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Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 31:


Page 11, line 10, at end insert--
(" ( ) to provide adequate sound insulation;").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 31. Many people suffer stress related to the noise of neighbours and other occupants. The provision of grants for adequate sound-proofing would alleviate much of the stress and lead to better communities. Stress related to noise nuisance can have significant effects on people's mental and physical wellbeing. Often, there is no escape from stressful noise without adequate sound-proofing. In a block of flats with communal parts noise nuisance is often caused by residents and visitors to the building when using the stairs and entry door. Another cause of noise nuisance is children and young people congregating in common parts either to play or chat. I will not spend all evening going into the many causes of noise nuisance. This amendment is supported by a number of organisations for elderly and disabled people.

Lord Dubs: One notices in Clause 18 a long list of requirements or conditions where a common parts grant is available to help people who live in blocks of flats. It seems to me to be anomalous that adequate sound insulation has been omitted, perhaps by oversight. The argument in favour of giving people a bit of peace and quiet through sound insulation is a strong one. In blocks of flats noise can be one of the most distressing effects. It can upset people and prevent them from sleeping, functioning properly or enjoying their leisure. I do not talk of noisy parties in respect of which local authorities can take action. I refer to the whole range of noise which can make life miserable but which is not covered by the extreme circumstances of noisy parties in respect of which local authorities have powers. I believe it is a minimum requirement that people should have such silence or peace and quiet as is consistent with living in blocks of flats and the quality of sound insulation that can be provided. It is a small but important point that should make life for many people just that little bit better.

Lord Lucas: As far as concerns this amendment, the Government believe that such problems as are caused by noise are generally not associated with common parts. Common parts grants are normally given for works on the roof, exterior walls, stairs and the entrance to a block of flats which form the definition of common parts. Most noise nuisance emanates from the ceilings or floors of a dwelling and through the internal walls, none of which normally constitutes common parts.

As to the wider argument whether sound insulation, or the lack of it, should form part of the definition of a building that is unfit and the purposes for which grants are available to remedy such unfitness, I believe that that is best considered as part of our general review, rather than being hitched on as a separate subject when its effect, if agreed to, will be merely to dissipate the amount of funds available for perhaps more pressing needs.

Lord Swinfen: I do not want to pre-empt a later amendment which deals with sound insulation of individual houses, but what my noble friend said sounds

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helpful in relation to that amendment. I can see some force in his argument on this amendment. I shall read what he said and consider the position. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Disabled facilities grants: owner's and tenant's applications]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 33:


Page 12, line 47, at end insert ("and--
(e) a local authority introductory tenant;").

The noble Lord said: In Her Majesty's Speech at the Opening of Parliament, mention was made of the Housing Bill. I suspect that the Bill we are currently discussing is part of a much bigger Housing Bill, the other part of which, under that name, is currently going through the other place. In that Bill there is mention of a local authority introductory tenant, which is not so far mentioned in this Bill.

The purpose of the amendment is to allow the new category of introductory tenant being introduced into the Housing Bill to be eligible to apply for disabled facilities grants. That new category of tenant will give rise to introductory tenancies for local authorities. All local authorities will have the option of giving new tenants of permanent housing an introductory tenancy for the first 12 months. During that time, if the tenant is deemed to have behaved in an anti-social manner he may be evicted quickly. The tenancy is designed to deal with tenants behaving in an anti-social fashion on council estates. I doubt very much whether many disabled people, particularly those with physical disabilities, behave in that manner.

A major difficulty arises for disabled people due to that new tenancy. Until the tenancy is confirmed at the end of the 12 months' introductory period, it is not a permanent tenancy. Therefore the Department of the Environment has confirmed to my advisers that people with an introductory tenancy will not be able to apply for disabled facilities grants.

In a letter to RADAR of 5th March this year the department stated in relation to introductory tenancies and facilities grants:


    "It is unlikely that such a tenancy would qualify under the definition in Clause 20(5) of the Bill. Because of the potential short-term nature of the tenancy this exclusion would be in line with the general wish to ensure that the resources available are used to best effect rather than put at risk should the tenancy not be confirmed".
That would mean that a disabled person who has a high enough priority to be offered a local authority tenancy but who required certain adaptations--for example, a hoist or changes to a bathroom--would not even be able to apply for them until he or she had lived there for a year. The local authority would then have a further six months to agree the application, and then work could start. So the work would not start for a minimum of 18 months.

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1622

Although many disabled people are offered accommodation which meets their basic need for accessibility, there is often a requirement for other adaptations to meet the individual person's needs. To expect someone to wait a year before he or she can even apply for the adaptations is surely unacceptable. In reality it would mean that local authority accommodation is not an option for many disabled people.

Introductory tenancies are designed to deal with the small number of tenants who behave in an anti-social manner. To allow tenants to apply for disabled facilities grants during that first year is unlikely to lead to a great drain on resources by tenants who are subsequently evicted. The real drain on resources could be the additional costs--for example, keeping a disabled person in hospital because local authority accommodation cannot be adapted, so that the person must wait for private sector or housing association accommodation which could be immediately eligible for disabled facilities grants. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas: It always gives me great pain when I rise to disagree with my noble friend's amendments. So I am delighted to say that this amendment seems a sensible one. However, it is not unreasonable to require that the terms under which a tenant occupies a dwelling have some degree of permanence before the tenant is able to make an application. Bearing that in mind, I should be grateful if my noble friend would withdraw his amendment on the understanding that I will give further thought to it and get back to him before Report.

Lord Swinfen: I believe that that is the most encouraging reply that any of us has received this evening. I thank my noble friend. We might possibly discuss the best way around the problem. There is again a difficulty here which I know we should both like to sort out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Disabled facilities grants: the disabled occupant]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 34:


Page 13, line 4, leave out subsection (2) and insert--
(" (2) For the purposes of this Chapter a person is disabled if he has a physical or mental impairment which has substantial and long term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day to day activities as defined under Schedule 1 to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that a current and relevant definition of disability, which is defined under legislation, is used for the disabled occupant when considering applications for disabled facilities grants. Disabled facilities grants are central to independent living for disabled people. In 1993 over £70 million was spent through local authorities on the provision of those grants. With the average grant being for £3,700 it becomes apparent that disabled facilities grants enable a large number of disabled people to live in their own homes. Those grants

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1623

must be available to all disabled people who require adaptations to their homes to allow them to continue to live there.

It is important that a clear and relevant definition of a disabled occupant is used when considering applications for disabled facilities grants. It is useful if that definition has its basis in current legislation. The definitions suggested in Clause 21(2) are drawn directly from the National Assistance Act 1948. The terminology was drafted nearly 50 years ago. It is outdated. It would not merely cause offence to many disabled people; it would perpetuate negative stereotypes.

The Disability Discrimination Act which we passed last year contains a clear definition of disability. That definition focuses upon a person's ability to undertake activities rather than on the person's medical condition. Some reservations about that definition have been expressed, but it is relevant and comprehensive for the purpose of assessing disabled facilities grants. As there is a recent and relevant definition within legislation, it would be preferable to use that rather than to use an offensive definition written almost half a century ago. I beg to move.


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