Motion Z

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 23 October 2023.

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Earl Howe:

Moved by Earl Howe

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 239 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 239A, 239B and 239C in lieu.

239A: Page 247, line 15, at end insert the following new Clause—“Powers of local authority in relation to the provision of childcare In section 8 of the Childcare Act 2006 (powers of local authority in relation to the provision of childcare)— (a) in subsection (1)(c) omit “subject to subsection (3),”;(b) omit subsections (3) to (5).”

239B: Clause 221, page 250, line 34, after “212” insert “and (Powers of local authority in relation to the provision of childcare)”

239C: Clause 222, page 252, line 9, after “213” insert “and (Powers of local authority in relation to the provision of childcare)”

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Motion Z I will also speak to Motions ZA, ZB and ZB1. As in the earlier group, I draw the attention of the House to the advice from the House of Commons authorities that Motion ZB1 is financially privileged.

The Government listened to the arguments made about local authorities opening their own childcare provision, as reflected in Amendment 239, which was carried on Report. While we did not feel that there was a legislative gap, we have proposed Amendments 239A to 239C in lieu. Amendment 239A removes restrictions on the powers of local authorities to provide their own childcare, as intended by Amendment 239, but does so in a way that is legally sound. Amendments 239B and 239C relate to the extent and commencement of Amendment 239A. On this basis, I hope that your Lordships will agree to these amendments in lieu.

On Report your Lordships also approved Amendment 240, which would require that a Minister publish an assessment of the impact of the enforcement sections of the Vagrancy Act 1824 on levelling up and regeneration. Once again, we have listened to noble Lords’ desire to see something tangible about the Vagrancy Act in the Bill. Given our commitment to the repeal and replacement of this Act, and because identifying, gathering and analysing the information will take significant time, we have agreed to publishing a report but propose that a year should be provided for this, instead of 90 days. To that end, we have tabled Amendments 240A to 240C in lieu, which commit the Government to providing the report within a year. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will be able to support these amendments.

I turn now to the final issue in this group, as reflected in Amendment 241, which was also carried on Report. This amendment would require the Government to maintain a register of school and hospital buildings in serious disrepair, and to update the register every three months. The safety of our school and hospital buildings is of paramount importance. That is why we invest significant capital funding into improving the estates each year and provide targeted support on issues such as RAAC. We regularly and routinely collect and make available extensive data on the condition of schools and hospitals.

The proposed amendment would drive a number of unintended—and I would say unwanted—consequences. Most concerning is the burden it would place on the school and hospital estates sector and departments, given the volume of relatively minor issues that would require reporting, analysing and following up in order to maintain such a register, ultimately drawing focus away from the most serious issues that require additional support to keep our schools and hospitals safe. The amendment would also carry inevitable financial implications for both the NHS and school systems to collect and maintain such a register, at a time when we all recognise the importance of maximising the front-line impact of resources going into public services.

The House will therefore wish to note that the reason given by the other place for rejecting Amendment 241 is because of the costs that it would impose on public funds through new data collection requirements. In the light of the Commons reason, I trust and hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, will not wish to take the issue further and will instead be content to accept Amendment 241A. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has tabled an amendment in lieu that would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on schools and hospitals in serious disrepair within 12 months, and every year thereafter. The Government already publish a wide range of information on the school and hospital estates as a matter of course. For example, on health, the annual Estates Returns Information Collection report contains detailed data on individual hospital condition and safety.

For schools, the department has already run two major condition data collections in recent years, made individual reports available to the sector, and published a summary of findings in 2021. In July, detailed data on all 22,000 schools within scope of the condition survey was deposited in the House Libraries and made available on the Parliament website. A third data collection is under way, covering all 22,000 schools and colleges in England. The Government have also published information about schools and hospitals with buildings confirmed as containing RAAC. The education department does not own or manage the estate, as I am sure she knows, so collecting and reporting additional information would have resource implications for both the department and the bodies responsible for school buildings, and take focus away from supporting schools with the most serious issues. Parliament is routinely updated on these issues already, and they are subject to frequent scrutiny and debate among colleagues. That will clearly continue to be the case, and the Government’s view is that the amendment is not required. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I will speak briefly to thank the Minister for his introduction regarding the two amendments that were moved by the Front Bench here. The first was in my name, relating to childcare. We thank him for listening to and recognising our concerns, and thank the Government for tabling an amendment that does exactly what we asked for; we very much appreciate that. My noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage had an amendment down on vagrancy, and again, we are very pleased that the Government have tabled an amendment in lieu on the Vagrancy Act. I will say only that this was promised two years ago, so in our opinion the sooner that action is taken on this, the better.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has an amendment in lieu on RAAC. The Minister is aware, as are other noble Lords, of increasing concerns about the number of schools, hospitals and in fact other buildings that have been affected by this. It is important that there is proper information regarding the extent of the problem, and that schools and hospitals, and other organisations which have buildings that are affected have the support that they need, because this is extremely concerning.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the detailed arguments he has put towards Motion ZB1 in my name, which I recognise have substance. However, the levelling-up Bill, which includes missions relating to education and health, means that we need to think about the quality of the public buildings provided, because they have a substantial impact on the quality of the services that are then received by those in both schools and hospitals. To have higher-quality buildings inevitably leads to better outcomes for patients, students and children.

Given that, there are two issues. One is that these are public buildings that are publicly funded, and there ought to be greater transparency for users and employees in those buildings of the state that they are in. The Minister has carefully explained the vast data collection that goes on regarding the buildings, both in the school and NHS estates. He is right—there is a vast collection of data. However, there is not transparent, easily accessible data for people who use those buildings and work in them. If, as he said, safety is paramount—I totally agree—the public need to see that there is transparency around the data on the state of those buildings.

I am asking the Minister and the Government to accede to easily accessible data concerning these public buildings because of safety concerns. That has been highlighted by the recent RAAC issue, and more and more buildings have been discovered with RAAC as a safety issue. I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote today, but I hope that the Government will consider greater publicity and accessibility of the data that they collect already so that people can see what state their buildings are in.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, it may be helpful to the noble Baroness to say that I agree with much of what she has just said. We need to think all the time about the quality of our school, college and hospital buildings. As the House will know, her amendment sprang from a concern about RAAC in particular. I know she understands how seriously we are taking that, and we have been engaging with the sector since 2018. Since last year we have taken a more direct approach with responsible bodies to identify and manage RAAC in the estate, and that exposes these issues to greater scrutiny. Every school and college affected is receiving support from the department. That causes some disruption but we are working with schools and responsible bodies to minimise that. I will take away the points she has rightly made about this issue which, I am sure she will know, is not going to go away in a hurry.

Motion Z agreed.