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Lords Chamber

Volume 829: debated on Friday 21 April 2023

House of Lords

Friday 21 April 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leeds.

Heritage Railways and Tramways (Voluntary Work) Bill [HL]

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, I am conscious that we have a lot of business to consider today, so I shall be brief. I remind the House of my interests as president of the Heritage Railway Association and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail. I am most grateful to the HRA and its members for the help they have given me in drafting this Bill and preparing for the debate.

Your Lordships granted a Second Reading to this Bill on 15 July last year, with all speakers—all Back-Bench speakers, anyway—expressing admiration and support for the heritage rail sector and for the Bill. The Bill seeks to remove statutory restrictions on young people volunteering to work on heritage railways or tramways. All these enterprises provide a stimulus to local employment and tourism, with volunteers making up a very large part of the workforce in almost every case. Many young persons seek to participate in these operations to the benefit of themselves and the operators.

Unfortunately, the law states that those under compulsory school age are barred from working on heritage railways, even on a voluntary basis, as a result of the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920—enacted at a time when heritage railways did not exist. The Bill proposes to overcome the problem by allowing children and young persons within certain age limits to participate in voluntary work on heritage railways and tramways. Section 1(1) of the 1920 Act states:

“No child shall be employed in any industrial undertaking”.

Clause 1 of the Bill would require that to be interpreted not to apply to young people aged 12 or over volunteering on heritage railways or tramways. I beg to move.

My Lords, I did not speak at Second Reading, but I declare an interest as president of the Steam Boat Association. In that respect, I intervene briefly to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for the wonderful work he has done. We have found common cause in trying to maintain coal for our respective interests in steamboats and railways.

This is an important Bill. I do not know what the outcome of it will be, but it is essential that young people should be able to become involved in heritage steam and heritage vehicles of all kinds. It brings discipline and a knowledge of engineering, and it is great fun. One of the best birthday presents I ever got was when I turned 65 and my family arranged for me to drive a steam train. It was fantastic—almost as good as my wedding.

Even if the Bill is not the right way to achieve this purpose, I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that the purpose is very important. It is absolutely fantastic that the noble Lord does so much work in this field, which is so important to tourism and to our economy.

My Lords, I add our thanks to my noble friend Lord Faulkner, who has piloted the Bill. I regret that I could not find a relevant interest to confess at this point, but I commend those who have. I add my hope that Lady Forsyth has a forgiving nature when she comes to read Hansard.

Our heritage railways are a joy and a blessing to the nation, as well as a big contributor to the economy. It would certainly be a shame if children and young people were prevented engaging safely in voluntary activity down to legislation from a time when heritage railways were simply railways. In the earlier stages, the Government seemed confident that there is no legislative barrier. That is not completely accepted around the table, so I hope that the Minister is able to give some reassurance to my noble friend and that discussions are carrying on to make sure that this can happen. I am happy to wait to hear what the Minister has to say.

My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for bringing this debate to the House for the fourth time, for which he is to be applauded. I agree with him that it is important to protect heritage railways for future generations.

Modern health and safety legislation—in particular the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and relevant secondary legislation—does not prevent children and young people volunteering on heritage railways or tramways. The current legislative framework already allows for this to happen. However, it is important that such activities are carried out in a safe way with employers, organisers and those supervising the activities making sure that any risks are properly controlled.

The Government support volunteers and volunteering; to that extent, I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Forsyth. It can be a rewarding experience for young people, and it allows them to gain new skills and make a difference in their community. Volunteering is vital for the future sustainability of the heritage rail sector, with more than 22,000 people, 800 of them young people, giving their time to support heritage railway organisations across the country.

At Second Reading, my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, offered to bring officials from the Health and Safety Executive, the Office of Rail and Road, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, together with the Heritage Railway Association to discuss how its guidance can be further strengthened. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances prevented this meeting happening, but I would very much like to make this offer again.

Under the 1974 Act, duty holders are required to control the risks they create from their operation. Although the Health and Safety Executive has the policy responsibility for the 1920 Act, in the case of heritage railways, the Office of Rail and Road is the regulator for health and safety legislation. Both regulators have confirmed that they would not enforce the 1920 Act solely to prevent young people volunteering on heritage railways. It has not been used in a prosecution since 2009 and, when it was, it was used alongside more modern health and safety legislation to prosecute in cases where young people were employed illegally in dangerous environments. In total, the 1920 Act has been enforced on eight occasions since 1998, and none of these prosecutions was against a heritage railway.

The law protecting children in the UK is a complex area, and this Bill would have implications not only on health and safety protections but on education legislation and local authority by-laws. To repeal or amend the 1920 Act may initially seem the best course of action; however, because of the links to other legislation, the process of making changes would be extensive. There is no evidence that this legislative change would make a difference to the number of young people volunteering, and therefore it is not proportionate to proceed with it.

I promised also to be relatively short, so I conclude by saying that the Bill seeks to allow children to gain valuable experiences volunteering on heritage railways and tramways, and the Government support this aim. However, we believe that the current legislative framework does just that. Nothing would be gained from a change to legislation when other, simpler and more effective options are available—in particular, working with the regulators to explore the types of activities and tasks that are proportionate for young volunteers.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, remained concerned about what would happen should something go wrong with a young person working as a volunteer, and he wanted stronger guarantees in relation to the 1920 Act. I want to reassure him that if such an incident occurred, both the Health and Safety Executive and the Office of Rail and Road have confirmed that there would be a full investigation, taking account of the risks that the young person was exposed to and how they were controlled. The existing framework is fair and effective, which is why, unfortunately, the Government oppose the Bill.

My Lords, I express my warmest thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for his kind and extremely generous remarks, which are not entirely justified, I am sure. It is very kind of him to say all those nice things. I also thank my noble friend Lady Sherlock for her generous comments.

The response from the Minister is all right as far as it goes—but there is a “but”. I accept absolutely the assurance that the ORR and the Health and Safety Executive have given that they have no intention of using the 1920 Act to prosecute in the case of young people on heritage railways. But the point that needs to be considered is what happens if something goes wrong that forces them to take a different view and may cause the provisions of that Act to apply. I have had a letter this week from the CEO of the Heritage Railway Association, Steve Oates, who said,

“I know of some railways who are not convinced. If it’s unlawful, it’s unlawful and the risk of prosecution or refusal of insurance cover, however remote, remains”.

That is also the view of the former legal adviser to the Department for Transport, Geoffrey Claydon CB, who wrote to me on Wednesday. He said:

“The Government are relying on the fact that HSE and ORR have said that they would not prosecute for any infringement of the 1920 Act in relation to young persons. But this ignores the possibility of private prosecutions, prosecutions by local authorities and insurers refusing to meet any claims on the basis that the law has not been followed”.

My Bill removes that element of doubt, and I urge the House to pass it this morning and send it to the other place.

In the meantime, I will take up with great pleasure the offer of the meeting that the Minister outlined; I hope that we are able to come to a satisfactory conclusion there. For now, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Ecology Bill [HL]

Third Reading

Clause 3: Financial provisions


Moved by

Leave out Clause 3

My Lords, this is a simple tidying-up amendment to remove a financial provision that should have been removed in Committee. I beg to move.

Amendment agreed.


Moved by

My Lords, this is a simple Bill. It started off with far more clauses, but we removed most of them to allow just one simple provision: to reverse the catastrophic decline we are seeing in nature in the UK. The UK is one of the most naturally depleted countries in the world, which is quite surprising considering how little is being done to look at how we are going to reverse that.

I was very much hoping that, because we have made this such a simple measure, the Government could take this and add it to many of their policies going forward. In Committee, it was clear that the Government do not see this as something they are going to take forward. I hope they will change their mind when it is picked up in the Commons, and that there will be a damascene moment where it is given government time and moves forward. I am not sure that the Minister is going to give me some assurance on that basis.

I thank all those who have taken part in debates on the Bill. I particularly thank the people at Zero Hour, who have done so much work to raise the issue, and their supporters, in particular Mr Ron Bailey, a seasoned campaigner who has brought so many of these Bills before Parliament. On that basis, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

I will say only a very few brief words. Clearly, reversing biodiversity decline is extremely important, and we have had useful debates around the Bill, which clearly has been on a bit of a journey. I wish it luck for its passage in the other place and I am sure that we will see it again at some point.

My Lords, I pay huge tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for tabling this Private Member’s Bill and for the passion, knowledge and understanding of this issue that he brings to the House. As he says, this is a crucial issue, and I am glad that throughout the Bill’s passage we have had the opportunity to debate and discuss it. I know that noble Lords will agree with me when I say that tackling the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change is of the utmost importance.

I will not repeat the discussion we had at Second Reading and in Committee, but I will emphasise the action that the Government have taken since the last time we discussed the Bill. In England, we have now set four legally binding targets for biodiversity. By 2030 we have committed to halt the decline in species abundance and by 2042 we aim to reverse species decline, to reduce the risk of species extinction, and to restore or create more than 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats.

We have set out our plan to deliver on these ambitious targets, along with other environmental targets, in the revised environmental improvement plan, published on 31 January. Here we link the different objectives, plans and mechanisms for recovering nature. The environmental improvement plan also includes short-term interim targets in addition to those long-term targets. This overall suite of targets will ensure that the policies, actions and commitments in the plan are collectively driving progress towards our ultimate goal of leaving the environment in a better place than we found it. Additionally, the plan matches the ambition agreed internationally in the new global deal for nature at the UN nature summit COP 15 in December.

I thank the noble Lord again for bringing the Bill to the House and for enabling this debate, but I hope that noble Lords are reassured that biodiversity is an absolute priority for the Government and that action is being taken and will continue to be taken.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply; I know that he has a personal passion for this area and brings a great deal of knowledge to the department. I do question whether the 2042 target is far too far away. However, on the basis of his reassurance, I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, this is a very simple Bill and the issue is one of fairness. I am very keen that there should be no extra and unnecessary regulation; the chances of extra bureaucracy are negligible. Similarly, we do not need to worry in any way about the likelihood of great costs, as they are also negligible.

Most businesses already allocate tips fairly to their staff, but, regrettably, a minority have not done so. That gives the staff, who are often among the least well-paid in the hospitality sector—waiters, for instance, and others, stretching beyond the hospitality sector, but in particular waiters—the opportunity to insist that they are given the service charge that many of us in restaurants pay whenever we go to a restaurant, so they get the tips rather than the money going to the profits of perhaps a big company. This does not happen that much but does happen a bit, and we need to make sure it does not happen at all. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, on sponsoring this important Bill, as he has outlined. I also thank Virginia Crosbie, the Member for Parliament, for stepping in to take up the discussions in the other place. As has been said, this is indeed an important issue; the Bill will support some of the lowest-paid workers across the country, and I am pleased to recognise the cross-party support it has received during its passage.

I will also reflect the comments my noble friend Lady Chapman made at Second Reading. This is a very welcome Bill; it may not deal with absolutely everything on the topic, but when the Government are supporting a sensible agreement, we should acknowledge that. We do recognise that there are probably some more details that need to be ironed out to ensure that the intent of the Bill is carried forward. I also add my thanks to everyone, including officials, who has supported its passage in both Houses.

My Lords, I do not always find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, but in this case I give him three cheers. He is absolutely right: it has been totally unfair that people have not received the tips they should have. In the past, I have myself asked the question of whether the 10% was going to go to all the staff and, when told that it was not, I refused to pay it and left cash on the table for the waiter. That is one way of dealing with it. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, is another, and I congratulate him and support it.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Robathan for bringing the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill through the House. I agree with him on many things, and particularly on this. I also thank noble Lords from across the House, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Chapman, who spoke in recent debates, for their valuable contributions on the Bill during its passage.

The Government are very pleased to support this important Bill, which deals with tips, gratuities and service charges, which I will subsequently refer to as “tips”. The measures in the Bill will protect millions of workers. We believe that tips should be passed on in full and without deduction to workers. Indeed, many across this House and across the country would regard that as common sense. Tips left by customers are intended to reward the hard work and excellent service of staff rather than topping up the revenue of businesses. The Government are therefore pleased to support the changes made through this legislation and to hear support for it across this House.

I will restate what these measures will do once legislative passage is secured, and what they will not do. Employers will be prevented from making any deductions when distributing tips to their employees, with the exception of those already required or permitted—for example, by tax law. Existing legislation already sets out how tips should be treated for the purposes of tax and national insurance, as the requirements differ depending on whether the payments are made by cash or card and on whether tips are paid directly to workers or are processed and distributed by the business or an independent tronc. No changes are proposed to these tax laws. The majority of businesses, those who already do the right thing in passing on tips in full to their employees, will be largely unaffected. The Bill will ensure a level playing field.

On the statutory code of practice on tipping, when considering the distribution of tips in their organisation, employers will be required to have regard to the statutory code of practice, which will promote fairness and transparency in relation to the distribution of qualifying tips that will include various example scenarios. Employment tribunals will also be required to have regard to the code of practice where relevant in the event that a worker takes a claim against their employer on the grounds of unfair or improper tipping policy or procedure.

We expect that these tipping measures and the code of practice will come into force about a year after Royal Assent is granted to the Bill. This will ensure time for adequate stakeholder input, including a full consultation period, before the final version is brought before both Houses of Parliament for approval. I stress that, from conversations we have had with the industry, it is important that the variabilities to ensure fairness are properly considered, so a proper consultation period is necessary and right.

To conclude, bringing forward this new law will protect millions of workers, among them many of the lowest paid, and give them an avenue to seek remedies. Consumers will be able to rest assured that the tips they leave are going, as intended, to reward the good service and hard work of staff, rather than boosting the revenues of businesses. Additionally, businesses that are already doing the right thing—passing on tips to workers in full without deduction—will be able to be confident that they are not at risk of being undercut by their less reputable competitors.

The Government are pleased to support these new measures and have been glad to see the level of support for them across both Houses during the passage of this Bill. The Government are committed to fairness and to providing opportunities for hard-working people, which is exactly why we are supporting multiple pieces of employment regulation, including this one, on tipping. Ultimately, this Bill is about granting fairness to service workers, who for too long have not had protection from bosses taking tips, and about making sure that customers’ intentions to recognise good service are met. I am personally very pleased to support these new rules. I again thank my noble friend Lord Robathan for his sponsorship of the Bill as it has moved through the House. I also thank my honourable friends Dean Russell and Virginia Crosbie for their sponsorship in the other place and their hard work in this area.

My Lords, it is nice not to be controversial for a change and to have the agreement of the Liberal Democrats. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—I am not sure if it is a compliment or not, but never mind. I am delighted that there is no opposition. It is a very straightforward Bill, the Government support it and I know of nobody who does not. I, too, thank the officials who have worked on this, the Minister, those who have supported it from the other side of the House and my honourable friends Dean Russell and Virginia Crosbie in the other place. Frankly, I do not have anything else to say, for a change. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Bill passed.

Pensions Dashboards (Prohibition of Indemnification) Bill

Third Reading

My Lords, before we commence proceedings on the Bill, I am obliged to make a statement on legislative consent in relation to it.

The Bill has been drafted so as to make provision across the United Kingdom. As noble Lords will know, pensions policy is transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the usual process would be for the Assembly to provide a legislative consent Motion for any provision relating to a transferred area. However, due to the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, a legislative consent Motion cannot be secured.

Historically, the Northern Ireland legislation in this area has mirrored that in Great Britain and, following engagement with the Northern Ireland Department for Communities, the Government’s position is that it is important that this legislation proceeds to apply in Northern Ireland in the absence of a legislative consent Motion. This will ensure the people of Northern Ireland can benefit from the Bill’s important protections.


Moved by

My Lords, I am pleased that the Pensions Dashboards (Prohibition of Indemnification) Bill has now reached its final stage in your Lordships’ House. I thank my noble friend the Minister and his officials for their support, as well as those noble Lords who supported the Bill on Second Reading: my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lord Holmes, who flank me on either side, the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, all of whom who are present in the Chamber this morning to ensure the safe passage of this legislation. I am also grateful to Mary Robinson for introducing the Bill and expertly steering it through all stages in the other place.

The Bill’s purpose is clear. It will increase protection for pensions savers by making it a criminal offence for trustees and managers of occupational pension schemes to reimburse themselves using assets of the pension scheme for penalties imposed on them due to non-compliance with any relevant pensions dashboard regulations. I hope noble Lords recognise the importance of the Bill and agree to its passage today. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, on piloting the Bill through the House with his usual flair, and it is very nice that we can all be here to see it on its way. It is a narrowly focused Bill which simply addresses a lacuna in the original legislation, and we are happy to support it. I also thank the noble Viscount for giving us an assurance at Second Reading that before long, we can look forward to an update on the likely implementation of the pensions dashboards themselves. It remains of paramount importance that people can save for their retirement with confidence and with an understanding of all the implications of the choices they are making or that have been made on their behalf. We support the creation of a pensions dashboard to contribute to that goal, although we will continue to debate with Ministers choices about how it can best be done. For today, we are pleased to wish this Bill on its way.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham for presenting his Bill to the House, and to my honourable friend in the other place, Mary Robinson, for her skilled stewardship of the Bill. It is a pleasure again to offer my support for the Bill on behalf of the Government. I, like my noble friend, also thank all noble Lords who were present for Second Reading for their interest in the Bill and for supporting it as it moved towards its final stage.

I committed to follow up on the topics relating to this Bill and questions about pensions dashboards more broadly that were raised by noble Lords during the previous debate. I have placed copies of letters I sent after Second Reading in the House Library, and they are also available on the Bill’s webpage—hopefully, noble Lords have had a look at them. I hope the letters sent have helped to address these queries, which included asking for an update on progress on the department’s state pension records correction exercise, the readiness of public service pension schemes to connect to dashboards, and whether penalties could be incurred for loading incorrect data to pensions dashboards. Queries were also raised more specifically about the penalties which could be imposed on trustees and managers of occupational pension schemes under the proposals in the Bill, and for compliance breaches under the pensions dashboards regulations.

I further addressed questions about the challenges faced by the pensions dashboards programme in delivering the digital architecture underpinning pensions dashboards. On this final point, I made clear to the House during Second Reading the importance of this Bill, and that it is needed irrespective of the delivery timeline for pensions dashboards. To be helpful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, I also pledged—and I stick to that pledge—to update noble Lords as soon as is reasonably possible, and an invitation will be forthcoming.

To reiterate why the Bill is required, it corrects a legislative gap which, left as it is, means that no provision would prohibit trustees or managers from reimbursing themselves using pension scheme assets to pay penalties in respect of breaches of any relevant pensions dashboards regulations. There was unanimous agreement among noble Lords at Second Reading that this would be unacceptable.

The proposals under this Bill seek to deter rogue actors from reimbursing themselves using the assets of pensions scheme members by allowing criminal proceedings to be brought against trustees or managers of occupational pension schemes if they are reimbursed and knew or had reasonable grounds to believe that they had been reimbursed as such. If a trustee or manager is found guilty of this offence, the Bill’s provisions allow for a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison, or a fine, or indeed both.

As I emphasised at Second Reading, the Bill does not place any new requirements on trustees or managers of occupational pension schemes or burden them with additional costs. It simply extends an existing prohibition in Section 256 of the Pensions Act 2004, which already applies to a number of areas of pensions legislation, to include pensions dashboards.

To conclude, the Bill rightly increases protection for consumers saving for their retirement. I do hope, therefore, that the whole House will join me in its support for my noble friend’s Bill and agree to its passage.

My Lords, I am grateful to both Front-Benchers for their support and to my noble friend the Minister for addressing in correspondence some of the broader issues that were raised in a recent meeting on the pensions dashboard.

Bill passed.

Electricity Transmission (Compensation) Bill

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, this Bill comes to your Lordships’ House having completed its stages in the House of Commons. It was taken through the House of Commons by Dr Liam Fox and is based on his experience in his own constituency of what I think is a flaw in the regulations, which I will come on to say a little more about later. It has to be said that this is the second Private Member’s Bill in two years that Dr Fox has managed to steer through the Commons; the other one, the Down Syndrome Act 2022, was also successfully steered through your Lordships’ House. He seems to be having more success in taking legislation through from the Back Benches than he managed when we were both in the Cabinet together; I congratulate him on that.

The purpose of the Bill is to require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament proposals for the use of the alternative dispute resolution—ADR—process to determine compensation in electric-related land acquisition cases. The intention is that the proposal will encourage and facilitate the use of the ADR process, thereby helping parties in dispute to avoid having to take their case to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber). The Bill provides that there should be proposals for ensuring that any determinations are enforceable so that the outcome is binding on an electricity network operator.

I realise that one concern is that this Bill may somehow lead to delays in certain cases. I do not think that it will. Having to take a case up to the Upper Tribunal is a lengthy and expensive process; it therefore operates against an individual who feels that they have a complaint. Nobody is keener than me to see national infrastructure projects make progress and not be delayed but, when big national infrastructure proposals are coming forward, one must recognise the blight of them and the impact that they may have on individuals. This is a correcting Bill: it will bring in a system that is there for other availabilities. The Bill also requires that there should be proposals for ensuring that the ADR process operates independently and that

“the processes are accessible to landowners without undue difficulty or expense”.

Anybody who reads through the Second Reading debate held in the House of Commons in November will see there some of the cases that have caused Dr Fox and other Members of the Commons great difficulty as far as their constituents are concerned. As I say, this Bill does not seek in any way to delay infrastructure projects, but it puts a duty on the company that is involved to treat the people whom it affects in a fair way. The Bill has vocal support from the NFU because it has seen what it will do for some of its members.

I have some questions. I hope that, in her response to me, my noble friend the Minister will be able to give some indication of what the timescale will be for the creation of a task force; I know that her officials have been looking at what the consequences of the Bill will be. Also, can the Government provide further detail on how and when the composition of that task force will be decided? I realise that those questions possibly anticipate the Bill’s passage into an Act of Parliament. It is right, however, that reassurance on big issues of national infrastructure is given to those people who are directly affected that they will be treated fairly. That is really the main aim of this Bill.

Where electricity transmission takes place, this Bill will provide the same sort of rights that are available in other big national infrastructure projects. For some reason, electricity has been left out because of its national significance. Nobody doubts that— nobody questions the necessity of this infrastructure being taken forward—but people should be treated fairly by operators when they are seeking these acquisitions. I beg to move.

My Lords, this Bill addresses a perfect example of where individual rights come up against the duties and responsibilities of another organisation and an aspect of the public good. On the one hand, we have the Government seeking to achieve the transition to a net-zero energy system and the duty of National Grid to carry out its role on, over and under the ground to achieve that; that is a common good. On the other hand, we have the rights of the owners of land to enjoy whatever that land provides: an income, a home, food, enjoyment of the environment, a contribution to biodiversity, et cetera. All these things have a monetary value—and, indeed, other values too, which should not be ignored. So how do we reconcile these two demands on land?

We already have a lot of work going on to develop a national land strategy. That is important, given that we would need two sets of these islands to provide all the food, homes, infrastructure, industrial land, renewable energy, public spaces, protected biodiversity and leisure facilities that we all want. Difficult choices and balances have to be made. Add to that the need to expand and strengthen the national grid, in order to produce more renewable energy and transmit it to where it is needed so that we can exchange fossil fuels for net-zero electricity, and you have a problem.

What are the shortcomings of the existing system? As I see it, it does not provide equality of arms between small landowners and large public bodies. It also takes too long and costs too much. It currently operates at a time when the courts are overrun with a major backlog of cases. It needs to be replaced, as Dr Liam Fox said in another place, by something that is accessible, affordable, independent and enforceable. This Bill is an attempt to do that. I would also add “flexible” to take account of the changing value of land and land of different quality.

The questions that arise for me are fourfold: whether the new alternative dispute resolution system can be fairer to landowners and give them a fair crack of the whip, rebalancing the current imbalance between them and National Grid; whether the outcomes of the new system will give them justice while allowing the common good of a stronger electricity distribution system to be achieved; whether the new system can achieve that speedily and at smaller cost; and, finally, whether the system can take account of national priorities on land use. For example, we have recently been focusing—for very good reason—on the need for greater food security and energy security. Do the Government plan to start all over again with the new ADR task force or to incorporate the existing knowledge and capability? How can we be sure that the new system is designed adequately to take account of the views of the little guy—the landowners? How can we be sure that the outcome is enforceable and that the last resort of going back to the Upper Tribunal is still open to those who are not happy with the results of ADR?

If we get this right, it can contribute to the achievement of net zero. If we get it wrong, we are doomed to face more costly wrangling for years to come. Which is it?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, for sponsoring the Bill which, as he rightly said, was introduced by Liam Fox in the other place. The main purpose of the Bill is to require UK Ministers to lay proposals before Parliament for the use of alternative dispute resolution processes in England and Wales, to determine levels of compensation in electricity-related land acquisition cases.

We completely agree with the need to improve the UK’s electricity infrastructure so that the UK can expand the grid to incorporate new energy sources and therefore achieve the ambitions around our net-zero objectives. From talking to all the different bodies connected with this area, particularly around infrastructure, I think that this issue is recognised as one of the major infrastructure challenges that the country is facing—how we scale up the grid to achieve our ambitions.

As outlined very clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, achieving the correct balance is paramount, and we need to find that balance between landowner rights and infrastructure development. As the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, acknowledged, there are serious concerns that the Bill could have unintended consequences, particularly around delaying infrastructure development and subsequently providing businesses with uncertainty. We all know how damaging uncertainty is in this sphere. The noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, is laughing, because we have had very close engagement on other major infrastructure projects, which we will not name in this debate. Building investor confidence will be key to encouraging investment in this critical area.

I seek clarification from the Minister and will pose some questions for consideration at this stage. It is worth considering why the take-up of alternative dispute resolution has been slower than we would want to see, and how we can make the improvements necessary, perhaps without waiting for the consequences of this Bill passing. There must be measures we could take now to improve the uptake. Surely the preferred route is to go through mediation rather than into the courts, but what assessment has been made of this?

Last year’s energy security strategy set out the need to expand the connecting infrastructure to support the acceleration of electrification. Again, the central question that we have is whether the Government feel that this legislation could risk slowing down the process and therefore hindering the Government’s core mission in this area. We know that the proposals on ADR will not be drawn up until a later date, but the intention is still to encourage its use. But if that fails to enforce any determination, could there not be a risk that knowing that enforced outcomes will be binding, even if one party is not happy, discourages the use of ADR?

As I have said, it should be a positive that, under ADR, disputes will be settled out of court, but what are the Minister’s views on the extent of this benefit? Can she quantify the benefits of ADR processes, whether in terms of speed, cost or satisfaction of outcome? We have heard it eloquently expressed that this is a complex area. We need to be very sensitive to the needs of all parties involved. One of the criteria for what ADR procedures should address is that they are accessible to landowners without undue difficulty or expense. Does the Minister have any insight as to how they envisage guaranteeing this?

What is the status of the ADR task force? Is a serious attempt being made at this moment in time to look at the existing ADR system and to see how immediate improvements and therefore benefits can be made?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McLoughlin for bringing forward this Bill, which has already had a successful passage through the other place. I also thank noble Lords from across the House for their valuable contributions to today’s debate.

The Government are pleased to support this important Bill, which helps to ensure that landowners will have access to a clear, fair, affordable and enforceable system for dispute resolution. The measures in the Bill will support the vital transformation needed for our electricity network. We need to expand the grid at an unprecedented scale and pace to deliver more clean, affordable power and to increase our energy security, with electricity demand potentially more than doubling by 2050. In March the Government published our Powering Up Britain: Energy Security Plan, building on our commitment, made in the British Energy Security Strategy, to accelerate the delivery of transmission network infrastructure by at least three years, with an ambition to cut delivery times in half.

However, we still firmly believe that new network infrastructure must be built in a way that protects the rights of local landowners and communities. That is why, alongside our energy security plan, the Government have published a consultation on providing benefits to communities hosting transmission network infrastructure, to recognise the vital role that these communities play in supporting the delivery of cheaper, secure and low-carbon energy. Separately from the focus of the community benefits consultation, we are aware of the issues that may arise between landowners and transmission network owners, such as national grid electricity transmission, when installing network infrastructure.

Where transmission owners need access to private land, landowners are entitled to compensation, and in a small proportion of cases where compensation cannot be agreed on, this may cause disputes and raise challenges via the Upper Tribunal, which can be expensive and time-consuming for landowners. The Bill presents an opportunity to address this issue by ensuring access to alternative dispute resolution processes, which can play such a crucial role in offering a quicker and cheaper route to resolving disputes. It is very encouraging to hear the support across this House from the two noble Baronesses on the Front Benches; I will address some of the specific points shortly.

First, I shall cover the key reasons why the Government are supporting this legislation. The Bill was first introduced in the other place by my right honourable friend Dr Liam Fox. It was a response to his constituents raising concerns about disagreements with the transmission operator over land in the path of overhead transmission lines that were built to connect Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to the grid. The cost and risk of taking the case to the Upper Tribunal meant that some landowners would be reluctant to challenge compensation offered by the transmission operator. Dr Liam Fox acknowledged the importance of energy infrastructure development but said that more should be done to protect landowners involved in compensation disputes with network operators.

The Bill requires that government bring forward proposals on alternative dispute resolution processes in cases where land or land rights have been acquired for the building of electricity transmission network infrastructure and there is a dispute about compensation. The intention is that proposals would encourage and facilitate the use of alternative dispute resolution, thereby helping disputing parties to avoid having to take a case to the Upper Tribunal.

Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament proposals to improve access to alternative dispute resolution processes in electricity-related land acquisition cases. Proposals must ensure that alternative dispute resolution processes are available that could determine the amount of compensation paid to landowners and that these processes are enforceable, accessible and affordable for landowners. The processes must be managed in a way independent of the landowner and the transmission owner. Proposals must be set out in a report that will be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State, who must consult any party they feel is appropriate.

The second clause clarifies the extent and the commencement date. The Bill extends to England, Wales and Scotland, and comes into force at the end of the period of two months, beginning with the day on which it is passed. However, in practice, the Bill will affect Scotland only in limited circumstances, as it applies to cases where a development consent order has been granted for electricity transmission infrastructure under the Planning Act 2008. However, the development consent order process does not apply in Scotland, except under limited circumstances that do not relate to electricity transmission.

As for the ongoing work to establish an alternative dispute resolution task force, the Government committed to establish a task force to bring forward proposals for alternative dispute resolution related to the Bill. My noble friend Lord McLoughlin asked for more detail on the timing and composition of the task force, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. I confirm that the task force will be established this year; the department is engaging with network operators, representatives of landowners and experts in acquisition of land and alternative dispute resolution to ensure that it has the appropriate membership. The work of this task force will complement work already going on to reform land rights and consent processes for network infrastructure. The Government published a call for evidence in summer 2022 to establish how the land rights and consent processes affect stakeholders and to inform whether reform is required. The Government are considering all responses and plan to publish a response to the call for evidence this year.

Turning to other points made by noble Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly pointed to the competing interests in land use and the inequality of arms between landowners and the developers of infrastructure. The Bill seeks to address this and will be a speedier and less costly recourse for landowners, but they will still be able to seek redress through the Upper Tribunal, should they choose.

Strategic planning plays an important role in delivering vital network infrastructure, initially through the holistic network design, which sets out the key strategic transmission infrastructure required to connect up to 50 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, that the Government are still committed to accelerating the rollout of grid infrastructure and associated economic growth, levelling up and net-zero opportunities. We are also committed to ensuring the rights of local landowners and that communities’ rights are protected. This has been made clear, for example, through our recent publication of the energy security plan.

It is the role of the task force to develop proposals, including consideration of how to ensure the process does not delay the implementation of new infrastructure. Furthermore, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, access to enforceable alternative dispute resolution will provide an alternative route to the Upper Tribunal. This should save time and money for parties involved. The task force will develop proposals and the Government will consider how we assess their impact, including their timing and cost. Proposals that standardise access to alternative dispute resolution will increase awareness of existing routes, encourage uptake and avoid cases having to go to the Upper Tribunal.

To conclude, the Bill is vital to ensure that landowners have access to a clear, fair, affordable and enforceable system for dispute resolution. The Government continue to support the Bill and we are glad to see the level of support across this House throughout today’s debate. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord McLoughlin for taking this important legislation through the House. The Government wish it a speedy passage.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for her response on behalf of the Government on the Government’s attitude to the Bill. It is very encouraging. This area was left out as far as the ADR procedure is concerned and it will be very welcome.

I well understand the position that the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, took on not wanting to see delay. We worked very closely, when she was leader of Leeds City Council, on a number of infrastructure issues, and were often frustrated by the amount of time taken to get decisions and see them implemented. I fear that timetable has moved even further from when we were directly involved with some of the big infrastructure issues that affected her city of Leeds. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as well for saying that, if anything, this could help speed up and not delay, because going to the upper lands tribunal is incredibly complicated and expensive. Big landowners could do it but smaller landowners did not feel that that opportunity was available to them.

I think this is moving in the right direction. It is in nobody’s interest to slow it down. I very much welcome today’s debate and look forward to seeing the Bill get further along the legislative framework.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, I am very pleased to introduce the Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill to this House. After it gathered significant cross-party support in the other place, I hope noble Lords will continue this and back these important measures.

As noble Lords may be aware, I have a long-standing interest in separated families. I co-founded the Family Hubs Network Ltd alongside Dr Samantha Callan, my parliamentary adviser. I declare my interest as director and controlling shareholder of the Family Hubs Network Ltd, which advocates for family hubs and advises local authorities on how to establish them. Our work with local authorities includes help to improve the relationship between separated parents, for their and their children’s benefit.

This has contributed to my interest in the Child Maintenance Service, the CMS. I was also pleased to bring forward a debate in this House in 2021 on reforms to the CMS. The CMS has made progress in improving its service for parents since I called the debate, which needs acknowledgement. I know my noble friend the Minister is committed to making the CMS the best it can be, to ensure that separated parents get the support they need. One area in particular is how the CMS operates for victims of domestic abuse. In autumn 2021, the department commissioned an independent review of the ways in which the CMS supports victims of domestic abuse, conducted by Dr Callan. I was pleased to see the review published in January. Before moving on to the details of the Bill, I should like to provide some background to the CMS.

As my noble friend the Minister will confirm, the purpose of the CMS is to encourage parents to work together wherever possible and make their own private family-based arrangements, as these types of arrangements tend to be better for children. However, some parents find it impossible to make their own arrangements, which is why the CMS offers a statutory scheme for those parents who need it. Notwithstanding concerns raised by the Social Security Advisory Committee about low-income paying parents’ liabilities, the CMS aims to operate fairly for both receiving and paying parents by ensuring that the maintenance liability appropriately reflects the paying parent’s income, while recognising the overall responsibility of the primary carer, the receiving parent.

Once parents are in the scheme, the CMS manages cases through one of two service types: direct pay and collect and pay. For direct pay, CMS provides a calculation and a payment schedule, but payments are arranged privately between the two parents. For collect and pay, CMS calculates how much maintenance should be paid, collects the money from the paying parent and pays it to the receiving parent. Under current legislation, direct pay is the default option unless both parents agree to collect and pay, or the paying parent demonstrates an unwillingness to pay their liability.

This Bill would amend Section 4 of the Child Support Act 1991 to extend the collect and pay service to victims of domestic abuse regardless of the payment history. Although I am aware that the CMS can act as intermediary for parents in direct pay, any situation where former partners have to co-operate will always be difficult for some people. This is particularly the case where there has been a history of domestic abuse in the relationship. These proposals are about giving victims of domestic abuse the choice to use collect and pay if they decide that is best for their personal circumstances, avoiding entirely any need to transact with the other parent in a case where that is appropriate, and helping them feel as safe as possible using the CMS.

The Bill will amend primary legislation to allow victims of domestic abuse to use the collect and pay service where there is evidence of domestic abuse against the requesting parent. This could be abuse of the paying or receiving parent, or even children in their household, by the other parent involved in the case; the CMS recognises that abuse can be suffered by either parent, or children, in the household.

The evidence requirements for domestic abuse will be set out in secondary legislation. The requirements are expected to be complex, which is why they need to be set out in regulations rather than in primary legislation. As my noble friend the Minister will confirm, they will be subject to more detailed policy development, including engagement with stakeholder groups and other government departments, to ensure that parents are supported appropriately and that the measures are proportionate for both parents.

Noble Lords may have questions on the issue of charging. For the use of the collect and pay service, paying parents are charged 20% on top of their maintenance liability while receiving parents are charged 4% of the maintenance received. I know my noble friend will touch on this in more detail, but I can say that the charging structure will be looked at as the secondary legislation is developed.

Finally, I will add that this Bill extends to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I am pleased that its provisions will apply throughout the United Kingdom, ensuring that victims of domestic abuse throughout the devolved Administrations benefit from the Bill.

In conclusion, I am privileged to present this Bill before the House and I hope that noble Lords agree that it will provide victims of domestic abuse with an additional layer of support, which many of them may need when using the CMS. I look forward to working with my noble friend the Minister as we aim to secure its swift passage through the House. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Farmer for bringing this small but important Bill forward. I am also grateful to Dr Samantha Callan for her work as the author of the Independent Review of the Child Maintenance Service. Noble Lords will remember the tragic circumstances that led to that review: the murder of Emma Day on 25 May 2017 after she had made claims under the CMS.

In a cost of living crisis, child maintenance payments can be a crucial part of income. It is perhaps not surprising that, in some domestic abuse situations, the coercive and controlling behaviour continues when the caring parent and the non-resident parent are using the direct pay mechanism of the Child Maintenance Service, as outlined so ably by my noble friend. The non-resident parent may, or instance, pay 90% or 95% of the assessment amount, or payments may be made a few days late, causing much distress and perhaps even debt. Let us imagine if an employer changed pay day by a few days without any notice.

This behaviour would require the caring parent, who may have been abused, to chase the missing money and potentially be exposed again to the controlling and manipulative behaviour of the non-resident parent whom they fled. Opening up the collect and pay system in these situations means that the Commons, not the caring parent, would do the chasing. Hopefully, these examples of dilatory payment behaviour would then reduce, if not end, as they would no longer achieve their purpose of getting contact with the abused person.

I recognise that there is much to be worked out in secondary legislation concerning the level of evidence needed to establish the need to use the collect and pay system and the use of charges and deductions, but I believe that the principle of the legislation is sound.

I also want today to ask my noble friend the Minister to provide an update on the Government’s progress in implementing the changes that were provided in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. In the context of family separation, with which your Lordships are concerned today, His Majesty’s Government announced last month that there will be a review of the Matrimonial Causes Act, which governs financial matters on the divorce or annulment of a marriage or civil partnership.

The grounds for divorce are now, of course, on a no-fault basis, so considerations of domestic abuse are, thankfully, not relevant to that matter—but should they be relevant on a claim for financial relief on divorce? It seems that under current case law, for conduct to be considered under the Matrimonial Causes Act, Section 25(2)(g), the domestic abuse would have to be of a “gasp” not a “gulp” order of magnitude. Is that high threshold consistent with the policy aims and objectives that sit behind the Domestic Abuse Act—or what an ordinary member of the public would think just and equitable when a court is dividing up matrimonial property on the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership that has been blighted by domestic abuse, as now defined and understood by the norms set out in the Domestic Abuse Act? Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the question of the role of domestic abuse when granting financial relief on divorce will be considered under the Law Commission’s Matrimonial Causes Act review?

There are multiple other examples where domestic abuse could be relevant but is not obvious at first sight. Financial advisers have to have an FCA-recognised qualification to operate, but does this now include teaching on economic control and coercion?

His Majesty’s Government are now aided by the independent domestic abuse commissioner, so I hope there will be an overall strategy to assess existing laws and public service procedures for any other changes that are needed to implement the Domestic Abuse Act. Such a strategy would enable changes to be dealt with more swiftly than in this case. It will be over five years since Emma Day’s murder before the CMS is changed to protect other victims; I believe, sadly, that that is too long.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords on all sides of the House in commending this Bill today. I would like to thank Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs and her team, as well as the charities Gingerbread and Surviving Economic Abuse and our excellent Library service, for their input.

I well remember discussing the issue of withholding maintenance as an instrument of coercive control during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. It was not tackled at the time and I am very glad that the Government are supporting this Private Member’s Bill today.

The death of Emma Day, which has already been alluded to—killed after she refused to cancel a child maintenance claim—was a shocking wake-up call and the logical consequence of making direct pay the default service in cases of domestic abuse.

In evidence to Dr Samantha Callan’s report, which was commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions to look at how the Child Maintenance Service supports survivors of domestic abuse, Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, revealed how pervasive domestic abuse is among claimants for child maintenance: 58% of new claimants in one quarter alone were victims.

So it is to the Government’s credit that they accepted the majority of the Callan recommendations and, most importantly, backed this primary legislation. However, more needs to be done. It is important that undue emphasis is not placed on the risk of false allegations and the requirement to provide evidence of domestic abuse to access the new provision. We saw during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill how insidious and below the surface coercive control can be, but it currently stipulates that satisfactory evidence of domestic abuse needs to be provided. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for his comments on the review. We do not know what will constitute “satisfactory evidence”, but research shows that many cases of domestic abuse are not disclosed to agencies, so victims may struggle to provide evidence. My first ask of the Minister is that he confirms that the requirement for evidence will not prohibit victims who have not yet made disclosures of domestic abuse to agencies from coming forward.

My second ask echoes points made by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and Members in the other place about the fees for the collect and pay service. The paying parent, as he said, pays a 20% collection fee and the receiving parent a 4% fee. Will the Minister look closely at whether that 4% fee could be waived? Even given that the majority of applicants are victims, surely that sum would be very small in relation to the overall costs of running the CMS. In any case, victims will doubtless need access to other forms of subsidised support from the public purse. I will call for an amendment to the Child Support Fees Regulations 2014 to that effect. However, if time in the parliamentary schedule is tight, can the Minister indicate that he will consider this matter in the accompanying secondary legislation?

Victims have no choice in needing protection via the collect and pay service and should not be penalised for it when they are already undergoing hardship as a result of leaving a controlling or abusive relationship. I was heartened to hear that the Minister, Mims Davies, said in the other place that consideration would be given to exempting the 4% for survivors. I have a heart full of hope.

That brings me on to my third ask, which is being called for by the commissioner, the charities Gingerbread and Surviving Economic Abuse, and others. By the time maintenance payments eventually come through, a receiving parent and her children can be at the point of destitution. Gingerbread and many others want to see minimum payments made while the claim is assessed, while the payments are set up and if the paying parent fails to pay promptly, to help prevent them from sliding into poverty as a result. I hope there will be time to table an amendment on that subject too.

My fourth and final point relates to appropriate training for CMS staff in applying the new legislation and the implementation of the protocols. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner recommends that the DWP should commission a specialist gender-informed service to deliver training on recognising and responding to domestic abuse, including economic abuse, for CMS staff. This training should be accompanied by clear protocols for responding to disclosures of domestic abuse and should be developed in close consultation with the specialist domestic abuse sector and victims. The DWP should consult closely with domestic abuse specialists in the implementation of the legislation and all wider changes to policy resulting from the Callan report, and should ensure that it publishes regular updates on the progress of this work.

We are playing with people’s lives here. The processes and guidance must ensure that everyone involved has the tools and the knowledge to be able to tread carefully and sensitively in this emotional minefield.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for introducing this Bill and all noble Lords who have spoken. As we have heard, the main aim of the Bill is simply to make it possible for parents who have experienced domestic abuse to ask the Child Maintenance Service to collect maintenance payments on their behalf, thus avoiding the need to communicate with the abusive parent. At the moment, they would first have to try to arrange payment directly with the abusive parent via the direct pay system and wait for that to fail, which is obviously risky.

We know that the stakes are very high in relation to domestic abuse. The noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Burt, have mentioned the tragic case of Emma Day, who was murdered by her ex-partner in May 2017. That case could not be more directly relevant here: he had warned her not to chase him for child support, threatening her life if she did so. When she pursued her claim, he stabbed her to death. I am sure all noble Lords would like to join me in sending our sympathies to Emma Day’s family and friends, and all those who mourn her and will do so for years to come.

After Emma’s inquest, the coroner issued a regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths. It noted that Ms Day had told the CMS of the threat to her life but this was not passed to the known caseworker. The report says:

“Staff were not fully and consistently trained in domestic violence. There was no action to address the potential escalation of the risk on reinstating the claim”.

The coroner called for a review of the protocols and training of child maintenance caseworkers and then in due course, as we have heard, the report by Dr Samantha Callan looking at the CMS response to domestic abuse was published in April last year, with the Government’s response in January. I too thank Dr Callan for her work on this subject as well as Gingerbread and Surviving Economic Abuse for their campaigns for change.

We on these Benches support the Bill. It represents a welcome step forward in improving the way that the child support system serves the parents and children who suffer as a result of domestic abuse. That said, the actual impact of the Bill will depend very much on future decisions on matters that will be dealt with in regulations and operational guidance, so there are some important questions on which we need more information.

First, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, we do not yet know what evidence of domestic abuse will be accepted by the CMS. We know it will be detailed in secondary legislation, and at Second Reading in the Commons the Minister, Tom Pursglove, committed the Government to consulting widely and said the aim would be to produce requirements

“that are sensitive to the needs of domestic abuse victims”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/10/22; col. 568.]

That is good, but can the Minister offer us any more information? Since he is the Minister for child support, can he assure us that he is already in discussions with colleagues in other government departments to ensure consistency on matters of domestic abuse across government? Would he be willing to publish the regulations in draft so that Peers could consider them before they were finalised, or at least to engage with Peers as part of that wider consultation exercise? I would be grateful if he would reflect on that.

That leads to the second issue: how ready the CMS is to deal with these changes or with domestic abuse more broadly. Since the Emma Day tragedy, training on domestic abuse has been introduced for CMS staff. In Committee in the Commons, the Minister, Mims Davies, said that

“with particular input from Women’s Aid, a programme of domestic abuse training has been designed and delivered for all CMS caseworkers”.—[Official Report, Commons, Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Public Bill Committee, 14/12/22; col. 10.]

The Minister will know that my honourable friend Jess Phillips expressed some concerns about whether the training was adequate and queried whether Women’s Aid was indeed involved in designing and delivering it. I sought the view of Women’s Aid on this issue. I was told it recommends that all CMS staff should get specialist domestic abuse training from a specialist provider to ensure that they can understand the risks facing survivors and provide a safe response. However, Women’s Aid understands that the CMS training is not designed or run by specialists but has been developed and is delivered in-house within the CMS. It told me:

“The National Training Centre at Women’s Aid assessed the delivery of one of these in-house training sessions and was severely concerned by it. Women’s Aid provided feedback to them in this regard but we had no further input or role in the training.”

Can the Minister please clarify what training is given to CMS staff and who designs and delivers it?

I have also heard concerns from charities of cases where the response of CMS staff to their disclosure of domestic abuse was not what one would have hoped. Gingerbread surveyed single parents with experience of domestic abuse and found that most did not think CMS staff had given appropriate consideration to their situation as survivors. One parent said:

“I was told that I wasn’t a victim of domestic abuse because I hadn’t experienced physical violence”.

Another said:

“The whole system was very stressful and I tried to explain how dangerous he was and how scared we were but I was just told either it’s direct pay or they will charge me lots of money and my daughter will lose out.”

How confident is the Minister that CMS staff are trained and resourced to deal appropriately at all levels with parents facing domestic abuse?

There is then the question of charges, which has been touched on already. The Government’s 2012 reforms of child support used charging to push parents into handling maintenance between themselves, without involving the state. If they make a private arrangement, there is no fee; if they use direct pay, there is just a £20 application fee. But if they use collect and pay, a collection charge of 20% of the maintenance liability is levied on the paying parent, as we have heard, and 4% on the parent receiving the money. But the whole point of this Bill is to ensure that parents who cannot safely use direct pay without putting themselves or their children at risk will in future be able to use the collect and pay service—getting the CMS to collect the money for them—without having to have contact with the abusive parent.

If the CMS accepts that someone has produced evidence that they are experiencing domestic abuse, it waives the £20 application fee. But it does not waive the 4% of the total maintenance liability fee if they use the collect and pay service. At Third Reading in the Commons, my honourable friend Vicky Foxcroft put it like this. She said that

“they are then effectively penalised every month simply for using a service that stops them having to have contact with their abusive ex-partner. I hope we can all agree that that is grossly unfair”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/3/23; col. 1008.]

In Committee the Minister, Mims Davies, had said:

“Full consideration is being given to exempting victims of domestic abuse from collection charges”.—[Official Report, Commons, Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill Committee, 14/12/22; col. 9.]

Can the Minister tell the House where this consideration has got to and when it will conclude?

This takes me to timing more generally. I think we are all hopeful that the Bill will become an Act this Session, in the not-too-distant future. But given that nothing can happen until we get the secondary legislation and the guidance, as so much of the detail will be in that, can the Minister give us at least an outline target timetable for when that might come on stream?

I want to make a final point about enforcement, which seems to be a problem with child support. I do not know whether I need to declare a very historic interest: a long time ago, I was on the board of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, so I understand the background to this. I have been looking at the CMS statistics and for the last quarter, to December 2022, under half of parents due to pay through collect and pay paid even the 90% that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, mentioned, while 35% of those on collect and pay paid nothing. Thirty-five per cent of those for whom the CMS was collecting the money paid not one pound. That is over 140,000 children for whom none of the maintenance due was paid, and this matters.

A 2019 study by Hakovirta et al found that if child maintenance were paid in full to all children in separated families living in poverty who are not getting money from their other parent, it could lift 60% of them out of poverty. It makes that much difference, so I ask the Minister, first: is the problem with enforcement in CMS about a lack of staff, a lack of money or a lack of powers? What is the drag on this? Secondly, I was really worried to hear that there is now a real backlog in CMS, with thousands of claims not even yet assigned to the service. Can the Minister tell the House if this is so and how many claims are waiting?

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, raised some really interesting questions. I will happily leave the Minister to respond to them, but I will listen with great interest to what he has to say. They sounded really important and are a sign to us all, and indeed to the Government, of the need to think across all areas when considering something as all-encompassing as domestic abuse.

Despite these concerns, we welcome this Bill and congratulate again the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on introducing it here and the honourable Sally-Ann Hart MP on steering it though the Commons. I hope the Government will continue to build on this legislation and, more widely, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to deliver a strong, co-ordinated cross-government approach to domestic abuse.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on his excellent introduction to the Bill. As my noble friend has stated, the Bill will create an additional layer of protection for domestic abuse victims and their children when using the Child Maintenance Service—the CMS. It has the full backing of His Majesty’s Government and it gives me great pleasure to speak in full support of it today.

I start off by saying a few words about Emma Day, because her death was a truly shocking and distressing event. The CMS took action immediately to review its processes and procedures, to ensure that it is doing everything it can to support victims and survivors of domestic abuse and to make maintenance arrangements safely, and to reduce the risk of CMS customers being subject to further domestic abuse. I wanted to say that at the outset because it has been raised as a very important and tragic theme this morning.

I was very pleased to be given ministerial responsibility for child maintenance in January and to continue the excellent work in this area of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott. Child maintenance provides a vital service for separated families and their children, through both private and CMS arrangements. It is estimated that separated families received £2.6 billion annually in maintenance payments between 2020 and 2022. This roughly equates to lifting around 160,000 children out of poverty each year, on an after housing costs basis. I will be raising the issue of children as a central theme during my speech.

I would also like to give some context to the Bill by talking about the current CMS service. I am aware of a number of questions that have been raised about this, notably from the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Sherlock, and I will attempt to answer them. My noble friend Lord Farmer spoke eloquently about the service, so I will not go into too much more detail for fear of repetition, but the purpose of the CMS is to facilitate the payment of child maintenance between separated parents who are unable to reach their own agreement following separation. This is a very challenging job, undertaken in extremely difficult circumstances, and the CMS must operate in an unbiased manner. Separation is an extraordinarily difficult time for parents and, more importantly, the children, who are the CMS’s primary focus, as I said earlier. The CMS works incredibly hard to collect maintenance, so that children receive the financial support they are entitled to. In the past 12 months, the CMS has arranged over £1 billion in child maintenance payments.

Before moving on to the details of the Bill, I will say a few words about how the CMS operates for victims of domestic abuse. This Government take the issue of domestic abuse extremely seriously, and the department is committed to ensuring that victims of abuse get the help and support they need to use the CMS safely. Abuse may occur at either side, against paying or receiving parents, and at any point during the life of a case. My noble friend Lady Berridge gave some examples in her remarks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asked about guaranteeing payments, particularly when paying parents do not pay their maintenance liability, which is an important point. Operating a scheme where the Government guarantees child maintenance payments if the paying parent does not pay is not the intent of CMS policy. The role of the CMS, as I alluded to earlier, is to encourage parents to take financial responsibility for their children. The scheme is designed to encourage parents to agree their own family-based arrangements, wherever possible, as this tends to be in the best interests of the children. The statutory scheme exists as a fall-back if they are unable to do so. The Government do not believe that the state covering the shortfall in unpaid maintenance is the right or appropriate way to target additional funding, given that there is no means test for receiving parents.

The application fee, which I will say more about later on, is waived for applicants who have experienced domestic abuse. CMS caseworkers will signpost where needed to suitable domestic abuse support organisations. For parents using the direct pay service, the CMS can act as an intermediary to facilitate the exchange of bank details to ensure there is no unwanted contact between parents and that no personal information is shared. CMS caseworkers also provide information on how to set up bank accounts with a centralised sort code, which reduces the risk of a parent’s location being traced.

We continuously review our processes to ensure that domestic abuse victims are appropriately supported when using the CMS. I should therefore mention the excellent recently completed review concerning the CMS. I was very pleased to be able to publish this independent review of the ways in which the CMS supports victims of domestic abuse when I took ministerial responsibility for child maintenance.

As my noble friend Lord Farmer said, the review was published on 17 January this year and was conducted by Dr Samantha Callan, a leading expert on domestic abuse. The review finds that the CMS is an agency that has worked hard to develop and improve its domestic abuse practices. However, as the review also points out, there are further steps we can take to improve the CMS for victims of domestic abuse. We have accepted eight of the 10 recommendations in the review, and I am strongly committed to implementing these as soon as possible. I applaud the review, the findings of which are informed by extensive engagement with victims and survivors of domestic abuse and, of course, the domestic abuse sector. Your Lordships will have seen that Dr Callan’s report includes a recommendation to enable cases to be moved to collect and pay where there is evidence of domestic abuse—precisely what this Bill aims to do.

I turn to the important subject of training, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and, in particular, by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. The review also recommends that the CMS review its domestic abuse training. The CMS provides domestic abuse training for all caseworkers. It recognises that domestic abuse can take various forms, as the noble Baronesses will know, which include physical, psychological, coercive, overbearing, emotional and financial abuse. I stress that this can be against either parent involved.

As the noble Baronesses will know, the CMS reviewed its domestic abuse training in 2021 to ensure that caseworkers are equipped to support parents in vulnerable situations. To give a bit more detail, the training includes how to recognise the various forms of domestic abuse, checking for previous reports of abuse and appropriate signposting to domestic abuse support groups.

Following Dr Callan’s independent review of the ways in which the CMS supports survivors of domestic abuse, we will undertake a comprehensive review of training—I repeat myself, as this is a very important point—to ensure that it remains up to date. We will engage with external organisations where appropriate to ensure that the training reflects the needs of domestic abuse survivors when they use the CMS. The CMS also has a complex needs toolkit for its caseworkers, which includes clear steps to follow in order to support customers experiencing abuse. This toolkit is regularly reviewed and strengthened, particularly on the basis of customer insight.

Coercive control has been raised in this debate, in other debates and in the other place. The CMS is recognising this. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which was debated through both Houses, has brought in important changes for those who have experienced abuse. It has made coercive control a criminal offence, including in relation to ex-partners. The Home Office published new statutory guidance on controlling and coercive behaviour earlier this month. Although CMS domestic abuse training recognises that domestic abuse can take many forms, we are reviewing the guidance to determine the impact on CMS procedures.

This leads me to attempting to answer quite a technical question from my noble friend Lady Berridge in relation to matters raised by the Domestic Abuse Act. She touched on the review of the Matrimonial Causes Act. As she will know, our Domestic Abuse Act became law in April 2021. This truly game-changing piece of legislation transforms our response to victims in every region of England and Wales and ensures that perpetrators are brought to justice. It helps millions affected by these awful crimes by strengthening the response across all agencies, from the police and courts to local authorities and service providers. For the first time in history, there is a general-purpose legal definition of domestic abuse, which incorporates a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, controlling or coercive and economic abuse.

I note the question raised by my noble friend concerning the Matrimonial Causes Act, although divorce is a separate issue to child maintenance and not one dealt with by my department. The Child Maintenance Service exists to ensure that children receive the financial support they are entitled to. The welfare of the child, to mention it again, is at the heart of everything we do. This Government take domestic abuse very seriously. I will raise my noble friend’s question with ministerial colleagues and can assure her that she will receive a letter on this subject. I can assure her that Ministers in the department and across government regularly meet the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to discuss issues including the Child Maintenance Service. That also gives an answer to the question about cross-government support.

The Bill will amend primary legislation and allow either parent, or a child in Scotland, to request the collect and pay service on the grounds of domestic abuse, where there is evidence of abuse against them or children in their household by the other parent in the case. We recognise that abuse can be suffered by either parent or by children. A child in Scotland can apply for these provisions if they are the CMS applicant and either parent was the victim of domestic abuse, or if they themselves were.

To ensure that the Bill targets parents appropriately, the types of domestic abuse evidence that will be required will be set out in secondary legislation. To develop the secondary legislation, we will consult widely and engage with stakeholder groups, as well as other government departments, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, and with the devolved Administrations where appropriate, to ensure that parents are suitably supported. This will ensure that appropriate processes are established for verifying evidence requirements for domestic abuse.

A number of points were raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Sherlock, about the sort of questions they wish to propose. These questions will need to be discussed, debated thoroughly and drawn out as the secondary legislation is rolled out. The secondary legislation will follow the affirmative procedure so that your Lordships will have the opportunity to vote on proposals put forward. We will also consult widely to ensure that we get the proposals right, as mentioned earlier. We will aim to produce robust evidence requirements that are fully sensitive to the needs of those who have experienced domestic abuse and where all relevant data and insights have been thoroughly considered.

My noble friend Lady Berridge asked why there was a delay in publishing the independent review response. I was not particularly aware of that, but the review completed in spring 2022 and the Government received the report during the summer. It was important to get all the aspects right, so the full findings and 10 recommendations were published on 17 January 2023.

Can I just correct that and make sure the record is clear? If I recollect my own contribution correctly, I was just commenting on the overall time it has taken from the 2017 murder to getting this rectified. If I said anything other than that, it was not what I intended to do.

I note my noble friend’s point. Although I cannot answer on the particular delay after the tragic circumstances in 2017, I will certainly come back to her and perhaps add to the letter I am writing to her on that.

I go back to the secondary legislation and the questions raised on evidence of domestic abuse and on working across government. I can say—I have my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy beside me—that we are working ever more closely across government on matters of domestic abuse and on supporting families, however they may be defined nowadays. As I said earlier, the focus across government is on children and their welfare.

On the timing of secondary legislation, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, I am afraid I cannot give her any timescale. In relation to all aspects of the Callan review, we want to move at pace. I think it is good news that this Private Member’s Bill and the next one, which is coming on 19 May, are both moving at pace.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about domestic abuse training being developed with input from Women’s Aid. I assure her that the CMS domestic abuse training was shared with Women’s Aid for the review in May 2021. Women’s Aid’s concerns were mainly around the knowledge levels of DWP trainers with respect to domestic abuse and related to the content and design of the training itself. The CMS took Women’s Aid’s comments into account and updated the training, alongside using a new facilitator guide to better support the trainers. As she may know, this was published in November 2021—which seems quite a long time ago.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, also raised an important point about non-compliance. The percentage of parents who paid some maintenance on the collect and pay service has increased from 60% in the quarter ending in March 2018 to 65% in the quarter ending December 2022—these are the latest figures we have. In 2021, a new internal payment-compliance measure and approach was introduced to support customer expectations across its full case load, including CMS and CSA arrears-only cases. The measure requires 90% or more of the liability and any schedules arrears to be paid. This is measured monthly and on a rolling quarterly basis, including a measure to address cases not paying on time.

I am aware of the time and I should quickly conclude. I think I have answered most of the questions. I reiterate that I strongly believe that victims of domestic abuse and their children should feel as safe as possible when using the CMS. The Bill will provide an extra layer of legislative protection so that they can decide which service type is most appropriate for them, their circumstances and, most importantly, the welfare of their children, while also providing a fair service to both the receiving and the paying parent. I hope that the House recognises the importance of the Bill and supports my noble friend Lord Farmer in its passage today.

My Lords, I thank everyone who contributed to this important debate, which underlined the complexity of the closest human relationships we have, the complex abuse that can take place within them, and how difficult it is for government to legislate and work its best for the common good. Regarding what my noble friend Lady Berridge put forward on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, I certainly feel that the Child Maintenance Service is responding to this area. Of course, as she alluded to, a huge number of areas will have to respond to that Act, as our whole knowledge of domestic abuse evolves and as we understand it.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Sherlock, and my noble friend Lady Berridge for their constructive questions and a good debate. I also thank my noble friend the Minister for his answers, which showed his clear commitment to this area. I am reassured by the commitment that he has shown to me so far and that I think will continue, as the Bill moves through the House. I am also aware of the time and will not rattle on. I thank everyone for their contributions.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, it is a great honour and pleasure for me to move that the Bill be read a second time. It is also quite moving because, when we deal with prisons, custodial sentences and wrongdoers, we often have an enormous divide, but what is so great about the Bill is that it has the blessing of the department, the Government and most of us—it unites us all. It is a very simple Bill. Simon Fell, whom I know and have worked with, is a very committed Conservative MP up in Barrow-in-Furness. He has done the heavy lifting on the Bill, backed up by Nacro, which I praise: it has been banging away for decades and, if we have been able to treat offenders better, that is often to do with Nacro’s work. I would love to say that.

The Bill is very simple; there is no complexity to it. Let us allow our governors to release people on a day that is not the worst day of the week: Friday—or Saturday or Sunday. One-third of people are currently released on that day, and it is possible that over 50% of them need to find some form of support—to go to the citizens advice bureau, to the local council, to the social security office or to look for accommodation—because a very large number of people still leave the custodial system with nowhere to go. What happens if someone has nowhere to go? From personal experience, I know that when you have nowhere to go and are homeless, you tend to get into trouble.

First, you arrest someone for a crime and then you take them before a court and spend a shedload of public money. If they are found guilty, they are put away for a period of time, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds on occasions, if it is a longer sentence. You spend all this and then what do you do? You spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. You let them out on a Friday and, as they have no family relationships and nowhere to go, they are lined up to fall down.

The Bill is really interesting to me. The greatest thing is that I say to myself, “If we can work cross-party and cross-Chamber, if we can bring in organisations such as Nacro to give us all the background we need, and if we can get committed MPs to lead this fight, why can’t we do this for so many other things?” Is it not wonderful that we can do so for this small thing, which involves an enormous amount of intelligence? If you have been away for two years and then end up with nowhere to go and no one to guide, lead and help you, as I say, you have a real problem. You might as well have thrown those two years, 18 months or three years away, and thrown away our tax money and opportunity to turn a ne’er-do-well—a naughty boy—into someone other than a naughty boy. Is it not extraordinary that we spend so much on keeping people in prison but do not help them very well with their exit?

I am pleased that there are some very good signs of the recovery of rehabilitation—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and I discussed this. I know this because I have been working with a group of businesspeople in Brixton who go into the prison before the person leaves and try to recruit them for a job. I have recommended this company to a business which is deadly short of office workers and so on in Brixton and elsewhere in south London. Why do we not look at the pool of people leaving our prisons, who are leaving without a stain on their reputation because they co-operated in their own rejuvenation? These are the most wonderful things we can do, so I am really glad to bless this Bill. I am hopeful that we do not look at this as a one-off; I hope that it will lead to a renaissance. I will not ask noble Lords to vote for a renaissance in our relationship to justice, but would it not be wonderful if we could invest in those wonderful things—rejuvenation and helping people out of the sticky stuff?

After the most important part of my life inside, I left on a Saturday—at another time, I left on a Tuesday. What was so wonderful about leaving that custodial sentence was that I had somewhere to go: I had family, friends and a social background, and I even had the offer of a job. All those things made me; I am here because some cleverness was practised on me when I was inside in those good old days when life seemed a lot simpler and the size of the prison population was a third of what it is now. The magic of that thinking—of people, communities and the Church coming together—was absolutely marvellous. I am the product of some very clever thinking.

If we want to make this change, first let us sort out this Bill and then look again at why we waste so much money. We spend £3 billion a year on keeping people banged up. The police bill is enormous; I think it is up to £17 billion. If we were to spend more—I would say that we vote for another £1 billion; it is not a lot—then we would not have to spend it later on police cars, courts or supporting children whose family members have ended up in prison.

I will not go on any longer, because we are running out of time, but I thank noble Lords very much for the opportunity to speak on this very simple, clever, thoughtful, grown-up and real Bill. I beg to move.

Your Lordships will soon gather from my croaky voice that I returned from a northerly cruise on Wednesday with something of a cold. It was 10 days without responsibility. No money was used on board; at mealtimes, all I had to do was sway my way into the restaurant, and the food was there ready cooked. There was no lock on my cabin door—but, with the North Sea all around me, I was going nowhere. I could circulate on the top deck for as long as I liked; a lot of exercise went on there, but, fortunately, it was not compulsory.

Arriving back in Dover on Wednesday was a bit of a shock. I had to check my wallet to see if I had any money. I had to get myself to Dover railway station, pay for a ticket and find a platform and a train. I had to make decisions, get used to traffic again and rush to reach your Lordships’ House in time for a committee. I was away only 10 days. The problems for a prisoner being released after a lengthy period in prison are very serious. The shock of being propelled through the prison door into the community—into a world of decision-making—must be profound. I strongly support the Bill as a very sensible means of reducing that impact, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and Mr Simon Fell on bringing it forward.

The Bill gives us the opportunity to talk about the critical step of release. I have spoken about Berwyn prison near my home in Wrexham many times in this House in very negative terms—its shortages of staff, the level of violence and the all-pervasive problem of drugs—but it is largely successful on the issue of release. The unannounced report of the prison inspectorate last year found that an average of 140 prisoners were released each month and that work to support resettlement was good. A workshop area—a resettlement hub—had been set up in a large open space with separate interview booths, bringing together all resettlement staff. The inspectors found that this was an excellent initiative,

“the best of its kind that we have seen recently”.

It was yielding promising early outcomes for prisoners nearing release, including job offers and improved outcomes for accommodation on release. In the hub, there are a range of resettlement services: a job centre, work coaches and housing support. Prisoners are supported in obtaining ID and in opening bank accounts. Job fairs are a regular feature, attended by local employers. The number of prisoners who gain employment on release has risen from 6% to 20%, and employers including Greene King, the Murphy construction group and Iceland are involved. An employment adviser helps connect prisoners to job opportunities, and a firm called Novus Cambria helps the men with their CVs, so opportunities to secure a job are there before offenders even set foot back into the community.

On accommodation, the prison is also successful. Currently, on the day of release, 85% of men are getting into prepared accommodation—the 15% who do not are referred to the local authority. The prison joined a construction industry training board pilot scheme, where offenders are trained in prison in trades such as bricklaying, plastering, joinery and welding. Components are manufactured in the workshops for affordable, environmentally friendly houses being built for more than 130 families in Ruthin and Llangefni on behalf of Williams Homes, and jobs are available with that firm on release. Next month, DesignLSM, in collaboration with the actor Fred Sirieix, will transform the food hall in the prison into a high-street business run by prisoners to provide them with the opportunity to gain qualifications and experience in hospitality.

Berwyn prison is the second-largest prison in Europe and the largest in the UK. It started off with good intentions of promoting rehabilitation. Cells were called “rooms” and wings “communities”, and internet was provided. There have been some appalling teething troubles, but the prison, its governor, Nick Leader, and his staff must be given full credit for the initiatives they have taken. I am sure that the Bill will be welcomed in that community.

My Lords, I was quite annoyed when I saw this Bill appear in Forthcoming Business. I thought, “What? This hasn’t been fixed yet?” We have talked about this issue for years. I was then even more annoyed when I saw that the Government are supporting it. Why could they not do so sooner? I simply do not understand why we should accept throwing former prisoners out on to the street without any sort of support network. We already put far too many people in prison, and we do not concentrate enough on restorative justice and on expecting people to find out how to improve their lives and not get sent to prison—including, sometimes, for quite minor and inconsequential crimes.

A report was released today about a farmer who has been sent to prison for 12 months because he absolutely destroyed two sides of a riverbank which was extremely precious from an environmental point of view. Quite honestly, I would not have sent him to prison; I would have put him into community service for as many years as it took him to recover every single blade of grass and leaf that he destroyed. I think that we could do more of this.

This kind of incident happens quite differently in Scotland, as Scotland does not release people on Friday, when they do not have any support network left. Why, if Scotland does it, have we not done it sooner?

I welcome this Bill, although I am still angry that it has taken this long—but I am glad that it is happening at last.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his enthusiastic introduction to this Bill, and it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I agree with all her comments. I feel certain that all the speakers today will be singing from the same hymn sheet. I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for its briefing.

During a prison sentence, especially if it is a long one, offenders lose touch with reality and often lose touch with their families and friends. Depending on their offence, their families may have decided to sever all contact, or they may have lived alone in rented accommodation. During their sentence, this accommodation will have been let to others. Many offenders, therefore, have no home to return to and no alternative accommodation on their release. With no accommodation, their ability to apply for work is limited, and they have nowhere to sleep. If they have nowhere to go, especially over a weekend, the risk of their reoffending is considerable.

Statistics show that adult offenders without stable accommodation on release are 50% more likely to reoffend, and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has referred to this. They need support and help, which is rarely available on a Friday afternoon. Those who are lucky enough to have retained contact with, and the support of, their families, may be many miles away from their home. That has an impact on their children. Some 15% of offenders are held more than 100 miles from their homes, and 41% are more than 50 miles away. When that offender is a young person, this can be very challenging for them to cope with. When offenders are released on a Friday, away from their natural base, they are effectively being set up to fail. I fully support proposed new subsections (3C) and (3D) of the Bill. Offenders should be released with at least one working day ahead of the day of their release, so that as much support as possible is available to them.

I turn to the issue of young offenders. I am pleased that there is specific mention in the Bill of young offender institutions and secure children’s homes. Statistics show that children looked after and those who are care leavers are overrepresented in prison populations. They may have had a bad start in life and have made mistakes and be paying the price for it, but this can be remedied if help and support are available at the most crucial and vulnerable point in their lives—the day when they are released back to society. It is, therefore, vital for help to be available and not clocked off because it is a Friday afternoon or the day before a bank holiday, when local authority housing departments are likely to be closed.

Of those offenders released, some will choose to reoffend as a life choice; others will have found the prison experience extremely sobering and be determined to alter their lifestyle and make a fresh start. Providing immediate help and support on the day of release is critical to ensuring success in preventing reoffending. If they have nowhere to stay and no support, it is not surprising that two-thirds of people released without access to accommodation reoffend within a year. The system has let those people down. There will be offenders who may have undiagnosed special needs, and their educational skills can be low. They may not have received the necessary help so far in their lives; those people need extra help and support to enable them to stay clear of the reoffending cycle.

This Bill is short, but it could have a dramatic effect on the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Adults and young people, especially the 16 to 19 year-olds, along with children in secure accommodation, who should be released into the care of their relevant local authority, are unlikely to find a placement on a Friday. A day’s grace is all that is needed to ensure success, along with the early notification for local authorities to enable them fully to play their part in rehabilitation. Given that the Bill has the support of the Government, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the gap to sing from the same hymn sheet and welcome this Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his inspirational work and commitment to these matters. We need an urgent change in practice for those who leave prison. I know that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who is not able to be here today but leads for the Church of England on prisons, also welcomes this Bill.

Others have already referred to the impact of releasing people from prison on a Friday, particularly in relation to access to services, including housing and healthcare. This affects men and women leaving prison, but for women it can be acutely dangerous, due to particular risks they face. A report published in 2020, Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison, found that late releases, and releases on a Friday, are known to jeopardise a woman’s chances of securing accommodation. Due to the configuration of the prison estate, women are often imprisoned far from home, leading to isolation and presenting further challenges to securing housing. Risks from perpetrators of domestic abuse are very real for prison leavers, particularly women. A recent Independent Monitoring Board report on HMP Bronzefield found that 65% of women face homelessness on release. I join others in hoping that changing the practice of releasing prison leavers on a Friday will go a long way to helping address this.

Finally, I shall touch on how this fits into the wider picture of resettlement and reintegration into society. We know that links to community and home help prevent reoffending, and we have many examples of good practice within the faith-based sector. The Welcome Directory is an organisation that signposts prison leavers to churches and worshipping communities of other faiths, aiming to “unlock the second prison” of the community. Prison chaplains do valuable work through the gate with external organisations to transition those in prison back into the community. Under the new probation model, the Church of England has been working at a national and regional level with the probation service to link up with faith communities, which do so much good in their localities.

In conclusion, I welcome this Bill and consider that it will make a significant change to the chances of prison leavers resettling well into communities and reducing the chances of recidivism.

My Lords, if I may, I shall also speak in the gap. In doing so, I ask the Minister to recall his young days at the Bar—and I shall do the same. One of the depressing features of my young days at the Bar—and I am sure that it was the same for the Minister—was the repeated offender. Time and again, you had convicted for further crimes those who had already been convicted and had spent time in prison. I do not know how far this measure will help, but it is one well worth taking, and I give full support to the Bill.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his intervention, reminding us of the important work that the faith sector does in this area, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for pointing out that at the heart of this system is a horrible cycle of reoffending that is costly in financial terms and in personal terms for those who have to suffer from the reoffenders’ work. So I congratulate Simon Fell MP and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing the Bill thus far with such impressive cross-party support—I always think that “Bird on bird” is worth listening to. I also congratulate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bird, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, NACRO, on the success of its campaign highlighting the problems of Friday release. One of my mentors in the criminal justice system was my colleague and noble friend Lord Dholakia, who cannot be here today but was for a long time the president of NACRO.

As a non-lawyer, I am a little surprised that we need an Act of Parliament to micromanage the handling of prisoners: perhaps the distinguished Minister can say. We are talking about amending an Act that is 60 years old. Perhaps it is a sign of how important we consider the restriction of freedom in our criminal justice system, but it does seem odd that we need the full panoply of an Act of Parliament in order to manage prisoners’ release. I share the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for all of us to work for alternatives to prison: it is an extremely expensive and in many ways not effective and not cost-effective way of protecting society. I also share my noble friend Lady Bakewell’s worry about a system that is set up to fail.

I was seven years at the Ministry of Justice, both as Minister and as chair of the Youth Justice Board. I will detain the House only a short time with just two things that struck me during that time. First, just over 10 years ago I went to Birmingham to see the new public library being built. There was a scheme of ex-offenders being employed on its construction and I met a young man in his 30s who talked about his experience. He used the words that my noble friend Lord Thomas used. He said “Lord McNally, you can’t imagine the shock when the prison doors shut behind you and you’re leaving prison. You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know how you’re gonna make a living and you’ve got 40-odd quid in your pocket. It’s a very lonely place”. I think that that, sadly, is still going on.

The second thing is something else that has come through this debate, which is that there is another way. I was chair of the Youth Justice Board for three years and we see in the record of the Youth Justice Board, which is now coming up to its 25th anniversary, the attention of cross-disciplinary expertise in both diversion and resettlement which does bring results. We see in the report of Professor Rosie Meek of Royal Holloway College, University of London, the impact of sport on rehabilitation. I have some personal knowledge, because she is local, of a young lady called Jules Rowan, who gained qualifications in prison and then used them outside to help others meet the challenges of release. She now works with a fellow ex-inmate, Zak Addae-Kodua, on a programme of advice on national prison radio.

So, what I am basically saying is that there are other ways for society to go. Release on any day of the week should be part of a resettlement plan that offers the best hope of success. The mantra repeated to me time and again when I was at the MoJ was that, on release, prisoners need a place to live, a job and, if possible, a meaningful relationship, and if you could get those three things, you had the best ingredients for a successful non-offending future.

We are fortunate today that we have speakers on the Opposition and Government Front Benches with first-hand experience of where our prison system works and where it fails. In the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, we have someone with vast experience of the system from his long service has a magistrate. In the Minister, we have someone who has served in the criminal justice system at the highest levels of the judiciary and the Bar. So I pass this Bill, with confidence, into their hands. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his calls for a cross-party initiative to cut crime by having in place—both before and after release—breaks in the circle of offending that costs so much in human, social and financial terms. I support this Bill.

My Lords, we on this side of the House support this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on piloting it through this House. Noble Lords will be aware that the proposal to avoid Friday releases has been around for a number of years, and a number of political parties and advocacy groups have tried to introduce it in previous criminal justice Bills. However, for various reasons, it was resisted by the Government. Nevertheless, I welcome the Government’s support for this Bill.

The rehabilitation of offenders starts within prisons with better conditions, better education and training, support for mental health, help to repair broken family relationships and more drug treatment programmes. If the Government are serious about cutting reoffending, they could look at reducing the use of shorter sentences for non-violent offences. One answer to that lies in effective community sentencing for those who commit non-violent offences. That would help ease overcrowding and allow prisons to get their education programmes back up and running.

My hope is that this Bill will have a positive effect on reoffending rates, along with reducing the number of recently released prisoners who become homeless. Only 45% of people released from prison in 2021-22 had settled accommodation on their release. That means over half were released from prison with nowhere to go and had to use their first hours of freedom searching for a safe and suitable place to sleep. Sadly, 11% of those people ended up homeless or sleeping rough.

Studies have shown that safe and secure housing is key to stopping the cycle of reoffending. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation found that

“the proportion of service users recalled or resentenced to custody within 12 months of release was almost double for those without settled accommodation”.

I have always found it ironic—but understandable—that when sex offenders are released from custody, they have a guaranteed address because the police need to know what that address is, whereas other prisoners do not get that guarantee.

To state the obvious, when a prisoner leaves custody there is a huge contrast in their life—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about his interaction with the prison leaver in Birmingham. Until their day of release, prisoners have all their housing, meals and medication needs under one roof. Then, on a Friday, they are out—maybe with only the number of a probation officer in their pocket, a little bit of money and the address of a pharmacist. It is then a race against time to find a roof over their head, to apply for benefits, to buy food and to visit their GP or pharmacist if they are part of a drug treatment programme. If all these elements are not in place, there is a much higher chance of relapse and reoffending and a return to custody. When a prisoner is released, it should be seen as a new start, where opportunities are presented and support is readily available—but all too often the opposite is true. We hope this Bill can go some way to rectifying that, but we are realistic in understanding that it is only part of the picture.

I took the trouble to revisit the arguments used by the Government against this proposal in the PCSC Bill. First, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, spoke of the Scottish experience, where there has been direct early release for some time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to. At that time, only 20 prisoners had been released under this scheme, so the argument was that there was insufficient data to draw any conclusions from the Scottish experience. Is the Minister able to update us on the Scottish experience of early release?

Secondly, in a separate debate, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson—the then Minister—argued against the proposal and said that it was deficient in three ways. His first point was that efforts to avoid Friday bunching should be focused on where the chances of rehabilitation of the offender were greatest. The second was that a five-day release period was too long. I understand that in this Bill it is two days; nevertheless, the point is made. His third point was about the impact on short custodial sentences if there was a two-day early release. How has the Minister’s department’s system evolved from these previous oppositions to the Bill? Of course, I welcome it, but I would be interested to hear the department’s thinking.

Turning to some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon, first, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, got back from his cruise relatively unscathed—I say “relatively”, given that he is coughing right at this moment. I also thought that the examples he gave of Berwyn prison were very good ones, and they should inspire other prisons to work in a similar way. Of course, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about the importance of alternatives to prison.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for talking about particular cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about young prisoners, many of whom have been in care. It must be said that many young prisoners have committed much more serious offences than their adult counterparts—nevertheless, there is an extremely high reoffending rate for young prisoners. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds made a good point when talking about the particular problems of women when they leave prison, not least because they are far further away from their home—or very likely to be—because of the nature of the prison estate.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has a lot of experience in this area, as the House will be aware, spoke about the key ingredients for release. Of course, they are the same key ingredients: accommodation, stable relationships and something to do with your time—namely, education, a job or something like that. That is a truism in trying to promote rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. I support the Bill, because I think it goes one step along the road to achieving that. However, there is a lot more to do to try to rectify the current situation.

My Lords, first, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for a characteristically compelling and very moving speech on this issue. I also thank him for the work he is doing—in particular, in encouraging his contacts in Brixton to work with prisoners to obtain jobs on their release, particularly from Brixton prison. This is a very positive development, and it has been a great pleasure to work with him on this issue. I am grateful for the very broad support the Bill has received, both in the other place and in this House, and to all those who have worked on it, particularly Simon Fell MP. I am also grateful for the input of Nacro and other interested parties. It is a great pleasure, for once, to be able to say that we are all more or less on the same page, working in the same direction.

As far as the Government are concerned, the direction of travel is indeed towards rejuvenation, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and rehabilitation generally. I was particularly pleased about and grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for recounting the positive developments at Berwyn prison in particular, which seems to be setting a good example of the work that can be done and what can be achieved with targeted resettlement and rehabilitation efforts, particularly concentrating on employment—local possibilities with local employers—and accommodation and related matters. I take the opportunity to say that that was very much driven by my right honourable friend the late Secretary of State for Justice, who resigned today but who has very much led the direction of travel for rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners.

The importance of the Bill is shown by the widespread and consistent support it has received. It is a simple measure, as has been said, but it is likely to have a strong and positive impact on the rehabilitation of offenders leaving custody and it is clear that it commands widespread public support. I am sure that it will particularly help the repeat offenders referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, and I hope that it will reduce that “very lonely place” to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly referred. It will be particularly important, as has been mentioned, for youth offenders, who were underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. Because we now have relatively fewer youth offenders in custody, youth offending establishments can be quite far away from home, so youth offenders who are released face enormous difficulties if they do not have a support system. This will enable much better support for that particular category of prisoners, including those who have been in the recently created secure 16 to 19 year-old schools, and will mean that they will experience no delay in contacting their youth justice worker and can be properly protected. I compliment and thank the Youth Justice Board for all its work in this general area.

I fully accept the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that there is a great deal more to be done, but I venture to suggest that we are beginning to make progress in these areas with the various initiatives that have rightly been mentioned. In that connection, the noble Lord asked what has changed since the Government’s previous position. As I understand it, there was a consultation on the Prisons Strategy White Paper which produced a lot of responses. It enabled further discussion to be had, particularly with policy officials, prison staff and third parties in the community as to how we should manage all this. The Secretary of State will now delegate the decision to prison governors and the equivalent but will give some guidance as to how it is going to work, so that you give priority to certain people and make sure that, as it were, it is staged down through Wednesday and Thursday as well as Friday. There will still be some residual prisoners who are released on Friday; there is no particular reason why those who have homes to go to, such as the white collar offender, should have particular priority, but that enables you to give priority to the people who need it most.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked why we need an Act of Parliament. We need one because—I think I am right about this; I will write to the noble Lord if I am wrong—if Parliament says you should serve a sentence of so much, you have to serve that sentence. Only Parliament can authorise people to be released just short—in this case, a couple of days short—of serving that sentence. Although it is only a couple of days, one needs legislative authority to do it. I think that is the answer, but I will check in case I have it wrong.

I hope I have covered the various points that were made. This is perhaps not the occasion to discuss sentencing policy. I entirely accept the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that these matters, including whether we should use prison in a slightly different way and whether we should avoid shorter sentences, need to be reviewed continually. These are important issues but I venture to suggest that they are not for today.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his contribution, in particular in relation to the female estate. I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester is particularly concerned about that. As has been pointed out, we have the same problem with the female estate because it has relatively few offenders so there are not that many female establishments, meaning that offenders are often far from home; they can also be very vulnerable when they are released. This problem needs particular planning; I hope this Bill will give us an opportunity to ameliorate it.

Following what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was kind enough to tell us, I can say that the Government have taken significant steps in improving prison leavers’ accommodation; in building stronger links with employers through dedicated prison employment leads, so that there are now people in the prisons who are responsible for finding employment and prison employment advisory boards through which, as the noble Lord illustrated, local business leaders can come into local prisons; in offering more work within prison; in delivering and improving a prisoner education service; in increasing access to drugs rehabilitation; and in other actions.

The reoffending rate is slowly coming down, from 31% in 2009-10 to 25.6% in 2019-20, and the Government are further investing in driving it down. These are important interventions. The Bill will be an important support for all the things that are going on and will ensure that the offenders most in need of help will be given a full opportunity to access support before a service is in effect closed for the weekend. We will develop policy guidelines to help heads of establishment or the appropriate officials in youth establishments to target exactly the offenders most in need and support them to make decisions that allow offenders who need it time to resettle and reintegrate into their community.

This is a simple and proportionate Bill. I think I have covered most of the points that were raised. I can only reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and everyone who has helped to support the Bill. I commend it to the House.

I thank noble Lords for that wonderful discussion, which added to things to underline the importance of this issue. I am glad that we broadened the argument out. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked why we have not done it before. It is a wonderful thing to be reminded of that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that you need a job, somewhere to go, a relationship and a place to live and that, if those things are not there, woe betide you when you enter the real world that lives out there.

When I left my custodial sentences behind me, the most interesting thing was the fear. I did not quite know what I was doing, even though I had a family and friends. It was a sense of loss of order and structure. We should never forget that a lot of people who commit crime come from shambolic backgrounds, with enormous stress and emotional and psychological damage. I was a very damaged boy. When you go into a custodial sentence, there are many minuses—you lose your freedom and your decision-making—but sometimes there is the building of comradeship. If you have good screws—sorry, prison officers—who are interested in what you are doing, you almost have a replacement for your family.

I am all for restorative justice. I would have put that farmer on a little boat and made him do it 24 hours a day. It is great to talk about restorative things, but you are dealing with damaged children, and they are our damaged children; 90% of them will be the inheritors of poverty, not people who come from the top drawer. Occasionally you would meet an old Etonian when you were banged up, but it was largely “sex and drugs and rock & roll” that got them there, and we were all very jealous of them. Let us make the prisons work by a process of triangulation. There is the justice system, the education system and the health system. They should all be brought together to make the most of that experience for those troubled children. When a man points a knife at you or throws a brick at you, it is not because he was born with a knife or a brick in his hand. It is because of what has happened to him because of the adult world that we live in. One of the greatest things we can do is to say, “Okay, your life has been bad, but let’s try to make changes”.

When I was in the custodial system as a boy and a young man, quite a lot of people there were looking out for us. They were not great psychologists, but they were looking out for us. I would like to see ordinary people encouraged to come into the custodial system to help and support. I would like to see not just psychiatrists but nurses and teachers in there. I would like to see the people saying, “You are special enough to be locked up, but you are also special enough to assist, so that when you leave, you are special enough to rejoin the rest of the world”.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, I am honoured to be piloting this Bill through your Lordships’ House and am grateful to noble Lords for attending this Second Reading debate today—especially, if I may say so, the Minister, for whom this Friday afternoon engagement follows an extremely heavy week of seemingly endless debates on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, apart from many other important engagements.

I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, which has backed the Bill and is keen to engage with the Government, alongside other local government representatives, on the details of its implementation.

The Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill comes to us as a Private Member’s Bill initiated by Bob Blackman MP in the Commons. We all already owe a deep debt of gratitude to Bob Blackman for his previous Private Member’s Bill—I had the honour to take it through its House of Lords stages—which became the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. This has proved a seminal piece of legislation, significantly improving measures to address homelessness. Now we must thank Bob Blackman for his sterling work bringing forward this Bill. Support for both his Private Member’s Bills has been provided by the charity Crisis, which does so much good work in this field. Crucially, as with the earlier Bill, government backing for this legislation has been forthcoming. This essential help is much appreciated. As a Cross-Bencher, I am delighted by the cross-party support for the Bill, and I hope noble Lords will today also express their approval.

What does this Bill seek to do and why is it necessary? As its title indicates, it makes provision for regulation of supported housing and for related enforcement of proper standards for accommodation of this kind. In fact, it is concerned with only a subset of what is known as supported housing. “Supported housing” covers all accommodation where there is additional provision of assistance for the residents—including, most significantly, specialist housing for older people. The Bill concerns itself only with that part of the supported housing spectrum that comes with the extra label of “exempt”, meaning it is exempt from the usual restrictions on rent payable for those in receipt of benefits. Indeed, the Bill could have been called “the Supported Exempt Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill” if that was not too much of a mouthful.

It is this exempt accommodation that over recent years has become problematic. The rents are exempt from housing benefit limits—in particular from the rental caps imposed by the local housing allowance ceilings, which were frozen in 2020 for privately rented properties. Landlords have been able to charge much higher rents for exempt accommodation and get them covered by the taxpayer on the understanding that these properties would be let to vulnerable people with special needs who would receive proper care and support.

Most supported exempt housing is performing an extraordinarily difficult role for people in extreme circumstances. Often, a registered housing association is the landlord and a specialist organisation provides the care, funded by local authorities and the occupiers. Schemes serve people with learning difficulties, survivors of domestic abuse, victims of modern slavery, people released from prison with nowhere to go—which links this debate with our previous debate today on the problems for offenders released with no accommodation —and many others. Higher rents are justified by the need to pay for extra housing costs: from greater turnover and higher maintenance and repair costs to longer vacancies between lettings.

The majority of these schemes deserve high praise, with staff who are often positively saintly in their caring roles. Decent supported housing certainly merits a lot more funding to maintain and extend this essential work, but on the other side of the same coin is a system subject to appalling abuse. Because of the higher rents from the exempt status, the arrangements have attracted the very worst kinds of landlords. These businesses can be so lucrative that one MP in the Commons debate on the Bill commented that the profits were higher than for dealing drugs.

The House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, under the exemplary chairmanship of Clive Betts MP, produced a full report last October on exempt accommodation. This has acted as a very helpful substitute for pre-legislative scrutiny. The committee found that unscrupulous companies were making excessive profits by capitalising on the loopholes: in essence, charging exorbitant rents for low-quality housing with little or no support for the residents, using untrained staff and lacking management. Cases have been uncovered of rooms in close proximity being allocated to those recovering from addiction and those still dependent on drugs, women fleeing domestic abuse next to men with violent histories, and other management horrors. The Committee noted that

“the current system offers a licence to print money to those who wish to exploit the system”

and said:

“This gold-rush is all paid for by taxpayers through housing benefit”.

Properties with unsupervised, unsupported, vulnerable occupiers can also cause problems for the neighbourhood: anti-social behaviour, drug abuse, rubbish and vermin, and crime, including involvement of organised criminal gangs. The health and wellbeing of those living in these overcrowded and poor conditions can deteriorate drastically. Despite much-inflated rents, residents are often required to pay for “services” from their non-housing benefits, yet taking a job is not an option because that would jeopardise access to higher housing benefit levels and therefore lead to the loss of a place to live.

The problem has been compounded by landlords obtaining planning consent under permitted development rights for the lowest-quality conversions of family houses and ex-commercial buildings. Bob Blackman has highlighted a two-bedroom property converted into a house with eight bedrooms, no living rooms and only one shared bathroom. Then there are the property deals that have cashed in on the exempt status of supported housing. The Commons Select Committee cites the case of 12 properties in west Devon that were sold to an intermediary body for £6 million and re-sold the same day to an offshore investment company for £18 million, because of the high yields expected to be gained from leasing the properties for exempt accommodation.

It is hard to be precise about the scale of this problem because of the lack of data collected locally and the complexity of the different overlapping housing types and providers. As the House of Commons committee noted:

“The Government does not know how much exempt accommodation there is or how many people live in exempt accommodation”.

The overarching problem of a desperate shortage of affordable rented homes lies behind the opportunities for some operators to abuse the system. Because councils must meet their obligations towards those who would otherwise be homeless, they are sometimes forced to refer people to supported exempt housing which they have not commissioned, and which lies beyond the scope of very light-touch regulation. There are two ways of escaping this dilemma for local authorities. The first is for the real supported housing sector to be enlarged. Better government resourcing from the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, is needed, not least to replace the loss of the previous Supporting People revenue grants. Secondly, the sector must be rid of the cowboy operators that take away resources and undermine the rest.

In its report, the House of Commons Select Committee made a series of recommendations covering the collection and publication of data, accreditation of providers, and enforcement of national standards by local authorities, alongside more intervention by the Regulator of Social Housing. The Bill before us takes forward this reform agenda from the Commons Select Committee and learns lessons from five pilot schemes successfully trying better regulatory arrangements, as well as from the amendments proposed during the Bill’s Commons stages. It now paves the way for a full and robust response to the issues.

The Bill sets out duties for the Secretary of State to appoint within a year a supported housing advisory panel, which would represent the interests of local housing authorities, social service authorities, registered providers of social housing, relevant charities and residents themselves. The panel’s job would be to provide the necessary information and advice to the Secretary of State and local authorities, to improve provision and regulation of supported exempt accommodation.

The Bill requires local authorities to review provision in their area, to publish and regularly update a supported housing strategy that assesses what is available and what is needed, and take this on board in local policy-making. The Secretary of State is empowered to set out national supported housing standards covering the necessary requirements for the housing and support that must be delivered.

The Secretary of State is given powers to require operators of supported exempt accommodation to be licenced by the local housing authority. Licensing would enable councils to see that the national supported housing standards are met and that only a fit and proper person can be in charge of the accommodation. Licensing would incorporate a range of conditions relating to the quality of both the accommodation and the care, with penalties for failure to comply.

The Commons Minister has made an ambitious commitment to lay the regulations for the licensing regime and publish the national standards within 18 months of the Bill passing. The Bill requires the Secretary of state to review the position three years on and consider whether a further measure would be helpful, specifying supported accommodation as a planning use category—that is, requiring planning consent.

These measures add up to a firm response to the need for a regulatory framework to cover this neglected part of the housing sector.

Before concluding, perhaps I may address two anxieties that have been raised as the Bill has progressed. I will ignore the concerns of the speculative investors and property traders, who will, no doubt, protest the death of this golden goose. First, there is concern from local authorities that they will be taking on additional burdens in producing their local supported housing strategy, collecting and sharing data, and introducing and enforcing a licensing scheme. I believe this fear has been allayed by the Government’s clear commitment to compensate local authorities accordingly and I know that the Local Government Association, in supporting the Bill, will work to make sure that extra costs are met. It remains a matter for further consultation whether all councils—including those with little or no supported exempt housing—will be required to participate in the new scheme. The advantage of the Secretary of State requiring every local authority to have a licensing scheme is that rogue landlords cannot simply move their business from a licensed area to one without such regulation.

Then there are the worries of the hard-pressed housing and care providers themselves, who fear that regulation will increase their costs and risks with no comparable gains. Their supported housing schemes are often on a hand-to-mouth basis at present, with insecure, short-term contracts for the care providers and, consequently, poor pay and conditions for care workers. One large housing association explained to me the financial hazards of working with a number of care providers who are desperately trying to do a good job. There is always a danger that a heavy-handed approach to regulation, with too high a regulatory fee, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and means that fewer bona fide players continue to operate.

These fears from the decent providers should not materialise if the licensing scheme is handled with care. I am delighted that the major providers and the National Housing Federation—a statutory consultee for the process—have supported the Bill. Sensitivity is needed to avoid any unnecessary burdens at this time when other operating expenses have risen dramatically, but the Government’s recognition of this danger will be a core component in making the legislation succeed.

To conclude, my hope is that ensuring supported exempt housing is brought under local authority control and abuses are ended will lead to the release of funds, restore faith in supported housing and enable growth in a properly regulated sector. Then the Bill will lead to greater protection and real support for people living the most difficult lives imaginable. I commend the Bill to your Lordships and I beg to move.

My Lords, the Bill is another production from that well-known partnership of Blackman and Best, purveyors of high-quality legislation to the Houses of Parliament following their last production, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. We look forward to the further fruits of this partnership.

I commend the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Best, has made, and his continuing commitment to drive up the standards of housing in this country. There is no one better qualified than he to promote this legislation in your Lordships’ House. He touched on the need for this legislation in a debate that we had on supported housing in Grand Committee on 30 March, and he has further explained today why it is needed.

In October last year, the Select Committee in another place that the noble Lord referred to published its report on exempted accommodation, describing the system as “a complete mess”. While there were many good providers, as the noble Lord said, in the worst cases the system involved

“the exploitation of vulnerable people who should be receiving support, while unscrupulous providers make excessive profits by capitalising on loopholes”.

At the time of the Library briefing there had been no government response to that report. Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on the timing of that response.

I shall follow up briefly on two points made by the noble Lord. I hope the Bill will drive out of business the unscrupulous landlords he has so rightly condemned, but of course the demand will remain and the shortage of supply will need to be made good by organisations that can meet the requirements of the Bill. That will require some proactive initiatives by the Government and by local authorities because I do not believe that the market will respond automatically. Is the Minister able to spell out the steps that her department and the DHSC will now take to make sure that adequate provision is made by responsible organisations, particularly in those parts of the country where abuse is currently rife, to complement the provisions in the Bill?

Secondly, the Bill gives various obligations and powers to the Secretary of State. I wonder if I can press the Minister on the progress that she anticipates making in discharging these. In Clause 1, are steps under way to identify people who will serve on the advisory panel once Royal Assent is achieved so that we can get off to a flying start?

In Clause 3, the Secretary of State has powers to make regulations setting minimum standards for exempt accommodation. That is crucial to the whole Bill, which comes into effect two months after Royal Assent. Have discussions started with the LGA, social landlords and other providers about what those standards might be? Can the Minister say when they might be introduced? Until they are, the abuses that the noble Lord, Lord Best, has referred to will continue.

Lastly, under Clause 4, the Secretary of State can introduce a licensing scheme that providers of exempt accommodation must secure before they can operate. Will the Minister confirm what the noble Lord has just said: that the Secretary of State is indeed minded to use those powers within the period of 18 months?

Having made those two points and asked some relevant questions, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, again on his piloting the Bill through Second Reading. I hope it reaches the statute book soon.

My Lords, it is clear that there is an urgent need to reform non-commissioned exempt accommodation. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, on bringing the Bill forward. I wholeheartedly support its aim to drive rogue landlords out of this part of the supported housing market.

It is important to stress, as the noble Lord did, that many exempt-accommodation providers deliver high-quality services and homes that are desperately needed, but rogue providers have been able to enter this part of the market, trading on gaps in funding as well as gaps in oversight. As a result, some residents now live in disgraceful and completely unacceptable conditions. Vulnerable residents have reported truly shocking examples of unsafe housing, non-existent care or support services, feeling financially trapped and having a lack of control over where they were housed. They have experienced exploitation and neglect.

These issues were well documented in the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee report into exempt accommodation published last October. It provided a thorough account of why these problems have arisen and what should be done about it. It presented compelling evidence for immediate reform. The noble Lord, Lord Best, a member of that Select Committee, has presented us with an important step in the right direction. His Bill seeks to put in place greater regulation of supported exempt accommodation and to give local authorities the tools to tackle problematic provision. From my previous involvement in the housing sector, I know that exempt accommodation providers are not inherently poor quality or poor value for money. Many housing associations use this model to provide well-run, non-commissioned services appropriate for people with support needs, including sheltered housing for older people, refuges and hostels for people who are homeless.

So, how have some unscrupulous landlords and organisations been able to exploit the system to extract high levels of return while delivering poor-quality or unsuitable accommodation and services? While oversight and regulation of rogue providers has been inadequate in some parts of the country, underfunding of commissioned services has led to a significant and rising unmet housing need among vulnerable groups. Growing numbers of people are desperate for a home. This can make it feel impossible for people to say no to the offer of a home, even if it does not feel safe. The growth of poor-quality providers has to be understood in that context. We are facing an acute shortage of social housing, so it is essential that reforms are accompanied by increasing the supply of new supported housing to meet this growing need.

The Government’s recent announcement on adult social care calls that into question and is deeply worrying. The £300 million housing transformation fund—first announced by the Government in December 2021—would have been a vital step towards ensuring that some of the most vulnerable people have the support or care they need in a home that is accessible to them. The Government seem to have reneged on this commitment during Easter Recess when they published their plan for adult social care reform for 2023-24 and 2024-25, which omitted it completely. Can the Minister explain this decision and confirm whether this pre-committed investment will be made available to supported housing providers via alternative funding streams?

An investment of £300 million to integrate housing with local health and social care strategies would have significantly bolstered supported housing’s contribution to the strategic aims and statutory duties of the NHS, social care and criminal justice services, boosting outcomes for resident health and well-being. In a time of huge cost pressures, supported housing urgently needs greater security of funding and a strategic footing to meet growing need across the population. I urge the Government to address this as part of their efforts to root out poor-quality provision.

The National Housing Federation, which is a statutory consultee in this legislation, has welcomed this Bill and is committed to working closely with the Government to ensure that the reforms are targeted and effective. It has pointed out that many supported housing providers operate in dozens of local authority areas, so the new licensing framework in this legislation could present a significant new financial and administrative burden for tenants and not for profit landlords. This is particularly true of older people’s housing let on a social housing rent, which is subject to consumer regulation by the Regulator of Social Housing and is not the primary target of these regulations.

The NHF has called for a clear exemption or a passporting system for older persons’ housing and other types of supported housing where there is already an adequate regulatory framework to accompany the new licensing system, so that good-quality providers are not subject to duplicated regulations and significant new administrative costs. This will also reduce the demand on local authority resources and allow councils to concentrate on problematic schemes and providers. I hope the Government will take this on board.

Clarification is also needed around the costs of obtaining a licence and whether this will be subject to regulation. If uncapped, costly licensing schemes could act as a financial barrier to much-needed supported housing. This detrimental effect would surely be contrary to the laudable aims of this Bill. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether a cap will be in place.

The Long Title of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out, refers to the regulation of supported exempt accommodation. This definition has no clear legal status, so the scope of these regulations is not yet clear. Establishing a rigorous definition and the scope of regulation in secondary legislation will be essential to reduce the risk of unintended consequences and ensure that local authorities have the right powers and resources to tackle the rogue providers.

Having said that, I end with the point I made earlier: it is vital that there is proper funding for housing-related support so that new supported housing can be provided to meet the unmet need that exists right across the country. As we drive rogue providers out of the market, it is incumbent on the Government to support the delivery of the high-quality supported housing that residents deserve.

My Lords, we have just heard a very well-informed contribution from my noble friend. I greatly welcome this Bill. It provides me with the opportunity to comment on the accompanying Commons report, which I have been sitting on for something like five months, awaiting this debate.

After 43 years in Westminster, I can recall only a small number of occasions where the publication of a Select Committee report has caused so much anguish and concern to committee members about the state of a publicly funded provision and the use of public expenditure. I sat on the Commons Public Accounts Committee for 10 years, and I cannot recall even a National Audit Office report on such a breakdown in the use of public funds. I was shocked to read this devastating report last year, and I congratulate the Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, under the chairmanship of Clive Betts, for its brilliant exposure of a problem which I suspect most Members of both Houses were completely unaware of. I certainly was unaware of it.

For the anoraks outside the House who are following this debate—there are many—the report is numbered HC 21. It was published on 27 October last year and is entitled Exempt Accommodation. In its summary, it refers to a system which

“involves the exploitation of vulnerable people … while unscrupulous providers make excessive profits by capitalising on loopholes”.

That has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Best, but I repeat it for emphasis, because it is a very important statement to include in the report. It also says that

“some residents’ experiences of exempt accommodation are beyond disgraceful … Where the very worst experiences are occurring, this points to a complete breakdown of the system”.

This is hardly the language of reports we have heard from other Select Committees over the years. It continues:

“Areas with high concentrations of exempt accommodation can also attract anti-social behaviour, crime—including the involvement of organised criminal gangs—rubbish, and vermin”.

We have to remember that people have been living in these appalling circumstances. The report then reveals that

“organisations with no expertise are able to target survivors of domestic abuse and their children and provide neither specialist support”

nor a safe environment.

The report is scathing on the availability of data. It accuses successive Governments of having been “caught sleeping”, with a scarcity of data. It cites, for example, the inability to establish how widespread the very worst experiences are and how many exempt accommodation claimants and providers there are. I am sure we can all agree that these shocking revelations demanded action. Clive Betts’s committee’s report, followed by the Blackman initiative, have delivered what I would argue successive Governments of all persuasions have failed to deal with.

I want to flag up a number of issues arising from both the Betts report and the subsequent debate in the House. I make it clear that it is not my intention to seek to amend the Bill before us in any way; we need its swift passage into legislation. However, there remain some issues on which we need further assurances. For example, there was talk in the Commons of the requirement for new planning powers for local authorities to be able to proactively manage the market. The Government have responded with a review, which needs to be followed up.

There was a call more generally for greater national monitoring and oversight powers and of a reformed regime of enforcement. There were calls for the establishment of a system of evaluation and improvement notice orders. This needs to be followed up with a comprehensive consultation process. Of particular concern to my Labour colleagues when it was considered in the other place was the issue of limited resources and the effect on cash-starved, overburdened local authorities, some of which may choose not to license. They may be the very authorities with the greatest problems. The Government’s consultation has highlighted the problem but not dealt with it. But the issue of resources goes wider. For example, what of the funding of the cost to local authorities of adopting licensing schemes? The schemes will cost money, and the money will have to come from somewhere.

Finally, on a wider issue that falls slightly outside the remit of the Bill, there is a need to close the regulatory loophole whereby unscrupulous, exempt non-profit-making providers who let both at below market rents and at market rents are able to operate outside consumer legislation. That was partly dealt with during Commons proceedings, but it remains outstanding. My people have proposed a solution. Will Ministers follow this up at some stage after the Bill’s passage? Could the Minister assure me that the matters that I have raised will be followed up, perhaps in a letter to me?

According to MP research, we are now told that there are 153,000 households in exempt accommodation, with escalating numbers in recent years. Some people argue that that is an underestimate. The problem is that the stats reveal little, as local authority returns are limited in scope. That certainly needs rectifying.

Finally, I want to say a few words of appreciation to Mr Bob Blackman, Member of Parliament. He is not of my political persuasion—we differ politically on many issues, I am sure—but on this issue he has undertaken a fine piece of work on which he should be congratulated, and we are all indebted to him. I hope that this Bill proceeds unamended, without further debate, to the statute book. Equally, I hope that the Government will give clear instructions to their officials to get on with it. We need to deal expeditiously with this appalling state of affairs.

My Lords, on these Benches we support this Bill, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, and his colleague Mr Blackman in the House of Commons on its introduction. It is an important attempt to address the shortcomings in the quantity of good-quality supported housing, which is, because of its greater cost, exempt from the usual housing allowance cap.

As the noble Lord, Lord Best, and others have pointed out, there are many good providers who run high-quality units with appropriate support for vulnerable people to live in the community. They are to be congratulated on that. However, they and many local authorities are very concerned about the entry into the market of unscrupulous people who buy up properties, divide them into tiny units and let them out to vulnerable people with minimal if any support, because of the profits to be made. This Bill is an attempt to address that by setting minimum standards and providing a licensing and monitoring framework and tools to assess and plan for adequate provision, as well as new planning provisions—all on the advice of an expert national team and after consultation with the sector. It is very comprehensive and seems to cover all the bases.

However, we have been warned that there are issues to be wary of. There is a national shortage of supported housing of all sorts. Margins are tight and the sector is fragile. It would be tragic if these measures were implemented either too quickly or in the wrong way, resulting in the loss to the market of good providers. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, pointed out, it has to be done in a way that does not impact those good providers. I know that the Government support the Bill, so I ask the Minister: how does she plan to protect good providers? Do the Government plan to take initiatives to stimulate the supply of good provision?

Local authorities will be given new duties in order to implement this Bill, and we all know that they are already hard pressed and short of cash. First, they do not always know what they have already got. There is a lack of consistent data on how many providers there are and how many are of poor quality. That is why the Bill makes lots of good common sense, by asking local authorities to assess the need for exempt supported housing in their area over a five-year rolling programme, so that they can then plan and publish a strategy to enable them to fulfil that need. I think we can all agree that planning on the basis of accurate data is always the basis for the success of any plan in the public service.

Secondly, local authorities will also become the licensees for providers. It is obvious that this will require ongoing monitoring and assessment. The detailed guidance should take existing regulations into account to avoid duplication, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, pointed out. There is no doubt that all this will require additional funding, but it will be money well spent. Indeed, all this boils down to questions about funding and timing. Can the Minister say how long will be given for the consultation, whether there will be pilot schemes in a few areas to identify any glitches and develop good practice that can be disseminated across the country, and how much new money will be provided for local authorities to carry out these duties?

These measures are designed to improve the housing conditions of some of the most vulnerable people in society—conditions which have an enormous impact on the quality of their lives. Many of these people do not have a voice or the wherewithal to complain if they are being badly treated. These measures could change all that, if they are implemented well and funded adequately. Headlines will not do. Timely action and adequate cash are needed. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that we will get both of those?

My Lords, I am aware that I am the penultimate speaker in the last debate on a Friday, so I will be as concise as possible. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for sponsoring the Bill in this House and all noble Lords for their very informative and eloquent contributions. I particularly thank my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe for all her work in this area when she was the chair of the National Housing Federation, and for recently securing a debate in Grand Committee on supported housing and homelessness.

The Opposition welcome this Bill and I thank everyone involved at all stages of the Bill for progressing it. We on these Benches regret how long we have had to wait for legislation to address exploitation and profiteering at the hands of rogue exempt accommodation operators, and the fact that progress in this area has been dependent on the ongoing success of Bob Blackman MP in the Private Member’s Bill ballot initiated in the other place. Unfortunately, there are loopholes in the current system that have been open to exploitation. There is evidence that unscrupulous landlords have been capitalising on those loopholes and claiming uncapped housing benefits to make a profit. In fact, my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage was just telling me that an accommodation provider was charging up to £10,000 a week, which is scandalous.

The Bill will create a minimum standard for type and condition of premises, as well as for the care and support provided. There has been a clear correlation between high concentrations of exempt accommodation and antisocial behaviour and crime. We support the measures in the Bill. It is a means to enhance local authorities’ oversight of supported housing and to enable them to drive up standards in their area. As we have long argued, a robust framework of national standards for the sector is essential.

Some 153,700 households in Great Britain were housed in exempt accommodation in May 2021, but the lack of data means it could be much more widespread than even that figure suggests. This point was made in the other place, as well as by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. We need a better understanding of the issue; that will be driven by increased data. I look forward to hearing how the Government plan to achieve this.

Furthermore, we would like to see new planning powers to allow local authorities to proactively manage their local supported housing markets; enhanced provisions for national monitoring and oversight; an expanded list of new banning order offences and establishing the evaluation and improvement notice procedures, so that local authorities can drive up standards without implementing a full licensing regime. We remain of the view that those suggestions have merit and believe that they will need to be revisited if the Bill fails to deliver in the way that we hope it will.

We encourage the Minister to give serious consideration to giving local authorities powers equivalent to those in Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, which provides for the housing health and safety rating system, hazard awareness notices and improvement notice procedures. As the Minister will know, outside large urban areas, most local authorities have only a handful of officers, if that, in their private rented sector teams. We need to ensure that there is a suite of options short of licensing that will allow small authorities to bear down on the problem.

My final point is related to local authority resources, a point the noble Lord, Lord Best, made in his introduction, along with other noble Lords. The Bill will place additional requirements on local authorities to carry out reviews of supported exempt accommodation in their districts and to publish supported housing strategies. In addition, authorities which believe it necessary to adopt licensing schemes and are in a position to do so will face additional cost as a result. My noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage raised the issue of adult and social care funding going to upper-tier authorities in two-tier system and there is no requirement for funding to be passed down to housing authorities or district councils, where most housing issues are dealt with.

In the other place, the Minister confirmed a new burdens assessment would be made. Can I probe the scope of that confirmation further? We are concerned that local authorities ultimately may not receive any support for ongoing costs, particularly in relation to licensing schemes. We would welcome some assurances from the Minister that the net additional costs of any new burdens arising from this Bill will be fully and properly funded. If not, how do the Government believe the ongoing costs can be made self-financing?

Those specific concerns aside, we very much welcome the fact that the Bill is being debated in the Chamber today and wish it a smooth passage through its remaining stages and on to the statute book. It will undoubtedly help to put rogue exempt accommodation operators out of business and better enable local authorities to drive up supported housing standards in their areas. As the honourable Member for Harrow East, Bob Blackman, said,

“it will improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/22; col. 970.]

and bring relief to communities struggling to cope with the impact of concentrated numbers of badly run exempt accommodation properties. We recognise that today is a significant, important step forward and we are pleased to give the Bill our support. Well done team Blackman and Best. The message today from this House is loud and clear: the time in which the rogue landlords have been able to exploit those vulnerable people is rapidly coming to an end.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend—he is not really my noble friend, but he is my noble friend—Lord Best for those kind words. There was no way that I was not going to be here as the Minister to support this Bill because, for me, it is one of the most important Bills we have seen coming through for quite a long time. I thank him for introducing the debate and congratulate him on the sponsorship of what, as I said, is an extremely important Bill. I thank other noble Lords for their support of the Bill today which, I am pleased to say, the Government are also supporting.

I also thank and pay tribute to my honourable friend the Member for Harrow East for his tireless work in making sure that the very important matter of poor-quality supported housing is now placed before this House.

I will begin by setting out the context for the measures contained in the Bill. Supported housing is home to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. People with disabilities and mental ill-health, survivors of domestic abuse, older people and people experiencing homelessness all rely on this important type of housing. Supported housing is more than just a home: it also plays a vital role in delivering better life outcomes and greater independence to those in need by providing care, support and supervision alongside accommodation.

Many excellent providers of supported housing operate in this sector, but I am very sorry to say that there are also rogues. These unscrupulous people are exploiting the system to the detriment of the very vulnerable people it is supposed to support, and at considerable cost to the taxpayer. Let us not forget that the financial benefit gained by these rogues rests on abusing the rules in housing benefit. Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions agree that it is totally unacceptable that large amounts of public money are being paid out in housing benefit to fund this poor provision.

Before I go on to the Bill itself, I will briefly set out the action that the Government are taking to tackle the issues of poor quality in the supported housing sector. In October 2020 we published the national statement of expectations setting out the Government’s vision for the planning, commissioning and delivery of good-quality accommodation in supported housing. We also launched the supported housing pilots—which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, brought up. Between October 2020 and September 2021, we funded five local authorities with a total of £5.4 million to explore ways of improving quality and value for money in the sector, particularly in exempt accommodation.

We published the independent evaluation of the pilots in April 2022 and have continued to build on the success of this initiative. Our ongoing supported housing improvement programme is backed by £20 million of funding and is helping 26 local authorities tackle quality issues in some of the most affected areas of the country, but we realise that we must go further. The evaluation of the pilots was clear that without providing additional powers to local authorities, our ability to fix these issues is limited. That is why the Government announced their intention to regulate the supported housing sector in a Written Ministerial Statement in March last year.

This Government’s priority is to protect the welfare of their most vulnerable citizens, and the Bill includes powers to bring in the crucial regulation that is required. We are determined to drive up quality in supported housing and drive out unscrupulous providers. Driving up standards is critical given the harmful consequences that the worst of this appalling accommodation can have for the vulnerable people living there and the damaging impacts we have seen on communities blighted by anti-social behaviour.

I will now move on to the measures set out in the Bill. The supported housing sector is increasingly complex, cutting across tenures, including both social housing and private housing supplied by charities and voluntary bodies. Given this complexity, it is right that the Government should seek information and advice about supported housing from experts. The Bill therefore creates an advisory panel, which will be established within a year of the Bill becoming law.

During the passage of the Bill in the other place there was much discussion of the paucity of data available to government on supported housing, and we have heard that again today, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We recognise the lack of data on supported housing; it is crucial that we make improvements in this area. I am pleased to say that we already have research under way to provide an estimate of the size, and importantly the cost, of the supported housing sector across Great Britain, as well as estimates of future demand. The Department for Work and Pensions has also made changes to its systems to improve the data it holds on housing benefit claims.

In addition to those measures, the Bill places a new duty on local housing authorities in England to produce supported housing strategies. These strategies will assess the current provision of supported housing and will require authorities to forecast future need in local communities. The more information and data we have, the better-informed decisions we can make about supported housing now and into the future.

For the first time, there will be a set of national standards for support: the national supported housing standards. Currently, the only requirement set out in housing benefit case law is that the support being provided is “more than minimal”—this is simply not good enough. These national standards will cover the type and quality of accommodation being used to deliver supported housing, as well as the quality of support that residents receive. The standards will apply to all supported housing providers in England and will be enforced through local authority-led licensing schemes. Licensing will apply to districts designated by either the Secretary of State or the local authority.

The Bill also sets out what conditions will need to be met in order to obtain a licence. These may refer to the standard and the use of the accommodation, the requirement for a support needs assessment, the provision of care, support and supervision, as well as meeting the national standards. Penalties will rightly apply where licensing conditions are not met, or where supported housing is operating without a licence in a designated licensing area. Powers in the Bill allow us to make provision for offences and penalties in the licensing regulations.

The Government are aware of the potential for unintended consequences for people in need of supported housing services. Crucially, the Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult on the key measures that I have set out before making any regulations. This includes a requirement to seek the views of statutory consultees. Stakeholders can be reassured that the Government are determined to work with them to understand the impact of these measures and to ensure that any risks are understood before proceeding. But we are clear that the purpose of these changes is to drive out rogue providers, which is paramount.

Further measures in the Bill include a requirement to review the effect of the licensing regime after three years, to consider whether a change in planning law is warranted. This was brought up by a number of noble Lords, and I assure them that we will review that. A change to homelessness legislation will ensure that anyone who finds themselves forced to leave supported housing because it does not comply with the national standards will not be intentionally homeless. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham brought up the important issue of social housing data on the demand for supported housing that is not held centrally. We are commissioning that research because we need to know what the effect will be once we put these measures in place. We need to know the current and future demands, because we cannot have people being made homeless unintentionally through the Bill.

As I said, the Bill also requires local authorities to produce strategic plans, as we heard, and they will therefore forecast the need in their areas. In order to produce those plans, they will have to know the baseline for accommodation at that time. Local authority providers and the Government are there to ensure that supported housing needs can and will be met.

My noble friend also raised the issue of discharging obligations and powers in the Bill. First of all, as I said, the advisory panel will be set up as soon as possible after the Bill becomes law and will be an important part of ensuring that these actions are delivered. My noble friend brought up national standards, and, as I said, the Government have already started work with stakeholders across the housing sector to develop the standards. As far as the licensing is concerned, the Government will consult on measures to enforce the standards, and, as I said, we intend to introduce a licensing regime, as is set out in the Bill.

A number of noble Lords brought up the issue of the Select Committee report. The Government are considering the areas that the Select Committee highlighted, and we will publish a response in due course. We know that the Bill alone is not enough, so we are committed to taking forward further action, if needed—first of all, to get rid of rogue landlords, and, most importantly, to keep driving up the quality of supported housing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, brought up the really important issue of the impact on good providers. There are some fantastic providers out there; I know that personally, because my daughter is in supported housing, as I have mentioned before. The Government are determined to avoid any unintended consequences for good providers of supported housing. We are already working with stakeholders on the detail, and, as I said, we will consult before committing to the detail of the licensing scheme and the standards.

The cost to local authorities will be assessed. I know that this is important, quite rightly, if we are putting new burdens on local authorities—and this is a big burden, as well as an important one. Costs will be assessed through the new burdens process, as usual. I hope that response puts noble Lords’ minds at rest on that subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, brought up a number of issues, most of which will be covered by the 12-week consultation, but I am more than happy to look at Hansard and go through his questions to make sure he gets a written answer, as that is what he asked for. We will make sure that copies of that will be in the Library.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, discussed the costs of the licences and the exemptions from licences. As I said, the Government will consult on the whole scheme. Is important that local authorities and other stakeholders all get involved in that consultation, because it will be a better scheme if the people actually working in the sector get involved before we completely set it up.

Those are my responses to all the questions. There were a lot of questions on funding. The Government are absolutely aware of this and are considering and doing research on the costs of these services for the future and for this type of accommodation. I feel quite strongly—as I know the noble Lord, Lord Best, does, too—that this is part of the continuum of keeping people in their own homes with dignity for as long as possible in their lives, so this will be an increasingly important housing sector in this country for people we look after in some parts of their lives.

In closing, I will repeat that there are many excellent providers of supported housing, who are determined to provide an excellent service for their residents. Those good providers have nothing to fear. As I said, my officials are already working with stakeholders to design a scheme that will drive out the rogues but enable good-quality supported housing to continue to be delivered as it is now.

We know that time is of the essence, and the Government have committed to laying regulations within 18 months of the Bill becoming law. As I said, I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Best—I still call him my noble friend—for sponsoring the Bill, and to my honourable friend the Member for Harrow East for his work in the other place. The Government are committed to stamping out the practice of rogue providers exploiting vulnerable people, at considerable cost to the taxpayer. The Bill is a crucial step forward in ensuring that people receive good-quality support in a market free from unscrupulous actors.

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I want to ask about the issue that my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage has raised previously and I raised today about passporting funds, where in two-tier authorities higher authorities passport funds to housing authorities and districts. Can the noble Baroness get back to us on that?

I think that that will be part of the overall research into how the system works and where the money is. It was interesting that, even at the Select Committee, a provider said that there is money in the system but it is not being used correctly. We need to have the data on this to look at all those issues.

The noble Baroness gave us a very comprehensive response, but will she comment on my point about the £300 million in the adult social care strategy?

I understand that that has gone. I do not know the details, but I am very happy to write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, I am deeply grateful, as I know Bob Blackman MP will be, for all the support that noble Lords have shown for this measure. I shall pick out one or two points that might still be hanging in the air. I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for his support on this as on so many other housing matters. He makes the point that, if we close down some of the bad guys, where will people go, unless we also build up the good guys at the same time. I think that is an important lesson. As for the Government’s reaction to it, it is well worth bearing in mind that the cost in housing benefit terms will reduce when the rogues are no longer being paid excessive amounts for their accommodation. It is a reproportioning or reallocating of resource, rather than simply an extra burden for government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, spoke with great authority from having chaired the National Housing Federation for many years. The loss of the housing transformation fund of £300 million is painful. I hope that the consultations that relate to this Bill will reveal the need for that sort of sum to be put back into play. We have three departments involved here—the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities; the Department of Health and Social Care; and the Department for Work and Pensions—and the trouble is always that the gains are found on one side and the losses in another department’s budget. We need those three to be thinking of these things together; I hope they will and that we will not see this as a net loss at the end of the day.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for his very powerful analysis of what has been going on. I thank him for quoting “beyond disgraceful” as the real adjective that should be used for some of this ghastly accommodation. It is worth bearing in mind, in terms of following through on this, that there are quite significant commitments on timescale; we do not always get Ministers explaining that they will not only endeavour but will succeed in achieving the national standards and having the details of the licensing scheme fully consulted on and brought together within 18 months, and that the licensing scheme itself will start up in a year. So, we have some timescales there and after three years we will see whether a planning power is needed, after evaluation of how things have gone. There is back-up in terms of a timescale that Ministers have put on the record and I think that is helpful.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who welcomed this measure from the Lib Dem Benches. Like so many others, she mentioned the local authority workload, which will be a sore point if there is no compensation. I took it from the Minister that there will be a new burdens assessment and that this is likely to cover—I hope very fully—the extra costs of getting involved with a licensing scheme, collecting and sharing data and the rest. That will be important; as we know, with the underfunding of local authorities more generally, it is a difficult time to add burdens unless they are fully paid for.

I must not dwell on all the contributions of other noble Lords, but I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, for his support. He too made those points about new burdens, which are absolutely valid.

I conclude by thanking the Minister very much for her comprehensive and entirely sympathetic response to the issues raised. We really are on the right road; we have a framework that we can now polish and improve upon in the consultative processes that will follow. I thank the Minister for her personal support, which will be invaluable in taking things forward.

I conclude by once again thanking my colleague Bob Blackman. None of this would have happened had he not been absolutely tenacious in seeing this through all its Commons stages.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 1.56 pm.