2 July 2009 : Column 323

2 July 2009 : Column 323

House of Lords

Thursday, 2 July 2009.

11 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

Royal Assent

11.06 am

The following Acts were given Royal Assent:

Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Act,Business Rate Supplements Act,Saving Gateway Accounts Act,Broads Authority Act.

Energy Performance Certificates


11.07 am

Asked By Lord Dixon-Smith

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, no assessment has been made. Energy performance certificates have only been required for all non-domestic buildings constructed, sold or rented since October 2008. Local weights and measures authorities are responsible for enforcing these requirements. We support them in carrying out their duties by providing guidance and access to the EPC register and database. We will assess the level of compliance later this year.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. A survey by National Energy Services reveals either almost total ignorance or disregard of the need for energy performance certificates in the commercial sector. Energy performance certificates are the one really useful tool to come out of the Government's regulation of the property market. Around 11,000 accredited energy inspectors, largely trained at their own expense, are wondering why Her Majesty's Government encouraged them to undertake their training. What steps are the Government considering to overcome this failure?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I certainly support the noble Lord in underlining the importance of EPCs because they play a vital role in energy policy. As I said in my response, we are proposing to assess levels of compliance later this year and have commissioned

2 July 2009 : Column 324

a comprehensive research project that is to be carried out in two phases. The first phase will look at the operational effectiveness of the current arrangements and the second at compliance and value for money. It is due to report finally in the summer of next year. I can tell the noble Lord that to date some 92,000 non-domestic EPCs have been lodged on the register, so it is having some effect. However, there are issues around non-compliance which need to be seriously addressed.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, considering-I am sorry, a touch of swine flu, I think. I shall start again. The Minister says that he supports EPCs, but is he aware that the newly formed Association of Property and Energy Professionals, which represents home inspectors and domestic energy assessors, is taking the Government to judicial review and will probably launch a class action because the Government have created two industries but, through their actions, have removed the need for DEAs and home inspectors? With the creation of the home energy assessor role, which is yet another layer, all the people who trained and who sometimes spent their life savings on it are now finding their role being taken on by other organisations. A press release from British Gas says that its meter readers will take on the role. Can the Minister say whether this is a good use of government money, given that it could cost £70 million?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I was not aware that there is a prospect of judicial review. If that is the case, I should not say too much from the Dispatch Box on the issue. The number of assessors is for the market to determine. I acknowledge that people have trained to undertake these responsibilities and, obviously, the greater the compliance that can be engendered, the greater the prospects for those people who are in the field.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who lets property. As from the end of last year-I think it was October-an energy performance certificate has been needed for any property that is available for letting. However, I am not sure I understand what has just been said. Is it that the highly-qualified people are rather like expert surgeons, who can still do minor surgery and therefore there would be employment for them in that sense, or is it that because they are so well qualified they can no longer do domestic work? What the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said was a little confusing.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: from October 2008 any domestic or non-domestic property which is sold, constructed or let requires an EPC. The EPCs are generated by approved assessors and different standards apply for those dealing with domestic dwellings and those dealing with non-domestic dwellings. They have to be accredited through schemes which are themselves approved by the Secretary of State, but the standards and expertise required of someone doing an EPC on a domestic dwelling would not have to be the same as those required of someone doing an EPC on a commercial property.

2 July 2009 : Column 325

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, in the spirit of leading by example-something that, sadly, did not happen with HIPs-can the Minister confirm that 100 per cent of the government-owned commercial property that was sold or let during the past six months, or since October if he would prefer, was properly marketed with an energy performance certificate.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, that is a very interesting question. The answer is that I would certainly hope so. I asked those who briefed me about government buildings and the publication of DECs whether there was full compliance with that requirement. The answer I received is that there was a high level of compliance. I hope that that is exceeded in the case raised by the noble Earl.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, as this subject has come up very frequently in the past two or three years, how many Members of your Lordships' House does the noble Lord think would pass an examination on this legislation on the basis of what we have heard so far?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am not sure how many Members of your Lordships' House would be keen to undertake the role of an assessor in these circumstances. However, in all seriousness, this is a hugely important policy. We know that there is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence which indicates that climate change is a serious and urgent issue and that nearly half of all emissions in this country come from buildings. EPCs mean that, for the first time, consumers will know how energy efficient buildings are and how to make them perform better. I hope noble Lords will join me in trying to get those messages out generally.

Disabled People: UN Convention


11.15 am

Asked By Lord Morris of Manchester

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, we ratified the convention on 8 June. Our focus is now moving to implementation, including awareness-raising, monitoring and reporting. We will be working with disabled people, their organisations and the equality and human rights commissions to explore how we can take this forward. I am pleased to say that we started the parliamentary process for ratification of the Optional Protocol on 22 June 2009, and hope to conclude this before the Summer Recess.

2 July 2009 : Column 326

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and to Jonathan Shaw and Anne McGuire for their unswerving commitment to ratification of both the convention and the Optional Protocol. Does my noble friend accept that implementing them will succeed in proportion to the involvement of disabled people and their organisations at every stage of the process? Can we be assured of adequate resourcing for the implementation plan? Finally, by when does he expect your Lordships' House to have an opportunity to debate this historic development?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for all the work that he has done over so many years for the cause of disabled people. I agree that successful implementation will be achieved through a partnership approach that brings together Government, disabled people and the commissions that form the independent element of the monitoring and reporting framework. The convention is not owned by a single element of this partnership, and we will make a success of it if we work together.

On the issue of resources, because of where we are starting from, the UK is well placed to implement this convention and it will not be necessary to require the investment of substantial new resources, but we are not complacent about what happens next. We will look to maximise the impact by making the best use of the resources that are available. There are no current plans for a debate, although the Welfare Reform Bill involves some of these issues and we will be debating it again this afternoon, but I am sure that this House will keep the Government on their toes. There are numerous ways in which we could engender a debate, which would be very welcome and a healthy thing to do.

Lord Rix: My Lords, when will the Government's reservations to Article 12.4 be reviewed, given that they have indicated that a review system of legal appointees should be introduced?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, as the noble Lord has mentioned, we entered a reservation with regard to mental capacity issues. We did that because, although we have a system in place where people can be supported and appointed to receive benefits on behalf of others, we do not have a formal review procedure. We need to do that to be compliant with the convention but, as we have stated and made clear, we intend to introduce that system. Regrettably, it cannot be done overnight because a number of people are involved with this; it could take some two years. However, we are intent on removing the reservation as quickly as we can.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, the first step is to let disabled people know about the important ratification of this treaty. Do the Government have any proposals to let disabled people know, not just through the organisations but more broadly? After all, sadly, not everyone listens to "Today in Parliament".

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. Part of implementation, which we have an obligation to do, will be to ensure that we promote the convention. Our

2 July 2009 : Column 327

plans are to do so through the normal channels-the commissions and the vast and rich network of stakeholders who engage with us on disability issues-and that is the most effective route to get those messages out there.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the implementation involve the devolved Administrations? If so, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that those Administrations are fully up with the ratification?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Yes, my Lords, this is UK-wide and must involve the devolved Administrations. Under the convention, there was an assumption that there would need to be one focal point appointed nationally. That will be the ODI. It will certainly need to engage with the commissions in each of the devolved Administrations as a key route to involving them in this process.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that he has replied with respect to one of the four reservations that the Government made-the only one that a number of outsiders, myself included, thought was even faintly justified? He has not replied about the other three reservations; there was a widely held view that they were not justified. Will he give a commitment that the Government will be actively reviewing those reservations and that they will withdraw them as soon as their justification-which is quite remarkably thin-is demonstrated no longer to exist?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the characterisation of the justification as thin. We have certainly said that we would review the liberty of movement reservations within 12 months. The noble Lord will be aware that we debated the reservation in respect of the Armed Forces recently. That reservation is necessary because in our other domestic legislation the Armed Forces are not subject to the employment conditions of the Disability Discrimination Act. For as long as that remains the position, it is absolutely technically right that a reservation is maintained in respect of the convention. Otherwise, there would be a mismatch between the convention and our domestic legislation.

The declaration and reservation on education will always be kept under review, but for as long as there is the assumption-if that is what it is-that the convention would prohibit special schools, there will be the need to maintain an interpretive declaration. Our system of education recognises the importance of mainstream schools, but also that there should be an element of choice and special schools for those who need them.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Government intended to ratify this convention by the end of last year. Had they done so, this country would have been among the original 12 members of the United Nations monitoring committee. Now it is six months later and, although there are six more places up for grabs, I understand that none can be filled until 80 countries have ratified the convention. What is the Minister's prognosis of the UK getting one of these places?

2 July 2009 : Column 328

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am not sure what our chances of success are. The most important thing is that, whoever does it, there is an effective monitoring operation in place at UN level. It is our responsibility as a national Government to make sure that we liaise with the monitoring operation by reporting to it, as we are required to do, within two years to demonstrate how we are effectively implementing the convention domestically.

EU: Financial Institutions


11.23 am

Asked By Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, the Government have agreed with EU leaders that any powers granted to the new EU regulatory bodies should be targeted at strengthening regulation and the effectiveness of supervision and should not undermine the fiscal responsibilities of national Governments. The Government expect to see this reflected in the Commission's draft proposals, which are due in the autumn.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, it does not accord with the view of the French President, which is worth putting on the record. He said:

"We have agreed a European system of supervision with binding powers ... It is a complete sea-change in the Anglo-Saxon strategy ... We could have gone further, but I believe that it will widen [its powers] through experience and practice, the way it's always happened".

Quite so. My first question is-

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, that was a comment on the Minister's Answer. When can we expect the Commission's impact assessments on all this and on the proposed hedge fund directive? Will the Minister be good enough to put copies in your Lordships' Library when he gets them? Secondly, have Her Majesty's Government made their own assessment of the damage to our economy caused by firms leaving the City in droves, which they are already starting to do?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I am sure that President Sarkozy will be delighted to know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, stands in this House as his spokesman; it is a significant change for Members of the House to see the noble Lord speaking on behalf of a leading European statesman. The outcome of the European Council meeting and the ECOFIN finance

2 July 2009 : Column 329

meeting was absolutely in accordance with what we set out to do, which was to ensure that the holder of the ECB presidency did not naturally chair the European systemic risk council and that the three upgraded Lamfalussy level 3 committees should have advisory but not statutory responsibilities for supervision. I am unaware of firms leaving the City of London in droves-quite the opposite. The City of London is continuing to grow in global significance, as underlined by the recent Bischoff report.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, does my noble friend acknowledge that the independence of the United Kingdom and its financial institutions is defended because we are playing an active role within the European Union and its financial institutions?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. We are doing that in terms of the architecture of regulation and supervision. As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, raised the subject of the European draft directive on alternative investment management-that was the source of his original Question, before he changed his mind to ask a different question-let me say that we are also actively engaged in representing the views of those who invest in hedge funds and those involved in that industry and supporting it here in London. In that connection, I am regularly engaged with the Commission and with the new Swedish presidency to fight Britain's corner.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is near unanimity, not necessarily extending to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on the need to develop and strengthen the international regulation of financial institutions? Does he agree that, unless the EU takes a lead on this, the chances of London surviving, prospering and developing as an international financial services centre will be jeopardised, not improved?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I once again find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Newby. Britain's central role in financial services in Europe is greatly enhanced by our ability to work with our European partners to ensure that we develop new methods of macro-prudential supervision, regulation and micro-supervision, which will strengthen confidence in the financial services and banking sectors across Europe. The fact that we have a powerful voice in Europe undoubtedly provides much useful opportunity.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, would the noble Lord like to confirm what I think he said, which was that President Sarkozy has got it all wrong and that the Minister and his colleagues, with their usual brilliance and charm, have negotiated in Europe an agreement that enables us to do exactly what we want, despite the opposing views of many in Europe? That is what he implied. Is that what he meant?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page