The hon. Lady said that her premise was affordability and access to housing. May I remind her that, given that 40%—and in some areas, including coastal towns, 70%—of those in the private rental market are in receipt of housing benefit, it is critical that we keep control of the amount of money going out in housing benefit? That way we can help the very first-time buyers whom

13 Jun 2011 : Column 599

she purports to want to help, who are finding it so difficult to get into the purchase market at the moment, and who need to go into the rental market. The previous Government let those people down by not keeping control of housing benefit rents during their tenure.

Ms Buck: The statistic that 40% of the market is subsidised by the local housing allowance is central to the Government’s argument. Will the hon. Lady finally, helpfully source that figure? Figures released in the English housing survey last month confirmed that only 24% of those in the total private rented sector in England were on LHA. Although there are regional variations, it would be helpful if we could finally and definitively have the source for that 40% claim.

Maria Miller: I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I shall be happy to write to her with the full details, and to remind her that the proportion is only 40% on average; as I said, it is 70% in some coastal areas. That is a significant issue that helps to determine the rental rates that many people—[Interruption.] I think I just said that I would write to the hon. Lady with the details. I do not have them to hand now.

The important matter to which I now turn is my response to the two amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Westminster North and the one tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott) for us to consider today. We said in the universal credit White Paper that an appropriate amount would be added to the universal credit award to meet the costs of rent for claimants. We also said that levels of support for rent would be broadly similar to the support provided through housing benefit at the time that claimants began to move on to universal credit. In the private rented sector, we will build on the local housing allowance approach, incorporating the reforms that we are making over the coming year. This will give private rental tenants access to about 30% of the rental market in their areas, including most of London.

We also need, however, to do more to constrain the growth in rents, which is why increases will be limited in line with the consumer prices index. This will ensure that we continue to put the sort of downward pressure on rents that is so important to keeping control of our budgets and to affordability for those not in the housing benefit market.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): May I offer an alternative solution for keeping rents low? How about building more council houses and housing association houses, and getting the construction markets on the go as well?

Maria Miller: I would not want to incur the wrath of Mr Speaker by going into such issues, which are more to do with my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government. Certainly, however, my Department has a responsibility to ensure that we apply that downward pressure on rents in order to ensure affordability for people across the board.

Dame Anne Begg: The housing associations in my area are saying that because they are likely to have people defaulting on their rents, such housing will no longer be a good investment, and for that very reason further building programmes are likely to be curtailed. That is the result of the Government’s policies.

13 Jun 2011 : Column 600

Maria Miller: I know that that issue has been brought up, and we will work on it with the landlords concerned. Obviously, we do not want that to be the position: we want to ensure that there is no problem with the money that flows to landlords. We will work hard to address that.

Mrs Louise Mensch (Corby) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my amazement, and that of hard-working people in my deprived constituency of Corby, that the Opposition—the Labour party—are trying to prevent us from maintaining downward pressure on rents?

9.45 pm

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right to be incredulous about the Labour party’s position. She should also express incredulity at the fact that the Labour Members do not seem to have a policy—apart from opposition to the proposals.

I remind hon. Members that the restriction will apply only in areas where local market rent increases at the 30th percentile exceed the annual rate of increase in the CPI. We have said that we are committed to making savings from that measure, but if it becomes apparent that the LHA rates and rents are out of step, that can be reconsidered, as I said in Committee.

Let me briefly consider amendment 72, which raises an important issue for us all. We want to ensure proper and accurate monitoring of the impact of the introduction of our policies. Indeed, we have put that in place for the work capability assessment and our reform of DLA. My hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff Central and for Redcar (Ian Swales) are right to highlight the importance of having an accurate method of assessing the impact of our policies. That is an important and prudent part of Government policy. I hope that my hon. Friends will be reassured that we have already commissioned independent external research to evaluate the impact of the housing benefit reforms that we announced in June 2010 in the Budget and in the spending review. The review will be comprehensive and thorough and presented to both Houses, together with a ministerial statement. We intend to make final findings available in 2013, with initial findings available in 2012.

Jenny Willott: There is a huge range of issues that we clearly cannot cover this evening in the time available to us. However, I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary ascertained whether one matter in particular could be included in the review: how foster children are covered. As I understand it, foster children are not counted in the allocation of bedrooms. The way in which the measure is implemented could have a significant impact on local authorities’ ability to recruit foster carers, and on the care that can be provided for foster children. That has not been covered in the debate so far.

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which has been raised with me on a couple of occasions. I remind her that currently there is no additional allocation of housing for families with foster children. There is an accrual within the payments that are made to cover additional housing costs. However, she makes the important point that, whatever our housing policies, we should not disincentivise or put unnecessary barriers

13 Jun 2011 : Column 601

in the way of foster carers who do so much to give children who cannot live with their own families the sort of start in life that they need.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Does the review—or any of the reviews—include the further point about which the Secretary of State said he wanted to be helpful—ensuring that there is a possibility that broad market rental areas become more coterminous with local authorities? Will the review cover where people might move to, so that they are not obliged to move out of their natural communities, which in most cases in London would be the local authority area where they currently live?

Maria Miller: I thank my right hon. Friend for that comment. I am not aware that the research will cover that at this time, but perhaps I could consider that in more detail. He has raised that point in the past.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Maria Miller: Would my hon. Friend mind if I made a tiny bit more progress on the amendment, and tried to deal with some of the others?

In that spirit, we are considering the most effective way of monitoring and evaluating the housing support measures. That will enable us to understand the effectiveness of the measures in the same way as we will understand the 2011 measures. However, reviewing the operation of the changes in the first year will be too soon—something that I have also considered in relation to other measures in the Bill. We need to ensure that the measures have time to mature and bed in, so that their effectiveness can be properly evaluated. I am not sure that I agree with my hon. Friends that conducting such a review after the first year would be the best way to assess the effectiveness of our policies. Therefore, I cannot commit to the timetable that they propose, even if we are attracted to the idea of conducting comprehensive research. However, I can reassure them that we are looking at ways of funding an external review—this time on the measures in the Bill—and that we will consider that in some detail in the coming months.

Amendment 32 was also tabled by the Opposition. I am sure that Members are aware of the pressures that we face in social housing; indeed, there are some facts that we have to consider before we can look at the amendment in any detail. We know that less than 5% of social tenants in England move each year in the social housing sector. That is not helpful, given the 250,000 overcrowded households waiting for a suitable property to meet their needs. There is also limited social housing stock, with waiting lists of 5 million people, 250,000 tenants in overcrowded housing and almost 1 million spare bedrooms being paid for through housing benefit. There is a mismatch in the market. I am quite astonished that the hon. Member for Westminster North spent no time talking about that or showing her support for the action that we are taking to put it right.

Sheila Gilmore: It is important that the Minister establishes whether the Government’s proposal is intended to solve the problems of under-occupancy and over-

13 Jun 2011 : Column 602

occupancy or simply to save money. Even if the changes that she wants are achieved, there will be no saving in the housing benefit budget, on the assumption that many of the people moving into the houses thereby vacated will also be on housing benefit.

Maria Miller: It is absolutely not fair that we have 1 million spare bedrooms being paid for by housing benefit. It is not right—many taxpayers would never be able to afford a spare bedroom in their properties—nor is it fair for those living in overcrowded or poor housing conditions, waiting for long periods for the opportunity to live in a home that is decent or that actually reflects the size of their family. I would ask the hon. Lady to consider that.

Amendment 32 would provide an exemption from the social sector size criteria measure for disabled people living in adapted accommodation. The intention is to ensure that where people have significant or extensive adaptations, they do not have to move and have a new property adapted, which would result in additional costs. I assure the House that I fully understand those arguments. I agree that it might not make sense to move someone from their home if they have already had significant adaptations. Replicating such changes would impose unnecessary costs. We are not interested in shifting costs from one budget to another. However, as we previously set out, we cannot take the broad-brush approach that amendment 32 would allow for. The amendment talks about a property that is

“specially adapted or particularly suited to…the needs of that person.”

This means that the provision would be drawn very widely drawn indeed, covering any adaptations.

Some adaptations, such as a handrail in a bath, may be so minor that exempting the tenant on the basis of that adaptation alone would simply not be justifiable. The provision would also cover a property that had been adapted for someone’s past needs, and would require local authorities to exempt those whose accommodation was particularly suited to meet their needs—perhaps those in a ground-floor flat or a property with a limited number of stairs to climb. We do not have the data on how many such cases there are, but it seems likely that many would fall into such a broad category. Again, that would prove very expensive—something that the hon. Member for Westminster North seemed to ignore. It is not clear what evidence would be required or who would be responsible for the decision. The amendment refers to the provision of

“certificates, documents, information or evidence”,

which, as the hon. Member for Westminster North said, also suggests a degree of administrative intervention. She made a valid point in Committee, but I am surprised that she is pushing it even further. I think that many stakeholders would rightly be concerned about the potential cost of her proposals and about the additional burdens such bureaucracy could load on to landlords and others.

The National Housing Federation estimates that about 108,000 tenants in adapted accommodation are likely to be affected by the introduction of the size criteria to restrict housing benefit. The NHF has kindly shared its data with us and I understand that our officials have met the federation since Committee and are continuing to explore the data in some detail. However, as well as looking at the available data, we want to talk to housing providers, but that will take some more time.

13 Jun 2011 : Column 603

Funding for adaptations can come from a number of sources, one of which is the disabled facilities grant. Some 44,000 awards were made in 2009-10 in England and the average award was some £7,000. However, many of these are paid to owner-occupiers, not to those living in social rented houses. Research published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005 showed that about 70% of all adaptations were for less than £1,000 and that only 19% were wholly funded from the disabled facilities grant. In England, the maximum grant is £30,000, but there are discretionary powers to enable local authorities to meet costs in excess of that. Adaptations of this magnitude would be substantial, potentially involving the construction of a single-storey or double-bedroom extension, together perhaps with the installation of a toilet or en-suite shower. Figures from the same source indicate an average cost of about £2,000 for the installation of a stairlift. We will consider the evidence further, but it is important for the House to look at the facts and realise that many of these adaptations are at a much lower level than the hon. Lady indicated in her comments.

As I said in Committee,

“it is not our intention to put something in place that would have a disproportionate impact on disabled people. If someone has had their property adapted because of their disability, it makes no sense to move them to a different property and spend more money on costly adaptations.”

I concluded that a “blanket exemption” was not the best approach and that we would need to consider

“how we can best target the help at people, while keeping in mind the practical difficulties of identifying…where accommodation has been adapted”.––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, 3 May 2011; c. 687.]

We acknowledge the concerns that have been highlighted, but this amendment goes much further than was suggested even by the sector itself. I hope that, in the light of my comments, hon. Members will look again at the amendments and agree to withdraw them.

Mr Reid: I shall have to be brief. Much of the Bill will be implemented through regulations. Much of the debate has been about London and big cities, but I want to draw the Government’s attention to another part of the country—the highlands and islands of Scotland, where communities live large distances apart. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) referred to community, and if people live on an island, the island is the community, yet it often has limited housing stock.

As a result of this Bill—either because of the 30th percentile provision or because they are under-occupying—some people might have to move house. When the regulations are being drawn up, I urge the Government to take the sparsely populated parts of the country into account. If people are going to have to move, they should be able to do so within their community. If they live in mainland villages, the next village might be 10 or 20 miles up the road; if they live on an island, the community is the island.

The regulations are to be subject to a negative resolution, but I urge the Government to use the affirmative resolution so that they can be properly scrutinised here. I urge the Government please to take into account the needs of the sparsely populated parts of the country as well as the cities.

13 Jun 2011 : Column 604

10 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair ( Standing Order No. 83E), That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

Schedule 1

Universal credit: supplementary regulation-making powers

Amendment proposed: 27, page 103, line 1, after ‘income,’, insert—

(ba) a person’s earned income from self-employment,’.—(Stephen Timms.)

The House divided:

Ayes 213, Noes 304.

Division No. 290]

[10.1 pm


Abrahams, Debbie

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jon

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hosie, Stewart

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân .

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Leslie, Chris

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Nandy, Lisa

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Lyn Brown and

Graham Jones


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, rh Greg

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Field, Mr Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Mrs Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Penning, Mike

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Philip Dunne and

Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

13 Jun 2011 : Column 605

13 Jun 2011 : Column 606

13 Jun 2011 : Column 607

13 Jun 2011 : Column 608

The Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Clause 43

Regulations: procedure

Amendments made: 14, page 20, line 6, at end insert—

‘( ) A statutory instrument containing the first regulations made by the Secretary of State under any of the following, alone or with other regulations, is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure—

(a) section 5(1)(a) and (2)(a) (capital limits);

(b) section 8(3) (income to be deducted in award calculation);

(c) section 9(2) (amount to be included in award calculation for standard allowance element);

(d) section 10(3) (amount to be included in award calculation for children and young persons element);

(e) section 11 (housing costs element);

(f) section 12 (other needs and circumstances element);

(g) section 19(2)(d) (claimants subject to no work-related requirements);

(h) sections 26 and 27 (sanctions);

(i) section 28 (hardship payments);

(j) paragraph 4 of Schedule1 (calculation of capital and income);

(k) paragraph 1(1) of Schedule6 (migration), where making provision under paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of that Schedule.’

Amendment 15, page 20, line 9, leave out ‘under this Part’—(Chris Grayling.)

Clause 46


Amendment made: 16, page 27, line 22, at end insert—

‘(1A) In section 37 of that Act (parliamentary control), in subsection (1), before paragraph (b) there is inserted—

“(ab) the first regulations to be made under sections 19 to 19C;”.’—(Chris Grayling.)

Clause 49

Claimant responsibilities for jobseeker’s allowance

Amendment made: 17, page 35, line 13, at end insert—

‘( ) In section 37 (parliamentary control), in subsection (1), after paragraph (a) there is inserted—

“(aa) the first regulations to be made under section 6J or 6K;”.’—(Chris Grayling.)

Clause 56

Claimant responsibilities for employment and support allowance

Amendment made: 18, page 44, line 48, at end insert—

13 Jun 2011 : Column 609

‘( ) In section 26 (parliamentary control), in subsection (1), after paragraph (a) there is inserted—

“(aa) the first regulations under section 11D(2)(d) or 11J,”.’—(Chris Grayling.)

Bill to be further considered tomorrow .

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Social Security

That the draft Social Security (Electronic Communications) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 14 March, be approved.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Capital Gains Tax

That the draft Taxation of Equitable Life (Payments) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 21 March, be approved.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)

Question agreed to.


Financial Services Compensation Scheme

10.15 pm

Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): I beg leave to present to the House a petition signed by Mr Peter Williams, Mr Paul Wiggins and Mr Jason Evans, all of whom are constituents of mine, together with some 6,761 other signatories from throughout the United Kingdom, gathered by the British Insurance Brokers’ Association. They are concerned at the impact of the decision of the Financial Services Authority indefinitely to delay its planned review of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. The petition states:

The Petition of members of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA),

Declares that the petitioners believe that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) should urgently accelerate its consultation on the fundamental review of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), to ensure that new rules are in place for April 2012 so that general insurance brokers do not see further disproportionate levy increases; and further declares that the 3,500 full time ‘insurance brokers’ should have separation from the other ‘secondary sellers’ in the insurance intermediary sub-class.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to accelerate the FSA’s review of the FSCS consultation with immediate effect.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


13 Jun 2011 : Column 610

Workplace Drug Testing

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Angela Watkinson.)

10.17 pm

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on workplace drug testing. As the emphasis on health and safety in the workplace is heightening, the incidence of drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is increasing, too. Such testing is welcomed and supported by both employers and employees, for very good reasons, as it is in everyone’s interest that the workplace is a safe environment.

Trade unions recognise that any one employee working unsafely poses a risk to other employees and they have been happy and willing to agree drug and alcohol policies with their employers. That means that workplace drug and alcohol testing is becoming increasingly prevalent, which is great from a health and safety point of view and, through deterrence alone, could be anticipated to lead to fewer industrial accidents. I have concerns, however, from a human rights perspective. These tests can act as judge and jury and, as a consequence, we need to ensure that the regulatory regime governing such tests and practices is adequate and that both employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities with regard to such tests, so that employees are not treated unfairly.

I want to illustrate the issues with reference to my constituent, Mr Joe Kelly, who faced dismissal from his post following 31 years of employment with the same employer after he received a positive test for heroin. My constituent knew that the test was erroneous and mounted a successful challenge that saw him reinstated. As he says, however, he was prepared to take the risk and engage legal representation, but many other employees facing similar circumstances might not have that luxury. It is to protect the rights of employees that I am bringing these issues to the attention of the House.

I want to highlight to the Minister the key areas that I think pose a risk and to ask for his reflections on what the Government can do to strengthen understanding on the part of employers and employees through their trade unions. I am not sure this matter necessarily needs more regulation, but in drawing up an appropriate drug and alcohol policy, the employer and the trade union will need to satisfy themselves that they and their contractors have appropriate processes to deal with collecting and testing samples.

There are essentially three areas of risk that we need to get right. The first is the integrity of the collection process. This is the fundamental aspect that should be tightened. There must be a clear and documented chain of custody, so that samples are correctly identified and handled to prevent them from being mixed up, contaminated or tampered with. Without a chain of custody, there is no proof that the sample belongs to the subject.

In the case of Mr Kelly, the chain of custody could not be proved and the collection process was poor. He had been more than happy to comply with the demands for a random drug test, but in supplying his sample, he was very unhappy with the procedure. The process was not explained, consents were not properly sought, his samples were not sealed in his presence, and he had

13 Jun 2011 : Column 611

concerns about the cleanliness of the process. Overall, he felt that the collectors were more concerned with speed than with accuracy and that there was serious risk of cross-contamination.

In this case the sample was saliva and, as is customary, two samples were collected so that in the event of a challenge, a repeat test could be run. Given that the samples were not sealed in the presence of my constituent, he could not be satisfied that the sample which had tested positive belonged to him, nor could he sure that the B sample belonged to him. In the event the B sample did clear Mr Kelly, but given his understandable lack of confidence in the process, he took his own measures and paid to have a hair test, which again cleared him.

Firms engaged in testing sign up to standards overseen by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. In this example, the firm was signed up to UKAS standards only for the lab. I venture to suggest that employers should engage only with firms that are signed up to appropriate standards throughout the collection and testing processes.

The second area of risk is the testing process. In Mr Kelly’s case the sample tested which read positive for heroin was very small. The testing company’s own methodology stated that an insufficient sample would represent a failure in the chain of custody, but testing took place in any case. It is also suggested that the testing instrument was not properly calibrated to analyse such a small sample. Moreover, a multiplier was applied to the reading, which meant that the results were not reliable. In the absence of the multiplier, the test was in fact negative.

So when Mr Kelly obtained the lab report, it illustrated that the company had not complied with its own standards. I am very surprised that the company delivering the testing service met UKAS standards, in view of these deficiencies. That is why employers and their trade unions may not wish to leave it just to UKAS to establish quality and integrity of processes. I advise that they take steps to satisfy themselves that processes are sufficiently robust.

Finally, the human resources policies of the employer should be appropriate. Joe Kelly was confident that he was innocent, but his employer was adamant that the test was cast-iron evidence of guilt. I have no doubt that the employer acted in good faith, but alarm bells should have sounded. This was a 59-year-old man in a management position, with 31 years service. The test indicated serious heroin abuse over a prolonged period. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that if this man had been a regular heroin abuser, it would not have taken a random drug test to highlight the fact. Physical and behavioural symptoms would have highlighted abuse. There needs to be some sensitivity on the part of employers about how positive tests are handled, with an appropriate appeal process if the employee or his line management feels that the test is not accurate.

Employers should be sensitive to the impact on people’s reputations. That this episode happened to my constituent at the end of a long career as a respected member of staff has left a bitter taste. I am sure no employer would want to accuse long-serving members of staff unfairly and, if alerted to the risks, that they would wish to take steps to ensure that their processes were sufficiently robust. I suggest, therefore, that in the event of a contested sample, the employer must be satisfied that

13 Jun 2011 : Column 612

they can make available the chain of custody records to validate drug tests, the lab report for the screening test, the full report of the medical officer and a method statement for sample collection. If any of these is unsatisfactory, the test should be deemed invalid. In this case the lab failed to provide chain of custody documentation, failed to calibrate the instrument effectively, and failed to explain the lack of volume in the sample or justify the use of a multiplier. If the company doing the testing understood that it would have to supply this information to employers as a matter of routine in the event of a contested claim, I venture to suggest that this would act as a discipline to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained.

Ultimately, this case has been a learning experience for the employer and the union. They will happily concede that it took this unhappy incident for them to understand the risks that they were asking their employees to take with this policy. They have strengthened their procedures accordingly. However, the lessons of this case need to be understood more widely so that employers and unions do not sign up to procedures that are deficient. Otherwise, we may find other employees dismissed on the basis of samples that are not theirs or because they have been improperly tested. Such an event would also blight the employee’s employment prospects, and in the interests of natural justice, we as law-makers should satisfy ourselves that we have done what we can to defend the rights of employees.

Does the Minister consider that there should be more guidance in this area, particularly given that drug and alcohol testing is becoming increasingly common? I do not believe that we need more regulation, but we need more understanding of the risks and more dissemination of best practice. Therefore, what might the Government do to highlight best practice and foster dialogue with employers and trade unions to heighten awareness so that the rights of employees are protected?

10.25 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for raising the matter and for the way she has done so. I hope that I will be able to give her some satisfaction on the points she wants the Government to address. Before doing so, it is important that I state for the record the legislative background to drug testing in the workplace.

Employers have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. They also have a duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess risks to the health and safety of their employees. If they knowingly allow an employee under the influence of drugs to continue working and his or her behaviour places themselves or others at risk, the employers could be prosecuted. Their employees are also required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do at work.

The Transport and Works Act 1992 made it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drugs and/or drink while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems. The operators of those transport systems would also be guilty of an offence

13 Jun 2011 : Column 613

unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent such an offence from being committed. The Road Traffic Act 1988 states that any person who, when driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs shall be guilty of an offence. The principal legislation for controlling the misuse of drugs is, of course, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Nearly all drugs with misuse and/or dependence liability are covered by it.

Therefore, there is a legislative framework that makes it clear that employers have a duty to ensure that they look after the health and safety of their workers. There are several codes of practice to assist employers in this, most notably a free booklet published by the Health and Safety Executive, “Drug Misuse at Work”, which mentions a number of related matters, including drug screening, which is what concerns my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend will know that I cannot comment on the individual case, but the main thrust of her speech related to how drug testing is carried out. My Department is responsible for the sole Government-recognised UK national accreditation body, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. UKAS operates accreditation as a public authority activity, as required by European legislation. It has a strong international reputation for the quality and rigour of its accreditation assessments and is itself regularly assessed by its peers.

UKAS accredits laboratories when required to do so by legislation or when voluntarily requested to do so by

13 Jun 2011 : Column 614

a laboratory. Accreditation is an assessment and attestation that a laboratory is competent to undertake specified conformity assessments. International standards exist to cover the collection of samples, and UKAS is happy to accredit against those standards. My Department works closely with UKAS and has full confidence in its work.

My hon. Friend raised the specific case of her constituent, as well as making a wider point. I am happy to ask UKAS to work alongside the Health and Safety Executive to improve the HSE’s guidance on drug misuse at work and to expand the guidance coverage to include the complete drugs testing life cycle from the collection of a sample to its testing. I think that that was the point that she was seeking to make, particularly when she talked about the integrity of the collection process and the chain of custody. I hope that my officials will talk to UKAS and the HSE to ensure that the guidance can be improved in the way she mentioned. I agree that this is not an area in which new regulation is needed. Having listened to the case of my hon. Friend’s constituent, I believe that we can deal with the concerns, which she rightly raised, through Government guidance. I hope that she will be satisfied with this response, but if, on reflection, she has any further questions, I would be very happy to deal with them personally if she writes to me.

Question put and agreed to.

10.31 pm

House adjourned.