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I come back to the purpose of this Bill, part of which is to get advocates for what we are trying to do around the nation: that is, convincing and converting people to what we are trying to do. I find it difficult to imagine circumstances in which a discussion should go on among flat owners-perhaps there is a landlord, ground rent is paid or whatever-about improving the building. I do not like the idea that behind that is the threat. This is contrary to the way in which the Bill is supposed to operate.
The Minister has said again and again that if this does not work, there will have to be further regulations. The Bill is designed to make that possible, but in the first flush we should try to get a widespread range of people advocating the proposal and convincing their neighbours to go along with it. If we do not do that, one of the most important roles of this Bill will be interrupted.
I have been in both Houses over many years and one of the words that I most dislike is "reasonably". The difficulty is that the definition of "shall not be reasonably withheld" is difficult in the case that we are talking about now, simply because most people object to something in a way that they consider to be reasonable. They might be very unreasonable people, but when they come to the argument they feel that they have put forward a reasonable argument.
I return to the purpose of the Bill. I am very concerned that we should start this whole process of the Green Deal with an understanding that this is the Government seeking-if I were a modernist I would
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I therefore hope that the Minister will resist this particular amendment, not because we might not be driven to it-indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, might be right; we might be driven to it-but because I hope that at least we can start off with the intention of the missionary, to win converts to this, rather than with the intention of the mercenary, to force people to do what you want them to do. All my instincts about something I believe in strongly are to the former, but I have a belief in the end that the latter might well win more converts.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, whether or not the Minister accepts the amendment, it is clearly an issue because there are curmudgeonly tenants and curmudgeonly landlords. The Minister's understanding of the amendment in Committee and the way in which my noble friend Lord Davies has explained it today will arise. Whether or not she accepts that this provision should be in the Bill, the reality is that the basic concept of the Green Deal is that you pay back through the energy bill, yet the person actually making the improvements, or paying for the improvements in the first place in the normal sense of the word, might do so as part of a general improvement plan. It might be the landlord when the tenant pays the bill, or it might well be the tenant who wants to see these improvements and the landlord pays the bill, whether or not that bill is then re-charged to the tenant. So you have some complicated arrangements here.
One of the reasons why this matter is important is that the private rented sector has the least energy-efficient building structurally and has the highest incidence of fuel poverty proportionately. Therefore-I go back to my earlier point-before we launch this we need to have these things sorted out. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, says: that in a sense we do not want to appear to be holding a dagger to the throat of whoever is taking these decisions, or whoever is being curmudgeonly in his terms, but we need a way around this problem. I am not sure I have heard from the Minister yet that we have a way around this problem. Hopefully by the time she produces regulations, we will at least have the outline of a way around this problem, and, as I say, if it is not solved in the private rented sector, then a whole part of the potential benefits of this Bill will be lost.
Removing consent barriers from the Green Deal journey is of course crucial to the success of the initiative. We agree with the sentiment behind the amendment. We want as many people as possible to take out a Green Deal, and the consent process must therefore be as straightforward as possible. However,
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The noble Lord has just flagged up a very important and very complex issue. I assure him that officials clearly fully understood what the noble Lord said in Committee and are actively working to address the barriers. We will continue dialogue across government to identify solutions. The work is ongoing. I hope that that reassures him. He flagged up a very important area that is now being worked on. Because of that we are not yet in a position to accept the amendment.
I am certainly struck by what my noble friend Lord Deben says in regard to this and hope that he will continue to lead in this area as he always has. I like the notion of the missionary as opposed to the mercenary, but it is worth bearing in mind that some people are not too keen on missionaries either. I hope that at this stage the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. What has been identified, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Deben, acknowledged, and certainly as my noble friend Lord Whitty did, is that this is a difficult area but one that we have to confront if we are going to effect improvements. Again I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitty for pointing out how important the private rented sector is and how much the improvements have to be generated in that area to reach the targets to which we all subscribe. The success of the Bill will depend on success in that area as much as in any other.
I appreciate the response made by the noble Baroness, but she will appreciate that she is asking the House to take things somewhat on trust: namely, that the Government recognise a problem but are not quite in a position yet to identify what their solution might be. That is a very difficult thing to say while a Bill is passing through Parliament because, as we all appreciate in this House, this might be close to being the last time that we can address ourselves to this issue. Consequently, we must hope that the department is successful in the work that it has done under the guidance of Ministers who, I have no doubt, will be strenuous in these terms.
Because I am happy to put my trust in Ministers with regard to the objectives of the Bill, I will indeed withdraw the amendment in a few moments, but I hope they recognise that Parliament will expect answers to this and related problems of similar complexity and difficulty, because, although I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that the best approach is the missionary approach, we have an exercise to sell and we all have a role to play in that to convince our fellow citizens of the advantages. A lot of progress has been made. If you look at public opinion polls in response to concerns about issues that the Bill seeks to confront,
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(a) meets the standard specified in the code of practice in relation to the product or description of product, or
(b) is listed in a document which-
(i) is issued by the Secretary of State or a person authorised by the Secretary of State in connection with the code, and
(ii) is referred to in the code as listing the products which are to be taken as meeting the required standard."
Baroness Northover: My Lords, government Amendments 17, 19, 20 and 50 relate to the framework for ensuring that the products installed under the Green Deal are of an appropriate standard. This issue came up in Committee and we are seeking to address it.
We must, of course, ensure that products going into homes and businesses are of high quality, are safe and are installed by accredited installers. The amendments to Clause 7 provide that products must meet standards to be set out in a code of practice. Where products are not already subject to rigorous standards, we will require them to be certified using a testing methodology to be set out in the code. Many energy efficiency products are already required to comply with standards, and we will use these as far as possible. The fundamental principles about which measures are eligible will be set out in secondary legislation. DECC will consult on the draft regulations and the code of practice in the autumn.
Clause 7 contains an option to produce a long list of specific products that comply with the standards. We will consult on whether it is appropriate to produce a list such as this because we must protect consumers without stifling innovation in the market. It is critical that any list is capable of being updated regularly when new products come on to the market. We are enabling the list to be issued and updated by an external body, for example the body appointed to administer the code of practice. I hope, therefore, that the House will welcome the government amendment.
We are sympathetic to the proposal set out in Amendment 18 that an oversight body should govern such a list. However, the government amendment allows for this as well as additional approaches, should they be chosen by the Secretary of State as appropriate. Given that, I hope that my noble friend will be happy to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend is sympathetic towards this amendment. I should explain that it was going to be spoken to by my noble friend Lady Parminter, who regrettably is defending Britain's interests in Brussels with her European sub-committee at the moment, so she cannot be here today. The basis for this amendment is that in Grand Committee, we had quite an extensive discussion around making sure that within this system there would be some form of ombudsman or final appeal for consumers so that people would feel assured that any dispute would be looked at in a proper and independent fashion, and could be resolved in a sensible and cost-effective way. The process should be friendly to consumers and would come to an objective conclusion, but would not cost them a lot of money to go through it.
I know that my noble friend has looked through the government amendments to see how this could be achieved and feels that this is one of the more appropriate ways of dealing with the issue. Disguised in the rather generic language of the "green deal oversight body", which in the language of 1984 would probably mean something quite big brotherish, the amendment is trying to use the Government's form of language in order to introduce the concept. Given that, while I welcome the Government's own amendments, I am disappointed that we have not yet found a way of bringing this dimension to the Green Deal. I would be keen to hear from the Minister in her response at the end of the debate how this particular need, which goes back to consumer confidence in the process, could be met. I am not absolutely sure that the government amendments put forward at this stage will do that. I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: This group of amendments provides a welcome opportunity to talk about one particular participant in the whole process, and that is the many firms which supply the products. There is an enormous range of them and they are hugely important if the objectives of the Bill are to be achieved. All I want to say in a very few remarks is that I hope that the department really will listen to those people who have had the experience of supplying products to the various participants under the Green Deal's predecessors. The impression of the trade association that represents the builders' merchants is that there was actually a great deal of malpractice under the CERT programme, which it describes as operating as a closed shop and distorting the market with unfair subsidies. In my Second Reading speech, I warmly welcomed the new approach set out in the Green Deal and the energy companies' obligation as it represents a considerable improvement on the previous system. I am delighted that it has been so widely welcomed around the House.
The participation of the supply chain is very important to this process. Suppliers have a great deal of experience and provide a wide range of products including loft and solid wall insulation, replacement windows and doors, heating, hot water systems and associated insulation, draft proofing and all the rest. It seems to me that those suppliers have a great deal of wisdom to convey to those who are trying to draw up the regulations and the code under Clause 7. This is an opportunity to stress the importance of the supply chain.
I believe that the department is listening to the trade association concerned and therefore I wish only to say firmly that it would do well to listen hard. Its representatives have experience and are deeply involved in the whole process, and they totally support both the concept and the practice of the Green Deal. Just as we do, they want it to be as successful as possible. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me an assurance that this will indeed be something that the department will do.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, at the previous stage of this Bill, I tabled an amendment about carbon monoxide alarms. I have not retabled it now because I have had reassurances from the Minister. These amendments are about compliance with appropriate standards, so I rise simply to seek an assurance that the standards will cover both primary products and secondary products, which must be appropriate carbon monoxide alarms to accompany the installation of appliances which may produce carbon monoxide. Sadly, we have a steady string of notifications of carbon monoxide poisoning. Charlotte Church was recently poisoned but she survived because luckily she lives in a large house and her grandfather had told her to get a carbon monoxide alarm because of her symptoms. No one is immune, from the most famous names to those one has never heard of.
A further reason that the concept of a Green Deal oversight body is appealing is that, while many victims of carbon monoxide poisoning survive, unfortunately many will do so only with neurological and other damage. They need to be listened to and their claims to be heeded. I therefore seek a reassurance from the Minister that the issue of carbon monoxide alarms has not been forgotten or sidetracked, and that it will be considered as part of the appropriate standards to be set out in a code of practice as a result of this Bill.
Lord Deben: My Lords, first, I declare an interest because, in the course of advising people on corporate responsibility, that can hardly be done without talking to quite a number of businesses that at some stage may be involved in this process-and not only the businesses, but the people. That enables one to ask the Minister to be extremely careful about a long list of appropriately ticked-off equipment. This is an area of fast-moving innovation. I have to tell the Minister that, in the work which I do professionally, one of the most difficult things is to keep up in this particular area, so rapid is the development. One of the problems that any of us who work in this kind of area face is the way that government legislation can hold up the market, stop development, and make it more difficult for new things to come forth.
I understand that we have to have a balance, and to stop people installing the wrong thing, the bad thing, the thing that does not do what it says. However, I beg her to look extremely carefully at the mechanism, so that it encourages innovation and makes it possible for new products to come onto the market rapidly, some of which will be cheaper and better able to meet the needs of the Green Deal. We need to have a system which does not inhibit the very necessary innovation which in part will be driven by the Green Deal. We do not want to have a situation in which the Green Deal is driving that innovation, and then find that people cannot meet the requirements because it takes six months to get it on the list, or because there is some technical reason why you cannot get it on the list. There are so many examples today of things which would do very well if we had not passed some regulation, when nobody knew how to do this, so that the new product cannot actually be recommended.
There is a second thing that I hope the Minister will think of, though this is not the appropriate place for her to put it. I am always worried when we talk about products without talking about people. You can have the best products in the world, but a cack-handed involvement in them will result in a worse position than the one you started off with. I discovered this from my professional work, in this case, when we did some work with plumbers. The fact is that there are no regulations ensuring that plumbers can be competent. You could have a product under this legislation which would be perfectly well ticked off, but a plumber doing the work could make it absolutely impossible to operate it as the rules and the certification would suggest.
This is an appropriate moment to say to the Minister that I hope very much that, in considering the products and making sure that they are suitable, we remember that products need installation. The installers must in fact be capable of installing them properly, or all the regulations on products in the world will not deliver the goods. I hope that the Minister will ensure that, when her civil servants are looking at this, they will see these two things together. They have to be part and parcel of the same mechanism, and that mechanism must not in any way inhibit the innovation which I very much hope will be the result of this legislation.
Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, I, too, strongly support this amendment. Innovation is moving extremely fast here. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a judge in the final of the Shell springboard competition, which, as many noble Lords will be aware, aims to encourage and support small companies which are bringing what I might loosely describe as green technologies to the market. One of the two winners of this competition produced a technology which will have profound implications for the Green Deal-namely, a domestic voltage regulator. That is not a person; it is a very small piece of machinery. Without becoming too technical, I should explain that the appliances in our houses work on 220 volts. For technical reasons of the grid, typically it supplies us with something like 240 volts and 250 volts. That excess voltage, at best, does not do any harm to our domestic appliances, and at worst it damages them,
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Lord Grantchester: My Lords, these amendments to Clause 7 seek to strengthen the framework for ensuring the quality of Green Deal improvements and products, and address a number of points made in Committee. Amendment 17 provides that Green Deal improvements must meet standards set out in the code of practice, and that if the Government decide to use the power to create a list of products that meet the standard, this can be administered and updated frequently. Amendment 19 makes provision for a testing methodology and certification process for products. Amendment 20 is simply a repositioning of text which was previously contained in Clause 7(3)(a), and makes clear that the code of practice is issued under the authorisation scheme in the framework regulations.
In Committee, we had a full discussion on the challenge between the need for certainty of standards and codes, and their drafting and interpretation to the complexity in the housing stock. Although there was a recognition that certain standards of work, of procedures to follow, and of improvements in products should be consistent in the provision of the Green Deal, there was a recognition that flexibility would be required to meet varying properties with differing levels of energy efficiency. The Committee reconciled the differing approaches by expressing a wish for a guarantee of quality to be recognised, so that there would be consistency of outcomes that would provide a greater level of confidence, vitally required to produce the maximum uptake of the Green Deal. The Minister and his team have listened to what has been said on this. These amendments, as proposed by the Minister, meet the Committee's concerns, and I am grateful that the Government have come forward with them on Report.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, and particularly the Opposition Front Bench for their welcome of the government amendments. The Government believe that the approach of my noble friend Lord Teverson could be permitted under these amendments, though I recognise that an ombudsman is not specifically mentioned. There has been quite a debate about how specific you should be, and on the pluses and minuses of that within this, which is a tension within the Bill as a whole. How do you ensure that you have got customer protection and standards, and how do you make sure that does not then become too prescriptive and restrictive? As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned, there has been wide consultation with many of those who operate in this area, and I can assure him that, in terms of addressing these areas, the Government will continue to do that. Their experience of the problems that have
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The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned carbon monoxide monitors, and primary and secondary products like this do come under what we are discussing here. She recognises that my noble friend Lord Marland gave a very sympathetic hearing to the very important point that she made at an earlier stage. Again, that is something that comes within this.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, is right about the difficulties of having a specific list and the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, also referred to that. It is extremely important that the Bill is not out of date by the time it is finally concluded in the other place. We have to be extremely careful about lists. There is a balance between trying to ensure that what happens is not too specific and that we have a high standard, but that we are stimulating innovation and not stifling it, as noble Lords said.
In the light of those assurances about what we seek to do, I trust that noble Lords will accept the government amendments. Although we fully understand where the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is coming from with regard to the ombudsman, we hope that at this stage he will be willing to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and I will withdraw the amendment. I say that to save the tension and stress of the House, which is never good at this time of year. However, I genuinely feel that something should appear in the Bill, whether it is the oversight body or the ombudsman, ombudsperson or whatever it would be these days. I ask my noble friend to think further about that as we reach Third Reading or as the Bill moves to the other place, as this is an important area for confidence and dispute resolution within the way that the Bill works. At this point, however, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) In specifying the standard in relation to a product or description of product for the purposes of subsection (3)(a), the code of practice may make provision as to the testing and certification of the product or description of product."
Lord Marland: My Lords, Amendment 21 is in an extensive group of amendments that relate to the energy performance certificate. As I have said on a number of occasions, we are extensively reviewing the energy performance certificate to ensure that it is fit for purpose for the Green Deal and that there is no confusion between the certificate's relationship with buying and selling a home and achieving energy performance under the Green Deal.
As currently drafted, the Bill would apply the energy performance of buildings regulations, with modifications, where a Green Deal plan is present. This would enable Green Deal information to be added to an EPC and kept up-to-date. In this way, we will be able to monitor the progress referred to earlier by other noble Lords and thereby measure the success of the Green Deal's energy-saving benefits.
Amendments 58, 170, 172 and 174 make consequential amendments relating to parliamentary procedure, extent and commencement. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that these are effective and transparent ways of fulfilling our criteria for disclosure in the Green Deal. I beg to move.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: When we were discussing the number of government amendments earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, made an appropriate comment about how we are all grateful to the Minister for tabling the amendments early. To have early sight of them was indeed helpful as, in the true spirit of the complications of energy legislation, it is sometimes difficult to trace them back and follow them through-that is more of a problem with the following group of amendments-although I am sure that all noble Lord have been able to do so.
The noble Lord has taken on board comments that we made throughout Committee stage about monitoring and having information and transparency. With this group of amendments the Minister has responded to issues raised by the Committee and I am grateful to him for doing so.
24: Clause 9, page 8, line 36, leave out from "The" to end of line 39 and insert "Secretary of State may by regulations make provision amending the 2007 Regulations or the 2010 Regulations or both (as the case may require) in connection with a document required to be produced or updated by virtue of section 8(4)(b) or (c)"
25: Clause 9, page 8, line 40, leave out from "The" to end of line 4 on page 9 and insert "amendments made by virtue of subsection (2) may, in particular, include amendments for the purpose of requiring a document to contain additional or updated information in connection with the plan or the improvements installed under the plan"
27: Clause 10, page 9, line 12, leave out from "provision" to end of line 15 and insert "amending the 2008 Regulations in connection with a document required to be produced or updated by virtue of section 8(4)(b) or (c)"
28: Clause 10, page 9, line 16, leave out from "The" to end of line 23 and insert "amendments made by virtue of subsection (2) may, in particular, include amendments for the purpose of requiring a document to contain additional or updated information in connection with the plan or the improvements installed under the plan"
33: Clause 11, page 9, line 34, leave out from "the" to "information" in line 36 and insert "2007 Regulations or the 2010 Regulations or both by virtue of section 9(3) to require a document of that description to contain additional or updated"
(a) by virtue of section 8(4)(b) or (c), the framework regulations specify a document of a description which is required to be produced under the 2008 Regulations, and
(b) provision is made in the 2008 Regulations by virtue of section 10(3) to require a document of that description to contain additional or updated information."
36: Clause 11, page 9, line 38, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert "as to the circumstances in which a document of a description falling within subsection (2), (2A) or (2B) (as the case may require) is required to be updated or further updated in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State in the regulations"
(a) there is to be a transaction or other arrangement in respect of a green deal property (not falling within section 12(1)), and
(b) the transaction or arrangement is of a description specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(a) obtain the document mentioned in section 8(4) or, if that provision has not yet been complied with, produce a document containing the same information in connection with the green deal plan as that document would have contained, and
(b) provide the document free of charge to a person of a description specified in the regulations at the time so specified.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, Amendments 41 and 42 are a straightforward extension of the existing disclosure and acknowledgement provisions to ensure that all relevant circumstances are captured. The principle behind Clauses 12 and 13 is that those taking on responsibility for repayment of the Green Deal should
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As drafted, Clauses 12 and 13 rely on there being a relevant property transaction for the sale, rent or licensing of a property to trigger the obligations to disclose and acknowledge. However, the provisions will not cover all circumstances-something that was flagged up in Committee-such as where a property is transferred by executors to a beneficiary under a will, or when a property is given by one person to another. The new owner ought to be made aware of the Green Deal, and this is the purpose of the amendment.
Robust disclosure and acknowledgment requirements protect individuals and businesses by ensuring they know they are taking on a Green Deal plan when they choose to move into a property. This helps to minimise the number of disputed Green Deal plans, which means that payments are maintained and the cost of finance is kept as low as possible. We will work with stakeholders on how these new provisions will apply in practice. Our aim is to use existing systems where possible, and we will consult before setting out these arrangements in regulations.
Amendments 43 to 45 enable the sanctions contemplated by Clause 14 to apply to those other circumstances or other transactions where disclosure and acknowledgment may be required under the new provisions.
In conclusion, I can assure noble Lords that these powers are necessary and proportionate to protect the consumer and to ensure the effective operation of the Green Deal. Furthermore, I would be grateful if noble Lords could note the Government's intention to introduce, in the other place, a further amendment relevant to consumer protection under the Green Deal. This future amendment will propose that, in certain exceptional circumstances such as particularly long Green Deals, Green Deal providers will be able to recover more compensation from bill payers when a Green Deal is repaid early than is currently permitted under the Consumer Credit Act. Where extra compensation is recoverable, this will be within the limits set by the consumer credit directive. Without such a measure the cost of finance is likely to be increased, thus driving up costs for all Green Deal consumers.
I am highlighting the future introduction of this amendment now to reflect noble Lords' close interest in consumer protection matters-something that has also been flagged up today-which are an issue of utmost importance to the Government in the development of this legislation. We propose to introduce such an amendment in the other place to allow further time to ensure that, in making this change to the Consumer Credit Act, we are able properly to balance the interests of Green Deal providers with the protection of consumers, which is so important within the Green Deal scheme. I beg to move.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: Once again, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments, which show that the Government have listened to what was said in Committee. She referred in particular to the provision of information where a property changes hands through an executor following a legacy. That issue was raised by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, and I am grateful to the Government for looking at it.
I am very pleased that she has told us now about amendments that she will seek to have tabled in the other place, which will want to scrutinise those proposals. We have concerns-we will have to look at the detail of how this works out-that additional compensation may be charged for early repayment. Indeed, that was a concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in Committee, so I appreciate her informing us now of the Government's intention.
Another point that I want to make is that I was very pleased at her opening comments on the importance of disclosure of information about charges. She may recall that one of our amendments-I cannot recall whether it was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, or by myself, but it was supported by us all-was on pre-payment meters, which often mean that people pay much higher rates for electricity or gas than those of us who pay by direct debit or in response to a bill. One of our proposals in Committee, which was not accepted at the time but which I think the Government said they would look at again, was that greater information should be provided for those customers about exactly how much the Green Deal costs them and how much their energy bill costs. If the Government are bringing in greater transparency so that information on charges can be disclosed, we would like to see that point included. Therefore, perhaps that issue can be looked at at the same time.
(a) there is to be a transaction or other arrangement in respect of a green deal property (not falling within section 13(1)), and
(b) the transaction or arrangement is of a description specified in regulations made under this subsection by the Secretary of State.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may require a person of a description specified in the regulations to secure, at a time and in a document so specified, that an acknowledgment is made by a person of a description so specified that-
(a) the bill payer at the property is liable to make payments under the green deal plan, and
(b) certain terms of that plan are binding on the bill payer.
(3) Where the green deal property is in England or Wales, regulations made by the Secretary of State under this subsection may provide for any acknowledgment required by virtue of subsection (2) to be in the form prescribed in the regulations under this subsection.
(4) Where the green deal property is in Scotland, regulations made by the Scottish Ministers under this subsection may provide for any acknowledgment required by virtue of subsection (2) to be in the form prescribed in the regulations under this subsection.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: One of the features of this whole Green Deal, which has run right through the discussions, is that it will be the suppliers of gas, electricity and, no doubt, other products, who have to collect the payments from the improver, through their energy bills, in order to repay the loan that will have been made by the provider to enable the improvements to be made. This is an important new role for the gas and electricity supply companies. They have unanimously-I have spoken to a number of the companies-welcomed the whole process in this Bill. They recognise that this will bring a range of energy efficiency measures to homes and businesses.
However, they have a very serious concern about an aspect of this process of cash control. My noble friends on the Front Bench will remember that I have raised this at every stage of the Bill, including at Second Reading. They do not want to become liable for the Green Deal debt. If there is a default on the payment, it is difficult to understand why the gas and electricity companies should be the ones that bear that. Perhaps I may spell this out because that is what this amendment is all about. Clause 15 as currently drafted provides power for the Minister to modify gas and electricity licences, and industry codes and agreements maintained pursuant to a licence, for the purpose of requiring and enabling licence holders,
The Government intend to use this new power, as has been made clear, to make the energy supply industry responsible for billing the customer and collecting the Green Deal payments from consumers as part of the industry's ongoing consumer billing and cash collection functions. The energy supply companies are very used to doing that and have their own, sometimes quite elaborate, procedures. Clause 15(3) sets out a non-exhaustive list of the purposes for which energy licences can be modified through the use of the new power. With one exception, they all seem to be very sensible and I have no quarrel. The exception-this is where the industry really does have some very strong objections-is subsection (3)(c). I should like to read it, as it really is very stark. The Minister may make provision that may include,
The possibility is immediately opened up that the bill payer may not actually pay his or her share or contribution to the repaying of the loan that has gone to the improvement of their house, and yet the sum still has to be paid over by the energy supply company to the provider. So, as well as collecting the Green Deal payments that are made, the companies appear to be going to be liable for those that are not made and they will therefore have to accept the default risk.
The significance of this is that it will then go on to their balance sheet liabilities. Otherwise, what does the clause mean? That is their anxiety. And it is worse than that: under accounting rules, they could end up having to bear the full financial liability for the whole of the sum that remains owing on the Green Deal project. Under the relevant accounting rules, if suppliers were required to bear default by consumers, the total loan amount would have to appear on the balance sheets. I have talked to one company which said that this could amount to billions of pounds.
This is an industry that is being asked by the Government to face up to the fact that it will need to invest anything up to £200 billion in generation, transmission and distribution over the next few years. The last thing it wants is suddenly to find itself having to face a new liability-not just for the individual payment that has not been made but for the entire debt that would then, as I say, under the accountancy rules, have to be debited to the company's balance sheet. In other words, the companies are the ones who appear, under this clause, to have to accept the entire risk of default. I find it very difficult to see how that can be justified.
The providers are the ones who are making the loan because, no doubt, they will see a return on the advance that they will be making. That is part of the whole deal. All the energy supply companies are doing is accepting the repayments from the bill payer and passing them on to the provider. To make them liable not only for the payments that they do not receive but for the whole of the debt that is then owing seems to me to be utterly unreasonable. They are quite clear-I have discussed this with several of the companies-that this could be very damaging to their balance sheets
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I have discussed this at some length with a number of the companies and I think that they have a good case. Therefore one must ask that this subsection be removed from the Bill. It is just not right that the liability should lie in that way. I find it very difficult to believe that that is what the Government actually intended. Someone has to bear the costs of default-one understands that-but it is jolly difficult to see how the companies that have to collect the debts have to be the ones that bear the burden. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, while it is for the Minister to respond to the eloquent identification of the issue by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in his concluding remarks the noble Lord identified a dimension of that issue for which I do not think I have seen the answer in any of his earlier speeches on it-that is, as he says, that someone has to pay. I imagine that if this paragraph is taken out of the Bill, the question of who has to pay will have deleterious consequences for the success of the whole concept behind the Bill, but I imagine it is for the Minister to identify those issues.
Lord Marland: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for helpfully answering this question for me because it is absolutely fundamental that if we withdraw the liability from one party, we have to establish where it is going to fall. No one knows more about the industry than my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. He is very close to it indeed and, as he said, this is a complex accounting issue on companies' balance sheets. These implications need to be looked at carefully and that needs to be done in consultation with businesses. I refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said earlier: if we withdraw from one, we have to work out who is going to pick up the bill at the end.
I make a strong commitment to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding-he knows that when I make these commitments, I mean them-that we will be liaising with the energy suppliers and the finance providers over the next few months as we put together the important financing of the Green Deal which, as we all know, we have not as yet structured. It will, however, be an important structure and through that we will develop a policy and provide absolute clarity on this issue for, we hope, all parties. It is fundamental that all parties go into this Green Deal approach unified and clear of their position and, indeed, that the customer is clear of his recourse in that position. That is a commitment that the Government will make to this process and I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, I say that if the supply companies are not going to be made liable then it will of course be the providers. They put up the money and if there is a default then, like any lender, they have to bear its cost. The risk of default could mean a marginal increase in the rate of interest that they would have to charge in order to cover that risk. They do not face the same problem as the supply
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I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his promise to consider this. He has of course been as good as his word on so many of the other undertakings that he has given. While he will be discussing this with the industry and with the providers, I simply find it difficult to believe that it could be right in the present circumstances to leave the whole of the debt outstanding, in the case of a default, on the balance sheet of the supply companies. I want to make my own views on that clear. Having said that, my noble friend has made a fair offer and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Marland: My Lords, these are further government amendments. I have written to noble Lords who have been interested during Committee and our various debates about these amendments. Again, I apologise for their exhaustive extent but all noble Lords are, I think, in agreement that this variety of amendments improves the Bill and that we have taken on board the excellent work that various noble Lords have done in Committee.
These amendments make small technical changes to Clauses 20 and 92, and a consequential amendment to Clause 73. Amendment 48 makes a small amendment to Sections 33(1) and 81(2) of the Utilities Act 2000, if your Lordships are still following me, and would insert into those sections a reference to the modifications made under Clauses 15 to 18 of the Bill. Section 33 of the Utilities Act lists the provisions which form the standard conditions of electricity licences and Section 81 of that Act lists the provisions which form the standard conditions of gas licences. Amendment 163 makes this amendment to Section 33(1) of the Utilities Act in respect of modifications made under Clause 92 of the Bill.
as set out in Sections 4AA to 4B of the Gas Act 1986 and Sections 3A to 3D of the Electricity Act 1989 apply in respect of the Secretary of State's exercise of the licence modification powers contained in Clauses 15 to 18, as they would apply in relation to functions of the Secretary of State under Part I of the 1986 and 1989 Acts. Amendment 164 does the same thing in relation to Clause 92, while Amendment 165 is made in consequence of Amendment 164. I am already looking forward to the response by the opposition Benches to these excellent amendments, which I hope will be supported.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: I could not disappoint the Minister. In fact, I was able to see further clarification in his own words. I have sat down with these amendments and looked through them, but they raise an important issue about the complications of energy legislation. I know that the noble Lord and his team sought to be helpful to all Members of the Committee and to those who took an interest in these issues by sending through not just the amendments but some explanatory notes, which were helpful. I am grateful to him for doing that.
While we will continue to scrutinise this legislation, it may be helpful at some stage-probably not at Third Reading but at some later date-if we were to have one of the wonderful seminars that the Minister has organised to look at some of the detail of energy legislation, the direction in which it is going and where it can be consolidated. That would be helpful to all noble Lords considering these issues in future. In the mean time, I am grateful for his detailed and helpful explanation of the amendments in front of us.
(a) after paragraph (d) omit "or";
(b) after paragraph (e) insert "or
(f) under Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Energy Act 2011."
(a) for "2008 or" substitute "2008,";
(b) after "2010" insert "or under Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Energy Act 2011"."
"( ) Sections 4AA to 4B of the Gas Act 1986 (principal objective and general duties) apply in relation to the powers under sections 15 to 18 with respect to holders of licences under section 7 or 7A of that Act as they apply in relation to functions of the Secretary of State under Part 1 of that Act.
( ) Sections 3A to 3D of the Electricity Act 1989 (principal objective and general duties) apply in relation to the powers under sections 15 to 18 with respect to holders of licences under section 6(1)(c) or (d) of that Act as they apply in relation to functions of the Secretary of State under Part 1 of that Act."
51: Clause 28, page 18, line 40, leave out from "(a)," to end of line 41 and insert "a draft of the code must be approved by the Secretary of State before the Secretary of State lays the draft before Parliament under section (Parliamentary procedure in relation to code of practice)(2)"
"( ) If the function of revoking a code of practice issued for the purposes of the scheme is specified in an order by virtue of subsection (1)(a), the code must not be revoked without the approval of the Secretary of State."
Lord Grantchester: My Lords, during Committee we expressed a clear wish to see as much information regarding appeals as could be provided with clarity in the Bill, rather than it being included in secondary legislation. While we accept that there is no requirement to specify further all the details regarding appeals, which is the challenge we are making under Amendment 54, nevertheless we still feel that we need to be more precise in specifying the nature of the appeal forum. That is the subject matter of Amendment 53.
I have undertaken some quick research into Acts with appeals sections. Without undertaking an exhaustive search, I can cite the Housing Act 2004, with proceedings relating to tenancy details, the Education Act 1993, specifying a special educational needs tribunal, the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 and the Social Security Act 1998. All those specified with greater clarity the tribunal and the relevant way it will operate. We seek to bring that same level of clarity to this Bill, especially in regard to what the relevant authority is regarding appeals. I beg to move.
Lord Marland: My Lords, this is a valuable amendment. It is clear that we have to have a course of action if things do not go correctly. At this point in the process, though, it is fundamental that we work out what the sanctions are before we establish the process. Because at this point we have not established the sanctions, we cannot yet establish the process. It will take us some time to work this through; noble Lords in the Opposition know that we are at an embryonic stage with this. It is fundamental and we are committed to making sure that there is a right of recourse and there are sanctions. As the Bill progresses and we get into secondary legislation, I know that the picture will be much clearer, and I agree that that is important. I hope that that answer gives noble Lords confidence that we acknowledge where they are coming from and that we are taking steps to deal with it, and I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Grantchester: I am grateful to the Minister for his recognition and acknowledgment that this is an important area that still has to be filled in with greater clarity. We know that there are many opportunities yet for the Bill to be so amended, and even for part of it to come forward in the regulations. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, these amendments do three things. First, Amendments 55, 80, 87 and 90 seek to refine the definition of "subordinate legislation" in the Bill. This would make it explicit that the Secretary of State is able to amend Welsh subordinate legislation under the powers in Clauses 31, 39, 42 and 45 relating to redress and appeals. This power is needed to ensure that the Secretary of State can properly implement the redress and appeals mechanisms required by Chapters 1 and 2 in Wales.
Secondly, Amendment 93 requires the Secretary of State to consult Welsh Ministers before making PRS regulations that relate to domestic private rented properties in Wales. This amendment reflects the interest that the Welsh Ministers have in this area.
Thirdly, Amendments 64, 63 and 93 require the Secretary of State to have obtained the consent of Welsh Ministers before amending or revoking Welsh subordinate legislation pursuant to the redress and appeals provisions in Clauses 31, 33, 39, 42 and 45. The requirement to obtain consent does not apply where the Secretary of State is making only incidental or consequential amendments.
Our officials have been working with the devolved Administrations and territorial offices throughout the Bill process, I am sure noble Lords will be pleased to hear. Wales has confirmed that it is content with the government amendments that we are moving here on Report. Our engagement with Wales is ongoing; my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be giving evidence to the National Assembly for Wales Sustainability Committee in Cardiff on 10 March, and my honourable friend the Minister of State will be speaking in the Welsh Grand Committee in the other place, also on 10 March. We will continue to work closely with Wales throughout the passage of the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am not going to raise any objection to amendments that take account of the interests of Wales. I am just somewhat amazed that the Government missed the opportunity to do this on 1 March rather than on 2 March.
(5) The "40-day period", in relation to a draft of a code, means the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the draft is laid before Parliament (or, if it is not laid before each House of Parliament on the same day, the later of the 2 days on which it is laid).
(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or
(b) both Houses are adjourned for more than 4 days."
(a) provision included in an instrument made under a Measure or Act of the National Assembly for Wales;
(b) any other subordinate legislation made by the Welsh Ministers (or the National Assembly for Wales established under the Government of Wales Act 1998).
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Amendment 65 raises an obvious point. We all see that there is going to be a significant increase in economic activity as a consequence of the Bill. A great deal of work will need to be done by a great number of people, and it is a potentially significant stimulus to an economy that is sorely in need of any kind of stimulus that it can get, particularly in terms of employment. I want to emphasise through this amendment my hope that the Government will address themselves significantly to the question of youth unemployment, particularly the role that an increase in apprenticeships can provide in dealing with that problem.
We are all well aware of the fact that we are going to see a substantial increase in unemployment in this country. We know that hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs are going to be lost. We also know that the private sector is going to have difficulty in making up for this loss of opportunities. This is one area where the private sector will seek to expand its opportunities and employment. We all want to see a substantial contribution in terms of jobs created for young people. Otherwise we are going to see a whole generation of young people blighted by the loss of jobs. So apprenticeships can play a significant role.
I think that the House will recognise the fairly substantial expansion in apprenticeships that occurred over the years of the previous Administration. When we came to power, apprenticeships had reached a very low ebb. Although we did not reach anything like the ambitious targets that we would have liked to reach, the significant increase in apprenticeships needs to be sustained. We cannot afford as a society to look as if we have turned our backs upon that next generation of school leavers. The issue is sharp enough with regard to higher education and university places and we know the pressure there will be regarding opportunities for young people there. However, a substantial number of school leavers still have no aspiration to higher education and apprenticeships could potentially play an important part in providing skills for that generation.
That is why I hope that the Minister will recognise that the Bill is a stimulus to economic activity and could potentially increase levels of employment in this country. We should certainly ensure that apprenticeships benefit from this in order that the younger generation gets its fair share of opportunities too. I beg to move.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I do not think that the amendment is appropriate to go into the Bill. That said, everything that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has said is right; this is a really important opportunity to upskill and to find ways to create important apprenticeships in a growing, expanding and increasingly important sector of the economy. One of the things that the Bill does is to open up a lot of employment opportunities in that sector. I agree that there is a challenge; in some ways this area could become almost a deskilled tick-box process that did not require a great deal of skill. That would be wrong in terms of both employment and the long-term viability and credibility of the scheme. I hope that it will be an area where the Government encourage apprenticeships with a good standard of learning. This programme is particularly good at stimulating such apprenticeships as it is long term. The Green Deal will last for a number of years and there will be time to train people properly. That is one of the reasons why we are not jumping up and down and saying that all this needs to start tomorrow.
We accept the Government's timetable for implementing the programme. It has to be drawn up in the right way not just in terms of formulating codes of practice, its administration and the way it works but in order to ensure that we have a sufficient number of people with appropriate skills in the marketplace to enable the programme to be delivered effectively. Therefore,
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Lord Marland: I am extremely grateful that this amendment has been put forward as it goes to the very heart of how we are going to develop as a nation over a rocky period-the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and my noble friend Lord Teverson mentioned this-when growth, enterprise and opportunity will be fundamental to restoring the country's financial viability. That is why the Government have committed to spending £250 million on apprenticeships over the spending review period. Some 75,000 apprentices will be created between now and 2014-15, leading to more than 200,000 people starting an apprenticeship each year. This is a fundamental commitment which I am sure the whole House applauds as very good news.
I was hoping to make an announcement on apprenticeships and the Green Deal. However, as noble Lords will understand, I am a very junior Minister and more senior Ministers will want the glory of making that great announcement, which, in fairness, would be more appropriately made next week in Green Growth Week. On a serious note, I hope that that announcement is satisfactory news for all concerned, particularly those on the opposition Benches who have tabled this amendment, as it will demonstrate our commitment to Green Growth apprentices and the Green Deal. As I said, I fully concur with the two noble Lords who have spoken on this subject. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I extend my sympathy to the Minister for the fact that he is not able to make these great announcements. However, we welcome any advance that the Government make in this very important area.
I thought that I had achieved enough leverage to get this amendment included in the Bill. I realised that the Minister might take a little persuading but I had strong hopes that I could appeal to other sections of the coalition. Nevertheless, when the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, complimented me on my remarks but said that he did not support the amendment, my heart sank. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(iii) under a tenancy which is specified for the purposes of this subsection in an order made by the Secretary of State"
Baroness Northover: My Lords, government Amendments 67, 68, 91 and 92 give the Secretary of State the power to expand the range of tenancy types that are within the definition of "domestic private rented property" in Clause 35. They also clarify that the Secretary of State is able to consider non-PRS properties in the review if he considers it appropriate to do so.
We committed to considering the amendments of my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, from Grand Committee on the definition of this type of property. After that consideration, we now propose these government amendments. These amendments also make it clear that the Secretary of State's review of the PRS might include a review of the energy efficiency of other types of property if he or she considers it appropriate.
Amendment 67A would amend the definition with the intention of not excluding social housing from the PRS provisions within the Bill. After an extensive debate in Committee, we agreed that we want to see the social housing sector continuing to improve its energy efficiency performance. That sentiment still stands and the Government are actively engaging with the sector to ensure that this is the case under the Green Deal. However, we feel that in the context of the PRS provisions, which are all about targeting the worst performing housing sector, regulating social housing is not necessary at this stage.
In addition, the PRS and social housing sector are governed by very different frameworks. While the PRS includes a large number of landlords, each with a small number of properties, the social housing sector contains considerably fewer landlords each with hundreds or thousands of properties. These social landlords have been subject to previous requirements to invest in the energy efficiency of their stock. However, we want to encourage the social housing sector to continue to drive up standards across its stock and will be keeping a careful watch on the sector's uptake of the Green Deal. With that explanation, I hope that noble Lords opposite will be content to withdraw Amendment 67A, and that the House as a whole will be willing to accept government Amendments 67, 68, 91 and 92. I beg to move.
Lord Grantchester: I have listened to the noble Baroness's comments on the government amendments which enable the Government to extend a review of energy efficiency to the social rented housing sector and provide a flexible instrument for expanding the definition of "private rented sector" in the Bill to cover other types of property. We are most grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation. In the light of these concessions and the conversations that we have had with the department on this subject, we no longer feel that it is necessary to move our own amendment on the future of social rented housing as it is clear that this type of housing is intended to fall within these provisions. As I say, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly on this matter and ask for a response from the Minister, possibly in writing as she may not
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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for responding to issues that I raised in Committee. I was anxious that as many dwellings as possible came within the scope of the Bill, particularly in the private rented sector. I discussed the position of agricultural tenancies, certain tenancies under the Housing Act 1988 and houses in multiple occupation. I sought a provision that would enable the Minister to include any property that he considered appropriate. That point has been answered but in Committee confusion arose over agricultural tenancies. In Committee on 24 January, the Minister assured me that agricultural tenancies were already covered in the Bill but on 26 January he changed his mind and said that they were not. Therefore, I am not clear where we are on agricultural tenancies. Some agricultural tenancies are in a similar position to that of vicarages. Even if my noble friend is unable to answer today, there is some confusion on this issue, and I should be grateful for clarification on which other tenancies the Minister is minded to include. I assume that this will be done through secondary legislation, but I am not entirely satisfied that the Minister has responded to the queries on these important issues.
Baroness Northover: I thank noble Lords for their general welcome for these amendments. Perhaps I may pick up the various points that have been made. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the Bill covers as wide a range of properties as possible. Therefore, I can confirm that both the categories that have been mentioned would be included within it. In fact, we pay particular tribute to the church for its leadership in this field and for seeking to move to zero carbon. I can confirm that the church properties would fall within this arrangement, as would agricultural tenancies. However, if noble Lords want more specific information, I am sure that we can arrange discussions between them and officials on all the details. I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that the purpose is to be as inclusive as possible in the Green Deal, and that is what the government amendments seek to achieve.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I hope you will forgive me for asking a Question on voting arrangements, because of course, as a Conservative hereditary Peer, I have never voted in any general election. However, there is a referendum approaching in which I look forward to voting, and I have, of course, always been able to vote in local elections.
This Government have always seen the merits of enfranchisement of British citizens living abroad. However, in recent years, the take-up of overseas registration has been disappointing. I am afraid that one of the reasons was the change of rules enacted by the previous Labour Government. It is now very difficult for British citizens living abroad to register, and it is even more difficult for them successfully to use their postal vote. As a result, registration has plummeted.
Equally, those serving abroad in the Armed Forces have had severe problems getting their postal votes processed. Does my noble friend have any estimate of how many members of the Armed Forces serving overseas successfully managed to vote at the last election? At present, the only sure way for members of the Armed Forces to vote is by proxy. However, surely those who wish to exercise their vote by secret ballot should be able to do so. It is extraordinary that out of all the troops from NATO countries in Afghanistan, who are there to encourage democracy, ours are often denied it. Can my noble friend give an assurance that for the referendum that is to be held on 5 May, when postal ballots are sent out on 18 April to those in Afghanistan, the Falklands or the many other territories, postal ballots will be able to be returned on time so that the votes count?
We seem to be the only EU country that does not encourage its citizens living abroad to play an active part in their own country. It is difficult to register and it is difficult to vote. You have to register in the constituency where you last lived in the UK, and you have to prove it, so many do not bother-it is a cumbersome procedure.
Through the internet, those living abroad are as close as they have ever been to their home country. It is the same as if they were living here. You can download
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The main groups affected are those who are working abroad, including members of the Armed Forces, and particularly those who have moved or retired abroad. We live in a world where many travel for both short-term and long-term reasons, and their numbers are increasing; but that should not mean that their political rights should not be exercised. The rules are seen to be unfair and totally different from the rules for other EU countries, which not only make it easy but actually encourage their citizens abroad to take part in the democratic process. French citizens abroad can register with their embassy or consulate. Their votes can be cast in person, by mail, by proxy or on the internet. The advantage of that is that the French embassies and consulates know where their citizens live in foreign countries; often in times of crisis or difficulties, those nationals are able to be contacted much more easily than we can contact our nationals who live abroad.
Italy has a somewhat similar system. The Greek constitution provides for voting from abroad by post, but the law required to apply this provision has not yet been passed-although that is intended to happen. In Germany, the restriction on those voting is 25 years compared with 15 years in this country. Noble Lords will remember that the previous Government changed the rules, whereby if you have lived abroad for more than 15 years you are no longer able to vote. That is unfair, and that does not happen in many other European countries that I have looked at, including Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. All have better arrangements for voting abroad than we do.
There are always exceptions to the rule. For some inexplicable and particularly Irish reason, only diplomats and military personnel serving abroad can vote in elections in Ireland. I do not understand, nor have I been able to discover, why that is the case, but perhaps a noble Lord with more knowledge of that may be able to answer that question.
At the last election, complaints were numerous. For those living abroad, despite getting their requests to register well in advance of the deadline, many did not receive their registration. If they succeeded in registering, the ballot papers often did not arrive in sufficient time for the votes to be cast and to arrive back in the UK in time to count. The system is unworkable and deprives many British citizens of their right to vote.
We saw at the last election that many were disgracefully locked out of the polling booths at the last minute-at a quarter to 10, or just after. The Electoral Commission has a lot to answer for, and one wonders whether it is up to the job.
There is a 15-year rule in this country and I hope that the Government will look again at that, because it is unfair and excludes perhaps half the expatriates living overseas. There is no credible reason for that.
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I understand that there are at least 650,000 British citizens living in EU states, and some 800,000 expatriates worldwide who receive UK pensions. When one looks at the figures and evidence provided by the Electoral Commission, one sees that the entry of overseas voters on the UK parliamentary electoral registers had increased to the rather meagre sum of 30,809 in December 2010. By any standard, that is a pathetic amount, compared to the number of our citizens living overseas. It is something that must be addressed. Can the Minister confirm any of the figures that I have given him? Are they correct for how many people are living abroad and how many manage to vote? I am not entirely sure that all my figures are right. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
Finally, under the recent Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, from which your Lordships are only just recovering, overseas voters have the right to vote in the referendum on 5 May. What is being done to inform them of their rights and encourage them to vote in this important referendum, which could change a significant part of our constitution? It is important that the Government undertake to review the system before the next election, as it is unfair and discriminatory in an age when we all ought to be voting online.
Lord Wills: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, on securing this important debate. I declare my interest in these issues: I was the Minister responsible for them in the previous Government. I will focus my remarks on the voting arrangements for service personnel, although some of the improvements that can be made will also have implications for British citizens living overseas. I want to focus on the armed services because when men and women make such sacrifices for their country, they must be able to have an effective say in their country's future. The Government must do everything possible to enable them to do so.
There are two elements to ensuring that service men and women can vote. First, they have to be registered. Secondly, when they do vote their vote has to be able to be counted in time. Both pose particular problems for services voters. They are often more peripatetic than other voters, which can cause problems with registration and deployment in remote areas, particularly in conflict zones; and can create serious problems with the timely return of postal votes. Much work has been already been done in both areas. The period for service declarations was extended to five years under the
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We can see the results. During the time of the previous Government, the number of service personnel serving abroad who are registered to vote increased from around 36 per cent in 2005 to 48 per cent in 2008. An MoD survey carried out not long after that estimated that in 2008 65 per cent were registered to vote. This is still far too low and much more must be done to increase registration rates, just as more needs to be done to increase registration among the 3 million or so voters who are eligible to vote but cannot because they are not on the register. I hope the Minister will respond to this debate by telling the House how the Government are building on the work of the previous Government to increase registration rates further.
Once registered, all service personnel serving overseas can make use of proxy votes to ensure that their votes can be counted. They are not disenfranchised. However, when I was the Minister and I consulted representatives of service men and women and their families, they made it clear that many were uncomfortable using proxy votes and wanted to ensure that postal votes could be used. In my view, the Government should do everything possible, consistent with the integrity of the ballot, to enable voters to vote in the way that they wish.
The electoral timetable, for good reasons, means that postal ballots are issued only relatively close to election day, and therefore there can be serious problems with the timely return of postal ballots. The previous Government took action to address this problem. A great deal of excellent work was done by first-rate experienced officials in the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence. A bespoke postal voting scheme was set up for the last general election to expedite postal voting in Afghanistan, and a process was established to produce a long-term solution. Before the last election, I secured agreement from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties that, whatever the outcome of that election, a consultation would be launched in July 2010 on the options for additional voting channels for service personnel and their families. This consultation was to have concluded by the end of November last year. The aim was then to reach conclusions on the way forward in the light of that consultation by spring 2011, and to bring forward legislation in 2012-in good time for the next general election.
I recognise that there is a wide variety of views on how best to proceed. As the Minister I heard, for example, suggestions for automatic registration for service personnel, for counting military votes on a longer timetable after polling day, and for the electronic distribution and remote printing and counting of ballot papers. All of these suggestions had merits and drawbacks but they were all worth exploring further. I became convinced that the answer lay with the internet. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to this as well. Enabling voting by internet would require changes in electoral law-which is enormously complex-and must satisfy, crucially, any concerns about the integrity of the system. However, none of these problems seemed
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Finally, I want to touch on the referendum, which the noble Viscount referred to. At the moment, I understand that the proposal is to issue postal ballots on 18 April. That, as the Minister will appreciate, leaves very little time for them to reach personnel deployed in remote areas and be returned in time. While there may well be good reasons-and there are-for such a late issue of postal ballots for a general election, I cannot see why that applies to this referendum, where the contents of the ballot are known now. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the measures he is taking to ensure that all voters in the armed services, no matter where they are deployed, will receive postal ballots for the referendum on AV in good time for them to be returned by the due date.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Viscount for initiating the debate. I agree with what he has said and with what the noble Lord, Lord Wills, has said. I raised this issue last summer in a Written Question, when I asked the Government whether they would introduce legislative proposals so that British citizens who have worked overseas for more than 15 years in international organisations could have the same right to vote in parliamentary elections as members of the Armed Forces, Crown servants and employees of the British Council. My noble friend Lord McNally, in a Written Answer on 10 June, said:
"The Government are aware that representations have been made on behalf of those working in some international organisations abroad that they should continue to be able to vote after a period of 15 years' continuous residence overseas. The Government have not yet considered the way forward on this issue".-[Official Report, 10/6/10; col. WA57.]
I quite understand why that should be so for a new Government, but I hope-for the reasons that I will give as well as those that have been given-that the Minister will indicate that this thinking and open-minded Government will further consider these important issues.
I put down that Question for Written Answer because Simon Palmer, a very distinguished senior official in the Council of Europe, who has now been serving abroad for, I think, 27 years, raised the issue with me. He pointed out that in the days of the internet and broadband, British citizens serving abroad in international organisations are at least as well informed about British politics, British social policy and what is happening generally in this country as they would be if they were living in Herne Hill. He pointed out, therefore, that if there was any rationale in the pre-internet age for the 15-year cut-off, to do with knowledge of what is going on in the United Kingdom, it has long since disappeared. I agree with that.
He also pointed out, as has the Electoral Commission in the information that it has provided, that the cut-off point has varied from five to 20 to 15 years. I am not aware of any rationale for how those periods have been chosen. They seem to be entirely arbitrary and, I dare say, discriminatory in a way that violates Article 14 of the European convention read with Article 3 of the first protocol. There seems to be a difference in the treatment of, for example, an employee of the British Council, who is not subject to any cut-off point, a member of the armed services, who is not subject to the same cut-off point, and someone such as Mr Palmer who has been providing service abroad in the wider public interest, who is subject to this cut-off point. I should be very grateful if the Minister could tell us the rationale behind a period of five, 20 or 15 years in relation to such a person.
That is not all. So far, I have concentrated on membership of service in international organisations. However, in a world in which there is a right of establishment and freedom of movement under European Union rules, I ask myself why our concern should not include, for example, business men or women, who under the right of establishment are living, working, earning money and paying taxes in other parts of the European Union. Again, that seems entirely irrational. It might be said that it is somehow administratively difficult to administer the scheme without a cut-off point. However, that cannot be right because, as we know from the exceptions to the 15-year rule and to the overseas voting scheme, it is perfectly possible to manage without it in respect of those exceptions.
Therefore, although I do not expect the Minister to be able to give a definitive answer this evening, I very much hope that these concerns, which have already been raised by the two previous speakers, as well as by me, can now be looked at so that a full and comprehensive answer can be given to the question raised by the noble Viscount, which affects basic civil rights and freedoms, quite apart from any European dimension or any question of Peers voting-although Peers are of course subject to the 15-year rule if they are outside the country for that time-and quite apart from the vexed question of prisoners' voting rights. We are dealing with something that transcends all that and I very much hope to get a positive answer.
Lord Rogan: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, on securing this debate. He asked whether any Member present this evening could explain the vagaries of the electoral system in the south of Ireland. As an Ulsterman, I am as mystified as he is.
Where there is a will, there is a way. In this modern, sophisticated world of ours, we pride ourselves on the ingenuity of mankind. We contemplate the merits of sending a man to Mars; medical teams have transplanted an entire human face; and we have unlocked the basic building blocks of life itself. Amazing, ingenious-is there nothing beyond our grasp? Apparently, there is. We can send a probe millions of light years into deep space and receive back pictures of worlds previously not even contemplated, but somehow the ability to
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Patently, it is nonsense that those who serve in the Armed Forces-those whom we dispatch to mortal peril in the name of democracy-cannot be serviced with an adequate voting system in the 21st century. Iraqi and Afghan citizens living in this country have more chance of voting in their national elections-a franchise they enjoy courtesy of the efforts of British and other allied troops-than those very same UK troops have of voting at home. It is an insult that those who serve at the sharp end in the service of our democracy are so impeded in their ability to action that most basic democratic right-the right to vote.
Now, I do not propose that we use the 1945 election as a template. While it is true that that election accommodated the huge numbers of service men and women serving overseas, it did so by postponing the counting of votes by some three weeks. In Northern Ireland we used to postpone the counting of general election votes until the day after the polls closed, while everyone else on the mainland busied themselves with counts during the night. Given the level of irritation which that small delay caused, I do not think that postponement is the solution. Surely the answer lies at the other end of the electoral process, by providing for a slightly longer period between the close of nominations and the day of the election. That should provide enough time for ballot papers to be sent and returned in a timely fashion.
I know it is said that a week is a long time in politics, but just how many budding, potential parliamentarians are going to be debarred from standing for election because they have been asked to submit their nomination papers several days earlier? I suggest that there would not be many. In any case, surely the need to support the right of those in the Armed Forces to vote far outweighs the needs of those who feel compelled to stand for election at the very last moment.
Others have argued that the means for serving soldiers to vote already exist through the use of a proxy. That is to assume, however, that everyone has access to a proxy to whom they can entrust their vote. In any event, the use of a proxy is but a pale imitation of the real thing. Personally placing an X-and I say "X" deliberately, rather than the "1, 2, 3" that some well-intentioned but, I believe, misguided souls aspire to-is the moment of closure.
At a time when our learned friends at the European Court of Human Rights have advised Her Majesty's Government that they would be well advised to provide voting rights to prisoners, we could well end up with the absurd position of criminals having more access to the voting system than troops in Afghanistan. That makes no sense to me and no sense to the country. When we are asking so much of our troops and when there is much discussion of the position of the services in today's society and the need to support and enhance that position, ensuring that our service personnel serving abroad can, at the very least, cast their judgment on the Government who equip and direct them seems to me a fairly obvious starting point.
Lord Lexden: My Lords, my brief contribution to this evening's important debate might perhaps be regarded as having a slightly maidenly tinge. I have spoken once before since having the privilege of joining this noble House, but these are the first words since then that I have uttered in this Chamber, which Disraeli had chiefly in mind when he compared this House to the Elysian fields-that paradise in which heroes of the ancient world reposed for all eternity. Disraeli was firmly opposed to the creation of a mass electorate, convinced that the right to vote should be tightly restricted. However, above all, this great hero of the Tories believed that his party should seek to master whatever sets of circumstances might be created by the remorseless process of change to which, as he often pointed out, this progressive country is always subject.
I do not think it can be said that my party has so far done spectacularly well in dealing with the circumstances created by the enfranchisement of certain British citizens living permanently abroad, and nor perhaps have other parties. The most striking feature of the current overseas voting arrangements is how few people have so far taken advantage of them. Of those living overseas who are eligible to take part in our elections, no more than some 31,000 are actually registered today, as my noble friend Lord Astor pointed out. That is exactly the same number as 20 years ago after the Representation of the People Act 1989 had extended to 20 years-up from the initial five-the period during which our fellow citizens abroad can apply to vote in UK parliamentary and European elections. I was greatly struck by the comment of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill about the lack of any rationale for these different periods. As he has told us, no rationale has ever been offered and it would be very useful to have one because, as other noble Lords have pointed out, it is of serious concern that so few British citizens living abroad have come forward to take up the right to vote here, which was conferred on them in the 1980s.
As far as my party is concerned, this state of affairs does not reflect indifference on the part of our fellow citizens living abroad. There are lively and successful Conservative associations in many overseas countries-some of which I have had the pleasure of visiting-and they form part of a network which is advised and assisted by the highly regarded Conservatives Abroad office in Tory headquarters. As one of our leading overseas members has recently said, "Within their host countries, expatriates meet and celebrate their Britishness in all types of organisations, associations, churches and schools".
When the Conservative Party's flourishing overseas associations are asked why so few people are actually registered to vote-I think this is true of other parties-they tend to answer with one accord that the process of registration is too complex and cumbersome. There are other factors, but registration is so often the dominant one. The statutory requirements for registration are not easy to fulfil, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor,
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Against such a background it might also be timely to reconsider the current rules which disenfranchise all our fellow citizens who have lived overseas for more than 15 years. Subject to the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, to whom we are greatly indebted for this debate, I ask the Minister to consider these suggestions.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I wish to express my appreciation for the debate secured by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and to say thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for the effort that he made to enfranchise the Armed Forces when he was Minister in the other place. I have great hopes for the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. I agree with everything he says. I thought that he would turn to the electoral system in the Irish Republic, but he did not. He condemns the system which is so close to my heart-that of proper proportional representation-but I am sure that we shall remain on speaking terms. However, he spoke of the importance of service personnel being able to vote. I battled with this a couple of Sessions of Parliament ago when I tried to get serious consideration of the automatic registration of people when they sign up to the Armed Forces, so that they are included on an electoral register. We have a registration officer for every unit but I think we need more. Automatic registration would meet the criteria quite easily.
Others have already mentioned the very tight general election timetable: between the close of nominations and polling day there are just 11 working days. I suggest that 11 working days is far too short a period for nominations to be verified, for papers to be printed, for them to be dispatched, for them to reach the furthermost parts of our interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere and for them to be filled in and returned. It is nice to speak of doing things online, but I am sure that many of our troops are out of the reach of any sort of computer, so would be unable to take advantage of that method of voting.
This morning, the MoD confirmed that we have 9,500 troops in Afghanistan. How many of them voted? It says that at the time of the general election there were 9,000 or 10,000, so this morning I was astonished to receive figures from the Electoral Commission showing that, in the 2010 UK general election, 294 proxy voting applications were received and forwarded to electoral registration officers and
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I suggest that one of the reasons for that is the period of 11 days for the whole transaction. That contrasts with other timetabling for elections: for example, for the National Assembly for Wales, where we shall have an election very soon, there is a gap of 19 days; for the Scottish parliamentary elections, 23 days; for the Northern Ireland Assembly, 16 days; for the London Assembly, 24 days; and for the European Parliament and for local elections in England there is a gap of 19 days. When we have such important elections, why is the gap only 11 days? We tried to sort this out with the previous Government but I am so sad that they were not able to proceed to retimetable the gap between the close of nominations and polling day. It is nonsensical.
The situation becomes even more confused. Last year, a general election took place on the same day as local elections in England. Agents, returning officers and their staff were all involved in election campaigns and there was tremendous inconvenience because the different elections had different timetabling, even though they were to take place on the same day. Not only were ballot papers not returned in time because of the 11-day timetable, but candidates and parties were unable to reach the electorate with their messages and manifestos. The Representation of the People Act 1983 states that any candidate can send one item of election literature free of postage to each elector. However, that does not apply to people overseas. You get a ballot paper at the last minute but no information about the candidates and there is nothing to promote them. We need to extend this ridiculous period of 11 days so that there is sufficient time, not only for the ballot papers but also for the material from the various candidates to reach those who are entitled to vote.
Finally, having a consistent workable timetable, say of between 18 and 25 days-I believe that the Electoral Commission wants 25 days-between the close of nominations and polling day would enable those overseas, especially those serving in the forces, to play a much more significant part in our elections in the United Kingdom.
Lord Patten: My Lords, the issue of the voting rights of those living abroad or serving their country abroad seems to me to have a clear constitutional quality or aspect but also presents equally clear and simple logistical challenges to ensure that votes are deliverable on time, in the right place and in an orderly way.
Tonight we must debate the issues raised so eloquently by my noble friend on the run within our present rather ad hoc arrangements for constitutional change and reform. Within that framework I shall concentrate on the rights of service men and women, important though the feelings of, for example, British civilians living abroad are. We should treat the constitutional and logistical issues of the service vote specifically within the framework of the military covenant, which
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The absolute right to vote on time and in secret should be enshrined in the military covenant. A proxy vote is no substitute for being able to vote in secret. I remember the late Lord Garden making that point very strongly some years ago. Why should service personnel not be able to vote in exactly the same way as any other British subject wherever they are in the world? The issue begins with the life of service registration which is now five years. I welcome that. I also applaud the MoD's efforts to get the service vote registered. Its efforts are excellent, as are those of some local councils, such as North Lincolnshire, which only last month publicised the issue in its area. In the end I would prefer to see registration lasting the life of service if that is the only certain way to ensure the continuing right to vote for service men and women wherever they are.
There are then the sheer logistical problems of getting votes back from bases in, say, Germany, which are compounded to the power in getting votes out of in-theatre areas such as Afghanistan. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, and my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno, so rightly said, there is no reason why there should not be a longer period. Why cannot procedures for general and local elections be better aligned? At present the printing and posting of general election ballot papers can begin only after the final publication of those nominated-11 days. In local elections it is 16 days. For a start we could align the 11 days with the 16 days as those extra five days could make all the difference in the logistics of ensuring that those who are risking their lives do not also risk recording their vote when all that is required is a little neo-constitutional date alignment. I have heard the argument that someone should have the right to stand for Parliament at the last minute. I have never thought that that was a very good reason. Among the ranks of my new best friends in the Liberal Democrats, Mr Huhne, the Energy Secretary, took about three years before he tilted at the seat I represented, making it quite clear that he was going to stand. We should take the service vote as something that trumps the need for last-minute, monster loony applications to stand in general elections.
In short order, also, why do we not have special ballot box arrangements administered in theatre by forces with priority postal arrangements to get them back, and in the opposite direction, exactly the same expedited arrangements, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, to get messages of candidates across? What my noble friend Lord Astor and the noble Lord, Lord Wills, said about looking at internet voting is very important but we should not diminish or forget the possibility of cyber attack on internet voting or indeed on any other internet sphere.
I end by recognising the fact that life cannot be perfect. There are a few particularly difficult situations facing those of our excellent submariners on board our deterrent Vanguard class submarines when on patrol on continuous at-sea deterrence for 80 or 100 days
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Baroness Gale: I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for holding this debate tonight. It is a very good topic, of interest to everyone who believes that in a democracy voting should be uncomplicated and that an easy route to casting one's vote should be found.
To assist British people living abroad and those in our Armed Forces serving overseas, the Electoral Commission runs advertising and media campaigns to encourage voter registration among British citizens living abroad. The campaigns include online advertising targeted at sites which are frequently used by British citizens living overseas. I received some information this morning in which the commission said:
"Our most recent campaign took place in spring 2010 in the run up to the UK Parliamentary General Election. It resulted in more than 40,000 overseas voter registration forms being downloaded from the Commission's website. The Office for National Statistics publishes annual registration data collected from Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain and from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland. In December 2009 there were 14,861 entries of overseas voters on the UK Parliamentary electoral registers, this increased to 30,809 in December 2010".
The Electoral Commission's campaign doubled the amount of registrations, but the number is still very low. The commission believes that the current election timetable may not always provide enough time to allow for postal voters to receive the ballot paper, mark it and send it back in time for the close of poll. In its report on the 2010 UK general election the commission restated its recommendation, first made in 2003, that the Government should review the election timetable to ensure that there is sufficient time for voters to receive and return their postal ballot packs for future elections. Would the Minister look at this recommendation?
There are a number of problems for voters abroad, as other noble Lords have said. The closing date for nominations and then the wait of a few days for withdrawals means that, as has been said, the full list of candidates is available only 11 days before polling day. Most people recognise that this is too short a time to get postal votes sent abroad and returned. Fixed-term elections could overcome that problem. Proxy voting can be an answer for some people as it should be a sure way of getting one's vote cast. However, not everyone is happy with allowing someone else to vote for them and they may not have someone they can trust enough. So that can be only a partial answer.
In America most states send out ballot papers between 20 to 45 days before an election, but there are also back-up systems, including online forms that can
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Another way to overcome those difficulties would be to move to electronic voting, as other noble Lords have said. Surely we could have a pilot scheme first. Like other noble Lords, I believe that that is the way forward. I think that we will get there one day, but I wonder how long that will take. Does the Minister think that that is a feasible idea?
My final question to the Minister is: why cannot people from Wales who live abroad vote in the referendum tomorrow in Wales, whereas they can vote in the referendum being held on AV on 5 May? There is a certain irony there. Welsh people abroad will be allowed to vote in the 5 May referendum but not in the Welsh Assembly elections on the same day. If a general election is held in May 2015, Welsh people abroad will be able to vote in the UK general election but not in the Welsh Assembly general election being held on the same day. The same applies to Scotland. I believe that that is an oversight. Because we have had devolution for only 11 years, no one has spotted it. I ask the Minister to have a good look at it and report back to the House.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, on that last point, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, should look behind her and ask why the Labour Government did not deal with that apparent anomaly, but I will have a look at it. It seems strange that you can vote in one referendum but not in another. I sincerely hope that the Welsh people will turn out in good numbers and vote yes in tomorrow's referendum.
The key thing about this debate-I congratulate my noble friend Lord Astor on securing it during the first year of a five-year Parliament-is that many of the issues raised are good, should be studied and, I hope, be considered by the Government with urgency. I will deal later with the specific issue of the military vote, although it is significant that more than half the speakers devoted most of their remarks to it. I take on board the priority that the House gives to addressing that matter.
Of an estimated 5.5 million British citizens resident overseas, only about 30,000 vote. We must address that issue. As my noble friend Lord Roberts pointed out, for all the efforts made, only about 500 soldiers in Afghanistan voted, out of about 10,000. That disengagement of the military is not healthy. I take on board the points that have been made and will return to them.
The point about postal voting and the election timetable has been made. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, that, although proxy voting is an alternative, it is not one that all electors want. Therefore, it is right that we address the issue of the
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As I said, the Electoral Commission's views are on the table, and I know that the Government are working on the issue with a sense of urgency-not in time, of course, for the referendum on 5 May. Again, the Electoral Commission is planning guidance to administrators to prioritise postal votes, particularly postal votes going overseas.
A number of countries have moved to e-voting but some have stepped back from it-in particular, the Netherlands and a number of states in the United States-because of the security issues that were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. One problem is that e-voting is vulnerable to attack and to fraud. On the other hand, I have actually voted electronically in a pilot scheme in local elections seven or eight years ago. I voted in a St Albans local election from my office in London. Although there is not a great deal of enthusiasm for e-voting at present, I think that if we are to have the in-depth study that this debate urges, a study of e-voting would be worth while. Voting in UK embassies is not easy, given the constituency basis of our elections and the need to get ballot papers to cover all parliamentary constituencies.
Let me use the last few minutes on the military vote, because I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that the military covenant is important and the right to vote on time and in secret should be addressed as part of that covenant. I will certainly take that message back. It is important that we try to encourage our service personnel to vote. The Government are making every effort to encourage participation in the vote on 5 May, not only in Afghanistan but in other British service areas where the British Forces Post Office will make voting in military locations a priority.
As I said, the Government are introducing an initiative for voting on 5 May. The deadline for new postal vote applications and changes to existing votes for the referendum is 5 pm on 14 April. The chief counting officer for the referendum has directed electoral administrators to prioritise postal votes going overseas, to ensure that they are sent out as soon as possible after the deadline for new postal vote applications has passed, with the first issue of postal votes to take place
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I say frankly and honestly to the House that on a wide range of the issues raised, such as the 15-year rule which was raised by my noble friends Lord Lexden and Lord Lester, I do not think there is a rationale-I almost feel I am back to why the AV Bill provides that there should be 600 MPs-for the figure of 15 years, five years or 20 years. However, I think that it is certain that, in a world where many more people work abroad, the issue should be properly looked at. I say to my noble friend Lord Lexden that Disraeli's most famous intervention into voting was to dish the Liberals in 1867 and then bring in a more radical franchise in 1868.
I leave the House with the message that the issues raised tonight are very substantial. They have been raised at the right time in this Parliament by my noble friend Lord Astor and other noble Lords who have spoken. I will make sure that my right honourable friend Nick Clegg and his colleague, my honourable friend Mark Harper, in the Cabinet Office, who have responsibility for these matters, see the Hansard of this debate. It will carry with it my very strong endorsement that we should carry forward the momentum of what the noble Lord, Lord Wills, was trying to do towards the end of the Labour Government and that early in this Parliament we should have a really radical look at voting for our overseas residents and, very importantly, for our military. I hope that will be the lasting value of this debate.
Baroness Maddock: I shall speak also to Amendments 71 to 75, 77 to 79 and 84, and the comments I make will also be pertinent to Amendments 81 to 83, which are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best; they also have my name to them. When I saw this Bill, I was delighted to see that the private rented sector was to be included. As time has gone on, I am not quite so delighted with how far we have got on the private rented sector. What I aimed to do in Committee and reiterate here is to have greater certainty about what sort of regulation we are going to have and when it might come in, and to bring the timetable forward.
The amendments bring forward to 2020 the Government's measures for local authorities to issue notices to landlords requiring relevant energy efficiency improvements, and make it a duty rather than a power. They remove its conditionality on the outcome of the review in Clause 36. Landlords receiving a notice from a local authority will be required to improve that property at least to a minimum energy efficiency level of EPC band E, and this level will be increased before 2020. The maximum penalty for non-compliance is increased to £10,000 per tenancy, and local authorities are given the option to carry out the improvements themselves and then impose a charge to recover the costs. From 2016, a minimum energy efficiency standard is introduced whereby it becomes an offence to let or market a domestic private rented property which falls below EPC band E-that means those in F and G-until it is improved to band E, and the minimum standard must be raised again before 2020. A fine of £10,000 can be imposed for marketing or letting a property which does not meet the minimum standard.
There has been a lot of discussion about this. Some landlords, the British Property Federation and the RLA have produced briefings that claim that lots of properties would be taken off the market. Given the situation in the housing sector at the moment, I think that is highly unlikely. The latest edition of Landlord & Buy-to-LetMagazine states:
It is important to look at the details surrounding this sector. According to the Government's figures, properties rented from a landlord or a letting agency are most likely to be the worst insulated, and 42 per cent of tenants in the coldest rented homes are unable to afford to heat them properly and are defined as being in fuel poverty. New research by the Energy Saving Trust reported today shows that the average cost of improving the coldest rented homes is £2,535 and that 30 per cent could be improved for less than £900 through rather cheaper measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation. Only 5 per cent would cost more than £7,500. A poll by Friends of the Earth found that tenants renting from a landlord or through a letting agency faced the worst during the freezing snowy weather this winter, with half saying that they were uncomfortably cold in their home and a third turning off their heating because they were concerned that they could not pay the bill.
There are 754,000 F and G-rated-that is, below E -private rented properties in Britain. They could all be improved for less than £2 million. The average cost would be about £2,500. The annual fuel bill reduction would be something like £370 million and the average fuel bill reduction could be a little under £500.
The annual report by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, for 2009, which was published in March last year, showed that people living in poorly heated housing live in great danger. Old, badly insulated properties offer significantly less protection against the risk of cold than more modern buildings. The
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This issue has been around for a long time. There is an issue about when and when not to regulate but, as I said in Committee, we are looking at the worst of rented properties. Most would not cost a lot to bring up to a proper level. A large percentage of people living in those properties are in fuel poverty, and this is one case when I really think we need to bring in some sort of regulation. We have been talking about trying to improve them for years, but nothing has happened.
My final point is that many people living in these properties are being paid for by taxpayers, who are paying huge amounts of housing benefit. Given where we are at the moment, I do not think we can go on doing that much longer. All the time I have been in Parliament, I have been trying to make sure that we have fewer people living in cold homes in the winter and fewer excess winter deaths. Even if the Minister cannot do anything today, I hope that he will promise that by the end of the passage of the Bill we will have more certainty that we are really going to do something about the private rented sector. I beg to move.
Lord Best: My Lords, Amendments 81, 82 and 83, which stand in my name and were aired in Committee, seek to address the problem that the Green Deal may make very modest inroads into the problems of poor standards of insulation in the private rented sector. The Government's impact statement for the Bill recognises this problem and there was agreement in Committee on the difficulties of reaching those of the 1.2 million private landlords who own substandard properties.
In anticipation of continuing problems of getting landlords to take action, the Bill proposes giving enforcement powers to local authorities and giving tenants the right to trigger the necessary action. However, the Bill's measures kick in, as we have discussed in relation to earlier amendments, only after a review has been concluded and the Secretary of State is satisfied that the measures will not deter lettings in the future.
My amendments cut to the chase, making sure that if there is only limited take-up of the Green Deal and if all other ways of securing action by private landlords were to fail, by 2016 it would no longer be legal to let properties with the very worst energy performance. Making the position clear would mean that all landlords and, very importantly, all managing agents-they look after some 60 per cent of private rented properties-know that they have five years to get the substandard premises up to the very modest E rating with 10 years to move them up to the D level.
Perhaps I may advance three reasons why these amendments, very carefully brought together by the Association for the Conservation of Energy and Friends of the Earth with considerable support from Members in another place, would help the Bill's objectives in this tricky area of the private rented sector. First, setting a minimum standard as a legal requirement for letting greatly increases the chances of success in getting the
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As well as fixing the ongoing problems of fuel poverty for some 150,000 PRS tenants, the amendments would reduce problems of fuel debt. Citizens Advice tells me that it had more than 100,000 inquiries last year, which was up 33 per cent on the previous year, from people with fuel debts. A minimum energy efficiency standard of band E would save on average £488 for an average outlay of only £2,535, which would be a very fair rate of return. At the same time, according to the Energy Saving Trust's research for Friends of the Earth, which the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has mentioned, these measures would save 1.87 million tonnes of climate-changing carbon dioxide each year, which Friends of the Earth calculates as being equivalent to taking 800,000 cars off the road. I guess that the Minister shares the widespread view that achieving a minimum standard will require sanctions at a later date. These amendments give that process the necessary teeth without the delays and uncertainties inherent in the proposed review and its aftermath.
Secondly, landlords and their agents are well used to complying with statutory requirements. The simplest comparison here is the duty to obtain a gas safety certificate. Obtaining an energy performance certificate with a rating of E or above is just as straightforward and, since few landlords would deliberately flout the law, can be expected very quickly to become a normal part of the letting process. I emphasise my point that managing agents are important in this regard. Few agents wish to bother their landlords with suggestions for extra spending or give themselves more work. But virtually all agents, as responsible corporate entities that are much easier to reach than individual landlords, will make sure action is taken if it is a legal requirement.
As the Bill is drafted, no action will be required of the landlord or the tenant until such time as the review has been concluded, powers have been granted to local authorities, and local authorities have taken decisions to act and given the requisite notice, et cetera. The reality is that this leisurely timescale, which stretches past the next general election with no certainty of its outcome, means that all those who are not minded to take these matters seriously will simply sit on their hands.
Thirdly, the proposed arrangements, assuming the necessary powers are granted in 2014 or 2015 to local authorities and tenants, rely on either or both of those parties taking the necessary action. Local authorities may already have the power to act against landlords who let the very coldest homes because these properties are likely to fail the test set out in the housing health and safety rating system. Yet despite these existing powers, local authorities, which have a lot of other priorities to handle, are not exercising them. Recalcitrant landlords can be fairly confident that few local authorities will chase after them if and when extra powers are granted to those local authorities.
Meanwhile, the fallback of expecting tenants to take matters into their own hands seems even less likely to achieve results. A very high proportion of tenants stay little more than a year in their rented property while, with the loss of security of tenure since 1988, all will recognise the high risk of not seeing their tenancy renewed or even of receiving a couple of months' notice to quit if the landlord sees them as acting against his or her interests. How much better would be the legal protection given by these amendments to the tenant, and how much simpler, cheaper and more effective for local authorities, if they need only to ask for the necessary certificate in the knowledge that if it is not available the landlord is not permitted to let the property.
I suggest that in achieving what the Government wish-a minimum standard, even if it is at a low level in the next five years, with clarity and certainty for landlords and tenants, and ease of administration for local authorities-these amendments, which are so strongly supported by the wide membership of the Association for the Conservation of Energy and Friends of the Earth, do the job to good effect at less cost to the public purse.
I should add that Amendment 82 provides for exemptions for meeting the minimum standards, while Amendment 83 gives local authorities the powers to do the works themselves if landlords fail to take action or face fines. I am sure that these consequential amendments could be improved by the Minister's department.
Perhaps I may say a few words about the exemptions from the legal requirement in Amendment 81 to give reassurance to landlords who are anxious about meeting a statutory minimum level of energy performance. It would be sensible for local authorities to have discretion to exempt properties in several circumstances; namely, listed buildings and properties in conservation areas, and national parks where there are special planning requirements affecting the interior or the exterior of the properties.
In relation to the debate on excluding properties where the tenant wishes to refuse consent for the Green Deal, an exception might be made here for regulated tenancies where a tenant does not wish to be disturbed. There are 100,000 regulated tenancies out of more than 3 million private sector tenancies. These tenancies have been in place since at least 1988. Unlike shorthold tenancies used in the rest of the PRS where the average length of stay is 14 months, a regulated tenancy has been going for 22 years or more. Because the occupiers have security of tenure, they are unlikely to move. Although these tenants would be well advised to accept the upgrading to their properties necessary to meet the minimum energy performance standards by 2016, I can see the case for respecting their right to veto any works to their home if they cannot face the upset.
I hope that the Minister, who has made so many excellent changes to the Bill so far, will see the sense of these amendments and take them away with a promise perhaps to bring back something similar at Third Reading.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the strength of feeling on this issue from the debates we have had in Committee and from the two powerful speeches we have had this evening.
I speak not only to my Amendment 70, but also to the amendments in the group. They seek to achieve the same ends but by slightly different means. Their ambition is the same: to improve substantially the quality of the private rented sector in terms of energy efficiency. There is broad agreement on the aim; the differences are about how we best achieve that.
We should address the real concerns of the impact on those people who live in homes that are not energy efficient. In Committee we looked at the wider impact of cold homes. We spoke of the impact on those with homes rated in bands F and G. It is worth noting again, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that the Chief Medical Officer has estimated that the annual cost to the NHS of winter-related illnesses is more than £850 million. It is huge; it is absolutely massive. That is not just across the private rented sector; but some of the worst homes, some of the least energy-efficient homes, are in the private rented sector.
I want to say something about the impact that has on the individual. None of us in your Lordships' House tonight lives in a private rented home that is rated band F or band G. Neither would we want to. If we did, we should be paying an extra 50 per cent in fuel bills to heat our homes to the same level as a band E rated property. If those properties rated F and G were brought up to band E standard, the difference would be between £500 and £800 for the bill payers. It can make a massive difference.
The energy scale goes from band A to band G. Band G is the worst for private rented homes. If we raise that standard to band E, it would take about 150,000 private rented households out of fuel poverty. That is 150,000 families with children and older people-25 per cent of all private rented households-who are currently in fuel poverty. Forty per cent of F and G rated properties can meet the standard for less than £1,500 per property. The average cost is about £270 per property. Sixty per cent of F or G rated private rented properties could meet this standard for less than £5,000. The amounts we are talking about, which would make a massive difference, are not great. I believe we can do this. Landlords with poor-performing property should be given help and advice about how to meet the standard and there should be a substantial increase to the landlords' energy saving allowance.
I do not think that the wider public know what we are talking about when we talk about F and G rated property being brought up to E standard. It becomes a jargon. I asked Friends of the Earth and ACE to give me some case studies of what it means to people. What is the difference? What is the impact on people living in these properties? These people gave Friends of the Earth permission to publish their stories on condition that they only gave their names and the general location of where they lived. Susan from Abergavenny said:
"My 11 year-old daughter and I are currently moving out of a rented house. The house is freezing cold, with no draught proofing and draughty sash windows with huge visible gaps in the window
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"This winter has been unbearable in the house, no matter how long we put the heating on for the house remains freezing. I visited my doctor at home over Christmas with a cough that I've had for over 3 months now. He said that the house has probably given me a lung sensitivity and I am now on an inhaler to try to help it".
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