My Lords, in begging to move that the Bill do now pass, I extend my thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed to a very detailed and proper scrutiny of this Bill. It is not possible for me to thank everyone individually, for which I hope I will be forgiven, but there are a few people I would like to mention specifically.
First, I am sure that the whole House will recognise and wish to thank my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook for the extraordinary amount of time and effort she has dedicated to the passage of this Bill, both inside and outside the Chamber. Her hard work and dedication have been an example to us all. It is equally appropriate for me to express gratitude to Opposition Peers, most notably the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage, on the Labour Front Bench and, for the Liberal Democrats, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, in their turn. My noble friend Lady Scott and I are grateful to them all for the fairness and good nature of our engagement and debate throughout the Bill’s passage. That far-off halcyon time when the levelling-up Bill did not figure in their weekly workload must seem an aeon ago.
I also thank those on the Back Benches for their many constructive contributions, in particular my noble friends Lord Moylan, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, Lord Lansley, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Lucas, Lord Caithness and Lord Trenchard, as well as the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Randerson, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Hayman, and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Shipley, Lord Crisp, Lord Best, Lord Lytton and Lord Carrington—and there have been many others.
The House of Lords Public Bill Office, the House clerks and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel also have my admiration and gratitude for their extraordinary hard work. Last, but certainly not least, I pay tribute to all the members of the Bill team. If ever there was a Bill team deserving of our fulsome thanks, it is this one. The team officials in DLUHC are those I principally have in mind, but many others from departments across government have made an invaluable contribution to the delivery of this Bill. Again, on my noble friend’s behalf and my own, I thank them all for their immense hard work, patience and professionalism over these many months.
This Bill creates the foundations and tools necessary to address entrenched geographic disparities across the UK. It is designed to ensure that this Government and future Governments set clear, long-term objectives for levelling up and can be held to account for its progress. The Bill devolves powers to all areas in England where there is demand for it, empowering local leaders to regenerate their towns and cities and restore pride in places. It also strengthens protections for the environment, making sure that the delivery of better environmental outcomes is at the heart of planning decision-making. I hope that we can all wish it a fair wind. I beg to move.
My Lords, may I say on behalf of the whole House that my noble friend Lord Howe has also borne some of the burden of getting the Bill through? No one can say “No” more politely than my noble friend, as he has had to do to a large number of my amendments.
The only point I really want to make is this: I have done 49 years in Parliament and I have never known a Bill quite like this one. I wonder whether my noble friend can tell the House whether any lessons have been learned from the passage of this Bill—which I think has now taken 24 days in your Lordships’ House —against the background of yesterday when we were told that there will be yet another planning Bill to deal with infrastructure. I express the hope that the next Bill on planning is a little shorter than the one that is about to pass.
My noble friend Lord Young can be assured that there will be an exercise to derive those lessons that we think are appropriate from the passage of this Bill. In many ways, I am sure noble Lords would agree that the House has done its work extremely well by its thorough examination of this lengthy measure. However, there may be issues that we can all agree should become the focus of future legislation of a similar kind. I am grateful to my noble friend for raising that question.
My Lords, I apologise for my misplaced enthusiasm in wanting to add to these thanks. I shall speak briefly on behalf of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol to record her thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, for all the constructive work that is represented in the Bill and to assure the noble Baroness of our continued prayers for her recovery.
In particular, my right reverend friend wanted to note the widespread welcome for clarification on the question of local authorities being permitted to offer financial support to church buildings, including parish churches. I know that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Methodist Church, which backed an amendment on this topic tabled by my right reverend friend, are also grateful that this grey area in the law has been taken up by the Government. It has been heartening to have the cross-party support of the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Best, especially, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for this measure.
Local communities need physical, warm and safe space for many forms of social activities that build community and social cohesion. Worship is just one more example of this, and that in itself prompts the use of church buildings for wider purposes. The clarification of financial support for this from local authorities is helpful to us in England. However, I note that the issue of similar clarification remains of acute concern to churches in Wales, and I hope that the Minister will encourage His Majesty’s Government to bring the matter to the attention of the Welsh Government, with a view to bringing forward an equivalent legislative amendment as soon as possible.
My Lords, I am happy to take part in this debate simply because it is the last debate on the Bill in this House, at least until after the Conference Recess: we have had 16 days in Committee, eight days on Report and more than 1,000 amendments, skilfully disguised by the suffixes of letters. The noble Earl himself mentioned Amendment 247YYA as an example of how we have these invisible numbers. The Government have of course been a big contributor to the number of amendments, including 55 today. I do not object to those 55; they are a very sensible step forward to improve the Bill even further. Even so, I do not know if it is a record but the Government had, I think, four separate amendments to the Long Title of the Bill, which perhaps emphasises the point that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, made about the process.
Whatever our criticisms of the Bill, though, it leaves this House much better than it arrived, and I want to thank a wide range of people for helping that to be the case, not least the ministerial team. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, for her work in leading the ministerial team, and to the noble Earl and some other Ministers who stepped in at short notice, including the noble Baroness, Lady Swinburne, just last week. In my contact with the officials in the department, they were always polite, considerate and helpful. Catherine Canning last week was a very good and able representative of the Minister’s point of view in our discussions. So, whatever the criticisms of the Bill and the form in which it is now, I just say to the noble Earl that I hope that the ministerial team will work with their colleagues in the subsequent write-rounds and encourage them to the maximum extent possible to accept all of your Lordships’ valuable amendments in the other place, so that they can reduce the amount of ping-pong to the absolute minimum and we can keep the famous table tennis ball on the other side of the net.
I do not want to omit from my thanks the work there has been co-operatively between noble Lords in the Labour Party and ourselves, but also with our Cross-Bench friends and indeed with some of our friends on the Conservative Benches as well. Collectively, we have shown that it is possible to scrutinise thoroughly, to improve legislation and to produce an outcome that we can take some pride in—perhaps muted pride in some parts but, nevertheless, it is a step forward.
Behind the scenes, in our case I have the amazing and redoubtable Sarah Pughe, who has done a fantastic job supporting colleagues here in the Chamber with her drafting skills and her knowledge of parliamentary procedures. So, the Bill goes back to the Commons. I hope that when it comes back to us, it will be as near as possible the same document that we are sending to them.
My Lords, as it is not customary for anyone on these Benches to speak on their behalf, I just add thanks on my own behalf, which I hope will be shared by colleagues, to the Minister, particularly for his appreciation of the contribution made from these Benches. Of course, I send my best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook. Her courtesy throughout has been outstanding and her tenacity to be admired, and I add my best wishes for her restoration to good health as soon as possible. I add my thanks to the Bill team, even if we did not agree on quite a number of points, and to our clerks. I particularly thank the noble Earl’s colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, for the way in which he responded to the question of building preservation notices, to the CLA, of which I am a member, and Historic Houses for their valuable input on that.
On the other matter of interest to me, namely building safety remediation, I am of course sorry that I could not persuade the Government or your Lordships to support a different way forward, but I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to people outside—they know who they are and I will not mention them by name, but they have dedicated their time free and without any benefit to themselves to assist me with their comments and their critique. I also thank the many other experts, and professional and trade bodies, who were willing to share their thoughts with me.
I particularly express thanks to Amanda Walker, a leaseholder, for her courage in coming forward with her story, and the hundreds of other leaseholders who wrote to me with theirs. I thank Jake Fisher for his online petition, which gained 50,000 signatures in 25 days. My focus throughout has been on them and getting fair treatment for affected leaseholders generally, even if my approach has not always been fully understood or appreciated. I do not intend to give up trying.
Finally, I am most grateful for the support across the House for the general principle sitting behind the fact that we all, I think, believe that leaseholders should not pay for construction defects for which they are blameless. There is clearly a lot more work to be done, but I am enormously grateful for the general acceptance across the House of that principle.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Earl for his very kind comments around the constructive work that we have all been doing together. I send our very best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, who has been a remarkable workhorse on the Bill. Her door has always been open to us for any discussion and I thank her very much for that. Alongside her, a number of people need to be given a Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill endurance award, because it really has felt a bit like that at times: we have been ploughing through this since January. So, I thank her and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but also the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. People seem to have forgotten—we have been going on for so long—that she did an enormous amount of work in the early stages of the Bill, so we want to pass our thanks to her as well. We also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Swinburne, and all the visiting Ministers who have come in and talked to the different areas of their expertise.
We have done extremely constructive Cross-Bench work with the Government, noble Lords on the Government Benches, Cross-Benchers and our Liberal Democrat colleagues, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. It is very good to have been able to work so constructively on the, unusually, many different issues in this Bill that we have had to discuss, tackle and understand. On that note, I also thank all the organisations and NGOs that have provided so much information, time and support to us in understanding some of the more complex areas. I have a whole book of all their different names, which would take too long to go through—if you took part, we are very grateful; thank you for making the Bill better than when it arrived here.
Many Back-Benchers worked incredibly hard on this and we should be very grateful to them. I particularly thank my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, who has been the most tremendous support to me all the way through. I could not have done it without her help. I also thank our team; Ben Wood in our office has worked incredibly hard and tirelessly on this Bill, through recess and weekends. We have asked so much of him and he has always delivered everything. My final thank you is to the doorkeepers, who have sat through a few late nights with us on this and have always kept a smile.
There are quite a number of outstanding issues that we will come back to after the Recess, on which this House believes that the Bill could be improved. I hope that, ahead of ping-pong, when we revisit these issues, the Government will continue to work constructively with those of us in this House who believe they are important to improve the Bill. Our door is always open. We look forward to hearing from the Government on some of those issues.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.