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Grand Committee

Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2023

Grand Committee

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, welcome to this Grand Committee. If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells ring and resume after 10 minutes.

Building Safety (Responsible Actors Scheme and Prohibitions) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Building Safety (Responsible Actors Scheme and Prohibitions) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 38th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Special attention drawn to the instrument by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, these regulations establish a responsible actors scheme for developers under Sections 126 to 129 of the Building Safety Act 2022, focused on the remediation by developers of historic fire safety defects in residential buildings they have developed in England. Developers that are eligible for the scheme but choose not to join, and developers that join the scheme but then renege on their membership commitments, will be prohibited from carrying out major development or obtaining building control approvals.

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it became evident that thousands of residential buildings over 11 metres had serious fire safety defects. This put resident safety at unacceptable risk while leaving many leaseholders facing potentially life-changing remediation costs. This scheme is one part of the Government’s wider response to the building safety issues that came to light following Grenfell. In addition to the scheme, we are protecting residents by investing £5.1 billion in remediating unsafe cladding on 18 metre-plus buildings; securing industry contributions to remediation through introducing a building safety levy; implementing statutory leaseholder protections against unfair costs of remediation; and creating new legal avenues for affected parties to recover remediation costs from those who caused the problem.

This scheme focuses on major private sector developers, which sit at the top of the supply chain and have overall responsibility for their developments. The Government engaged with major developers through a remediation pledge and then a legally binding developer remediation contract. I welcome the action taken by 48 developers that have signed the developer remediation contract; these include the top 10 private sector UK housebuilders. The scheme will create a level playing field whereby eligible developers that commit to remediate are not placed at a competitive disadvantage compared with those that do not.

The regulations set out three descriptions of persons who are eligible to join the scheme. Developers based anywhere may be eligible for the scheme, if they developed relevant buildings in England. First, major housebuilders are eligible where their principal business has been residential property development; they were responsible for the development or refurbishment of one or more 11 metre-plus residential buildings in England in the 30 years ending 4 April 2022; and they meet the profits condition set out in the regulations. Secondly, developers are eligible where they meet the profits condition and they were responsible for the development or refurbishment of at least two buildings that we know are defective because the buildings have been assessed as eligible for a relevant government remediation fund. Thirdly, there is a voluntary eligibility provision. This allows other persons to join, where they were responsible for the development or refurbishment of a building that would require remediation under the developer remediation contract.

The profits condition is focused on typical operating profits averaged across the three years from 2017 to 2019, which were not impacted by the Covid pandemic. Both the profits condition and other aspects of the eligibility provisions make appropriate provision for the complex company group structures used by some developers.

The regulations make clear that registered providers of social housing are not eligible for the scheme. They will not be invited or permitted to join.

The core conditions of membership of the scheme are for developers to commit to identifying and remediating life-critical fire safety defects in residential buildings over 11 metres in height that they developed or refurbished in England in the 30 years ending on 4 April 2022, and to reimburse taxpayers for government-funded remediation of such buildings. To demonstrate their commitment, an eligible developer must enter into a self-remediation contract: a contract containing the terms of the developer remediation contract published by the Secretary of State in March this year. The membership conditions require members to give effect to their remediation and reimbursement commitments in accordance with the contract’s terms.

I turn now to the application provisions. The Committee will be aware that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has drawn attention to two technical aspects of the drafting of these regulations, including one relating to the scheme’s application provisions. I am grateful to the Joint Committee for its time, its valuable scrutiny and its report, which the Government have carefully considered. We have corresponded with the Joint Committee and provided a memorandum setting out our position, which is printed as an appendix to the Joint Committee’s report.

I welcome this opportunity to reaffirm our overall position on the issues raised, as explained in the memorandum. On the application provisions, we consider it to be clear in context that, where the Secretary of State identifies that a person is likely to be eligible for the scheme, they will be invited to join it, but the registered providers of social housing will not be invited to join, as they are not eligible under Regulation 6. In light of the Committee’s report, we will monitor implementation carefully and consider bringing forward amending regulations in the event that the regulations give rise to a misunderstanding in practice as to who is invited or able to join the scheme. The Government will also issue guidance on aspects of the scheme. However, the issue of developer remediation of unsafe buildings is urgent, and I seek the Committee’s approval of these regulations today.

The regulations set out the time period to join the scheme and give developers an opportunity to make representations if they believe that they are not eligible. They also set out how developers can join the scheme in other circumstances, including under the voluntary eligibility provisions.

Membership of the scheme may be revoked for breach of membership conditions or ended without fault where a member has substantially satisfied their obligations. Members will have the opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State before their membership is revoked. Should an eligible developer decide not to join the scheme by the end of the application period, or should their membership be revoked for failure to comply with the scheme’s conditions, they will, in accordance with the regulations, be prohibited from carrying out major development or obtaining building control approvals.

At this point the developer, and known persons controlled by the developer, will be notified and then added to a published prohibitions list, which will be used by local authorities for enforcement. Only a person named on the prohibitions list will be subject to the prohibitions. The regulations also apply the prohibitions to persons controlled by the developer to make sure that developers cannot easily avoid the prohibitions by continuing their development business through other entities they control. Prohibited persons will be subject to a planning prohibition that prevents them carrying out major development in England, except where planning permission is received before these regulations come into effect. Development of land carried out by a prohibited developer in breach of a prohibition will constitute a breach of planning control.

The regulations include provision that developers notify the local planning authority about their status as a prohibited person, or when the prohibitions are lifted. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has reported on the absence of a specific sanction for failure to give notice under these provisions. I would like to reassure the Committee that these regulations are effective without such a sanction. The primary mechanism for identifying prohibited persons will be the prohibitions list published by the Secretary of State, so local planning authorities will have access to all the information they need even if a developer fails to notify them. In addition, any developer that engages in development contrary to the prohibition will as a result be subject to sanctions through planning enforcement.

The regulations also establish a building control prohibition, which prevents prohibited persons gaining initial and final building control approval in respect of any building work that requires such approval. The prohibitions have limited exceptions. The purpose of these exceptions is to mitigate potential impact on innocent third parties such as off-plan buyers, the wider public and certain entities that are not in the building industry.

The building control prohibition is subject to exceptions that seek to protect innocent third-party purchasers of properties from a prohibited developer, including a specific exception to assist those whose deposits could be at risk if a prohibition came into effect after they had exchanged contracts. There are also exceptions to ensure that emergency repairs and other repairs to any occupied building that are necessary for the safety of residents can proceed.

Both prohibitions are subject to exceptions to exclude critical national infrastructure projects and to permit certain entities in developers’ corporate groups that are not in the building industry to have the prohibitions disapplied to them where this would not frustrate the purpose of the scheme.

I know the Committee will also be concerned about other industry actors, particularly construction products manufacturers. It is unacceptable that cladding and insulation manufacturers have not yet acknowledged their responsibility for the legacy of unsafe buildings. Most recently, the Secretary of State has written to three industry participants, Kingspan, Arconic and Saint-Gobain, and to their institutional shareholders, to make it clear that those manufacturers must contribute to the cost of remediation or may face severe consequences. The Government will consider all options to ensure that construction products manufacturers contribute their fair share.

These regulations launch an important scheme for developers to remediate unsafe buildings. Given the urgency of this issue, we are bringing forward these regulations for a scheme focused on larger developers at speed. We propose to extend the scheme over time to cover all developers that have built defective buildings over 11 metres and should be paying to fix them. I commend these draft regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I very much welcome the way my noble friend has introduced these important regulations. My dear late father was an architect so I was brought up in that climate, and I do not think anybody in the industry disputes the fact that those responsible for developing unsafe buildings should remedy the defects at their own cost as quickly as possible. That bit seems to be agreed all round.

However, there are some aspects of the scheme that I hope my noble friend will take on board and that should probably result in some changes. The first is the presumption that anyone who has developed a building above 11 metres has to bear the burden of proof that their buildings are not unsafe. That is a pretty costly execution to be done, plus I wonder whether this self-examination is actually the right way forward. What ought to happen is that a regulator should be employed and report accordingly to the Secretary of State.

Secondly—and this is an important dimension—the regulations impose qualifying criteria for membership that appear to bear no rational relationship with the harm identified. Rather than specifying membership criteria by reference to the number of buildings above 11 metres developed, instead the criteria relate to profitability. The result is that a cowboy developer that has built countless buildings of 11 metres and over unprofitably appears to escape the criteria, but for the responsible developer that has built virtually no buildings above 11 metres, profitability is required to join the scheme, with all the obligations that entails.

My third overall observation is that membership, as I understand it, involves the requirement to sign up to a binding contract negotiated by the department’s lawyers, apparently with some select representatives from the industry. I am not aware, in the time I have been in Parliament—nearly 50 years now—of where we have had a statutory liability subordinated to a contractual document in terms that give some cause for concern.

I will list three key features that came to my mind as I worked my way through these papers. First, there is eligibility. Inclusion is understandably determined with reference to profitability in financial years 2017, 2018 and 2019, together with having developed any residential building over 11 metres in any year since 1992. So you are automatically included, even if you have only one or two buildings a few centimetres over 11 metres and they do not, in the view of the developer, need remediation. They are automatically excluded if they are unprofitable, no matter how many buildings the developer builds of 11 metres and over. Logically, one would have thought that the more buildings that have been developed, the greater the statistical risk to the public. In other words, rather than leaving the burden of proof where it normally lies—on the regulator to show that there had been a breach—in this scheme, instead, it amounts to the Secretary of State saying, “I have decided, in broad terms, that because you all meet these criteria”, seemingly selected without consultation, I am told by the industry, “you must prove that you are not in breach”.

Secondly, there is obligation. The obligation is to sign a developer remediation contract. As my noble friend rightly says, this contract has already been signed—voluntarily, we are told, but it seems from talking to some of the contractors in the business that it was not entirely voluntary, bearing in mind the sanctions if they do not sign—by 48 companies, thankfully. That is good in itself. It seems to me that it was not, initially at least, intended that those companies with buildings that were not in need of repair should be included. Nor, as I understand it, was it anticipated that people, particularly small and medium-sized contractors, with buildings that were 11.2 or 11.3 metres —and others right at the bottom of the scale—would be included.

Thirdly, and importantly, I come to the sanctions. They are pretty tough. In fact, I am not aware of any such scheme in all the time I have been working in and commenting on this market. Failure to join the RAS means exclusion from the planning and building control systems, hence exclusion from—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, as there is another Division immediately, we will not restart the Committee. We will start it again at 4.25 pm, by which time the second Division will have taken place.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, I had finished two of the three key features I wanted to address, which were eligibility and obligations. I now turn to probably the most important of the lot: sanctions. As I understand it, failure to join the RAS means exclusion from the planning and building control systems. In effect, that means exclusion from most commercial and residential development in England for all companies, including non-developer companies—for example, an engineering subsidiary wanting to expand.

These sanctions are automatic. The regulations remove discretion in their use from the Secretary of State. The underlying Act originally contemplated the availability of discretion, but somehow it does not appear to have been carried through to the regulations. There are no mechanisms to determine whether the sanctions are proportionate to the risk or the harm. These coercive penalties would also apply to any further membership conditions applied in future, including compulsory financial contributions for works to buildings to which the scheme member had no connection at all.

I conclude with my reading of the situation. The severity of the penalties and the sanctions, the lack of discretion in their application, the arbitrary nature of inclusion in the scheme and the effect on employees, subcontractors, other stakeholders and shareholders seem to me, and to others outside who I have talked to, to be disproportionate and suggest that—I hope—His Majesty’s Government will think again. This industry is absolutely vital to this country; we see that daily in the newspapers.

My noble friend mentioned the material suppliers. In many ways, to any of us who take a real interest in this, they are equally liable. After all, without rotten materials that were highly inflammable, we probably would not have had Grenfell. I am surprised that, if I understand what my noble friend said, so far no single firm in that field has contributed anything or is proposing to join the scheme and contribute.

The other area that my noble friend did not cover was overseas developers. A fair number of projects was undertaken by overseas developers. We have a diplomatic corps in these countries. I hope that our ambassadors or high commissioners in the relevant countries have been given the information to pursue these developers. They should be looked upon just as firmly as are our developers. If they do not wish to contribute at all, frankly, in my judgment they should be barred from working in the United Kingdom in future.

My Lords, it is seven years since the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people and devastated the lives of countless others. We owe it to them, and to all those still living in buildings deemed to be unsafe, to find a route to full remediation that excludes innocent tenants and innocent leaseholders from any of the costs.

As the Minister stated, the Building Safety Act included the measures that the Government intended to take to enforce the cost of remediation on those who developed the buildings. They should also have included a route to impose the costs of remediation on those who used the flammable cladding. I know that the Minister referenced this but to date, seven years on, the Government have not been able to find a route to force the three substantial manufacturers that the Minister named to accept responsibility and accept that they ought to pay towards the costs of remediation.

Then there are the construction companies that omitted fire breaks, relied on false material-testing outcomes and relied on building inspectors contracted by the very same construction company. We Liberal Democrats have said from the very beginning, seven years ago, that whatever legislation is passed to put these wrongs right, leaseholders must not pay a penny.

Through the Building Safety Act and this statutory instrument, the Government have focused entirely on the developers. Of course, that is right, but there are government responsibilities here as well. I am talking about all Governments, not necessarily this one. Thirty years ago, those who privatised the Building Research Establishment and the British Board of Agrément enabled building control inspectors to become independent of the local planning authority. All these policy decisions played a part in enabling the Grenfell disaster. I say that because that has been said in the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

No doubt, when the inquiry publishes its findings, hopefully sometime this year, it will expose these facts and attribute relative responsibilities. Meanwhile, these regulations are draconian; in many cases rightly so. However, there are inevitably some unforeseen consequences. The first of these relates to developers that are brought into the scheme and discover that, following intrusive building inspections, their developments need no further action. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I have obviously had access to the same lobbying material from those in the industry who are concerned about some aspects of these regulations.

The principle is sound; the implementation is leading to some circumstances in which those who are not responsible will be required to fund remediation for which they have no part to play. The issues arise, first, from the criteria the Government have set. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, pointed to, these are around profitability—so those developers that were unprofitable but nevertheless built these faulty and dangerous buildings are excluded. I am sure the Government did not intend that to be the case, so I hope the Minister will point to the way in which that will not happen. It does not seem right at all, because we know how companies can evade some of the requirements put on them.

The next area has again been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, but I want to emphasise some of it. I remember the debates on the Building Safety Act. Initially, it was all about trying to ensure that only those developers and construction companies, and those who knowingly supplied flammable cladding—I am still waiting for that bit; I say “knowingly” as it is in the evidence of the Grenfell Tower inquiry—would be made liable for the remediation cost. That is fair and is absolutely the right thing to do. Those who did these things knowingly must be made to pay for them, but not those who did not. Unfortunately, the great scoop of these regulations will pull in some companies and developers that built blocks of flats of over 11 metres but kept to the rules that existed at the time. That does not seem right.

Another issue with these regulations—I am sure that the Minister will recognise this as an unforeseen outcome of them—is that I could see no way by which developers, once they join the scheme and then assess their buildings, at a considerable cost, are able to leave the scheme if they find that there is no action to be taken. This issue was in the lobbying material as well. Perhaps the Minister will either give me an assurance that they can or point me to where it says that they can leave, because that would be helpful.

There is another issue with these regulations, which are very extensive. Many developers are part of a wider family of companies, some of which will have had no part to play in development. That family of companies is being brought into the scheme and could be sanctioned, even if it is a company that has nothing to do with development. That does not seem right either, and I am sure the Government did not want it to happen. It would be foolish, but the sanctions are automatic.

This is all about the unforeseen outcomes of some draconian regulations, which I support. But we have to try to find a way in which good players are able to escape the scheme, and the sanctions and obligations that are part of it.

I will now raise the consequential impact of these regulations on local planning authorities. I remind the Committee that I am a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I notice that there is an impact assessment, and calculations have been made of additional costs, but I am not sure that it has taken into account the differential impacts on local planning authorities across the country. The regulations will have very little impact on some, and a major impact on others. For those on which there will be a major impact, there will be expectations of additional members of staff, either in building inspection or as local planners. That does not seem to have been raised in the impact assessment as a calculation of costs to local planning authorities. I know the Minister agrees with the “new burdens” philosophy—the agreement that any new burdens that the Government impose will be met in full—so will the costs be met in full and, importantly, over the lifetime of these regulations?

Secondly, in her opening remarks—for which I thank her—the Minister emphasised social housing remediation a couple of times. Can she remind us where the costs for essential remediation of social housing—either local authority housing or social housing providers—will come from?

My next point is about the end date for the regulations. It seems that they are designed to respond to a specific set of issues so, once all the remediation work has been done, will the regulations cease? I could not find a sunset clause; should there be one? Otherwise, we will have sets of regulations that are no longer relevant.

Finally, I remind the Minister that these regulations address the safety issues facing only those who live in buildings that are more than 11 metres high. She will know what I am about to say, because I feel very strongly about it: those living in blocks that are 11 metres or lower are being forgotten. The leaseholders who live there still face extortionate insurance costs, for example, and many are still trapped in their flats, unable to sell. My big ask of the Minister is this: will she agree to meet those of us in the House who are concerned about this situation to discuss it and see whether we can find a way forward? It is not going away. The Government have tried; I am not pointing fingers. It is just that this is where we are, and we have to try to find a solution.

In conclusion, I totally support these regulations, with the caveats that I have explained. I want them to succeed, but I want the Minister and the Government to think about the unconsidered consequences. I look forward to what she has to say in response.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register as a councillor at both district and county level and as a vice-president of the District Councils’ Network, though not the LGA—yet.

I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations, which we welcome. I am sure all noble Lords want every possible step taken to support leaseholders and to speed up the remediation of these unsafe buildings. Perhaps it is my inexperience in this House, but would it not be more appropriate for legislation with 43 clauses to be considered properly, as a Bill, rather than as regulations? We understand how urgent this is, so if the Minister has done it as a matter of expediency, perhaps she could confirm that it could not have been achieved in another way, allowing full scrutiny of all the issues raised by noble Lords this afternoon.

Some of these issues, including those around eligibility, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and those around housing associations, social housing and other actors, as raised by the Minister, show that further work on this—what amounts to a mini-Bill—might have been helpful. I think there is probably another piece of work to be done on the issues we have heard about construction materials.

We have worked constructively with the Government through the drafting of legislation to improve building and fire safety and will continue to do so. It is unfortunate that here we are now—I am sorry to contradict the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock—I believe six years on from the dreadful events of Grenfell Tower.

It is unfortunate that we are only now starting to make some progress on the essential remediation works that will allow leaseholders to sleep easily in their beds and begin to get their financial plans and aspirations back on track. I appreciate that some well-intentioned developers have done work in the meantime, but the regulatory framework supporting it is only now coming into play.

I pay tribute to the tireless campaigning groups, both those directly associated with Grenfell and others such as the Cladiators group in my area, driven by Sophie Bichener. I know the Minister is very familiar with Sophie’s case so I will not reiterate all the details, but the firebreaks referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, are a good example of non-cladding-related building fire safety jeopardy. Without these campaigns, we would almost certainly be no nearer having this leaseholder limbo resolved.

The fact that 48 developers have now signed up to the remediation contract is a significant step forward; there is no doubt about that. However, signing up is one thing and action is another. We hope that things will start to move much more quickly now. What steps is the department taking to ensure that developers move as quickly as possible on the remediation steps, and how will it monitor, challenge and enforce where appropriate?

We hope that the reports of full risk assessments by major developers to determine which defects need resolution and which do not are not simply a further device to delay essential works. Can the Minister tell us whether any deadlines are being set for all such risk assessments to be completed?

We would also like some reassurance about how leaseholders will be kept informed and updated on progress. Does this responsibility fall on the developers? If so, how will the department ensure that it has been carried out?

In his Statement on 14 March 2023, the Secretary of State rightly said:

“Those who are responsible must pay”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/3/23; col. 727.]

While we welcome the fact that 48 builders have already signed up, it is extremely disappointing that some have still refused to do so. We are aware that the Secretary of State has rightly been very robust in his language in trying to bring builders that have not yet signed the contracts into line with those that have. We absolutely support this robust approach and hope that it is successful. If not, as the Secretary of State has clearly stated, such developers will be prohibited from further development. We have heard more about that this afternoon.

It would be helpful to know how such a ban will be enforced. The Minister has set out some further information relating to the enforcement process but it would be helpful to know how it will work. Is it to be done by the department or will it be a new burden on local government—as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock—and will that new burden be fully funded?

We welcome any action to address the building safety crisis, but the remediation contract and responsible actors scheme are still only a partial fix to the problem—in part, owing to the more limited scope of the definition of a relevant defect used in the remediation contract—compared to the Building Safety Act. Signing the contract will not obligate developers to fix all life-critical fire safety defects as defined by the Building Safety Act 2022. The Government acknowledge this in the Explanatory Memorandum, where they state:

“The developer self-remediation approach, and the RAS, is to be expanded over time to cover other developers who developed or refurbished defective 11m+ residential buildings and should pay to fix them”.

Is it intended to extend the contract in future to cover all life-critical fire safety defects? We also have a particular concern regarding the number of buildings covered by the contract. The department itself estimates that only 1,500 buildings will be remediated as a result of the contract, whereas credible estimates put the total number in need of remediation at around 10,000.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee comments that

“between 6,220 and 8,890 mid-rise (11 to 18 metres) residential buildings required work to alleviate life-critical fire safety risks due to external wall systems”.

How does the Minister envisage this being resolved and what is the timescale? How many of the outstanding buildings beyond the 1,500 are the responsibility of those developers that have refused to sign the contract?

Meanwhile, ACM cladding remains on faulty high-rise buildings, with remediation not having even started on 22 of them. The building safety fund for remediation of non-ACM cladding and other fire safety defects on high-rise buildings is proceeding at a glacial pace, with just 37 buildings having completed remediation out of the 1,225 applications for funding. The building safety fund for non-ACM high-rise remediation was rated as red in the Infrastructure and Projects Authority annual report for 2022, falling from amber the year before, meaning, to quote the report:

“Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed”.

Many leaseholders in unsafe buildings waited patiently for years for building safety fund applications to be processed by the department, only to see them terminated. What guarantees are there that any building covered by the contract will not face additional delays to remediation work? Although we welcome the further action proposed in the regulations, some questions remain outstanding. How will leaseholders in buildings with defects outside the scope of the contract get them remediated?

With reference to developer obligations to identify, assess and remediate unsafe buildings, the contract stipulates that they must be carried out “as soon as reasonably practicable”. What assurances can be given to affected leaseholders of their ability to enforce this to ensure that developers are acting within a reasonable timeframe? What is the point of contact in the department and what powers will be used to support them? Why are buildings that are part of national infrastructure exempt? Surely, people working in or living close to such buildings should expect at least as great a level of protection, if not more.

I note the Minister’s comments about prohibited persons, but it is difficult to see how the use of new entities will not avoid those prohibitions and, without sanctions on that, where is the incentive not to do so? Can the Minister explain how new developers will be brought into the regulatory framework?

The Minister raised the critical issue of construction products. Will we receive further regulations on this? It seems they may be necessary. There was a Question today in your Lordships’ House on the manufacturers of construction products used in schools. Surely the manufacturers of construction products must be responsible for adequate safety testing of materials they produce.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about work for remediation of buildings under 11 metres. What assessment has been done by the department of the extent of those issues in lower-rise buildings?

To reiterate, we welcome the additional regulations and encourage the Minister and the Secretary of State to be as robust as is necessary to bring these long-drawn-out issues to a stage of remediation and resolution. We hope that the department will use every power it has to deal with those who are not looking to do the right thing and live up to their responsibilities. The leaseholders in these buildings have been faced with a living nightmare. We owe it to them to get these issues resolved without any further delay.

I thank the noble Lords who have contributed today. I open my remarks and answers to the questions asked by saying that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, is absolutely right: six years ago, 72 people died; that is what we are talking about today and why this is such an important statutory instrument. To the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, I say that this is secondary legislation to the Building Safety Act 2022; that is how it comes in today.

I move on to answering questions. A number were asked by all three noble Lords, so excuse me if I do not mention each name but I will try to remember them. First, the Government believe that it is fair and reasonable that developers that meet the prescribed eligibility criteria for the responsible actors scheme, including a profit threshold, should be asked to assess whether they have developed relevant buildings that require remediation, and remediate those buildings.

We believe it is appropriate that the Government create a level playing field with consequences for eligible developers that opt not to make these important commitments. The obligations under the scheme and contracts for developers with no buildings to remediate are very modest once they have done the necessary work to check and confirm that they have developed no buildings requiring remediation work. As I said in my speech, an eligible developer that substantially satisfies its obligations under the regulations and the self-remediation terms may be released from the scheme. I think that answers the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. We are engaging with a number of developers about the developer remediation contract, and I hope they will respond positively to that engagement.

I move on to the issue of construction product manufacturers. I know that this is a concern of noble Lords and it is an important one. I reiterate that the Secretary of State made clear in a recent letter to the major institutional shareholders in the three companies most involved—Kingspan, Arconic and Saint-Gobain—that, if an appropriate financial package is not agreed, the focus of the department will be trained on them, and the consequences for the relevant construction product manufacturers are likely to be severe. We can do this only one stage at a time, but they are next in line. The Secretary of State made it clear that reputational, legal, commercial or further new tools could all be considered if these firms do not do the right thing.

My noble friend Lord Naseby asked: who says that these buildings are unsafe? The Government believe that it is fair and reasonable that the developers that meet the prescribed eligibility criteria for the RAS, including a profits threshold, should be asked to assess whether they have developed relevant buildings that require remediation. I do not think that is unreasonable.

My noble friend also asked why we were focused on profits. We have used the £10 million average operating profits threshold to make sure that the initial phase of the scheme captures larger, more profitable businesses and those that have developed the majority of the affected buildings.

My noble friend also asked about the application of prohibitions to group companies. An eligible non-member of the scheme will be prohibited along with the entities that they control, so it is not all group companies and an exception is available for entities controlled by an eligible non-member that is not in the building industry. Developers can have quite complex business relationships both here and abroad, and we need to capture those as well.

That takes me on to foreign developers. I thought I made it clear that any overseas-based developer that meets the eligibility criteria in the regulations will be eligible for the scheme. The eligibility criteria do not distinguish between overseas-based and UK-based companies. Several developers that have signed the developer remediation contract have overseas parent companies at the moment. Looking beyond the responsible actors scheme, the building safety levy will be tied to the building safety process in England. Qualifying projects will be required to pay the levy regardless of where the developer is based. I hope that answers the question about that.

I think I have answered the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Where members have satisfied the Secretary of State that they have done everything they should, their membership can then cease.

I knew the noble Baroness would bring up the point about buildings under 11 metres. I am sorry that there is nothing more to say, but I will reiterate what I have already said for Hansard, because it is important. The scheme and the developer remediation contracts cover residential buildings over 11 metres. That reflects the risk to life from historical fire safety defects, which is much lower in buildings under 11 metres. Therefore, building safety-related remediation works are required in a very small number of buildings under 11 metres. We discussed this at length in the debates on the Bill and I am not sure I can say any more, except that, in very rare cases where remediation work is needed, the responsibility for the costs of fixing the historical building safety defects should—and does—still rest with the building owner. They should not pass these costs on to leaseholders but seek to recover them from those responsible for building unsafe homes in the first place. I am more than happy to meet the noble Baroness and any other noble Lords to discuss this further if she would like to. I will get my office to get in touch with her.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, also raised social housing remediation. Registered providers are already responsible in law for the safety of their buildings, and the Government are working with the Regulator of Social Housing to strengthen oversight of buildings developed for registered providers by developers covered under the RAS contract. Registered providers can access government remediation schemes for funding. It is covered, but under different legislation.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage, quite rightly asked about new burdens for local planning authorities. We are working closely with local authorities and local planning authorities to ensure a smooth implementation of the scheme. If any disproportional costs for local authorities and local planning authorities are identified, they will be addressed through the new burdens doctrine, as we normally would. Details of implementation of this will be set out in guidance to come.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, also asked about a lot of numbers and timings. If she does not mind, I will get those up-to-date figures and timings and will write a letter, copying it to all noble Lords. I will also ask the team to look at Hansard and make sure that anything I have not answered is put in the letter and answered at the same time.

To conclude, these draft regulations establish a responsible actor scheme to secure the safety of people in residential buildings, to protect leaseholders and taxpayers from costs and to ensure a level playing field where any developer eligible for the scheme that does not take responsibility for remediating unsafe residential buildings will face serious consequences. As I have said, there is of course much more to do, and the Government intend to expand the scheme in future, but I hope the Committee will welcome this important step forward.

Motion agreed.

Building Safety Act 2022 (Consequential Amendments etc.) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Building Safety Act 2022 (Consequential Amendments etc.) Regulations 2023.

My Lords, these regulations will make technical but important changes to the language used in existing legislation, bringing it into line with the new terminology and processes introduced by the Building Safety Act 2022.

I will start by providing some context for these regulations. After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government recognised the need for an overhaul of our building safety regime. In 2017 we appointed Dame Judith Hackitt to conduct an expert review of the current regime. Her review identified the need for significant cultural and regulatory change, including recommendations focused on the building control process.

Part of the Government’s response to these building control recommendations included the introduction of provisions in Section 33 of the Building Safety Act that repeal Section 16 of the Building Act 1984. The Government consulted on these provisions, and they were subject to pre-legislative scrutiny ahead of formal consideration of the Building Safety Act.

Section 16 made provision for the deposit of plans with local authorities before starting building work, as well as the passing or rejection of the plans. The information provided to building control was not always consistent, nor always sufficiently detailed for the work to be carried out.

Section 33 of the Building Safety Act, which has yet to be enacted, repeals Section 16 and provides instead for a new system of applications for building control approval. For higher-risk buildings, this means a more stringent system, with the building safety regulator the sole building control body. Applicants cannot proceed with work without explicit approval from the building safety regulator.

For non-higher-risk buildings, there is no significant change from the existing procedure. Local authorities and approved inspectors will remain responsible for supervising this work, and work can begin before approval is granted. Applicants do so at risk of having to uncover or change work and could face enforcement action. In addition, provisions in the Building Safety Act largely transfer procedures for appeals under the Building Act from the magistrates’ court to the specialist First-tier Tribunal.

The purpose of these regulations is to align the Highways Act 1980, the Clean Air Act 1993 and 13 local Acts with the terminology and processes that will be established when Section 33 of the Building Safety Act is enacted. Provisions in the Highways Act that relate to the payment of charges for street works when building control plans are deposited are amended to refer to new systems of applications for building control approval. Section 16 of the Clean Air Act is also amended. This section requires local authorities to check the height of proposed chimneys to ensure that they are tall enough to prevent smoke and particulates becoming prejudicial to health. It is amended to replace references to the deposit of plans with provisions that refer to applications for building control approval.

Similarly, 13 local Acts are also amended to replace definitions of the deposit of plans with provisions that instead refer to the new system of applications for building control approval. Further references to the deposit of plans in these acts are also updated to reflect the new terminology. Of the local Acts, 11 contain provisions relating to appeals to the magistrates’ courts. To align these Acts with the new procedure for appeals, the provisions are amended to direct appeals to the First-tier Tribunal. The instrument also contains a transitional provision providing that consequential amendments do not apply to plans for building work deposited before the date on which the regulations come into force.

I wish to reassure noble Lords that they will have the opportunity to scrutinise the specific requirements of the new system of applications for building control approval. These requirements were subject to consultation in 2022 and will be set out in a number of statutory instruments that amend the Building Regulations 2010 and provide for new building control procedures et cetera for higher-risk buildings. The Government will lay these instruments in the coming months.

The Government intend to bring both these consequential amendments regulations and the regulations that create the new building control system into force in the autumn. Without these consequential changes, the provisions of the Highways Act, the Clean Air Act and the 13 local Acts will cease to operate as they do now, as they will no longer have meaning once Section 33 of the Building Safety Act is brought into force. I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I commend them to the Committee.

My Lords, I rise to comment on this statutory instrument and thank the Minister for the introduction she has given to it. It goes in partnership with Section 32, which is not yet in force. She has rightly drawn attention to the fact that it does not cover the question of the actual application process, which is going to be dealt with later. So it is rather a small cog in a very big machine to make sure that the system works effectively.

I do not propose to spend a lot of time commenting on the local building Acts, with which I once used to wrestle in a professional capacity. I am sure that rationalising those makes a great deal of sense, regardless of the building safety and high-rise issues driving this change.

I note the frequent references to the building safety regulator in what the Minister put to the Committee a few moments ago. I share her view that the regulator is an absolutely fundamental part of the new machinery and, clearly, will be pivotal to making sure that, ultimately, the machine moves and works. The Minister will know that I have already expressed my concern about proposed amendments that the Government have brought forward in the levelling-up Bill to potentially change who the regulator is, perhaps on a timescale that could very likely interact with the implementation of Section 32 and the bringing into force of a new application process. What consideration has the department given to the potential for this process and the very tightly drawn and carefully designed machinery, of which this is a small part, to continue to function—or, rather, begin to function—smoothly and without effort or distortion when the new system comes into play, as outlined in the levelling-up Bill amendments by the Government?

That is a matter that we will obviously return to at the Report stage of consideration of that Bill—I do not want to enter that debate now—but I hope the Minister will give us what reassurance she can that the machine of which this is a small cog is intended to continue working seamlessly in the event that the Government proceed with completely reshaping the building safety regulator sometime in the next two years.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the proposals in these regulations. Although it could be considered a minor amendment dealing with just consequential matters, in view of the overall context of building safety and the fact that this is one of a number of steps we are seeing to ensure that the very serious issues that have arisen from the Grenfell Tower disaster and others are taken seriously and acted upon, we need to treat all these regulations with a degree of seriousness.

We were very pleased to learn that proposals for new building regulations were consulted on last year and that new regulations will come forward before the Summer Recess for enactment in the autumn. We look forward to hearing about the new process. As we are not able to amend these through the regulation process, I ask the Minister whether we will have the opportunity to see them in draft form before they come through to us.

Two aspects relating to building safety and building control that have emerged in recent years are, first, that the transfer to the private sector—the deregulation —of building control did not anticipate that there would be an impact on the quality or availability of the building control function. Neither did it anticipate the dilution of the independence of the building control function from the development industry.

Secondly, we hope that, as new regulations are developed, attention will be paid to the capacity, resources, recruitment and retention of the building control inspectors to ensure that they are sufficient to deal with what we hope will be tighter regulation for building safety in future.

We note the transfer of the appeals procedure to the First-tier Tribunal. Can we be reassured that the First-tier Tribunal will have sufficient resources to enable it to deal with those new duties? In view of the glacial pace of progress on building safety matters that leaseholders have had to endure, it would be unfortunate in the extreme if the level of appeals resulted in unacceptable backlogs and were not dealt with promptly. It will also be essential that matters such as stop notices are able to be progressed without delay. I hope the resources are there to deal with that.

I thank noble Lords for that and for their brevity; I think that was right, considering that these are quite technical matters. It is important that many of the things brought up by both noble Lords will be discussed further when we bring the building control SIs to the Committee later in the year. In particular, the question of whether building control remains as professional and regulated as currently is an important issue. That has to happen, and we will have that debate.

I was also interested in the capacity of tribunals; that is always important. We know that the magistrates’ courts are probably where a lot of things are being held up. I quite agree that the First-tier Tribunals must have the capacity to be able to deal with things in a timely manner.

As far as the building safety regulator and the LURB are concerned, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will work to ensure that all these parts of building safety work together and that there is no black hole between one and the other. That will take some timings; I am sure that we will discuss that further before it happens. If the LURB goes through, there will be SIs to change the regulator and to ensure that everything works in a timely manner and nothing is lost in the meantime. I can assure noble Lords that we will work towards that end. To conclude—

Before the Minister moves on, it would be really helpful to understand the entire role of the building safety regulator. There has been a lot of heavy lifting as we have gone through the process of the LURB and the Building Safety Act, and it would be really helpful if the entire scope of the building safety regulator could be set out somewhere.

I am more than happy to write to the noble Baroness, and copy in the Library, about what we foresee that to be, although that concerns the LURB and not this instrument. I am happy to have a meeting on that, if necessary, before we go into that part of the LURB on Report.

As I said, these regulations will ensure that the Highways Act, the Clean Air Act and the 13 local Acts will continue to function as intended when the new system of applications for building control approval is brought into force. I hope the Committee will join me in supporting these regulations.

Motion agreed.

Environmental Protection (Plastic Plates etc. and Polystyrene Containers etc.) (England) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Environmental Protection (Plastic Plates etc. and Polystyrene Containers etc.) (England) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 43rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I declare my farming and land management interests as set out in the register. These regulations were laid before the House on 23 May.

The purpose of this instrument is to restrict the supply of single-use plastic plates, bowls and trays and to ban the supply of single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drink containers, including cups. The instrument applies to England only, as environmental protection is a devolved matter. I will cover both the purpose and the impact of the instrument, starting with the former.

It is the Government’s ambition to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. The Government’s 25-year environment plan and the resources and waste strategy outline the steps that we will take to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Government measures focus on extracting maximum value from plastic materials by making sure that we keep it in circulation for longer, moving away from a “take, make, throw” model and shifting towards a circular economy. Single-use plastic items are especially problematic, as they are typically littered or discarded to general waste, rather than recycled. This is due to the difficulties involved in segregating, cleaning and processing them.

The instrument will restrict and ban commonly littered single-use plastic items that we so often see polluting our environment and are frequently reported in beach litter surveys. These items can endanger wildlife and damage habitats. As well as causing damage to biodiversity, there are also costs associated with their clean-up. It is estimated that the UK spends more than £15 million a year removing beach litter. This does not include the costs imposed on our tourism and fishing industries, which are also impacted.

As is well understood, plastic eventually breaks down into microplastics, ending up in our soils and seas and eventually permeating our food chains. The full impact of microplastics is still being uncovered, especially the impacts on human health. Therefore, to build on the success of other single-use plastic item bans and our carrier bag charge, further action is needed to curtail the use of problematic single-use plastic items and their release into the environment.

Turning to the impact of the statutory instrument, we acknowledge the ongoing voluntary action being taken by industry to reduce the use of these items, led by the UK Plastics Pact. These new regulations will support that and ensure that all businesses move to more sustainable alternatives.

To inform the regulations, we gathered key stakeholder views by running a public consultation on these measures between November 2021 and February 2022. This showed overwhelming support for the regulations, with more than 80% of respondents supporting their introduction. We also consulted businesses, the NHS and charities to determine the scope of the regulations. To minimise the impact on small businesses, we have given a nine-month lead-time since the announcement of the ban.

It is intended that this instrument will come into force on 1 October this year. From then, it will make it an offence to supply single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks and certain types of polystyrene, with no exemptions. The ban on the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays and bowls applies only when supplied to the end user —typically a consumer, who will use them for their intended purpose. Businesses can continue to supply these items to other businesses. This allows single-use plastic plates, trays and bowls to continue to be used for packaging, as defined in Regulation 3 of the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015. This is to avoid confusion with the Government’s proposals for extended producer responsibility for packaging, which will give producers responsibility for the costs of their packaging throughout its lifecycle. However, it is important to stress in all cases that we encourage businesses to use reusable alternatives where practical.

We are determined to get this right, and it is vital that businesses and the public are informed about what they can and cannot do. We have recently published guidance for businesses and will publish our guidance for local authorities in advance of this instrument coming into force. The guidance will assist manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and the public in understanding the enforcement and sanctions regime. Defra intends to further raise awareness by meeting local authority representatives to provide further clarity and support on the restrictions and exemptions, and to empower trading standards officers to carry out effective enforcement.

This instrument also makes amendments to the Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020 and the Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (England) Regulations 2017. These are to amend the civil sanctions provisions in those instruments to provide for fixed monetary penalties, instead of variable monetary penalties. This will ensure consistency with the civil sanctions provisions in this instrument and make enforcement easier for local authorities. The amendments to the 2020 regulations also omit a transitional provision relating to medical devices, which is no longer needed. Finally, I should mention a typographical error in the instrument as laid in draft. The heading preceding Regulation 14, “Part 1—Amendments”, should read “Part 6”. I confirm that our intention is to have this corrected in the draft instrument before it is made.

To conclude, these new regulations send a strong signal to industry and the public that we need to think carefully about the products we buy and the materials from which they are made. This instrument will bring us a step closer to protecting the environment and reducing the risk of harm to human health and marine life. I commend the draft regulations to the House.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend and welcome him to a speaking role on the Government Bench this afternoon.

I broadly welcome the regulations before us—I just have some queries, which I shall address. In so far as it goes, the ban is very welcome. We are told that the instrument

“bans the supply of single-use of plastic cutlery and balloon sticks and EPS/XPS food and drink containers in England”.

But at paragraph 7.4, the Explanatory Memorandum goes on to say that the,

“ban does not apply to the supply of a single-use plastic plate, tray, or bowl that is packaging as defined in regulation 3 of the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015”.

Apparently, that is to do with extended producer responsibility. Would it not have been better if it had been absorbed in these regulations? From the point of view of producers and users, it would be clearer what is being banned under the instrument and what is not.

The Explanatory Memorandum goes on, at paragraph 7.7, to state that

“there are exemptions to the restriction on the supply to the end user of single-use plastic stemmed cotton buds and single-use plastic straws for single-use plastic-stemmed buds and single-use plastic straws”.

Are they totally exempt? My concern, particularly with single-use plastic buds, is that people often do not know how to dispose of them and regrettably put them down the loo. They then end up in rivers, seas and places that they should not, which is why they get washed up on the beach. Unless they are specifically for medical purposes, as paragraph 7.7 says, I would be interested to know what categories are exempt.

I am struggling to understand what has happened with wet wipes. Have we already banned them? If not, why not? I remember that a lot was said about that during the passage of the Environment Act. The reason I ask about it is because I was with someone from the National Infrastructure Commission yesterday who seemed to think that they had not been banned. I am not completely up to date on that, and I would be interested to know.

The cost of the instrument is not insignificant. We are told that in 2019 prices, 2020 present value, the net cost to business per year will be £10.2 million. How has that figure been reached? It is quite sizable.

The Green Alliance has expressed concerns in its very helpful briefing, which it shared with me in preparation for this afternoon. It asks for reassurance from the Government that the regulations will not simply lead to switching from one use of an unnecessary single-use item to other unnecessary uses of non-plastic items that might be equally difficult to dispose of. It begs the question as to whether the Government or the department are going to give any advice as to which alternative materials to plastic might be used, and what assessment they have made, whether they are made from wood or alternatives—possibly compacted paper, I do not know—of the impact they might have on the environment.

My noble friend said at the outset that this is a devolved matter. It is interesting to see that Wales, Scotland and parts of the EU such as France have gone further. France, I understand, is banning disposable cutlery altogether, and the EU is considering targets for the reuse and reduction of some materials. Given the Government’s commitment, which my noble friend stated at the outset, to leaving the environment in a good or better state, should we not be going as far as we possibly can? I understand also that Wales, in line with the EU, is intending to ban highly damaging oxo-degradable plastics; apparently the Government are not minded to do that at the moment.

If we are going to go for wooden cutlery and wooden materials, we should be very conscious of the fact that many of these materials come from third countries such as Brazil. In the Amazon area, there is a deforestation programme with which I think the Government themselves are very unhappy. Where will these alternative wooden materials be sourced from to ensure that we are indeed leaving the environment in a better state? With those few remarks, overall I applaud and welcome the regulations.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this statutory instrument. Having been around for the previous SI on the banning of microbeads in washable products and plastic straws and stirrers, there are familiar elements. Although single-use plastic straws are already banned, reusable plastic straws are readily available in some bigger supermarkets. Having bought a packet of these for my granddaughter, I can see that they are not reusable due to the difficulty in cleaning them, and that they have a very limited shelf life.

I regret to say that I found the Explanatory Memorandum contradictory and confusing. I am afraid that the Minister has already read paragraph 2.1 out, but I am going to do so again. It says:

“This instrument is being made to restrict the supply of single-use plastic plates, bowls, and trays and ban the supply of single-use plastic cutlery and balloon sticks and expanded and foamed extruded polystyrene … food and drink containers, including cups”.

That is quite clear and understandable. However, if we move to paragraph 6.5, the EM states that

“the market access principles of the UKIM Act will only apply to this instrument in respect of the restriction it introduces to the supply of single-use plastic bowls and trays”.

That may not be contradictory to those who wrote this SI, but I fear it certainly is to me. It also seems that paragraphs 6.4 and 6.5 are something of a “get out of jail free” option. The issue about clarity is one I will return to later.

Single-use plastic bowls and trays, although banned in England, can still be produced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since there is no border between the devolved Administrations, these items will be brought into England. As the supply of all the items listed in paragraph 2.1 to the end-user are banned, this will cause some confusion.

However, it does not apply to single-use plastic bowls and trays if they are used as containers for food at the point of sale in a takeaway. One of the most pernicious forms of litter containing plastic is that which not only occurs around fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King but is strewn around the countryside, where it has been thrown out of car windows or left littering roadside lay-bys. I am struggling to see why these exemptions are being allowed. Can the Minister explain why this is to be permitted into the future? Are the Government relying solely on the extended producer responsibility legislation to sort this issue out?

I turn to the consultation which Defra conducted; the Minister has referred to this. From 20 November 2021 to 12 February 2022, an extensive consultation took place. A good response from all sides was received, with 95% of the public and non-governmental organisations supporting all the bans. However, businesses were less enthusiastic, with 20% opposing any kind of a ban on single-use plastic. On 16 January this year, a further consultation took place by way of a notice in the London Gazette, plus a weblink to the GOV.UK website and Defra’s “relevant” stakeholders, as the department put it. The timeframe for response was 15 days; not surprisingly, there was a small response. Can the Minister say just how small that response was?

I was interested to see that the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers responded on the enforcement issues; I should declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. It is generally accepted that trading standards officers are under enormous pressure already. They are now being asked to enforce this SI and collect the fixed penalty fines, in accordance with the future published guidance.

The regulations will come into force on the 24th day after they have been made. We are debating them today, 20 June; they will doubtless be on the Order Paper tomorrow, 21 June, for agreement in the Chamber. This means that they will come into force on 15 July. Can the Minister assure us that the guidance will be published before 15 July so that trading standards officers know exactly what they are expected to do and how to execute their functions successfully?

Small businesses employing up to 50 people will have over nine months’ grace in which to implement these regulations from the date of the consultation. Can the Minister say whether this is the consultation which ended in February 2022 or the one from January this year, which was somewhat limited?

I turn now to the penalty, or fine. This is fixed at £200 and is a one-off, no matter how many offences there are. It can be reduced to £100 if it is paid within 28 days—a bit like a parking fine. Having looked at the SI—I may have missed it—I cannot see who exactly will be charged with the penalty. Is it the manufacturer, the retailer or the end-user? The level of fine appears to indicate that it is the end-user who will pay. Can the Minister provide clarification, please?

The extensive section in the SI on non-compliance gives the opposite impression. Here the inference is that the manufacturer will be liable for up to 100% of the cost of the compliance notice if they do not comply. As I said earlier, this SI is not transparent but confusing and contradictory.

Nor does the SI go far enough, and I am concerned about the plastics that it does not cover. Oxo-degradable plastics are designed to fragment in the presence of oxygen, but will not break down at all, or only extremely slowly, in environments with relatively low concentrations of oxygen, such as marine environments, or if covered by soil or buried in a compost bin. Wales, which has an international reputation for recycling and waste management, has banned the use of oxo-degradable plastics as they are regarded as one of the most pernicious types of plastic and a source of damaging microplastics. The EU has also banned them. Do the Government have any plans to ban the use of oxo-degradable plastics in England?

There is also the issue of substitution, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. If single-use plastics are banned, what other unnecessary non-plastic single-use materials are likely to be used as a replacement? The Environment Act 2021 gives powers to implement charges for single-use items, which have so far not been used. What plans do the Government have to begin charging for non-plastic single-use items?

Lastly, the UK internal market is referred to in the SI. What plans do the Government have to conduct a post-implementation review of the 2020 Act? The Act has implications for the Government’s environmental ambitions to leave the environment in a better state than they found it, to which the Minister referred in his opening remarks. I am not convinced that the SI moves us much closer to the Government’s goal.

My Lords, I fear that I will shortly be interrupted by a Division. I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, to his place. As Defra will be a recurring theme in his diary, I look forward to working with him in the months ahead.

I am a proud resident of the Potteries, which means that I am not sure why anybody would want to eat or drink from anything other than Stoke-on-Trent-made ceramic plates and mugs—the most sustainable containers from which to eat and drink—yet we find ourselves here to discuss far less sustainable alternatives. It should therefore come as no surprise to the Minister that His Majesty’s Opposition will support this SI. The Labour Party is committed to removing single-use plastics as quickly as possible and moving on to sustainable and, I hope, ceramic alternatives.

However, I am sure it will not surprise the Minister, especially following the interventions so far, that I have a few questions on the detail of the SI and the consultation, implementation and next steps. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, highlighted, does the Minister really think that 15 days was an appropriate timescale to consult business, local authorities and key stakeholders on the implementation plan and detail of this significant change in regulation and permissible products that are used extensively in nearly every community in the country?

Paragraph 10.8 of the Explanatory Memorandum notes that His Majesty’s Government notified the World Trade Organization of the draft instrument on 21 March 2023 and that:

“No objections have been made pursuant to notification”.

Given that WTO processes are incredibly slow, would we have expected objections within that timeframe? Were any representations made by the WTO which stopped short of being formal objections?

Paragraphs 6.4 and 6.5 of the EM outline the exemption under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act that means that single-use bowls and trays legally produced in or imported into other parts of the UK can be sold in England, irrespective of this ban. Can the Minister inform the Committee whether Defra has done any modelling on how many items are likely to make use of this exemption? What are the process and timescale for conducting the post-implementation review of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, in which the implications for the environmental ambition of the UK Government should be considered?

Paragraph 11.1 confirms that the policy will be enforced by local authorities and their trading standards officers. There has been a 56% reduction in the collective budgets for trading standards since 2009. Given the direct impact that these austerity cuts have had on the capacity of trading standards teams, what assessment, if any, have His Majesty’s Government undertaken of their ability to take on this additional task? These cuts have not been universal in their application, so what efforts is the Minister making to mitigate potential differentiation of enforcement across local authority areas, and how is this being kept under review?

Paragraph 12.2 talks about potential extra costs for consumers, with 60% of the total costs for retailers likely to be passed on. Given that the current rate of food inflation is running at 16.5% as of today and that we are living through an associated cost of living crisis, what discussions is Defra having with retailers to mitigate the costs being passed on?

I think we all prefer to eat off a ceramic plate—or at least we all should—but sometimes convenience wins out and disposal alternatives are necessary. In those instances, we have a responsibility to make sure that convenience is delivered with the least harm to our natural environment.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for their important contributions to this debate. These measures do not seek to solve the problem of single-use plastic in one go. However, they are an important part of a wider strategy to tackle plastic pollution and serve as an important marker that our reliance on single-use plastics must be reduced. I will address some of the points raised in the debate.

All Peers raised the consultation period. A public consultation around the policy area was carried out from November 2021 to February 2022. I understand that the consultation period on the SI itself was shorter. However, given the correlation between the two themes, it is our view that the public consultation period was long enough to address this SI. Responses from members of the public and non-governmental organisations demonstrated overwhelming support for our proposals, with 95% in favour of all bans. However, responses from businesses were varied, understandably, with approximately 20% opposing all bans, while others were supportive of the proposals but highlighted areas for further consideration to make sure that bans do not have unintended consequences.

We also engaged with relevant sectors, such as the NHS and disability charities, to determine whether any exemptions were needed. Our determination was that no medical exemptions were needed for these bans. We conducted an impact assessment, which covered banning the supply of single-use food and beverage containers made from expanded or extruded polystyrene, or EPS, in England, and banning the supply of single-use plastic plates and cutlery to the end-user in England. A de minimis assessment was carried out for the ban on single-use plastic balloon sticks in line with better regulation guidance, as the annual net direct cost to businesses was estimated to be less than £5 million. All received green ratings from the Regulatory Policy Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent, talked about costs to businesses and consumers. This is very much about reducing the cost to the environment, so this one SI is not meant to tackle all costs in society.

My Lords, I was asking about additional costs on food-related products during a cost of living crisis, especially given evidence today suggesting that more people are having to use microwaves rather than ovens. This would potentially be covered by this SI, meaning that there will be an additional cost to the consumer. I asked specifically what debate and discussions the Minister and the department are having with retailers to mitigate the costs being passed on at this time.

I absolutely take the point and I am not downplaying it; I am just saying that this SI is focused on single-use plastics. However, I would like to reassure the noble Baroness that we remain in constant conversation with food retailers and food service providers to make sure that excessive costs are not being put on consumers at this very difficult time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, raised the important issue of who will pay the charge. The supplier of the product will pay, not the end-user; I hope that provides some clarity. She also spoke about Scotland and Wales, the devolved nations. I think we are having a Division.

My Lords, there is indeed now a Division in the Chamber. The Committee will need to adjourn for 10 minutes. Does the Minister have much more to say? If not, we might be able to clear this instrument and start fresh after the Division with a new one. Otherwise, we will adjourn and pick up with him later.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, we were getting on to the topic of how some of the devolved nations are dealing with plastics and recycling. The Government’s view is that plastic pollution is a global challenge and, as such, we welcome ambitious actions from all Governments. All nations across the UK are making good progress on tackling these challenges. However, where areas are devolved, nations are able to act in ways that reflect their circumstances. For instance, the Government moved to introduce restrictions to the supply of single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in October 2022, ahead of the Scottish Government. We delayed those restrictions from earlier in 2020 to avoid additional burdens being faced by businesses on top of the challenges already posed by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We have to move at pace, but we also think it is right that each of the nations has the flexibility to address its most pressing problems in the timescale it wants.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned how the ban will be affected by the UK internal market Act. The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 (Exclusions from Market Access Principles: Single-Use Plastics) Regulations 2022 created an exclusion from the market access principles in Part 1 of that Act for legislation, so far as it prohibits the sale of single-use plastic plates, straws, drinks stirrers, stemmed cotton buds, cutlery, chopsticks and balloon sticks, and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drinks containers, including cups. This follows an agreement reached under the then provisional resources and waste common framework. This exclusion does not encompass single-use plastic bowls and trays. Therefore, the market access principles of the UK internal market Act will apply to this legislation in respect of those items.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked why there are no exemptions, as with plastic straws. Throughout our consultation and post-consultation engagement, we were able to determine that no exemptions were needed in any potential settings. This will give the SI the greatest positive environmental impact.

My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, also mentioned oxo-degradable plastics. We have prioritised work on introducing restrictions on single-use plastic plates, cutlery and balloon sticks and polystyrene food and drinks containers because, at this moment in time, that will have the greater impact on reducing plastic pollution. However, we are aware of oxo-degradable plastics.

I turn to the issue that my noble friend raised about wet wipes. In the Plan for Water published in April 2023, the Government announced their intention to ban wet wipes containing plastic, subject to a public consultation, which will be published in due course. Some 96% of respondents to our 2021 call for evidence supported a ban on wet wipes containing plastics. Therefore, we are keen to deliver this at pace, just not in this particular SI. More information on the proposed timings of any ban will be announced following the consultation.

We are working with local authorities and trading standards to ensure that any breaches of legislation are being enforced. If breaches are identified, it will be the responsibility of local authorities as regulators of the legislation to enforce it and tackle the pollution appropriately.

Just to clarify, on the trading standards point—we have seen something like 170 fewer trading standards officers in the past 12 years. They are spread in different areas; some local authorities now spend only 50p per resident, while others spend £4.50 per resident on their trading standards function. Can the Minister let me know either now or in writing how we are ensuring that this is being applied equally across all local authorities in the UK, given the varying regulatory framework that will exist and given the enforcement action—as in, the number of people that can enforce?

That is a fair question, although it is slightly out of Defra’s remit, so I think that the best thing to do would be to write to the noble Baroness in response to her question about trading standards officers.

To avoid duplication or confusion with our proposals for our extended producer responsibility scheme, bowls, plates and trays used as packaging by businesses will not be included in the ban. However, we strongly encourage businesses to explore how they can reduce the use of single-use items and move to reusable alternatives instead.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering rightly brought up the potential impact on businesses through the introduction of this SI. The largest cost is due to capital investment costs incurred by producers for adapting their production processes. Producers may also incur a loss of profits. Another large cost is due to wholesale prices of wooden cutlery and paper, and food and beverage containers, usually being larger than their plastic equivalents. Businesses will also incur familiarisation costs, additional waste management costs and additional fuel costs. On the question about single-use plastic cotton buds used for medical purposes, there are exemptions for use for forensic and scientific purposes—otherwise, they are totally banned.

If I have neglected to answer any questions, I shall consult Hansard, and do my best to write with an answer. Not wishing to detain the Grand Committee further, I conclude by thanking noble Lords for their contributions.

If my noble friend is unable to answer today, can he write to us on substituting wood for plastics and the knock-on effect that that would have on the environment and deforestation? I understand that that might be the responsibility of a different part of the department, but the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and I both asked about that. I understand that it is quite technical, so he could write to us.

Motion agreed.

Electricity and Gas (Energy Company Obligation) Order 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Electricity and Gas (Energy Company Obligation) Order 2023.

Relevant document: 43rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order, which was laid before the House on 24 May, be approved. Since it was introduced in 2013, the energy company obligation—ECO—scheme has ensured that around 2.4 million predominantly low-income households have received much-needed support to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. The Government committed in the Growth Plan 2022 and the energy security plan to place a new obligation on energy suppliers to deliver vital energy efficiency upgrades, helping hundreds of thousands more households to take action to reduce their energy bills by making their homes cheaper to heat.

The order delivers on these commitments by introducing a new energy company obligation, the Great British insulation scheme, to run until March 2026. Alongside establishing the GBI scheme, the order introduces some small additions to the existing ECO4 scheme, providing heating support for certain households which are not currently eligible for these measures.

I turn to the detail of the order. The order establishes the GBI scheme in law as a complement to the existing ECO scheme—ECO4—in Great Britain. Its main provisions are: an additional energy company obligation to run from 2023 to 2026, boosting previously planned energy-efficiency investments by another £1 billion across this period; a focus on the rapid installation of the most cost-effective, single insulation measures; and the extension of support through the ECO schemes to a much wider group of households living in the least energy-efficient homes in the lower council tax bands, who are also now challenged by higher energy bills.

The Great British insulation scheme will boost further the support already available through ECO4 that targets low-income and vulnerable households, those most at risk of being in fuel poverty. Energy suppliers must deliver at least 20% of the new help available through the scheme to these households. This low-income group will include those on means-tested benefits as well as households in the least energy-efficient social housing. Fuel-poor homes in the private rented sector will also benefit, building on the provisions of existing regulations.

Working alongside this low-income minimum, the scheme’s flexible eligibility provisions will offer additional routes to reach those on low incomes or in other ways vulnerable, such as through ill health, but where households may not be in receipt of benefits. These flexible eligibility provisions will enable local authorities, energy suppliers, Citizens Advice and the NHS to work together to help those most vulnerable to the effects of living in a cold home.

As with previous ECO schemes, the obligation will be set based on annual bill savings. This incentivises energy suppliers to target those homes where the savings from energy-efficient measures will be greatest, also installing those measures that will have greatest impact. The scoring approach for this will mirror that used for ECO4, minimising complexity and any bureaucracy for industry.

Installation quality will be governed and assured under TrustMark’s compliance and certification framework. The quality of installations, alongside a whole assessment of the property, will continue to rely on independent industry standards—in this case, the publicly available specifications PAS 2030 and PAS 2035. The order also adds to the circumstances in which some heating measures, particularly solar PV and electric heating, can be available for households within the existing ECO4 scheme.

As a direct result of the boost provided by the GBI scheme, we estimate that around 376,000 measures will be installed in around an additional 315,000 homes. This is expected to save households, on average, £300 to £400 per year. To help to insulate as many homes as possible before next winter, the order permits measures installed since 30 March to count towards the suppliers’ obligation target. This provision was signalled to energy suppliers in the Government’s response to their earlier consultation on scheme design, which was published on that date.

I turn for a moment to that earlier government consultation, which was conducted towards the end of 2022. The scheme design encapsulated in the order we are now considering takes forward the main provisions set out within that consultation. The majority of consultation responses supported the proposals, including as central features the extension of energy efficiency help to the wider household group and a focus on the most cost-effective, single-insulation measures.

The Government are therefore proceeding with the main proposals, with some key changes considering the responses received and the final impact assessment. We have expanded the eligible council tax bands in Wales from A to C to A to E, better aligning with the proportion of eligible households in England and Scotland. We are requiring all measures to be installed under the PAS2035 requirements due to the complexities of defining low-risk measures which could use any alternative standards.

We have removed the new scheme’s eligibility requirement for suppliers to evidence that low-income households cannot meet the ECO4 scheme minimum requirements to simplify administration. We have ensured that households supported under the GBIS will not be excluded from receiving future help under the ECO4 scheme, when the eligibility criteria for that scheme are, again, met.

We will uplift scores on measures delivered to low-income, rural off-gas households in Scotland and Wales, given the additional challenges these households are likely to face. Equivalent households in England will be supported via the home upgrade grant. Recognising the value of innovation, those innovative products offering the greatest improvements delivered to the low-income group will be eligible for both a 25% and 45% uplift, subject to a cap.

In conclusion, the GBIS will continue building on the successful ECO approach that has been delivering energy efficiency measures to millions of households now for the past decade. The scheme will extend help to hundreds of thousands more households previously ineligible for government energy efficiency scheme support. It will build momentum towards the Government’s ambition to reduce the total UK energy demand by 15% from 2021 levels by 2030. It is estimated that it will save more than 5 million tons of CO2 emissions over the lifetime of the measures installed. Finally, it will empower thousands more to insulate their homes, protecting the pounds in their pockets and, of course, helping to support jobs across the country. With that, I commend this order to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the order this afternoon, which I warmly welcome. I declare my interest as honorary president of National Energy Action, based in the north-east, an organisation with which I think my noble friend is very familiar. It welcomes the scheme but has one or two issues that it would like to understand better.

I ask my noble friend about the background to how the scheme has been introduced, because it could lead to unfairness in how the money is distributed. In particular, a potential flaw is that the targeting of the scheme is quite loose: it is not tight enough sufficiently to help fuel-poor households, which he said is the purpose of the order. For the majority of the scheme, households are assumed to make a financial contribution to the cost of the measures, which may effectively make a large proportion of the scheme inaccessible to the lowest-income households, which cannot afford to make such contributions. The way in which the policy is funded is therefore potentially unfair. Coupled with the rather loose targeting, this means that low-income households may effectively subsidise higher-income householders’ home upgrade.

I give my noble friend an illustration. The UK Government are assuming that £80 million will be provided in customer contributions over three years to support funding of the scheme. That is based on the assumption that uptake is not disproportionately affected by the level of contribution required. The assumption apparently originated from research based on a survey of 1,000 owner occupiers who fell within the general eligibility criteria. I put it to my noble friend that that may not be representative of low-income households, which I understood was the purpose we are trying to achieve with the order before us.

Similarly, research quoted in the impact assessment assumes that three-quarters of home owners will be willing to contribute towards insulation measures, with almost half willing to contribute £500 or more. Once again, I put it to my noble friend that it is extremely likely that households unwilling or unable to contribute fall into the category of the most financially vulnerable, and therefore in most need of the support given by the scheme.

Those two examples point to the potential for this not being what the Government intended. On vulnerable households, I think my noble friend described the purpose as extending support to households in the least energy-efficient and lowest income bands. I would like to query my understanding. Could the targeting have been better and could we have directed the funding more clearly to those in that bracket?

I warmly welcome the fact that support is being extended to off-grid rural households in Scotland and Wales. Can my noble friend assure me that the grant to English homes in that bracket for the home upgrade funding that he referred to will be as high as for those in Scotland and Wales?

My Lords, this has nothing to do with the instrument, but I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on his efforts to recruit Sadio Mané to play for Newcastle United when he was recently in Senegal. As a fellow Newcastle United season ticket holder, I can pass on the warm thanks of all fans of Newcastle United. I suppose more unites us than divides us when it comes to being “Howay the lads” fans.

The draft order proposes a Great British insulation scheme, which would require licensed gas and electricity suppliers to promote the installation of energy-efficiency measures, such as loft or cavity wall insulation, across Great Britain. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero explains that while ECO4 aims to deliver full-house retrofits for low-income and vulnerable households, the new scheme seeks to encourage rapid installation of the most cost-effective, mainly single insulation, measures and to extend support to a much wider group of households in the least efficient and lower council tax banded homes. These are worthy aims.

The department expects the scheme, as the Minister said, to provide around 376,000 insulation measures in 315,000 homes by the end of March 2026, which coincides with the ECO4 scheme’s end date. The department also says that Ofgem, which will administer the scheme, will be required to submit monthly reports on progress to the Secretary of State on suppliers’ performance. What will the Government do if performance is not on target overall? Are there any plans to push beyond the initial target, if performance suggests that this could be possible? Will Ofgem report on the income distribution of household delivery?

Those suppliers required to participate in the ECO4 scheme are also required to participate in the Great British insulation scheme, so the same domestic gas and electricity supply data is being used as under the ECO4 scheme. Were there any issues with the use of this data? If so, have they been addressed and overcome?

Unlike the ECO4 scheme, a minimum level of delivery of the obligation will be set for each of the three phases of the Great British insulation scheme. It requires each obligated supplier to achieve at least 90% of its home heating cost reduction obligation and low-income minimum requirement for phases A and B through measures completed before the end of each phase, with the total obligation required to be met by 31 March 2026. Suppliers will have performance requirements across each phase of the scheme—a new development from ECO4. This is of course a good thing, but how will the performance in each phase be monitored and enforced?

The instrument also sets a low-income minimum requirement. This will ensure a minimum level of support through the scheme for those on the lowest incomes and the most vulnerable—the low-income group, as it is known—while allowing the remaining support to be targeted at a much larger pool of people now challenged by higher energy bills, in other words the general group. There is no upper limit on the amount of a supplier’s home heating cost reduction obligation that can be met through the measures delivered to the low-income group.

The low-income minimum requirement is defined by the instrument as 20% of the overall obligation, and that 20% must be delivered using the standard low-income eligibility criteria. Assuming the distribution is equal, 20% of 315,000 homes is 63,000 low-income households. Given that this scheme will be paid for by all customers but that the much larger benefits will be felt only by benefiting households, does a 20% minimum not feel somewhat low? I appreciate that it is only a minimum, but is there any incentive for the participants to deliver above this 20%? How was this amount reached? Do the Government have an estimate for where they expect this to fall across the whole scheme?

The home-heating cost reduction target is set at a level that assumes that households in the general group —as in Article 12 of the order—will collectively contribute £80 million, as the Minister said, towards the cost of installing the insulation measures, which is equivalent to 10% of the £800 million scheme budget earmarked for this group. This reflects that households in the group will generally have higher incomes and be able to contribute. Any contributions will in practice be a matter for agreement between the customer and the installer, reflecting the measure’s type and property issues.

For the purpose of the home-heating cost reduction target, should a participant elect to go beyond the minimum 20% for the low-income group, would the general group be significantly more burdened by the total contribution required? For example, if, across all providers, the general group averages only 40% of the overall makeup, which I understand is unlikely but a possibility, is it correct that this group would then be required to double their joint contribution to the £80 million home-heating cost reduction target, compared to if it made up the maximum of 80%?

Domestic premises cannot receive more than one insulation measure under the Great British insulation scheme. As long as it is installed on the same day as, or after, the insulation measure is completed, owner-occupied premises in the low-income group can also receive heating control measures under the scheme. The heating control measures must be completed within three months of the insulation measure.

The majority of responses to the consultation addressed the fact that private rented sector households are ineligible for heating control measures, or for cavity or loft insulation, if they are in the general group. These measures are excluded as landlords have responsibilities to maintain and improve their housing. Is that a good enough reason? Why is it acceptable for lower-income households to have to choose between unaffordable bills or a lack of heat because they are renting, if their landlord is not adequately improving their property? For clarity, if a participant offers a combination of an insulation measure and heating control measures to either a household in the general group or a non-owner-occupied household in the low-income group, would the cost be expected to be apportioned between the scheme and the payer or would that not be a feasible option?

Another aspect of the instrument is targeted encouragement to support the development of innovative products and installation techniques. This is of course welcome. Has any assessment been made of the potential impact of this encouragement? What counts as an innovative product or installation technique? Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on that.

The 2021 Sustainable Warmth strategy announced plans for the expansion of ECO to run from 2022 to 2026, with an increase in value from £640 million to £1 billion per year. This obligation is expressed in terms of outcomes, not expenditure. The obligation is for notional annual bill savings of £224 million to be achieved by 31 March 2026. Part 10 of the instrument amends the 2022 order. Most of the changes are made to enable heating measures that are of benefit to ECO4 households in achieving annual cost savings, and reducing their overall energy bill, to be installed in a wider range of circumstances.

Labour’s warm homes plan would upgrade the energy efficiency of about 2 million homes per year. It would upgrade all 19 million homes that need it and help families to save up to £500 on their energy bills. The target of 315,000 homes under this scheme does not really compare. Do the Government accept that this is a drop in the ocean of what is needed? As part of the Labour green prosperity plan, the warm homes plan would give families the grants and loans they need to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes, cutting their energy bills and emissions. Labour’s national plan would save households £500 a year, cut national gas imports by up to 15% and create over 206,000 full-time equivalent jobs in retrofitting industries.

First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, for their contributions. I thank the noble Lord for complimenting my efforts to recruit Sadio Mané—who is a lovely guy, by the way. It is an interesting correlation, thinking about the priorities of most of the population, that if I tweet something on energy efficiency or that I have met someone to do with hydrogen schemes or whatever, I am lucky if I get 700, 1,000 or 2,000 views, but if I bump into a footballer in a hotel and tweet a picture, I get 85,000 views all across Europe. What we need to do is link famous footballers with energy efficiency and then perhaps we will get the message through.

Anyway, I turn now to the subject of the day. Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is the best long-term solution to reducing energy bills—I do not think anybody disagrees with that—and the corollary of tackling fuel poverty. That is why the Government have set a new and ambitious target to reduce our final energy demand from buildings and industry by 15% by 2030. The Energy Efficiency Taskforce is meeting at the moment to try to put some policies behind that. We are also committed to making sure that homes are warmer and cheaper to heat by investing £12 billion in various Help to Heat schemes, such as the home upgrade grant and social housing decarbonisation fund.

The Government remain committed to helping low-income and vulnerable households to reduce their fuel bills and heat their homes, with the new Great British insulation scheme being a crucial element of that help for this winter and for years to come.

I start with the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who asked a question on the targeting of the scheme and consumer contributions. This scheme mirrors the eligibility of the ECO4 scheme; there is in fact no limit on how many low-income consumers can be treated through the scheme. There is no mandatory requirement for contributions, and we do not assume any contributions for low-income consumers as we recognise that they are most in need.

The new general group is designed to capture a broader pool of households. I am sure that even the noble Baroness will accept that not everyone in fuel poverty is necessarily on benefits. We have a number of other schemes targeting those on lower incomes. This is the first scheme we have done for a while that allows those in the so-called able to pay grouping in the lower council tax band to also be eligible for support. That is the new general group; it is designed to capture a broader pool of households which are more likely to be able to contribute. Encouraging contributions through the scheme makes the scheme more cost-effective and ultimately enables more homes to be treated and more measures to be delivered. I am sure that is something the noble Baroness would support.

Suppliers are encouraged to leverage higher contributions from wealthier households and for more expensive measures, which would possibly be in bigger homes, ensuring that low-income and vulnerable households receive the support they need. As a market-led scheme, it is ultimately down to the installer to negotiate any contribution that the consumer is willing and able to pay, taking account of any property issues and of the measures to be installed.

The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, asked a question about monitoring. As with the existing scheme, Ofgem will work with energy suppliers to monitor progress and ensure compliance—including, if necessary, considering enforcement action should that be judged appropriate. As the independent regulator, it is ultimately a matter for Ofgem to judge the form and extent of any compliance action appropriate to the circumstances; it is only right and proper that it should do that.

Annual targets will initially be tracked using notified measures alongside other information. For the benefit of noble Lords, all measures that are installed are notified and lodged with TrustMark. Once the Ofgem digital system is in place to support it, this is intended to minimise any additional costs and bureaucracy from annual targets while still managing to drive momentum.

We have allowed flexibility through the analysis to allow industry to decide how to gather contributions. There is no firm requirement on how suppliers must do that. To reiterate—I made this point to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—there are no limits on the number of low-income homes that can be treated through the scheme. We have several schemes currently in operation, as I mentioned, which support low-income households. Of course, the original ECO scheme, ECO4—its latest iteration—the home upgrade grant and the social housing decarbonisation fund are all targeted at those on lower incomes. That is why we wanted this scheme to be open to a wider pool of households that are currently ineligible for any government support through existing schemes. As I said to the noble Baroness, suppliers are encouraged to leverage higher contributions from wealthier households for more expensive measures. Additionally, of course, there is no requirement for consumers to contribute, or to contribute a set amount through the scheme. It is market-led, and it is down to the installer to negotiate a contribution that the consumer is able and willing to pay.

For ease and pace of delivery, the GBIS aims to mirror as much of ECO4 as possible, keeping the same eligibility criteria for the low-income group that industry is currently very familiar with. That will help to ensure that the GBIS is able to deliver energy efficiency measures to those households as quickly as possible and provides energy suppliers with an incentive to deliver to that group, which they are already very familiar with.

The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, asked about innovation. We have a technical panel to determine and approve products as innovative through the scheme to ensure that consumers continue to be protected.

Once again, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions and the points they made during the debate. I also recognise the broad agreement that the scheme should continue at this time and should help to provide the critical support to an even greater pool of households that are currently challenged by higher energy bills. I commend this draft order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.37 pm.