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House of Lords

Tuesday, 1 July 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Lincoln

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln—John Charles, Lord Bishop of Lincoln, was introduced between the Lord Bishop of St Albans and the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Introduction: Baroness Manningham-Buller

Baroness Manningham-Buller—Dame Elizabeth Lydia Manningham-Buller, DCB, having been created Baroness Manningham-Buller, of Northampton in the County of Northamptonshire, for life, was introduced between the Lord Inge and the Lord Luce.

Housing: Selective Licensing Schemes

2.47 pm

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House that I am a member of a local authority in Lancashire.

The Question was as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, the Government are satisfied with the progress that local authorities have made in establishing selective licensing schemes under the Housing Act 2004. As was expected, local authorities’ statutory duty to implement the mandatory licensing of certain houses in multiple occupation has taken precedence over discretionary licensing initiatives. To date, seven selective licensing schemes have been approved.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I think that seven schemes have been approved in five local authorities, which in the three years since the legislation was passed does not seem very many. Does she appreciate that quite a number of local authorities would like to establish selective licensing schemes for private sector landlords in difficult areas of their districts but find that the government rules present insurmountable hurdles? Will the Government be more forthcoming about allowing local authorities to declare selective licensing areas?

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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Lord will probably know that the criteria stipulate areas of market failure and areas with a high incidence of anti-social behaviour. We targeted those areas because they tend to be where people are in the greatest housing distress, so we are not looking at the criteria at the moment. We never expected more than about 17 schemes, so to have seven in the first two years is creditable. However, because putting the licensing regime in place is a serious undertaking for local authorities, we must take great care to get the processes right.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I declare my interest as a small landlord, as always. I have grave concerns about any scheme that is damaging to the amount of property that comes on to the market for people to occupy. Does the noble Baroness agree that whatever type of scheme is introduced should be fully justified and that a careful decision should be made as to whether it will be counterproductive and remove property from the letting market?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point, because we rely on the private rented sector. Its share as a provider of all our homes has increased from 8 per cent to 12 per cent since 1988, so it is an important part of the market. The point about selective licensing is that landlords in certain areas are registered by the local authority in an attempt to help them to manage their tenants and properties better; essentially it is a management tool. There are great benefits for landlords in this because a scheme raises the tenor of and attitude towards the sector, but landlords have to be able to agree to it. However, the noble Baroness is right to say that we must be proportionate in how we use tools of this sort.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, would the licensing scheme help in areas where there are problems in relation to student housing?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we know that in parts of the country—in university cities such as Nottingham, for example—there are big concentrations of students. Students are of terrific benefit to the local economy but, when they are concentrated together, there can also be problems for the private sector. Licensing would probably not be the answer, but we have commissioned ECOTEC to gather evidence on this to see what might work and what the extent of the problem is. We are working closely with universities and local authorities in such areas. We are looking at the accreditation of landlords and at neighbourhood management and we are consulting on the possibility of changing the use classes order to stop the proliferation of houses in multiple occupation. This is a very lively issue for us.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister talked about which should take priority, selective licensing or HMOs. However, the clear impression that I got when I looked at the CLG website yesterday was that this might well be another occasion of the Government putting down an awful lot of words on paper hoping that the words in themselves would solve the problems.

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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Baroness is far too cynical. We have a wonderful website and I am glad that she has found it. The point about the way in which we have done this is that we have prioritised mandatory licensing. As she will remember from the Housing Act 2004, it is in the larger houses—those of three or more storeys with five or more people in the household—that the greatest abuses occur. We anticipated that about 41,000 such houses would need to be licensed; we have actually licensed 25,000 of them in two years, which is excellent. That was the priority and selective licensing is a complementary tool.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, have the Government been talking to local authorities that appear—particularly if one listens to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—to be somewhat reluctant to get into this scheme? Have the Government taken steps to find out the background to their reluctance?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the seven schemes are in places such as Salford, east Manchester and Pendle—I am sorry, in Burnley. I beg the noble Lord’s pardon; I should know east Lancashire well enough by now to know the difference between Pendle and Burnley. This is quite rightly an outstanding issue in Burnley, because some of the local landlords had a problem with the quality of evidence and the quality of the consultation. We are looking to make good progress on that now. It is important to know the local circumstances. In Salford, for example, 500 properties and more than 300 landlords are involved in the scheme. There has to be a lot of local knowledge and local consultation with residents and landlords before you can successfully introduce one of these schemes.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, the Minister said that 17 might be the figure. That seems both arbitrary and curiously specific. How many local authorities are at the moment in discussion with her department over the possibility of setting up SLAs?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord that information, as I do not have it. However, I shall be happy to write to him about it. Certainly Burnley is one of them.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, this question is intended to be helpful. Can the Minister say whether the literature that she has just defended has received an award from the clearer English organisation?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, my heart always sinks when I am confronted by a helpful question. Our website is crawled over by the most felicitous writers and editors, so I am sure that it could be nominated if the noble Lord wants to do that.

NHS: Sixtieth Anniversary

2.54 pm

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, the Department of Health plans to mark the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service in a number of ways. At national level, activities include a service of celebration at Westminster Abbey and publication of a history of the NHS. NHS Live and the Health and Social Care Awards will also be focused around the anniversary. Locally, we expect NHS organisations to celebrate in the most appropriate way for their staff, patients and communities.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply and agree that we have much to celebrate. Does he agree that prior to 1997 the chronic underfunding of the NHS led many people to question its survival as a universal service, free at the point of use? Would he further agree that this Government’s record investments in the NHS have now put its future on a secure footing for many years to come?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the Government’s record level of investment in the NHS coupled with reform have put the service on a firm and sustainable footing. The challenge now is to build on that investment and create a truly sustainable NHS; one that gives patients and the public more information and choice, works in partnership and has quality of care at its heart. We set out this vision in the next stage review, published yesterday.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, as it is 63 years since I graduated in medicine, I imagine that I am the only Member of your Lordships’ House who was practicing medicine before the NHS came in. When I delivered the BMA lecture in 1996 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the National Health Service Act, I said that in those 50 years I had lived through eight reorganisations of the NHS. In the past 12 years there have been 14. The Government now have the opportunity to consider in detail the interesting report that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, has just published. When the review has been completed, may we have an assurance that there will be no further reorganisations so that the dedicated staff of the NHS can get on with their major responsibility of caring for patients?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the report on the NHS next stage review, published yesterday, made the commitment that there will be no restructure or organisational change. That commitment is also secured with an NHS constitution which will take the NHS into the next decade.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, would not an appropriate way to mark the 60th anniversary of the NHS be for the Government to fulfil their manifesto promise to end mixed-sex wards? Would it not also be appropriate to end the scandal where people of modest means who buy their own drugs are then denied treatment by the NHS?

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Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, this Government have made a commitment to single-sex accommodation. The report we published yesterday brings in the say of the patient. Funding will follow the patient experience. That in itself will be the strongest incentive in the system for all NHS providers to ensure that patients are in single-sex accommodation. On the funding of NHS drugs, the Government have also made a commitment to expedite the approval of drugs through the NICE process, reducing the time from two years to between three and six months.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I cannot claim to have practiced medicine before the invention of the National Health Service but I must have been one of the first patients to have benefited from it, for which I am grateful. After 60 years of ever more exotic treatments on the NHS—presumably with at least another 60 years to come—does the Minister think that we are healthier as a consequence?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. These exotic treatments are based on evidence. The evidence is that both men and women are living on average 10 years longer than they did before the creation of the NHS in 1948.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I join many in the House in rejoicing in the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the NHS. I recognise that there are many significant challenges in the years ahead. Will the Minister assure us that the needs of those suffering from mental illnesses such as dementia and schizophrenia will remain central to the strategic policy and will be effectively resourced in the future?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the next stage review makes a commitment through the local reviews. There are 10 regional reviews in which the vision for mental health is clearly described. We are also for the first time setting the NHS proactively to meet the challenges of the future, which include dementia and other mental health disorders.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most welcome developments in 60 years has been the move from cure to prevention—in other words, maintaining good health, which my noble friend emphasised in his report? Will he tell the House more about the Government’s commitment to prevention as well as cure?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the NHS aspires to convert itself from a sickness service to a well-being service, and we made four commitments yesterday: first, to create a coalition between government, the private sector and the voluntary sector in ensuring that we tackle some of the challenges facing us in preventive medicine; secondly, we will be launching a campaign about reducing the risk of the major killers such as cardiovascular disease; thirdly, we will be introducing reforms to the quality and outcomes framework to ensure that prevention is at the heart of primary and community services; and, fourthly, we will be piloting a fit-for-work scheme, which was recently announced by Dame Carol Black.

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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the Minister was careful, when he was asked a question about single-sex wards, to refer to “single-sex accommodation”. Is there any difference between the two? Why did he choose that form of words?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, single-sex bays, or single-sex accommodation, refers to a previously large ward that has been divided into small bays and accommodation. They are called “wards”. So far as our definition is concerned, we are committed to the provision of single-sex bays and accommodation.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, is it not time to acknowledge, in an anniversary year, that, despite the day-to-day problems that will occur and the difficulties and issues that have to be resolved, the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 was the greatest achievement of any peacetime Government of the 20th century—and is it not worth reminding anyone with a short memory that it was an achievement of a great Labour Government?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I remind the House that my noble friend Lady Thornton has a number of badges celebrating the NHS’s 60th, which are available free at the point of need.

Railways: Passenger Demand

3.02 pm

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, responsibility for maintaining the Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook lies with the Passenger Demand Forecasting Council, of which the Department for Transport is a member. A major update of the handbook is currently being undertaken and we are working collaboratively with the forecasting council to ensure that relevant findings from government-led research are captured within the revised draft.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook, which is the basis on which railway investments are made, was developed 20 or 30 years ago when the railways were in decline. It takes no account of oil shortages, rising congestion, pollution or climate change. Will the Minister assure the House that all these factors will be properly evaluated and taken into consideration?

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