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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I ask one question? Is it not the case that the Government, on the advice of the Home Office, have deferred to representations from the Prison Officers Association, which is directly involved in this?
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, this subject is vital, as is the Bill, and I entirely agree with the view that the Bill should become an Act as soon as possible. When this matter was debated before, certain arguments in principle were put as to why this provision for corporate manslaughter should not apply to prisons and the police. I found those arguments very difficult to follow, although they were ably presented by the Attorney-General. However, it is now clear that the Government have no confidence in them, because they have agreed that a power should be put into the Bill to extend the corporate manslaughter provisions to these agencies. Therefore, the only argument left is when this should happen, or at least whether it should happen in the form in which it is put. I humbly suggest that if there is some difficulty of timing,the proper way in which to handle this is to makethe statutory provision work but subject to a commencement order. In other words, the Bill should be passed in accordance with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and should then be considered when various parts of it are brought into force as part of the commencement arrangements. No other argument addresses the situation better than that.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I strongly support the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. On listening to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I was very much struck by the strength of the argument that the principle has already been accepted by the Government. It may be that I am rushing in where angels fear to tread, but what is the difficulty in therefore having these provisions in accordance with the Lords amendments to the Bill? I strongly support Motion A1.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to noble Lords for putting forwardwith great passion and very succinctlythe arguments against what the Government seek to achieve. I understand the strength of feeling in your Lordships House. First, I shall tackle a couple of the specific points. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, there has been no official contact with the Prison Officers Association and no submissions from it during scrutiny, which I hope deals with that point quite quickly.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, described my Secretary of State, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, as a healer as opposed to a warrior. I think that he would quite like a bit of hybridity, for he can be a bit of a warrior, as the noble Lord, if he has not seen already, may see in the future. I also agree that he is a healer and he listens. It is precisely because the Ministry of Justice has listened that we have brought forward the amendments before your Lordships House today. That is what noble Lords would expect and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, would recognise that it is important that the ministry is seen to do that and to take on board the questions that have been raised.
My noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall talked about the breadth of this Bill. It is probably worth reminding ourselves that the concern that led to the Bill and the approach to corporate liability for manslaughter came from a number of high-profile cases, with which noble Lords will be very familiar, in which many people lost their lives; namely, the Zeebrugge disaster in which the Herald of Free Enterprise capsised and sank, the Piper Alpha oil rig fire, the Marchioness tragedy, and a number of terrible incidents on the railways including Southall, Ladbroke Grove and Hatfield. However, work-related death is not confined to incidents such as these and has touched the lives of many families who have lost spouses, children or parents at work. The Bill is equally applicable to those cases.
I know that noble Lords will join me in saying to all of the families who have suffered these terrible tragedies that our hearts go out to them and that our united purpose is to get this legislation on the statute book in order to protect them. We have all received letters from individuals who feel extremely concerned about that. I take it that your Lordships share with me at least that we are trying to find a way to get this on the statute book as quickly as possible. It is in that spirit that I hope those who read our deliberations will recognise that, for I am nervous that some people who have written to us are deeply concerned that this issue which stands between us should prevent the Bill reaching the statute book. I know that there is no shred of an intention for that from any noble Lord who has spoken about the issue, which they feel passionately about. I would want all those listening to our deliberations to understand that.
Noble Lords who have dealt with the Bill all the way through its stages will know well how it is intended to operate and the new and unprecedented step that we have taken in lifting Crown immunity. As I said in my opening remarks, never before have government departments been liable to criminal prosecution, which will be the case under the Bill. The Bill also recognises the difficulties inherent in seeking to apply the criminal law to difficult issues of public policy and public responsibilities. Noble Lords discussed with my noble friends who took parts of the Bill through the issues around the Army, the police and the emergency services. The Bill offered to your Lordships House strikes the right balance.
As everthe noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, talked about thisthe Bill has been improved in this House. Noble Lords made amendments that extend the range of organisation covered by the new offence, so it applies to certain unincorporated bodies, such as partnerships, trade unions and employers association where these are employers. Amendments were made to strengthen the range of sanctions available to include a new publicity order, which will allow the courts to require an organisation to publicise details of its conviction, which could have a salutary effect on large organisations where corporate reputation is extremely important. There is much that is good in the Bill, but the issue of custody has divided the House and is one of the few areas on which we have not been able to reach a consensus.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that we could bring in the Bill and simply not commence the provisions that would apply to this. I prefer the route we have taken, which is to be clear about the issues we want to address, to look at the implications in terms of operation and policy, and to bring it forward for formal debate in your Lordships House by affirmative order to demonstrate precisely what we have done, and of course enable noble Lords to debate it effectively. For me, that is a better way forward. However, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, said that he thought that perhaps I wanted to do this now. It would be a lot easier for me if I did, but it is my job as a government Minister to listen carefully to representations. Although I do not have policy responsibility, noble Lords know that I listen both to colleagues and to those interested in and concerned about legislation. Part of being responsible in government is to make sure that when you say you will do something, you have thought through all the implications and worked through the potential problems. In this area I believe that there are issues we need to address with those working in the services, and as a new ministry, we need to address them too.
For all these reasons, I believe that our course is responsible and right. I take nothing away from the strength of feeling expressed by noble Lords and the principle lying behind what is sought here, but we believe that the way we have provided for this in the Bill demonstrates that we have listened, we have moved our position, and in good faith present the provision now before noble Lords. I hope that they will take on board what the Government are seeking to do and allow the Bill, which has so many good provisions in it, on to the statute book in order to help protect many people in the future.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I am sure that I can speak for all noble Lords in thanking the Minister for the clarity with which she has explained her position, but she will not be surprised to hear me say that I do not think that the Government have gone far enough. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, put it clearly by saying that the one word missing from all that has been said is when. My noble friend Lord Dear, whom I listened to with considerable care, also put his finger on one of my reasons for not being entirely satisfied when he said, I think that this will happen. When the noble Baroness reflects on what has been said in this serious and well conducted debate, reflecting as ever the gravity with which this House treats such issues, she will also reflect on the spirit and experience behind those who have spoken and where they come from. It is extremely important that this Bill, which is nearly there except for the question of when, should go back to those responsible for trying to produce an answer. As the Minister explained, I realise that certain very senior political arms have been pushed nearly as far up their backs as it is possible to go, but from military experience I know that they can always go just a little further. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend Ruth Kelly. The Statement is as follows:With permission, I would like to update the House on the Governments proposals for the implementation of home information packs. It had been the Governments intention to implement home information packs, including energy performance certificates, on 1 June. In debate last week, reference was made to the judicial review requested by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. This judicial review focused on energy performance certificates, not home information packs. On Wednesday, the judge issued an interim order which was received by my department on Thursday. That order would have effectively prevented the introduction of energy performance certificates on 1 June while the case was being considered. The Government believe that introducing home information packs without energy performance certificates would be neither practical nor acceptable. It is important to introduce energy performance certificates and home information packs at the same time because cutting carbon emissions should go hand in hand with market transformation. We have been in detailed discussion with RICS to prevent lengthy legal delays. The Government and RICS are committed to the swift and smooth introduction of both home information packs and energy performance certificates. I am pleased that we have today reached a pragmatic way forward that gives certainty and allows us to get on with implementation. As a result, we are proposing to withdraw the Home Information Pack Regulations to clear the way for successful implementation of revised arrangements. Although the issue of the judicial review is now resolved, long-running uncertainty has already had an impact on the number of energy assessors. For implementation on 1 June, we would need at least 2,000 to be accredited, with over 2,500 by the end of the month. Today, I am updating the House with the latest figures. There are more than 2,500 people currently in training. A further 3,200 have already passed their home inspector or domestic energy assessor exams. Of those, 1,500 have been accredited or have applied for accreditation, but only 520 of them have been fully accredited. These figures show that the number of assessors is unlikely to meet our needs in time for implementation on 1 June. Equally, they show that, in the long term, there will be enough assessors to meet demand.The Government remain convinced of the importance of home information packs and energy performance certificates. Home information packs will cut costs and delays in buying homes. Energy performance certificates will help reduce energy bills and cut carbon emissions from our homes, which, as they make up 27 per cent of our national carbon emissions, could make a big difference in our effort to tackle climate change. The measures in energy performance certificates will cut carbon emissions by nearly 1 million tonnes every year.I have always said that the right test of the legislation should be how it brings benefits for the consumers and how it protects the environment. Today, therefore, I am setting out a practical way forward. I propose to change the start date for home information packs to 1 August and intend to phase their introduction. From 1 August, home information packs, including energy performance certificates, will be required for the sale of four-bedroom properties and larger. These are the properties where there is the greatest potential to make energy efficiency savings. This will ensure work for those energy assessors who have already been trained and accredited. We will extend the requirement to smaller properties as rapidly as possible, as sufficient energy assessors become ready to work. As we see the number of accredited assessors rise, so more properties will be included in the system. We are also introducing a number of transitional measures. First, until the end of the year, we propose to allow people to market their properties as soon as they have commissioned a pack rather than make them wait until they have received it to avoid unnecessary delays when the systems are introduced. Secondly, to allow energy performance certificates to be implemented at the earliest opportunity, we will make amendments to allow energy performance certificates to be up to 12 months old when the property is put up for sale, extending the current three-month limit. Thirdly, we are inviting councils and registered social landlords to work with us to introduce energy performance certificates on a voluntary basis in social housing; for example, at the time of stock transfers. This will also provide work for energy assessors at an early opportunity. I will shortly bring forward revised regulations to implement the changes that I have outlined. Towards the end of the year, we will assess the implementation of home information packs and consider what further steps might be needed to maximise the reduction in carbon emissions and drive forward the reform of home buying and selling. This assessment will be informed by the operation of the market from 1 August, by the results of the area trials and by further consultation on the next steps in implementing home information packs and energy performance certificates, which we will begin in the summer.The approach that I have set out gives clarity to everyone about the next steps. It delivers home information packs and energy performance certificates. It removes uncertainty for energy assessors and others, and ensures a smooth transition for people buying and selling their property. Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to make real progress towards cutting carbon emissions from our homes.
Baroness Hanham: Oh dear, my Lords, oh dear. One can have only the deepest sympathy for the hapless Minister required by the obduracy and incompetence of her predecessors in this House and the other place to have to make such a Statement at the 59th minute of the 11th hour before a humiliating defeat in this place. Despite this Statement, I intend to carry on and move the Motion on the Order Paper so that the House will have an opportunity to discuss this issue at greater length than this debate allows.
Is the Minister aware that while the Statement claims to have delivered clarity, it has, in fact, merely thickened the cloud of confusion, incompetence and chaos surrounding home information packs and energy performance certificates? The House will have the greatest sympathy for the Minister, sent into bat by others with a text that even the kindest would regard with scorn and derision. It is no fault of hers and the House well understands that, but will she accept that this must be one of the most shameful episodes in public administration ever to come before this Parliament? Not only the Secretary of State but the Permanent Secretary should reflect on this appalling performance.
The Minister, because she is an honourable Minister, must be blushing at the Governments created shambles over this whole issue. Will she inform noble Lords why Her Majesty's Government have pressed ahead with a scheme which everybody who knows anything about the housing market was telling them was not workable? Indeed, the Government have been told in this and the other House for years that it was not workable.
Further to the questions asked in Question Time today by my noble friend Lady Gardner, will the Minister inform us when sufficient assessors will be trained and accredited to carry out the energy performance certificates? Does the Minister recall that the previous shambles of the home condition reports having to be abandoned was also because there was an inadequate number of inspectors available to carry them out? For how long has the department been aware that there were insufficient numbers and for how long has it declined to inform the House and the public properly of this matter? It has been asked the question repeatedly and promises and assertions were always made that plenty were in training, but that is now a hollow statement.
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