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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 11th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 8:45 pm, 11th April 2016

My Lords, my name is added to these amendments. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her tribute to my noble friend Lady Tonge, who first introduced me to this subject and then told me that she was handing it over to me. I am not sure that she has completed the process, but that is what happened. This is the third Bill that I have attempted to amend in this way. The previous two were under the coalition Government, so I am very pleased that we are now making some progress.

I welcome the movement from the Government and their Amendment 82, but I echo all the points that have been made by the previous two speakers—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who introduced our amendments very well. It is good to see at least a positive step and a willingness to consider the issue, but I simply do not understand why the Government’s amendment uses the word “may” and not “must”—why the provisions are not mandatory, as they should be.

Electrical safety has been left behind. Quite rightly, we have had regulations relating to gas and carbon monoxide; why not for electrical safety? I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate that the caution in the amendment does not reflect the Government’s position and that they do intend to regulate on this issue and are not merely proposing a gentle amendment which they hope will buy us off at this stage.

I shall not repeat all the things that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said but I want to add one that I do not think has been mentioned tonight. There are any number of examples of why electrical safety is important and of the dangers when proper checks are not made. Perhaps it is my age but I was shocked to read that nearly two-thirds of properties occupied by couples over the age of 60 do not meet electrical safety standards. From that it follows that in 2013-14 half the fatalities from electrical fires were of people aged over 65. Those statistics alone ought to be shocking enough to indicate that it is time for the Government to make this check mandatory.

We have dealt with the question of costs. According to Electrical Safety First, the five-yearly check being called for will cost in the region of £150. I accept the arithmetic of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that £150 every five years works out at £2.50 a month. That is no argument at all against having the check, even if the cost were considerably greater.

Similarly, we feel that the term “qualified” in this context means nothing at all. Electrical Safety First certainly feels that, and in fact it says that it is meaningless. The person carrying out the check needs to be property-competent. Again, we would welcome reassurance from the Minister that the Government will take that on board when they draft the regulations, if indeed today they can give us a firm commitment not that they “may” produce regulations but that they “will” produce regulations.