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Baroness Hanham: The housing health and safety rating system will probably exercise us for some time. The assessment may be done potentially for the most vulnerable but there are properties in which the most vulnerable might never live. The amount of work that would potentially have to be done to every property would be to that standard, which might not be a necessary standard. We are trying to tease out whether the standard will have to be the most extreme in every case, whatever the scoring system, or are there opportunities for people who are less vulnerable and who will be perfectly happy to occupy a property that has not been done up to the highest levels of safety and healthy existence? That was the purpose behind the amendment. My query is whether that is the case. Will everything have to be done to the most extreme standard?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps the best way in which I can help the noble Baroness is to rehearse the argument in the following terms. The local authority
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environmental health officer will carry out an inspection and come up with a score, which they will take away, reflect on and make a decision on what to do. The local authority will not try to get work done on the property for no particular or good reason. If no one vulnerable is living or is likely to live in the property, gold-plated work to the property, as it were, is unlikely to be undertaken. To use a phrase that is often employed in your Lordships' House, the remedy would be proportionate to the problem and relative to those most likely to live in that property. If a group of healthy, fit and active students is involved and the hazard that is there is not so extreme as to produce vulnerability to them, clearly that would colour the view of and judgment made about the most appropriate action to undertake when the environmental health officer thinks about what he or she has seen with regard to making sense of the hazard and coming up with a risk assessment. I hope that that helps.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before I call Amendment No. 11, I point out that there is an error in the Marshalled List. Clause 3 ends, so to speak, after Amendment No. 13. Amendment No. 14 is in Clause 4.
The noble Baroness said: This amendment to Clause 3 concerns local housing authorities and their duty to review housing conditions in their districts. The purpose of the amendment is to introduce the review of housing conditions and to make sure that information collected is used. The amendment aims to make an explicit link between house conditions and decent home standards. However, the Bill provides no mechanism to require local housing authorities to measure their progress towards achieving the decent home standard in the private sector. Currently, there are no data on the location of non-decent homes occupied by vulnerable people. I shall speak about that matter again in a moment.
The amendment addresses both issues and would generally alert local housing authorities to the need to work towards the decent home standard in the private sector. This is a very important area because three-quarters of all properties that do not meet the decent home standard are in the private sector. Although the Government moved some time ago to set targets for the decent home standard in social housing, it was only in 2002 that the public sector agreement target was extended to include a reduction in the proportion of
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households on benefits living in the private sector in non-decent homes. The target was 43 per cent in 2002 down to 30 per cent in 2010.
That indicates why this is rather an important amendment. If we are going to tackle the problem of non-decent homes in the private sector, local authorities will have to collect the facts and figures. I hope that the Minister will understand that. Later, I shall move another amendment which is also important in trying to deal with decent home standards in the private sector. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: I have two amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 12 and 13. Having discussed a little the intent of the new rating system, we now move on to how local authorities will go about putting it into place. Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are similar in attempting to ensure openness and transparency in the process, allowing all those concerned to see on an annual basis what the local authority is doing on an annual basis.
Amendment No. 12 would ensure a local authority made public the report on housing in its area. Therefore, a review of housing should take place and there should be a degree of public understanding, knowledge and scrutiny of what the local authority is doing. That seems important given some of the things that have been discussed. It will be a big change, and with it will come a comprehensive analysis of a range of issues associated with housing in a given area.
Given the fundamental nature of the change and its significance, it is important that the review be published and available for inspection and subject to proper public scrutiny. Perhaps the Minister can helpfully tell us what information will be in the public domain, as the Bill now stands.
Not only should the authority make clear what it has done to review its stock; it should also make perfectly clear what its intentions are. Amendment No. 13 would complement this transparent process by ensuring that a local authority published all this information in an annual report.
Lord Gray of Contin: I support the amendments just spoken to. I declare an interest in that for nearly 10 years I was vice-president of Neighbourhood Energy Action, as it was in those days, and is now National Energy Action. During that period, I was president of the Scottish sister organisation. Both have done an enormous amount of work, particularly in the provision of assistance to the less fortunate in insulating homes which in most cases were desperately in need of it.
Perhaps I may say something about the relationship which has existed. It has been an all-party campaign over the years. In Neighbourhood Energy Action and in Energy Action Scotland, we have had excellent support from governments of both parties. That highlights the non-party attitude taken by both governments. I hope that that will continue, as I am sure it will. I know that the Government do not wish to
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create legislation that is going to be an embarrassment either to local authorities or to those in the private sector who provide homes for the less fortunate and who do all they can to try to comply with various regulations.
As regards this legislation, these organisations are concerned about one or two matters. For example, they are anxious that the regulations include a requirement for a heating system which is economical and efficient and capable of heating the whole dwelling to a comfortable level in normal weather conditions and at affordable cost to the occupant. Some of these measures may be easier to state than to achieve. We hope that these points are being taken into consideration by the Government in preparing the legislation. They also believe that any property to which this part of the legislation applies must achieve an SAP rating of no less than 65.
I have seen some of the homes before and after they have been treated by the charities and provided with insulation and improvements. Very often it is the elderly who live in these houses, but there are also people with young families. The properties tend to be smaller so that a large number of them are occupied by elderly people who are not in a position to carry out the work for themselves.
I hope that all these points will be taken into consideration by the Government. I know that these amendments have been tabled not to try in any way to get something from the Government which they do not want to give, but as constructive proposals to try to ensure that the people at the sharp end receive the benefit of the improvements made. I hope that the Government consider what I have said as being helpful.
Baroness Maddock: I support the noble Lord, Lord Gray. I am a vice president of National Energy Action. It is my intention later in the Bill to discuss the fact that we have different standards for different types of homes. I hope that we can reassure the noble Lord by saying that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has an amendment dealing with decent home standards, particularly as regards energy. We raised this matter on Second Reading. I support the noble Lord in all the work he has done in the past.
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