Motion to Consider
That the Grand Committee do consider the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.
Relevant documents: 1st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (Special attention drawn to the instrument)
These regulations were laid before this House on 16 March 2015. The Energy Act 2013 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations requiring landlords of residential premises to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. These draft regulations were laid under Section 150 of that Act and Section 250 of the Housing Act 2004.
The draft regulations will require private sector landlords, from 1 October 2015, to have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their rental property which is used as living accommodation, and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room used as living accommodation where solid fuel is used. After that, the landlord must make sure that the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy.
Local authorities will be responsible for enforcing the regulations. An authority will be required to issue a remedial notice to a landlord if it has reasonable grounds to believe that the landlord is in breach. If the landlord fails to comply with the notice, the local housing authority must, if the occupier consents, arrange the necessary action to ensure that the property is compliant. The local housing authority can also levy a civil penalty charge on the landlord of up to £5,000.
The regulations have been brought before this House because the Government want to increase the safety of private sector tenants. Setting a minimum standard for the testing and installation of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms will reduce the risks that tenants face from fire and carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.
Working alarms save lives—in the event of a fire in your home you are at least four times more likely to die if there is no working smoke alarm. Successive Governments and local fire and rescue authorities have made extensive use of non-regulatory approaches to increase the uptake of smoke alarms, including a series of highly effective public campaigns such as Fire Kills and the home fire safety checks. However, private rented sector tenants remain less likely to be protected by a working smoke alarm than any other tenant.
The department has also piloted alternatives to regulative approaches to increase the installation of carbon monoxide alarms. However, there are still high-risk properties without these alarms installed. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious and preventable form of poisoning. Each year there are around 40 deaths from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales and in excess of 200 non-fatal cases that require hospitalisation. We estimate that the new regulations will save 26 lives and nearly 700 injuries per year. The majority of landlords act responsibly and protect their tenants with working alarms. However, a minority of private sector landlords have proved resistant to safety advice and recommended best practice. That is why the Government decided that it was necessary to introduce the draft regulations, to protect the tenants of these landlords.
A regulatory approach to the installation of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms was discussed as part of the Government’s discussion paper, Review of Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector, and the majority of responses were in favour. The regulations aim to increase the safety of tenants by ensuring that they are not subject to death, poisoning or injury by a lack of smoke or carbon monoxide warning alarms.
The Government have funded local fire and rescue authorities to purchase a number of alarms for free distribution to landlords, encouraging all landlords to act responsibly towards their tenants as well as helping them comply with the regulations. Alongside these regulations, the department intends to continue to pursue its non-regulatory solutions in order to boost regular testing and uptake of alarms further across all sectors.
I turn now to the concerns of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The draft regulations were laid in March, before the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 received Royal Assent. The department, however, acknowledges that, as of 1 July, Ministers are required to include a review provision in secondary legislation that regulates business, or publish a statement of why it is not appropriate to do so. Following this, if the draft regulations are approved by Parliament and made, the department has committed to amending the regulations by adding a review clause at the earliest suitable opportunity.
These regulations prove the Government’s commitment to continue improvement and create a private rented sector that works for us all. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I welcome these regulations, and in speaking to them I do not want to sound too harshly critical, but I fear that the carbon monoxide provisions do not go far enough. As the Minister said, there are on average 40 deaths a year from carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. The figures that I have—and I speak as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group—are that more than 4,000 hospitalisations a year are related to carbon monoxide poisoning in one form or another. The problem is that the available figures may seriously underestimate the size of the problem. University College London recently assessed that 6% of the London households it surveyed had a high or very high risk of exposure to carbon monoxide. Public Health England commented in March that,
“the burden of non-fatal accidental CO poisoning in England is higher than the burden from mortality”,
“the numbers of people admitted to hospital with CO poisoning in England are larger than previously estimated and do not appear to be reducing”.
The cumulative effects of low-level poisoning over time can indeed be lethal and can present as things such as strokes. The All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group, which I co-chair, recommended that,
“the Government should ensure that all coroners’ post mortems routinely test for carboxyhemoglobin … levels”,
to see how many cases are missed. I am grateful to the chief coroner who has had a very useful discussion with myself and others and the Gas Safety Trust, which is now piloting with Public Health England a study to develop a protocol for coroners to test for carbon monoxide at post-mortems so that we get an idea of the size of the problem.
The difficulty with the proposed regulations is that they relate to just over 330,000 private rented homes with solid-fuel-burning appliances, but this would protect only a small number of people—roughly 8.2% of those in private rented accommodation—because there is an equally high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from other fossil-fuel-burning appliances, not just those that burn solid fuel. The regulations particularly name gas. The data collected from coroners’ reports in the past 19 years show that over 35% of deaths were related to mains gas. The requirement that landlords should install and maintain an audible carbon monoxide alarm in all properties with fuel-burning appliances is laudable; the problem is that it will not protect the remaining 92% of those living in private rented accommodation. Some 4.6 million homes will have other fossil-fuel-burning but not solid-fuel appliances, and are at risk not only from the appliances being badly maintained but from neighbours’ appliances being badly maintained with carbon monoxide leaking through brickwork, through cracks in the walls and cracked flues—and also at risk from some of the cooking practices from some of the families who have come here from abroad, who use tinfoil as a way in which to distribute heat over the top of the gas stove, when therefore the gas does not burn properly but burns to carbon monoxide. In that way, you get very high levels of carbon monoxide at about waist height, which is of course the level of the children’s heads and faces when they are in the kitchen with their mother.
The problem with testing alarms is, of course, that in asking that the alarm is tested every six to 12 months, I and others would like to see the onus on the landlords to test the alarms, and that they be required to do so annually. Can the Minister clarify what “proper working order” means? Does it mean that the sensor is checked and not just the battery? Only last week, a couple in Devon had a narrow escape from death after their alarm failed to register a leak, which was because of a faulty sensor. The problem is that alarms cannot be a substitute for proper installation and maintenance of fossil-fuel-burning appliances across the board.
I also have a concern that social housing is exempt. A Hackney Homes study of over 22,000 local authority homes found almost 5% carbon monoxide instance per thousand households. The study also found 35% of these instances resulted from a defective gas appliance. Therefore, while these regulations are step one, can step two include social landlords and then, after that, include that every home where there is a fossil-fuel-burning appliance, at the time when that appliance is installed, renewed or serviced, must be fitted with a carbon monoxide alarm? It should also be the case that those providing the service are proper registered Gas Safe services, and those selling the appliances should sell the carbon monoxide alarm at cost price, not at the huge mark-up that there is at the moment.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest in that I have residential properties, which are let, in the village that I live in in Suffolk and these regulations will apply to them. That is in the register of interests.
I support the intention behind, and the method employed in, these regulations. I am sure that, with her scientific knowledge, the noble Baroness who has just spoken has made many valid points about carbon monoxide. However, I am rising to protest about the way in which these regulations have been introduced so far. They are very complicated, as I shall show.
I should like to refer to the report, published in June this year, of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which has already been mentioned by my noble friend. The report draws attention to this statutory instrument as being very important and in the public interest, and it states:
“It will be important that the Department secures effective publicity for the new requirements in good time for the date of October 2015 when the Regulations come into force”.
I suggest that that has simply not been the case. The draft regulations were laid in March but that does not mean that the right sort of consultation on them took place; nor was there any real indication of what was likely to be involved. In fact, the scrutiny committee said that in its Explanatory Memorandum,
“the Department states that … it does not intend to publish new guidance on the policy”.
It is interesting that it has now produced guidance but we should keep bearing in mind the date—1 October 2015, which I think is three weeks away. That is pretty relevant because the guidance was produced last Friday, 4 September, and I have a copy of it in my hand. I obtained it only today but that is quite good with publication having been on Friday, and I doubt whether many other people have it. The guidance contains various questions. One is:
“Is there a ‘grace’ period for landlords?”.
The point made by the department—it is published by the Government and is the official view of Whitehall—is:
“If the regulations are approved, landlords are expected to be compliant from 1 October 2015 when the regulations will come into force. There will be no grace period after this date to install the required alarms”.
That is one of the most astonishing things that I have heard from Whitehall on something which is going to be a major undertaking for many people. In my view, it is an absurd idea. I think that there should be a much better explanation. Until last Friday, the CLA, of which I am a member, found the regulations so complicated to read that its official advice was that they were being brought into effect only for new tenancies—in other words, they were to be brought into effect gradually. It was only last Friday, when this new guidance was published, that the CLA changed its advice, saying that the regulations apply to all tenancies as from 1 October, and that advice was issued today. The CLA has a major role advising people with such tenancies of the obligations upon them. I doubt very much whether there are in the country sufficient pieces of kit to be fitted by 1 October, let alone whether they could physically be purchased and installed by that date—and yet, there is no period of grace.
I shall give noble Lords an example of the sort of complication. What is meant by a “solid fuel burning combustion appliance”? Some would be obvious to many of us. A wood-burning stove is an example. However, open fireplaces are included but they would not normally be regarded as a combustion appliance. I suspect the drafting and do not think that the courts would say that an open fireplace was a combustion appliance. The word “appliance” has a different connotation. There should be much more precision in the drafting of such regulation.
There is also a little note in the advice which states:
“In the Department’s view, a non-functioning purely decorative fireplace would not constitute a solid fuel burning combustion appliance”.
I asked the CLA today about this and it said that this was extremely unclear. For example, let us suppose—as is the case in many old properties—that fireplaces have been left for perhaps decorative or listed-building reasons in a room that has now become a bathroom. They would normally come under this rule. What is the requirement? Is it necessary, as with the energy certificate, to put a board over the fireplace so that it could not be used? Much more precision is needed in these matters.
I am asking for a much longer period. There is no way in which it is practical to bring these regulations into effect on 1 October with no period of grace. The Government have to think again about this. It is an example of extraordinarily bad Whitehall administration.
My Lords, I have a few preliminary remarks. First, as I usually do, I find myself in almost total agreement with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, had to say. I re-emphasise the importance of the whole issue of carbon monoxide poisoning. My second confession is that I returned to this country from abroad only this morning and I had not seen these regulations until my noble friend Lord Marlesford drew my attention to them. Thirdly, I think that I have to declare an interest in that I am a tenant of premises that fall within the definitions here. The new regulations may or may not apply to me. There are certainly carbon monoxide and fire alarms in the building and on the upper floor. I do not think that there is an installation on the ground floor that may come under the definition—although it is virtually never used. However, the regulations may not apply in my case because they will apply only to tenancies that come into effect after 1 October. I think that I will be renewing my lease within the next day or two because my landlord and I have already agreed the terms. However, I will hasten to tell my landlord that we may have such an appliance.
My anxieties are like those of my noble friend and I begin, as he did, with the recommendation of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I began to wonder exactly how far the consultation had advanced. The Minister referred to some initial consultations, which I think took place in general a year or so ago. We are informed in the Explanatory Memorandum that during those consultations, which took place between February and March 2014, there were 299 responses to the question on smoke alarms. “A regulatory approach”, we are told,
“was supported by Fire and Rescue Authorities, industry representatives and over 96% of landlords, agents and fire officials who responded to the paper”.
I am glad that they did respond to the paper, but quite clearly if only 299 responded, it does not necessarily indicate that there was—or even now is—a widespread awareness of what has happened in terms of consultation. I do not think that my noble friend the Minister gave us any real information about that.
The scrutiny committee did give us some quite useful information in an appendix. We were told in appendix 1 that the Department for Communities and Local Government,
“intend to update a core set of guidance documents”.
The guidance documents are listed: the How to Rent guide, the industry code of practice, the model tenancy agreement, and the Renting a Safe Home guide. We are entitled to know whether those have all been updated, when and in what way. I would certainly be grateful for that information.
The appendix goes on to say:
“In addition to updating current guidance, we plan to use our partners and the media to communicate the regulatory changes. We have already communicated the key message through press notices”.
I wonder how many people in the business world actually read the press notices on matters such as this, issued even by so great a department as the one in charge of these regulations. It says that we,
“are working with our partners: lettings agents, landlord representative bodies, local authorities, fire and rescue authorities and alarm manufacturers to publicise the requirements over the next 6 months”.
What we really are entitled to know—this is what the scrutiny committee really demanded—is exactly how far that consultation and dissemination of well-publicised advice has gone. I do not think we heard very much about that, with great respect to my noble friend the Minister, in her introduction.
Before we approve these very important regulations—even if it is only a first step, as the noble Baroness suggested—we should know exactly what has been done to ensure that they are widely understood. I am quite certain that my very nice landlord, who is currently renewing the lease of my property, has no idea about it. I am not criticising him for that because I had no idea at all about it until my noble friend Lord Marlesford spoke to me less than an hour ago. I suspect that that situation would be found up and down the country. If we are to approve regulations that are to come into effect in three weeks’ time or something, we should have rather better information than we have been given so far.
My Lords, I too am indebted to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for alerting me to this. I am absolutely horrified—particularly in light of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff—about the real problems behind carbon monoxide poisoning. I take it that this regulation relates to smoke alarms and to alarms that will identify carbon monoxide. They are two separate things.
My mind then begins to race ahead and I think, “Wait a minute—does anybody know that we should have these alarms?”. Surely every house and flat in the country should have them. If the situation is as serious as we are led to believe, and I am sure that it is, this is important. I live in a purchased flat in a block of flats and last year there was a fire in one of the flats. The whole flat was burned out. There was no alarm—or rather there was a smoke alarm in the flat, but it did not matter. I have a smoke alarm in my flat that goes off when I burn the toast, which happens quite frequently. I go down to say that I am terribly sorry for the alarm, but actually it does not ring outside my flat. I could be burned to a cinder along with the toast. Only when it is eventually noticed from outside that there is a fire, or smoke coming out, will an alarm be sounded throughout the whole building. It is so haphazard. The fact that this is being looked at today will benefit somebody—all of us could benefit from it—if people begin to think about the issue in depth.
I also found the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee upsetting, even where in the first paragraph it says that these regulations could not be scrutinised until our first meetings in the new session were convened in May, when we came back. This is really unacceptable, particularly when I go round saying how wonderful for scrutiny the House of Lords is. We all agree that we are the ones who scrutinise the legislation. Nobody else does it as well as we do. No other Parliament in the world does it as well as we do. Yet we do not do it. This is crazy.
My other point is about press notices. I draw the Grand Committee’s attention to paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which states:
“Given the diminishing returns from public information campaigns, it is therefore necessary to supplement them with regulations”.
I really think that the regulations should make it absolutely imperative that smoke alarms and anti-carbon monoxide alarms are installed and regularly checked. There are tenancies that last for five years or 10 years. Some last for 12 months. What is being said here is that the alarm has to be sure to be working only at the beginning of the tenancy. That is stupid. There must surely be some form of measure to ensure that alarms are investigated or assessed annually, or maybe even triennially.
If you have a car that is more than three years old, it has an MOT every year. This kind of check is just as important. Dangers do not stem just from these wonderful combustion systems. The fire in our block of flats was actually caused by the overheating of a computer charger. The whole thing more or less blew up. The benefit now is that we have been alerted to the danger. I was certainly never alerted to it. Instead of taking pride in the fact that we scrutinise everything, we can say that with the diminishing returns from public information campaigns we are alerting people to the need for checks and assessments. Surely people need them anyway.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate so far. I declare my interest as patron of CO-Gas Safety and adviser to Consumer Safety International. I welcome the regulations as far as they go. I will mainly focus on the issue of carbon monoxide but, in the light of our debate so far, I should like to put a couple of other questions to the Minister. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and other colleagues for asking about the guidance. Will the Minister confirm that the guidance was issued only on Friday? That being so, why has it not been made available to Members of your Lordships’ House? It does not appear to be in the Public Bills Office, nor is it laid on the Table. It is rather an abuse of parliamentary process that when we are debating the regulations the guidance has not been made available. If it has and I have missed it, I will certainly apologise to the Minister, but I should like to know.
Secondly, the department said that it had done its best to use a variety of methods to publicise the regulations. Is the Minister seriously saying that all that has happened is that various stakeholders have been told about it and a press notice issued? I acknowledge that her department’s press notices are renowned for the elegance of their language and the persuasiveness of their argument, but simply issuing a press notice is clearly insufficient.
My third point is that I thought that the Minister said in her opening remarks that the Government are now going to amend the regulations. Can she confirm that? She referred to advice from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I may have misheard what she said, but can she confirm it and the timetable for those amendments?
My fourth point relates to a briefing that I have just received from Electrical Safety First, a charity. It does not concern the specific terms of the order, but the charity makes the point that electricity causes more than 20,000 house fires a year, with many people injured and killed. I understand that Electrical Safety First’s policy is that people in the private rented sector are protected by mandatory five-year checks on electrical installations. Will her department respond to that point?
I turn to the subject of carbon monoxide. I welcome the regulations—they are a small step forward—but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I very much doubt that the figure that she cited of 40 deaths per year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning is accurate. As CO-Gas Safety has pointed out, for carbon monoxide poisoning to be suspected, there has to be a test. At the moment, even in the event of unexplained deaths, there is no test. The noble Baroness has already referred to her work recommending that the Government should ensure routine post-mortem testing under the auspices of coroners. If the research now being carried out by the Gas Safety Trust proves that it is practical and effective to do so, will the Government accept the noble Baroness’s recommendation? She is both co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group and a past president of the British Medical Association, so she speaks with great authority on the issue, which is why I tend to agree that the estimate of 40 deaths is a gross underestimate.
Secondly, the impact assessment states that the department intends to pursue non-regulatory solutions in order to encourage uptake in all households which do not yet have a carbon monoxide alarm installed. How is that to be done? I assume that it will not just be through another departmental press notice. I know that some campaigners believe that it should be through prime-time TV warnings.
Does the Minister accept that although CO alarms are a useful back-up precaution, they cannot be a substitute for the proper installation and maintenance of gas safety equipment by a registered gas safety engineer? Is she aware that this regulation covers only a small percentage of households in the UK? Indeed, work by CO-Gas Safety going back to 1995 shows that far more deaths occur in owner-occupied homes than in the private rented sector. What is going to happen in relation to owner-occupied homes? Is the Minister aware that respected experts, including Mr Harry Rogers and Mr Stephen Hadley, through Consumer Safety International, have raised concerns about the accuracy of these CO alarms? Is she satisfied that the alarms are constructed to a reliable and accurate standard, wherein the sensor’s function and accuracy levels can be tested?
I want to ask the Minister about government policy in relation to these issues when it comes to Europe as a whole. She will know of the tragic deaths of Christianne and Robert Shepherd from Horbury near Wakefield, who were just seven and six years old when they died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu in October 2006. My honourable friend Mary Creagh MP raised this on 14 July in an Adjournment debate in the Commons and described how the family were forced to wait years, until 2010, before a criminal trial was held in Greece, at considerable emotional and financial stress to the family. The court in Corfu found three hotel workers, including the hotel’s general manager, guilty of manslaughter by negligence. In February 2014, eight years after Christi and Bobby’s deaths, the inquest into their deaths reopened in Wakefield. In May the inquest jury concluded that the children had been unlawfully killed and that Thomas Cook had breached its duty of care.
In paying tribute to the brave and determined efforts of the family, I would like to put a couple of points to the Minister. First, research by Mary Creagh’s office revealed that at least 40 holidaymakers have died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Europe in the years since Christi and Bobby died. Does the Minister agree with that assessment? Secondly, in November last year the European Commission launched a Green Paper on the safety of tourism accommodation services. Work commissioned by ABTA from John Gregory, a CORGI gas safety expert, showed why European action was so necessary. He found a lack of legislative consistency throughout Europe and that there is no Europe-wide statistical database of serious incidents caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, meaning that in essence the extent of the problem is as unknown on mainland Europe as it is in the UK. He also raised concerns that the competence, training and knowledge of the operatives undertaking servicing and maintenance of gas appliances across the EU are of a lesser standard than that required in the United Kingdom.
I raise this because, in contrast to ABTA’s responsible approach, the Government have opposed the introduction of a European safety regulation which would have dealt with these problems. My understanding is that opposition from the UK and some other member states has meant that the European Commission is not now taking its Green Paper forward. I ask the Government to think again and to encourage the Commission to continue work to assess how EU regulations could be put in place. If not, we are left with no specific EU-level regulation which sets out minimum safety standards for tourist accommodation safety.
Just as concerning is another brief I have received from ABTA about the prospects of an adequate revision to the EU directive on the safety of appliances burning gaseous fuels. Amendments have been proposed in the European Parliament which would extend the safety regime across the whole of Europe by implementing rules on installation, maintenance and servicing. Again, I understand that the UK Government are opposed to this and because of this opposition it is likely that these measures will not receive agreement within the EU. Again, I hope that the Minister will reconsider the Government’s opposition to this.
Overall, the regulations, as far as they go, are welcome, but I accept that it is right that landlords should be given appropriate time and proper publicity to ensure that they understand the duty that falls on them. In that regard, I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to all these issues, particularly to consider whether, even at this late stage, the Government need to reflect on what publicity is to be given on these regulations.
My Lords, I shall raise a couple of questions on paragraphs 7.8 and 7.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which deal with the tenures covered by the regulations. Paragraph 7.8 defines a specified tenancy as,
“a tenancy … lease, sub-lease … of residential premises which grants one or more persons the right to occupy the premises as their only or main residence in return for the payment of rent”.
I find it difficult to understand why that restriction should be imposed. If Members of your Lordships’ House were renting premises in London but lived elsewhere, as many of us do, those premises would apparently be excluded from the provisions of these regulations. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be sensitive to the life expectancy of Members of this House—at least on the government Benches. However, it does strike me as odd that that restriction is imposed.
Furthermore, the schedule excludes other categories of letting arrangements,
“where the accommodation is shared with the landlord or falls outside of the traditional private rented sector”.
Again, I do not see why someone paying rent in a property the rest of which is owner-occupied should be exposed to a risk that would not be the case if he were renting the whole property. Then there is the question of what is meant by a tenancy or letting arrangement falling outside the “traditional private rented sector”. We now have Airbnb and similar organisations providing facilities by which occupiers or owners of property can let, usually for short holiday periods and matters of that kind, with probably quite a significant turnover of people. Again, why should those people be exposed to risk, unless the noble Baroness can confirm that such properties are included? It seems to me that they are not part of what the Explanatory Memorandum describes as “traditional private rented sector” properties.
Paragraph 7.9 says that the Schedule excludes agreements where there is shared accommodation with the landlord or landlord’s family. I briefly referred to that in speaking to paragraph 7.8, but paragraph 7.9 has the explanation:
“This is likely to arise where an owner occupier rents out a room in their own home”.
The justification for that is:
“The Regulations are not targeted at owner occupied accommodation”.
Of course, by definition this is a property that is no longer exclusively owner-occupied accommodation. Given that a profit is presumably being made out of the letting, the regulations should at least be extended to properties of that kind.
I appreciate that we are not in a position to amend these regulations, but a number of points have been made by noble Lords opposite, and at some length and with great force by my noble friend, that require attention. I suggest that the matters I have raised also need to be looked at. Otherwise, we are potentially exposing people—it will be a fair number of people if we take the different categories into account—to continuing risk. That is not in the least desirable.
In so far as owner-occupied properties, shared in the way set out in paragraph 7.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum, might be brought within the provisions of the regulations if subsequently amended or revised, the result is that nobody loses. The owner-occupiers gain and their safety is enhanced. Therefore, it certainly seems worth the Government taking another look at the regulations and coming back with new ones that meet many, if not all, of the points that have been raised in the Committee today.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has been quite wide-ranging and informative, certainly to me. I also declare a former interest as the landlord of an HMO property. I say right at the outset that it is good practice for anybody, whether in their own home or in private rented accommodation, or indeed for local authorities, to have carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors fitted. As a landlord, I certainly did, and most landlords do so. Here, we are trying to target the small number of landlords in the private sector who do not feel responsible for their tenants.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, made some very interesting points. One was that the regulations do not go far enough, and she wondered whether there are far more deaths than the 40 that we think there are. She asked whether post-mortem testing for it would be the answer. In the context of these regulations, there are probably many things that we could do but this is a very good start in tackling the small number of private landlords who have little regard for their tenants, whether in terms of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors or the general standard of the accommodation. This is what the regulations seek to tackle.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me about an amendment. The amendment is a “to review” clause. The regulations will be reviewed in two years’ time, acknowledging that they may need to be looked at again.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, talked about social landlords. They are exempt but generally in the social sector they tend to be far more diligent in providing carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. As I said, it is a small number in the private sector who seem to be the culprits.
The noble Baroness asked me about the regulations for installing carbon monoxide alarms applying only to rooms containing a solid fuel-burning appliance. I acknowledge that other things may lead to carbon monoxide leaks but these appliances are the main culprits in terms of creating carbon monoxide poisoning. Going way back to my O-level days, I remember learning that you could tell when someone had carbon monoxide poisoning because they would go pink. I do not know whether people stay pink at the post-mortem stage but that was a sign that someone had carbon monoxide poisoning. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also asked about gas appliances. Again, she may well be right but I understand that the incidence is extremely low compared with that relating to solid fuel-burning appliances.
As I said earlier, there is a review clause in the regulations and there will be a review in 2017, but it is probably fair to make the point that these regulations have to strike the right balance by protecting tenants but not causing unnecessary burdens for landlords, the vast majority of whom, as I said, are diligent towards their tenants.
The noble Baroness also asked why the regulations require landlords to check the alarms only on the first day of the tenancy. We want to ensure that tenants entering a house or property are protected on day one, but we expect it to be both the landlord and the tenant’s responsibility. I have experience of a smoke alarm going off when the battery was getting low. Unless you deal with the problem, your life will be a misery.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford said that October 2015 was too soon and that there was not to be a grace period. First, any self-respecting landlord will already have installed a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide alarm. They are available free. They are not complicated devices. The draft regulations were laid back in March. He is absolutely right that the explanatory booklets for landlords and local authorities were published only on 4 September, but they were emailed to key stakeholders.
I am sorry, but I do not know what a key stakeholder is. I do not want to be difficult, but I hope that when she clarifies that matter, she will tell me what detailed consultation has been taking place and about the amendments that I specifically asked about to the various documents.
Before my noble friend leaves that point, I was certainly not regarded as a key stakeholder—there is no reason why I should be—but I received from the CLA only this morning a link for me to be able to download the advisory note issued last Friday. It produced its new view when it received that advisory note last Friday, which makes the idea of bringing it into force with no period of grace obvious nonsense.
I take my noble friend’s point: he is not a key stakeholder and he got it from someone who would be regarded as a key stakeholder. That includes local authorities, groups of landlords and managing agents. It is not long until 1 October, but the draft regulations were laid back in March, so people who have an interest in this—that is, stakeholders—knew that it was coming.
When the noble Baroness opened her remarks, she made the point that most responsible landlords do this in any case. Clearly the focus here is essentially on poor landlords who probably have no connection with any of the stakeholder groups—I mean, it is extremely unlikely that they are members of the CLA. Given that we are probably dealing with the kind of landlords who do not have much to do with any such groups, we need a publicity campaign to get it across to them. The criticism here is that guidance three weeks before the start—which poor landlords will never see—plus a press notice which presumably was not covered by the media will simply not do the business. That is the point that the noble Lord is making.
I take the noble Lord’s point that rogue landlords, just like rogue employers or anybody else, are the hardest to reach and the least likely to listen to legislation on their obligations. Certainly the Fire Kills campaign was very effective—I hope—in raising awareness of carbon monoxide, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, says, is a silent killer.
How to Rent may well be updated in terms of giving tenants more advice. More than ever, tenants have better information on how to rent and on their rights under their rental agreements. My tenants were certainly very well informed and I can assure noble Lords that they were well looked after.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford asked about new guidance. We have decided to issue new guidance in the form of explanatory booklets, one for local authorities and one for landlords. We also want to update How to Rent, as I have just said to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in time for 1 October 2015. My noble friend Lord Marlesford also asked about decorative fireplaces. A decorative fireplace would be one that was clearly not used for burning; in other words, closed off for the purposes of being able to light a fire.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about electrical safety in the private rented sector. I can inform noble Lords that landlords are already under a general duty to ensure that electrical installations are safe and kept in good working order.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked why tenancies for main homes are included and not for people such as your Lordships, who might spend some of their time in London. That is a fair point. Again, it is a start in terms of addressing problems with landlords. I hope that none of your Lordships have rogue landlords looking after them. The noble Lord also talked about tenancies that have been excluded. Student halls, hostels, refuges, care homes, hospitals and hospices are excluded because they all have their own requirements regarding standards, just as Airbnb is not considered a permanent home. Noble Lords are looking slightly puzzled. The premises that I have just mentioned benefit from existing protections under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. I hope that that helps.
I was waiting until the Minister had gone through the list of all the different types of accommodation. Could she undertake to ensure that, in particular, all universities have the information circulated to them? The university population comprises a large number of students, who go into privately rented accommodation around the UK, which is of very variable quality. In previous years, at the beginning of the autumn term, which we are now approaching, there have been deaths. On a cold night students have turned the heat on. There was a carbon monoxide problem and they died. They were not solid fuel appliances; they were usually gas appliances. However, in the wake of this important move—it is an important move; the Government have accepted that something has to be done—it would be very helpful if universities were asked specifically to alert students to the dangers and make them carbon monoxide-aware. Charities are doing this but they cannot cover the whole area.
The noble Baroness makes a very valid point. In fact, I remember the first day that my son moved into a student house with a boiler in his bedroom and I was terrified that he was going to die in the middle of the night. It is a really good point, which I shall take back.
Following the very interesting, important and sensible point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, does the Minister not now realise that the courts or anyone else will not see three weeks as being a reasonable time for these regulations to be put into effect? The guidance states that there is no grace period. If anyone tried to impose a £5,000 penalty on day two, three or four, I would have thought that that would be seen as absurd in judicial review terms. Will she not take away and reconsider the implementation date? I certainly could not agree to the regulations going forward with an implementation date of 1 October. That is obviously nonsense. The Minister herself gave a lot of examples, referring particularly to the very limited number of stakeholders. One would like to know how many stakeholders there are. I very much doubt whether people have had advisory notices. I do not believe that anyone would regard dishing out advice last Friday, three weeks before the regulations come into force, as adequate. It clearly is not. It is bad government and basically bad administration by Whitehall, and I hope that the Minister does not defend it.
My Lords, there are two points here. First, it is imperative to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords who will not meet their obligations. Secondly, in the theoretical situation set out by my noble friend, if on day two—2 October—a landlord was in breach, that landlord would have 28 days to comply, so the date we are talking about is more like six weeks from now.
The Question is that this Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say “Content”; to the contrary, “Not content”.
As far as I understand it, that is the case—I have seen this happen before—although I do not wish to pre-empt the view of the Chairman. The Grand Committee cannot approve a Motion if a noble Lord decides that he is not prepared to say “Content”. It simply reverts to the Chamber and will probably appear on the Order Paper within a short time. My understanding is that it is open for debate on the Floor of the House.
My Lords, perhaps I may suggest that there is other business to consider and it will be up to the Chief Whip to determine the timetable. We have a sitting Friday coming up, when it is possible to consider this matter. That will be up to the Chief Whip and we should now move on.