My Lords, I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who are supporting this Bill—and who, very nobly, I may say, have stayed in Westminster rather than starting their weekend early. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, who will, I know, be responding at very short notice.
I will speak briefly about the contents of the Bill and rather more about why I believe noble Lords and the Government should support it. In short, it is about improving the lives, life chances and opportunities of our fellow citizens—particularly those who are most in need and have the fewest opportunities in life—and it is immensely practical.
There are four key elements to the Bill. The first is a duty on the Secretary of State to secure the health, safety, well-being and convenience of persons in or around buildings, which means in practical terms that all new homes have to promote health, safety and well-being, and help people to live well. The second part is to have 11 healthy homes principles. These are the principles of what makes a healthy home, and they address issues from fire safety to space, security, access to green spaces and managing climate risk. They would form the basis of any policy. The third point I want to draw out is the appointment of a healthy homes commissioner, to ensure promotion and implementation of the policy. Finally, the Secretary of State would provide an annual report to Parliament on progress with the policy.
The underlying issue behind the Bill is the intimate relationship between housing and health. Other noble Lords will describe many examples of how poor and inadequate housing damages health; from damp, cold and heat, poor air quality and overcrowding to dangerous stairs and electrical circuits—the list goes on. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, on his Bill and his powerful speech earlier.
The Bill is also by implication about the health of communities, wider society and the planet. They are all intimately connected. Poor housing blights communities and contributes to loneliness, isolation, depression and all the many aspects of social exclusion and the damage done by inequalities. Poor housing in neighbourhoods without facilities blights lives and contributes to global warming. Tackling these issues is central to any levelling-up agenda.
But this Bill is not just about the negatives or limiting the damage; it is also about the positives: improving lives and enhancing health and well-being across the whole arc of peoples’ lives. Housing is one of the key needs for all of us. For all of us, shelter and food are the foundation of our lives.
The Bill has been prepared by the TCPA, formerly the Town and Country Planning Association, and I particularly thank Hugh Ellis, Dan Slade and colleagues for their work on it. I also thank the officials in the Public Bill Office who helped streamline this final version. The TCPA is an organisation with a proud history, dating back to the 19th century and the promotion of garden cities. In many ways, this Bill is not a new and radical departure. We have known of the links between health and housing for years—think of Dickens and Disraeli, and the 19th-century rookeries and slum housing. This is in many ways a return to a much older British tradition of designing places to transform people’s lives, an endeavour at which this country used to excel. It is not just about the garden cities. At the end of the First World War, the Government published new and comprehensive design standards for public housing in order that they could build homes fit for heroes, and millions of new, decent homes resulted from this policy. Incidentally, the Minister of Health was then also the Minister of Housing.
People often talk about welfare provision as a safety net, stopping people falling to the ground, but if we want to talk about it in physical acrobatic terms, we should also think of it as a springboard, enabling people to reach higher. It is about not just the negatives of tackling problems but the possibilities and positives of enhancing and enabling lives, creating opportunity, and enabling people and the country to thrive.
Recent history has shown us how inadequate current planning and regulations are even as a safety net, as shown by the acute failures represented in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, where the most basic measures to secure individuals’ physical safety were not implemented. Moreover, look at some of the worst examples of the permitted development regime, where flats have been created from converted offices and commercial buildings with no windows or play space, or on industrial estates which expose residents to noise and pollution.
Even more recently, Covid has exposed the inequalities in our society and, as far as housing was concerned, revealed the problems many face: people were trapped during lockdown in inadequate housing, or overcrowded and ill-ventilated spaces ideal for spreading disease; there were schoolchildren with no space to study and no easy access to outdoor spaces; and some people were, very sadly, trapped with abusive partners. This is housing not acting as a springboard but stunting lives.
Let me deal briefly with two objections to the Bill. Will the proposals slow down development when we have a desperate need for more homes? The answer is that we must not offset quantity with quality: we will live to regret it. Standards matter, and the healthy homes principles matter, and we will pay for the consequences in the long run. Just reflect for a moment on the 1.5 million zero-carbon homes which would have been built to the 2016 zero-carbon standard if the standard had not been abolished. Those homes would now be cheaper to heat and would not require an expensive retrofit to deliver on a net-zero future.
Will the Bill add to the regulatory burden? It could, if implemented properly, reduce it. In the five years since Grenfell, there has been little practical action to change our regulatory approach or the wider culture of public policy on the built environment. Local authorities do their best in an environment where policy is heavily centralised. There have been incremental changes to building regulations and the application of some national housing standards to some aspects of planning. But this incremental tinkering with the system does not reflect the creative ambition we require if people are to be given the opportunity to thrive in healthy places. This Bill seeks to unify our regulatory approach around the single positive objective of securing the health, safety and well-being of individuals and communities. Implemented well, it will remove some of the current contradictions in the system, speed up development and reduce the regulatory burden.
On the positive side, there will be positive impacts on other areas, including the NHS and education. Improving health through improved housing will save costs and reduce impacts on the health and care system. Indeed, the only way we will see pressure taken off the NHS will be by action in other areas, such as housing, education and the environment—but that is a debate for another time.
This Bill is being debated at a time of great frustration over housing. We have waited too long for improvement. It is five years since Grenfell. This Bill provides a coherent vision for the future and a framework for practical action. It is practical and direct. It must be central to any levelling-up agenda. It offers a springboard as well as a safety net, and people in the country will understand what it is all about. Indeed, there is already widespread support among many organisations for it.
Of all the arguments that commend this Bill, it is the simplest that remains the most powerful. Healthy homes are the foundation of hopeful lives, and that sense of hope is vital to the many communities struggling with health inequality, the cost of living and the climate crisis. I beg to move.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on his choice of subject for this Bill, furthering a campaign that he has promoted in this House for some time. It is a pleasure to support its Second Reading. The Bill was launched at a well-attended reception here on 7 June, sponsored by the Town and Country Planning Association, where we heard compelling arguments from a wide range of speakers.
Although I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Bloomfield is replying to this debate, let me say how sorry I am that my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh has stepped down. He won the respect and affection of the House, and I know that he personally moved policy forward on subjects such as leasehold reform and compensation for cladding. He also understood the intricacies of local government finance, which is a mystery to most noble Lords.
The title of this Bill—the Healthy Homes Bill—summarises both its ambition and its challenge. The ambition was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The challenge is because health and homes are in different departments, and successive attempts to bring the two together have so far stalled. The Bill crystallises our silo approach to issues that cross departmental boundaries, as seen in such other areas as policy on the under-fives and social care.
Paradoxically, as the noble Lord mentioned, 100 years ago the Ministry of Health was responsible for both health and housing; between the two World Wars, that led to a more integrated approach. Indeed, my great-uncle, Sir Hilton Young—he started off as a Liberal but then saw the light and became a Conservative MP—was Minister for Health in the 1930s. He introduced the Housing Act 1935, which set down standards of accommodation—something that this Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, seeks to build on, of which I am sure the old boy would have approved.
Winding forward 40 years, the importance of bringing health and housing together was central to the Black report, published in 1980, about inequalities in health outcomes. This is what it said:
“The consequences, and importance, of housing policies for other areas of social policy, including health policies, have received increasing recognition in recent years—as have the problems of co-ordination deriving in part from the location of responsibilities for housing and personal social services … and Health services.”
It went on to say:
“The adequate housing of families with children must be a priority if class inequalities in health are to be eliminated”—
as in the Bill before us today. Just after that report was published, I moved from being a Health Minister to being a Housing Minister. I vividly recall being visited in my new office by the then Chief Medical Officer, who asked whether he could switch some of his health budget to housing as he believed this would be the best use of resources.
The Black report was followed up nearly 20 years later by the Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health—the Acheson report—which came up with recommendations that could be seen as predecessors of the Bill before us. It said:
“We recommend policies which improve the availability of social housing for the less well off within a framework of environmental improvement, planning and design which takes into account social networks, and access to goods and services”—
the very principles captured in Clause 3 of this Bill. I hope that the Bill makes progress to the statute book but my experience of Private Members’ Bills is that this does not always happen. So, my question to the Minister is whether some of the objectives in Clause 3 —for example, that
“all … living areas and bedrooms … should have access to natural light”
and that new homes should provide “year-round thermal comfort”—can be implemented using existing powers.
If it is the case that some of the Bill’s objectives can be achieved by secondary legislation or by amending existing guidance, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, may feel that this is progress he can build on for a fresh assault later.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on this initiative. I declare my interest as a poor vice-president of the TCPA; I say “poor” because of my lack of contribution over recent years, including being abroad for the reception referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, and I have to stop meeting like this, because it is bad for his political career—well, he does not have a future career, but it is bad for his image within whatever emerges on 5 September. I am pleased to endorse his words about the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh; I also thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for covering some of the elements that I was going to cover and therefore sparing the House a lengthier speech by me.
It strikes me that, although we understand the responsibility of the individual for their lifestyle and the contribution that they make to their own health, it is the public health elements that are so important. Of course, income is a major driver here, as it is in terms of the kind of housing that all of us can enter into and enjoy. I spent my early years in a house that was built immediately after the war. The lino used to lift in the air when it was windy. It was like a sort of elevation; I could not do a party trick and make it rise up without being lifted, but it sometimes felt like that. The house also lacked double glazing—well, we had a form of glazing in the winter: the ice that formed on the inside of the windows—and the toilet was inside but in the porch opposite the coalhouse. I was lucky because other people were brought up in much worse conditions in the old back-to-back houses.
That is why I think this Bill is so important for our understanding of what we do to our fellow citizens and of how properly designed houses are healthy to live in throughout their lifespan and contribute both to people’s independence and to their contribution to their own well-being. If you live in a decent house that is healthy on a day-to-day basis, the chances of you having and holding down a job are obviously much greater because you will not be taking time off work. The drain on primary and secondary health services will be much less and young people’s chances of connecting to, and remaining connected to, education will increase dramatically.
We know from the conditions that exist at the moment, with pollution that is vastly impacting the climate around us, what a difference it makes when children do not have bronchial and asthmatic problems, which are often exacerbated severely by the conditions that they live in. We all pay attention to the issue of insulation. We now must match that with an understanding of ventilation and with overcoming the built-in tragedy of people living in houses that have water running down the walls and the choice of having the window open or having damp inflicted on them. When people live in good conditions, not just within the home but in the design of the house and the design of the community around them allowing them to enjoy amenities, their life chances are transformed.
We need to learn from the past, from the model villages in Scotland and West Yorkshire, the work of Rowntree’s and Cadbury, and the homes established by Wedgwood. It was one of the drivers, but nevertheless an important one, for Wedgwood, that if his employees lived in a decent house, the chance of them putting in a good shift was much greater and the chance of them dropping out of work was much less. The logic is one of economy as well as of public health. The logic is one of liberating people to be independent and self-reliant, as well as of communal duty and obligation to each other. You can see immediately that if you get it right from the beginning, you reduce public expenditure in the long term.
My final point is about ageing. The work described by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and which was referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, about reports that have occurred over the generations, from the 1980 to the 2020 reports, is matched by work in relation to ageing, which was done by Professor Alan Walker at Sheffield University, whom I know very intimately. I am not directly associated with the voluntary body, ARCO, but I have dealings with it. If we get design of homes for different times in our lives right, we can liberate people in a way that, again, reduces the cost of social care. So often, people end up in residential care because the home that they live in is entirely unsuitable to maintaining their good health and well-being in the place that they loved and knew. That is true of mild dementia too, where people get even more confused when they are moved into unknown environments in which they are unfamiliar with their surroundings and with what is happening to them. The more that we can invest in homes fit for the future, not just fit for heroes, as they said after the First World War, we will turn our society around. I am really pleased to support this Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord and to offer my support for this very important Bill. I cannot bring the same distinguished background and retrospective contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, and Lord Blunkett, but I can claim to have worked for 13 years in the architects’ department of a new-town development corporation, and the principles which underline this Bill were very much in the minds of those of us who were designing and building that community.
Why do we need this Bill? It may seem odd to noble Lords that there is not already a statutory duty to secure the health, safety and well-being of people living and moving around in homes, but there is not. Consequently, there are thousands of families and millions of children and vulnerable elderly people who find themselves in unsafe, poorly heated, inadequately insulated homes, in neighbourhoods far from green spaces or public transport and all too close to life-threatening sources of pollution and toxic particulates.
We are still building those homes. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, pointed out, some recent changes to permitted development rules mean that too many homes are still being built which fail those basic principles. That will blight the occupants of those homes for generations. Housing is an investment made now which lasts for decades—for generations. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has pointed out that the decision to abandon the move to zero-carbon standards of building for homes in 2016 means that we have now deliberately built about a million substandard homes. They will have to be retrofitted—that is, changed and upgraded—before we get to 2050, at considerable expense either to the householder or the taxpayer in one form or another. It is that kind of short-sighted thinking, at national and sometimes local level, that I hope very much that the introduction of these principles as a statutory requirement will end completely.
The Bill applies only to new homes but I very much hope that the principles set out here will become a benchmark for existing homes. We have yet to hear the Minister’s response to this Bill, but I join others in saying that much as I will welcome her contribution, it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, cannot deliver it in the ebullient style that we had become used to. I hope very much that the Government understand that this is an important and necessary step which ought to set the framework not just for new building but for how we think about upgrading—a better word than retrofitting—our existing homes so that they are suitable for the 21st century and its climate.
It is a framework Bill, not an answer-to-everything Bill. However, it establishes responsibilities and duties, nationally and locally; it sets out an overarching set of principles to apply, which I have just mentioned and which the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, enunciated in his introduction; and it sets out a reporting mechanism with an accountability to Parliament, meaning that it will not be possible for Governments or local authorities to slide away from their responsibility. To keep all that on track, it proposes a healthy homes commissioner, who will be independent of the Government and able to have oversight of this process. Crucially, it also empowers local planning authorities to plan for building safe and affordable homes for those on average and below-average incomes in their areas. There is a terrible shortage of such accommodation in practically every area of the country, and the press reports yesterday of record rental levels in London only underline the shortage of suitable accommodation, with many stories accompanying that news of people who are desperately seeking accommodation which is in any way suitable for habitation at all.
This Bill fills a surprising gap in our legislative armoury and can play a significant role in ending the damage and detriment caused to far too many children and citizens by the poverty of our current housing stock and the unhealthy surroundings that they have. I wish this Bill a speedy passage.
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, persevered and succeeded in ensuring that his Private Member’s Bill is considered. His slogan:
“Health is made at home, hospitals are for repairs”
encapsulates his vision and his objectives admirably. I commend the Town and Country Planning Association, for its excellent work, for its tenacity, and for master-minding this campaign. I am also delighted that the Nationwide Foundation, an independent charity, supports the work of the TCPA. I declare my interest as a trustee of the Nationwide Foundation, whose main objective is to ensure that everyone has access to decent, healthy and affordable homes.
Lack of decent, healthy and affordable housing is one of the most pressing social problems that we face. It causes harm to individuals and families, as well as communities and society. There is, of course, a direct link between housing and poverty. There is compelling evidence about health problems caused by poor-quality housing, noise pollution, damp, cold, inefficient, poorly lit and cramped living conditions; you have only to read the White Paper of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings, Building our Future, which was published in 2018. Covid highlighted very poignantly how those in poor and inappropriate accommodation suffered the most.
It is therefore an imperative that the homes in which people live positively contribute to physical and mental well-being, instead of diminishing it. The human cost and cost to the public purse of unhealthy homes is incalculable. The benefits, on the other hand, are enormous. The Bill’s provisions would help to ensure that we have healthy, happy individuals, a lower cost to the National Health Service, better educational attainment, better productivity, reduced emissions and a healthier environment, greater life chances and a reduced burden on social care.
Unfortunately, changes in housing over the years have often been piecemeal, with very little thought given to their wider implications. I will give just one example. Some houses built through permitted development even lack access to natural light, and thousands more have been built in office parks and industrial estates. They have been described as “slums of the future”.
This has resulted in an unbalanced system that is not fit for purpose and does not meet people’s essential needs, particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. We know that the most vulnerable are more likely to live in unhealthy homes that are damp, energy inefficient, noisy and poorly ventilated. Given rising energy prices and the cost of living crisis, it is even more important that the Government act now to ensure that homes and buildings do not cause or exacerbate poor health and well-being.
This Bill is a real opportunity for government action. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, it would create a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that all relevant policy secures healthy homes; provide a definition of a healthy home and legally binding principles that should underpin it, as developed by the TCPA; join up the housing and planning systems in pursuit of healthy homes and neighbourhoods; and simplify and strengthen the way that the built environment is regulated.
In short, the Bill would transform the regulation of the built environment to ensure that new homes and neighbourhoods support residents’ health and well-being. It would also provide significant scope for the Government to pursue those objectives, standards and policies that they deem to be most effective and would directly contribute to the levelling-up, climate change and affordable housing agendas. It is a real opportunity for a holistic and fundamental change at a time when there are opportunities through other legislation to adopt the Bill. I urge the Government to embrace the Bill, as the rationale for it is unassailable.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in the Second Reading of this very important Bill. The lead Bishop on housing, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, is sadly unable to be with us. However, she has asked me also to pass on her gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for his work in bringing the Healthy Homes Bill forward.
In his book Reimagining Britain, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that we need to reimagine housing. He said:
“Reimagined core values and practices in any housing development will be linked to health in many forms. Good communities build financial, physical, mental, spiritual and relational health.”
As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, this is about linking not just housing and health but education. In my time as Bishop of Ely, when we have built church schools on crowded new housing estates I have always insisted on having space in front of the schools so that, rather than doubling the cramp that people feel, we have pram plazas rather than pram wars.
One mistake that has been made over and again is to reduce our housing crisis simply to the idea of an excess of demand over supply. The consequence is that we assume that, by building more houses faster, we will somehow sort out the other problems around housing. This excessive focus on the volume of houses to be built has caused us to overlook their quality. In the headlong rush to deliver the numbers, we are compromising on the basic standards for healthy homes. We have lost sight of the purpose, for if we go back to the question of why we are building all these houses, it is to create healthy homes where individuals can thrive and healthy neighbourhoods where social bonds can form, where decent housing provides for productive citizens.
Our nation has a history of slum clearance going back to the 19th century and campaigns after both world wars in the 20th century to build decent new homes. In the 1920s, a young priest called Basil Jellicoe, upon discovering the dire state of his parishioners’ housing in Camden, founded the St Pancras House Improvement Society. His obituary in the Times—he died when he was only 36—said that he
“resolved that he would not rest till his people had homes fit to live in, and the rehousing schemes started by his society have already provided many excellent flats with gardens, trees, ponds, swings for the children, and other amenities.”
It is concerning that, despite these works and many like them in the post-war developments, in many respects the quality of homes in this country has gone backwards in the last few decades. When I was a curate in Gateshead, high-quality social housing produced many fine athletes. It is terrible that the housing that is being provided now produces children who can barely breathe. That there are no legally enforceable standards across many aspects of our housing design and construction means that many have been forced to live in poor-quality, overcrowded housing. It is an ironic reflection on our current housing market that homes for sale with good-sized rooms and spacious gardens are not found on new developments but are often ex-council houses, such as the ones I knew back in the 1980s.
It is right and very welcome that the Bill seeks to introduce “healthy homes principles” to be committed to, implemented and monitored. I am sure noble Lords will agree that these principles are good and appropriate. They seek to reduce fire risk, provide liveable space, ensure access to natural light, accessibility, inclusivity and resilience to climate change in homes that are secure and reduce noise and light pollution.
Finally, in drawing my remarks to a close, I observe the affinity of the principles set out in the Healthy Homes Bill with those set out in the Church of England’s Coming Home report—those being the five “S” principles that good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. I and other Lords spiritual look forward to working with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to support this Bill’s passage.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for this Private Member’s Bill. It is very important because it would improve public health. In defining the healthy homes principles that should underpin planning law and the built environment, it provides a missing link to ensure that the built environment is better regulated. It would establish a clearer link for housing with health and well-being, and give a public duty to the Secretary of State to secure the health, safety and well-being of people in buildings.
As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and my noble friend Lord Stunell said, we have too many poorly constructed homes—too many homes that lack space and have poor access to green spaces and local services. The crucial point of the Bill and its great benefit is that the healthy homes principles would become legally binding. For example, new homes should not lead to unsafe levels of air pollution, yet poor indoor air quality can increase cardiovascular disease and asthma.
Like many, I have never been happy with the current permitted development rules that permit the conversion of commercial properties to housing with little regulation. They have resulted in some homes lacking access to natural light. Homes that cannot justify the name have been fitted out in premises in business parks and some in industrial estates. In the rush to build more homes to meet the Government’s commitment to 300,000 new homes a year, poor standards have been tolerated when they should not have been. This is the consequence of deregulation—an outcome that was forecast at the time.
As we have heard, the planning system has become fragmented. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, talked about the silo approach in planning and the poor-quality housing that derives from that. That tells me that the proposal for a healthy homes commissioner is key to the success of this Bill because it would provide the essential focus to ensure that standards of health and well-being improve. It is difficult when responsibilities for legislated-for standards are spread across Whitehall—we see it in many spheres. This is one, but we know that if we had a healthy homes commissioner, it would bring the disparity together to enable higher standards to be achieved. I therefore wish the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, every success with this Bill, which I think is an essential part of underpinning our planning system.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his service. I shall miss him.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Crisp on progressing this excellent Private Member’s Bill and I thank the Town and Country Planning Association, of which I am honoured to be a vice-president, for its great work in promoting this legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has become justly famous for his advocacy of health creation. This approach is not about healthcare after the event, or even about measures to prevent ill health, but about interventions that positively create good health and well-being. In creating health, the role of the home and its environs is critical.
My contribution to this debate is to highlight three high-level sources of support for this core message embodied in the Healthy Homes Bill. First, earlier this week we saw the launch of a report from an Oxford University commission, which I have had the privilege of chairing, on creating healthy cities. The commission was established by Kellogg College’s Global Centre for Healthcare and Urbanism, in partnership with the Prince’s Foundation. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, chaired our international advisory board, with added insights from experts across the world.
The commission’s central contention is that built environment interventions that create improved health and well-being, of which housing is the most prominent, should be prioritised in public policies and the allocation of resources. The commission’s point is that this linkage of health with housing and place is key to resolving many of the wicked issues—the most difficult problems of our time. Getting the home and its environment right addresses the stark inequalities in society, fuel poverty, the prosperity and productivity of our cities, our ageing population, the escalating costs of the health service and key components of the climate emergency. The commission recommends that affordable housing output should be stepped up to around one-third of the Government’s overall target of 300,000 new homes each year, but the commission is clear that quality is as important as quantity. New homes are so often criticised for poor design, inadequate space standards, and a lack of green spaces and a decent public realm, as well as for making slow progress towards net-zero emissions. The commission advocates improvements through building regulations, design codes and planning requirements. I commend this new report which endorses the need for the Healthy Homes Bill. It can be found online by searching for “commission on creating healthy cities”.
My second source of backing for the intentions of the Bill comes from the report of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Built Environment, Meeting Housing Demand. I am proud to be a member of that committee. This report points to the problems of quality standards in new-build homes from volume housebuilders. It makes the point that poor-quality housing has a significant impact on public health. The Built Environment Committee’s report gave special emphasis to the need for well-designed, manageable, accessible and companionable housing for older people, a desperate need illustrated today by the news of record delays in hospital admissions from ambulances, so often because beds are full of people who cannot return to unsuitable homes. In that context, I ask the Minister for advice on progress with the establishment of the Government’s housing for older people task force, which was announced last year.
My third reference for support for action on healthy homes is the Government’s own levelling up White Paper. This states
“Having a decent home is fundamental to our well-being”.
Despite all the hazards around us—Covid, war, inflation and political turmoil—the levelling-up agenda could and should mean substantial investment in place-based initiatives that promote healthy homes within a decent environment. Can the Minister confirm that the Government’s commitment to this levelling-up agenda remains unwavering in these volatile times?
The Healthy Homes Bill’s aim of ensuring that the nation’s housing contributes positively to health and well-being in every respect is reflected in growing recognition and support from many quarters. This important Bill definitely deserves to move to the next stage, and I wish it a safe passage.
My Lords, I too am delighted to support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his campaign to ensure that all our population can live in a safe, healthy home for life, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out.
He has listed 11 principles which should apply to new homes to make them healthy homes. After the Grenfell disaster and the following revelation that many other homes in high-rise buildings are also susceptible to fire, he is wise to have put fire safety top of the list, death being the single biggest risk to health. Whatever else we expect from our homes, we certainly should not expect them to kill us.
Despite the progress of the Building Safety Act 2022, there are still many outstanding issues which require clarity or action. Leaseholders are still having to pay for fire safety measures, other than cladding, up to the cap, but some freeholders are increasing service charges to cover costs over and above the cap. This cannot be right. It is still not mandatory for a resident with a disability in a high-rise building to have a personal evacuation plan. There are many blocks of flats with only a single staircase for evacuation in the case of fire. At the very least, it should be illegal to build new blocks with only a single staircase. Then there is the issue of electrical safety, referred to by my noble friend Lord Forster in his Private Member’s Bill that has just been debated. Many fires have been caused by electrical faults, yet still no electrical safety inspection is mandated unless you are trying to let your flat—a certificate is not required if you are selling.
Looking at the other principles, I regret that they apply to new homes only, but I understand why the Bill has been written that way. New homes are a minority of homes, but I wonder whether the healthy homes commissioner’s functions, as outlined in Clause 8, could be amended in Committee to include action on existing homes too. I agree with my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lord Stunell on that point.
I was interested to note that some of the principles in Clause 3 are linked to each other. If they were put in place, they would make a major contribution to certain government ambitions. I refer to paragraph (f) on a reduction in carbon emissions, paragraph (g) on resilience to climate change, and paragraph (k) on year-round thermal comfort. If all new homes were well insulated and double or triple glazed, we would make some progress towards net zero.
Unfortunately, there is no proper inspection that the energy efficiency as built is equivalent to the energy efficiency a home was designed to have. This does not happen, because developers can appoint their own building inspectors. I think it is shocking that local authority building inspectors are not allowed on site to ensure that buyers are getting what they paid for in respect of insultation. Developers are marking their own homework, which is one of the reasons why the advisory Committee on Climate Change has given a red rating on progress on reducing emissions from buildings. The policies are not there and neither are the support schemes.
The principles in the Bill are about new homes but, as I said, the majority of homes are not new. Government funding to support home insulation has been drastically reduced since 2015, and there is now no support at all for owner-occupiers who want to retrofit their homes. It can and should be done, though, especially now in the light of the threats to energy security and the eye-watering increase in the price of gas and electricity—another job for the healthy homes commissioner that could be added in Committee.
The Government’s welcome help with paying energy bills is like pushing £5 notes straight through the walls of homes into the atmosphere. It is money wasted unless we insulate both new homes and existing ones. Indeed, we must do so before we remove gas boilers and install heat pumps. Interestingly, better insulation would also achieve the principle in Clause 3(i), which requires homes to be free from unacceptable levels of
“intrusive noise and light pollution”.
On noise pollution, I can confirm from my own experience in a passive house that a well-insulated house is a quiet house—unless of course you fill it with a lot of noisy people.
Insulation is also important for the Government’s ambition of giving us an extra five years of healthy life. Older people in particular are susceptible to cold and hypothermia, so the principle in Clause 3(k)—year-round thermal comfort—is vital for that government ambition too.
Clause 9 deals with “affordable housing”, but defines it as
“affordable to those on average and below-average household incomes”.
The Government’s definition is 80% of market price, either to rent or buy, or 50% for social rents. If the Bill goes to Committee, which I hope it does, we will have to iron out that potential anomaly. Affordable should mean affordable.
All round, though, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, if passed into law, would not only benefit the health, well-being and pockets of residents of new homes but help to achieve many of the Government’s key ambitions for us and future generations. It must be done.
My Lords, I am the final Back-Bench speaker and I join every other speaker in wishing this Bill a fast and successful passage into law, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on it.
I entirely sympathise with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, that some elements of the Bill could be implemented immediately, but really the great value of it is that it is the new systems-thinking approach that the Government so desperately need. Dare I say it—I doubt they will listen to me—but a Tory leadership candidate could adopt the whole Bill as a new policy to present in the debate tonight. It brings the kind of systems thinking that we so urgently need. In passing, I offer Green support for the Domestic Premises (Electrical Safety Certificate) Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, which is so clearly related to this one; I am sorry I was not able to take part in that debate.
I congratulate the usual channels, which is not something I say very often, who have perfectly timed the arrival of Second Reading of this Bill in the light of the amber extreme heat warning across most of England and Wales from Sunday to Tuesday, with temperatures expected to exceed 35 degrees in southern, eastern and central areas and with COBRA meeting to look at tackling the dangers this presents, particularly to the health service.
In the light of that, I am going to concentrate on Clause 3, which defines the healthy home principles, particularly Clause 3(f), (g) and (k), referring respectively to slashing carbon emissions, being resilient to climate change and thermal comfort. I must also make reference to the importance of Clause 3(j), which deals with indoor air pollution. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has a Bill dealing with the urgent need for clean air in the environment, but indoor air pollution is an issue that is even less adequately considered and is related to novel entities, the planetary boundary that we have most recently exceeded. Far too many products on our supermarket shelves being pushed by blanket advertising contain volatile organic chemicals that make our homes far less healthy by polluting them, and the ventilation of those homes is inadequate to remove them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, among others, commented on the relationship between this issue and poverty. A recent report by Centre for Cities—here, we come back to the Government’s levelling-up agenda—noted that Burnley and Blackpool are among the areas of the country worst-hit by inflation, in large part because of poor-quality housing stock. The reality is that northern workers are facing extra costs for essentials of £133 per month, compared to an average in the south of £103. A significant part of such extra costs, £360 a year, is associated with poor housing—which, of course, is before the further increase in energy prices that we are expecting.
I imagine that one of the responses we may hear from the Government, if we are not going to hear the widespread embrace of the Bill that we should, is, “But what about the extra costs?” I do not have much time now to go into detail, but I refer noble Lords to the report entitled The Costs and Benefits of Tighter Standards for New Buildings, prepared for the Committee on Climate Change. The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to its scathing assessment of the Government’s climate adaptation policies. The report sets out the detail very clearly. Ultra-high energy-efficiency standards—which would meet many of the demands set out in the noble Lord’s Bill—combined with air-source heat pumps, represent a 1% to 4% uplift on build costs compared to a home built to current regulations. So, for a 1% to 4% higher build cost, we would get a long way down the road towards the healthy homes that the noble Lord is outlining. It also notes that costs are highest in the least efficient building forms, such as detached houses, which is where, bringing in the systems thinking, we come to the land-use strategy that we are to see very soon from the Government.
I want to broaden this issue and come back to Clause 1, which lays a duty on the Secretary of State to look at all buildings, not just homes. Let us consider the disastrous position we are in now. The head teacher of Clapton Girls’ Academy has told parents that the school plans to send pupils home at 12.30 pm on Monday and Tuesday:
“Already, many classrooms are very hot, even with fans, and students are struggling to keep cool, drink enough water and maintain concentration in lessons.”
We should apologise to our young people, who have been hit by so many shocks and difficulties. Again, their education is being disrupted because we have failed to provide them with buildings of a decent standard.
Lastly, I want to bring us very close to home and point out to noble Lords that on Monday and Tuesday, the Home Office service office in Portcullis House will be closed because it is expected to be so hot that it will not be safe for people to work there. If we want a metaphor for the unfitness of our current politics and of everything we have delivered for our society, there, in a nutshell—or in a glass-shelled office—is that metaphor.
My Lords, I am grateful to the House for allowing me to speak in the gap. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, will know how important and timely I think the Bill is because we have worked for many years on related issues. Looking back at the report that we in the Select Committee produced in 2016, Building Better Places, it is that emphasis on places that comes through in his very important Bill today. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, unless we emphasise the building of places in their context, unless we get buildings and homes right, we will not be able to get the whole environment right.
We have wasted more than a decade. I hope the House will forgive me if I refer to the policy that the last Labour Government introduced in 2009 of lifetime homes and lifetime neighbourhoods, from which there is a direct trajectory to all the things we have discussed today, including lifetime homes standards, which we wanted to be mandatory within a matter of years. We were looking at regulation by 2013, but of course, that was wiped out by the coalition Government. We are now nowhere nearer mandatory standards for lifetime homes, yet in order to make the noble Lord’s Bill a reality we absolutely have to have mandatory standards to drive permanent, sustainable changes in the quality and design of buildings, which would make it possible for older people to live and age in place. That is what we have all been aiming at for the past decade.
We are slightly nearer it because the social care White Paper, for example, brings for the first time a proper, explicit emphasis on integrating housing and commits money to it in relation to social care. Of course, it is also in relation to discharge and the crisis we are having, which we see every day now. We absolutely need to do that as quickly as we can.
The second point I want to make—I hope I will take only three minutes—is that not only have we gone backwards because we have failed to address the reality of what is required to enforce standards and get developers to deliver them, but we have also gone backwards on the adaptability of buildings. The loss of Care & Repair England, for example, with the wonderful work that Sue Adams did there over so many decades, is a terrible one. We no longer have the momentum and discipline to ensure that we have those sorts of provisions at a local level, which can make all the difference to providing adaptable homes—not just new homes but homes that people can live in and cope with.
This is particularly important for older people and if we are to get any movement into encouraging older people to downsize, so that we can free up homes as a whole-systems approach to providing affordable and accessible homes for younger people. This is all part of the system and the Bill fits in so clearly and so importantly with that. I hope that the Government see the opportunity—as well as the set-up—here to support the Bill and, when we begin Committee I hope we will have a raft of amendments to strengthen the Bill and make it more enforceable, deliverable and workable.
My Lords, I declare my interests as vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Fire Safety and Rescue. I am also disabled. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on securing the Second Reading of this important Bill and on his long-term work to achieve improvement in the standards of homes. I thank Habinteg, the TPCA and the Library for their helpful briefings. I also echo the thanks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, to the usual channels for this Bill immediately following my noble friend Lord Foster’s Bill on the safety of electrical installations, as there is absolutely an overlap. It was a pleasure to hear the informed contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Young, on this Bill, given his expertise over many years, while the noble Lord, Lord Best, reminded us of the work of the Lords Select Committee examining quality standards in housing, and said that poor standards affect health.
The Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to secure the health, safety, well-being and convenience of people in their homes. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, spoke of the overarching strategic importance of getting this right. I particularly like the definition in the Bill of the healthy homes principles, which must be adhered to and which begin with fire safety and lifetime standards. My noble friend Lady Walmsley outlined their importance and the difficulties that leaseholders currently face. I support her call for these standards for existing homes and for affordability. I agree with my noble friend Lord Shipley that the role of the healthy homes commissioner would ensure that the issue of building healthy homes became part of the vital cycle of the long overdue improvement of building and safety standards.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, was right to say that there is an intimate relationship between housing and health, and that there are wider benefits to communities and society where homes are built with the foundation stones of health, safety and well-being. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, reminded us that healthy homes should be an imperative.
My noble friend Lord Shipley mentioned homes being built on industrial estates with no light. In my home town, Watford, in 2019, a light industrial unit—well, not much more than a shed—was given consent on appeal for conversion into 15 flats, of which seven would have had no windows at all. After the public outcry, not least by the council, which had refused it, the Secretary of State overruled the planning inspector. The right reverend Prelate was right to say that the current focus on the volume of building has overtaken size needs and having basic, healthy homes. We must continue to build new homes, but they must be safe and healthy. It can be done affordably but requires building companies to change their model of building fast and building small.
My noble friend Lord Stunell reminded us that reforms in building regulations are long overdue. The Grenfell inquiry, and especially Dame Judith Hackitt’s review, have said that this reform is urgent. She talked about the need for streamlining; this Bill could reduce the nightmare complexity and bureaucracy of the maze of our current, separate, planning and building regulations systems.
Healthy homes need to be suitable for those of us who are disabled—there is very little disabled accommodation available—and for those with less mobility, as is increasingly common as we all get older. We know that the Government are currently consulting on changes to Part M of the building regulations to raise accessibility standards for new homes in England. These proposals to raise the standard for category 2, often referred to as the accessible and adaptable standard in the lifetime homes standard, are vital. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, reminded us of the need for this and of the loss of Care & Repair, which was so short-sighted. The Bill tries to make that link between the broader, strategic principles of healthy living and the practical ones relating to planning regulations.
Accessible housing means homes and neighbourhoods that are designed and built for everyone but are especially beneficial to disabled and older people. In practice, this means simple and cheap things such as not having steps up to a front door, making doorways very slightly wider and having more room to move around in a bathroom. New houses could easily be built with bathrooms that can be converted into wet rooms when necessary in later life, if people cannot get into baths. It also means homes that are future-proofed and sustainable, and can be adapted to suit people’s needs as they age, with things from installing grab rails to the potential for a level-access shower, as I have mentioned. This is vital at a time when social care is under real stress. As demographics change, this will only increase.
While there is a very practical point about not having more and more care homes, most people receiving social care would actually prefer it in their own homes and not to have to move into a care home. Surely it makes sense to require new homes to be built to that accessible and adaptable standard, which would ensure that people across their life-course can live more healthy and independent lives. Raising the minimum standard will provide a level policy playing field and the certainty that developers want, enabling them to build homes that meet the future needs of disabled and older people.
This Government have repeatedly said that their aims for reform of building and safety regulations are a priority but, at a time when progress seems to have stalled yet again, this Bill provides a real opportunity for fundamental change. There is no reason why any new homes should undermine the health of their residents. I hope that the Government will look favourably on the Bill.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for bringing his Bill before us today and for his extremely thorough and excellent instruction, which was helpful to all noble Lords. As others have done, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his work in this area. It has been a pleasure to shadow him and I wish him well on the Back Benches.
We support the Bill because we believe it is important for the Government to build a new wave of affordable, healthy homes where families can settle with a real sense of security. As we have heard, healthy homes are beneficial not just for those who live in them but for the country as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, talked in his introduction about the intimate relationship between housing and health. According to the Good Homes Alliance, old and inefficient housing causes an estimated £1.4 billion to £2 billion in additional annual NHS costs.
It is thus disappointing that there seems to be a reluctance by the Government to improve the quality of homes. They have also failed to give councils the powers to deliver landlord licensing and ensure that all homes are up to a sufficient quality. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, expressed surprise that there is not already a statutory duty for this. It is not just surprising but quite shocking that developers can continue to get away with building substandard housing.
The English Housing Survey estimates that 23% of private rented homes in 2019 did not meet the decent homes standard—that is over 1 million homes. This compares with only 18% of owner-occupied homes and 12% of social rented homes, so there is a particular problem in the private rented sector. I wonder whether the Minister has had the opportunity to familiarise herself with the report published yesterday by the Centre for Cities think tank, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The report concluded that the cost of living crisis has widened the north/south divide in England and Wales by 30%, which is a shocking figure.
One area of particular concern was the fact that older, less well-insulated housing stock contributes to much higher energy costs for people who live in those homes. One example in the report was that the annual energy bills in Burnley, where 70% of homes have an energy-efficiency rating below band C, averaged £1,272. This can be compared with Milton Keynes, where 50% of homes have high energy-efficiency ratings and annual bills were £889 on average. Therefore, the worse a home is insulated, the more it costs to heat it. Clearly, energy efficiency needs to be an urgent government priority.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned the importance of insulation, and she is absolutely right. The noble Lord, Lord Best, brought us his huge experience from the Select Committee and the Affordable Housing Commission, and shared many of his findings, one of which was fuel poverty and its impact. I ask the Minister: how do the Government plan to tackle this increasing equality divide and level up, as they keep promising us? More broadly, the Government’s housing and planning policy still seems pretty disorganised, to say the least. A report in January from the House of Lords Built Environment Committee on meeting housing demand found that the Government’s delays over planning reforms and uncertainty over the future of the planning system had created
“a chilling effect on house-building”.
The noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Young of Cookham, both talked about planning and brought their experience of this to the debate. My noble friend Lord Blunkett spoke about the importance of getting this right. There are nearly 1 million more people now in private rented homes than when the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Too many are stuck in a system with no power to challenge rogue landlords, with no savings to get on the housing ladder and in housing that falls well below acceptable standards.
The proposals in the levelling-up Bill do not do anything to ensure that affordable and healthy housing is built to the high standards that we have heard in this debate and which need to be the norm. We also need people to live in mixed developments. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely talked about the importance of quality and not just quantity; this is one area where we have got it wrong over the last few decades. We need to build more homes, but, as we have heard in the debate, standards really matter. This debate has brought a huge amount of experience and expertise that your Lordships’ House can offer the Government in order to develop this Bill. I urge the Minister to put her full support behind the Bill and to work with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. We strongly support this Bill and urge the Government to do the same.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for sponsoring this Private Member’s Bill. We have had a very interesting, wide-ranging and meaty debate. I too am sorry that my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh is not here on this occasion to answer; his knowledge in this area far surpasses mine, but I will do my best to respond to noble Lords. I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and many other noble Lords are quite right to emphasise the link between health, healthy living, homes and places; the inequalities in this sector have been highlighted in his and other noble Lords’ contributions.
The Government oppose this Bill, not because they take issue with the premise of noble Lords’ arguments, but rather because they believe that the problems highlighted in the Bill are already being dealt with via alternative policy routes. Delivering homes in places that support healthy and safe lifestyles is a key element of the planning system. Many of the proposed healthy homes principles are already covered by the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied. The NPPF must be taken into account by local authorities in the preparation of their development plans, and it is a material consideration in planning decisions. The purpose of the planning system is clear: to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.
Our National Planning Policy Framework sets out three overarching objectives to achieve sustainable development: economic and, in particular, social and environmental. The social objective focuses on supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities by fostering well-designed, beautiful and safe places with accessible services and open spaces. More specifically, the framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. This should support healthy lifestyles, especially where this would address identified local health and well-being needs. We are intending to review the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system. This will provide an opportunity to ensure that the NPPF contributes to sustainable development as fully as possible.
To ensure that sustainable development is pursued positively, the presumption in favour of sustainable development is at the heart of the framework. This means that all plans should promote sustainable patterns of growth to meet local need, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment, mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects. It also means that planning applications which accord with an up-to-date plan should be approved.
Transport should also be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and development proposals, so that opportunities to promote walking, cycling and public transport use are identified and pursued. Significant development should be focused on locations which are, or can be made, sustainable through limiting the need to travel and offering a genuine choice of transport modes.
In addition, open spaces can provide health, well-being and recreational benefits to people living and working nearby; they have an ecological value and make an important contribution to green infrastructure. Planning policies should be based on robust and up-to-date assessments of the need for open space and opportunities for new provision. Local plans should seek to accommodate this.
I will speak only briefly on building safety because it did not form a major part of today’s debate and noble Lords will already be aware, from the Building Safety Act and other statutory instruments, of the amount of work the Government are doing in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, focused particularly on this issue. The Government are clear that there must be a strong regulatory regime in place to ensure that buildings are built and maintained safely. As the noble Baroness knows, and other noble Lords will agree, the Government are implementing the majority of the recommendations in the 2018 Hackitt review through the Building Safety Act. In particular, the Act sets out a clear pathway on how high-rise buildings should be designed, constructed, maintained and managed, while ensuring that residents have a stronger voice in the system. The Act also establishes two new regulators: the building safety regulator and the national regulator for construction products.
I turn to building standards. Health and safety in buildings is a founding principle of the Building Safety Act, which underpins building regulations. Building regulations in England set requirements for a range of matters relating to the health and well-being of people in their homes. The regulations also set requirements for issues raised in the Bill, such as security and energy efficiency. We have recently reviewed and updated building regulations standards for ventilation in homes and introduced a new requirement to reduce the risk of overheating. The highest fabric standards we set as part of the 2021 uplift will markedly increase the energy efficiency of new homes. This will help households to minimise their energy bills and to make homes warmer and more comfortable. The building regulations also contain requirements for ensuring that new buildings are made secure against unauthorised access.
We have clear plans for ensuring that new homes meet the highest levels of energy efficiency. From 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that new homes will be future-proofed for net zero, with low-carbon heat and high levels of energy efficiency. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, while the zero-carbon homes policy proposed changes to the energy performance standards of new homes, it also included a carbon offsetting scheme, allowable solutions, to enable homes to become zero carbon. Consumers would not have benefited from allowable solutions as this would not necessarily have increased the energy efficiency of their homes, or indeed reduced their energy bills.
The future homes standard is a major improvement on this policy because it will deliver homes that are genuinely zero-carbon ready. The future homes standard will deliver carbon reductions through the fabric and building services in a home, rather than relying on wider carbon offsetting. This footprint will continue to reduce over time as the electricity grid decarbonises. In the interim, we have tightened energy standards, including for insultation, for new homes by 30%. As well as improving the energy efficiency in the short term, these improvements will ensure that construction professionals and supply chains are working to higher specifications in readiness for the 2025 future homes standard.
In addition to the policies I have mentioned, the National Planning Policy Framework is also clear that a key aspect of sustainable development is good design and that the creation of high-quality, beautiful and sustainable buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve. In July 2021 we issued revisions to the framework which place greater emphasis on beauty, place-making and good design to create better places in which to live and work.
The framework also contains national policy relating to many of the aims of this Bill. In particular, it asks that planning policies and decisions should: ensure that developments will function well and add to the overall quality of the area, not just for the short term but over the lifetime of the development; accommodate green spaces; support local facilities and transport networks; create places that are safe, inclusive and accessible; and promote health and well-being for existing and future users.
My noble friend Lord Young stressed that two objectives of the Bill relate to natural light and year-round thermal comfort. The National Design Guide and National Model Design Code illustrate how well-designed places can achieve this in practice.
On liveable space in new homes, the Government believe that ensuring a good standard and quality of internal space is vital to achieving well-designed and healthy homes for all. National planning policy includes a nationally described space standard, which means that councils have the option to set minimum space standards for new homes in their area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, touched on staircases, and I am sure that she knows the action the Government have been taking on staircase safety. They have now put in motion a review of Approved Document K, which is the statutory guidance for building regulations dealing with protection from falling, collision and impact. The review focuses primarily on Section 1, which considers the safety of stairs, ladders and ramps. This review will run in parallel with the review already under way of Approved Document M, which looks at accessibility. This review will consult on raising the safety level of staircases to that achieved by meeting British Standard 5395-1, on staircases.
The National Design Guide reminds local councils that the quality of internal space needs careful consideration in higher density developments, particularly for family accommodation. I was, like many noble Lords, appalled to hear of buildings being adapted into flats with no natural light. The guide also places importance on access, privacy, daylight and external amenity space. I hope this relates to some of the “S”s that the right reverend Prelate mentioned in his contribution.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned the housing for older people task force. Further details on panel membership and the scope of the task force will be confirmed in due course. The noble Lord also mentioned the Commission on Creating Healthy Cities. The Government welcome its report and we are going to look closely at its recommendations as we take forward our work on levelling up, including the reforms set out in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. A full review of the National Planning Policy Framework is also likely to be required in due course to reflect our wider changes to the planning system, subject to decisions on how they will be taken forward. Any changes to the NPPF will be subject to a full public consultation, which will provide an opportunity to submit comments on the proposals.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Hayman of Ullock, both mentioned the Centre for Cities think tank. I am afraid that I have not seen this report yet. I will make sure to bring it to the attention of the department and will definitely look at it myself as well.
To conclude, although the Government support the Bill’s objectives of ensuring that homes across the country are healthy—indeed, our Levelling Up White Paper has set out our mission to reduce the number of non-decent homes in the private rented sector—we believe that, because of our existing laws and measures, the Bill is unnecessary. We therefore oppose it, but this has very little to do with the costs that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned.
My Lords, this has been a very impressive debate, showing the deep experience of people from all sides of this House. There is an overall message in all this about learning from the past and thinking about the future.
I will just pick up a few of the themes that people have mentioned before replying to the Minister. I cannot possibly do justice to what has been said but I will start, if I may, with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and his deep experience. He made very practical points about how this covers more than one department and the difficulties that creates for effective policy and implementation, and the need to think about how we can get at least some of this adopted through existing powers. I will come back to that. I am grateful to him for his support and for the presumed support of his ancestor, Hilton Young, on this matter.
I am very grateful to everyone who has spoken and to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for talking about his personal experience. One theme I took from what he said was liberating people; houses are the foundation for liberating people to be all that they can be. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, gave me one quotation that I will remember this debate for. He said, I think, that we are building homes that are deliberately substandard. I did not know that there is a policy to that effect, but that is obviously what he has found in his wide experience in this field. The noble Lord also stressed the importance of having safe and affordable houses, which is a theme that others have picked up as well.
My noble friend Lady Prashar talked about how thoughtlessly we sometimes make changes in housing, without considering the wider implications. This is one of the points about systems and systems-thinking that so many others have raised. I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely for drawing attention to the tension between the rush to build houses, and quality and standards. Rushing to build poor houses leads to major problems in the longer term. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, stressed the healthy homes principles and some of the outrageous results—only some—of permitted development rights and their implications throughout the country.
My noble friend Lord Best talked strongly about the welcome commission that he has chaired, and its wisdom. I think your Lordships’ House will be coming back to the links between health, housing and place, and the important issues that come together there. I was also struck by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, saying that we should not expect our homes to kill to us. That seems to me to be a pretty basic point. Another point that the noble Baroness made strongly was that we need to make the links between the healthy homes principles and other policies that are already in the Government’s agenda.
I very much welcomed the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about system thinking and how we need to see this right the way through, understand the big picture and not just make marginal changes here that have knock-on effects elsewhere. I also welcomed her points about costs and benefits. While there are relatively low costs, in percentage terms, there are very substantial benefits in the longer term.
I was also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her comments about what it means for disabled people and about making sure we future-proof our homes. Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who drew out the points about additional costs and brought us back to the north-south divide, the importance of levelling up and how this fits together. This Bill is fundamentally about bringing together a whole lot of issues around the foundation of people having a decent life in our society.
I turn to the Minister’s response. I simply do not agree that these issues are all covered by current government policy. I was not necessarily surprised and therefore not necessarily disappointed by her remarks, and she will not be surprised or disappointed by mine. Before I try to take this argument much further, one of the fundamental points here is that quite a lot of what the Government have been doing has been proffering guidance and not making it mandatory. I noticed that a number of noble Lords around the Chamber talked about the importance of having some mandatory standards. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who I missed out in my run-around just then, made the point precisely that we need some mandatory things because, when they are in guidance, the good people do them and the bad people do not. We see the results of both the good—and there is some fantastic stuff happening in the country—and the bad.
I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and look for opportunities for this in current legislation. I will look to follow up a conversation I have been having with the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for whose time on this I am grateful, and look for opportunities to discuss the issues with the noble Baroness and the Government more generally. I will also look for opportunities for the levelling-up Bill to produce some of the aspects of this Bill. Indeed, it has been suggested to me that while this Bill has only four pages, the levelling-up Bill has 140, so perhaps we should have an amendment to include this as a schedule to that Bill.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.