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Private Rented Housing: Electrical Safety Checks - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:44 pm on 26th February 2018.

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 2:44 pm, 26th February 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received, if any, opposing electrical safety checks in the private rented housing sector.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I refer the House to my relevant interests in the register.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, an independent working group has recommended legislating for mandatory electrical installation checks in private rented sector homes, and that other safety measures be encouraged as good practice, as set out in guidance. We must test wider opinion on the recommendations, to give stakeholders the opportunity to submit their views. That is why we have published a consultation on 17 February, to ensure that any regulation introduced is appropriate.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016. The Private Rented Sector Electrical Safety Working Group reported last year, recommending electrical safety checks. Now we have a government consultation which closes in April, with a government response to follow but with no date given. That is two years. Instituting these checks will save lives. Can the noble Lord give me an assurance about when we can expect some action from the Government? Will I have to ask this Question again this time next year?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I hope not. It is important that some of the recommendations which are left open are checked. For example, should it be a five-year, four-year or six-year period? These are important questions that people should be able to give their views on. In addition, some of the recommendations from the working party say it should be left to a volunteer approach. We need to test that more widely to see whether that is the appropriate way forward. That is why we are taking our time. I can understand the noble Lord’s impatience, but it is important that we get this right.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister tell me what the position is with appliances? They are what have caused every one of these terrible fires that we have had. It is not the wiring, or the basic stuff which is covered by an electrical check; it is that appliance you buy. You may have a regular time for the other checks, but you can buy these dangerous appliances at any time. I too declare my interests in the register.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that BEIS has issued a response to the appliance product recall, and has created the Office for Product Safety and Standards. More widely, in relation to this particular consultation, the review body has suggested doing this on a volunteers approach. Whether that is the appropriate procedure is something that will be tested in the consultation.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare my interest as a patron of Electrical Safety First. Is the Minister aware that Electrical Safety First and the Home Office have both produced data that show that white goods cause five fires every day in people’s homes? Many people in the private rented sector rely on white goods supplied by their landlord. Is it the intention that, if and when mandatory safety checks are introduced—and I share the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, over the delay—they will cover white goods supplied by landlords?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, the noble Lord is probably aware that the consultation is on just that basis. The working party did not recommend mandatory checks but that this was best practice. That is one of the things that we are testing in this consultation, but it is certainly covered in the review.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, the Minister keeps using the word “volunteer”. Who are the people on this working party who keep talking about a volunteering approach? What are they trying to protect? Do they have commercial interests that they think are going to be damaged in the event of it being mandatory?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, no, I do not think that is an appropriate conclusion at all. There is a balance of people on the working party: some are from tenants organisations, some have a landlord background. It a very balanced review. What is suggested in the review is that this could be taken forward as best practice—so a voluntary approach to that extent. That is something that will be tested in the broader consultation that we are now undertaking.

Photo of Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Labour

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. Is the Minister confident that there are sufficient competent people to carry out these checks? My understanding is that local authorities have woefully few people working in building control inspection to carry out the kind of checks that would be required. If it were left to voluntarism, it would be highly dangerous. The issue should surely be to make the building regs inspectors’ jobs more attractive and recruit more of them. These are the kind of people who should carry out this type of work, rather than leaving it to well-intentioned amateurs and volunteers.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I encourage the noble Lord to participate in the consultation, but I note what he says and I share the view that it is important to ensure that we have sufficient people who are expert in this field who are able to undertake the work necessary. That is a broader consideration and something that the Government are certainly on top of. In the meantime, as I say, the reason why we are having this consultation is so that we can test some of the recommendations that have been made by a very well-balanced working party, but perhaps we need broader consultation.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

I remind the House of my interest in the register. I would like to ask the Minister about Grenfell Tower, given that the fire in that tower originated from a faulty electrical appliance. What steps are the Government taking to enforce stricter electrical safety checks in tower blocks across the UK?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, Grenfell is of course the subject of a very live criminal review, so it is important that I do not say anything that could prejudice that consideration. In general terms, though, a Green Paper relating to the social rented sector will shortly be forthcoming, and it will cover the area that the noble Lord is talking about.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

What steps have been taken to ensure that, when people from various other countries—refugees and so on—come here, the warnings on electrical facilities are in a language that they will understand?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, that throws open a much broader question. With another hat on, I can say to the noble Lord that he will appreciate that shortly we will be publishing our integration strategy. One key element of that will be how important it is that English language skills be made available to all those people who come from overseas where it is not a language that they speak freely, because otherwise there is a feeling of total isolation for those poor people.