My Lords, it is a great honour to make my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House today. I start with deep and sincere thanks to the many people who have helped me in the daunting journey of taking up my membership: Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments and their offices; staff at the door of the Chamber and elsewhere; the Whips’ and the spads’ offices; and the many noble Lords on all sides of the House whose warmth, friendliness, encouragement and advice have made joining such a pleasure.
The first Viscount Camrose was my great-grandfather, who started as a journalist on the Merthyr Times—only 40 miles from Newport, I think. He built and grew a remarkable stable of newspapers, both regional and national, including, among many others, the Manchester Evening Chronicle, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph, which remained in family ownership until 1986. He became a baron in 1929 and a viscount in 1941.
Growing up surrounded by journalists, I concluded very early in life that I never wanted to become one but chose instead to go into management and consulting. As a result, I have had the great good fortune to live and work, as well as in London, in Redcar, in Birmingham, all over Europe, in a number of the great sprawling cities of west Africa, and in the United States. I have worked in international development, shipping, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, financial services and manufacturing. Through these experiences, I have developed a strong interest in what makes people and the organisations they work for productive. Few of life’s experiences offer more satisfaction than a productive working day, and it has been and remains my purpose to provide as many of those to as many people as possible.
It is through that lens that I would like to comment on this Bill. Looking at it, as I would, as a management consultant, I suggest that we need to ask ourselves two questions. First, are the residents of social housing going to be made substantially safer and better accommodated by its provisions? Secondly, does it effectively balance the needs of providers of social housing and residents? As for the first point, I welcome the requirement on providers to appoint health and safety leads with the authority, capacity and resources to take responsibility for building safety. Few things get more in the way of risk management and incident preparedness than ambiguity—ambiguity over who is supposed to make decisions and who holds the budget to pay for the changes that those decisions require.
I am sure that we all recall with horror many different details of the Grenfell disaster, but one that sticks in my mind is the fire extinguishers that had been marked down for decommissioning by one team but were never actually decommissioned because it was not clear who was supposed to be doing so. That is why it is so valuable to make a single properly resourced person accountable for all safety decisions.
As to my second question on balancing the needs of social housing providers and residents, I am encouraged by the primacy of the tenant in these new regulatory arrangements. Although, of course, the priority is to offer safe homes of good quality to residents, we have to make sure that providers are willing to enter the market and compete. On this basis, I welcome the primacy of the tenant in the Bill, because it aligns the interests of all three parties: the tenant, provider and regulator. To satisfy the tenant is to satisfy the regulator, and I welcome the clarity of this direction.
If the Bill has been a long time in coming, that time has clearly been spent in taking considerable pains to design, through the Green Paper, call for evidence and White Paper, what we can all hope will have a transformational effect on the social housing sector.
Finally, it is worth reminding ourselves of the context for benefit-dependent tenants: the tightening public purse; a continuing dearth of affordable housing, worsened by the rise of Generation Rent; and, of course, the uncertainties of inflation. In these highly pressured circumstances, we need more homes and more providers to enter the market. I suggest that a stable, balanced regulatory environment for social housing will go some way to encouraging them to do so.