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17 July 2008 : Column 1325

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. I think that the answer is probably yes. Of course there is a variation between standard disclosure and enhanced disclosure. For enhanced disclosure, where somebody is going to have personal one-on-one contact with a child or with someone who is vulnerable, we go into more detailed information with local police forces. That clearly takes longer, so the time does vary between cases.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that it is not only the cadet forces that are affected? He mentioned them because he knows about them, but many thousands of young people are not able to join the guide and scout movement because leaders are simply not prepared to be put through the mill in this respect. People are extremely worried about this and the whole thing is completely out of proportion.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I understand what the noble Baroness is saying. I referred to the cadet forces because I know about them. I have dealt with a lot of volunteers in these areas and I understand that sometimes they can feel a bit offended that they are being checked so carefully, but it is incumbent on us to make sure. We cannot put volunteers in these positions if there is a risk of them being a danger to people. It is difficult, but we have to do it. I understand from both sides what the issue is. We have some remarkably good people who are willing to give up their time. I understand how they feel but, my goodness, we have to be sure.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, following my noble friend’s question, are the Government fully aware of the real crisis in the voluntary sector, where many people, particularly those volunteering, are refusing to undertake any work with children because of the onerous and time-consuming need for a CRB check?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I had hoped that I had covered that. The answer is yes and it is something that we will have to work at. Often one does not give enough credit to the people who give up time. I declare an interest in that I am involved with vocational qualifications for cadets and instructors. We are able to give degrees through this system to instructors, which encourages them and shows that we value them. I believe that what they do is crucial for our society. It is one area that helps in so many ways to change how people behave, particularly youngsters.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that all the information held by the CRB is held exclusively under British jurisdiction and subject to British criminal law?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am pretty certain that I can confirm that, but I will make absolutely certain and write to the noble Lord. He touches on an interesting area: getting details and information about people in these areas who are not British. We are in a

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lot of negotiations at the moment to ensure that we can get the same accurate coverage as we have of British people.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister have any concerns about reports that the full recommendations of the Soham inquiry on the exchange of information have not been implemented?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the details of that. I will write to the noble Lord, if I may.

Crime: Knives

11.30 am

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, for the past few months, we have been developing knife-referral schemes that will enable young people caught in the possession of knives to face up to the consequences of their actions. Schemes could include weapons awareness workshops, where information is given on what happens when someone is stabbed and the consequences for them, their families, the victim and the community are brought home.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but do the Government recognise that knee-jerk reactions to serious issues are not helpful? Will the Minister reassure us that even the Home Secretary’s adjusted and diluted position on this matter will not entail doctors’ valuable time being used to give pep talks to knife thugs? Does he accept that knife violence is a role model problem that correlates directly with the grandeur of drug barons and their ruthless henchmen on estates and in our prisons? Will the Government consider whether it is time for these drug barons to be isolated and put in a special prison, where their ability to corrupt other young people is not so great?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that one should not have just knee-jerk reactions. That was why I pointed out in my first Answer that this has been developing for some months. On 5 June, the Prime Minister stated that anyone over the age of 16 caught in possession of a knife could expect to be prosecuted on the first offence. We also announced the eight areas in which we will do particular programme work. Interestingly, according to the crime statistics today, 66 per cent of knife incidents happen in those eight areas. We have produced a whole raft of measures with the Youth Justice Board to find ways of

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resolving these issues. It is no good just banging these people up all the time. That does not help, although it must be there as one of the things that can be done.

The noble Lord touched on a few things such as drugs. This issue goes far wider than just carrying knives. It is a much greater issue, and we have to tackle every aspect of it.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I did not gather from the Minister’s first Answer whether he was saying that the Government intend to allow people who have committed attacks to visit in hospital the people whom they attacked. If they do intend to do that, does he think that the people will like meeting the people who have stabbed them, and might the nurses also enjoy meeting those kinds of people in hospital?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the intention has never been to trail in people to see some poor chap, whom they have attacked with a knife, lying in a bed surrounded by his family. This got distorted somehow over the weekend. It is not something that we would do. It would be extremely counterproductive and might lead to rather more violence. It would not be a good thing to do. However, in certain targeted ways, there is sometimes merit—depending on the person involved; let us say that he is under 16 and has not actually used the weapon—in the person being able to talk to people who are experts on these things so that he can see what the impact is when a knife is used. There is a benefit in that in some cases. It is part of a whole package of measures. One noble Baroness asked why we did not put them in a mortuary and padlock them to the body overnight. That is probably more than we need to do, but we need to consider all possibilities, some of which may fade away and some of which will be of great use.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Minister talks about criminals meeting their victims, which of course is what restorative justice is about, but does he realise how much frustration there is in the police forces that are successfully using the scheme to turnaround criminals’ minds? As restorative justice currently does not count as a sanctioned detection method, those forces’ performance against their targets looks poorer than it is, even though they are implementing such a good scheme.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a good point. I will not give more of an answer now because there will be a Statement later on the policing Green Paper. The House will see that the issue is touched on there.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report, Who is My Neighbour?, which was recently published by Churches Together in England? Addressing the issue of knife and other violent crime, it emphasises that what is really needed are long-term strategic partnerships between churches, community groups, the police, criminal justice partners and local authorities. How will the range of initiatives to which the Minister referred be truly integrated into such a long-term strategic approach to this very difficult problem?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: it needs to involve all of those. I cannot easily give an answer on exactly how it will happen, but we are undoubtedly putting in place a raft of measures that ranges, as I say, from putting people in prison, to using many more search wands and search arches at places such as Streatham station—where they suddenly appear and people are asked to walk through—to applying various so-called softer measures that have the same impact. This has to involve all the groups that the right reverend Prelate talked about, and although I cannot easily say exactly how that will be done, it is the intention. This is a long-term programme and will take time, but we have been thinking and working on it for months. The first announcement was on 5 June. There may have seemed to be some knee-jerk reactions this weekend—I do not like knee-jerk reactions—but the next phase has clearly been on the board, and these things will be done as well.

Powers of Entry etc. Bill [HL]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Housing and Regeneration Bill

11.38 am

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Housing and Regeneration Bill, have consented to place their Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Read a third time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews) moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, on Report the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, spoke to an amendment to include in the Bill a duty on the Homes and Communities Agency to be aware of accessible housing. There was support for this across the House. I certainly supported it, and it was obvious that the House was united on this important matter, so I am delighted to bring this amendment forward. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith—and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Howarth, who has played a sterling role in this—that accessibility is a subset of good design. We have tabled an amendment to make my understanding explicit in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, also added his support to the amendment and he certainly influenced me when he said:

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He went on to say:

I agree with the noble Lord, particularly since, as we have observed many times in this House, we are living in a rapidly ageing society but one that has higher aspirations and is looking for better standards of living and accommodation. So I hope that by giving the HCA an object of contributing to the achievement of “good design”, and now making it explicit in the Bill that good design includes design that,

I am indeed strengthening its arm against any such pressure.

This amendment seeks to emphasise the imperative for the HCA to consider the needs of older people and disabled people when acting in support of its fourth object, which is to contribute to sustainable development and good design across all developments, whether residential, industrial or infrastructure projects. Although the amendment refers specifically only to the needs of older and disabled people, I am sure that by catering for the needs of these groups, everyone will benefit. We will be looking to the sorts of design that will enable, for example, young families to enjoy easier access with their buggies, and will aid those with short-term health conditions. The whole community will benefit. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his original amendment and I hope that he will accept that we have responded in a better way than simply adding the word “accessible” to the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness. We have argued this case gently for a long time. It affects a particular sector of the community that is never out of mind but is sometimes not sufficiently focused on. Over time this provision will bring relief to all sorts of families. As the noble Baroness said, one occasionally has temporary periods of incapacity after, say, major surgery or an accident. It is not just for the elderly, whom we are all becoming, and it will improve the utility of our homes across the whole spectrum of provision for the community. This is a generous concession by the Government for which, again, I am grateful.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I, too, appreciate my noble friend’s willingness to table this amendment in response to the excellent earlier amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and supported so extensively across the House. After her early reservations in Committee, which were understandable enough, my noble friend has taken to embroidering Clause 2 with enthusiasm. I think that all of us who have been engaged in these debates greatly appreciated the latest of her letters, sent on 15 July. She is without a doubt my favourite correspondent. She brought us much good news about how the Government intend to ensure that good design genuinely is promoted by the Homes and Communities Agency and by the Government themselves in their broader strategy. She responded

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very constructively and helpfully to that tiresome but, I hope, pertinent list of questions that I put to her when welcoming the amendment to Clause 2(1)(d). In her letter she said that that amendment had strengthened the legislative framework, and this new amendment would strengthen it further. She also said:

She went on to say that she would be looking to local planning authorities to assist the Government and the HCA in this strategy, which brings us again to the question of skills. I am pleased to be informed by her about CABE’s programme to train officers of local planning authorities in the Building for Life methodology. It is also important that the Government, along with CABE, should pursue energetically making design review available in all the regions of the country—I understand that there are two regions where it is not yet available—and ensuring that it is of a high standard and works well.

11.45 am

This amendment, which addresses the needs of the elderly so usefully, encourages us to think that the Government will indeed achieve their targets of ensuring that publicly funded housing matches lifetime home standards by 2011, and that they are serious about the target to ensure that those standards are attained with new developments in the private housing market by 2013. However, that will undoubtedly be much more difficult. I was pleased that the Minister insisted, in her letter, that she would expect the HCA to use its leverage on the private and public sectors. How will the issue of minimum space standards, which some of the relevant agencies and professional bodies are examining, intertwine with the question of achieving lifetime home standards?

Will the Minister also comment on building regulations? In her letter, she mentioned that the current review of those is focused on reducing burdens and costs on businesses. That is, indeed, a good thing: we do not want businesses to be faced with any unnecessary burdens and costs, but in building homes we also need to be focused on the needs of those who will dwell in them. Will she confirm that that review is intended to ensure that building regulations themselves support good design?

Where the needs of disabled people are concerned, ensuring that new build matches the best design standards is one thing; ensuring that we are able to refurbish or adapt existing homes to make their design appropriate for disabled people is much more difficult. The Minister has told us how the requirement on local authorities to provide match funding of 40 per cent for disabled facilities grants has been relaxed, and expressed optimism that local authorities would none the less continue to prioritise adaptation of homes in their communities. She argued that they would, rationally, realise that they would be saving costs on social services budgets and other budgets. Yet we cannot always be entirely confident either that local authorities will act rationally and far-sightedly or that they will, by any means, have the resources to do all that a rational and far-sighted authority would want. Will she assure us again that

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she will be invigilating the attitude and progress made by local authorities on adapting homes for disabled people?

Disabled facilities grants are, of course, only part of the story, as the Minister’s letter reminded us. Will she ensure that an adequate share of the £1 billion in the regional housing pot is indeed made available for adaptations, and move to clarify the respective responsibilities for disabled facilities grants of housing associations and local authorities? I ask my litany of questions again only because it is extremely important—and I know that the Minister agrees with me here—that we push these good intentions through into a really worthwhile, practical reality. I have no doubt whatsoever that my noble friend is determined that we should.

Lord Best: My Lords, I add further thanks to the Minister for this important amendment. I hope that it means that the Homes and Communities Agency will be able to lend its support not just to hastening us towards the day when the lifetime home standards of accessibility and adaptability can be applied to all private homes as well as to housing association homes, but that that powerful HCA may be able to play its part in ensuring that building regulations are actually enforced as well as simply being amended to good effect. I greatly welcome and appreciate this amendment.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am glad that noble Lords think we have achieved so much of our shared objective. It is a credit to the House that we have continued on this issue, and I think we have got it right.

In response to the detailed questions from the noble Lord, I am afraid that our correspondence is not yet over. Space standards are a complex issue; he will understand that. The ebb and flow of space standards and regulation go back over many years, and that is not something I can address at the Dispatch Box. I will update him in a letter on how we are thinking about it with regard to all these other things.

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