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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, does the Minister agree that even now the Government are increasing the expensive recirculation of money paid by taxpayers and then paid back to them in benefit? Do the Government accept that the working families' tax credit legislation will return a taxpayer's money even if he has in certain circumstances an income of £37 a year? Money will be returned to him in the form of tax credit. Is that really a cost-effective way of developing the national insurance and taxation system? I believe that the figures have been agreed by the Minister's noble friend Lady Hollis during the passage of the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, on the contrary, many government policies serve to reduce the amount of money that passes backwards and forwards. As regards the Tax Credits Bill steps have been taken to cancel out the passage to and from the Inland Revenue and the taxpayer. Indeed the Conservative Opposition have tabled amendments which would increase the amount of money passing to and fro rather than the "netting out" principle which has been adopted in the Tax Credits Bill. Therefore the noble Baroness is 100 per cent wrong.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, has the Minister read the report, The War of Independence, to which the Question of my noble friend Lord Saatchi

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relates? Is he aware that that report does much to demolish the wisdom of the position that he put forward in his reply to my noble friend?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is a very long report. I have read what I can. We did not find the conclusions at all convincing. The comparisons made between the 1950s and the 1990s seem to be unclear and unrealistic. In effect they could damage those who need help the most. If the noble Lord's party is of the opinion--I invite the Opposition Front Bench to confirm whether or not it is the case--that we should no longer have taxation taken from individuals and no longer have benefits directed to families in need, they should say so. They have not yet done so.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, on the point made by the noble Lord a moment or two ago--we can return to the broader issues that have just been raised later in the day perhaps on the Tax Credits Bill--is it not the case that the Government are extending social security benefits--namely, the working families' tax credit--to people with incomes of more than £35,000 a year, while at the same time they are reducing people's benefits on the ground that they have capital of only £6,000 a year? Is not that combination quite absurd?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, should note that his Front Bench disowns the proposition that he put forward. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, no, that is not the case. What was previously a benefit is now being included in the tax system. The purpose of that is to encourage people into work. I believe that the vast majority of people in this country will believe that that is a worthy objective.

Smoke Detectors

2.52 p.m.

Lord Methuen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce legislation to make it compulsory to fit smoke detectors in all residential properties.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, guidance on fire safety measures that will tend to show compliance with the building regulations in England and Wales is given in Approved Document B (fire safety). This guidance was changed in 1992 so that the installation of mains operated smoke alarms would become a standard feature in all new dwellings. There are no plans to require smoke detectors to be fitted in existing dwellings. The installation of smoke alarms in other residential properties such as houses in multiple occupation and institutional buildings can be required under other legislation or guidance. However, the approved

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document is under review and one of the proposals is to increase the scope for the installation of smoke alarms to include other new residential buildings.

Lord Methuen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that such legislation requiring the installation of smoke detectors in residential properties new or old is already in being in the state of Victoria in Australia? Can he also indicate the estimated number of lives that might be saved if detectors were required to be installed in all property?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I was not directly aware of the precise legislation in Victoria. We give guidance that requires all new dwellings to include smoke detectors. Approximately 75 per cent of all households now have some form of smoke detector. The total number of deaths in dwellings in this country is approximately 600. One could make a rough estimate of how many lives would be saved by the installation of smoke detectors. It would not be a large number, but every life is worth saving. The government guidance through the Home Office and other authorities is that everyone should fit some form of smoke detector in their homes.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, would not an obligation to install smoke detectors in existing buildings mean that very often battery-operated smoke detectors would be fitted? As batteries run out and people do not replace them, such smoke detectors could very often give a false sense of security. People who voluntarily install smoke detectors are interested enough to maintain their batteries.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in certain circumstances there could be that perverse effect. The guidance, therefore, does not require the mandatory fitting of perhaps inadequate smoke detectors or battery-operated smoke detectors in all dwellings. Nevertheless, any form of operational smoke detector has some benefit. We would therefore advise that in most circumstances one should be fitted.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that sometimes smoke detectors are so sensitive that they are likely to be set off at the slightest amount of smoke emerging from cookers and domestic appliances, creating many false alarms and thereby being counter-productive? Does he not further agree that sometimes heat detectors rather than smoke detectors are more efficient?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I see several noble Lords nodding. Obviously their smoking or cooking habits have set off alarms in the past. I would contend that it is better to have the odd false alarm than no smoke detection system at all. As to heat detectors, they tend to be used with sprinkler systems and other forms of control. They are considerably more expensive. Generally speaking an operational smoke detector will give an early indication of any fire hazard.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, is value added tax payable on the price of a smoke detector? Does

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the Minister not agree that if smoke detectors were zero rated more householders would be likely to purchase them and install them in their houses?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have a feeling that the noble Earl has better information on this matter than myself. It is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look at the total taxation system. Clearly a lower price would induce more people to install them. Whether that should affect our tax policy as a whole I am not at all sure. I shall write to the noble Earl to confirm what I believe to be the case.

Lord Elton: My Lords, would the Minister not entirely dismiss battery-operated smoke detectors? In my experience they have a useful but exceedingly annoying habit of issuing shrill shrieks which one cannot trace for about a fortnight before the battery gives out. It means that one never fails to replace it a second time.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hope I have said nothing to undermine the value of battery-operated smoke detectors. Clearly in new buildings we are looking to mains-operated smoke detectors in general. I, too, have had a similar experience of not being able to detect where noise was coming from. As the noble Lord has said, having had such an experience one does not make the same mistake a second time. The kind of detectors which indicate when the battery is running out or when they have been triggered are of some benefit.

Lord Renton: My Lords, could smoke detectors be persuaded to detect tobacco smoke? Does the Minister agree that if they did so they would save many more lives?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is looking for a very sophisticated piece of equipment. He and other noble Lords will know the Government's general advice on smoking. Whether noble Lords follow it is unlikely to be affected by the existence of smoke detectors.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, do smoke detectors have to be installed in residential accommodation for the elderly? How is that matter policed?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it depends on what type of accommodation the noble Lord means. In general, all new buildings and dwellings have to be fitted with smoke detectors. One of our discussions about extension relates to hostel accommodation, hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, some of which escape the present regulations.

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