not only because it has a negative impact on the environment but because it simply is not sustainable. We support these amendments because we really need to be making more progress.

My Lords, Amendment 478 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require new homes and buildings in England to have solar panels as of April 2025. I acknowledge straight away that the spirit of this amendment is unimpeachable. Renewable energy, such as that generated from solar panels, is a key part of our strategy to get to net zero.

We should be aiming to see new homes and buildings built in a way that contributes to the net-zero agenda. The difference between the Government and the noble Baroness, in working towards that aim, is one of approach. I am sure she will recall that the Government introduced an uplift in energy-efficiency standards, which came into force in June 2022. The purpose of the uplift is to deliver a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions. Critically, though, it also provides a stepping stone to the future homes and buildings standards, which we are aiming to legislate for next year and which would come into force in 2025.

It is important to understand that our approach to achieving higher energy-efficiency standards has remained consistent—that is to say technology neutral—to provide developers with the flexibility to innovate and choose the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions for their sites. Some buildings may not be suitable for solar panels—for instance, homes that are heavily shaded due to nearby buildings or trees, or where the roof size or shape does not lend itself to solar panels. We fully expect, however, that to comply with the uplift, most developers will choose to install solar panels on new homes and buildings or use other low-carbon technology such as a heat pump. Introducing an amendment to mandate solar panels would therefore be largely redundant. I hope that is helpful in explaining why we do not think that this amendment is the right way to go.

I turn to Amendment 504GJE in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. This looks to allow local planning authorities to request the installation of solar panels on roofs of commercial buildings and adjoining spaces in a designated area. I am sure that we can agree that decarbonising our energy supply is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. I am not, however, convinced that giving local planning authorities powers effectively to require commercial property landowners and tenants to fit solar panels to their existing buildings and facilities is the best way to achieve this. Not all commercial landowners or tenants will be in the position to take action.

Instead, we should focus on empowering those who have the means to do so by ensuring that planning and building regulations are not a barrier. That is why we have policies in the National Planning Policy Framework, as well as permitted development rights and building standards, that support the rollout of renewable energy, including installing solar panels. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that local planning authorities should have a positive strategy in place to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources, such as solar panels. The NPPF is also clear that when determining planning applications for renewable and low carbon development, local planning authorities should approve the application if its impacts are, or can be made, acceptable. This can include the installation of solar panels.

To help facilitate the take-up of renewable energy, permitted development rights allow for the installation of rooftop solar and stand-alone ground-mounted solar in the grounds of domestic and non-domestic buildings. The Government have recently consulted on changes to the permitted development rights for solar equipment to support the solar energy objectives set out in the British energy security strategy. The consultation included proposals to amend the existing permitted development right for the installation of rooftop solar on commercial buildings and introduce a new permitted development right for solar canopies on non-domestic car parks, such as supermarkets and retail parks. The department is now considering the responses and further details will be announced in due course.

It is also worth my reverting to the point I made in response to Amendment 478. The energy efficiency changes to the building regulations that the Government recently implemented, and which came into force in June 2022, will mean that to comply with these new standards many, if not most, developers will choose to install solar panels on new commercial buildings. So, again, while I have some overall sympathy with my noble friend in bringing forward his amendment, given all that I have laid out I hope he will understand why the Government do not feel able to support it.

I listened with much interest to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. Her Amendment 504GJK proposes to create a new pilot scheme to retrofit an existing town, powered by renewable energy and heated by a ground source heat network. I am happy to bring the Committee up to date on where we are with this area of policy more generally.

The Government’s general approach to the transition to clean heat is to follow natural replacement cycles, working with the grain of markets and consumer behaviour to minimise costs and disruption and avoid early appliance scrappage. On heat network zoning specifically, the Energy White Paper, heat and buildings strategy and net zero strategy committed us to introduce heat network zoning in England by 2025. It is a key policy solution to help reach the scale of expansion of heat networks required to meet net zero.

The zoning policy will be delivered via powers in the Energy Bill to make regulations, including in relation to the development of a nationwide methodology for identifying and designating areas as heat network zones. The objective of the methodology will be to determine where heat networks are lower cost than low-carbon alternatives in an area. Incidentally, to answer a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, there is a difference between heat network zoning and converting an area to hydrogen heating. Unlike technologies such as community renewables and heat networks, using 100% hydrogen for heating is not yet an established technology.

Given the existing work under way and the Government’s general approach to the transition to clean heat, we do not believe the proposal for a pilot will deliver additional value.

Similarly, Amendment 504GJL proposes to create a pilot scheme to construct a new town powered by renewable energy and heated by a ground source heat network. I am afraid the Government do not believe that this proposal will deliver benefits additional to those already in prospect. From 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that all new homes are net-zero ready, meaning that they will become zero carbon when the electricity grid decarbonises without the need for any retrofit work. So, although the Government cannot support these last two amendments, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, will take some encouragement from the work and plans that are already under way.

I am not convinced that the heat network zoning that the Minister refers to is the same as the ground source heat pump networked grids that I am talking about. I wonder whether it would be worth having a further conversation outside of this Committee and whether the Minister would do me the courtesy of arranging that. I think this is an important point.

My Lords, I would be very happy to arrange a meeting with the noble Baroness and appropriate officials to discuss the point that she has just made.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his answer to my amendment. I take much comfort in what he said about new build and planning permission and so on, and I can see how that all might work, but I do not see any sign of proposals that will work in persuading people to retrofit, and there is huge potential there. I very much hope that in due time the Government will turn their thoughts in that direction. I would just say to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that if she knows someone who can build a new town in three years, will she please introduce them to the restoration and renewal team.

My Lords, it is coming up to the witching hour, so I will not extend this discussion any further. I am grateful for the considered response that the Minister, as ever, gave. I think that there are issues about planning decisions and integrating net zero into planning decisions at every level, which we have discussed at other stages and which we may well come back to. But, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 478 withdrawn.

Amendment 479

Moved by

479: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—

“Interaction with the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023Within 90 days of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the interaction of this Act with any Act of Parliament resulting from the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill that was introduced into the House of Commons on 22 September 2022.”Member's explanatory statement

This means that the Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the interaction of this Act with the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

My Lords, I have the only amendment in this group. I will be brief because it is pretty straightforward and I hope I can have a reasonably straightforward response from the Minister as there is no complexity around this.

Amendment 479 asks the Secretary of State to publish an assessment of the interaction of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, with the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, or Act as it will be. I asked about this in the REUL Bill discussions that we had. It is really around the Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003, which are included in the list in the REUL Bill. The reason I want to raise this here is because, as it affects environmental impact assessments, I feel we need to put on the record the fact that it will interact with the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill because this is proposing extensive powers for a new system of environmental impact assessments to replace the current regulations which include the water resources regulations.

The powers in this Bill streamline and simplify current requirements, which would be applied to all EIA regulations. I am aware that DLUHC is currently consulting on those proposals, including with the devolved Administrations, for new regulations to be considered next year. If the water resources EIA is on the list that we have been given for revocation in the REUL Bill, how does that work with the revision of environmental impact assessments in this Bill? I beg to move.

My Lords, I am conscious of the time, the fact that we have now been debating amendments for many hours and that colleagues on all sides of the Committee are tired. I think we should wrap up the business for the day.

My noble friend the Minister needs to respond but, while he does so, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and I could have a usual channels chat.

My Lords, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill creates the powers for the Government to amend retained EU law and will remove the special status of retained EU law in the UK. On 17 May, the House agreed a government amendment to replace the previously proposed sunset of retained EU law in the Bill with a list of retained EU law for revocation at the end of 2023. This provides clarity to the House and certainty for business by making it clear which legislation will be revoked. Powers in the Bill that allow us to continue to amend retained EU law remain, so further regulation can be revoked or r