House of Lords
Thursday 29 October 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Introduction: Lord Johnson of Marylebone
The right honourable Joseph Edmund Johnson, having been created Lord Johnson of Marylebone, of Marylebone in the City of Westminster, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Desai and Lord Risby, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Davies of Brixton
Brinley Howard Davies, having been created Lord Davies of Brixton, of Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Osamor and Baroness Blower, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
Retirement of a Member: Lord Elton
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to this House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Covid-19: Small Businesses
My Lords, the Government have introduced an unprecedented and comprehensive package of financial support, with a total fiscal response of close to £200 billion. The measures introduced, including government-backed loan guarantee schemes, grant funding and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme have been designed to be accessible to most businesses and sectors across the UK. We continue to keep this support under review, with further measures announced by the Chancellor that build on the significant support already available.
Coming from a small business background as I do, I thank the Minister for the Answer. I shall quote my local paper’s warning from local stores:
“Use us or lose us”.
Business rates are a real burden these days, as before. May I urge the Minister to look at these issues with renewed emphasis?
I totally agree with the noble Lord’s sentiments. As he is probably aware, we have launched a fundamental review of business rates, which will build on the changes that we are making to the system, worth more than £23 billion to businesses over the next five years.
My Lords, I welcome the job support schemes mentioned by the Minister but they are short-term solutions. They load many companies with debt, which limits their ability to invest in the skills, digitalisation, resilience and restructuring essential for our longer-term recovery. Will the Government set up a system that allows debt for equity, perhaps with progressive undertakings regarding corporate governance? Several schemes to do that have been put forward. Will the Government run with one?
The noble Lord is right to say that these schemes are essentially short-term but we are doing an awful lot to kick-start the economy. The Prime Minister has referred to the need to build back better and we are investing substantial sums. However, we of course keep these matters under constant review.
Our winter economy plan builds on the significant support available, with the extension of the coronavirus loan guarantee scheme until 30 November, the introduction of the job support scheme from November and the extension of the self-employment income support scheme.
One-third of the self-employed, including sole directors of limited companies and the newly self-employed, are still completely excluded from the self-employed income support scheme. Why can the Government not devise help for them, especially the smallest, who are not in the tax-dodging territory of payment by dividends?
The noble Baroness makes an important point, but we have paid out more than £11 billion to more than 900,000 small businesses, and some small businesses that are ineligible for the SEISS grant extension may still be eligible for other elements of the scheme.
My Lords, will my noble friend look at councils that rent their properties out to small businesses, so that those businesses do not receive demands to pay their rent at this very difficult time? Leicester has been in a second lockdown since June, and small businesses are struggling. Will my noble friend also look at not re-adding VAT to PPE? I refer noble Lords to my interests as set out in the register.
My noble friend makes an important point, and I hope that councils, in particular, being part of the public sector, will be sympathetic to the plight of many small businesses at this time. I am sure that my noble friend will understand, however, that I cannot predict what the Chancellor might have to say, on VAT or any other matters, in his future Budgets.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I am the recipient of a very generous bounce-back loan: thank you very much indeed. It is very useful for a social business in difficult times, and I would like to see more of that coming down the line. But what concerns me is that the only way to help small businessmen is to get control of Covid—and what alarms me, and a lot of people in the country, is that there does not seem to be unity in Parliament. Is it too early or too late—or too wrong—to call for some kind of national Government to bring us together, so that we can dismantle the biggest crisis we have ever faced in the history of our country?
My Lords, in the time of Covid, small businesses are having to rely increasingly on internet platforms such as Amazon and Google to market their products. The digital services tax, which was supposed to ensure that these platforms pay their fair share, is being passed on to those small businesses, which cannot afford to pay the extra 2% they are being asked for. So will the Minister revisit the digital services tax, which is clearly not working as it was supposed to?
Again, the noble Baroness is tempting me to enter the territory of the Chancellor. We have been clear that the digital services tax is temporary, and businesses are liable to it only when they have worldwide revenues of more than £500 million, and more than £25 million of those revenues is derived from UK users. So it applies only to the very largest businesses.
My Lords, the AAT reports that during the pandemic more than 50% of businesses have seen an increase in late payments, and nearly one-third admit to delaying payments that are contractually due. The Government have taken emergency powers, so this is a matter for BEIS, and these powers do help businesses. The FSB says that sorting the scourge of late payments would be a huge boost in these difficult times, and would aid the recovery when it comes. Will the Government act?
I totally accept the noble Lord’s point; he raises an important issue. But accepted payment terms vary from sector to sector, and a one-size-fits-all approach is not, in our view, the best way to deliver a culture change. Government would be restricting businesses’ ability to negotiate terms, which could have a negative effect on the UK economy by making business more difficult to do.
Many of the small businesses in my area of course are linked with the holiday trade: Llandudno and the Conwy valley are well known for that. After the pandemic eases, people will not be able to travel very far into the European continent, so home holidays will become more attractive, but the holiday industry—cafés, hotels and venues—need help to tide them over the interim period. Can the Government think of any way—say, with tax, or helping with other things such as rents and rates—to make it easier for those who are desperately struggling to survive in the tourist industry to come through this epidemic?
The noble Lord highlights an important issue. Of course we want to encourage as many people as possible to take advantage of our excellent local tourist industry—an important industry, including in Wales, to which the noble Lord referred. There have been a number of schemes to help small businesses: we have introduced business rate holidays, plus all the various grant schemes to try to keep those businesses afloat.
My Lords, UK life sciences is not only one of our most innovative and productive sectors, it also benefits the whole country, with two-thirds of its jobs outside the south-east. Its thriving is crucial not only to our exit from Covid but to our economic recovery. However, life sciences SMEs say that they struggle to access data responsibly, that clinical research remains too slow, and that scale-up investment can be a challenge. In the upcoming CSR, will the Minister not only deliver on the £200 million life sciences investment programme but also invest in health data infrastructure and accelerating clinical research set-up?
My Lords, since lockdown I have raised with Ministers the issue of the market failure of pandemic risk insurance five times. Each time I have been told that in due course the Government strategy on it will be revealed. For many businesses, the unavailability of business interruption insurance for pandemic risk is an issue for now, and it soon could be decisive in whether a large number of businesses will be able to trade. This is an issue of transparency and accountability. What, precisely, is the Government’s plan for this market failure?
The noble Lord highlights an important problem. This is a difficult issue, but insurance contracts are a matter of commercial negotiations in the market, and it is hard for the Government to interfere in what is, essentially, a commercial decision between the person issuing the insurance and the person taking it out. But we are certainly aware of the problem, and we are looking to see whether there is anything we can do in this field.
My Lords, the Government understand that there is a tension between transparency and donor anonymity. We encourage greater transparency across the charity sector as a matter of good practice. However, it is our assessment that the current level of legal transparency regarding sources of funding for charities is appropriate.
Charities are there to serve the public benefit, and I would have thought that that would require a duty of transparency, not simply one that the Government might politely ask. Should the public not know where a charity’s major donations—over £5,000 or £10,000, say—come from, whether from foreign Governments or state-owned companies; sometimes hostile states; religious foundations of different faiths; sponsors of extreme positions on the margins of democratic politics; or from wherever? Is that not something the public should be informed about?
It is right that charities are not legally required to disclose publicly the identity of individual donors, because donor anonymity can be an important factor which gives people the confidence to donate to charities. However, the anonymity does not in any way absolve charity trustees from their responsibilities, which are very clearly set out in terms of due diligence, the “know your donor” guidance and the serious incident reporting.
My Lords, I agree it is important to ensure transparency which could benefit, for example, from signing up to the Fundraising Regulator to improve fundraising standards and build public trust. Does my noble friend agree that all our charities need to be committed to upholding basic principles, including a rejection of all forms of racism, which would also cover adopting the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism?
My noble friend raises interesting and important issues. I stress, and I hope she agrees, that the vast majority of charities strive to go beyond the minimum in terms of transparency and are responsible, both in terms of fundraising and human rights issues. Their responsibilities are clear in law, but we believe the Fundraising Regulator has been very effective in addressing some issues of poor practice in the past.
The Charity Commission has recently investigated charities that glorify terrorists and acts of terror, promote extremist ideologies and incite hatred against minority communities in the United Kingdom, although with little resulting action. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government are going to do to ensure that the Charity Commission has adequate power and resources at its disposal to ensure that UK charities are not being used to incubate extremism and promote hate?
I think, as the noble Baroness understands far better than I, the issues of extremism and incubating hate go way beyond any powers the Charity Commission could have. What the noble Baroness refers to are clearly illegal issues, and trustees are under a specific legal duty to report any suspicions that a donation may be related to terrorist financing or money laundering.
My Lords, charities receive revenue, and revenue in kind, from a number of sources. All of this must be disclosed if the public are to have faith in those charities. Further, the chair and trustees of charities should sign a form of contract between them, the charity and the Charity Commission, not only on the funding and where it comes from, but on reporting; otherwise, we will have no faith in charities, coming out of the Covid situation.
I have to disagree a little with the noble Baroness about the public trust in charities. We have seen enormous generosity and support for charities, which I think is underpinned by a high level of public trust. Again, we should not confuse perhaps some of the major household name charities which have caused concern in the past with the small local ones.
Does the Minister agree that there is a particular problem with some think tanks which consistently refuse to make known the sources of their income, and the frequency with which members of staff of those organisations then go on to become advisers in government? This is a really big problem at the heart of our system—does she agree that it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency?
On one level, think tanks are no different from any other charities, in the sense that their charitable status means they must follow charity law and not participate in party-political activity or support a political party or candidate. They can undertake political activity if it is pursuit of their primary charitable purposes, but it must not be an end in itself.
My Lords, the real issue facing most charities at the moment—just when they have never been more needed—is that their funding from events, charity shops and, indeed, the philanthropic arms of business has never been lower. Will the Minister agree to press the Treasury for appropriate support for charities active in providing services or funding medical research, and consider whether gift aid might be fast-tracked to provide urgent support for those whose funding is most affected and where there is increased demand from their beneficiaries?
I understand the noble Baroness’s concern, but the Government have already focused on prioritising charities. The £750 million support package that we announced in the spring was the first sector-specific support package that the Government announced. Since then, billions have gone to charities and social enterprises, principally through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We have also been active, working with philanthropists, raising an extra £85 million recently for charities across the board.
My Lords, does the Minister agree—and in her answers so far it would seem she does—that there are many honest, law-abiding citizens who wish their donations to charity to remain secret for perfectly legitimate reasons, not least of which is their wish to avoid boasting about their generosity?
My Lords, charity deserves parity. There are about 10,000 BAME charities and community groups in the United Kingdom; 65% of them have incomes of less than £10,000 per annum. Bearing in mind that Covid-19 has affected the lives and livelihoods of BAME communities more than those of their white counterparts, how will the Government factor in this issue of racial disparity in the future funding of BAME charities?
The noble Lord is right, and we have worked closely with the National Lottery Community Fund and other funding partners—Comic Relief and Children in Need in particular—to make sure that charities working with BME communities and led by BME individuals receive the right level of support to reflect the importance of their work.
My Lords, following on from the question of my noble friend Lady Hayter, while transparency is important, does the Minister not agree that even more important is the difficulties that charities face raising funds during the Covid epidemic? While the Government have given them some moneys—she mentioned the £750 million—some organisations such as Age UK, and at this time of year, the Royal British Legion, which is doing fantastic work, are facing great difficulties as to whether they can continue to exist. Will the Minister talk to these organisations and try to find some further support to make sure that none of them stop doing their vital work?
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that these organisations do vital work. To be clear, there was a £750 million grant package, billions through the job retention scheme and other significant pots of money. I talk to these organisations literally daily, and my genuine understanding is that a lot of funds have been distributed for this year and we are working with them to understand their challenges in the years ahead.
Civil Servants: Public Procurement
My Lords, there are currently no plans for an accessible public register centralising conflict of interest declarations of civil servants engaged in public procurement. Government departments are required to take appropriate measures to prevent, identify and remedy conflicts of interest in procurement procedures. This includes identifying and addressing situations where civil servants have financial or other interests that might be perceived to compromise their impartiality and independence in the procurement process.
My noble friend will no doubt be aware of the concerns expressed by the National Audit Office about the lack of transparency in the recent procurement of Covid-19 contracts. I hope that he will agree that good governance means good transparency. While I hear what he has said about the current situation, I hope that he shares my concern that public confidence both in the Government and the way government works would benefit more if a register that was openly available to the public was made a matter of urgency.
My Lords, of course I have listened to what my noble friend said. Like her, I have spent a lifetime in public service in different guises and I attach the highest importance to probity in every place and at every level. As she says, the NAO is undertaking an investigation to examine government procurement during the pandemic covering the period up to July 2020. The report is expected to be published in December.
What a disappointing reply from the Minister. Does he not realise the deep concerns over the relationship between HMG and various companies in recent months? Have any formal reservations or qualifications been lodged under their code of conduct by senior civil servants on Ministers’ proposals? Whatever, will he confirm that eventually, there will be an inquiry into these activities?
My Lords, I have already referred to the ongoing NAO investigation. So far as the Civil Service Code is concerned, Section 4.1.3c is absolutely specific that
“civil servants must not misuse their official position or information acquired in the course of their official duties to further their private interests or those of others … Where a conflict of interest arises, civil servants must declare their interest to senior management.”
Every civil servant will be expected to abide by that.
My Lords, the Good Law Project has today published official government procurement documents which show that VIPs and Cabinet Office contacts have been awarded lucrative contracts for PPE above normal market rates and outside the usual procurement processes. As a matter of transparency, will the Minister set out what the total value of the contracts awarded in this way is and which companies that have links with Conservative Ministers, MPs or Peers were awarded business via this route?
My Lords, the Government’s policy is to adopt and encourage greater transparency in commercial activity. Central government buyers must publish all tender documents and contracts with a contract value of over £10,000 on the Contracts Finder site. I am not commenting on press allegations. The Government are certain that the proper procedures have been and are being followed.
My Lords, in the absence of a register, can my noble friend explain who checks that appropriate measures have been taken, in particular if it is a close friend or family member who may have benefited from such a contract? Also, what is the sanction if a breach is found to have occurred?
My Lords, any breach of the Civil Service Code will be dealt with by the appropriate procedures within the Civil Service. Every department is expected to develop and set up its approach under the central framework. Each department is responsible for defining the standards of conduct it requires and for ensuring that those are carried out. Internal guidance and procedures must be followed in all cases.
My Lords, the Minister has clarified some concerns. However, a response to my Question for Written Answer some time back stated, “It is a matter for each council to put in place whatever arrangement it considers appropriate for the recording and disclosure of officers’ interests.” I was surprised by that and I find it odd that there is no national standard. I will ask again whether the Government intend to instruct local authorities to maintain a public register of the disclosable pecuniary interests of officers to whom delegated authority has been granted by elected members to ensure that local government officials maintain transparency and compliance with the Nolan principles?
My Lords, the noble Viscount is referring to local government, but I shall repeat what I said at the start. I believe that we need probity at every level of the public service. He has raised an interesting point about necessity. The current position is obviously that normally, departments require staff to complete a declaration of interest form prior to working on any new procurement and to provide details of any new interest which arises during the course of a procurement. Departments should have appropriate safeguards in place to ensure conflicts are properly managed throughout the procurement. That is good practice and ought to be followed.
My Lords, I have listened to the answers given by the noble Lord, Lord True, but I am not sure that he has really understood the depth of concern about this matter. There are two issues. One is that these contracts on Covid-19 for test and trace and PPE were vital to public safety and remain so, and the second is that millions and millions of pounds are involved. The noble Lord says that he is not going to refer to press speculation following the investigation by the Good Law Project, but I would say that it is a little more serious than that. I think he has to be clear that we need complete and total transparency on all of these contracts from the National Audit Office report, which we will see. Is there not a case for a public inquiry or a Select Committee inquiry on this issue as well?
My Lords, one of the delights of the United Kingdom is that the Government are not responsible for the actions of the Select Committees of either House of Parliament. So far as the NAO is concerned, I have already reminded the House that an inquiry is in progress.
My Lords, in the light of the report from the Good Law Project on procurement referred to by my noble friend Lord Scriven and the noble Baroness just now, can the Minister confirm that there is comparable transparency where the personal and political interests of Ministers and special advisers are in question? I cite the specific example of the £276 million PPE contracts, to which I have drawn Ministers’ attention.
My Lords, Ministers are bound by the Ministerial Code and civil servants are bound by the Civil Service Management Code, from which I have quoted. Special advisers are also required to conduct themselves in accordance with the code of conduct for special advisers and the Civil Service Code.
My Lords, the Minister accepts that the public procurement system has to be whiter than white, I am sure, but does he accept that the registration of interests is as much to protect public servants as it is to protect the wider public interest in the objective and open placement of any public contracts?
My Lords, these issues are important; in my initial reply, I tried to convey the importance that I attach to probity. I recognise the role of transparency therein. I have told the House about the current good practice inside government. I personally believe that it is efficacious but obviously I listen to everything said by noble Lords.
Every day, the House starts its proceedings with Prayers, reminding us to set aside factional interests and private prejudices in the work we do, yet, with some notable exceptions, we frequently make appointments to the House as rewards for political loyalty or cash donations. Does the Minister agree that our concern about conflict of interest and civil servants would carry greater weight if we were true to the biblical injunction of looking to the defect in our own vision before criticising the lesser defect in our brothers?
Covid-19: Transport for London
My Lords, we are currently in discussions with TfL and the mayor on a further extraordinary funding agreement. My noble friend will agree that the mayor has choices to make to balance the books of TfL. When he has made those choices, they will become conditions attached to support from the UK taxpayer. My noble friend will understand that it would be inappropriate to discuss the details of ongoing discussions at this time.
I am grateful to my noble friend. With the other place in recess and government support for Transport for London running out tomorrow, this is Parliament’s last opportunity to find out what is going on. Does my noble friend agree that, if giving more powers to mayors and metro mayors is to work, both sides should moderate their language during negotiations and avoid wild accusations; that any support for Transport for London should take us beyond next May’s mayoral elections; and that any government support for Transport for London should be fair to the national taxpayer and proportionate to other parts of the country while leaving the decisions as to how it should be funded to the Mayor of London?
I agree with my noble friend that negotiations between the Government and the Mayor of London—indeed, all mayors—should be based on mutual respect and professionalism. I am pleased to report that, for example, our conversations with the mayor and his team yesterday were very cordial and constructive. The details of the current settlement are still under discussion and we are making good progress. I am pleased to confirm that the Government are committed to the principle that any government funding must be fair to UK taxpayers.
My Lords, it is obvious that TfL needs some immediate investment, along the lines of the sort that the Government have given to the train operating companies, but also needs time to work out some long-term resilience. An 18-month deal is probably best for it. One way of financing it would be to put in smart road pricing. This idea has been around for decades, but have the Government thought about it or even worked up an idea for it?
The health of our key workers and transport workers is at the forefront of everything we are doing at the moment, which is why the Government support running full services across public transport to enable social distancing. Automation, for example contactless payment, is one of the things that can reduce the spread of the virus. Automation of driverless trains, for example, would again be a matter for the mayor but we would support looking into it.
My Lords, before Covid struck, Crossrail’s full operation had been delayed by four years until 2022 and estimated costs increased by almost a third from the 2009 figure. What further delay and cost increases, due to Covid working restrictions, have been calculated and reported so far? Will all these additional costs have to be financed by TfL and the London authority?
The noble and gallant Lord will be pleased to hear that there was an update from Crossrail recently about the schedule and total costs. The project is now completely under the control of TfL. It is its responsibility to finish it. We are in discussions with TfL about further financial support for Crossrail, but we are very clear that Londoners must also foot the bill.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that the UK taxpayer would be harmed if Transport for London became dysfunctional? It would affect the London economy, as well as the health of London’s citizens. Would it not be better to take the larger interest into account and give Transport for London the help that it badly needs?
I assure the noble Lord that we want—as much as anybody else wants—London to have a safe, sustainable and reliable network. Obviously, there are issues to consider. In the short term, London’s revenues have been significantly impacted by the decline in passenger numbers. We have to make sure that, as we look to longer-term financial sustainability, not just UK taxpayers but Londoners support TfL.
The Government continue to warn the public to avoid public transport and work from home. Tube journeys, for instance, are down to about a third of their usual numbers. When the train operating companies were bailed out to the tune of £3.5 billion, similar terms to those that have been imposed on Londoners were not imposed on them. Can the Minister explain why Londoners, whether travelling by car or public transport, are subject to financial penalties not imposed elsewhere?
My Lords, train operating companies are not the same as TfL and a devolved public transport authority. Equivalent conditions or discussions cannot therefore be made because the two are not comparable. However, I assure the noble Baroness that the Government’s messaging has been to use public transport safely and has been that for quite some time.
My Lords, is it not the case that the primary responsibility for this funding crisis rests with the utterly incompetent Mayor of London and the monolithic Transport for London? Does my noble friend agree that, whatever the solution to this crisis is, it is not to clobber London’s much-beleaguered road users, many of them small businesses, with more taxes, such as increases in or extensions of the congestion charge?
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Major of London had reduced the TfL operating deficit by 70% and increased its cash balance by 13%, while maintaining fares income over the past four years—a much healthier situation than that left by his predecessor. It is also worth bearing in mind, in the light of what has been said, that London’s net contribution to the Treasury last year was £38.8 billion.
I return to the question raised by noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, which did not get much of an answer. Why are the Government playing awkward over funding for publicly owned TfL? They are providing all the money private train operators in London require through 18-month funding deals with a surplus element built in and few questions asked. Meanwhile, they are seeking to force the Mayor of London to make punitive policy changes affecting Londoners—who have done and continue to do the right thing on Covid-19—as the price for their necessary further financial support. It is not sufficient to say they are different cases; they are very similar.
The noble Lord mischaracterises the discussions under way concerning the train operating companies and TfL. Various conditions apply to the new train operating company deals—ERMAs—relating to punctuality, management fees and all sorts of things. Of course, that is just one step on the way to further reform. The Government will step in and support TfL to address the decrease in revenues resulting from the pandemic. However, there are elements available to people in London and to TfL staff that are simply not available to the rest of the country. It is not up to the UK taxpayer to pay for those things.
[Inaudible]—indeed, spent a fortune on cycle lanes. This is of course very welcome, but it has without question created new risks. During recent times, I have been driving to the House and have witnessed the most extraordinarily dangerous behaviour by cyclists, veering across lines of traffic and so on. Will the Government consider assessing a policy of requiring every bicycle to have a name plate? Will they at least try to introduce some discipline and respect for the Highway Code?
I recognise that on occasion, cyclists do not pay full regard to the rules. As we encourage more people to cycle—we have put in place cycle lanes, which are very welcome—we must ensure that cyclists behave according to the written law and the spirit of it.
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty's Government, following the deaths of at least four people in the English Channel, what steps they are taking to protect asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking who are fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in the UK.
My Lords, this tragic event highlights the grave dangers of channel crossings and the pressing need to stop the callous criminals who are exploiting vulnerable people. The UK has a proud history of granting protection to those who need it, but it is an established principle that people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they enter. We continue to work closely with our neighbours to discourage people from making these dangerous and unnecessary journeys.
My Lords, I have four grandchildren under the age of 10, and I cannot imagine being so scared of what might happen to them on land that I put them in an unsafe boat to cross the English Channel. Yet this week, Rasoul Iran-Nejad and Shiva Mohammad Panahi put their three children, Anita, aged nine, Armin, aged six, and 15 month-old Artin, in a boat. Two of the children are dead, along with their parents, and one is still missing. Surely in this day and age, France and the UK, the fifth and seventh-largest economies in the world, with some of the most professional armed forces and diplomatic services in the world and a history of public service administration, can find a way of coming together with the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR to find a safe route for families fleeing persecution to come to France and this country, and to have their applications determined in a safe and legal manner?
The noble Lord will appreciate that because there is an ongoing investigation, I am unable to go into much detail on the names, identities and ages of the people that he mentioned, but I have seen the reports, as I am sure we all have, and the details are heart-wrenching. This tragic case underlines the importance of breaking the criminal business model, which is exploiting the desperation of vulnerable people who, as he says, are in fear. We are working very closely with the French. Our National Crime Agency is assisting the French authorities in their investigation. The Home Secretary has appointed a former Royal Marine, Dan O’Mahoney, as the clandestine channel threat commander, to tackle the problem there. However, the noble Lord is also right that we must have safe methods for people to claim asylum without making that journey, which is why our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme works with the organisations that he mentions, to ensure that people do not undertake these perilous journeys.
As an agreement with the EU on family reunion is unlikely to be reached by the end of December, will the Government, as a matter of urgency, seek the co-operation of the French authorities to identify people, especially children, who are eligible for family reunion or who have other connections with the UK, in order to expedite their safe passage to this country and avoid another tragedy?
The noble Lord is a respected and tenacious campaigner on these issues. I know that he has an amendment to the Immigration Bill which the other place will have the opportunity of examining next week. Tragically, this incident has happened while we still have the Dublin convention, so it is important to make a distinction between those regulations and the actions that we must all undertake to deter people from making these dangerous journeys. Nobody should be crossing the channel in this dangerous way.
My Lords, if there is a so-called pull factor that is resulting in desperate families dying in the channel, it is that many of those who make the crossing are given asylum in the UK because they are genuine asylum seekers, yet the only way that they can find out if their claim will be accepted once they are on the European mainland is by making the crossing. Why do the Government not allow applications from those on the European mainland, and, if they do not qualify, tell them unequivocally that they will be deported if they make the crossing? Surely letting them know what will happen before they make the perilous crossing is the decent and humane thing to do.
My Lords, we want to deter people from undertaking dangerous journeys at every stage, whether that is across the channel or further upstream. We have seen terrible cases in the Mediterranean too. That is why our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme is working directly in affected areas so that people do not need to travel across the world putting themselves and their families in danger, but instead can apply. We can then give people the protection that they need directly from source, rather than after they have endangered themselves.
My Lords, as we have already heard, the death of anyone trying to reach the UK in search of safety is tragic, and the tragedy is multiplied when it is the death of a family. Save the Children is right to say that the English Channel must not become a graveyard for children. With that in mind, can the Minister update the House on the resumption of the refugee resettlement programme which was suspended in March?
The right reverend Prelate is right that this is a particularly heart-wrenching case. As she says, the resettlement scheme was paused in March because of the Covid pandemic, but as per their statement in June, the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR are beginning to resume some of their functions, although with limited capacity. The UK’s visa application centres are also beginning to resume some of their functions, again with limited capacity. The same applies for the Home Office teams who are processing applications. We hope to help people as swiftly as possible.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that any attempt to process asylum applications abroad would be rapidly overwhelmed by a huge number of claimants? Failed applicants might well head for Calais, thus making a very bad situation even worse. Have the Government considered joint maritime border controls with powers to return migrants to their point of departure?
I agree that we want to deter people from making dangerous journeys to the European continent, whether by land or sea. Dan O’ Mahoney is today in France meeting the French authorities and continuing the deep engagement that we have with them to tackle this problem in the channel.
My Lords, last week the Government voted against both free school meals for hungry children in the UK and a legal route to safety for refugee children. Why is it that vulnerable children are paying the price for this Government’s policies? Two days ago, the Home Secretary was quoted as saying:
“I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people.”
If next week the Home Secretary votes again to slam shut the only safe and legal route for vulnerable children to reach the UK, how can she possibly make that claim?
I am sorry to hear some of the noble Lord’s points. The Government want to create safe and legal routes so that vulnerable people, including vulnerable children, are not put at risk by making dangerous channel crossings. That is why our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme has helped nearly 20,000 people over the past five years, including children. We have seen over 29,000 family reunion visas issued in the last five years as well, so we are doing what we can to help vulnerable children.
My Lords, the shocking event at Dunkirk must shame us all, particularly those who fail to accept that the pressure of migration has been with us for a very long time. It applies to rich as well as poor countries. We need a safe and secure method, as the Minister has described. What is the status of Dublin III in the discussions and negotiations that we are having with the European countries? What happens to countries, including Britain, that fail to take a quota of migrants?
The noble Lord will understand that I cannot comment on the ongoing negotiations with the EU, but as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, this tragic event happened with Dublin III in place. The problem is the criminal gangs taking people’s life savings and sending them out to sea in unseaworthy vessels without a care for what happens to them. Those are the people whom we must focus on relentlessly.
My Lords, although HMG must retain the right to allow—indeed, facilitate—the entry of any individual into the UK, following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Green, can my noble friend confirm that the Government will not seek to move out of the UK the process for assessing the asylum claims of those who have not yet entered the UK? To do so, even if it started only in France, would rapidly result in an unmanageable number of claimants from all over the world.
I agree with my noble friend that to do so would increase the risks and encourage more people to make dangerous journeys. That is why our efforts are focused on schemes such as the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which takes people directly from affected areas and gives protection to those who need it most.
The Minister keeps referring to the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, but the fact is that we have no official resettlement scheme currently open. It is the absence of a safe official route that drives these poor people into these terrible dangers. Will the Minister please give a straight answer to the question asked by the right reverend Prelate? When will our resettlement schemes reopen? Others have reopened theirs. Will the Government ask the French and Belgian authorities to permit UK staff to process family reunion cases and asylum applications in the ports and camps where these poor people currently are?
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give a simple answer to that question because, as I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, it depends on the Covid-19 pandemic. However, as I said to the right reverend Prelate, some of the functions are beginning again, as far as that is possible in the light of the pandemic. That is the best way to help vulnerable people without encouraging them to make dangerous journeys and fall prey to the sorts of callous criminal gangs that are behind so many of the deaths in the channel.
Will my noble friend explain to the House how these blackguards or people smugglers are allowed to ply their evil trade in broad daylight on French soil and in French waters? Can he assure the House that there is not a political dimension to this crisis by allowing this trade to continue on French soil and in French waters?
My Lords, we are working very closely with the French Government and the French authorities to tackle these callous criminals. I can tell the noble Lord that, last year, there were 418 arrests and 203 convictions, which resulted in combined sentences of more than 430 years. So we and the French take this problem very seriously and are determined to pursue the criminals who endanger the lives of vulnerable people.
My Lords, the desperation of these people is palpable, as shown by the Nigerians who took over a tanker in the channel very recently. One should say that the operation to recover the vessel was well executed—a textbook case. I was surprised that there was no Statement in the House, as we were taking over a foreign ship in international waters, but clearly that is what we do now—we do not worry about it. Having been a seaman for 50 years, I can tell the House that people will die in the channel if they keep coming in these little inflatables. What worries me is that people will have seen that the takeover of a merchant ship or ferry is not difficult. I hope that we are looking carefully at this. I could certainly take over a ferry in Calais with five people with no problem at all; that is a real worry. Is this being looked at? Are we taking precautions to make sure that it does not happen? The risks would be huge if that sort of thing happened.
The noble Lord gives me the opportunity to thank the police and the Armed Forces for their quick and decisive action at the weekend, which was important. He is right to raise the fact that, as the weather worsens over the autumn and winter, these crossings, which are already dangerous, will get only more perilous. The Home Office is working with the French authorities to look at all the different routes that people pursue—through the Channel Tunnel, on ferries and by other means. These are not safe. All these routes are dangerous to pursue and we do not want to see anybody risk their life in this way.
I declare my interests in the register. Following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I ask the Home Office to take practical steps to identify and bring to England—under Dublin III, on the right to join families—the unaccompanied minors in Calais and Dunkirk to save them taking perilous journeys.
I am afraid that I did not quite catch the end of the noble and learned Baroness’s question. If she will forgive me, I will consult Hansard and write to her if I have missed anything. However, on the Dublin regulation, over the last four years, the UK has consistently reunited the second-largest number of family-linked cases after Germany, so we take our responsibilities seriously.
Covid-19: Intensive Care Treatment
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether any part of the NHS has operated under policy guidelines described as a “triage tool” which determine intensive care treatment for patients with Covid-19, and whether such guidelines will be used in the future.
My Lords, claims that frail and elderly patients were denied care in wave one of the coronavirus pandemic, in part because of the triage tool developed by the NHS in case it was overwhelmed, are categorically untrue. The Government are ultimately responsible for national policy on public access to NHS services. However, decisions on who will benefit from care are made as part of normal clinical decision-making by clinicians. Guidance to help clinicians make rational evidence-based decisions in the event of ICUs being overwhelmed was commissioned but was halted when it became clear that the NHS would not be overwhelmed.
My Lords, I think that the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for his unequivocal rebuttal of that extremely concerning story. Let me be clear that this Question is not intended to criticise the NHS, for which we all have the highest regard. However, according to that Sunday Times story, under conditions of extreme stress, consideration was given to guidance that could have amounted to age discrimination. Does he agree that there is a need for the NHS to uphold its public sector equality duty? Will he provide reassurance that these triage tools should not be used to prioritise patients on any basis other than clinical need either this winter or going forward as routine?
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity offered by the noble Baroness to reinforce the point. Age discrimination is absolutely forbidden by the NHS constitution. The CMO wrote to NHS trusts on three occasions to reiterate that point. I quote a letter published on 7 April:
“The key principle is that each person is an individual whose needs and preferences must be taken account of individually. By contrast blanket policies are inappropriate whether due to medical condition, disability, or age.”
My Lords, the Minister’s response is indeed very reassuring. Does he agree that many elderly people will have been very worried by the Sunday Times report? They will welcome the assurances that have just been given by the NHS and the professional bodies that triage was never intended or used as a strategy for implementation. However, we have to be mindful of the fact that, as the pandemic is accelerating, fears are rising. Therefore, it is vital to get this message out as loudly as possible, just as the NHS did in April, when it said at the start of the epidemic that, far from rationing ICU care:
“All patients should be treated respectfully and equally and should receive the best available care.”
Can the Minister say now what the Government will do to support the NHS in reassuring every potential patient, irrespective of their age?
We go into the second wave in much better shape in relation to coronavirus because we know so much more about the virus. In terms of medicines, the therapeutics, the practices, the training, the configuration of our wards and the building of the Nightingales, there is a huge amount of skill, learning and capacity in the NHS to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to receive the best possible care. I remind noble Lords that these claims not only worry patients, they are deeply offensive to NHS doctors, nurses and therapists who have cared for more than 100,000 Covid patients to date in hospital settings and are committed to providing the best possible care in a second wave.
My Lords, triage is a necessary part of emergency medicine, and it will continue to be. Can the Minister say what has been learned in emergency departments in areas that have been in lockdown, such as Leicester, Bolton and Oldham? What learning has there been in those areas that can be sent to other areas to inform what will continue to be a necessary practice and part of good medicine?
Our learning has come a long way. Practices within ICU units have changed as a result of what we have learned in relation to the way that oxygen is administered, the range of drugs available and the turning of patients. To date, triage has not been necessary because the NHS is so good at load management that patients can be dispersed and deployed through the system, which has not been placed under pressure. We expect to be in good shape for the second wave. The principle remains as the national medical director, Stephen Powis, stated in his letter of 7 April:
“The key principle is that each person is an individual whose needs and preferences must be taken account of individually.”
That remains our principle.
My Lords, on precisely the point that my noble friend the Minister has just made, I know he will be aware of the revised version of ReSPECT—the Recommended Summary Plan for Emergency Care and Treatment—which was published in September by the Resuscitation Council UK. It is in wide, but rather variable, use. Will my noble friend encourage NHS England to make its use a best-practice requirement in relation to Covid-19 patients entering high-dependency or intensive care in the months ahead?
My Lords, we are extremely grateful to the Resuscitation Council for its work on this important tool. It gives an opportunity for patients to express their preference and for clinical judgment to be used at moments of acute intervention. It is being used in some places but, as the noble Lord rightly points out, its use is variable. I would be glad to take this back to the department to see what can be done to encourage its use more thoroughly.
My Lords, I am the chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and the professors at the university hospital there said that there was no way that any triage tool was used. If anything, better intensive care treatment was given during the crisis, so I am glad that the Minister very categorically said that. The Sunday Times article was trying to insinuate that people were not getting the intensive care that they needed. Can he reassure the House that in the second wave, the Nightingale hospitals that were built at such brilliant speed will be used if needed and are ready for use?
My Lords, I completely agree with those at the University of Birmingham who confirmed that triage tools were not used. They were not necessary, and everyone had absolutely the best care that could have possibly been given to them. The Nightingale hospitals are on standby where necessary; they will be deployed if needed, but it is my hope that they will not come into play.
My Lords, it is vital to sustain the trust of older people. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that it is now vital for the NHS to follow through on the commitments it made to improve services for older people living at home or in care homes, set out in last year’s NHS Long Term Plan? What are the Government doing to make sure that that happens?
My Lords, the implementation of the long-term plan is under way, despite Covid. We have put the care of the elderly—and, in fact, all those who are vulnerable and in need of social care, half of whom are under 60—at the centre of our efforts. Returning to the point of the question and the article, I remind noble Lords that two-thirds of our Covid in-patients were over 65. Each got the support and treatment that they deserved and needed, and that will remain our commitment during any second wave.
My Lords, in April NHS England issued the Reference Guide for Emergency Medicine. Non-conveyance guidelines for ambulance services stated that any care home resident should not be taken to hospital until it was discussed with a clinical advisor. Why, therefore, was a resident in a care home not given equal treatment of access to hospital as an equivalent person outside the care home setting, and has that instruction been withdrawn?
My Lords, I do not know whether that specific instruction has been withdrawn; I will be glad to write to the noble Lord on that. I reassure him that, during an epidemic of a highly contagious disease, a hospital might not be the safest place for someone who is ill in a care home; nor would it necessarily be the safest place for someone who has gone to their GP and is sitting in the GP’s surgery. It is therefore absolutely essential that clinical risk management and advice is sought before referral to a hospital. There is no prejudice or unfairness here: it is simply good clinical practice.
My Lords, the Sunday Times has form on inaccurate stories, as does the Telegraph. Indeed, I asked the Minister a Question on 21 September about a Telegraph story about age restrictions, and he assured me that there were none. I asked him
“will he agree to place a copy of all the circulars from DHSC in the Library so that we can see what is going out?”
In reply, he said
“I will inquire as to what we can possibly share, so that these decisions are as transparent as my noble friend wishes”.—[Official Report, 21/9/20; col. 1596.]
I think it would help keep the papers on the right track if more was put into the Library. Will the Minister tell me how he is getting on with his endeavours to get this information into the public domain?
My Lords, the Minister was very forthright today in rejecting the Sunday Times story. A month ago, he was very forthright in an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, about blanket DNR notices. Picking up on the question today from the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, does he think that there might be an issue of communication where staff are working on the front line, where impressions are given that are not in accord with official government policy? In the light of all this, has he given some thought to the way in which communications with NHS staff might be improved in order to deal with these very troubling issues?
I am not sure that I agree with the implication of the noble Lord’s question—that somehow there is a prejudice on the front line against older people and that staff take it into their own hands to make decisions that are in themselves inherently unfair. That is not my experience. Where the noble Lord absolutely has a point is that people are extremely sensitive about these kinds of issues, and, quite rightly, are deeply concerned that they are going to get the treatment and care that they deserve and will not be subject to any form of unfairness. It is imperative that the NHS builds trusts and conveys a strong communication on these issues. To push back against the noble Lord, it is not my impression that the staff at the NHS have lost sight of this important principle.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that many of my family and friends work on the front line of the NHS, which I love and respect, as all other Members do. At the height of the pandemic, I watched a programme on Italian and American doctors using algorithms for vital decisions on treatment, with one being highlighted where triage tools had indicated nil chance of a patient surviving. However, their family pleaded with the doctors and convinced them to give them a few more days to see if “a miracle could happen”. In April, my close friend’s death was predicted from the use of some kind of early triage process. Sadly, my friend lost his battle. However, the miracle occurred: against all the odds, because of one decision by one team of doctors, the Italian patient survived. Given the fiasco of the use of algorithms, although I welcome the Minister’s absolute assurance, what analysis or serious case review has been undertaken of the number of treatment decisions based on early triage tools, given that extreme pressures on doctors have returned? Where deaths have occurred, can the Minister say what proportion were individuals of Bangladeshi heritage? Can any lessons be learned to improve their survival chances in the current emergency?
My Lords, I share my sympathies with the noble Baroness for the loss of her friend, for which we are all very sad. However, I take exception to her implication of a fiasco in the use of algorithms. I do not accept the implication that it is regular practice for clinicians somehow to give up on patients who stand a chance simply because their reading of an algorithm says that they should move on to someone else. That is not how we run the NHS; it is not how we had to run it during the first wave and it is not how we intend to run it during the second.
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Extension of the Relevant Period) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme Order 2020
Infrastructure Planning (Electricity Storage Facilities) Order 2020
Motions to Approve
That the draft Orders laid before the House on 13 and14 July be approved.
Relevant document: 24th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 27 October.
Adjacent Waters Boundaries (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2020
Motion to Approve
Sanctions (EU Exit) (Consequential Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, before I introduce this SI debate, I want to express on behalf of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary his response to the horrific events in France today. He issued the following statement:
“The United Kingdom stands with France today in sorrow, shock and solidarity at the horrifying events in Nice. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and we offer every support to the French people in pursuing those responsible for this appalling attack.”
I am sure those sentiments resonate with everyone in your Lordships’ House.
I turn to the instrument before us. It was laid on 16 September under the powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. It will aid the investigation and prevention of terrorist financing; prevent designated persons acting as charity trustees and managing or operating sensitive financial enterprises; and enable the effective implementation of legal, operational and regulatory measures for combating terrorist financing.
We have also laid alongside this draft instrument a Section 46 report. The report is required when new regulations are made under Section 45 of the sanctions Act to amend sanctions regulations made for a discretionary purpose under Section 1 of the sanctions Act. The report details why I consider that the relevant conditions, set out in Section 45 for the use of this power to make amending regulations, are met.
The purpose of the instrument is to add new provisions to three existing 2019 regulations relating to counterterrorism sanctions. These new provisions in the 2019 regulations will in turn make amendments to several other pieces of primary and secondary legislation to replace and update references to counterterrorism sanctions legislation. That needs to be done to ensure that the new counterterrorism sanctions framework established by the 2019 sanctions regulations delivers substantially the same policy effects as the existing sanctions regimes after the end of the transition period.
The three regulations amended by this instrument, collectively known as the 2019 regulations, are the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida (United Nations Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, made on 5 March 2019; the Counter-Terrorism (International Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, made on 14 March 2019; and the Counter-Terrorism (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, also made on 14 March 2019. The provisions of primary legislation that will ultimately be amended by the 2019 regulations as a result of the amendments made by this instrument are Section 49(3) of the sanctions Act and Section 178 of the Charities Act 2011.
I shall provide further details: Section 49 of the sanctions Act confers a power on the appropriate Minister to make regulations for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the detection, investigation, or prevention of terrorist financing. This will, for example, enable the Government to amend or update the existing Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017, which currently include measures to tackle terrorist financing.
Section 49(3) defines “terrorist financing” by references to other pieces of legislation. The amendments made by this instrument will remove references to offences under regulations being revoked by the 2019 regulations and add references to new offences under the 2019 regulations. That will ensure that the definition of “terrorist financing” is up to date and can be used in reference to current legislation. It also means that Her Majesty’s Government can use the power in Section 49 of the sanctions Act to facilitate the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist financing, following the revocation of a number of the current offences by the 2019 regulations.
Appallingly, there are occasions when charities are abused for the purpose of financing terror. To reduce the risk of such abuse occurring, Section 178 of the Charities Act 2011 disqualifies individuals who present a known risk from serving as a charity trustee or a charity senior manager—that is, the chief executive, finance director or their equivalent. The amendments made by this instrument will remove references to persons designated under regulations being revoked and add references to persons designated under any of the 2019 regulations.
I am sure many noble Lords will agree that this is a technical update to ensure that legislation on charities and financial services can continue to deliver the same policy effects after the end of the transition period. It will prevent those designated under these sanctions regulations being able to act as charity trustees or charity senior managers.
The amendments to the Electronic Money Regulations 2011 and Payment Services Regulations 2017 prevent the registration of a small electronic money institution or a small payment institution where any of the individuals responsible for the management or operation of the business have been convicted of an offence under the Counter-Terrorism (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This prevents persons convicted of terrorist financing offences managing or operating these sensitive enterprises.
The consequential amendment to the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 provides that the definition of “terrorist financing” used in those regulations refers to the new offences in the Counter-Terrorism (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This amendment will ensure that the Government are able to continue to promote the effective implementation of legal, operational and regulatory measures for combating terrorist financing once the 2019 regulations are in force. The instrument represents the first use of the powers under Section 54(3) and (4) of the sanctions Act to amend the definition of “terrorist financing” in Section 49(3) of the sanctions Act. It will not come into force until a later date or dates to be appointed separately.
This instrument thus forms a necessary part of the programme of work being undertaken by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in conjunction with other Whitehall departments to construct an effective and robust UK sanctions framework under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The counterterrorism sanctions framework includes financial, trade and immigration sanctions. It is a key element of the UK’s counterterrorist financing strategy and remains a major disruptive and preventive tool in the global fight against terrorism. We will continue to work closely with our Five Eyes and other international partners to help combat threats to the international financial system and the charity sector.
The United Kingdom, let me assure noble Lords, is working closely with the Financial Action Task Force, the G20, G7 and EU partners to disrupt terrorist financing. There is a particular focus on: reducing domestic terrorist fundraising; the movement of terrorist finance across borders; and the fundraising and movement of terrorist finance overseas. International counterterrorism sanctions regimes are an essential, practical weapon in disrupting terrorism. They also demonstrate international resolve.
The UK has a strong reputation for tackling terrorism, supported by our robust legislative framework. We will of course continue to strengthen our approach to countering terrorism by ensuring we have the correct range of disruptive tools and capabilities at our disposal, including our sanctions and counterterrorist financing frameworks. This instrument will ensure that these remain functional and effective. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the expert and diligent way in which he explained these regulations. I welcome them and I take the opportunity to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, to this House. I am sure her voice will be heard regularly. Our paths have diverged considerably since we worked together as young Labour parliamentary candidates 40 years ago, but I am sure she will make a big contribution.
Will the Government impose sanctions on the former South African business brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, who were responsible for looting from South African taxpayers around 7 billion rand, or around £350 million sterling, which was laundered abroad through British-based banks such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and the Bank of Baroda? The Minister may say that the current Magnitsky-type sanctions in our legislation focus upon human rights rather than financial crime, but in this case the two are indelibly interconnected. For example, looting from a government-funded project for poor farmers in the Orange Free State in South Africa left them penniless and unemployed, with massive damage to their rights and freedom simply to live—and London’s financial system was complicit.
Human rights are not just constitutional and civil but social and economic, especially when they are attacked by financial crime, as in this case. I have raised this repeatedly before and have still had no formal reply on the Financial Conduct Authority investigation into HSBC, triggered by my letters to the Chancellor in September and October 2017. I introduced a whistleblower to the Financial Conduct Authority but still have no idea what the outcome was. If the Minister is not able to respond in detail this afternoon, can he please write to me answering the points I have made?
I too thank the Minister for his very thorough introduction. My question is very simple. We are still in negotiation with the European Union about the continuation of agreements between us and it after Brexit. Can the Minister give us an assurance, as I hope he will be able to, that the regulations we are about to approve will function properly if we withdraw from any co-operation agreements we have with the European Union about criminality in general, as opposed to money laundering and terrorism? Unless they do, I cannot see the reach of these new regulations extending worldwide, as I believe it must, since terrorism is a worldwide disease and not confined to the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing these sanctions and for making the statement in regard to the atrocities today in France. I also take this opportunity to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, to this House and wish her many happy years of service in this place. I look forward very much to hearing her maiden speech.
My noble friend the Minister will be aware that terrorism knows no borders. My question is not dissimilar to that from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Is my noble friend absolutely convinced that the regulations we are approving today will, in and of themselves, provide him with all the tools at the disposal of the Foreign Office and the other departments to which he has referred? They will need them. The most effective action in controlling the financing of terrorism, which we have traditionally followed, has been through the UN; much more recently, in the last 40 or 50 years, it has of course been through the European Union. Will he assure me this afternoon that, even though we have left the European Union, we will work completely at one and closely with its members, in addition to the Five Eyes?
The atrocities in France, today and recently, have taught us that we must be ever vigilant for terrorist attacks, while recognising that perpetrators may travel freely across borders. I believe it is incumbent on us to work closely with our nearest neighbours in that regard.
I am sure this is kept under constant review. However, in addition to the regulations before us today, will my noble friend repeat the assurance that we will keep these regulations—and others flowing from the 2018 and 2019 measures—under constant review? I have one particular concern: to try to close down the channels of communication used by what appear to be sole perpetrators, such as in the recent attacks in France. Can my noble friend and his department address the possibility of cutting down these channels of communication, to make it less likely that these sole perpetrators will be in a position to act?
My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to make my short maiden speech today. Having spent 30 years in the House of Commons, I am well aware of the differences between the two Houses. I shall try very hard not to bring any of the worst practices from that House into your Lordships’ House. Many things have changed here in the past few months but one thing that has certainly not changed is the great welcome given to all new Peers. I thank all of your Lordships for your friendship, kindness and help over the past few weeks. The staff have been absolutely wonderful. I particularly thank the staff who are working here: the cleaners, the catering staff, the attendants and the doorkeepers. I am sure I have left some out but all the people who are actually here make such a difference to our lives, and I thank them.
I obviously want to thank the supporters of my introduction, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who I worked with closely in her capacity as president of the Countryside Alliance, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who I worked closely with on Zimbabwean issues. Of course, today he announced his retirement after 47 years in your Lordships’ House. I was very honoured that his last appearance was to introduce me to your Lordships’ House. I am sure we all wish him and Lady Elton the very happiest of retirements after 47 years.
I am very proud of my Northern Ireland upbringing on a small farm in County Antrim, which is why I have Lylehill and Rathlin as territorial designations. Lylehill Primary School, a two-teacher country school, was where I had a wonderful start to my education, and the Presbyterian church, the oldest one in Northern Ireland, was where my parents were married and I sung in the choir and first worshipped. Rathlin Island, the only inhabited island off the coast of Northern Ireland, with 120 full-time residents, thousands of seabirds and a lot of peace and tranquillity, is probably best known to your Lordships as the place where one islander, my late and great friend Tommy Cecil, rescued Richard Branson when his balloon came down after crossing the Atlantic.
This is clearly a very important instrument; it is technical, as the Minister has said, but, undoubtedly, without it, we would not have a fully functioning set of terrorism sanction regimes. I support it fully. I have a particular interest in this issue, coming from Northern Ireland. We have to do all we can to make the life of any terrorist as difficult as possible. Northern Ireland suffered so much from years of terrorism, and so much of it was funded by money laundering and organised crime. Added to that was the Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism, which resulted in atrocities such as the Enniskillen Remembrance Sunday bomb, the Harrods bomb on the mainland and many others.
When we talk about any terrorist outrage, we must remember the victims—some dead, sadly, but many wounded, disabled and deeply traumatised. That is why I support the attempt to win justice from the frozen assets of the Libyan Government in London—some £12 billion, from which the taxes alone bring in around £5 million a year to the Treasury. William Shawcross has done a report on all of this, and I hope it can be released soon, because the victims deserve transparency. It is also right that to counter terrorism, we give the Treasury the power to impose financial sanctions on designated persons involved in terrorism, and that should apply equally to Northern Ireland.
The victims of terror have waited a long time for justice, and we need to have a morally sound, consistent approach to all terrorism, whether it is related to Northern Ireland, Al-Qaeda or anything else. All innocent victims should matter and not be equated in law with those who injure themselves trying to murder others, as is the law in Northern Ireland. That must change.
Finally, does the Minister agree that all in this House should view it as a considerable achievement on the part of everyone in his department and the officials that on 31 December at 11 pm, all the European Union sanctions measures will become UK sanctions measures, and we will regain control over this vital foreign policy tool?
I look forward to participating further in your Lordships’ House and particularly to finding ways in which your Lordships’ House can prepare to mark the centenary, in 2021, of Northern Ireland—or, as the wonderful supporters of the Northern Ireland football team I am so proud to support call it, our wee country.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of my distinguished friend of almost 40 years. Kate and I go back to the early 80s; I knew her as a parliamentary candidate in Dulwich, I knew her as the MP for Vauxhall, elected on European election day in 1989, and I have known her as a friend all the way through, despite the fact that for at least half that time, I have been a member of the Conservative Party. Before that, I was in the same party that she used to belong to. So, we both moved, you might say.
I recall that when Kate was a candidate, the slogan we had was that she would “hit the ground running,” because sport has always been an important part of her life. Indeed, she was the first woman to be Minister for Sport in this country, and she has always championed sport. She had a career with Tottenham Hotspur youth and helping young people to appreciate sport, and for eight years she was adviser to the Mayor of London—a long and distinguished career.
She has also been unafraid to embrace controversial issues. I remember agreeing with her that the foxes around the dustbins of Vauxhall were of more concern than those being chased around the fields of Kent. I still happen to feel that way, and I was pleased to go on the Countryside Alliance marches years ago. She has a long record of being prepared to stand up for what she believes in; Vauxhall was very lucky to be represented by her.
Europe is the one area where Kate and I have never agreed, but we have come nearer to agreement now. In the run-up to the last election, I consistently queried the referendum result and said that I thought the circumstances of the referendum were dubious. I asked for another referendum, or an election to sort out the matter. We had an election, and it is quite clear that I lost. In a democracy, on occasion, you have to accept that you lose. I am not going to oppose the Government. I welcome the Government’s work and the Minister’s; he has had to do a lot of detailed work to do transposing all these European regulations into UK law, and I wish him well with that.
I endorse strongly the point that my noble friend Lady Hoey made about victims of terror. We have tended too much to conflate the victims of terror with the perpetrators. The victims had no choice: they were gunned down, blown up and lost their lives. The perpetrators of terror, whatever else can be said, knew what they were doing. There is a big difference.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, in this important debate. I would also like to take the opportunity to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, to your Lordships’ House. Both of us are from Northern Ireland. We have divergent views on Northern Ireland and on Europe. Notwithstanding that, I welcome her, as I knew her in the other place.
I would also like to thank the Minister for his explanation of these regulations, which will be robust sanctions to prevent money laundering and terrorism. Coming from Northern Ireland, I am only too well aware of the role of money laundering in terrorism, how pernicious it has been and how invasive that level of terrorism has been. Today, we saw evidence of probable international terrorism at work in the brutal murder of three people in the south of France, in Nice—a lady at prayer practically beheaded. Such terrorist acts require immediate action from government.
I have some questions I would like to ask the Minister. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked if these measures would be effective when dealing with our colleagues in the European Union. Would they still afford the same levels of co-operation and work, and would they be as effective as the original regulations under the EU regime?
What will be the relationship with the EU countries in working to address the money laundering and terrorism activities that impact on liberal democracies such as France and Britain? What level of co-operation will continue to exist? The Minister said that there would be ongoing work with the G20, the G7 and the EU. Notwithstanding the need to preserve confidentiality, can he define that work and the extent to which police forces throughout the UK, the EU and the wider world will liaise to gather intelligence in order to combat money laundering and terrorist actions?
I disagree with the idea of charities being used to launder money for terrorism purposes, because, in many instances, those who work for and contribute to charities are not aware of such actions.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick; I look forward to hearing the Minister answer her questions. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey. Her speech was very good, especially when she mentioned not bringing bad habits from the other place—we do occasionally see those, and it is great that she is not going to do that.
I have three queries for the Minister. Will he set out how the Government will apply sanctions to illegitimate regimes where the ruler refuses to leave office after being defeated in a democratic election? Secondly, I am sure that the Government have paid attention to Donald Trump’s consistent refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses next week’s election. Have the Government made plans for what they will do, diplomatically and economically, if Donald Trump loses and refuses to leave office? Thirdly, in that situation, will the Government stand up for democracy and the rule of law by applying sanctions to Donald Trump, the Trump family and The Trump Organization? They could, of course, freeze the Trump assets in the UK, such as the Turnberry golf course, until the President peacefully transfers power.
My Lords, I read in the Explanatory Notes that an impact assessment has not been made
“as no, or no significant, impact on the private, voluntary or public sectors is foreseen.”
That is good, but it is also important for us to appreciate that that is the situation. Section 49 of the sanctions Act covers the investigation of terrorist financing. That is just technical wording but it has been mentioned as being so important—I think it certainly is—that we should do everything to prevent money laundering and the awful crimes and abuses associated with it. I strongly support these regulations.
My Lords, we on these Benches associate ourselves with the statement made by the Minister in relation to the horrendous events in France. I thank him for introducing these statutory instruments, which we support. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, on her maiden speech. I share with her an upbringing on a small farm, in my case on the South Downs: it is there in my title, which is “of Cissbury”. The amount of mud that we probably ingested as children will, I hope, stand us in good stead at this time of pandemic.
We are obviously glad that the sanctions keep us aligned with the EU, but I want to probe the implications, raised by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, of sharing security information, which is clearly critical if we are to have a proper understanding of terrorism and the threats to us. On our alignment with the EU, what discussions are we having with the EU about the Magnitsky sanctions? Are we now looking at China in that regard? We are waiting to hear what is going to happen in terms of financial affairs and whether they will be applied here. When should we expect to see proposals in this area? What systematic arrangements will the Government put in place so that the proposals for sanctions can be properly and independently assessed?
The new sanctions impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and organisations involved in human rights abuses. It is, as the noble Lord says, appalling when charities are used for terrorist purposes, but what system is in place to review these and also sanctions in general? I realise that he cannot comment on specific individuals but can he say whether investigations that may lead to us wanting to implement further sanctions are under way? I realise that this is somewhat outside the scope of these regulations, but the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and, most ingenuously, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—I really look forward to the Minister’s response in regard to the United States—have both taken the sanctions wider, and I want to flag something. I do not expect a response, but I hope that he will feed in whether consideration is now being given to those who may have been responsible for the recent atrocities in Cameroon.
Can the Minister also update us on whether we are getting support in the region for the actions we are taking here, where many of these operatives are? Have we found ways, which we found challenging before, of ensuring that money can, for example, go to Syrian humanitarian organisations, so that they are not caught up in the sanctions challenges? As we deal with sanctions going forward, we need to make sure that they are carefully and independently evaluated so that immediate political priorities do not push them away in relation to certain countries, with undue focus elsewhere. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I, too, begin by echoing the comments of the Minister in relation to the terrible events in Nice. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and, of course, to the nation of France as a whole.
We welcome the Government’s attempts to maintain counterterrorism sanctions after the transition period, and we welcome this statutory instrument. Sanctions are a central tool to keep the UK safe and the Government must ensure that the necessary framework is watertight. Of course, the Government have a lot more to do to make our sanctions regime more effective, including the extension of the Magnitsky powers.
I want to make a small point: these regulations deal entirely with supplementing the 2019 regulations that stem from the Act that we took through this House together. Can the Minister explain why the provisions in these regulations were not in the 2019 regulations? Why have we had to revisit this matter twice? I am not having a pop at the Minister; I would just like an explanation.
I want to pick up on a point made by my noble friend Lord Hain. The Minister will recall that we have pushed him on many occasions in this House about the extension of the Magnitsky powers to apply to corruption. We have heard commitments from the Government that this is on their agenda and that there is a timetable—or not a timetable but a hope—for something to happen in future. I hope that the Minister can today be a little more explicit that we will commit to the extension of the Magnitsky powers to corruption and that there is a definite timetable.
I am sure that all noble Lords appreciate that sanctions can really be effective only when they are taken in concert with others. There is no point in having independent sanctions, in terms of making them effective, if no other country joins us. I pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Northover, that we need to understand better from the Government just how, at the end of the transition period, we will work in concert with our EU partners and neighbours. How will we ensure that our sanctions regime remains robust and has integrity? I hope that the Minister can give some indication that this matter will be properly dealt with when we hear the final terms of any potential agreement.
The report also notes that sanctions are only a part of a broader strategy in the fight against terrorism. This includes supporting UN resolutions and the UN’s special rapporteur on terrorism. Can the Minister give a bit more detail about the Government’s priorities for the UK’s representatives at the United Nations in combating terrorism? Are we looking at new mechanisms?
Finally, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, on her excellent maiden speech. As she rightly said, it is not her first in the Palace of Westminster, and I am sure we shall hear more from her in future.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and for their support for these regulations. I join with other noble Lords in warmly welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and in congratulating her on her excellent speech. We learned from my noble friend Lord Balfe of her connections with Tottenham Hotspur. I am sure we shall have animated debates, as I am a Liverpool fan—the accent is a bit of a giveaway. She will be an incredibly powerful contributor to our debates. Her speech today showed important insights into the detail of the subject matter being discussed. I often describe your Lordships’ House as a place of wit and wisdom. Knowing the noble Baroness, I am sure she will make high-quality contributions on both these fronts.
I also welcome the contributions and support of other noble Lords in this important debate. I totally concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins; it will be no surprise if I repeat something that I have said to them both within and outside the Chamber. I agree that sanctions and their application—whether in the context of counterterrorism or any other area—work effectively only when they are taken in lock-step with other key partners.
I want to pick up specifically on some of the key points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. Existing regulations will continue to operate and apply to the UK during the remaining part of the transition period. We continue to work with the EU and member states to ensure that all EU sanctions are implemented and enforced. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also raised these issues. We are working closely with our European partners, not just on sanctions but in other areas as well. Specifically, on sanctions, I am in constant touch with my opposite numbers within the European Commission. We also have discussions with leaders and representatives of other Governments within the EU. As recent alignment has shown, we work closely on matters of international co-operation, particularly through the E3 mechanism.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the United Nations and our priorities there. He will know that there is a particular Under-Secretary-General responsible for counterterrorism. I am in discussions with our representatives in New York to see how we can further strengthen the UK’s broad interests. I will take into account the noble Lord’s suggestions on how we move forward in this area. The sad events in France once again indicate the vulnerability of dealing with such acts. My noble friend Lady McIntosh made the point about people who operate using new channels of communication. I agree with her—we need to be one step ahead. The terrorist mindset is always looking at new and innovative ways to challenge and defeat those who unite against extremism and terrorism. As events have shown, this remains a live issue. We send our condolences to the families of those attacked in France today. We have learned that the attack happened in a church—a place of worship. Any terrorist attack is appalling, but this compounds the impact.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfe and welcome his support and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for these regulations. I can assure them again that we shall work closely with EU counterparts. On UN sanctions, we work internationally. I pre-empted a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, when I mentioned international partners, by alluding specifically to the European Union. Now that we have left the European Union, it will be important for us to continue to align ourselves with liberal democracies across Europe. That sends a powerful message on sanctions and other areas of work.
I was not surprised by a couple of the references from the noble Lord, Lord Hain—I somewhat expected them. The noble Lord, Lord Collins also asked about corruption, particularly in the context of the Magnitsky sanctions. I can assure both noble Lords and the House that we are considering how a corruption regime can be added to our current armoury of legal weapons. The Magnitsky global human rights sanctions are an obvious one. I can also assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we are looking specifically at the framework of the UN Convention against Corruption and I have had meetings to this effect. We are also looking at other jurisdictions such as the United States and Canada which already apply these sanctions. As details emerge, I will share them with your Lordships’ House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulescoomb, in her customary way, raised a number of questions about illegitimate regimes which may seek not to take on board the sanctions being applied. It depends on the situation as to whether sanctions are likely to be effective in achieving our foreign policy aims. The global human rights sanctions are a good example in that they specifically target movement and financing. These are powerful tools, even if an individual or an existing regime somewhere in the world does not accept them. Acting first and foremost as the UK but also in partnership with other countries adds to the strength and application of such tools.
The noble Baroness also referred to the US elections. The United States is a strong friend and ally—it is also a robust democracy. We await the outcome of their elections. The systems in the United States are robust enough to provide an outcome which is both acceptable and legitimate. The strength of a democracy lies in its own operation. It is not for me to comment on the outcome of those elections, but I believe the US is and will remain a vibrant and strong democracy, underpinned by the rule of law.
I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for her support. She referred to Section 49 as an important part of the Government’s approach in laying these regulations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, asked about Libya. We are working to have the Libya regime and accompanying guidance ready for the end of the transition period and will provide details of it. I also take on board her important references to the communities in Northern Ireland who have had to endure challenges of their own. We stand in solidarity with all those who have been victims of any kinds of atrocities.
I wish to thank all noble Lords again for their important and supportive contributions. It is not often that I can stand at the Dispatch Box and universally thank every single contributor for their strong support of the Government’s approach. On this occasion it is most welcome. This instrument underlines our common objective to support and protect the United Kingdom and the international financial system, as well as the charity sector to which the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred. I can assure her that we work closely with the Charity Commission. Charity law disqualifies certain individuals from being a charity trustee, as set out in the Charities Act 2011. These regulations tie these important pieces of legislation together. I assure her that we look very closely at the work of the Charity Commission, particularly with regard to those NGOs operating in the international sphere.
These regulations will also ensure that the range of disruptive tools and capabilities at our disposal, including our sanctions and counterterrorism financing framework, remain effective. It will aid our global fight against terrorism and contribute to the UK being an even stronger force for good in the world.
Finally, in her maiden speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, talked of the celebrations in Northern Ireland in 2021. I am sure I speak for all noble Lords here, and beyond, when I say that we look forward to joining with her and other noble Lords in those celebrations. The noble Baroness described it as a “wee country”; I am sure we all regard it as an important country which defines the modern United Kingdom. I beg to move.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now continue. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
We come to Committee on the Fire Safety Bill. I will call Members to speak in the order in which they are listed in the annexe to today’s list. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted. During the debate on each group I will invite Members, including those in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time.
The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should give notice of that fact during the course of the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make that clear when speaking on the group.
Fire Safety Bill
Clause 1: Premises to which the Fire Safety Order applies
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(1C) Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, the things to which this order applies include electrical appliances.(1D) The reference to electrical appliances means any appliances specified by regulations made by the relevant authority.(1E) Schedule (Electrical Appliances) to the Fire Safety Act 2020 applies to paragraphs (1C) and (1D).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that the Fire Safety Order applies to electrical appliances where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises.
My Lords, this amendment is also in the names of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I am delighted that Peers of such distinguished service and experience are able to support these amendments and I look forward to their contributions. I thank the Minister for his engagement and commitment on this issue. I know that he has given a briefing on this; I have apologised to him that I was unable to attend that briefing as I was engaged in a debate in Grand Committee at the time.
I welcome the Bill, and these amendments are intended to be proactive and to help prevent fires caused by electrical ignition. Similar amendments were tabled in the Commons by my honourable friend Sir David Amess.
I thank Electrical Safety First, a charity that is dedicated to electrical safety and which has helped in the presentation of this case.
These amendments are intended to build upon the Government’s new regulation for the private rented sector, the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which as the date suggests are obviously of a very recent vintage and which provide for mandatory checks every five years. I commend those regulations and believe that this legislation presents an opportunity to build on them.
As I said, this is an attempt to be proactive and to prevent fires happening in the first place. I accept that the Government are giving some consideration to this issue and I am grateful for that. My amendments are designed to ensure that electrical appliances are registered with the responsible person for high-rise domestic dwellings and to introduce mandatory checks for all residents, whatever the tenure of their home.
One anomaly of the present position is that some flats—those that are privately let—will have mandatory five-year checks. Some currently will not: the social tenants and the owner-occupied. I do not believe that that difference can be easily justified. It could be that one flat is having checks while the one next door is not.
According to Electrical Safety First, electrical faults cause more than 14,000 fires a year—almost half of all accidental house fires. There are around 4,000 tower blocks in the country, containing over 480,000 individual flats. Unless every unit in a high-rise building is subject to the same safety regime, the whole building is at risk from a fire emanating from one single flat, as we have seen.
New analysis of government data by Electrical Safety First reveals that nearly a quarter of accidental electric fires that occurred in high-rise buildings over the last five years in England were the result of faulty appliances and leads, as well as faulty fuel supplies, which can include electrical wiring in a property. These amendments would see a responsible person record the presence of white goods to minimise the risk that faulty goods can pose in densely populated buildings. Keeping a record of the appliances in use would also mean that faulty recalled appliances could be removed or repaired. Mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in tower blocks, regardless of tenure, are included in the amendment.
As I said, current regulations that we passed recently mean that privately rented flats are required to have these electrical safety checks but other tenures are not, which has in effect created a tenure lottery in buildings, which often include owner-occupied, privately rented and social housing properties.
These provisions for checking electrical safety would be undertaken by competent registered electricians. I am aware of the concerns and interest of the Fire Brigades Union and I welcome its engagement. I assure the union that there is no intention through these amendments that fire officers would undertake this work. They have other, very important jobs to do, which they are doing very well.
More worrying analysis shows that over the past three years, accidental electrical fires in high-rise buildings have risen consistently year on year. High-profile tower block fires have been previously linked to electrical sources, including the Lakanal House fire, where an electrical fault with a television caused a fire that claimed the lives of six people, and Shepherd’s Court, where a faulty tumble dryer led to extensive damage to an 18-storey building. While other factors certainly accelerated the Grenfell Tower fire, it must be highlighted that its primary immediate cause was of course an electrical source of ignition, subsequently confirmed by the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 documentation.
It is important to note that some fires are caused not by appliances themselves but by misuse of them. That is why, despite these amendments, education is certainly important, and why the Home Office in conjunction with Electrical Safety First runs a week of educational awareness-raising with the public through the Fire Kills campaign on the proper use of electricity and electrical appliances. I certainly welcome that, and it is a necessary thing to do, but it is not in itself sufficient.
Recent tragic events have demonstrated the fatal risk that electrical accidents and incidents pose to people in their homes, particularly in high-density housing such as tower blocks. The work of Electrical Safety First and others has helped ensure that tenants living in the private rented sector are now protected by mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in their properties. That law was recently brought into effect. Such measures are crucial in bringing down the number of electrical accidents and incidents, and saving lives. We believe that the time is right to include individual dwellings in tower blocks in this regime, regardless of their tenure.
I appreciate that this is a short Bill to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which focuses on non-domestic measures, to cover domestic homes. This means that homes within high-rise blocks are affected by the proposed legislation. This offers an excellent and straightforward opportunity to ensure that all who live in such buildings are brought under the same safety regime. Given this, the newly created role of a “responsible person” for any high-rise building should be given the task of compiling a register of every white good in the building. This ensures that when a recall occurs, anyone with an affected appliance can be quickly alerted and the safety risk resolved. Relying on consumers to register and respond to recalls in those buildings, when the potential risk is so high, must be considered wholly inadequate.
The Government can therefore improve the Bill through a number of measures that seek to improve electrical safety in homes. Amending the Bill provides an opportunity to make immediate differences to the safety of people who live in multi-occupied high-rise buildings. Electricity causes fires and the Government need to consider seriously the electrical sources of ignition. I am pleased that these amendments enjoy broad-based support. This is a time for all of us to come together to provide a safer environment for high-rise buildings by the introduction of mandatory safety checks. I hope that the Committee will support these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak in favour of the amendment in the name of my noble friend, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, to which I have added my name, as have the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I should have also added my name to my noble friend’s Amendment 24, which I fully support.
As I mentioned at Second Reading, the issue of electrical appliances and their safety, especially as a potential cause of household fires, should be a major concern. We should do whatever we can to try to reduce those fires caused by electrical faults. The two amendments, introduced so eloquently by my noble friend, would be a valuable tool in trying to achieve that.
Hand in hand with measures for mandatory checks, we should also do what we can to educate the public on electrical safety. My noble friend mentioned that. I pay tribute to a scheme that used to run—I am not sure that it still does—in the London Borough of Hillingdon when I was the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge. Primary school children went into a series of locations or rooms, perhaps a kitchen or bathroom, to identify potential hazards and dangers. I remember saying at the time that the scheme should be not just for primary school children but for adults, too. Sometimes people are not aware of the problems that can be caused by all sorts of household appliances. We should all be aware that the labour-saving devices that we take for granted can also be potentially dangerous. We should therefore do whatever we can to try to eliminate the possibility of electrical fires because we know the devastation that they can cause.
My Lords, I strongly support these amendments and the requirement for a regular mandatory check on electrical appliances, broadly for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, explained to the Committee. I pay tribute to the campaign group Electrical Safety First, which has given me some information on the issue. As the noble Lord has said, the fires at Lakanal House in Camberwell, Shepherd’s Court and Grenfell were all triggered by faulty electrical appliances. Whether it was dangerous cladding, compromised firewalling or poor evacuation procedures that led to multiple deaths, electrical appliances triggered the fires in the first place. Indeed, more than half of the fires in dwellings in this country are related to electrical appliances.
These amendments would require regular checking of the standards and appropriate use of white goods in all multi-occupied properties. There are already mandatory gas checks on most such buildings for gas supply and the correct use of gas appliances. That is largely because people and regulators have long recognised that gas is dangerous. Yet, these days, electricity is the greater hazard. In multi-occupied multi-storey buildings, if there is a problem in one flat or unit, that is a potentially lethal problem for everyone in that structure.
We should explain that the amendment to regulations would in no way reduce the central responsibility and liability of the manufacturers to ensure the safety of their products; nor should any responsibility be taken away from users to follow instructions and not use equipment irresponsibly or inappropriately. However, the continued use of recalled products, dangerous wiring arrangements, damaged circuits and inappropriate placement of white goods requires regular inspection. There is also a requirement on landlords, tenants and leaseholders to have knowledge of that inspection to help reduce hazards. Failure on their part to facilitate inspection or to take action in the light of that inspection will rest primarily with the owner and manager of the building. That is how it should be. I strongly support these amendments.
My Lords, first, I remind the Committee that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I support both amendments in this group. My noble friend Lord Tope, who is a signatory to Amendment 1, is unable to take part today but I know that he is looking forward to debating the issues raised in both amendments when we reach Report.
As we have heard, evidence from Electrical Safety First tells us that electrical faults cause more than 14,000 home fires a year. That is almost half of all accidental house fires. Logically, therefore, the more electrical appliances are checked, the lower the risk will be of a fire breaking out and then spreading to other people’s properties. This is not just a matter of building safety but about preventing fires breaking out in the first place.
I suggest that the general public have a right to expect that Governments of all persuasions should be willing to legislate to ensure high standards of regulation to improve public safety. Those who live in blocks of flats have a right to expect that they are living in a safe environment and that the owner of their block has undertaken the necessary safety checks within it, in this case to electrical appliances within that block.
The proposal in this group of amendments is for checks at least every five years. That is justified. If I drive a car that is over three years old, I have to prove every year that it is roadworthy by having an MOT check. This is to protect other road users, not just me and my vehicle. The same principle should apply in shared buildings where electrical appliances that are a fire risk could cause damage to other properties and to their occupants in that shared building.
I therefore conclude that the fire safety order should apply to electrical appliances where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises. That seems reasonable. For high-rise residential buildings, in particular, it is important that a responsible person should keep a register of white goods in the building for which they are responsible, that they ensure that white goods are registered with the manufacturer for recall, should that be necessary, and that safety checks are conducted at least every five years.
Any privately rented home in a block of flats of mixed tenure will now be subject to electrical safety checks. It seems odd that in a high-rise block of mixed tenure, only the privately rented properties will be subject to the 2020 regulations. I would be grateful for the Minister’s explanation as to why that is, and to know whether the Government will act now to address that anomaly.
My Lords, I, too, declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We all share the object of improving the safety of residents and protecting them from the hazards of fire. The Bill is a most welcome contribution to this aim, and provides much-needed clarity about the responsibilities and duties of building owners.
My noble friend’s amendment has been tabled with the best of intentions. On Second Reading I mentioned my concern about the potential for fire hazards from white goods, as did others. I therefore looked with great interest at my noble friend’s amendment. Although I share the concern behind the two amendments regarding fire hazard posed by faulty electrical appliances, this amendment would transfer the responsibility for that issue away from the manufacturers and owners of such appliances, to the responsible person and the fire and rescue service.
The requirement for the responsible person to keep a register of electrical appliances and to check whether they are subject to a recall notice would be completely impractical, particularly in social housing, where the responsibility of the local authority or housing association has significant implications, especially in relation to keeping a register of all electrical appliances.
Surely the responsibility for the safety of electrical goods should sit with the manufacturers. Recent legislation created a national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system, and respond to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it enters the marketplace. An added concern was gaining the co-operation of occupiers and to private properties. There are potential problems of access rights, and ECHR issues.
Clause 86 of the draft building safety Bill imposes duties on residents regarding maintenance of electrical equipment, and I feel it would be better if the aims of the amendment were seen in relation to general electrical safety checks, and were part of that Bill’s safety case provision.
Fire statistics show that 34% of accidental dwelling fires in 2019-20 were caused by misuse of equipment or appliances, with a further 15% due to faulty leads. However, faulty electrical goods, although unacceptable, are not the primary source of fire fatalities: 23% of fire fatalities are linked to smokers. However, even if it were possible to fulfil all the obligations created by my noble friend’s amendment, we would always need to recognise that fires often start in kitchens—and Amendments 1 and 24 will not negate fire danger in kitchens.
My Lords, this important Bill commands extensive cross-party support. The amendment, with leadership from the noble lord, Lord Bourne, also has backing from all parties, and I can now add support from the Cross Benches. I think we have all been helped by input from the Electrical Safety First charity, from whose excellent briefing I note that the failure of electrical appliances is the underlying cause of some 57% of the fires in homes, as with the Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which a fridge-freezer caused the fire.
Although electrical product companies endeavour to alert customers when they need to recall appliances—as with the more than 500,000 white goods subject to recalls from Hotpoint and Indesit alone—there are many reasons why the message does not get through: people move and take appliances with them; recall notices get lost; people buy second-hand goods, and so on. There are a lot of electrical products out there with the potential to start new fires at any time.
Amendment 1, in combination with the proposed new schedule, provides two levels of assurance, both of which seem eminently suitable and practical for high-rise buildings in particular. These involve, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, keeping a register of electrical appliances and having a five-yearly electrical safety inspection of all flats, not just those that are privately rented.
We need to consider possible criticisms, and I shall take up one or two of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Would these measures, however necessary, be expensive to administer? Would they be costly for residents? Would they be intrusive into people’s private space? Adding the task of maintaining a register of residents’ appliances would increase the workload of the responsible person with fire safety duties, but the increased workload should be modest, and a tiny supplement to service charges should cover this.
I stress that the amendment would not add to the duties or responsibilities of the fire and rescue service; rather, it would assist the service by reducing fires. Local authorities would have oversight of the requirement for inspections, but they already have enforcement duties in respect of privately rented flats. Moreover, the work involved should not be onerous, as the apartment block’s managers, and the responsible person, in particular, will want to retain oversight of the building’s electrical safety.
As for the quinquennial inspection, I gather from managing agents in the private rented sector, who are already dealing with electrical safety inspections, that costs can be much lower than the £200 we have heard about for a five-year certification. There will be economies of scale in covering flats in a tower block, compared with costs for a check-up and certificate for a one-off private property. The inspection requires a qualified electrician but not a fully fledged surveyor or electrical engineer. I think £50 per unit, equivalent to £10 per annum, could be achieved in due course. Such a payment may be more than helpful in alerting the occupier to any potential hazards and providing peace of mind derived from the knowledge that one’s neighbours are much less likely, unwittingly, to cause a disastrous fire.
Some have argued that applying this obligation to home owners is a step too far. There is little objection to social landlords being required to meet standards demanded of private landlords, and the Regulator of Social Housing will not only insist on comparable standards but will ensure they are enforced. But there are sensitivities about placing the same obligations on home owners—leaseholders and shared owners—in these apartment blocks. However, this represents a free checking service for the resident to ensure that they are not harbouring an unsafe appliance that was the subject of a recall. The key point is that the actions of each resident, whether a tenant or an owner, affect all the other occupiers in the same building. While I am a firm supporter of mixed tenure development, as I know the Minister also is—it seems essential that these safety measures cover all apartments in a mixed block, irrespective of the tenure of the residents therein.
In conclusion, I strongly support the amendment—and I am delighted that we have a Minister responsible for the Bill who has the knowledge and the skills to take this forward, noting its support from all parts of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I want to speak against this amendment. I remind the House of my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I know that everyone in this Chamber is concerned about fire safety and united in their desire to ensure that tenants are safe in their homes. As other noble Lords have said, the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower and other significant fires in multi-occupied blocks were caused by faults with electrical devices. Naturally, we all want to make sure that such disasters can never happen again.
As the ex-leader of Westminster City Council, I know at first hand that local authorities and the housing associations they work with are entirely at one with us on this goal. However, I also know at first hand what practical and financial challenges the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Bourne would have. I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Eaton.
Westminster City Council is responsible for more than 22,000 properties on its estates and we are far from the largest local authority landowner. Under this amendment, local authorities and housing associations would regularly need to visit and certify multiple electrical devices in each dwelling they own, thus requiring tens of thousands of home visits in each local authority area annually. The financial burden of this is prohibitive and, given the measures that have already been introduced by government, will not improve the fire safety of domestic dwellings.
A further concern is that this amendment would have the effect of transferring responsibility for this issue from manufacturers to the responsible person, which includes local authorities and housing associations. Furthermore, local authorities and housing associations will need to keep a register of the hundreds of thousands of electrical appliances in the homes they let and check if they are subject to recall notices. This would be impractical and create a significant enforcement challenge. It is far better for manufacturers to take more responsibility for the products they sell.
Current legislation introduced in recent years already deals with the issues that this amendment seeks to solve. In 2018, a new national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, was created to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system, including responding to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it is placed on the market. The combination of these existing regulations ensures fire safety for tenants. The amendment proposed by my noble friend does not, in my view, add significantly to fire safety and just will not be practical to implement. I therefore will not be supporting it.
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests, as recorded in the register, as a councillor in Kirklees and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for tabling these amendments to include provision for improving the safety of electrical appliances in the Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Tope, who has campaigned on this issue for many years and, unfortunately, is unable to speak in this debate. Electrical Safety First has provided an excellent briefing, with important evidence on the need to include this issue in the Bill.
To those of us who are not familiar with all the facts, it came as something of a surprise that over half of all accidental fires are caused by faulty electrical appliances. As we now know, the tragic fire at Grenfell was caused by a faulty appliance. Of course, there are stringent requirements for manufacturers to build in safety features and for landlords in the private rented sector to do safety checks. However, many people are obliged to buy second-hand refurbished appliances, which may be safe at the time of purchase but have a greater probability of failing within the five years specified for checks.
My noble friend Lord Shipley, speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tope, explained that checks on appliances will, logically, reduce the number of fires caused in this way. He used a good analogy: cars need MoTs to ensure the safety of their owners and other road users, and therefore so should white goods. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, made a strong argument for putting the onus for the safety of electrical appliances on manufacturers, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, further pointed out the risks in manufacturers’ recall of faulty appliances. All this shows that this is a complicated matter, but complexity should not be used to prevent the problem being addressed. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, would extend and clarify the existing safety check requirements. I urge the Government to consider accepting them.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of mhs homes. Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, with cross-party support, and Amendment 24, also in the name of the noble Lord, seeks to put improvements and protections for people living in high-rise residential buildings in the Bill.
As we have heard in this short debate, electricity causes more than 14,000 fires each year—almost half all accidental house fires. The amendments seek to provide practical protection for residents living in high-rise buildings, which total more than 1 million people. We are all sadly aware of the tragic and sometimes fatal consequences of people caught in fires in their own homes. As we have heard, these amendments would build on the regulations that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, worked so hard to introduce. It took some time for them to come into effect; the noble Lord was always committed to them and I always pushed him to bring them in sooner, but we are grateful to him for this work. I also join him in paying tribute to Electrical Safety First, which is a great charity that highlights the problems we have with electrical fires and how we need to ensure that electricity is made as safe as possible for us all.
These regulations go further and extend the protections in the regulations introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, so that tenants living in high-rise buildings will benefit from mandatory electrical safety checks every five years, with records kept by the responsible person and made available to the fire services, local authorities and, importantly, the residents association if one is in place.
In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord made a powerful point, in that those who live in a high-rise block of flats include social tenants and owner-occupiers, neither of whom need electrical safety tenants, but private tenants would now need checks. If you are not checking the whole building, it is not safe at all. That is an important and powerful point, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, addresses it in his response.
Secondly, these amendments would require the responsible person to keep a register of white goods in the high-rise buildings for which they are responsible. I am supportive of these proposals, as we need high standards to keep people safe from the risk of fire started by electrical ignition. We have already mentioned the tragic incidents in recent years—not only Grenfell but Lakanal House and Shepherd’s Court—but equally I accept that there can be issues with getting access to flats and keeping the register of these goods up to date, which can provide a logistical challenge for people. There is also the question of new and second-hand goods.
I entirely accept that the product recall system is not working well. The London Fire Brigade had its Total Recalls campaign, which highlighted the problems with the recall system. We need something better than we have now because, as I said, keeping track of white goods is a huge challenge. Whether we accept these amendments or not, what we have at present cannot continue. We have to do something else.
I hope that, when the Minister responds to the debate, he sets us on that path. I suggest that he facilitates a meeting between Electrical Safety First, his officials and Members of this House who want to discuss how we can find a practical solution to the serious point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I also suggest that the London Fire Brigade in particular is involved in those discussions because of its campaigning work. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate and his delivery of that meeting.
My Lords, I would say first that we do need to look at the effective Berlin Wall between social housing and private housing, and in mixed sustainable communities where there are different tenures, we need to look at how we can ensure consistency and thus the safety of all residents. I am of course prepared to meet the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Electrical Safety First and other groups as soon as possible.
I thank my noble friends Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, for the amendment. This is clearly an important issue. Faulty electrical appliances are often the causes of fires in high-rise residential buildings, a point that has been made clear. However, before turning to the amendment, I would like to explain the work being done across government to improve electrical safety in residential buildings.
As my noble friend Lady Eaton pointed out, in 2018 a new national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, was created to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system including responding to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it is placed on the market and to ensure that manufacturers monitor products already on the market where appropriate and undertake sample testing of equipment. There are criminal sanctions for those who do not comply. Importantly, the draft building safety Bill proposes an obligation on residents to keep electrical installations and appliances that they are responsible for in their property in working order. There is also a provision for the accountable person for a building to take action where they or a competent person have reasonable grounds for believing that a resident or their landlord is failing to meet this obligation. In addition to this, the Home Office’s “Fire Kills” campaign plays an incredibly important part in promoting electrical fire safety messages, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Bourne.
The new Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 are now in force for new tenancies and will apply to existing tenancies from 1April 2021. These regulations require that electrical installations must be inspected and tested by a qualified and competent person at least every five years, as highlighted by noble Lords, and that an electrical installation condition report be provided to tenants and local housing authorities on request.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on why mandatory checks apply only to private housing and not to public housing, the situation is that social landlords are expected to comply with the Decent Homes standard from the Regulator of Social Housing. This includes homes being free of hazards, including electrical hazards, as set out under the housing health and safety rating system. In the social housing Green Paper, we asked if new safety measures in the private rented sector should be extended to the social sector, including electrical safety checks. We will bring forward a social housing White Paper soon. I will however take the issue away for further consideration, I have already offered to hold a meeting, and I will provide an update on Report.
My noble friend Lady Couttie raised the practicalities of the implementation of such a system by registered social landlords and local councils with a large amount of council stock. I want to reassure your Lordships that we will continue to work across government to identify any further gaps in the electrical safety regime.
I now want to explain some of my concerns with this amendment. In particular, it does not achieve its intended effect. For example, there is doubt that the amendment would result in electrical appliances in private dwellings being brought within scope of the fire safety order. I suspect that this was not the intention. In any case, my noble friend will be aware that domestic premises are specifically excluded under the fire safety order, so this amendment intends to significantly broaden the scope of the legislation. I am also concerned that it proposes to require occupiers to provide access to the responsible person to enter the private dwellings. This would result in a significant level of intrusion and the implications of this need to be carefully thought through before any decision is made to legislate on the issue.
The proposed new schedule also intends for the responsible person to keep a register of electrical appliances for their building. This proposed duty will have a significant impact on the responsible person. For local authorities, and indeed all responsible persons, I do not want to create this additional burden. It is unrealistic to expect responsible persons to have an up-to-date register of electrical appliances for their building. This will also have a significant impact on fire and rescue services, who will need to check whether the electrical appliances register is accurate, which could involve inspecting all homes in a block of flats.
Given the assurances that I have provided, coupled with my commitment to provide an update on the next steps with regard to the social housing White Paper, along with my commitment to the meeting requested by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the discussion of these two amendments in the first group. I think that there is a genuine desire across the Committee, even in those who have raised difficulties in doing something. Unless I am wrong, there is a recognition that we should be doing something to reduce fire deaths and to provide for safety with regard to electrical goods.
Some very clear facts have come across. High-rise blocks of flats are increasing, notwithstanding the presence of the person overseeing the safety of goods. Legislation has been introduced to help to protect private tenants—it does not extend to social tenants—and owner-occupiers. I do not believe that we should be in a position where we are protecting private tenants and owner-occupiers but not social tenants. I note the points made by my noble friend about social tenants, but if there is a genuine desire to do something, this legislation will provide that opportunity.
Let us take a look at the legitimate concerns that have been brought forward, which I recognise, and see how we can overcome them. That, to me, is the right way of moving. I do not think that there is a real threat of intrusion because this is about providing safety for everyone in our country, which is very desirable. I welcome my noble friend’s acceptance of the suggestion of a meeting and I would be pleased to take part in it. We can look at doing something genuinely to ensure that we do not face the horrific fire incidents that we have seen in the past. We can find a way of providing some safety and security.
I listened particularly to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who certainly knows what he is talking about; as is commonly known throughout the House, he really does understand this area. At this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, but I will certainly come back to it on Report to look for some movement on how we can provide genuine security from electrical fires for all those living in high-rise blocks.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 2: Power to change premises to which the Fire Safety Order applies
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may not amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to apply the Order to domestic premises in buildings under five storeys in height.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is a probing amendment to enable the House to discuss fire safety measures that apply to low-rise domestic buildings, which have a lesser fire risk, and how the powers under Clause 2 may be used to implement Grenfell inquiry recommendations.
My Lords, I am sorry that I was not able to speak at Second Reading. However, I am glad to rise to move Amendment 2, which is probing in nature but very serious. It reflects one of the problems that has arisen from actions taken following the Grenfell tragedy. One consequence of Grenfell is that cladding on many dwellings, especially high-rise flats, will have to be treated and/or removed if their safety is to be assured. Initially, statements by government Ministers implied that cladding on buildings of over 18 metres was in question, but subsequent remarks have implied that buildings of lower height could also be affected. The proposed order, of course, goes beyond cladding. It covers balconies and windows and the entrance doors to individual flats. These are often made of wood, as they have been since virtually the dawn of time, and the advice from consultants and so on is that they need to be replaced or fireproofed under the new regime.
All of this will be a very expensive process. Rough estimates reveal that the cost per dwelling can easily reach tens of thousands of pounds. In many cases, it is not clear from where the money for the changes needed will come. Freeholders, leaseholders and government look on in horror at the implications. As a consequence, a substantial part of the housing market is effectively frozen. Buyers will not purchase unless they can be assured that they will not be caught by these extra costs, or at least until any costs can be reliably quantified. Many people simply cannot move because their dwellings cannot be sold until the impasse is resolved.
The problem is aggravated by the use of the now-infamous external fire wall review form developed by the RICS, no doubt in an effort to be helpful. The perverse effect of this was debated in the other place. There is a shortage of people qualified to undertake such surveys and the delay leads to the collapse of house sales. So the young who want to move somewhere bigger, for example when they have a baby, the old who want to trade down and release capital, and the unemployed who want to move to get work elsewhere, are all frozen. Mortgage providers are unwilling to lend on what are now seen as distressed assets.
This is a nightmare. We, the Conservatives, are the party that believes in home ownership and has made promises on housing, which I stand behind 100%. I do not like to attack the Government, but this problem does not have negotiating ramifications. It is straightforward and domestic. The Government have a clear duty to minimise the problem and map a way forward out of the morass. Indeed, though they were made for the best of reasons, their statements created the problem in the first place.
My Amendment 2 deals with only a small part of the problem but Rome was not built in a day. Reducing the scope of a problem is worth while; we could do that in this Bill with my noble friend the Minister’s agreement. My thought is that the risk posed by cladding and balconies in low-rise buildings is much less than in high-rise ones. To be blunt, it is easier and quicker to get out if there is a fire, and it seems disproportionate to apply such onerous requirements to low-rise buildings. If we can make clear that buildings below a certain height—with fewer than five storeys, say—will not be covered by future requirements for removal or changes to cladding, that part of the market will be unfrozen, which would be a major step forward. I am open as to how this can be achieved, though limiting the height of buildings to which the new rules will apply is one obvious possibility.
I will also speak to Amendments 20 and 21 on an impact assessment. The Home Office produced an impact assessment as part of the consultation on the proposed new fire safety order, but regrettably not for the Bill itself. It does not touch on the troublesome dynamics that I have raised. It covers familiarisation costs for responsible persons, businesses and the public sector, ongoing assessments and audits by competent individuals and some remedial costs, although my impression is that these are underestimated. The impact assessment quotes a total of more than £2 billion, partly because of the huge number of premises involved, but it is striking that, of the 1.7 million premises on the central estimate, 1.596 million are below 11 metres and 87,000 are below 18 metres—hence my proposal.
When I headed up the deregulation unit—which we named the better regulation unit under its Labour chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Haskins—we were always worried about getting the detail wrong and imposing huge and needless burdens in response to disasters. This, I fear, is a living example; with the distractions of Covid, this could be a prime example of this deplorable tendency.
Further, we all care about fire safety; that is what this Bill is about. My late father-in-law was a fire officer, including during the Blitz. I am a well- known supporter on these Benches of health and safety; I have campaigned on the problem of faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers and worked with the then BEIS Minister responsible to tackle it. Now we must find an urgent way of coping with the terrible problem of the freezing of part of the housing market because of the Government’s statements. This might even be done through an amendment to this popular Bill.
We must find a way through. In pursuit of that, I have three detailed questions for my noble friend the Minister, broadly suggested to me by the National Residential Landlords Association. First, how do the Government propose that risk assessments for buildings of five storeys or fewer be undertaken? Secondly, do the Government agree that for properties with a lower risk, for example smaller properties in multiple occupation, there is scope for the responsible person to be defined as competent to undertake a fire risk assessment? Thirdly, there have been issues regarding the availability of qualified and appropriately insured fire engineers who are able to undertake safety reviews. What assessment has been made about the need to ensure that there are sufficient trained assessors and that professionals have access to insurance so that they can undertake the necessary assessment without concerns for their personal liability?
I very much look forward to the Minister’s comments and the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful for these probing amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I understand her point: they are clearly important and they help our further consideration of the Bill. In particular, her identification of the need for trained assessors seems extremely important; I think that we will deal with that a little later this afternoon.
Amendment 2 relates to low-rise domestic buildings—that is, those of four storeys or fewer. I am not clear why, because they are lower than a high-risk block, they should be deemed a lower risk. Surely we are trying to stop fires breaking out; that is not related directly to the height of a building. Added to that is the fact that, sometimes, building height is quoted at different levels for different purposes. Sometimes it is done on the basis of height; sometimes it is done on the basis of the number of floors. I would appreciate some greater standardisation so that we do not face discussions on 18 metres or 11 metres, the number of floors and so on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said—this is important—that the Government must map a way forward. I hope that the Minister will bring some clarity on this in his response. As the noble Baroness said, it is terribly important not to get the detail wrong. In our consideration of this amendment—as we know, it is a probing amendment—it would be helpful to consider it as part and parcel of our intention to get the detail much better than it has been in the past.
My Lords, I apologise for not being in the Chamber when my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe opened her remarks. I rise to speak in support of Amendment 2 but I will focus my remarks on Amendments 20 and 21 in particular, which deal with the need for impact assessments.
I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for setting out so clearly the rationale behind her amendments. I begin by explaining why this issue is so important to me personally—in short, there but for the grace of God go I. Contrary to the damaging impression given by the Lords Commission’s inept decision to cut the attendance allowance and reduce significantly the eligibility to claim it—just at the time when the Chancellor introduced the furlough scheme to reduce stress—many noble Lords are not millionaires and have given up well-paid jobs to serve their country in your Lordships’ House. I have never earned a huge amount of money, so as a former leaseholder in the shared ownership part of a new-build development, I do not know how I could possibly have coped with the uncertainty, stress and immense costs currently faced by leaseholders.
Amendments 20 and 21 call for impact assessments. Perhaps it might help your Lordships’ House if I shared the findings of an impact assessment that has already been carried out by the residents association of a new-build block—incorporating both low-level blocks of below 18 metres and taller buildings—in Colindale in north London. The findings relate to the mental health impact of the current situation on leaseholders: they are stark and shocking. Nine out of 10 residents reported that their mental health had deteriorated because of the current situation regarding the fire regulations; 100% of residents stated that their biggest concern was about Notting Hill Genesis—their housing association—passing on remediation costs to leaseholders. Fourteen per cent of residents have experienced thoughts of self-harm and 10% have experienced suicidal thoughts.
Why are the residents so concerned? Might it have anything to do with the £411,000 bill—£5,708 per flat—for the waking watch? Unbelievably, the housing association, Notting Hill Genesis, implemented a five-person waking watch, who are on site 24 hours a day, with associated costs, without consultation. Perhaps it has something to do with the £84,000—£1,166 per flat —for an upgraded fire alarm system in line with the change from “stay put” to “get out”, which requires a new L5 wireless fire alarm in every flat. Or maybe it is because a leaseholder cannot get their flat insured or sell their home, and therefore cannot move, for example if they need to because of coronavirus-related unemployment, or indeed the need to move for a new job.
Perhaps the most salient finding of this assessment, which was unspoken, was that the impact is now. This is not in the future tense. This is in the present tense. So the need for an urgent solution to protect residents is also now. On 14 October in the other place, the Prime Minister assured Matthew Offord, the MP for Hendon, that he would look into how to respond to the concerns that he had raised consistently on behalf of constituents. I am not asking the Minister necessarily to answer all the questions and concerns that I have raised in his response to these amendments today, but, before completion of the Bill, perhaps he could come to the House with a solution that answers the concerns of residents. Otherwise, I fear, our precious mantle as the party of home ownership—hard fought for and won over many years—is very much at risk.
My Lords, I am keen to ensure, as many noble Lords will be, that the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry can be implemented speedily. A key element of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, seeks to clarify whether the powers in Clause 2 can be used to introduce regulations via the affirmative procedure. This seems an eminently sensible proposal for a route to be used to act on some of the many recommendations from the Grenfell inquiry when it is published. I hope the Minister will be able to agree that this amendment as a way forward for the Grenfell inquiry is one that the Government are willing to use.
Although the Government have responded to some of the consequences of the Grenfell tragedy, there is much more to be done. Three years is a long time to wait for those directly affected and for those trying to live with the considerable financial and emotional consequences: for instance, those living in modern high-rise blocks in my part of the country in Leeds, who are paying considerable sums each month for a waking watch. I agree with my noble friend Lord Shipley that building height and number of storeys do not, on the face of it, affect fire risk. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify the difference in height or number of storeys when he responds to these questions.
Other amendments later today explore several of the issues in the noble Baroness’s amendments, which demonstrates to me that many of us consider that fire safety risks for existing buildings need to be fully debated. The Government need to come forward with a proposal. I look forward, with hope, to the government response to this interesting amendment.
My Lords, Amendments 2, 20 and 21, all in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, have enabled us to debate the issues that pertain to low-rise domestic premises under five storeys, and how people are kept safe. Although these buildings are not high-rise, they can still present significant challenges for the residents. We need to make sure that they are safe.
It is a fact that fires often occur on the lower levels of premises. That is obviously quite logical. In most cases, the kitchen and living room, where you have the electrical equipment, are on the ground floor. You usually go upstairs to the bedrooms, where there is less equipment. If fires occur in these smaller blocks of flats—modern blocks, for example, or conversions of large houses—the risk and the issues are still relevant. I remember on a visit to the London Fire Brigade headquarters a couple of years ago, we were given a briefing on the problems of four or five-storey modern blocks, where there had been serious fires, huge damage to property, risk to life and limb and risk of serious injury.
In her amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, raised the problem of people trapped in properties covered in cladding and other materials about which serious concerns have been raised. They cannot sell their properties and they cannot get a mortgage if they want to buy them. These are very serious problems for those people, and we need a solution. The solution, for me, is that we have to get the material off. One of the problems we have, certainly in more modern properties, is that when properties are built, the builders give guarantees, and insurance policies are taken out based on the quality of construction. We now have the problem—this has been discussed many times before—that guarantees are not being honoured and insurance policies are being disputed and not paid out. That creates a huge problem for people who have bought a property or built a property as an organisation. We must deal with that issue. If you have given out a guarantee or issued insurance, it is unacceptable that you can walk away and say, “Sorry, we’re not paying this out, we’re not going to deal with this”.
I hope the Minister can tell the House what discussions he and his department are going to have with the insurance industry and the people who give construction guarantees. That is what we have to get right. If you guarantee that these properties have been built properly, I would assume that proper due diligence has been done and you have ensured that they have indeed been built properly, and if there are problems, you should pay out. We need to get these things sorted.
Amendments 20 and 21 would require that proper consultation take place, and ask the Secretary of State and the relevant Welsh Minister to report back to Parliament and the Senedd Cymru respectively. That is very sensible. A theme running through today’s debates is that consultation is really important to get these things right.
I thank the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments. She has raised an important issue and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, will respond to the questions asked.
I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for raising these important issues and facilitating this useful debate. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in it.
On Amendment 2, regarding the exclusion of low-rise buildings from the fire safety order, the order places duties on the responsible person to protect those lawfully on the premises from the risk of fire. These duties include carrying out and maintaining an up-to-date fire risk assessment that is specific to their premises, and ensuring that they have taken suitable and sufficient measures to mitigate the potential risk of fire. That is a continuous process whereby emerging fire risks need to be kept under review as part of the fire risk assessment process. These duties apply to buildings within scope of the order. That includes all premises apart from those that are expressly excluded; domestic premises are one such category. The Bill clarifies that the fire safety order applies to the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings.
While I understand the intention behind my noble friend’s amendment, I am afraid I do not think it has quite the effect she intends. Domestic premises are already excluded from the scope of the order, so an amendment ensuring that they be excluded is not necessary. The buildings within which such premises sit are not excluded, in order to ensure that people living in such buildings have the protection they need to keep them safe. To exclude a category of buildings such as those less than five storeys high would remove that necessary protection.
Furthermore, it would be wrong to assume that the height of a building is the key determinant in its risk of fire, as has been noted. Certainly, it is a factor, but the potential risk is determined by many other factors that are nuanced and unique to each building. In that respect, I would like to refer to some of the fires we have witnessed since the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. In July 2018 a fire started on an external balcony on the third floor of the Orwell Building in West Hampstead, a six-storey block of flats. In September last year a fire destroyed a four-storey timber-framed block of flats in Worcester Park. Just a few months later, a fire spread via the high-pressure laminate coating on The Cube, a student accommodation block in Bolton. Mercifully, none of these fires resulted in casualties or fatalities, but clearly, they present lessons that need to be learned.
I am happy to put on record that the Government have no intention of excluding multi-occupied residential buildings of any height, including those that are low-rise, from the scope of the fire safety order. We will deliver on our commitment to strengthen the order as a proportionate legislative response to the risks of fire in high-rise residential buildings. However, we must also ensure that we do not discount the potential risk of fires in low-rise buildings. We must ensure that the responsible person continues to take a thorough approach when conducting their fire risk assessment.
Our fire safety consultation included proposals for implementing the legislative recommendations made by the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase one report. Most of these recommendations concerned creating prescriptive new duties for those responsible for high-rise residential buildings, and in some instances, we have actually gone further than the inquiry’s recommendations. For example, we proposed in our consultation that responsible persons should provide information to their local fire and rescue services on the level of risk in the design and materials of the external wall structure and mitigating steps they have taken, which goes further than the inquiry recommended.
Noble Lords will be aware that the Government published the draft building safety Bill on 20 July. The proposed scope of the new regime in that Bill will apply to higher-risk buildings. On day one of that new regime, it will cover all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys, whichever is reached first. The building safety Bill will allow a flexible legislative response to building safety risks as it will provide for the Secretary of State’s modifying the scope of the legislation and even changing the height threshold for multi-occupied residential buildings in order to bring them into the scope of the new regime as higher-risk buildings. For residential buildings outside the scope of the building safety Bill, the Housing Act 2004 will remain the primary means by which standards are enforced.
I should also draw attention to the Building Safety Fund, through which the Government have made £1 billion available to fund the removal of unsafe non-aluminium composite material cladding. That is in addition to the £600 million we have already made available to ensure the remediation of unsafe ACM cladding. In developing the fund, the Government considered the view of experts, including Dame Judith Hackitt, who support its focus on buildings of 18 metres and above. Those experts recommended that we focus further public funding on remediating unsafe non-ACM cladding from high-rise residential buildings. Higher-rise buildings are the least likely to be evacuated safely in the event of a fire spreading via external cladding. There will be a small degree of flexibility in the fund to allow it to cover buildings that have been built just under the 18-metre threshold and which have similar fire safety strategies to those taller than 18 metres.
However, we do not expect that government funding to be the only means of remediating high-rise residential buildings with unsafe cladding systems. We expect a significant proportion of the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding on these buildings to be funded by those responsible for the original work, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, alluded to, through warranties or by building owners who are able to pay for remediation without passing on costs to leaseholders.
My noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Shinkwin raised powerful concerns about the impact that EWS1 forms are having on people selling their homes and those looking to buy homes. The Government share their concerns and are working with the industry to address this matter. The EWS1 form is not a governmental or regulatory requirement, nor is it a building safety certificate. It was developed as the industry’s preferred solution to support the valuation process for high-rise buildings above 18 metres, and that is all it was ever intended for. Not all lenders require an EWS1 form but the Government are aware that other lenders are requesting such forms for lower-rise properties too. We do not support that blanket approach and are working with lenders to encourage a more proportionate approach and to reduce demands for them.
We are also working with professional bodies to see how we can increase capacity to carry out assessments where they are genuinely needed. In future, the building assurance certificate—provided for in the building safety Bill, not this Bill—and/or an up-to-date fire risk assessment following the clarification in this Bill should provide the reassurance that lenders are looking for in the EWS1 form.
I turn to my noble friend’s Amendments 20 and 21, concerning an impact assessment. The Government have published an impact assessment for this Bill; it can be found on the pages of the parliamentary website relating to the Bill, but if my noble friend would find it useful, I would be happy to share that directly with her. We worked closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and other interested parties in preparing that assessment. We have also published an impact assessment for the fire safety order consultation and will conduct a final impact assessment before laying secondary legislation to bring about any changes to the order.
Government analysts used the most accurate data and assumptions available to them at the time to assess the potential impacts of the Fire Safety Bill. While I understand my noble friend’s desire to undertake further assessment, government analysts are already committed to a final impact assessment for the regulations before laying them before your Lordships’ House and the other place. Each of these assessments is informed by further engagement with those directly affected, and improved data and assumptions.
I turn to the aspect of the amendment which seeks for the Government to produce an impact assessment if changes are made to the fire safety order with regard to the premises to which it applies in future. The Bill already creates a duty on the Government to consult relevant parties should changes need to be made to the fire safety order relating to the premises to which it applies—that is in Clause 2(5). As part of this consultation —indeed, as part of the policy-making process—there is an expectation on the Government to carry out an impact assessment. Therefore, we do not think that it would be practical or necessary for that to be enshrined in law.
Finally, I turn to the aspect of the amendment that would require Welsh Ministers to produce an impact assessment under these circumstances. Although the Welsh Government and the Senedd fully support the Bill—indeed, they approved it unanimously—fire safety is, as noble Lords know, a devolved matter. It is possible for Parliament to legislate for Wales on a devolved matter only if the Senedd Cymru consents. It would also be inappropriate for your Lordships’ House to seek to instruct Welsh Ministers on how to exercise their functions. That is properly a matter for the Senedd.
My noble friend asked me three questions. I have alluded to some already and we will touch on others in later amendments. However, on the three points that she raised, all buildings should be assessed when this Bill becomes, as we hope, an Act of Parliament. We are proposing the use of a risk operating model developed by the sector to target the buildings that should be prioritised. Height is not the only factor in that model; it looks at a range of risks.
On her second question, the task and finish group recommended a risk-based prioritisation of buildings, which generally means that high-rise buildings will be the first up, but low rise is not always low risk, as the recent fires to which I have alluded prove. The responsible person can undertake the risk assessment if they have the skills and competence, but for complex buildings they should seek professional advice.
On my noble friend’s third question, one reason for the risk-based prioritisation is that we are mindful that, as she notes, there are not enough fire engineers, and we want them to focus on higher-risk buildings. The Government are working with the industry in a number of ways and have a number of workstreams in train that are actively seeking to address these issues. For instance, we have been working with the fire risk assessment sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. In addition, we are funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to make an assessment of the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support the industry to increase the skills of more professionals to take on this work and improve the quality and consistency of the assessments.
I hope I have reassured my noble friend that the Government will ensure that suitable and appropriate fire safety measures are in place for low-rise buildings. I also hope that I have reassured her of our position regarding impact assessments and why we consider these amendments unnecessary. If I have, I hope that she will see fit to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, to speak after the Minister.
My Lords, warranties, guarantees and insurance should, in many cases, be the way forward in resolving these problems, but, sadly, some construction companies, warranty providers and insurance companies are seeking to get out of their obligation to provide what people have paid for. That is not acceptable, and I hope that the noble Lord can tell the Committee what he is going to do about it. At a minimum, he should say that he will get the Association of British Insurers and warranty providers in and make it clear to them that, if they are providing insurance and guarantees for buildings that have been constructed, the Government expect them to face up to their obligations in providing the things that people have paid for, and that walking away is unacceptable.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, and I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Shinkwin for his very moving example. I also express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for their support.
The Minister has confirmed that discussions are ongoing on insurance, warranties and other issues, which are important, but I point out that those relate largely to the future rather than the past. We have a past problem in this area—I describe it as “frozen”—which is obviously the reason for my probing amendment.
This afternoon, there has been a recognition that there is a problem here. Perhaps I could go backwards, thanking the Minister for his answers. I particularly thank him for his answers on the impact assessment, which were very satisfactory. On the website, you come up first with the impact assessment for the fire safety order, but that is the main impact assessment anyway. I was quoting extensively from it and I think that he will find it very useful, but it shows the volume of premises that we are talking about—those under 18 metres or 11 metres—so we have a problem.
The Government are rightly focusing a lot of attention on high-rise flats. The money that has been made available —I think that well over £1 billion was mentioned—is obviously welcome, and that has been focused on trying to get the cladding sorted as far as possible, because it is a great area of tragedy. However, the point about Committee is that you need to look at the detail of the regulations and make sure that you do not cause problems in other areas. Obviously, fires tend to start at the bottom of buildings—I very much understand that—but I think that you need to look at the risk, and my questions were specifically linked to that. It is a case of trying to make the system as sensible as possible so that, for example, responsible officers can, in appropriate circumstances, carry out risk assessments. At the moment, that does not seem to be happening. It seems that they are not doing it because they are worried and are trying to get in a consultant, and that leads to the “frozen” problem that I described.
I would be very happy to talk further about some of those points and the workstreams that the Government are looking at. I felt that the Minister was saying, “We are going to be very fierce on fire safety and I care about fire safety”, but if a lot of people suffer perverse effects as a result, you have to think about how you are going to help them too, and how you are going to deal with that.
That is why I was slightly disappointed in the response to the amendment. It is only a probing amendment, so the fact that it does not quite work is not surprising. I am not an expert in this area. However, I am an expert in trying to balance consumer and business interests to get sensible regulation through this Chamber by looking at the detail. I would be very happy to help in any way I can to try to make sure that we solve some of these difficulties, either through later amendments or by coming up with something particular here. I emphasise that this issue is urgent; it is not something that can be left for another year.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 3. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anybody wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
3: Clause 2, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) Before making regulations under subsection (1) the relevant authority must—(a) consult anyone that appears to the relevant authority to be appropriate;(b) carry out an assessment of the impact of the amendment on the required number of fire safety assessors and whether that requirement is met;(c) carry out an assessment of the cost implications of the amendment, and who will be responsible for those costs; and(d) lay before Parliament a report outlining how the requirements in paragraphs (a) to (c) have been met.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to monitor capacity for effective implementation of the Bill, and places additional requirements on the appropriate authority such as an assessment of associated costs and required personnel, before regulations under subsection (1) can be made.