HL Deb 16 November 2004 vol 666 cc1391-6

(1) The Secretary of State shall ensure that by 2016 all social housing in which there are households in fuel poverty shall as far as is reasonably practicable achieve a SAP rating of no lower than 65.

(2) In this section "social housing" means housing let by a registered social landlord or a local housing authority."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in addressing this matter a moment ago, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred to the amendment that we moved on the previous occasion and he referred in similar terms to this amendment. I want to draw attention to the rather subtle change that has taken place within this amendment. It now seeks to place a duty on the Secretary of State to bring up to standard properties which are in fuel poverty. That is considerably different from the matter that we discussed previously.

Perhaps I may briefly remind noble Lords that a target SAP of 65 is not an arbitrary figure. In response to a parliamentary Question from Sue Doughty on 19 April 2004, the Minister, Elliot Morley, informed Miss Doughty that an SAP rating of 65 would create the situation where there was a minimal risk of fuel poverty. Therefore, the benchmark has already been set by this Government.

The Minister, Keith Hill, quoted some staggering arguments against the amendment. He said that Amendment No. 190 sought to tackle the problem of having around 120,000 homes in fuel poverty in the social sector by increasing by 1.7 million the number of homes that would need work.

The new amendment deals with all the arguments very directly. The rewording does not now require all social housing to be brought up to SAP 65 but only that in fuel poverty—that is, about 120,000 houses. That is the number that the Minister says will be left in fuel poverty by the current Decent Homes programme.

The English House Condition Survey of 2001 provides costings for work to ensure compliance with the Decent Homes standard. The survey indicates that 40 per cent of homes can be made decent with expenditure of less than £1,000 per property. That is not surprising because, while the average SAP rating across all housing in England is 51, the highest rated sector is that of registered social landlords, where the average SAP is 60—only a little way below the standard.

We must remember that to comply with the law, those 120,000 houses will, according to Defra, already require SAP 65 to be achieved in order to be removed from fuel poverty. Therefore, by passing this amendment, we would ensure that all that happened in one go, rather than bringing those homes up to a lesser standard and then going back to upgrade them in order to get them out of fuel poverty—we used that argument on a previous occasion.

The Government were brave and accepted the other amendment that we moved relating to energy efficiency. I beg them to be brave and accept this one.

I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 190, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 190A, at end insert "but do propose Amendment No. 190B in lieu thereof".—(Baroness Hanham.)

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I spoke in support of this issue at previous stages of the Bill. I find it extraordinary that the Government find it so difficult to accept this, given what they are trying to do through the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act and the fact that they agreed to the amendment that we discussed on the previous occasion concerning more general energy efficiency in the domestic sector, to which we shall come next. It seems to me that if they are accepting those issues, they should be able to accept this one. I think that they over-egged the cost involved in the original amendment, which included the wording "as far as practically possible". I do not believe that anyone thought that "practically possible" meant always demolishing properties, as the Minister said.

If the Government are serious about this matter, they should have no problem with the amendment. I wonder how they do their accounting on this issue because the capital and revenue costs of much of this work will be paid back over time in savings on health and repair to properties. I wonder how the Government arrive at their figures. It seems to me that they do not think about that.

The other issue is that anything to do with energy efficiency in homes is a job creator. It helps the economy. I do not believe that any of that has been taken into account, which is very disappointing. I see no logic when the Government have agreed to the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act. They have tabled an amendment today about energy efficiency in domestic properties, and yet, although this amendment is less than we were asking for before, they just do not seem able to pull the stops out and accept it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, on her determination on this issue. It would be churlish of me to do otherwise. I accept that the amendment is different, but the same problems persist.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure that, by 2016, social sector homes of households which are fuel poor shall, as far as is reasonably practicable, achieve a SAP rating of no lower than 65. The amendment is narrower than Amendment No. 190 but, for the reasons I shall give, the Government cannot accept it either.

Fuel poverty affects about 350,000 households in the social sector. Of those, around 230,000 currently live in non-decent homes. We expect that the work done to these homes under the Decent Homes programme will lift most of those households out of fuel poverty, which now appears to be a shared concern. That leaves about 120,000 households who currently live in homes above the decent homes threshold but who remain in fuel poverty. I presume the noble Baroness is hoping that this amendment will address the personal circumstances of those households through work on the fabric of their homes.

I recognise the noble Baroness's commitment to the cause of fuel poverty. I certainly recognise the commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, on this. Her form, for which she is to be congratulated, goes back a long way—we share a common cause. I must again question the use of SAP 65 as a method for tackling the problem for these 120,000 households. Most of them are single, non-pensioner households on extremely low incomes living in three-bedroom properties. Working on the physical fabric of the home will not necessarily tackle the problem of fuel poverty for those households.

In any case, implementation of the amendment would be an administrative nightmare. I ask both noble Baronesses to think of that. First, we would need to identify the fuel-poor households whose homes would not already be brought up to SAP 65 through the Decent Homes programme. We would then have to pinpoint the 120,000 households whose homes, although decent, would need extra work. That extra work would need to be carried out in specially identified homes. That would mean that authorities would find themselves procuring small amounts of materials for extra SAP measures and contracting out small pieces of work, rather than tackling larger numbers of properties at the same time. I ask the question: does that deliver value for money to the public purse? That is the important consideration here.

However, those steps alone would not fulfil the duty that the amendment would create. The landlord would have to set up a scheme to monitor all households in the social sector. For the existing fuel poor, we would need to monitor whether any moved home, and where to. If they did, then any new home would have to be SAP assessed and work carried out as a consequence. The landlord would also need to monitor the household's income and benefits entitlement, and any changes to the size of the household, as those factors affect whether the household would remain in fuel poverty. All other households would need to be monitored in case their circumstances changed to make them fuel poor. That would mean monitoring every household income in relation to the SAP rating of the relevant property.

The amendment remains a blunt instrument. It is very likely that homes requiring work under the amendment would change from year to year. This would make it extremely difficult for social landlords to plan work to their stock or to organise their capital expenditure effectively. The administrative cost of monitoring the households against the housing stock would also be very high. We do not think that social landlords can reasonably be expected to carry out that task. I ask this additional question: have the parties opposite thought about asking social landlords whether they could actually carry out the work in the way that their amendment implies?

The cost of the new amendment would of course be less than the original amendment, Amendment No. 190, which proposed to take all social housing stock to SAP 65 level. However, works costed remain at over £1 billion, which I think we can all agree is a very significant amount. We would still be left with 100,000 homes under SAP 65, where the only way of fulfilling the duty would be to demolish and rebuild them. We estimate that the additional cost would be some £5 billion in terms of the noble Baroness's amendment.

The provision reiterates the principles of the decent homes standard. It is a standard which applies to all social housing stock and is aimed at tackling a whole range of problems affecting social housing from leaking roofs to mould and damp in kitchens. We take our duties towards the alleviation of fuel poverty very seriously. That is why we have put in place welfare measures to tackle the very worst poverty and to provide the decency threshold.

However, the decent homes programme is not aimed purely at that goal. Our work is to have a massive impact on the lives of the most vulnerable members of society and is designed to help those people through their difficulties and to rejuvenate some of our most deprived communities. We do not think that we could support this amendment because we believe that, in the way in which it would be obliged to operate, it could seriouly undermine that work, run up additional costs which are not merited and put the basic work implied by the decent homes programme at risk.

For those reasons I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment on the grounds of both cost and practicality. I really think that the noble Baroness has to go back and measure and think a bit more about the way in which her proposed scheme—more modest than the original one—would operate.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, at this stage of the Bill I am not going back anywhere. We are very far down the line now, so I cannot go back, however much the Minister might like me to do so. He does not get rid of me that way.

The Minister has made great play and heavy weather of all the practicalities that would need to be involved and all the terrible problems associated with all of this. Of course, these provisions are no worse than any of the things that local authorities do at present to ensure that here are decent home standards.

The previous amendment, which sought to bring all social housing up to SAP energy rating 65, would have made a great deal more work than is now anticipated in relation to fuel poverty. The canard we were going to suggest—that houses should be demolished because they were not up to standard—is completely covered by the fact that the amendment talks about where it is "reasonably practicable" to do so. I think that even the Minister might decide that "reasonably practicable" does not involve demolishing a house. I thought that we had all reached a consensus that that was probably at least 10 steps too far.

The Minister made great play both today and previously about the difficulties of achieving this standard. I have tried to point out today that the standard is not far off being achieved already and that it will not take much more to achieve it. The costs that the Minister quoted would have included demolition. I suggest that that is not sensible. So the costs of £1,000 per property would seem not to be a step too far.

I hear what the Minister says. I am not going any further. I shall test the opinion of the House.

8.44 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 190B) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 84; Not-Contents, 101.

Division No. 6
Alderdice, L. Howe of Idlicote, B.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Kimball, L.
Attlee, E. Laird, L.
Avebury, L. Liverpool, E.
Barker, B. Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Blatch, B. Lucas, L.
Bridgeman, V. Lyell, L.
Burnham, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Buscombe, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Byford, B. McNally, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Maddock, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mancroft, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [TeIler] Mar and Kellie, E.
Crickhowell, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Cunberlege, B. Methuen, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Michie of Gallanach, B.
Dundee, E. Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Dykes, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Ferrers, E. Montrose, D.
Flather, B. Morris of Bolton, B.
Fookes, B. Newton of Braintree, L.
Goodhart, L. Northbrook, L.
Goschen, V. Norton of Louth, L.
Greaves, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Greenway, L. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Hamwee, B. Plumb, L.
Hanham, B. Rawlings, B.
Harris of Richmond, B. Reay, L.
Henley, L. Renton, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Hogg, B. Roper, L.
Hooson, L. Rotherwick, L.
Howe, E. Russell-Johnston, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B. [Teller] Smith of Clifton, L.
Selsdon, L. Tebbit, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Sharples, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L. Walmsley, B.
Skelmersdale, L. Watson of Richmond, L.
Acton, L. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Amos, B. (Lord President of the Council) Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jones, L.
Andrews, B. King of West Bromwich, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Layard, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Lea of Crondall, L.
Bach, L. Lockwood, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Brennan, L. McDonagh, B.
Brett, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Burlison, L. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Carter, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Carter of Coles, L. McKenzie of Luton, L.
Chandos, V. Massey of Darwen, B.
Clark of Windermere, L. Maxton, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Monson, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morgan, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Colville of Culross, V. Parekh, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Patel, L.
Crawley, B. Pendry, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Prosser, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller] Radice, L.
Desai, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Dixon, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Drayson, L. Rooker, L.
Dubs, L. Rosser, L.
Elder, L. Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Sewel, L.
Filkin, L. Simon, V.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L. Smith of Leigh, L.
Gale, B. Snape, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Giddens, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Golding, B. Thornton, B.
Goldsmith, L. Tomlinson, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Triesman, L.
Goudie, B. Truscott, L.
Gould of Brookwood, L. Tunnicliffe, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Turnberg, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller] Turner of Camden, B.
Harris of Haringey, L. Wall of New Barnet, B.
Hart of Chilton, L. Warner, L.
Haskel, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Haskins, L. Whitaker, B.
Haworth, L. Whitty, L.
Henig, B. Wilkins, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Young of Norwood Green, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.54 p.m.

On Question, Motion agreed to.