Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:02 pm on 27th June 2022.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 4:02 pm, 27th June 2022

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in strong support of the Second Reading of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. I declare my interest as set out in the register. I, too, congratulate my noble friend on a maiden speech of great distinction. It was truly excellent.

It is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate and to agree with much of what has been said. So far this has been a debate of almost universal consensus, but I take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, with whom I am normally totally in agreement, and point out to her that many of these problems are of long standing and did not suddenly arise in 2010. Nevertheless, she made a great stump speech and I know the noble Baroness is very capable of that.

Any fair-minded person would say that it is high time that we responded to the Grenfell fire with this legislation. We do that here and I congratulate my noble friend on the legislation, which is totally appropriate. The proactive regulation regime being introduced and the refining of the regulatory position are desirable, as are the strengthening of enforcement powers and the toughening up of enforcement rules. That said, when my noble friend responds to the Second Reading, will he deal with some of the costs on the social housing regulator that may be increasing and seal off that issue? I am not sure whether the costs are considerable or not.

These regulations will govern 4 million households; that is significant. They will help give some closure to the people involved in the Grenfell fire. I was Minister in the department at the time and I remember the lasting horror of that as if it were yesterday—it has been quite a long while now. I think this will help give some sort of closure, as will decisions on prosecutions, although I recognise that this is well outside my noble friend’s control as a Minister. Not all government Ministers recognise that there is a division of powers but I know my noble friend does. I am conscious that, while no doubt progress is being made, it is somewhat slow.

I am very pleased that there is something specific on electrical safety checks in the legislation that we will be considering. Members will recall that, although the cladding obviously made a massive contribution to the spread of the fire, in legal terms it was caused by an electrical fault. I pay tribute here to the work of Electrical Safety First, an excellent organisation led by Lesley Rudd, Ron Bailey and others, which does first-class work in this area and has been focusing attention on the need to extend electrical safety checks from the private sector to include the social sector. The Bill will do just that. I hope that the consultation going on in parallel with this will be comprehensive and will look at all checks of installations of appliances so that we can deal with an all too common cause of housing fires in our country. Again, that will be a welcome development if, again, somewhat late.

I join my noble friend Lord Young in asking about the relationship between the housing ombudsman and the regulator; I am not clear in my own mind how that would work and would be grateful for any clarity. I also join him as another spear carrier behind the chariot of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as it proceeds in the fight on climate change and related issues, in this case particularly including energy efficiency. We will be looking at that keenly as the legislation progresses. Nevertheless, we should all give a warm welcome to this legislation; no doubt we will seek to improve it as it goes through Committee and Report.