Housing and Planning Bill - Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:42 pm on 11th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 8:42 pm, 11th April 2016

My Lords, Amendment 33 is tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It would introduce mandatory five-yearly electricity safety checks in private rented accommodation. Noble Lords may be surprised that, unlike those for gas, such checks are not already mandatory, given the danger of electrocution and of fires caused by faulty electrical installations. Indeed, according to Electrical Safety First, a charity that works to prevent electrical accidents, there are about 70 deaths a year involving electricity compared with 18 from gas. We can all work out that that is more than one a week. Tragically, one such death was that of the daughter of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, who is not in her place, but whose calls for greater electricity safety we should heed.

We are delighted that, following the debate on this amendment in Committee, the Government have recognised the need for intervention and have tabled their own amendment, Amendment 82, which allows for regulation to require safety checks. However, that power is only permissive, not mandatory. Hence Amendments 83, 85, 87 and 89, to Amendment 82, make the very smallest of changes—a mere “may” becoming a “must”. As a result, the Government would have to bring forward regulations, for which the amendment makes provision, rather than leaving it to chance as to whether Amendment 82 was acted upon. Alternatively, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours already warned us earlier today, we might find that the Government suddenly use the excuse of it costing landlords too much to bring in this permissive regulation. The cost is £2.50 a month—a five-yearly electricity check costs about £150, which comes to £2.50 a month—so we hope the Government are not going to use that excuse for not making this regulation mandatory.

We are happy to accept that the Government are nearly there, and we welcome the beginning of that movement. They have moved from their earlier response that there is an existing legal duty on landlords to keep tenants’ electrical installations safe. That of course allowed electrics in rented properties to go unchecked for many a year, and it guaranteed the prosecution of the landlord only after the event, rather than preventing electrocution or fires in the first place.

So while we welcome the Government’s Amendment 82, it fails to meet the calls for mandatory five-yearly checks. Those calls come from the Local Government Association, Electrical Safety First, the Chief Fire Officers Association, Shelter, Crisis, the London fire brigades, British Gas and, perhaps most importantly, tenants. We hope the Minister will accept our Amendments 83, 85, 87 and 89 to her Amendment 82. That would put a bit of backbone and urgency into the permissive regulations.

The other amendments to the Government’s Amendment 82 deal with the requirement, advised by experts, to ensure that the checks are by a skilled person competent in such work. Being qualified means nothing if it does not specify what this covers. Our Amendments 86 and 88 would effectively tie the test into the CLG’s existing Competent Person Schemes, which ensure high guaranteed standards for this important work of checking for safety. The other amendments, though important, are drafting amendments that I assume the Government would accept. I beg to move.