House of Lords
Thursday 1 October 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Arrangement of Business
Retirement of a Member: Lord Freeman
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from 1 October, of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his very much-valued service to the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ replies are also brief.
Hospitals and Nursing Homes: Do Not Resuscitate Notices
My Lords, the department is very clear that the blanket use of DNACPR and DNR is unacceptable. An agreement to a DNACPR is an individual decision and should involve the person concerned or, where the person lacks capacity, their family, carer, guardian or any other legally recognised advocate. I can inform the House that the Minister for Patient Safety and Mental Health will be writing to the Care Quality Commission requesting that it investigates and reports on DNACPR issues.
I am grateful to my noble friend and am aware of the letters written in respect of people with learning disabilities and autism during the first phase of the Covid-19 outbreak. However, with the second wave looking as though it is on its way, my noble friend will be aware that there is still concern from charities such as Mencap and the National Autistic Society, not least because of the attitude in some areas that people who have social care support needs are rather lesser human beings than the rest of us. How will the Care Quality Commission carry out this assessment as the second wave increases?
My Lords, it is completely unacceptable for any group of people to have blanket DNACPR provisions apply to them. The adult social care winter plan published on 18 September reiterates that and makes the position crystal clear. The General Medical Council is providing additional support and guidance to clinicians on how to meet the needs of patients and relatives, and the Resuscitation Council UK is creating a large amount of resources to provide training. The CQC is monitoring the situation extremely carefully.
My Lords, the distressing circumstances of the pandemic have once again highlighted the difficult and sometimes controversial issues about end-of-life treatment in general and individual choices. Will the Government set up a long-proposed review to examine all these issues, particularly to improve real patient choice?
The noble Baroness is entirely right. The Covid epidemic has shone a spotlight on the awful arrangements around end of life at a time when contagious disease presents a threat to all those present in a nursing home or hospital. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have lived through such an experience or will face one in the near future. I note the noble Baroness’s call for a review. There is no current plan for one but I will carry the idea back to the department.
My Lords, I sympathise with the medical profession engaged in saving lives at all costs. However, many people will have spent a great deal of time in thought and consultation with relatives before deciding not to be resuscitated, should they become desperately ill, especially with Covid, with possible permanent physical or mental impairment. It is inconceivable that their wishes should be overturned by medical professionals who do not know or understand their background. What are the Government doing to ensure that that does not happen?
My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Baroness’s sentiments—so does the department and so do the Government. We have noted what happened during the Covid epidemic. The CQC is investigating potential lapses at that time. We have reinforced guidance in the winter plan and the CQC continues to review the situation. New training and guidance provisions are being put in place. We take the situation extremely seriously and are putting in the procedures and investment necessary to ensure the right outcome.
The department is aware of the Queen’s Nursing Institute report on training and, although the majority of responses were positive, it raised questions about the training of, in particular, care home staff on the instruction to change resuscitation orders for patients without discussion. We are looking at that report very carefully. We cannot comment on individual cases but the report raises important questions. In the meantime, the General Medical Council is providing additional support and guidance to clinicians and the Resuscitation Council is creating a large range of resources for clinicians to help guide them and provide training.
I am pleased that the Minister has recognised that, although DNR is a medical decision and not something that requires a patient’s consent, not consulting with the patient and their family is an unlawful breach of human rights. We should be grateful that the scandal was exposed by Turning Point and other charities during the pandemic. Does the Minister have plans to review the DNR decisions that were made during the pandemic and does he know, or perhaps he can find out, how many DNRs were issued in excess of what one might have expected during the pandemic?
My Lords, NHSE&I is currently engaged with stakeholders, including people with lived experience, to develop better information for patients and to understand whether procedures need to be changed. I reassure the noble Baroness that DNRs are not issued, they are agreed with families and relevant loved ones. On no account should DNRs be unilaterally issued. They are for a joint decision; that kind of blanket application is something that we are extremely concerned about and seeking to avoid.
The noble Baroness makes a fair point. Of course, someone who walks healthy from a hospital need not have such a notice left on their clinical records. I will admit that I do not know the precise arrangements for how that is conducted but I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness and explain the procedure.
My Lords, the Minister has already said that he quite understands that there will be people, particularly the elderly, who do not wish to be resuscitated. One easy way of ensuring that resuscitation does not happen is for people to have a living will. Will the Minister undertake to try to encourage GPs to ensure that all their patients understand this and that they have the potential to have a living will?
My Lords, the benefits of living wills are enormous, both for those entering the last stages of their life and their loved ones. It is something that we are keen to encourage. I do not know the precise arrangements for how GPs play a role in that, but I will be glad to write to the noble Baroness and explain what provisions are in place for encouraging the use of living wills.
My Lords, I commend my noble friend for his balanced comments on this extremely fraught situation—I think everything has just about been said. Every life is, of course, to be valued but many of us as we get older—dare I say, we are quite a lot older in this House than the average population—will be looking at whether we want a do not resuscitate order in our living will. That is why I commend the idea from the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, of spreading this information around.
My noble friend puts it all very well. It is my birthday today, so I am feeling a little bit older and thoughtful on these subjects. On a serious point, living wills have enormous benefits and give peace of mind to those who enter nursing homes and hospitals, and their loved ones. We will look carefully at this important point and I will share my correspondence with the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, with my noble friend.
Happy birthday to the Minister. Given the dangers of the shortcut abbreviation of DNR, which can result in essential care decreasing, has the Department of Health considered adopting NHS Wales’s concept of a natural, anticipated and accepted death—NAAD? In five years, this has had no problems reported and gently and sensitively leads to DNACPR conversations with patients and those who love them.
My Lords, I welcome the testimony of the noble Baroness. We often keep track of Wales’s use of innovative health measures and, while I am not aware of this concept in particular, I will be glad to take the advice back to the department, recommend it and return to the noble Baroness with a response on how we are going to take it forward.
Crime: Emergency Services Staff
My Lords, in addition to the sentencing reforms we announced in our White Paper, the Government are currently considering options for strengthening the law in relation to those who kill emergency workers while engaged in unlawful activity. This consideration will include proposals made by the family of PC Andrew Harper, who we remain in close discussion with.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. I declare my interest as a former police officer with the Thames Valley Police, the same force that the late PC Andrew Harper so gallantly served. I commend PC Harper’s widow, Lissie, for her courageous campaigning on this issue. Like many members of the emergency services, I suffered serious injury while on duty and saw colleagues nearly killed in the line of duty. Such incidents should never be regarded as an occupational hazard for those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. Does my noble friend the Minister agreed that, whatever the legal complexity, we can, and should, do more to increase the deterrent against criminals causing harm to our emergency services?
I thank my noble friend for sharing his personal experience of the dangers faced by members of our emergency services. Those are why in 2018 we introduced the new aggravated offences of assaulting emergency workers and are now revisiting the maximum penalties for them. We are all aware that in some cases, such assaults have led to much more tragic circumstances, in which some emergency workers have died in the line of duty. That is why it is right that we also consider whether a change in sentencing or to the criminal law is required where an emergency worker is killed by another person in the course of unlawful activity. I am sure that all noble Lords join me in paying tribute and sending our sincere condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of Matthew Ratana, who was fatally shot on 25 September while on duty at the Croydon custody suite.
My Lords, in addressing and ensuring better public protection for our communities so that residents feel safe, what extra measures are the Government introducing inside and outside prison to improve ways of dealing with terrorism offenders? Will we see a drive to recruit more counterterrorism specialist probation officers?
Public protection is the Government’s number one priority. We have already made changes to the law regarding the sentencing and release of terrorist offenders. As part of the proposal in the sentencing White Paper that we talked about last week, the Government intend to introduce a new power to prevent automatic early release for a wider range of offenders who are a significant public protection concern. Earlier this year the Government also announced that they will double the number of specialist probation officers who focus on terrorist prisoners. The Government also intend to create a new counterterrorism assessment and intervention centre.
My Lords, it is absolutely right that we should feel horrified by some crimes, and I certainly endorse the good wishes sent by the Minister. However, we must not get into the situation that, for every type of offence, there is a specific sentencing statutory provision. It makes the task of judges almost impossible if they constantly have to compare statutory penalties for one offence with another which are marginally different in effect.
I agree with the noble and learned Lord, which is why we are taking our time in considering this complex issue of whether there should be any changes to sentencing or to criminal law. We will work through this in a timely manner, consulting with the judiciary all the way.
My Lords, it is quite right that there should be proper consultation on this, as the Minister says. However, we should look at the sentencing tariff not only for those who kill but for those who cause serious, life-changing injuries to emergency workers. Two years ago, in a drunken spree, Hayden Brown drove into the patrol car carrying PC Tom Dorman—now Sergeant Tom Dorman—and a colleague. As was said in court, the two officers were thrown into the air “like ragdolls”, and Sergeant Dorman lost his leg as a result. Brown has now been released from prison after serving 10 months, while Sergeant Dorman must live with the consequences of that criminality for the rest of his life. How does that square with the Government’s rhetoric of protecting the protectors?
The noble Lord is correct. The White Paper is looking at serious assaults very seriously. That is why we are changing the time served of sentences of over seven years from the current 50% to two-thirds. In the White Paper, we are also looking at changing it from 50% to two-thirds for sentences of four to seven years. All these things will ensure that the public have confidence in the judicial system.
My Lords, I am the son of a policeman and spent my first five years living in a police station in Llangollen. The November 2018 guidelines for an unlawful act of manslaughter were arrived at after four years of consideration and consultation with 45 bodies, including the council of Her Majesty’s judges, the criminal Bar, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, the Ministry of Justice, the Justice Committee, the unions, the Howard League for Penal Reform, leading academics, the royal medical colleges and many others. The guidelines were widely accepted and came into effect less than two years ago. Why is the Ministry of Justice proposing to revisit this issue so soon?
I associate this side of the House with the sympathy expressed to the families of Sergeant Ratana and Police Constable Andrew Harper. As we have heard from many of the questions asked, serious assault, not-so-serious assault, murder or manslaughter of any emergency worker should be attended by higher sentences. Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be a consultation about differential sentencing for those sorts of crimes, and that it will be published very shortly?
My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the analysis of Andy Symonds, chair of Norfolk Police Federation? He said that it was essential that courts, as well as the Government, played a part in stopping violent offenders, and that there was a need for predictable, tough sentences for offenders who attack police officers. He says that this has not happened, and that it is one of the main drivers of the rising numbers of assaults that we are seeing year on year. Putting on a uniform for public service always carries a risk. We in Parliament and the courts should respond to that risk by unambiguously making clear to those who assault the uniformed services that they will face the most severe penalties.
Sentencing is ultimately a matter for the independent courts, which is why in 2018 we introduced the new aggravated offence of assaulting emergency workers. As I said, we are looking at increasing the 12 months to a two-year maximum penalty. While sentencing is for judges in individual cases, it is for the Government to give courts the full range of powers to deal effectively with anybody who attacks any policeman or emergency worker.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. As I said, we did go on rather too long in the supplementary questions and answers, and I apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, whom I tried to get in rather prematurely.
Net Zero Review
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Net Zero Review will take into account co-benefits, including those relating to (1) improved health, (2) productivity, and (3) employment, in calculating the costs and investments needed to reach net zero emissions.
My Lords, the net-zero review will cover how the transition to net zero will be funded and assess options for where the costs will fall. This involves analysing the range of options for how households, businesses and the taxpayer could contribute to the costs of transition, as well as maximising opportunities for economic growth as we transition to a green economy. We will need to evaluate the trade-offs between costs, competitiveness, effects on consumers and impacts on taxpayers.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and for her recognition that costs are not the only issue to be taken into account. The Covid crisis demonstrates to us every day the need to assess the effects of individual policies in the round, not simply against a single metric. So does the Minister agree that the magnitude of the threats from unrestrained climate change means that when we assess the cost of measures to meet our net-zero target, we need also to take into account the benefits to health and employment, and to sustainable economic recovery? Could we not set an example of good practice in overall impact assessment of climate measures as part of our preparations for COP 26 next year?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right to say that we need to look at these issues in the round. She referred to the impact of the Covid crisis, and to our aims for a green recovery. The Government have put huge emphasis on a green recovery, because not only will that help us meet our net-zero target in the longer term, but it has been shown that, in the shorter term, such policies bring extra economic benefit in their own right—and that is the exact approach the Government are taking.
My Lords, what discussions have taken place with the devolved Administrations to determine what contribution the different jurisdictions will commit to in order to achieve the overall UK target for climate measures? Perhaps the Minister could provide me with an answer in relation to that.
My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register, and I congratulate the Government on putting the green economy at the forefront of the work that we are doing. However, will my noble friend bear in mind the fact that industrial cities such as Leicester will need a lot of work to be able to produce the net-zero targets, especially as there are ever-diminishing green spaces in the city?
My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. May I ask the Minister whether the role of agriculture and domestic food production will be taken into account in the review, and also about the future of the emissions trading scheme?
The noble Baroness will be pleased to know that the green homes grant, launched yesterday for applications, will deliver £2 billion-worth of funding for home owners and landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes and help us make progress towards that net-zero target.
My Lords, as the Minister will know, one of the biggest challenges of climate change is to bring our citizens along with us. If we do not do that, we will not achieve this. Will she give us her ideas on how we should accomplish that? How will we bring citizens along to agree to these changes?
My Lords, bringing people and our citizens along with us will be a big focus for our work on COP 26—making sure that it is not just Governments getting together but businesses and citizens from the UK and across the world. Part of the point of the review cited in the original Question was to have a clear and transparent analysis of the costs and benefits, and to look at how and where they should fall, so that everyone can understand the path towards transition and the contribution that we will all have to make towards it.
My Lords, will the Government commit to creating an open, shared resource, with all the data, conclusions, research and arguments generated as part of the Net Zero Review, so that we can all go forward and benefit, as professionals, from a shared resource in creating ideas and opportunities to make progress—and, in particular, reflecting what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, so that we as citizens can share the conclusions that are reached, and the effects that they will have on us?
My Lords, I will take back to the Treasury the desire for the review to be as transparent as possible. I think that that is exactly the intention. We will publish an interim report this autumn. It will set out our approach to the review and will contain the analysis done to date, which will inform the final findings.
My Lords, in the Net Zero Review terms of reference, part 2, “Objectives”, begins:
“To consider how the transition to net zero will be funded and assess options for where the costs will fall. This will involve:”,
and then there are four bullet points, the second of which is:
“Identify mechanisms to create an equitable balance of contributions.”
Does the Minister not agree that this must mean that the issues raised by the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, must be taken into account?
My Lords, I cannot pre-empt the findings of the review, but I can say that it will absolutely take into account the opportunities that arise from the transition, including for employment, productivity and economic growth. It will also consider just where the costs will fall and how they will be paid for.
I draw attention to my interests in the register. To build on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about citizen engagement, the citizens’ Climate Assembly UK made many great recommendations when it recently reported, many around business, which is vital to help reach net zero. Will the Government commit—as the citizens’ assembly, at 83%, agreed—to making sure that government contracts are given to responsible, low-carbon producing suppliers?
My Lords, the Government will look very closely at the recommendations of the Climate Assembly. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to say that we need businesses to be on board with this agenda. One of our focuses for COP 26 is green finance, and one of our aims there is to get as many private sector actors and businesses as possible subscribed to standards for green finance that can help transform the money going into businesses and how it is allocated, taking into account climate risk, in the future.
The Government place huge emphasis on the importance of training as part of our green recovery. The Prime Minister made a series of announcements yesterday on plans to upgrade skills, focusing not just on young people but on older people who did not originally have those skills, to enable them, where needed, to transition to new jobs in the green economy.
Is the Minister confident that the methodology used by the Treasury in the review will sufficiently factor in the costs of not tackling climate change, which the review carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, in 2006 estimated would be 5% of GDP by 2050?
Yes, I can reassure the noble Baroness that it will. The review is not a question of whether we need to act to meet our net-zero target; it is about how we can act to meet it. That target is set out in law. We were the first major economy to commit to it, and the review is all about how we get there. So the question of the costs of not getting there, although important, is also, I hope, one that we have put to bed.
Covid-19: NHS Application
My Lords, we have TV advertising, celebrity endorsement, stakeholder mobilisation, social media engagement and newspaper wraparounds. We have done an enormous amount to support the app launch, with a massive campaign—but the greatest promotion is a great product. Fifteen million downloads, 500,000 QR downloads, 8 million venue check-ins and thousands isolated suggest that the British public have embraced the app as a valued tool to protect the ones they love.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, on his birthday. The number of people downloading the app is important, but in assessing its effectiveness, what problems or elements of success will the Government look for, apart from numerical take-up?
My Lords, the primary purpose of the app is to break the chain of transmission. Therefore, alerting as many people who have been in close proximity to a Covid threat as we can is a primary objective. However, the app also does an enormous amount to provide information for those trying to understand the regulations in their local area. It also does a lot to support those in isolation and we very much hope to be able to connect the payments for isolation benefit with the app in later versions.
My Lords, the uptake and positive development of the Covid app is likely to be greater if it picks up on all the testing regimes, enables the user to enter a unique code that they have been given and is front and centre of having tests available to record the incidence of illness. Does the Minister agree that urgent, comprehensive testing and tracing is needed for care and health workers if all medical care is to return to normal levels, and for teachers and pupils if schools are to have the best chance of remaining open for all? Does he agree that the app would prove most effective if these goals were accomplished rapidly alongside the development of the app?
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord’s observation. These are parallel developments and we are indeed working on them. It is important that the app captures all testing information. We are working extremely hard to ensure that all tests, wherever they come from, whether pillar 1 or pillar 2, are captured in the app. We are also doing an enormous amount to ensure that there are supporting measures for those who work in social care and teaching, so that they have the security of knowing that their workplaces are protected.
My Lords, I wish the Minister a happy birthday. So far, £35 million has been spent on the development and testing of the app, which is approximately £15 million more than any other western European country has spent on such app development. Other than the QR code, what functionality has that £15 million been spent on, which is not available in the app of any other western European country?
My Lords, the secret sauce of the app is the algorithm at its heart, which takes data from Apple and Google phones and the Bluetooth component, and applies a risk-scoring analysis that judges proximity, velocity and context to give a true assessment of risk. That is how we seek to avoid false positives and false negatives. We have invested in the algorithm in conjunction with Apple and Google and it is an incredibly important piece of added value. Without that algorithm, the app would not work properly.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend on his birthday and I congratulate the Government on introducing this new technology. As he is aware, I am very supportive of this. I would be grateful if he could explain to the House what evidence there might already be from Scotland on the effectiveness of the Protect Scotland app in tracing contacts, ensuring isolation and reducing deaths.
My Lords, the Protect Scotland app has delivered huge value for the Scottish people. It has guided many to isolate and it has been downloaded a very large number of times. We seek to get the UK app and the Scottish app working together in the second version. We have learned an enormous amount by collaborating with Scottish colleagues and have gained enormous value from their learnings.
Does the Minister agree that the purpose of tracing is defeated if millions of people cannot download the app because their phones are a few years old, even models as recent as those from 2018? I discovered this and felt obliged to spend a great deal of money upgrading and took the risk of travelling to a phone shop and spending an hour there doing this. However, millions will not, especially elderly people and those who live in poorer, crowded areas. What can be done for the people who cannot download the app?
My Lords, I greatly regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, had to make that journey. That is a troubling thing for her to have had to do. I reassure her that 89% of the population have phones whose hardware and software is compatible. Even on today’s numbers, one-third of the 16-plus population of Britain has the app on their phone. This number is high enough to make the app extremely effective; it is an enormous penetration. While this does not account for absolutely everyone, it is terrific progress and we will build on that success.
My Lords, the Minister just gave a figure for the over-16s. In view of the outbreak of Covid in universities, what proportion of university students have accessed the app and actually used it? Am I right in thinking that it is accessible only if you are over 16? Why is this the case?
My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Baroness’s question. There is a very good reason: the privacy arrangements of the app mean that we do not know who has downloaded it. This information is available only to those who have downloaded it. It is precisely because of those privacy arrangements that an enormous amount of trust is placed in the British people. However, I do not deny that it is frustrating that we do not have the kind of demographic insights that the noble Baroness quite reasonably asks for.
My Lords, I am delighted that this app has now been produced. Fifteen million adopters in a week is excellent news, and I genuinely congratulate the Minister on that. However, 34 countries are already using the ENX system with Bluetooth, and it is to be regretted that we are not ahead of them, but we are not. What conversations have the Government had with some of those countries to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that they have made on their journey? Given the importance of mass take-up—which is important before going on to talk about other things—have the Government considered discussing with Apple, Google and mobile phone suppliers such as Samsung the possibility of putting the app straight on to people’s phones at the point of sale, or point of update, with of course the option for the customer to remove it, should they wish to do so?
The noble Lord has made a very detailed and technical inquiry. We are studying the ENX system very closely. However, as I mentioned earlier, the secret source of the British app is the algorithm that takes the data from Bluetooth and the phone and analyses it to give the risk assessment. Our view is that that algorithm is absolutely critical. Without it, the ENX system fires off alerts to anyone who has been proximate to another Bluetooth phone that has registered a positive test, even if they have only driven past that phone on the motorway. Those are exactly the kinds of circumstances that the British public made it crystal clear to us they simply would not tolerate. Therefore, we have put an enormous investment into that algorithm. We have had an enormous amount of interest from other countries, and we are happy to share that learning with companies as we develop our intelligence on it.
I wish my noble friend many happy returns on his birthday. Clearly, the app is a very useful tool. Does he imagine that the Government will use it in conjunction with the testing of international passengers arriving at airports? When might testing be rolled out at airports?
My Lords, version 1 does not have an international component to it, but that is something that we would seek to develop. I emphasise that the app in its current form is very much focused on providing a huge amount of personal privacy and is therefore not an appropriate vehicle for putting in place any form of surveillance or quarantine management. That would be in breach of our arrangements with our technical partners, Apple and Google. Therefore, although I cannot give my noble friend Lady McIntosh a complete answer, I would like to hint that perhaps this will not be the vehicle for accelerating airport testing.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a brief Statement about what happened yesterday.
As noble Lords will have seen, yesterday we experienced serious technical difficulties with the remote voting system during our consideration of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. The result of that difficulty was that three Divisions, on Amendments 3, 11 and 14, had to be deferred. I can confirm that we intend these Divisions to take place on Monday in what would normally be the gap in business between Oral Questions and any Private Notice Question and the beginning of debate on further groups of amendments to the Bill at the normal time of around 2.30 pm. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their forbearance.
Following the issues with the remote voting system, tests of the system will be required to ensure that it works as expected. We would welcome the participation of Members in any such tests, the timing of which will be advertised to noble Lords as soon as possible.
As far as I am aware, we are not anticipating Divisions today but, were one to be called, it, too, would have to be deferred to another day until the tests had taken place.
Finally, I place on record my thanks to the usual channels and the clerks for their constructive and flexible approach, which allowed scrutiny of the Bill to continue, despite not having Divisions yesterday.
Professional and Amateur Sport: Government Support
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 30 September.
“The Government believe that sports clubs are the beating heart of their communities. Were we to lose them, we would lose so much more than sport. That is why, to help community clubs through this crisis, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport funding body Sport England announced a £210 million emergency fund, and why earlier this year the Government stepped in to protect rugby league from the imminent threat of collapse. Both those interventions were on top of the multi-billion pound package of business support from the Treasury that enabled many of our sports clubs to survive.
We have also made sure every step of the way to try to enable as much grass-roots sport as possible. Being active and healthy is essential in our national battle against the virus. Reinstating elite sport and, of course, grass-roots sport in a Covid-secure way was a major achievement, and I pay tribute to all those who made that possible. Behind-closed-doors matches have enabled vital broadcast revenue to flow into elite sport, as well as bringing joy to millions of fans. The Government ensured that Project Restart was shared with everyone by getting Premier League football on the BBC for the first time ever.
However, I know that we all want our fans back in stadiums as soon as possible. Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways. We trialled the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, but rising infection rates across the country meant that the Government had to act and we could not proceed on 1 October as planned. We have to contain the virus and, given the backdrop of rising infection rates, we had to press the pause button. I assure the House that we are working at speed, alongside the Treasury, with sports governing bodies and clubs across the country to understand what support they need as a result of the decision to postpone the 1 October return.
For football, we are asking the Premier League to support English Football League clubs—the higher end of the football pyramid. Yesterday, we also provided the National League with assurance that financial support from the Government will be forthcoming so that it can start this season this Saturday. We have asked for detailed financial returns from all major spectator sports to see what support they need. We expect those returns by the end of today, and any club in immediate financial distress should alert its sport’s governing body.
Sports clubs have proved themselves to be bedrocks of their communities during this pandemic, hosting test centres, looking after vulnerable people, organising food deliveries and so much more. Sports clubs have had our backs during this pandemic. We will have theirs in return.”
My Lords, when we talk about the future of professional and amateur sport, will the Minister give us some idea of what emphasis is being given to encouraging people to partake in sport, at whatever level, as opposed to simply watching it, and how the two balance each other? These are two very important aspects of the Question. Can we get clear guidance on the Government’s thinking on both matters?
The Government have been very clear on the value of sport, both amateur and professional, and encouraging people to take part. We have welcomed many of the online initiatives over the lockdown period in particular, and have supplied funding through Sport England to the tune of £210 million to ensure that those facilities and clubs survive.
My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister reassure me that any government funding to be allocated will not overlook women’s sport, which recently has had some great successes in participation and popularity? We need to keep up the momentum and not lose all the good work done to make women’s sport more accessible and mainstream.
My noble friend is absolutely right. Great progress has been made at both elite and grass-roots levels in women’s sport. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport was absolutely clear yesterday, in responding to the Question, that he expects and will require women’s sport to get the priority it deserves in any funding coming from this package.
My Lords, I ask you to note my interest on the register: I am chair of ukactive. Have the Government determined the impact on the NHS of the drop in activity levels and the subsequent impact this might have on sport at all levels in the UK? It is projected that 48% of leisure centres may close by Christmas without government financial support.
It is hard to assess the absolute impact of the fact that some leisure centres have not yet reopened, because obviously there is a substitution with other provision being offered, principally online. But the noble Baroness is absolutely right about the importance of sport for our physical and mental well-being. The Government understand the financial pressures that some sports and leisure centres are under, and are pleased that so many have been able to open, following Covid-secure guidelines.
[Inaudible.] What investment will the Government make into local provision for children and young people to engage in sports and physical activity that is shaped by them, given the research of the Children’s Society highlighting the importance not only of chosen physical activity but also of positive time with peers, and the fact that that has all been horribly impacted by Covid-19?
I share the right reverend Prelate’s appreciation of the fact that sports clubs do so much more for their communities than just provide sport, and I welcome very much the pilot projects that she mentions. Through Sport England, there is a lot of collaboration with young people to ensure that local provision does indeed meet their needs and reflect their own aspirations.
My Lords, the Minister will know that the 67 clubs in the national football league form the most senior levels of semi-professional football below the English Football League and play an essential part in their local communities. I declare an interest as the league’s vice-president. Match-day revenues are, for almost all the clubs, their only serious source of revenue. Can she say more about the very welcome announcement yesterday in the other place by the Minister for Sport that financial assistance is being offered to the National League so that it is able to start its season without spectators this Saturday? How much is being offered by the Government, and what do they mean when they say that the arrangements will be reviewed after the first three months?
As the noble Lord knows, we have given assurance to the national football league that will allow the clubs to reopen and start playing from today. We are at the planning stage in the package that we are putting together and are looking in detail at the financial needs across all those sports that rely on spectators and match-day incomes. I am afraid that I cannot give more detail of the quantum at this stage.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, national football league clubs still have no idea what their settlement is, and they are being asked to start the season in good faith. At the same time, Premiership rugby clubs have been pushed to the brink by the implications of Covid and are now being driven to bankruptcy by a lack of gate receipts; none is profitable. Does the Minister agree that Premiership-level clubs are in the bracket of what the Government call “the greatest need”, and that spectator sport as a whole faces a daily fight for survival, which requires action now to allow a limited number of supporters back safely in order for it to survive and support its fan base and their communities?
The Government are very keen to support all sports, for the reasons that we have already summarised, in terms of both their specific sporting contribution and their wider community contribution. Clearly rugby plays an important part and is very central in particular communities. We are going through this in detail with each of the governing bodies, looking at the needs of their specific sports, and will respond as quickly and as effectively as we can.
My Lords, great uncertainty exists for both professional and amateur equestrian athletes, who travel extensively to competitions with large horse-boxes around the continent. Are they exempt from needing an operator’s licence, which hauliers certainly need, or are these riders considered hauliers, which clearly they are not? What provisions are being made at Dover to cater for this form of transport?
My Lords, I am sure the Minister understands that there are a lot of very important community football clubs below the level of the National League. I know and have worked with the northern league for many years. In places like Redcar, Crook in County Durham and Tow Law, the club is important not just to football enthusiasts but to the whole community. Many of them feel that if they have to go through another period of uncertainty in these areas, which are already among the poorest and most vulnerable—not only in terms of Covid but because they are what the Government call levelling-up areas—that will be a huge hit to the community. Can she assure me that she will make sure that these clubs are also considered, not just those in the National League and above in the pyramid of the FA?
The noble Baroness is right that these clubs have been a crucial element in the fabric of our communities for many years, much longer than some of the elite clubs. Obviously those clubs are now allowed to have spectators in a Covid-secure way, but we are working closely with Sport England and, as I mentioned earlier, have already distributed £210 million to organisations such as those that the noble Baroness mentioned.
I am grateful to the House for its forbearance. We recognise that the DCMS and the Treasury have taken steps to support sports clubs but, as my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe observed on Monday, sector-specific intervention tends to come at the 11th hour rather than when it would have the greatest benefit. We welcome news of support for the national league, but why did we have to lose Macclesfield Town to provoke ministerial action?
The Government’s first preference is for governing bodies and clubs to do what they can within their own resources. Does the Minister accept, however, that the financial returns submitted to the department are likely to show that reserves are running perilously low or have been depleted?
While we hope there will be solidarity initiatives within sport and that this will help to keep clubs afloat, they are not sufficient. Can the Minister provide an assurance that the Government will act more swiftly and decisively, and in a manner that recognises that sports clubs not only operate as businesses in their communities but are a vital community asset?
I think maybe the noble Lord asked more than one question, but I will try to answer as best I can. On his last point about acting swiftly and decisively, I reassure him that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport were on the phone to the national governing bodies of the main spectator sports immediately after the Prime Minister’s announcement that made it clear that spectators could not return on 1 October.
With regard to the financial returns, we are looking forward and are working through those, though obviously their scale and scope will vary. We are very clear about our role in helping clubs. In relation to the noble Lord’s first question, the twists and turns of the virus are difficult to predict, and we have reacted extremely promptly to the current situation.
Students’ Return to Universities
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 29 September.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement regarding the return of students to universities.
Throughout this pandemic, our priority has always been to keep young people as safe as possible while they continue to learn. It is this commitment to learning and skills that has led the Prime Minister to announce today that, through our lifetime skills guarantee, we will upgrade further education colleges across the country with huge capital investment. We will expand the apprenticeship offer, we will fund valuable free technical courses for adults equivalent to A-level and we will extend our digital boot camps. We will expand and transform the funding system so that it is as easy for a student to get a loan for a higher technical course as for a university degree. The Government will give everyone a flexible, lifelong loan entitlement to four years of post-18 education, so that adults will be able to retrain with high-level technical courses instead of being trapped in unemployment.
At the beginning of September, we saw the successful reopening of our schools and colleges. Universities have been working just as hard to make campuses as safe as possible, including through enhanced cleaning measures, social distancing on campuses and changes to timetables to stagger and manage attendance on site. We have now seen the new intake of first-year students who are beginning a new chapter in their lives at university, together with those who are returning to carry on their studies. I know that this will not be the start that any of them would have wanted or expected and I would just like to say that I am pleased to see that universities and students have followed the guidance in a responsible way, putting themselves, their friends and the local community in a safe place and out of harm’s way.
Students, as well as the wider community, accept that when we are living in a global pandemic we have to operate in a society with restrictions, but I do not believe we should look to inflict stricter measures on students or expect higher standards of behaviour from them than we would from any other section of society; there must be a parity. The decision to keep universities open and all our students learning has been a result of an enormous team effort throughout the university and higher education sector. We have drawn on the expertise of the HE taskforce that we set up and we have been providing robust public health advice and regular updates to the sector to help it to plan carefully to keep students and staff as safe as possible. As with all our education settings, we will continue monitoring the situation closely and will follow the latest scientific advice, adapting policies as the situation changes.
I know there has been some anxiety about the impact safety measures will have on the Christmas holidays. Students are important members of the communities they choose to study in. We expect them to follow the same guidance as those local communities. We will work with universities to make sure that all students are supported to return home safely and spend Christmas with their loved ones if they choose to do so. It is essential that we put in place measures to ensure that that can happen, while minimising the risk of transmission. Where there are specific circumstances that warrant it, there may be a requirement for some students to self-isolate at the end of term and we will be working with the sector to ensure that will be possible, including by ending in-person learning early if that is deemed to be necessary. My department will publish this guidance shortly, so that every student will be able to spend Christmas with their family.
Where students choose to stay in their university accommodation over Christmas, universities should continue making sure that they are safe and well looked after. Of course, it is inevitable there will be cases of Covid occurring in universities, just as there are in our wider communities and the constituencies we represent, but we believe that universities are very well prepared to handle any outbreaks as they arise and we have been working with the sector and Public Health England to make sure that they have every support and assistance they need should this happen. I have been impressed by the steps that our universities have been taking, working hand in glove with local authorities and local public health teams to safeguard students and staff. All our universities have local outbreak plans and all of those have been discussed with local directors of public health.
It is essential that we continue to allow our students to have face-to-face teaching wherever possible, as part of a blended learning approach. I have heard the Opposition call for all learning to move online. Although online learning is a highly effective part of the learning experience, many courses, including medicine and dentistry, as well as the creative arts, require a face-to- face element. That is why our guidance, published on 10 September, set out a tiered approach in higher education. Tiers enable a balance of face-to-face and online learning within the context of the Covid risk and will operate alongside local restrictions that are placed on the wider community in the area that the university is in.
I would now like to mention the latest position regarding testing for students. We have been working with the Department of Health and Social Care to make sure that the testing capacity is sufficient and appropriate for universities and I am sure the House will be aware that the department has now launched the NHS Covid-19 app. The department continues to make more testing available and the vast majority of people can get a test locally. The department is also increasing the number of local testing sites and laboratories, adding new Lighthouse laboratories in Newport and Charnwood to the national lab network, as well as additional walk-in centres being planned. While we know that testing capacity is the highest it has ever been, we are still seeing a significant demand for tests. It is vital that staff and students at universities, like any other member of society, get a test only if they develop coronavirus symptoms or if advised to do so by a clinician or a public health official.
I am aware that going to university can be a stressful time for some students, many of whom will be living away from their family and friends for the first time in their lives. This year will undoubtedly see added pressures because of disruption and uncertainty caused by the global pandemic and we must be mindful of how that will affect the mental health and well-being of students. Many universities have bolstered existing mental health services and offer alternatives to face-to-face consultations. Once again, I would like to thank staff at universities and colleges who have responded so quickly and creatively to the need to transform those essential services.
We have asked universities to provide additional help and practical support to students as well, and I am pleased to say that universities are making sure students who are isolating are properly cared for and can access food and medical and cleaning supplies if needed. Student accommodation and support services will be a vital resource if any student has to isolate and for students generally during the whole period of the pandemic. As well as providing support for those in halls of residence, universities will make sure that students who live in houses in multiple occupation away from campus will still have access to advice and support if they need it. Universities are also able to call on £256 million provided by the Government for hardship funding for students who have to isolate.
The Government have taken a conscious decision to prioritise education. We know how fundamental a good education is to opportunity, to aspiration and to social mobility. That is why we opened schools and why over 99.8% of schools are now open, delivering education to our children. Delivering education and the opportunity to go to university is equally important for those youngsters who have left college or school as well. We will never be in a position where we can eliminate all risk, but we will not condemn a generation of young people by asking them to put their lives on hold for months or years ahead. We believe that universities are very well prepared to handle any outbreaks as they arise. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, the situation that students face as they return to university is deeply concerning. Outbreaks are spreading, thousands are now isolating, parents are increasingly worried for their children and university staff working hard to prepare for a safe return are both anxious and angry. This situation was not inevitable, but many rightly feel let down by the Government. We need a plan to get testing fit for purpose, access to remote learning for students who are isolating, and security for the future of our universities.
I ask the Minister to start resolving that today by answering some key questions. Should students who have not yet moved to campus still do so? What steps are the Government urgently taking to speed up access to Covid-19 testing at universities? What support is being offered to those institutions that are setting up their own testing facilities? How do the Government intend to increase digital access for isolating students? As a minimum, we need answers to these points if people who are involved in the university sector and education are to have some confidence of a way forward while things progress as they are.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement. We on these Benches very much welcome the announcements on vocational education, particularly the flexible lifelong learning entitlement, of which we have been extolling the virtues for several years.
Regarding the apprenticeship scheme, a flagship policy of the coalition Government that has rather lost its way in recent years, we think we have seen significant reductions in the number of apprentices and the number of young people using the scheme. We need to listen to business and industry about how we can make the apprenticeship scheme work again, particularly for the creative industries.
The Government’s Kickstart programme did not actually figure in this Statement but, again, it supports young people. There is a risk that it does not provide support for those most at risk, a concern shared by many youth organisations. Rather than taking up time now, I will write to the Minister about the problems of eligibility and how they can be overcome.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I am horrified that hundreds of thousands of students have returned to their universities, often in cities and urban areas and often living in local communities. Students like to celebrate their return to university and to socialise, and we have seen over 20 cases of Covid affecting those students. It seems to me that the possibility of being able to learn online was very easy for students, so why did we bring them back? What was the scientific advice? What was the modelling that said we could bring students back to university, when they could easily have learned online, without a proper testing regime? There might have been the tests but there were not the facilities to get the test results quickly in place.
In my own city we have 70,000 students returning, many of them living in houses and flats in local communities. Many universities have monetarised their accommodation with private agreements with companies such as Unite Students and CRM, and part of those agreements is for occupancy rates of 80% to 90%. Will the Government reimburse students if they are forced to relinquish their accommodation through illness or through a decision that it is not safe for students to return to university after Christmas?
Students self-isolating in a very small space brings additional problems. Has the DfE been in touch with each university to see what additional support can be provided, be it for mental health or other needs?
In Liverpool today a local lockdown has been announced, under which different households cannot mix. How does this affect university students from different households who are sharing a house?
I thank both noble Lords for their questions and their attention to this issue. Starting university is a stressful experience at the best of times—people are often living away from home for the first time—but particularly so in the current circumstances. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, it is stressful not just for the students but for their parents, families and the university staff looking after them. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that throughout this pandemic our priority has always been to keep young people as safe as possible while they continue to learn.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked whether students should currently go to university. Yes, they should, if their university says that it is safe. At the beginning of this week, we had 80% of universities welcoming students back. It will be 90% by the beginning of next week. Students should check with their university and certainly go unless their university tells them not to.
The noble Lord also asked about testing. We are testing 225,000 a day at the moment, with a target to increase that to 500,000 by the end of the month. The message to students is clear, as it is to everyone else: if you have symptoms, please get a test.
The noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Storey, asked about digital access. The Government have provided over £100 million to help provide laptops and devices for disadvantaged children and young people so that they can access the education and services they need. This includes devices for care leavers, including those studying at university. We have been working with universities, which have been adept and adaptable in the current circumstances, by shifting their provision online, as they did at the end of the last academic year and continuing that work over the summer, ready for the start of the new academic year.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Storey, was anticipating the Statement on further education which my right honourable friend is making in another place as we speak. Perhaps if he writes on that we can correspond once it has been made in another place.
He also asked about face-to-face learning rather than online learning. There are some courses where face-to-face provision is important—for instance, in the creative sector and for medical degrees, which are so important in the current circumstances. Universities are using a blend of online and face-to-face teaching with the provisions and mitigations in place to do that safely.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked about accommodation and households. In student halls, it is universities and HE providers that determine what a household is, often around a shared kitchen or shared bathroom facilities. They will provide advice to students about how they can safely self-isolate in a household if that is what they need to do in their part of the country. The Government play no direct role in provision of student accommodation, whether managed by universities or the private sector, but we have urged universities and private hall providers to be fair in their decisions about rent charges in the current climate. Some universities and large companies have waived rents for the summer term or released students early from their contracts at the end of the last academic year, which we welcomed. If students think their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the student accommodation code if their provider is a member.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that cash-strapped universities are currently crucially dependent on overseas students. Yesterday at the virtual court meeting of the University of York, we were told of their concern about the shortage of flights from eastern Asia. Students are not arriving and they face long delays. Surely, the Government can collaborate with universities to see how they can help. Airlines have spare capacity, aircraft are sitting around and, presumably, students will be prepared to pay to travel to their academic work here. If the Government can move in to see what they can do to help, it would be much appreciated.
I am very happy to tell my noble friend that not only will we but we are working with the sector and others on these issues. We have been working with the Civil Aviation Authority to monitor the availability of commercial flights for international students travelling to the UK. We have been working with Universities UK International to support the higher education sector with chartering flights if that is what is needed. The Department for International Trade has been working closely with, for instance, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to secure the necessary approvals for flights to the UK from China. I am pleased to say that it has recently been successful in getting such permissions.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of governors of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Welsh University of the Year. In Wales from last Easter, hybrid learning was planned based on two-metre distancing. Given concerns for the risks to student mental health in the absence of face-to-face delivery, are the Government asking English universities urgently to consider the application of these design principles for all courses, not just in healthcare and arts and design?
We expect the majority of universities to be open with a blend of face-to-face and online teaching. As the noble Baroness said, that is important for the provision of education and the mental health and well-being of students, because university is rightly a sociable environment. We recognise that many students and staff will face additional mental health challenges. The guidance we have provided to the sector covers the need for universities to provide additional mental health and well-being support. We are doing what we can, for instance, with the money we have made available for hardship funds for those the current circumstances are causing extra stress.
My Lords, the Statement says that Ministers will work with universities to ensure that all students can return home for Christmas. Will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to work with universities to ensure that students’ mental health and capacity to learn are not compromised by draconian lockdowns of halls of residence? Has the Department for Education been in touch with the Office for Students to prevent this happening again?
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for the opportunity to reiterate what my right honourable friend says: we are working with universities to ensure that all students are supported to return home safely and can spend Christmas with their loved ones if they choose to. We will be providing guidance after consultation with the sector to say how that can be done safely at the end of term. Regarding the Office for Students, the noble Baroness may have seen that Sir Michael Barber, its chair, has written today in the Daily Telegraph about the work the OfS is doing to support students. Its student panel is meeting today to discuss how students see the situation, which will inform the response. That is in addition to the HE task force the Government have set up so that we can talk to the sector more generally.
My Lords, if we heard that a third-world country had locked up its students without access to food we would rightly be horrified. Yet that is what this Conservative Government have done to our students. The possible harm from Covid transmission is nothing compared to the harm from this draconian action, which will lead young people to distrust authority and despise politicians. Can the Minister persuade his colleagues, as a matter of urgency, to reverse this dreadful punishment and allow our students to be students?
Well, I do not recognise the characterisation that the noble Baroness gives of what is going on. As my right honourable friend said in his Statement, students as well as the wider community accept that in a global pandemic there have to be restrictions, for the good of themselves and the community more widely. But we do not believe that we should be inflicting any stricter measures on students; we are asking no more or less of them than we would of any other adult at this difficult time. We are working with universities to make sure that they can support the students studying there to get on with their lives as safely as possible and benefit from their education, while keeping themselves and the community safe.
My Lords, Scottish students and those from other EU countries attending Scottish universities pay no tuition fees, and it is now reported that they are being offered discounted accommodation costs. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that every student attending university in the United Kingdom is treated fairly? If the universities cannot deliver the product they sold, why should young people have to meet the full cost?
As my noble friend points out, university provision is a devolved matter and different Administrations take different approaches throughout the UK. Her Majesty’s Government expect universities to continue to deliver a high-quality academic experience. As I said, we have seen some fantastic and innovative ways in which universities have adapted to the current circumstances. It is between students and their provider as to whether they think they are getting the quality of education that they signed up for. An established process is in place for students with concerns about their education to follow in England and Wales: in the first instance, it will be through the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
My Lords, the Statement contains several excellent initiatives. My main concern is that students leaving home for the first time will be under additional pressure to socialise. Meeting and sharing concerns with others are essential for mental health. Under such pressures, it is easy to forget the somewhat complex guidance. Will the Minister stress the need for displays at places of learning, emphasising the risk of careless mingling to the students’ own life chances and the health and well-being of those they hold dear?
I thank the noble Lord for his welcome for what is contained in the Statement. He is absolutely right: as I say, universities should be a sociable experience. People learn not just in lecture halls but in discussions with their fellow students and those around them. We have been providing guidance to HE providers to make sure that people can enjoy as normal and fulfilling a university experience as possible at the moment, while keeping themselves and those around them safe.
My Lords, I should declare a lapsed interest as, until midnight, I was chair of council of Lancaster University. Does the noble Lord recognise the enormous efforts that universities have made to provide a Covid-secure environment for their students and, in particular, to sustain face-to-face teaching, which I believe to be the essence of the university experience? Can he explain why, to the latest knowledge I have, there is a very serious weakness in the provision of testing facilities on campuses? At Lancaster, we have been promised the possibility of a mobile unit in something like 10 days’ time, which would be on campus for a couple of days. If we are to sustain this Covid-secure environment, we need more action on testing.
I congratulate the noble Lord on the completion of his term as pro-vice chancellor at Lancaster. He will be a tough act to follow, but I see that my right honourable friend—as he would be if he were still in another place—Alistair Burt is going to give following in his footsteps his best shot. The noble Lord is absolutely right: we want to see face-to-face teaching where that is safe and possible. Universities are doing a blend of online and face-to-face, depending on the courses and the circumstances, and on the public health needs in their locality. We are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including where there are outbreaks, and prioritising at-risk groups. But we are working closely with universities so that we can make sure that they are keeping staff and students as safe as possible.
I declare as interest as Chancellor of Cardiff University. I am very proud of what that university has done to sustain both face-to-face and online teaching. Cardiff is one of the universities offering testing: ours is asymptomatic testing, which will enable up to 1,000 staff and students per day to be tested. It is one of the latest generation of much more accurate tests, using the sophisticated technology that underlies the Government’s Moonshot ambition. What financial support do the Government plan to give to universities to increase the availability of their tests, because it costs millions to set this up, and to allow them to be opened up to the wider public? Will the Government fast-track the accreditation for such university laboratories and link them into the national network?
I commend the work of Cardiff and other universities, not just for providing tests for students and staff on their campuses but of course for their work in developing a vaccine. Our universities really are at the forefront of it, which is why we need to make sure that they are operating and working as well as they can. The Government are working closely with NHS Test and Trace to get to a position in which all universities have access to a testing centre within 1.5 miles of their campus, with priority for universities in areas of national intervention. On the financial point, I will write to the noble Baroness with further information if she would be happy with that.
My Lords, understandably we hear much about the short-term impact of the pandemic on students and universities, but there is a long-term impact too: for an increasing number of university students, the postgraduate outcomes are not great. May I encourage my noble friend the Minister to take this opportunity to examine all the choices that we offer to young people as they leave school, including further education colleges and apprenticeship routes? In many cases, these alternative routes may be more attractive and may lead to greater opportunities out in the world of work, especially in the challenging times ahead.
My noble friend makes a very topical point. She will have seen our right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s speech on this very issue on Tuesday, when he talked about the new lifetime skills guarantee and addressing the gulf between so-called academic and so-called practical education. As he said, we want to end that bogus distinction between HE and FE. It is particularly topical because my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is making a Statement on it in another place with further detail as we speak.
My Lords, following the excellent example of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, instead of locking up students and placing security officers outside their doors, does the Minister agree that students in Covid hotspots should be prioritised for double testing, whether or not they have symptoms? If they tested negative, they could get on with their lives; if positive, they would of course need to self-isolate. When will that be possible?
As I said, we are prioritising testing. On double testing, I am afraid I cannot say more, but we will certainly take that back and reply more fully to the noble Baroness. Decisions on what measures are applied and where have to be made by local public health teams, based on the information that they receive through NHS Test and Trace. Universities themselves are not decision-makers there. As I say, we are asking the same of students as we are of any other adults around the country in these trying times.
My Lords, the Minister talked about the provision of computers for students, but there seems to be a lot of variability in the quality and quantity of the online provision that is available. What discussions have the Government had with the regulator to make sure that there is a consistently high standard of online tuition, and that we can learn from best practice?
As I said, the Office for Students task force is meeting today, and I am sure that will be one of the points raised and fed back so that we hear directly from students. We are making sure that we provide hardship funding for those who need it and IT equipment, targeted in particular at groups such as care leavers who can most benefit from them. I will certainly keep an eye on the situation, as I know the noble Baroness will.
I declare an interest as a visiting professor lecturing at Plymouth University, and a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, on planning matters. So I will be doing that virtually this year.
I emphasise to the Minister my support for what they are doing. Keeping universities open is absolutely critical, because many students, if they were not able to complete their degree now, would never be able to go back to it, and there would not be the capacity in the university system to double-enter future students with current students for that to happen. So it is vital that universities are kept open. For that, many are struggling with the resourcing needed for the extra costs currently involved. Will the Minister continue to work closely with universities to meet their needs—accepting that some funding has already been provided?
I completely agree with the noble Lord about the importance of keeping universities open and thank him for the part that he is personally playing in that. As Sir Michael Barber said today in his article, we cannot
“put a generation of young people’s lives on hold.”
We have to have the right mitigations to make sure that they are doing it safely, but we have to keep universities open for business, and the Government will continue to engage with the sector, as we are doing through the HE task force.
My Lords, it has been reported that in some universities, private security guards, presumably employed by college authorities, secure and lock premises to prevent students leaving their halls of residence. Was there a vote on this matter in another place? If not, could the Minister explain under what legal authority this draconian action was taken?
As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, decisions on what measures to apply, and where, are made by public health teams, based on information from NHS Test and Trace. It is not for universities to make those decisions but, as the noble Lord will be aware, as of Monday this week it is illegal to not self-isolate if you are notified by a public health official that you have tested positive or have had close contact with somebody who has tested positive, and that can be enforced by the police. Universities, as responsible providers, are there to make sure that guidance is being followed by those who are studying at them.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my registered interests.
Does my noble friend accept that on-campus learning is still important for the education and well-being of students, and that for students who live at home, often in multi-occupancy homes, while attending university, a physical campus learning space is essential? Will he join me to paying tribute to the University of Bolton, where I am a pro-vice chancellor, which, in very difficult local lockdown circumstances, has introduced a series of Covid measures that have enabled the university to continue to provide a guaranteed minimum level of contact learning?
I certainly join my noble friend in providing that congratulation to the University of Bolton; that is exactly the sort of response we are seeing from across the sector to make sure that students get the high-quality education they expect. My noble friend is right that that should be accompanied by the student experience more broadly—learning to live away from home, meeting people from different backgrounds and exchanging ideas—which is such an integral part of the university experience. We need to make sure that universities are doing that and doing it safely.
My Lords, in the Statement, the Secretary of State said:
“As with all our education settings, we will continue monitoring the situation closely and will follow the latest scientific advice, adapting policies as the situation changes.”
What is the latest scientific advice to universities, especially to those that do not have their own testing capacity?
As my right honourable friend said, we continue to follow the scientific advice; this is a changing circumstance, and the advice changes as well. We are providing guidance to the sector, as we did most recently on 10 September, to inform universities as term began. As that changes, we will update it and provide it directly to universities. I imagine that that is published, but if it is not I will correct the record and write to the noble Baroness.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed in today’s list. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted, and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged. A Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group. If a Division is pressed, it will be deferred to a later date.
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Agriculture Bill, has consented to place her interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Clause 17: Continuing EU programmes: power to provide financial assistance
1: Clause 17, page 14, line 45, at end insert—
“(ba) the Scottish Ministers, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to Scotland;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment enables the Scottish Ministers to give financial assistance under Clause 17.
My Lords, I shall speak to a small number of technical amendments, and I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.
These are technical operability amendments and do not represent any change of policy. The Government are acting on very recent legal advice from the European Law Group and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Government’s primary legislation drafters, on the interpretation of the withdrawal agreement as regards retained EU law, with the objective of ensuring that no doubt remains that these powers to continue EU CAP legacy schemes will operate as intended for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Amendments 1 and 4 relate to the new clause created by Amendment 45, as agreed on Report, “Continuing EU programmes: power to provide financial assistance”, and will ensure that the Scottish Government are able to make domestic payments where agreements and programmes are currently supported under an EU programme relating to rural development or fruit and vegetable producers once the funding for the programme has been used up. This amendment has been tabled at the request of the Scottish Government, whose primary legislation has progressed quickly through their Parliament and who do not have, as a result, an immediate opportunity to correct this themselves.
Amendments 2 and 3 have the effect of adding the promotions aid legislation—EU regulation 1144/2014, delegated regulation 2015/1829 and implementing regulation 2015/1831—to the list of legislation which will become retained EU law under the new clause created by Amendment 46 “Retained direct EU legislation”, as agreed on Report. This ensures that EU legislation relating to promotion measures for agricultural products which has a direct impact under the withdrawal agreement in relation to existing programmes will also be included in retained direct EU legislation. We have made these amendments at the request of DAERA, which wants to retain the ability to carry out agri-promotion legacy schemes in Northern Ireland under this legislation after the end of the transition period.
Government Amendments 107 and 110 at Report gave Welsh Ministers and DAERA the power to modify retained EU law for CMO apiculture legacy schemes. Amendments 5 and 6 correct a drafting oversight by specifying the resolution procedure for government Amendments 107 and 110 as agreed at Report, for the Welsh Government and DAERA to make regulations in their respective parliaments.
In line with the Sewel convention, the UK Government have sought the legislative consent of all the devolved legislatures for the provisions that engage the LCM process. I am pleased to report that each of the devolved legislatures has agreed legislative consent for the Agriculture Bill on the recommendation of its respective devolved Administration. The Northern Ireland Assembly agreed to the LCM on 31March 2020; the Senedd Cymru on 29 September and the Scottish Parliament on 30 September.
I would like to make clear again that these are purely technical amendments and were tabled at the request of the devolved Administrations to ensure that the legislation operates as intended. These amendments are consequential upon those tabled at Report to reflect the new European Law Group advice. The Government have not changed their policy. I hope that noble Lords will understand my wish, on behalf of the devolved Administrations, to ensure that these matters are firmly settled before the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words. First, I repeat what I said at Report: I am particularly grateful to the Minister for the way he has conducted this Bill, for his kindness and for the way he explained it and answered questions in such a helpful manner. I thank him and all the Front Benches for their hard work on this marathon Bill. They will be more pleased than anyone that we are now at Third Reading.
I want to ask a question or two about Amendment 1, on providing financial assistance for continuing EU programmes as far as Scotland is concerned. The Minister said this was a technical amendment—if I have got this right—because the Scottish Parliament did not have the opportunity to legislate. I was mystified, however, about why it was not included earlier and why we had to wait until Third Reading—at the 59th minute of the 11th hour—to include it, because the original draft included powers for the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but Scotland was not included at all. Why has it been delayed? Are there changed circumstances? Will the Minister expand on that? Was it an oversight or have the circumstances changed?
I am a bit worried that sometimes in Whitehall—not through any malevolence, but just through oversight—we provide fuel for the fires of nationalism that are currently burning and that, on all sides of the House, we do not want to encourage. Therefore, it is very important that we get these things right and get them right early on in the process, so that we are not seen to be putting Scotland in as an afterthought.
Agricultural activities are carried out on two-thirds of the land area of Scotland. It is very important and right that the decisions about funding these continuing EU programmes be made as near as possible to the area in which they are taking place. The Scottish Parliament and Government clearly fulfil that objective. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that it was not an afterthought, that it is a technical amendment and that the interests of Scottish farmers, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government were not overlooked, because it is a very important issue. I would be grateful for that reassurance from the Minister.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I thank my noble friend for bringing forward this small group of amendments and will speak in particular to Amendments 1 and 4.
My concerns echo those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. This is a recurrent theme expressed by the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies which we hear of in the EU Environment Sub-Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit. In thanking my noble friend for listening to their concerns and bringing these amendments forward, I note that consent was given by the Scottish Parliament only yesterday, which seems quite late. Would my noble friend use his good offices to keep Parliament informed and update us on continued progress and on how this will impact negotiations and, afterwards, the implementation of the new policy? It is very important that the national Parliament at Westminster should be kept informed on the impact on the devolved Assemblies.
I take this opportunity, as I will not participate on the last stage, to thank my noble friend for his boundless patience, courtesy and tolerance during the many hours of debate. Through him, I thank the Bill team for the outstanding service they have performed to the House. I also thank the Public Bill Office and all who have been involved, including my noble friend’s able assistant, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who has been utterly charming and patient throughout this process.
As my noble friend Lord Gardiner is aware, I hoped he would have brought forward a government amendment on another issue. The House has spoken; it voted overwhelmingly, by I think a majority of 100, to take forward an amendment to the House of Commons on protecting our standards and ensuring that imported food products continue to meet these standards. I also look forward to my noble friend and his department’s response to the Dimbleby report, which would have been very helpful to have.
We are on a voyage of discovery, as there is very little detail about either the interim SFI or the ELMS proceedings—the sustainable farming initiative and the new environmental land management schemes. But we are at this stage, and I congratulate my noble friend on all the hard work from him and his department to get us here.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the rationale behind these somewhat late amendments. Over the last 18 months, there have been several occasions on which we have debated legislation under the Defra banner which has been amended for a variety of reasons—with the sheer weight of legislation in Bills and statutory instruments, the degree of detail needed and the very short timeframes have meant that unforced errors have occurred. The main thing is that, in this case, the Government have been able to act so that omissions were rectified.
The first amendment, as the Minister indicated, is at the request of the Scottish devolved Administration to ensure that their agriculture Bill could provide the continuing financial assistance that will be needed and give Scotland the same powers as Wales, England and Northern Ireland. The third amendment is consequential on the first. It would have been helpful if the Scottish Administration realised this omission earlier, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.
The second amendment, to Clause 18, relates to retained EU law for promotion schemes for agri-foods not to be used in England, Scotland or Wales. Northern Ireland wanted to keep its options open, so we have this amendment.
These are very technical issues, but it is often those that trip us all up. This is, as has been indicated, all very last minute. I understand that this could not be covered later by secondary legislation but would have needed primary legislation to comply with the multiannual financial arrangements.
The last two amendments relate to powers enabling the Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly to enact legislation for bees to be included in the Bill. We have debated on many occasions the crucial role that bees and other pollinators play in ensuring that our crops, flowers and trees flourish and survive. I find it extraordinary that such a vital section of the Bill, on apiculture, should have been left without any means of legally ensuring its continuity. However, the error was discovered in the nick of time. I support this group of amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these amendments. As I know he is aware, it is clearly very frustrating that they have been tabled at such a late stage. As he has explained, several of the changes come as a result of late requests from the devolved nations. It is a worrying sign of the complexity of legislation across the four nations that decisions are being made on different timeframes and with different consequences for the agricultural community. It underlines our view that we need a robust framework agreement within which we can anticipate and plan legislative changes affecting the four nations in an orderly way in future.
It is understandable that Scotland might want the same powers as other devolved nations to provide financial assistance for rural development initiatives, but I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Foulkes on this. When were the Scottish Government made aware that the powers applied to everybody apart from Scotland, and when did they put in their request to add these powers into the Bill? If future requests are made by the devolved nations, would it be possible to deal with them via secondary legislation, since, had this Bill passed, where or how else could these matters have been pursued?
The Minister also explained that there had been a drafting error on the management of apiculture. It needs a resolution procedure for changes, which has now been included in the Bill as a negative resolution. Have these late changes been sent to the Delegated Powers Committee for review? What provisions are available if other drafting errors of this kind come to light once the Bill has been passed? It goes without saying that we hope no other errors appear, but sadly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, reminded us, the department has not been exempt from similar errors in secondary legislation in our recent past. Unfortunately, we have form on this.
Finally, the Minister explained that a small number of changes arise from a change in advice from the lawyers about how sections of the withdrawal agreement should be interpreted. Were the lawyers made aware that this Bill was reaching its final stages of consideration and were they given a deadline for their advice which would have allowed the consequences of it to be introduced into the Bill in a timely way? I know the Minister shares our frustration that these issues have arisen at such a late stage. If nothing else, I hope there can be a resolution from the department to learn from these errors so that the same mistakes do not occur in the next piece of legislation and that we can deal with all these matters in a timely manner.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate on these technical amendments. No one could be more frustrated than I am at coming before your Lordships at Third Reading with new technical amendments. It is not desirable, and I regret it.
However, on the issue with the Scottish Government, I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and all noble Lords that there was no afterthought. Nothing was overlooked. What I am bringing forward is at the request of the Scottish Government. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that this is why work on the framework, collaboration and working together, although agriculture is devolved, are so important.
We clearly did not want to assume that Scotland also wanted powers and we waited for the Scottish Government to confirm that they wanted the provisions extended to them before assuming that that would be the case. We are in regular contact with officials in the Scottish Government. We understood that they were made aware on 15 September; we gave timings and deadlines, and the Delegated Powers Committee was made aware.
I agree that in the perfect world we would have been able to include these at least on Report, if not before, but they are issues that have recently come forward. As I said, I felt that it was better these were dealt with, as they needed to be, in primary legislation. Given the fact that these were flagged up and that the devolved Administrations sought us to attend to them for them, I thought it would be austere—to say the least—to say, “No, you’d better wait for opportunities within your own Administrations.” That is why, although I am frustrated about it and I recognise that frustration, they have come forward.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their kind remarks. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that no one wants to have legislation that is in error in any sense. That is why we have professionals and lawyers bringing forward that expertise. Obviously, what has happened here is that there are some things which the devolved Administrations have looked at and said, “Actually, we would like to have this within our own legislative framework and our own schedules.”
On the point about apiculture, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that bees and pollinators are absolutely essential not only for our crops but for the natural world. This was about ensuring that the regulations in Wales and Northern Ireland, and any changes in them, were to be dealt with by the negative resolution. It was not that there were no regulatory powers; it was to confirm it would be through the negative resolution.
As I say, I wish that these matters had come forward earlier, but—I say this particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, raised it—I want to get these things right. That is why I have asked your Lordships to accept these amendments. I reiterate that they do not represent any change, they are consequential on those tabled on Report, and they reflect the advice that we need to attend to these for the devolved Administrations at their request. Given the time constraints, introducing them at this stage did at least allow us to ensure that the legislation operates as intended and, very importantly, to the satisfaction of the devolved Administrations. We have had very positive working relationships on the Bill, and more widely as a department. I am very pleased that each devolved legislature has agreed the legislative consent for the Bill on the recommendation of their respective devolved Administrations.
I know that my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised issues separate to the amendments themselves, which obviously I will reflect on. In the meantime, I beg to move the amendment.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Clause 18: Retained direct EU legislation
Amendments 2 and 3
2: Clause 18, page 15, line 44, leave out “subsection (2), (3), (4) or (5)” and insert “any of subsections (2) to (6)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s other amendment to this clause.
3: Clause 18, page 17, line 19, at end insert—
“(6) The legislation within this subsection is—(a) Regulation (EU) No 1144/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014 on information provision and promotion measures concerning agricultural products implemented in the internal market and in third countries,(b) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2015/1829 of 23 April 2015 supplementing Regulation (EU) No 1144/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council on information provision and promotion measures concerning agricultural products implemented in the internal market and in third countries, and(c) Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/1831 of 7 October 2015 laying down rules for application of Regulation (EU) No 1144/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council on information provision and promotion measures concerning agricultural products implemented in the internal market and in the third countries.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that EU legislation relating to promotion measures for agricultural products that has direct effect under the Withdrawal Agreement in relation to existing programmes will also be retained direct EU legislation.
Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.
Clause 60: Extent
4: Clause 60, page 53, line 32, leave out subsection (4)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to Clause 17.
Amendment 4 agreed.
Schedule 5: Provision relating to Wales
5: Schedule 5, page 70, line 35, at end insert—
“(3) Regulations under this paragraph are subject to negative resolution procedure (unless section 54(5) applies).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment sets out the procedure for the regulation making power contained in paragraph 5 of Schedule 5.
Amendment 5 agreed.
Schedule 6: Provision relating to Northern Ireland
6: Schedule 6, page 84, line 21, at end insert—
“(3) Regulations under this paragraph are subject to negative resolution procedure (unless section 54(5) applies).”Member’s explanatory statement.
This amendment sets out the procedure for the regulation making power contained in paragraph 6 of Schedule 6.
Amendment 6 agreed.
My Lords, we have come to this final stage of—I think we would say—lengthy deliberations on a Bill which will have a lasting impact on farming and the rural economy. It has been my privilege, coming from a farming background, to have responsibility for the Bill.
It has also presented, if I may say, some challenges from all sides of the House—and quite often from behind me. I am clear that our consideration of the Bill has been full and detailed. My noble friend Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist—to whom I pay a very strong tribute—and I have enjoyed the opportunity to discuss with your Lordships these important matters. I think we would all accept that it has been wide ranging, and I entirely appreciate the commitment with which your Lordships have scrutinised the Bill.
In particular, I acknowledge the cordial working relationship we have both had with the noble Baronesses on the Front Benches opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. We all seek a vibrant future for British farmers and the production of food of high quality and to a high standard. Farmers are also custodians of the countryside and our landscapes, and I believe the Bill provides a framework for these two imperatives: food production and an enhanced environment.
I also take the opportunity to thank the Bill team and all the officials at Defra and within the devolved Administrations for their collaborative working, which has made my task not only—on most occasions—straightforward but especially stimulating and rewarding. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his kind comments. By any measure, consideration of the Bill has been a mammoth task. In many ways, this is not surprising: this Bill is the first major piece of farming legislation for about 40 years, so there was a lot to discuss. We certainly had a lot of discussion.
I feel I know so much more about the personal lives of so many Peers—their favourite butterflies, their favourite trees, their best-loved walks and landscapes, and even sometimes their special hobbies. Their determination to keep talking past my bedtime has been impressive. I have also been genuinely impressed by their commitment to the environment, and indeed to a policy based on nature-friendly farming for the future. Throughout it all, the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, have been the personification of patience and courtesy, and I pay tribute to them both for their professionalism and for initiating the many briefings and discussions which took place around the Bill in an attempt to reach understanding and consensus.
At the end of the day, we have sent only six amendments back to the Commons, and those represent some of the biggest issues where we were unable to reach a consensus. I hope the Commons will understand the strength of feeling from around the Chamber on our concerns, and indeed feel able to reflect on and reconsider its position on those issues. I really hope that it is able to do that, but I suspect that this is not quite the end of the road for the Bill and that it will be back with us again all too soon.
In the meantime, I formally thank both the Minister and the Bill team for getting us to this point. I also thank Daniel Stevens, our legislative officer, for his excellent advice and drafting skills. Finally, I thank my noble friends Lord Grantchester and Lady Wilcox for contributing their expertise with such style and for being such great partners in our team.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his time, patience and wisdom in helping us through the passage of the Bill. We have had a great many amendments to deal with, many speakers and some very late nights. Throughout, the Minister has been thorough in his responses and polite; I am sure, had I been in his place, I would not have remained so placid. I am very grateful to him for his diligence and support.
Like others, I have learned a great deal more about agriculture and the land through the passage of the Bill. I also place on record my thanks to the officials for the numerous briefings we have received over the months since Easter. In some cases, there were over 15 officials on the Zoom calls, helping us to get to grips with the Bill and the many clauses we were attempting to amend.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for their support throughout this process, and those on the Cross Benches who have worked with us to ensure that the issues the public were so concerned about got a proper airing. I agree with her that it will be interesting to see what the Commons sends back to us.
Lastly, but by no means least, I thank the Liberal Democrat whips’ office, without which I would have been floundering with the processes involved in getting to this stage today. This has been a long haul, but we have got there. I again thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, for their guidance on the Bill.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and before her the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Both have contributed enormously to the debates on this Bill. It is a daunting task to be speaking on behalf of my noble friends from the Cross Benches. I could not possibly reflect the depth and breadth of experience and knowledge that resides within the Cross-Bench group. It is a great honour to speak on behalf of my colleagues at Third Reading.
This Bill is of huge significance. I was listening to a presentation yesterday, during which this point in history was once again likened to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the 1947 Agriculture Act. It represents fundamental change: a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape the management of the countryside and how we redesign our agriculture. For myself, and a number of us on the Cross Benches and indeed across the whole House, farming and land management have been our main occupation and our lifetime’s work. So, to have the opportunity of participating in this Bill, trying to shape it to make sure it is fit for purpose, has been a privilege and an incredible experience.
I genuinely believe that the amendments that my noble friends and I have sponsored have improved the Bill. I will not attempt to list them, because I run the risk of missing an important contribution, but I have, once again, been so impressed by the depth of resource, the expertise and the knowledge available on the Benches. To be able to interrogate this Bill line by line and scrutinise with vast knowledge of the subject does demonstrate, once again, the value of this House.
Of course, the job is not finished: I do hope our colleagues in the other House do not dismiss our amendments out of hand, but take them seriously, recognising that they are a genuine attempt to improve the Bill and to cover issues of importance and relevance to the agricultural sector at this great time of change. Also, since this is a framework Bill, we look forward to receiving more detail in due course, particularly as evidence from the ELMS pilots becomes available. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the House will have the opportunity to comment on the ELMS pilots and the plans to roll them out nationally in due course.
Finally, it is my pleasure to thank all those who have contributed to the smooth running of the process in challenging circumstances: the Bill team was incredibly helpful in dealing with endless queries and in the drafting of amendments; the clerks, as usual, in their guidance and organisational professionalism; the many who work behind the scenes have played a key role, particularly the digital team, who successfully delivered a service to us all so we could contribute in sequence—quite remarkable technology. I thank them all very much indeed. Once again, a big thank you to the Front Bench ministerial team for their tolerance, courtesy, patience and the comprehensive way in which they responded to debates. Thank you.
I do not think we have the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, do we? No. Then we will go on to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting, worthwhile and civilised series of sessions, discussing our individual, and the Government’s, visions, ideas and plans for the future of rural Britain and agriculture. Clearly there are disagreements, but overall there is a degree of consensus, which I personally much welcome. However, while I do not wish to be the bad fairy at the christening, I do wish to point out that this is an enabling Bill, and without the measures that follow, nothing can result. It is about that that I wish to comment and, at this point, I reiterate my interest as declared in the register and note the agricultural organisations with which I am involved.
I feel I have no alternative but to tell the House that I fear the emperor may have no clothes. I have had no information not in the public domain, and I know that some confidential information has in fact found its way into the press. However, I am quite clear that a number of those who are committed to working closely with the Government and Defra on these matters, and who will not fail to continue to do so—people who come from the practical world of agriculture and the environment—are very concerned that the department is simply not grounded in reality. Farming and land management have to be grounded.
In particular, there are real anxieties about the ability of the Sustainable Food Initiative to act as a bridge between the basic payment scheme and ELMS because, quite simply, there is not enough money. It is as simple as that, and those who say it understand these things. Equally, there is no confidence that working IT systems either will or indeed can be put in place in time. After all, we have been there quite recently. Failure in these respects will certainly lead to significant numbers of farms and rural businesses going bust.
The Minister, as many have said quite rightly, has conducted the proceedings in a genial and constructive manner admired by all around the House, but we must not forget what is happening behind the proscenium arch and curtain in front of which he delivers his lines. If I am right—and, unusually for me, I hope I am not, but I fear it is possible I may be—all that we have been discussing over the past few weeks will turn out to be an agreeable hallucination that will turn into nightmares or worse for many in rural Britain, particularly smaller businesses. Perfectly decent enabling legislation is quite capable of metamorphosing into appalling public administration. Let us all hope and pray that it will not happen in this instance, but the potential for it to do so is clearly there.
I think we can now call the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Is the noble Lord there?
We can hear you: carry on.
I think, perhaps, if the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, cannot hear us, we will have to call it a day. I am sorry about that. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has withdrawn, so I now call the Minister.
My Lords, perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Marlesford that I will contact him and hear what he has to say. We have heard from the South Downs, Somerset, Northumberland, Cumbria, and we would have heard from Suffolk—that range of great landscape and food production. I am reminded by the two noble Baronesses talking of late nights that of course there are late nights of harvest as we try to ensure we get as much in before the weather changes or before the moisture rate gets too much. There are also early mornings, which is so much a feature of livestock farming. I know very few farmers who think that late nights are a very good idea. So there has been some stamina about our deliberations, and that is something I admire in this House. We really get stuck in and we take to these things.
The noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, with his very great experience, used the word “reshaping”, but there are some great constants as well. It is essential that we provide good food in this country. It is essential that we have good husbandry of the animals that we are the custodians of as farmers, that provide food as well.
I also reflect on the experience of your Lordships and, as I have said before, being a Minister in the House of Lords is a very different concept to the other place. I know that there are many noble Lords who know far more about the subject than I do. That is not the case, I suspect, in the other place, and it sometimes does help to raise one’s game.
On ELMS, I well understand the importance of the test and trials. That is why I have been very straightforward with your Lordships that across the piece, in every part of the country, with all land tenures and different topographies, the tests and trials are in place so that this works for the farmer and the land manager. Whether it is tier 1, 2 or 3, it is designed to be their scheme too. I look forward to keeping your Lordships involved and engaged in those matters.
I have to warn your Lordships that obviously Defra will bring forward a programme of statutory instruments; I understand that three will arise from this legislation. However, clearly, in the months and years ahead, statutory instruments will be engaged as we move forward, and I look forward to working with your Lordships on them.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that we have of course found a lot of consensus, and where we have disagreed and there have been civilised collisions, I utterly respect the views that have been expressed. I say to the noble Lord that I think I am grounded, and I know jolly well that my ministerial colleagues are. We are acutely aware, as we go through a period of change, that we need to work with each and every farmer up and down the land and to work collaboratively with them, because this is a joint venture. I am not very good with IT systems—I am always nervous of them. I have taken that point and I have already made that point, but it is helpful to have that on the record. [Interruption.] There must be a farmyard somewhere in the House.
We have all worked extremely hard on the Bill and it has been a privilege to serve your Lordships.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Fire Safety Bill
My Lords, I am very pleased to bring this Bill before the House today for its Second Reading. While short, it introduces important measures designed to keep people safe from the risk of fire.
None of us will ever forget the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in the early morning of 14 June, nor will we forget the 72 people who lost their lives in the most appalling circumstances. Our thoughts today are very much with the victims’ families, the survivors and fellow residents, who have had to rebuild their lives over the past three and a half years. Yesterday evening I was privileged to visit the Grenfell Tower site and tour the Lancaster West Estate at the invitation of the Lancaster West Residents’ Association. I thank its members for a constructive meeting thereafter.
A full independent inquiry was established in the aftermath of the fire, which is being led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to understand what happened and make recommendations to ensure it can never happen again. The Government also commissioned an independent review of building regulations and safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt. Her findings have underpinned our unprecedented programme of building and fire safety reform.
We are resolute in our commitment to delivering change, and significant steps have already been taken to address building safety and fire safety risks. The Bill is just one part of that wider programme. There is considerable experience across the House and, as we take forward the Bill, we will be listening, as well as working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue.
Before I go further, I take the opportunity to thank our fire and rescue services for their incredible response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Across the nation, around 4,000 firefighters and staff are now helping in the broader Covid-19 efforts. The National Fire Chiefs Council very quickly agreed a framework with unions and employers for firefighters to support the vulnerable and their emergency service partners. This has enabled firefighters to provide support to the NHS and ambulance trusts, the most vulnerable people, and coroners: at one stage, 300 firefighters were helping ambulance services in London alone. As the Minister with responsibility for fire, I am incredibly proud of the way they have responded to the crisis.
As soon as possible after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government started working with relevant authorities and building owners to identify the risk and prevalence of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material cladding and set up a comprehensive programme to remediate buildings of 18 metres and above with unsafe ACM.
We have since taken many other steps. These include setting up an independent expert panel on building safety, chaired by Sir Ken Knight, a former London Fire Commissioner and Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, to provide advice to government and building owners, and making £600 million available to social and private sector landlords to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on residential buildings over 18 metres. Progress by building owners has been far too slow. However, as of 31 August 2020, of the 458 high- rise residential buildings identified as having unsafe ACM cladding, 74% of them have either started or completed works to remove it.
My right honourable friend the Chancellor announced in this year’s Budget that the Government are providing a further £1 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems for both the social and private residential sectors on buildings of 18 metres and above. Those who registered for the £1 billion fund are now able to submit their funding applications.
Every single person in this country, no matter where they live, has the right to feel safe in their own home. Alongside the risk it posed, ACM cladding placed an enormous psychological and emotional burden on residents of high-rise buildings, each wondering whether their home would be next. It is right that we act to remove this danger.
In addition to the removal of ACM cladding, the Home Office has also provided £30 million of additional funding for fire and rescue services. Some £20 million of this is to allow them to increase their capacity and capability, while £10 million has been allocated specifically to the National Fire Chiefs Council—to strengthen its protection activity—and to the building risk review programme, which will ensure that all high-rise residential buildings in England are inspected or reviewed by December 2021. A further £10 million has been made available via a protection uplift fund so that fire and rescue services can increase their focus on other high-risk categories of buildings, and £10 million has been provided to build the NFCC’s central capability and ensure that it can implement the lessons from the Grenfell tragedy in local services contained in the phase 1 inquiry.
The Queen’s Speech committed the Government to bringing forward two Bills on fire and building safety. The first is this short, technical Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The second, the building safety Bill, will later be led by me in this House, and was published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny on 20 July. The draft building safety Bill proposes to put in place an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith’s review. It will bring about a fundamental change in both the regulatory framework and industry culture, creating a more accountable system.
The proposed Bill will put in place an enhanced safety framework for higher-risk buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith’s review. This framework will include a new regulator, clearer accountability and duties for duty holders. The Bill will also ensure that the residents of high-rise buildings have a stronger voice, alongside giving them better access to safety information about their building, clarifying their rights and providing recourse to raise safety concerns directly to the building safety regulator. The pre-legislative scrutiny for that Bill is currently under way. I am determined that we will bring forward as soon as possible after that process concludes a Bill that reflects views and expertise from across this House and expert advice from beyond.
At present, there are differing interpretations of the existing fire safety order on whether the external walls and, to a lesser extent, the individual flat entrance doors fall within the scope of the order. This ambiguity is leading to inconsistency in operational practice. This is unhelpful at best; at worst, it means that the full identification and management of fire safety risks is compromised, which could put the lives of residents at risk.
This Fire Safety Bill clarifies that the fire safety order does apply to the structure, external walls—including cladding and balconies—and individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. This clarification will also ensure that fire and rescue services can confidently take enforcement action and hold building owners or managers to account if they are not compliant with their duties under the FSO. Clarifying the scope of the fire safety order through this Bill will also pave the way for the Government to bring forward subsequent secondary legislation to deliver on the Grenfell recommendations. I will return to this later.
I wish to clarify a couple of detailed points about Clause 1 before I explain Clauses 2 and 3. First, Members in the other place and industry representatives have raised as an issue the express inclusion of “structure” in the Bill. The concern is that this term will mean that structural assessments should more routinely be carried out as part of fire-risk assessments. I assure noble Lords that that is not the case. The intention, as set out in guidance, is that this should be a visual inspection of the construction and layout of the building on the basis that it will have been built to resist early structural collapse in the event of a fire.
As such, although dependent on the circumstances in any particular case, intrusive surveys of buildings are likely to be required rarely and only on the basis that the fire risk assessor has serious concerns about the risks that the structure of the building could pose. Otherwise, non-intrusive surveys should normally be carried out. This will be set out in a fact sheet that we will publish and will be reflected in the industry-recognised guidance.
Secondly, some fire and rescue services have also asked for clarification on what is meant by “common parts” in the Fire Safety Bill. The fire safety order applies to all premises and to all parts of premises unless they are expressly excluded by Article 6. One such exclusion is for “domestic premises”, for which the definition includes parts of the domestic premises that are
“not used in common by the occupants of more than one such dwelling”.
This has led to some confusion about which parts of the overall building are covered by the order. I can clarify that walls and structure are expressly within the scope of the FSO, and that “common parts” applies whether they are “used” by residents or not. An example of a common part that could be routinely used by residents might be a communal area that is immediately outside flat entrance doors. An example of a common part not frequently accessed by residents could be a boiler room.
Clause 2 provides the Secretary of State with a regulation-making power to amend or clarify the premises that fall within the scope of the fire safety order. Through this, we will be able to respond quickly to any further developments in the design and construction of buildings and our understanding of the combustibility/fire risk of construction products.
The territorial extent of the Bill is set out in Clause 3. The fire safety order extends and applies to England and Wales. The order, and therefore the Bill, relates to matters within the legislative competence of the Senedd Cymru, or Welsh Assembly. This matter will be put before the Welsh Assembly for a legislative consent Motion in relation to these provisions on 6 October.
Finally, the Bill will provide a power to commence the provisions of the Bill on “different days for different purposes”. This acknowledges the operational implications of this Bill, in particular the potentially significant number of responsible persons who will need to review and update their fire risk assessments. For many, that will require specialist knowledge and expertise from competent professionals who can advise on the fire safety risks for external wall systems.
In recognising these operational implications, the Home Office established a task and finish group, which is chaired jointly by the Fire Sector Federation and the National Fire Chiefs Council. It includes representatives from local authorities, private sector housing developers, the fire sector and fire and rescue services. We are currently considering their advice, which we received earlier this week, and I intend to set out the Government’s position on how they will commence the Fire Safety Bill to this House in Committee.
As I just mentioned, we recognise that there are capacity issues relating to fire risk assessors and concerns around competence. It will be helpful to touch on the measures that we are taking to address them. Significant work has been undertaken within the MHCLG-led building safety programme by the industry-led competency steering group—in particular, its sub-working groups on fire risk assessors and fire engineers—to look at ways to increase competence and capacity in the industry, which proposes recommendations in relation to third-party accreditation and a competence framework for fire- risk assessors. The final report from the CSG will be published next week, and MHCLG, the HSE and the Home Office will consider the recommendations of the report in detail.
It is extremely welcome that there is a shared commitment across all parties to implement the recommendations of the inquiry and legislate where necessary. That commitment bears repeating: we will honour the memory of those who died in that appalling fire and implement the Grenfell inquiry recommendations in full.
On 20 July, the Government launched a consultation that included proposals to implement the recommendations and further strengthen the fire safety order. The consultation closes on 12 October 2020.
It is important to deliver the Fire Safety Bill first, then subsequently the secondary legislation taking forward the outcomes of the fire safety consultation. This is a matter of sequencing to ensure that we consult the relevant parties appropriately on the measures we propose, which in a number of areas go further than the inquiry’s recommendations. It will mean that the legislation will be informed and properly enacted. It is in everyone’s interest that we get this right. The Government will bring forward the necessary secondary legislation as early as practicable following commencement of the Fire Safety Bill.
Nothing can bring back those who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy. Nothing can undo the errors that led to their deaths. Yet, if anything is to come from this disaster, let it be the lessons we have learned from those errors and our solemn determination to ensure that they can never happen again.
I spoke earlier of how proud I was in taking this Bill forward. Legislation alone can never have all the answers, but this, the first Bill since the Grenfell fire, will, I believe, make a significant contribution to protecting residents in multi-occupancy buildings from the dangers of fire. I commend it to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, I have direct personal experience of this area of local government responsibilities. Following the tragedy at Grenfell, not only was I the leader of Newport City Council at that time but Newport was the only council in Wales that had social tenants in high-rise buildings covered in ACM cladding, and one of those tower blocks was in my ward.
The tragedy at Grenfell has prompted extensive inquiries, research and debate about the steps that might be needed to minimise the risk of such a tragedy happening again. Much of that has concentrated on the fabric and construction of high-rise residential buildings because the materials and techniques used in constructing and renovating Grenfell Tower have been implicated in allowing the fire to spread so rapidly. That in turn will mean changes to the system of building control, which regulates how and with what materials buildings must be constructed.
I commend the actions in the Bill because I have first-hand experience of the benefits that can be secured when registered social landlords, such as Newport City Homes, act appropriately and respond to their responsibilities to manage and reduce the risk of fire in multi-occupied buildings. Within six months of the tragedy at Grenfell, the three tower blocks clad in ACM in Newport had sprinklers installed and, within a year, the work to remove and replace the ACM cladding had begun. This was achieved through pragmatic partnership working between the council, the housing association Newport City Homes, Senedd Cymru and South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.
Responsible landlords should already be conducting regular inspections of buildings with the local fire and rescue services, ensuring that evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents, providing fire safety instructions to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand, and ensuring that the building complies with current standards. That is why I agree with the Fire Brigades Union that the Bill is the first—long overdue—piece of primary legislation that seeks to rectify the failures identified after the Grenfell Tower fire. The FBU has raised concerns with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 since it was imposed. It is clear that many “responsible persons” who own and manage residential premises have not assessed the fire risks in their buildings, nor introduced sufficient measures to keep people safe in their homes.
It is the Welsh Government’s intention to bring forward a White Paper for consultation by the end of this current term and the analysis of this consultation will be available to inform any new Government bringing forward primary legislation in this vital area. These reforms build on the work set out by the Welsh Government’s Building Safety Expert Group in its report, A Road Map to Safer Buildings in Wales. The remit of the group was to identify the parameters of a Welsh response to the issues raised by Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.
In the immediate aftermath of Grenfell, the primary focus was on aluminium composite material—ACM—cladding systems, which had been implicated in the propagation of the fire. In Wales, we have made good progress in relation to remediation of buildings with ACM cladding. There were 15 buildings with non-compliant cladding, all of which have been remediated or have plans in place. We have been able to develop and maintain relationships with building owners and managing agents to ensure an open and honest dialogue about progress. No leaseholders will have to pay for remediation works in relation to ACM cladding. In addition, the Building Regulations 2010 have been amended to ban the use of all combustible cladding on residential buildings over 18 metres in height. The ban applies to combustible cladding on all new residential buildings and where renovation works take place, including flats, student accommodation, care homes and hospitals over 18 metres high. The ban ensures that ACM and other potentially dangerous cladding cannot be used on tall buildings in the future.
The Welsh Government have worked closely with the Home Office on this Bill. It significantly expands the fire safety order’s coverage of blocks of flats, in particular to include the external walls and internal doors that were so clearly implicated in the spread of the Grenfell Tower fire. They have also been working with the social landlord sector through Community Housing Cymru to develop and trial work in relation to resident engagement and sharing of building safety information. Safety First in Housing intends to support those managing buildings to put in place helpful measures ahead of legislation that will allow genuine engagement with residents, and I urge the UK Government to follow this lead in resident engagement.
Newport City Homes had to take the original contractors of the cladding to adjudication to recover its costs to make the building safe. The reality is that flammable material should never have been put on the outside of buildings, and the contractors and developers who allowed this to happen should rectify matters.
The Welsh Government intend to take the opportunity to establish two new regulatory regimes for Wales. The proposed fire safety regime will build on the existing fire safety legislation and will cover all residential buildings containing more than one dwelling. That goes significantly further than the Home Office proposals for England. It intends to establish a new regime focused solely on fire safety in domestic dwellings, unlike the current fire legislation that blurs the focus of workplaces and residential buildings. The Welsh Government also intend to establish a building safety regime for purpose-built high-rise blocks of flats. This will incorporate the fire safety regime but will look across the whole life cycle of buildings, putting in place additional requirements on those designing and constructing high-rise residential buildings, all the way through to the way in which they are managed and maintained during occupation.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s review identified competence issues throughout the system. It found that there was no clear set of competence standards or expectations for many of the professionals involved in the design and construction of fire-safe buildings or the maintenance of fire safety in occupied buildings. Her recommendations apply across the UK. Building industry action to develop more robust approaches is welcome, in order to make the improvements necessary to ensure that competence is clearly embedded within the professions that make up the construction industry.
Dame Judith was clear that information, from inception to occupation, is key to overseeing the ongoing safety of buildings. It allows buildings to be constructed safely and managed appropriately when occupied. Her proposals for a “golden thread” of building information not only are the basis of the information and data required during the gateway process as buildings are designed and constructed but flow through to the occupation stage. The golden thread will be comprehensive and include full as-built plans, a construction control plan and a fire and emergency file, and culminate in the safety case, which articulates how structural and fire risks will be managed and mitigated against. The safety case identifies the potential hazards in the building and considers how these might be reduced and mitigated against. The findings of these considerations should be recorded and acted upon. Evaluating and reviewing the success of mitigating actions should be monitored, and the processes of reviewing and assessing hazards undertaken on an ongoing basis. The golden thread is a live document—in effect, the user’s manual for the building.
Buildings must be designed and constructed in a way that ensures they are as safe as they can be. This is more than health and safety on a building site, and more than ensuring that there is fire-fighting equipment in an emergency. It is not only about ensuring that the design complies with building regulations safety requirements but that the intention is delivered in the finished product. This means making sure that safety features are properly installed in the right places, using the right materials and standards, by persons who are competent.
In conclusion, the Bill goes a good way to redressing the gaps in controls and provisions that led to the tragic loss of life at Grenfell Tower but I ask the Minister to ensure that no positive opportunity is overlooked when reviewing the steps available to get the Bill absolutely right for the future safety of our citizens, wherever they live in the UK, and to acknowledge and learn from the stronger steps that other Governments are putting in place for public safety.
My Lords, it is right that we should remember the 72 victims of the Grenfell fire, their families and neighbours. It is right that we should remember the first responders, the emergency services, the public servants and volunteers, who came forward to help and have been helping in the weeks, months and now years since. We also need to remember the righteous anger and deep frustration of that community as more time has passed and more compelling evidence has come to light about the institutional and corporate failures that caused this fire. We must make sure that it never happens again.
I know the Minister takes this issue deeply seriously and I very much welcome his remarks in introducing this Bill. I know that his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, did so as well and I look forward to hearing his words in a few minutes’ time. I thank the Minister for reaching out to those on the other side of the House to gain a broad consensus for this Bill and to make sure that the foundations are firmly laid and progress made briskly. We support the Bill, but it is a matter of regret that it has taken 38 months since the fire to bring it to your Lordships’ House. It will be another four months at least before the building safety Bill reaches us.
Meanwhile, that compelling evidence of failure mounts up. I give just two illustrations from the last couple of weeks of Grenfell inquiry evidence. Last week, the project manager of the cladding subcontractor told the inquiry that he had no knowledge of the existence of key product safety regulations relating to the cladding he was installing. Yesterday, the senior building control officer at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea told the inquiry that he had received no training in technical industry guidance and had not considered at all the lessons about the fire risks of cladding systems. The brutal reality is that the only people who noticed what was going on were the residents of Grenfell Tower and they were dismissed as malcontents and trouble- makers. That must never be the case again.
That is the context in which the Minister has brought forward the Fire Safety Bill today. I thank him for setting out so clearly what it is intended to do when it comes into force and for making the point very clearly that it is a start, not the finished product. I thank him too for the letter that he circulated to your Lordships today that sets out other measures that the Government have taken and plan to take.
The Liberal Democrats certainly support the Bill’s intention and will be supporting it in its passage through your Lordships’ House. It plugs some gaps and removes ambiguities and, crucially, it makes a named individual responsible for fire safety reports in every building in England and Wales, regardless of its height. There will be a formal assessment.
This Bill has thoroughly good intentions, which we support, but we should also be quite clear that it would not have stopped the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. That would require not only this Bill but also the building safety Bill to come into force urgently. It will require a complete change in the culture of building safety from the construction industry, clients and building owners, designers and contractors, national and local regulators and building users too. It is going to require a massive investment in the training of fire engineers and fire assessors and of all those in the industry who, up to the night of the Grenfell fire, had just been winging it and keeping their fingers crossed. At every step of design and procurement and every level of contracting and subcontracting, there have turned out to be fatal gaps in knowledge and skills that must be plugged. The Government have a serious responsibility to enable, facilitate and drive that process relentlessly.
In considering this Bill, I and my colleagues will be urging the Minister not to confine himself simply to the routine task of steering an uncontroversial Bill on to the statute book, but to undertake to put a rocket booster under the process of delivering a complete package of reform. I hope that he will take back to the Government the intense concern from right across your Lordships’ House on all the progress needed to make sure that things happen “at pace”. That catchphrase has been used repeatedly over the last three years from the Dispatch Box and we need to see it happening, not just in the Home Office, where this Bill sits, but also in MHCLG in relation to regulations, in BEIS in relation to the Construction Leadership Council and the work it is doing, and, indeed, in the Department for Education on apprentice training and graduate training to fill some of the gaps in knowledge and manpower.
The reform the whole building regulatory system, the proper staffing and training of qualified personnel to operate that system and the restoration of confidence of local communities caught in the eye of the storm all remain to be done three years after the fire. We take this Bill as some evidence of progress but it is also, to some extent, evidence of delay so I hope the Minister will convey the sense of concern in this House and the anger of local communities right to the very highest level of government, to which, I know, he has good personal access.
I have some questions. Will the Minister undertake to provide your Lordships with a detailed report on the number of fire engineers the Government estimate will be needed to properly deliver the regulatory system set out in the Bill? Can he tell us what estimate he has of the current shortfall and the steps he is putting in place to overcome it? Does the Minister share my fear that the implementation of the Bill will have to be delayed because of that shortfall? Has he taken note of the fall in the number of fire safety officers employed by fire and rescue services in the last 20 years? Does he believe that the current number is sufficient to take on the new duties that the Bill sets out? Perhaps he can say a little more about that. Can he confirm that there is to be a publicly accessible register of all fire assessments?
I know that the Minister will want to honour the often-repeated promise that tenants and residents would be at the heart of the new post-Grenfell regulatory system, with their concerns and their practical experience of day-to-day life in their own home being taken seriously. Does he agree that every one of them should be able to read a copy of the assessment for their block and be told exactly who is responsible for monitoring the risks and delivering the necessary changes? That needs to be a person with actual responsibility, not a distant corporate body registered in the Cayman Islands or an anonymous helpline. We must never again have residents’ legitimate concerns ignored or simply dismissed as troublemaking. We shall certainly want to return to this in Committee.
I am sure the Minister will have read the useful briefing prepared by the LGA, setting out its concerns about some of the practical matters of implementation. It is not at all surprising that, in view of the cuts local authorities have suffered to their income because of Covid-19, they have also raised serious concerns about where the cost of inspection and enforcement is planned to fall. No doubt other noble Lords will expand on that point in the debate.
The Bill is wholly silent on the question of costs and the impact assessment is vague too. The struggle to safeguard leaseholders and tenants who face huge bills directly arising from the replacement of ACM shows just how easily the individuals with no prior knowledge or professional background get left carrying the can, while the contractors and the paid professionals just move on to the next job.
What are the Government’s intentions when it comes to meeting the costs of any remediation that the Bill shows is necessary? Has the Minister any assessment of what those costs are likely to be? How does he intend to safeguard leaseholders against being saddled with yet another huge bill caused, as they might see it, not by them doing something wrong but by a new piece of well-meaning legislation dumped on their heads?
The Minister may feel that these are small details and that we should focus instead on the bigger picture, but I say, as a former Minister, that it is often the small details that trip up and spoil the big picture. Even more to the point, if we look at the big picture, this Bill is not the big picture; it is a small part of a much bigger picture, where reform and challenge is urgently needed to put right past wrongs and prevent future tragedies.
So we do welcome this Bill, but it has to be seen as only a small step in a long journey, one that has taken a long time to get started, where the pace is still too slow and the urgency to bring forward legislation seems to have been somewhat lacking. Those 72 Grenfell residents and their families and neighbours have waited far too long to see justice and to see meaningful change and action. I very much hope that the debate today can put some extra energy back into the campaign to achieve that change.
My Lords, it is the very greatest honour to have been appointed to your Lordships’ House and to be speaking here for the first time. I express my thanks to the Prime Minister for nominating me and to the doorkeepers, the staff and all those who have made me feel so welcome over the last two weeks. They are very special people who are working here for us, especially given the circumstances and the current risks that everybody faces, and we should be very grateful to them.
I am very proud that three of the last four Members of Parliament for Arundel are, or have recently been, Members of this House. I am proud to be joining my predecessor but one as the Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs, my noble friend Lord Flight, and sad that my predecessor but two, Lord Luce, retired from this House just before I joined it. I was hoping that the three of us might be able to be photographed together: how many other parliamentary constituencies can claim such a record?
I have taken the title Lord Herbert of South Downs because my constituency, which I was proud to represent for 15 years, is called Arundel and South Downs. I still live in Arundel and still enjoy, every week, the beauty of the South Downs, one of the finest parts of this country and the most beautiful landscapes. It expresses the great love I have always had for the countryside, a passion that I will continue to have, and I hope to promote its interests while a Member of your Lordships’ House.
I have the honour to be the chairman of the Countryside Alliance, a position that I have noted in the register. It was there, or at least in its precursor organisation, that, a very long time ago, I met my noble friend Lord Mancroft, who was my lead supporter when I was introduced in this place. It was he who insisted that I should wear robes, pointing out that that was provided for under the Standing Orders of the House. It is a practice that I understand has taken place since 1621, and I was very proud to do so.
I met my other supporter, my noble friend Lord Hill, in my first job, when I became a member of the Conservative Research Department just after leaving university. I was given the job by my noble friend Lord Lexden. I think he was and remains surprised that he gave me the job, and he seemed similarly surprised that I had arrived in your Lordships’ House, but I owe him a very great debt in that, 35 years ago, he had the confidence in me to launch me on my political career.
I arrive in your Lordships’ House to discover that, of course, it is very different to the other place; but it is also very different to the place it was just a few months ago, because of the way proceedings are conducted. I am full of admiration for the way your Lordships are grappling with new technology so as to speak remotely and vote electronically. Indeed, I remarked to a friend in the United States, a former ambassador, that he might see it as a double constitutional outrage that I had been appointed a legislator for life and that I was now voting remotely, not even present in the Chamber. He nodded and smiled and said, “Yes, that is what we fought the War of Independence about.” I hope that it will not be long before we are able to return to the previous practice of being present in this House.
Of course, one should not believe that age is any impediment to using new technology. My elderly parents, in common with many others of their generation, have become fiends in the use of personal phones and iPads. We encouraged my mother to begin texting and she started to do so voraciously. I recall sitting on the Front Bench in the other place when I received a message from my mother to say that I should call her urgently. I texted back to say that I was sitting on the Front Bench and therefore unable to do so. “Yes”, she replied by text, “I can see that you are on the Front Bench. I am your mother. I would like you to call me now.” I made my excuses and went out of the Chamber, expecting that something terrible or dramatic had happened. I called, only for my mother to ask if I would be there for lunch on Sunday. These are the imperatives of life.
It is a very great pleasure to be able to rejoin the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights, which I founded, along with many Members here and in the other place, and had the honour to chair. I will be chairing the Government’s international LGBT+ conference, which has unfortunately been postponed because of Covid but will, I hope, be held in some form next year. I continue to chair the Global Equality Caucus of parliamentarians around the world who are united in the belief in the importance of equality and ensuring that everybody is treated with dignity and respect according to their fundamental human rights.
I have also rejoined the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis and will now be resuming my co-chairmanship of that group. I also founded that group when, 15 years ago, I visited Kenya and learned about a disease called tuberculosis, the orphan of diseases, in that it is so little talked about, yet it is still, despite Covid, the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Tragically, Covid has now killed 1 million people worldwide, but tuberculosis still kills 1.5 million people every single year and will do for many years to come unless we find a vaccine, unless we find new tools and unless we renew our determination to beat it. We do not face a choice between tackling these infectious diseases; we must learn the importance of global health security. I will also continue to chair the Global TB Caucus, trying to mobilise parliamentarians from around the world to take action to ensure that people can beat this terrible disease.
I was appointed a Minister in the Home Office and in the Ministry of Justice. It is not always easy to be a Minister in two departments, as I am sure my noble friend the Minister is discovering. I soon realised that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are very different places. One notable difference was the lifts. Ministry of Justice lifts are much smarter than Home Office lifts; I will make no comment about them. But I was shown a button by my private secretary and given a code to key in. If I did so, the lift would immediately come down or up to me to ensure that I could get in it very quickly and rush off to vote.
I thought that I would try out this process when no one else was around. I keyed in the code and the lift hurtled down to my floor. The doors opened and out stepped the then Lord Chancellor—now my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham—my boss, who said that a sign had come up in the lift saying, “This lift is now under ministerial control”. However, it was not under his control, and indeed we discovered that very little was when we were in the department. He asked me what on earth could have happened and I suggested that he took the matter up with the Permanent Secretary. I did not own up that I had seized command of his lift.
I will continue to take the closest interest in matters to do with policing and criminal justice. I have recently set up a Commission for Smart Government, whose members include noble Lords from all sides of this House. It is focused on how we can make government more effective. One thing that we want to do is to look at how any Government can ensure that they are able to deliver. In the end, that is the imperative for Governments. I am reminded of one thing that a previous Lord Herbert—Lord Herbert of Cherbury, a poet, soldier, Member of Parliament and brother of the poet George Herbert—said in the 16th century:
“The shortest answer is doing.”
That is a motto that any politician, and certainly any Government, would do very well to remember. In the end, people will judge us not by what we say or promise but by what we do and are able to deliver. There can surely be no more important task for any Government than to make their people safe, and that is why this Bill is so important and why I am so pleased to be able to speak at Second Reading today on this short but important piece of legislation.
In conclusion, perhaps I may say something about the Bill and the Grenfell disaster. The tower was built in 1974—it is, or was, younger than almost every Member of your Lordships’ House. It was not an old building but a relatively new one. The truth is that many wealthy people around the world live in tower blocks, but it would be surprising if they had faced the same situation or the same risk, because the towers in which they live would have been equipped in a very different way. That is the truth of the matter. It is right that we now take every step to ensure that no tragedy of the kind that we saw at Grenfell, in which 72 people lost their lives, could ever happen again.
At the root of what happened, an injustice was revealed—a social injustice about the conditions in which some people were living and in which others would never have considered living. That, in the end, is why there is a wider agenda to level up in this country. It is an agenda that the Prime Minister has fully committed himself to, and it is one that I will proudly support.
My Lords, we have been treated to a maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs of great weight and great good humour. It had valuable insights on many issues—for example, on the countryside, on new technology and, indeed, on my noble friend Lord Mancroft.
My noble friend comes to us with a distinguished and formidable record in the other place, particularly on rural issues, on policing and on criminal justice. Indeed, he was a Minister for policing and for criminal justice in the other place. I am sure that we all look forward to him participating fully in the activities of the House. I know that he will take a particular interest in issues involving the countryside, equality, the operation of democracy and combating tuberculosis. We all wish him well in his future here. I am sure that it will be a long and distinguished one. On a personal note, I also wish him well with my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham when he catches up with the debate.
Turning to the Fire Safety Bill, first, I thank the Minister for his introduction. I know that he takes matters concerning Grenfell and fire safety more widely very seriously. I also know that he was the leader of an adjoining council, so he knows the local situation very well.
We all recall the early morning of 14 June 2017 very well. It is seared on our memories. It represented, in human terms, the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since World War Two, with the loss of 72 lives— 72 lives that should not have been lost. Our thoughts are always with the families and survivors, and with the people who, since the fire, have consistently offered, in human terms, their all. I refer to the public services, particularly the fire service, people in the local community and in faith communities, and officials from government, particularly from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I was a Minister in the department at the time, so I have awful, but very clear, recollections of that night, as, I know, do many noble Lords who are participating in this debate.
It is right that we say that there will be a memorial on the site of the Grenfell Tower in due course and that the local community—Grenfell United and others—will be leading on that. It is also right that the greatest memorial that we can offer the people of Grenfell and those who have fought since the fire to right that wrong is a legacy that ensures that this can never happen again. The Government have, quite rightly, moved in many ways—with the independent inquiry under judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick and with the regulations review of building safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt. We still await news on criminal prosecutions. Although I recognise that this is, in a sense, quite separate from government, we have given—and I was able to give—information and publish how many people had been interviewed under caution in relation to this matter. The Minister might not have details of that to hand. If he does not, I would appreciate it if he were able to write to me saying something on this matter, with a copy being sent to other participants in this debate and placed in the Library. Understandably, responsibility for what happened that night remains a very real concern.
The Government have also moved to put in place fire protection measures, and the use of combustible ACM has, quite rightly, been banned. The remediation of unsafe buildings is happening, but herein lies the rub. I suspect that we all agree on what needs to happen —I cannot imagine that there is any great difference on that—but the issue is the speed with which it is happening and needs to happen.
Understandably, there was a time when interim safety measures needed to be put in place—but that surely was only for the interim. The very use of the word “interim”, which we continue to use as a Government and as a country, indicates that we are not there yet, so I shall press the Minister on this. The key issue here is speed in remedying what needs to be remedied. I think that he mentioned that 74% of building remediation had been started or completed in relation to the removal of ACM. Is he able to give the percentage for the amount that has been completed, rather than started or completed? That would be a very useful statistic for us look at.
The Queen’s speech quite rightly committed the Government to two Bills. We have heard quite a lot from the Minister about the draft building safety Bill, and we have also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, about remediation measures in Wales put in place by Senedd Cymru. I again emphasise to the Minister that it is useful to work alongside the devolved Administrations, particularly in this instance with Wales. I am sure that is happening, but it would be useful to know what lessons and partnership work are going on with Wales, so that we can tackle these scourges together—because I am sure that the aim is one of unity in terms of what we need to do.
Unsurprisingly, I am a strong supporter of the Bill. I am pleased that we are dealing with the ambiguity of what is covered by the term “building” and that it will cover external walls, and therefore cladding, flat entrance doors, balconies and so on. It is obviously right that we have that clarity. I also very much support there being a responsible person for each building to take forward responsibility for this and to make sure that we act in the right way. These are aims that I am sure we can all support. But I come back to the issue of speed. We keep saying “at pace”, but it needs now to be not a moderate pace but a fast pace. I am sure that we all have that haunting thought that we do not want to see anything like Grenfell ever again. The way that we can prevent that is by moving at a fast pace in terms of removal of cladding, and in the admirable array of things that the Government are doing. The only thing they need do now is accelerate that.
One issue that has not been touched on yet was discussed in the other place when my honourable friend Sir David Amess moved an amendment on electrical safety. I thank Electrical Safety First, which has provided me with a valuable briefing on this. It is important to note on this issue that, although our focus is quite rightly on ACM cladding, which certainly led to the spread of the fire—there is no doubt about that—nevertheless the trigger for the fire, as it has been in many other fires, was an electrical fault, as it was at Lakanal House and Shepherd’s Court, where there was another serious fire, although thankfully not one that led to fatalities. Over 14,000 fires a year are caused by electrical faults, so I will be pressing the Minister on what we are doing with regard to checking the safety of flats in tower blocks, of which there are hundreds of thousands, to ensure that electrical appliances are periodically checked for safety. That will minimise the risk of electrical fires, and it is something we could usefully do. I look forward to looking at this in more detail perhaps in Committee. In the meantime, I would be interested in what the Minister has to say.
In short, I strongly support the Bill, as I am sure I will the building safety Bill. My one real concern is pace. It needs to be fast, and we need to accelerate now. As the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, it is now some 34 months since the fire, and we must move quickly. Otherwise, I will be pressing the issue of electrical safety. But I know that the Minister is totally committed to this, as is my right honourable friend in the other place James Brokenshire. I look forward to working with them and others to make sure that we have a piece of legislation of which we can all be proud and which I am sure we will improve in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, and welcome him to this House. I look forward to his future contributions. It is also an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. When he was a Minister he took very seriously the responsibilities which arose following the Grenfell fire, some of which we are debating today.
The fact remains that it is three years since Grenfell and 11 years since Lakanal House, and this is the first piece of substantive legislation that has been before Parliament. It is needed. We need to resolve the ambiguities in the fire safety order and clearly define responsible officers, their work and the parts of the building which will be subject to their responsibilities and to professional inspection.
I know that the Minister tried to do this to some extent in his opening remarks and in the letter that we received today, but we needed a report on the totality of progress on all of these issues post Grenfell, so that we could see where this Bill fits in with other initiatives. We have referred to the building safety Bill, which is still in very early draft form. Some people are saying that there is a clash of definitions of “responsible person” between that draft Bill and the Bill before us today. We must be clearer about how this all fits in with the Government’s consultation Building a Safer Future, the related safety strategy proposed by the Minister’s department, the implementation of the inquiry’s first stage and of the Hackitt report, and the progress on the proposed new regulator.
Specifically in the Grenfell case, we also need an indication of progress on potential prosecutions of the managers of the building and the suppliers. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to the evidence reported in the press today about the person who would be deemed to be something like the responsible officer in Kensington and Chelsea, who clearly did not have a clue about their responsibilities and the regulations. The same applied to the representative of the major supplier. This is not an overregulated industry but a seriously underregulated industry, and those regulations that exist are not properly enforced. We need to look at all these aspects together, and some others as well.
My noble friend Lady Wilcox referred to sprinklers and the progress there. The case is not the same in Wales as it is in many authorities around England. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, referred to electrical safety, and rightly said that the majority of domestic fires are caused by electrical faults. Inspection and enforcement of regulations in that area are also necessary. Whereas with gas there is a mandatory responsibility on landlords to inspect the gas installations, there is not one for white goods and other electrical installations within multi-occupied buildings more generally.
There is also some obscurity as to which pieces of legislation apply to which buildings. This Bill apparently applies to all multi-occupied buildings, whereas some of the other proposed legislation and regulation applies to buildings over 18 metres high, and that limit has been queried. We are also unclear as to how many buildings and landlords we are referring to. In the impact assessment for this Bill there is a pretty wide range of figures for buildings—2.2 to 3.2 million individual flats—and for the number of landlords, both private and social. So the House deserves a much more strategic report from Ministers on this whole area.
There are also wider issues. At the end of the day, whatever regulations come forward must be professionally enforced, and we must have adequate numbers of professionally trained inspectors. Regrettably, in the fire service there has been a cut of over 20% in recent years. That cut needs to be reversed. In particular, there is nowhere near a sufficient number of qualified and experienced fire inspectors to fulfil the clearer responsibilities in this and the other Bill. The Fire Brigades Union has indicated that there are fewer than 1,000 people who are even remotely qualified to carry out such inspections, which is about half the number there were a decade ago. We need a training programme and a recruitment programme to train up firefighters and others to fulfil these professional roles.
Of course, this may grow, because while in the Bill we are talking about tightening restrictions, the proposed new planning changes will allow, for example, conversion of office blocks to residential use, and adding storeys to existing buildings. If we are not careful, and do not have a robust and effective system of enforcing the use of safe materials and the safe design of the structure of the buildings, that will increase the potential danger of unsafe buildings.
The problem is not only with the fire service and fire inspectors. One of the other areas most drastically cut by many local authorities in the past decade has been building regulations enforcement, and the numbers employed there. The enforcement of standards of materials and the application of materials, as well as of the design of buildings, is clearly inadequate in almost every local authority.
With regard to materials and equipment, it is not just cladding that we should be worried about. There is also, for example, the issue of fire doors. In its briefing for the Bill, the LGA—I declare my interest as one of its vice-chairs—claims that thousands of non-compliant doors have been delivered to local authorities and housing associations in recent years. It estimates the replacement cost at £700 million. That is an absolute scandal. I know of nobody who has been prosecuted for failure to supply compliant doors.
The impact assessment on the Bill makes no mention of the significantly increased resources for both personnel and training that will be required to make it, and related measures, effective in carrying out their job. So there is a significant number of wider questions that we need to address in this context. I will support the Bill; I think it is necessary. But we need a clearer indication of how it fits in with other such measures.
Even in this limited Bill there is a serious omission. We need to mention the role of residents—tenants and leaseholders—and the need for them to be informed, and to have their concerns taken seriously by building owners, managers and suppliers. Let us remember that Grenfell residents were warning of the dangers of the refurbishment years before the tragedy happened—in terms of the cladding, the loss of firewalls and the increasing space for a fire to spread, and also of the potential dangers of the “stay put” evacuation advice. All were pointed to by the residents, and all were ignored.
More widely, the effects of the uncertainty about the safety of the buildings in which they live is causing widespread anxiety among all residents. Leaseholders also face potential substantial economic loss, as the value of their property falls and the availability of affordable insurance recedes because of safety fears. Tenants and leaseholders need to be listened to, and their role needs to be reflected in this Bill and in related legislation.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He said that we needed to see the totality of what the Government are proposing, and also to listen to residents. In both respects, I entirely agree with him. I should declare that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. May I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Herbert of South Downs, on his excellent maiden speech? We look forward to hearing more of his contributions in the months ahead.
I support this Bill. It brings extra clarity to defining who is responsible for managing the reduction of fire risk for residential buildings in multi-occupation. The proposed clarification of the scope of the 2005 fire safety order is to be welcomed, as it will clearly include building structures, external walls and common areas. I strongly welcome, too, the wish to address problems caused by less resistant entrance doors on some residents’ flats. The proposals in the Bill are measured and proportionate, and while we may wish to examine in Committee issues debated in the House of Commons that were not progressed, it is my view that the Bill should pass.
My noble friend Lord Stunell raised a number of important issues, particularly in relation to the rights of tenants and occupiers of flats in high-rise blocks to be listened to. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made the same point a moment ago. My noble friend also talked about the financial burden faced by many leaseholders through no fault of their own.
As my noble friend also said, this Bill has to be seen in the context of the forthcoming building safety Bill. And may I say that I think it will prove beneficial to have placed that draft Bill into pre-legislative scrutiny? These two Bills are related. Both seek to address systemic deficiencies identified after the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, and to prevent such a tragic ever happening again.
The revelations that we have heard from the inquiry hearings are worrying. They have shown that cost cutting has been too dominant a consideration in building construction of high-rise blocks, and that there have been major failures in the testing of materials and in the enforcement of fire regulations. This Bill is a start in addressing that deficiency. In all respects, public safety and the minimisation of risk must come first.
So the aims of the Bill are very important. But is the Minister confident about delivery? Once this Bill and the building safety Bill are in place, will local government and the fire services have sufficient powers to make this Bill effective? Has there been confirmation of this from organisations affected? I am concerned about, for example, entrance doors in tower blocks. How will responsible persons have enough power to ensure that individual flats owned by leaseholders have adequate fire safety protections, given that their doors join common areas?
Responsible persons are rightly required to review their fire risk assessments, and in buildings with no cladding there is likely to be sufficient professional capacity to assist in undertaking those reviews. But how are responsible persons to get the expert resource necessary to update the fire risk assessments of all buildings that do have external wall cladding systems? Are there enough qualified people to do the job? If not, what are the plans to increase training and, following that, numbers of staff?
I hope that the building safety Bill will be properly integrated with the amended fire safety order, to establish a building safety system that is easy to understand and easy to implement. Doubt about responsibilities must be avoided. For example, it has been suggested that there are differences between the fire safety order’s concept of a responsible person and the proposals for an accountable person and a building safety manager contained in the Government’s response to the Building a Safer Future consultation response. Will the Minister confirm that such differences in interpretation will be avoided, and that clarity will be paramount in the Bill and in regulations?
Since the Grenfell fire, the Government have allocated money to alleviate some of the critical problems related to ACM and other cladding, and they created a building safety fund worth £1 billion in June this year. Despite this, overall spending is low and there is confusion over entitlements. In addition, many owners of flats can face a lengthy wait to sell properties, because surveyors need to get evidence required by mortgage lenders on the construction of their flats, on whether there is external cladding, and on whether there is an external wall survey—which often may not exist.
The situation is not helped by the sheer amount of work to be done, and by the complexity of the responsibility chain, with so many different organisations and tenures involved across the public, voluntary and private sectors. I hope that the Minister understands the urgency of resolving this problem.
I have one final point, which my noble friend Lord Stunell also talked about. I have raised before the issue of whether there should be a public register of fire risk assessments. There is a very strong case for having one, and I raise the issue again, in the hope that the Minister might take a further look at it.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, and I welcome my noble friend Lord Herbert to this House.
On the face of it, this is a straightforward Bill that will clarify the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to better identify and enforce against fire risk in multi-occupied residential buildings. In reality, of course, the situation is far more complicated, for lying behind this piece of legislation is the devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire and the knowledge that 72 people lost their lives simply by virtue of the fact that they were at home at the time. By definition, a home is somewhere that should provide protection, not sow the seeds of a person’s death.
I welcome the Bill, as it will significantly improve the safety of millions of people around the country. It is, however, only one part of a raft of measures to improve standards. There is the building safety Bill, and another key element in this process is the fire safety consultation, which closes in less than a fortnight and includes proposals to implement all the recommendations made by Sir Martin Moore-Bick in his excellent phase 1 report.
I am afraid I do not agree with the argument put forward in the other place that a number of those recommendations should be included in the Bill. As they should, the recommendations incorporate significant change. Sir Martin himself said that it was
“important that they command the support of those who have experience of the matters to which they relate.”
It was therefore essential to consult, not least because the Government are legally obliged to do so, given that the vast majority of the recommendations will require implementation in law.
However, I completely understand the anger and frustration at the lack of pace. As has been mentioned today, it is more than three years since the fire and nearly 12 months since the recommendations were first made. I ask my noble friend the Minister to give a clear timeframe for when and how the recommendations will be implemented. When will the Government respond to the consultation, and when can we expect the regulations that will enable many of the recommendations to be put in place? When does he expect the building safety Bill to be introduced?
Together, these measures will significantly improve fire safety standards. I pay tribute to all those from the Grenfell community, particularly Grenfell United, whose members spend their time campaigning on this issue solely so that what happened to them does not happen to anyone else. At the very least, we owe them some reassurance as to when these much-needed changes will be brought about.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has withdrawn so the next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Storey.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, on his excellent speech. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
We all know the frightening power and effect of fire. It can cut through the natural and physical environment like a knife through butter, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation, whether in the bushfires of Australia, the forests of California or the ruthless way that it burnt through Grenfell Tower, leaving families mourning loved ones. As the Minister said, we still remember those individuals who so tragically lost their lives.
It is important that we all know the value of fire safety and take necessary precautions to prevent fires. As a head teacher, I would educate the children about the danger of fire and carry out regular fire inspections, even unannounced. The Merseyside fire service was invaluable in coming to talk to children and carrying out fire safety inspections. I fear that reductions in local government finances meant that this was drastically scaled back. Could the Minister inform the House whether it is a statutory responsibility to carry out fire safety checks at schools and colleges, and does that still take place annually?
I welcome the Bill, as I am sure we all do; each and every measure that improves the safety of people who live in high-rise blocks has to be welcomed. However, with its narrow focus on cladding and fire doors, it must be obvious that there are a series of other fire safety issues. Those of us who have followed the painfully slow response to the Grenfell tragedy will have been shocked at the state of a block that had been refurbished and the finger-pointing that is now going on as the inquiry continues.
The excellent Library briefing sets out the exact scope of the Bill. It will
“amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 to clarify that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for … the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows … entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts”.
While those two aspects are welcome, they are just two of the many aspects of building safety that need urgent attention.
As I am sure we will hear, the Bill will also enable the Government to introduce secondary legislation. We will also be told of a task and finish group that has been be established to provide a recommendation on how the Bill will be commenced. That the Government are taking advice is welcome, but I urge them to act more quickly than they have in implementing those recommendations in the Hackitt report that do not lead to lengthy consultation. How many of the recommendations have already been implemented? When do the Government plan to implement the Bill once Royal Assent has been granted? What is the timeline for publication of the secondary legislation that will flow from the Bill once it is on the statute book?
During the debate in the other place, the Government referred to the draft building safety Bill, which is partly through the pre-legislative scrutiny stage by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. That Bill, with many clauses and nearly 200 pages of Explanatory Notes, proposes a major reform of building safety, which is welcome, but it will take many months to reach the statute book and many years to fully implement. The residents of high-rise buildings cannot be expected to wait for years before they are able to go to bed confident that they are safe and sound. When might we expect to be debating that Bill? What is the Government’s schedule?
Fire safety is not restricted to tower blocks, of course. This building, although only three storeys high, represents a particular challenge to the excellent fire safety team that we have. I am aware of the comprehensive work that they are doing to keep us safe. The House of Lords must be unique, not only for the quality of the debates that we have but because of the age of the building with its national treasure status, its amount of wood and the rabbit-warren nature of its many passageways. It demands a high level of planning to prevent a fire or emergency but also to deal with one should such a situation occur.
The Members along my corridor include those who use wheelchairs and guide dogs. Other Members would require varying degrees of assistance to evacuate the building. This Bill, with such a narrow focus, will have no direct impact on us: there is no external cladding other than the scaffolding—which seems to be a permanent feature—and there is no problem with our fire doors, but these are just two elements of a safer building. However, we are all working in a building that requires many safety measures, not simply in order to comply with the law but to keep us safe in the event of fire or emergency.
In concluding, I will make a point about the safety of electrical appliances. The Minister is on record as stating:
“The Government are committed to ensuring that the electrical products that people buy are safe”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/20; col. 442.]
More than 500,000 Hotpoint and Indesit appliances have been recalled, with more machines added as recently as April 2020. As Lesley Rudd, the chief executive of the charity Electrical Safety First, said,
“It is alarming that five months into this recall, we are only now hearing of these extra models which pose a threat to owners.”
This new discovery throws into question the robustness of the original investigation.
Finally, I endorse what the Minister said in his opening remarks. Clearly, he takes this matter seriously. As he says, it is in everybody’s interests to get this right.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs on his excellent maiden speech. We will greatly benefit from his expertise in so many areas. I should also congratulate him on his good fortune in choosing a debate where there is such a relatively generous time limit. I remember well showing him around the other place when he first arrived there in my capacity as a senior Whip. If I were still in that capacity, I might have gently pointed out that he pushed that time limit to the boundaries. However, I am sure that he will be delighted not only to know that your Lordships’ House is a far gentler place but to discover that I am more likely to be a member of the awkward squad these days than an enforcer. I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Sanderson of Welton on such a thoughtful and knowledgeable speech.
I welcome this Bill, and although I am aware that it is not strictly the vehicle to address the very serious issue of electrical safety, I would like to highlight my concerns and those of many others whom we have already heard from—including my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth in an eloquent speech and the noble Lord, Lord Storey—about the fires caused by electricity. Of course, this Bill addresses what happens if a structure is on fire, but we must look at what causes the fire in the first place. Some 57% of house fires are caused by electrical faults. As we have already heard, my esteemed colleague Sir David Amess brought forward an amendment in the other place that seems to me to be eminently sensible.
Over the past three years, accidental electrical fires in high-rise buildings have risen consistently year on year, which is frankly shocking. It is important to state that these fires are not all caused by the appliances themselves but by misuse. In a previous life, I ran my family retail business, including an upholstery department. Noble Lords might well remember that there was rightly a lot of concern about the smoke and danger of certain foam within upholstery. The fires were not caused by the sofas or the chairs themselves; they occurred for other reasons, such as people falling asleep with a lighted cigarette or faulty electrical equipment. Educating people about the dangers is paramount.
We must do whatever we can to avoid the chance of another Grenfell tragedy reoccurring. With the newly created role of responsible person for any high building, that person should also be given the task of compiling a register for all white goods in the building. This would ensure that when a recall occurs—and sometimes they occur a little late, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, has just said—anyone with a defective appliance could be quickly alerted and the safety risk resolved. My noble friend told us that he would be bringing forward more measures in the draft building safety Bill. I earnestly hope that this issue will not be ignored there. I cannot think of a better person than my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh to be taking this through your Lordships’ House.