5.30 pm

Amendment 89B

Moved by Lord Whitty

89B: After Clause 51, insert the following new Clause—

“Flood Reinsurance Scheme: report on the inclusion of leaseholders

(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report on the basis of the inclusion and exclusion of leasehold and tenanted properties in the FR Scheme.

(2) The report shall include a breakdown of—

(a) the total number of leasehold and tenanted properties which are in the risk areas covered by the FR Scheme;

(b) the number of leasehold and tenanted properties where the land is controlled by large multisite commercial operators;

(c) the number of leasehold and tenanted properties which are owned by smaller landlord operators; and

(d) the cost of including in the FR Scheme properties in paragraph (a) and each of paragraphs (b) and (c).

(3) The Secretary of State must lay a copy before Parliament within 6 months of this Act coming into force.”

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I will try not to repeat too much of what was covered in the earlier amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, but there is obviously some overlap.

Of all the exclusions from Flood Re, that of leasehold and tenanted residential properties was, certainly out there, the most unexpected and, on the face of it, the

31 Mar 2014 : Column 787

least logical and most inequitable. As the argument about it has gone on, it has also become the most complex and confusing. Leasehold and tenanted buildings in a flood-prone area are faced with exactly the same risks as the freehold properties next door. That is where we start from. The families and individuals who live in these properties face exactly the same problems. These are residential properties; generally, no business is conducted from them. They are people’s homes. Yet the Flood Re project, which was the product of bilateral negotiations between the Government and ABI without any direct engagement with landlords, leaseholders or tenants, now appears to regard these properties and that risk as being different in kind to that of the freehold buildings in the same street. The rationale for that is that letting a property—whether long or short-term—is regarded as a business. The risk must be the same and the families will not be very different, yet they are treated entirely differently.

Since the original proposition for Flood Re, its terms have been, shall we say, “elaborated”—that is, amended in some respects or, to put it more bluntly, confused. For example, the ABI made it clear—this is a clarification, in a sense, but it confuses the issue—that contents insurance paid for by tenants and leaseholders would be part of the scheme and included in Flood Re, but obviously not the landlord’s buildings insurance paid for by the landlord. That makes the arithmetic a bit more complicated. Clearly, the £10.50 levy on other households—they presumably pay the full buildings and contents insurance—does not apply to that group. That leaves a lot of grey areas. For example, one of the most serious problems for leaseholders and tenants will often be that the flood damage has caused depredation to the fittings and furniture, some of which—in the case of fittings, most of which—will be covered by the buildings insurance of the landlord. Of course, landlords have contents insurance so it is not necessarily the same position as that apparent distinction creates. The effect is that the whole situation is more blurred and complicated.

The Government have also complicated the system. Just recently, they apparently conceded that properties of three or fewer leases are in the scheme, provided that the freeholder lives on the premises. Anything more than three, or where the freeholder happens to live down the road, is outside the scheme. There is also a rumour, though it does not seem to be substantiated, that the ABI and Government were also looking at the possibility of distinguishing between small landowners or single-property landlords and large, commercial operations. Where does that all leave us?

Let us take a typical street in a low-lying riverside area of a market town. For the purposes of making us all at home and in deference to the Minister’s patience in dealing with all the complications of the Bill, let us call it De Mauley Street. In De Mauley Street, No. 2 is a family house with three generations living there from two to 80. No. 4 looks and is very similar but is divided into four flats, one of which is occupied by the landlord at least occasionally. No. 6 is a house divided into four leasehold flats that have jointly bought the freehold and administer it as a leaseholder-owned company. No. 8 is, let us say, owned by a school teacher resident in London who bought the premises for her retirement

31 Mar 2014 : Column 788

and is letting it out as four student flats. No. 10 is a four-flat block owned by a commercial leasing company with four leaseholders. I am tempted to add a No. 12 that is a mixed property, but that would complicate it too far.

Under the original proposition, No. 2—the family home—is covered but nobody else. Under the ABI concession on contents insurance, No. 2 is covered and all the rest are, but for leaseholder-paid contents insurance only; everything else is not covered. Under the Government three-leases concession, Nos. 2 and 4 are clearly covered, provided you can prove that the landlord actually lives at No. 4, but only the tenant-owned contents in No. 8 is covered. As I understand it, No. 6 would also be covered because the leaseholders jointly own the freehold and therefore one of them lives on the premises. In Nos. 8 and 10, only the tenants’ contents insurance will be covered. We are already in a very confused position.

If there were a cut-off defined by size of landlord, nos. 2, 4, 6 and 8 would be covered but not No. 10. If there happened to be a social landlord in the same street—there would probably not be in De Mauley Street—nobody would be covered because social landlords are not. Incidentally, I am not sure because we have not touched on it what the position is on mixed blocks. With the right to buy, some of the social landlord’s property may well be owned by private leaseholders, who presumably ought to be covered and may well assume that they are—but are not. We have a bit of a pig’s ear of a situation here. None of it is very logical. The properties are pretty much identical, the risk is the same and they thought they were all included under the pre-existing arrangement of the statement of principles.

The long-term implications of this are particularly severe. Particularly with small landlords and their tenants, if they cannot get insurance then they cannot get a mortgage or raise money for improvements. Hence the buildings deteriorate. The only way they could raise money would be to raise rents or the service charge, so tenants and leaseholders suffer directly. The area starts going downhill because the buildings appear more dilapidated and more obviously at risk. The tenant and leaseholder experience suffers, the landlords suffer and the number of new landlords prepared to invest and buy property diminishes in those areas. This is not a situation that the Government find easy to defend, but I think even the insurance industry is beginning to find some difficulty in defending it.

Having said that, as I said earlier in the previous debate, we recognise that the actuarial calculations for Flood Re are delicate and depend on various assumptions. I do not intend to unravel those calculations at this point by this amendment, but it is important that Parliament understands the position so this is a relatively modest amendment. It does not require Flood Re, the Government or the ABI to do anything directly. However, because the scheme has to have statutory backing and because to give that statutory backing Parliament needs to be convinced that it is logical, equitable and proportionate, Parliament needs to understand the consequences of including or excluding different combinations of property.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 789

The amendment therefore seeks to find that out. It does not seek to delay the process—well, not by much. However, it proposes that before we finalise the statutory instrument on this—and it will need a final statutory instrument—the Government report back to Parliament on: the number of leasehold and tenanted properties included; the number excluded; the number where the landlord is in business in a large way; the number where a landlord is in business only in a very small way—probably with a single property; and the cost that would arise from including each of those categories in the Flood Re proposition. I am leaving the dividing line between large and small largely up to the Government, but we need to have a clear one.

The information that that report would show to Parliament would mean that we, and interested parties, could have a meaningful discussion before the consultation started—or within the consultation—on the statutory instrument, which I am assuming, because this is supposed to start in 2015, would have to be within a very few months. Without that information, we in Parliament are in danger of giving the go-ahead to what appears to every rational observer to be a seriously inequitable, complicated and illogical scheme, which we are about to back by legislation. I do not need to tell Ministers that that situation is probably judicially reviewable.

This amendment therefore asks the Government to give us the facts before we finally go down the road. In a way, it is not delaying this legislation going through, but it would allow us to face up to the facts before the final statutory instrument is carried. At the moment, frankly, we do not have those facts. The Minister referred to fanciful figures. A number of very reputable insurance companies and others have bandied about a number of different figures. I do not know the total number that fall into each of these categories nor, I suspect, does the Minister or the ABI. However, we need to know—at least approximately—and we need to know the cost consequences for them, for the scheme and for those in the rest of society who are subsidising this scheme what the effect would be. Therefore, we do need that information. This amendment would allow the Government, without holding everything up, to get that information and to report back to Parliament. In my view it is pretty obvious that Parliament needs to know. I beg to move.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, this is a very mild amendment to which I certainly would have added my name if I had become aware of it in time. There is no doubt that the exclusion of the leasehold and rental sector is the worst lacuna of the current Flood Re scheme. I understand the original political thought process—that professional landlords should not be helped to overcome their flood insurance problems by those who live in band A properties, for example. Of course, that political thought process is a fairly simplistic and stereotypical understanding of the average landlord. This is an important fact: 78% of all landlords own a single dwelling for rent.

As noble Lords know, there are many professions where a dwelling goes with the job. In my part of the world, farm work is the most common example. Many

31 Mar 2014 : Column 790

farm workers and tenant farmers buy a house to retire to, and, of course, they let it while they are still working, largely to help with the mortgage. It is perfectly sensible retirement planning and the Government should encourage it. Furthermore, perhaps it is a typical English aspiration, but many people currently living and working in cities have a dream of buying a house in the country and retiring there—similar to the farm workers who I have just mentioned—and they will let it in order to help pay the mortgage on it.

This Bill does not recognise these dreams of ordinary—well, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned schoolteachers, but it could have been anyone really: secretaries, nurses, anybody. It does not, to borrow a phrase from Yeats, tread softly on their dreams. They are excluded from this scheme. Surely these are the people for whom this scheme should be designed—people whose mortgage companies will insist on full insurance, including flood insurance. But what about those who cannot afford a house, in the country or elsewhere, and buy a flat? I cannot think of a more appropriate person to benefit from this scheme. However, along with 60% of the other households, they will almost certainly be excluded from this scheme while at the same time contributing to it.

I will not give the rest of the speech on leaseholders and flat owners because that has already been very well covered by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. However, it seems strange to exclude householders whose only error has been to choose to live in a flat rather than a full-blown house. It seems unjust to me. A much more sensible cut-off point for the application of Flood Re would have been owners of, say, two, three or four let properties. However, all that apart, this amendment will at least ensure that we have a full understanding of the sort of owners, leaseholders and tenants whose property is being excluded and what they could have contributed to the scheme if they had been included. As I say, I think that this is a very mild amendment, merely touching on a problem that is a major shortcoming in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will look kindly on it.

5.45 pm

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on his use of De Mauley Street. I think it was clear what he was saying. It seems to me that if you have a property to let, as landlord you should buy the insurance. It might not just be the bog standard property and contents insurance that you buy: you will probably also buy owners’ liability insurance, public liability insurance and any other commercial insurance that you might buy as a landlord. That is one reason why they are excluded from Flood Re, because we are not talking like for like. The owner occupier in No. 2 De Mauley Street, for instance, will buy their own bog standard property and contents insurance. As a landlord you buy other things as well, which makes it a commercial risk.

I too read somewhere that to qualify for Flood Re, you had to live in the property. Therefore, I come to the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, regarding which he said that 78% have one property, which they let. If the occupier has to buy the

31 Mar 2014 : Column 791

insurance, why does not the landlord get the occupier to buy the property and contents insurance, which would qualify it for Flood Re? If the landlord then wanted to buy his public liability or owners’ liability insurance, he could buy it as a separate policy. That might be one way in which a number of these cases can get into Flood Re.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: I understand what the noble Lord is saying but the problem is that the tenant does not have an insurable interest. He cannot insure the property. No insurance company would accept his insurance of a property in which he is only a tenant.

The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I too would have put my name to the amendment had I known about it in time. I apologise to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for not being in my place when he introduced it, but I understand a great deal about the background to it from previous discussions with him. Whatever we do with the cut-off point between what is in Flood Re and what is outside it, it is important that it is reliable, consistent, transparent and fair. The outcome must not be capricious or so asymmetric that people lose trust in it, because I am a believer that credibility is at the centre of Flood Re’s success.

One thing in particular stands in stark contrast with that. The commonhold units’ owners do not themselves own the fabric of the building: it is owned by the commonhold association. I asked myself, if there is a difference in personality, in legal entity, why is it that long leaseholders of the conventional sort in a similar building—with the freehold being the common parts and the fabric of the building owned by someone else—should not benefit? Why is there a blanket inclusion of commonhold but a blanket exclusion of leasehold? I find that difficult to understand, particularly because, under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act, the intention was to try to get leasehold nearer to freehold, to remove the segregation between the freehold interest and the leasehold interest which for years has dogged the sector and allowed all sorts of abuses to occur and produced all sorts of disadvantage in funding, growth and reward for that investment.

It seems to me that the convenience of insurers is being put ahead of the public interest. There probably has to be a cut-off point somewhere in the system. It is not for me to speculate on what the actuarial approach would be to that, but it seems that where it is being placed at the moment defies objective analysis on the points of consistency and transparency that I mentioned. I am very inclined to support the amendment.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to discuss the eligibility of leasehold and tenanted properties for Flood Re. In Committee, I said that we would take more time to look at the issue for lease- holders with the ABI and that we would provide further information on the scope of Flood Re.

We have developed with the ABI a briefing note that sets out the scope of Flood Re and covers proposed new subsection (1) in the noble Lord’s Amendment 89B.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 792

In summary, the note, which is available online, confirms that domestic contents policies will be available to all under Flood Re, regardless of whether properties are leasehold or freehold, rented or owner-occupied, except those properties in band H and those built from 1 January 2009.

Leasehold houses will also be in scope of Flood Re, provided that the leaseholder lives in the property and purchases the buildings insurance in his or her own name. Flats will be eligible, provided that there are not more than three flats in the building and that the freeholder, or one of those with a share of the freehold, lives in the building and takes out the cover. Setting the eligibility to a maximum of three flats reflects the general limit that the insurance market is willing to cover under a domestic or personal lines policy. There is already a competitive market for insurance for properties with four or more units, which we expect to continue. As I have already said, we and the ABI will monitor the market to ensure that that remains the case. We believe that a significant proportion of the leasehold sector will be in scope of Flood Re, but I should emphasise here that we expect most properties will not need to be in Flood Re and will find better prices through normal routes.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, suggests that that is all very complicated and does not go far enough. We have looked carefully at that with the ABI. Flood Re should be available only to those who need it. Indeed, in an earlier debate the noble Lord to some extent agreed with that. The ABI has assured us that the same systemic issues relating to availability and affordability do not exist for larger-scale leaseholders and commercial managing agents as in the domestic home insurance market.

The insurance industry has recently written to assure the Government that it does not expect there to be widespread issues over access to the insurance market for those parts of the leasehold sector which will be out of scope of Flood Re, which I am sure that noble Lords will agree is very welcome reassurance. The industry is clear that there is plenty of capacity to continue to provide insurance on a competitive basis.

I turn to the tenanted sector. As we discussed at some length in Committee, landlord insurance is out of scope for Flood Re for buildings cover. Landlord insurance is classified by the insurance industry as commercial. However, again, we have been assured by the industry that the majority of landlords will be able to find a more competitive rate outside Flood Re.

I emphasise that the proposed scope was not developed on the basis of cost: it is the nature of the policy which is key. The Government are clear that it would not be appropriate for landlords, who gain commercially from renting properties, to benefit from a subsidy on other households.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The Minister referred to the fact that the ABI has given assurances that that insurance will be available at competitive rates. Were they oral or written assurances? If they were written, is it possible for those assurances in writing to be put

31 Mar 2014 : Column 793

into the public domain so that interested parties can examine the assurances that the ABI has given to the Government?

Lord De Mauley: That is a very good point, my Lords, and I will see what I can do.

The Government collect certain information and data as part of the English housing survey. However, the granularity of data on the different parts of the sector sought under the amendment is not currently available. Data are collected from owner-occupied homes on whether the home is owned leasehold or freehold, but not from homes that are let in the private rented sector or from the social rented sector. In the past, those partial data have been used to estimate the total number of leasehold domestic properties in England across all tenures, although I understand that the methodology used is currently under review.

The 2011 census provides some information about whether people live in a flat or a house and whether they own it or rent it, but did not collect data on the number of leasehold domestic properties. There are also no data sets that would distinguish between smaller landlords and large multisite commercial operators, as far as we are aware.

The insurance industry could provide information which would help with a general estimate of the cost of including additional properties to Flood Re. However, the value of that would be limited without the numbers in each of the categories specified in the amendment and how many of those are at sufficient flood risk to be ceded to Flood Re. We have looked at a range of potential address-level data sets to try to map their records to flood risk, but again the data are unsuitable.

The conclusion has to be that what is specified in the amendment is unachievable to any degree of accuracy. It would also be only a snapshot in time and would quickly become out of date. The Government and the ABI have committed to monitoring the market—including for both domestic and business premises.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, suggested that there had been no direct engagement with the property sector. We consulted publicly on our proposals and received representations from the property sector. Indeed, I met representatives of the leasehold sector and asked them to come forward with evidence that the same problems exist in the commercial insurance market. I must say that evidence received to date is very limited, but that offer remains.

I therefore argue that reporting as set out under the amendment is not needed, as the market monitoring already planned will provide data on how the market is operating. I assure noble Lords that we will keep this matter under careful review. As I said, the Government also plan to publish the findings and make them available to Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked why we cannot treat landlords of just one or two properties differently from the more large-scale landlords. We have not heard evidence of widespread problems for smaller landlords in securing affordable insurance and there is therefore no apparent need to extend the scope of Flood Re to include them. Furthermore, it would

31 Mar 2014 : Column 794

not be practical to ask insurers to try to distinguish between different types of landlord. With the exception of policies purchased in a block or those purchased under a business name, many insurers would find it difficult to tell whether landlords have a large or a small property portfolio. This is not just about pricing policies: it would also make it more difficult for insurers to work out the market share when paying their share of the levy.

Turning back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I understand that it was made in a letter to the Secretary of State, and I can provide a copy of that to noble Lords who have participated in this debate. That might be helpful.

For the reasons that I have set out, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

6 pm

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I recognise some of the things that the Minister is saying, but the fact is that that is not the perception out there. I do not mean the perception of somebody who has read only a few articles in their local paper or the national press; I mean the perception of the representatives of small landlords. They do not think that is the position. They do not think it is easy for them to get insurance for properties within the risk area. The representatives of the Council of Mortgage Lenders are extremely worried about being asked by owners of leasehold and tenanted properties to advance mortgages against properties that it is difficult to insure. It is not even the perception of the managing agents, who by and large have the larger properties, who also think that they are in some difficulty. As it happens, I met all three groups first thing this morning. They remain unconvinced about what is essentially the Government’s line.

If you look at this from the point of view of the leaseholders and the tenants—let us leave aside short-term tenants for the moment, although I echo the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, whose support I am very grateful for on this, that most tenanted properties are actually owned by a landlord who has a single property—they have a difficulty in raising insurance in the first place, and certainly for property within a flood risk area they will find even greater difficulties now.

Probably the most acute difficulty, though, is for those who are in long leases and are leaseholders because of the nature of the freehold relationship to their property, but who for all other intents and purposes regard themselves as home owners. They have a long mortgage on the leasehold property, they conduct all their affairs, including their insurance, on their own part of that property, and they do not regard themselves as being any different in status, vulnerability or risk from the people next door who are freehold owner-occupiers.

There are many people in that situation in many parts of the country, including some that are subject to serious flood risk. For them, the message is going out, “The next-door neighbour is covered but you are not, because you own”—as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said—“a flat and not a house”. They may be on a very long lease, but, nevertheless, they are differentiated in this respect.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 795

As I say, this amendment does not seek to rectify, turn over or redefine the boundaries; it simply asks that Parliament should know what the situation is before it finally signs off this scheme. It may be that everything the Minister has said is upheld in the feedback, but we have had representations from both landlords and leaseholders of property who, whether they have a property with 12 flats or three flats, have the same problem and do not believe that they are going to be covered. They think that the Government and the insurance industry are letting them down because they are not covered.

At least Parliament should know what the situation is. That is all my amendment asks. If the Government are not prepared at least to accept that they will formally report back on this to Parliament before the next stage, or before an SI is produced, for the sake of all those people out there who think that they are being treated inequitably, illogically, unfairly and non-transparently, I have to ask the opinion of the House on this amendment.

6.04 pm

Division on Amendment 89B

Contents 190; Not-Contents 209.

Amendment 89B disagreed.

Division No.  2


Adams of Craigielea, B.

Adebowale, L.

Alli, L.

Anderson of Swansea, L.

Andrews, B.

Armstrong of Hill Top, B.

Bach, L.

Bakewell, B.

Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]

Beecham, L.

Berkeley, L.

Bichard, L.

Bilimoria, L.

Billingham, B.

Blackstone, B.

Boateng, L.

Borrie, L.

Bradley, L.

Bragg, L.

Brennan, L.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookman, L.

Browne of Belmont, L.

Browne of Ladyton, L.

Cameron of Dillington, L.

Campbell of Surbiton, B.

Carter of Coles, L.

Chandos, V.

Clancarty, E.

Clark of Windermere, L.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Clinton-Davis, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Colville of Culross, V.

Corston, B.

Crawley, B.

Curry of Kirkharle, L.

Davidson of Glen Clova, L.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.

Donaghy, B.

Donoughue, L.

Drake, B.

Eatwell, L.

Elder, L.

Erroll, E.

Evans of Temple Guiting, L.

Falkland, V.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Faulkner of Worcester, L.

Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Gale, B.

Gavron, L.

Gibson of Market Rasen, B.

Giddens, L.

Glasman, L.

Golding, B.

Goldsmith, L.

Gordon of Strathblane, L.

Grantchester, L.

Greenway, L.

Griffiths of Burry Port, L.

Grocott, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haskel, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayman, B.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henig, B.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 796

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hollick, L.

Hollins, B.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Howarth of Breckland, B.

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Howie of Troon, L.

Hoyle, L.

Hunt of Chesterton, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hutton of Furness, L.

Irvine of Lairg, L.

Jones, L.

Jones of Moulsecoomb, B.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Jordan, L.

Judd, L.

Kennedy of Cradley, B.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L.

King of Bow, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Kirkhill, L.

Krebs, L.

Laming, L.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Leitch, L.

Levy, L.

Liddell of Coatdyke, B.

Liddle, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

Low of Dalston, L.

Lytton, E.

McAvoy, L.

McConnell of Glenscorrodale, L.

Macdonald of Tradeston, L.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Mandelson, L.

Martin of Springburn, L.

Masham of Ilton, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maxton, L.

Meacher, B.

Mendelsohn, L.

Mitchell, L.

Monks, L.

Moonie, L.

Morgan, L.

Morgan of Ely, B.

Morgan of Huyton, B.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

O'Loan, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Patel of Blackburn, L.

Patel of Bradford, L.

Pendry, L.

Pitkeathley, B.

Plant of Highfield, L.

Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.

Prescott, L.

Prosser, B.

Quin, B.

Radice, L.

Ramsay of Cartvale, B.

Rea, L.

Rendell of Babergh, B.

Richard, L.

Rooker, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowlands, L.

Royall of Blaisdon, B.

St John of Bletso, L.

Sawyer, L.

Scotland of Asthal, B.

Sherlock, B.

Simon, V.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Finsbury, L.

Smith of Gilmorehill, B.

Snape, L.

Soley, L.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Stoddart of Swindon, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Taylor of Bolton, B.

Temple-Morris, L.

Thornton, B.

Tomlinson, L.

Truscott, L.

Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]

Turnberg, L.

Turner of Camden, B.

Uddin, B.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Warner, L.

Warwick of Undercliffe, B.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Whitty, L.

Wigley, L.

Wilkins, B.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Wills, L.

Wood of Anfield, L.

Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Worthington, B.

Young of Norwood Green, L.


Addington, L.

Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Alderdice, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B. [Teller]

Arran, E.

Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Avebury, L.

Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B.

Balfe, L.

Barker, B.

Bates, L.

Benjamin, B.

Berridge, B.

Black of Brentwood, L.

Blencathra, L.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Borwick, L.

Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Bowness, L.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Bradshaw, L.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browning, B.

Byford, B.

Caithness, E.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 797

Cathcart, E.

Chidgey, L.

Clement-Jones, L.

Colwyn, L.

Condon, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Cormack, L.

Cotter, L.

Courtown, E.

Craigavon, V.

Crickhowell, L.

Dannatt, L.

De Mauley, L.

Deighton, L.

Denham, L.

Dholakia, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dobbs, L.

Dykes, L.

Eaton, B.

Eccles, V.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Elton, L.

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Faulks, L.

Fearn, L.

Fellowes, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Finlay of Llandaff, B.

Fookes, B.

Framlingham, L.

Freeman, L.

Freud, L.

Garden of Frognal, B.

Gardiner of Kimble, L.

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Geddes, L.

Glasgow, E.

Glenarthur, L.

Gold, L.

Goodlad, L.

Grender, B.

Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Hamwee, B.

Hanham, B.

Hastings of Scarisbrick, L.

Haughey, L.

Henley, L.

Higgins, L.

Hill of Oareford, L.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Holmes of Richmond, L.

Hooper, B.

Hope of Craighead, L.

Horam, L.

Howard of Lympne, L.

Howe, E.

Howe of Aberavon, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Humphreys, B.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Inglewood, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jenkin of Roding, L.

Jolly, B.

Jopling, L.

Kirkham, L.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Kramer, B.

Lamont of Lerwick, L.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Leach of Fairford, L.

Lee of Trafford, L.

Lexden, L.

Lindsay, E.

Lingfield, L.

Liverpool, E.

Livingston of Parkhead, L.

Loomba, L.

Lucas, L.

Luke, L.

Lyell, L.

McColl of Dulwich, L.

MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.

McNally, L.

Maddock, B.

Maginnis of Drumglass, L.

Manzoor, B.

Mar, C.

Mar and Kellie, E.

Marks of Henley-on-Thames, L.

Marlesford, L.

Mayhew of Twysden, L.

Morris of Bolton, B.

Moynihan, L.

Naseby, L.

Nash, L.

Neville-Jones, B.

Newby, L. [Teller]

Newlove, B.

Noakes, B.

Northbrook, L.

Northover, B.

O'Cathain, B.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Palumbo, L.

Pannick, L.

Parminter, B.

Patel, L.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Popat, L.

Powell of Bayswater, L.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Rana, L.

Randerson, B.

Rawlings, B.

Rennard, L.

Ribeiro, L.

Risby, L.

Roberts of Llandudno, L.

Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.

Rogan, L.

Roper, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Ryder of Wensum, L.

Sassoon, L.

Scott of Needham Market, B.

Seccombe, B.

Selborne, E.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Selsdon, L.

Shackleton of Belgravia, B.

Sharkey, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sharples, B.

Shaw of Northstead, L.

Shephard of Northwold, B.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Shipley, L.

Smith of Clifton, L.

Spicer, L.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Stirrup, L.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Strasburger, L.

Suttie, B.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 798

Taylor of Goss Moor, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Swynnerton, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Tonge, B.

Tope, L.

Trenchard, V.

Trimble, L.

True, L.

Tugendhat, L.

Tyler, L.

Tyler of Enfield, B.

Ullswater, V.

Verma, B.

Wakeham, L.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.

Walpole, L.

Wasserman, L.

Wheatcroft, B.

Williams of Crosby, B.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.

Wilson of Tillyorn, L.

Wrigglesworth, L.

Younger of Leckie, V.

6.16 pm

Clause 53: Scheme funding

Amendment 90 not moved.

Amendment 90ZA

Moved by Baroness Parminter

90ZA: Clause 53, page 108, line 43, at end insert “and this is to include guidance about the application of surplus funds during the period of operation of the scheme to support uptake of resilience measures by householders”

Baroness Parminter (LD): My Lords, the aim of Flood Re is to provide affordable insurance for flooding and to transition to risk-reflective pricing. If a surplus of funds were built up, that could help to manage flood risk down by encouraging householders to adapt to the impacts of climate change and flooding.

Funding for Flood Re will be via a levy, set as part of the five-yearly review by government. The Bill makes clear what would happen if there was a deficit—namely, a further levy on the insurance companies—but it does not make clear what would happen if a significant surplus built up. In Committee I outlined the potential, on the basis of the Government’s own figures, that at the end of year 1 it could have at least £100 million in reserves. In the early years, the aim would be to build this figure up to meet potential claims. The maximum reserves that Flood Re should need in any one year, after paying for reinsurance and administration, is an amount equal to the reinsurance policy threshold. This is due to be £250 million. If there is a sizeable flood during the lifetime of Flood Re it will need to pay the first £250 million, with the rest paid for by a claim on the reinsurance policy. It will then need to build up the reserve again the following year.

Ministers and insurers may well want to build up a slightly higher reserve in order to protect against a possible deficit if there are two bad years in a row, so there may be no surplus, as my noble friend Lord Cathcart rightly pointed out in Committee. Over the lifetime of the scheme, though, there may be a build-up of reserves if there are fewer claims than anticipated. Given that the ABI is now saying that the number of households it expects to be underwritten by Flood Re is 350,000 rather than the original figure of 500,000, which was the basis of the Government’s impact assessment, that is certainly possible. The ABI made it quite clear to me that its intention was for any surplus to be returned to ABI members. We need to ensure that Flood Re does not inadvertently lead to insurers

31 Mar 2014 : Column 799

profiteering from excess levy income being returned to them. It may not be passed back to customers automatically but could lead to a reduction in the future levy on bills. It would be better for the levy to be reduced in advance if a reasonable reserve has already been built up or, better still, for the excess to be spent on managing down the flood risk. I am envisaging paying not for flood defences but for things like grants to low-income households for home flood protection measures. I would not want to pin down in detail in this legislation what levels of surplus of reserves Flood Re should be able to build up or what will happen in those circumstances but a marker needs to be put down that, if significant reserves are secured, such reserves may be used to incentivise Flood Re policyholders to fund household resilience measures.

This amendment, which I am glad to say has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, allows this issue to be explored by the Government and Flood Re administrators during their five-yearly review of the scheme. It gives flexibility but encourages managing down flood risk if, and only if, significant surpluses are built up. I beg to move.

Lord Krebs: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has said, this amendment is concerned with the possible surplus or cash reserves that Flood Re might build up. We have to recognise that although Flood Re is being designed as an integral part of the insurance industry it will be a public body spending public money and will operate on a not-for-profit basis. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has indicated and the Government’s own figures suggest that there might be reserves of more than £100 million after one year. If that surplus exceeds the amount that is required to cover claims in any one year—again, the noble Baroness indicated a figure of £250 million—it would seem perfectly reasonable for that money to be used to manage down Flood Re’s own exposure to future claims and it could do so in a highly cost-effective way. This is about value for money. One estimate is that £4,000 spent on a property could prevent a number of claims on Flood Re averaging £45,000 a time, so the return on investment is going to be enormous.

The adaptation sub-committee which I chair has estimated that there are 190,000 properties in England where fitting flood-protection measures would be cost-effective, but progress in fitting them at household level has been very slow. In fact, the rate of uptake would need to increase by a factor of 20 to fit all such measures within the lifetime of Flood Re. This amendment recognises the potential to do more to protect high-risk households and the opportunity that the surplus reserves might represent. Investing in resilience now would leave high-risk households better able to afford flood insurance once Flood Re has withdrawn and, rather than adding to the cost of the levy, investing in this way promises to help minimise the costs of Flood Re over the lifetime of the policy.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord referred to 140,000 properties. How would they be prioritised? How would they be selected to be subject to the benefit of this measure?

31 Mar 2014 : Column 800

Lord Krebs: The figure I mentioned was in fact 190,000 properties. I do not have the detail of how they would be prioritised, but over the lifetime of Flood Re it is hoped that all 190,000 could be fitted with household protection measures that would increase their resilience against future flood risk.

As I was saying, investing the surplus from Flood Re would help to minimise its costs over the lifetime of the policy. To achieve that, Flood Re will have to invest in flood protection to reduce future claims. As this amendment indicates, guidance is needed on whether and how surpluses might be used and under what circumstances investment in household resilience should be pursued. So it is not prescriptive; it is just saying that guidance should be included. I think that perhaps answers the noble Lord’s question.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I am taken a bit by surprise by this amendment. I had not intended to speak at all but as the noble Lord was developing his arguments I began to realise what the value of this could be. I have a letter here from Keswick Flood Action Group which I referred to in Committee. It makes recommendations on the question of the reinstatement of homes and resilience. I want to read on to the record what it says because most of my contributions on this Bill up to now, certainly in Committee, have drawn on information that has been brought to me by people who have been flooded, because very often they know more than anyone else. Lynne Jones, chair of Keswick Flood Action Group, says that the Government should,

“pass legislation so that insurance companies are required to reinstate homes in a flood resilient/resistant way. Insurance companies, quite rightly, will not pay for ‘betterment’ but these days they have to reinstate with insulation to regulatory standards, even if no insulation was present before, because they are required to do so by law. So why can’t flood measures be treated in the same way?”.

She goes on to make a very simple proposition which, when I think of the flooded properties that I surveyed when I was an MP, seems to me quite logical:

“For example dropping the electrics down from the first floor so raised sockets rather than rewiring from ground up; replacing wood floors with solid waterproof concrete etc”.

Then she goes on to suggest that the Government,

“provide people with independent advice on property reinstatement, maybe via Local Authorities’ Buildings Regulations Officers”.

If there is a surplus, why not consider spending some of it in this sort of area? She goes on to say:

“What people need is knowledgeable counsel from somebody who isn’t going to profit from the works. Flood victims are the target for every rogue trader under the sun post-flood and not everyone knows what products are available/would most suit their needs. Such decisions come at a time when they are exhausted, stressed and suffering financial hardship, they are truly at their most vulnerable”.

As I said, when I was an MP and also afterwards I visited homes where people had been flooded and we know there is tremendous distress. If there are these surpluses, perhaps we should ask whether they can be deployed as part of the process of advising people so that the rogue traders do not go in and do the work and rip people off. That is a far more professional approach. The simple idea of feeding electric wiring

31 Mar 2014 : Column 801

upstairs as against downstairs seems absolutely elementary. I wonder how many properties have been done up with grants from government and bills paid by insurance companies over recent years where those very simple, remedial steps to dealing with problems in particular homes have not been taken.

In many ways I think this is a very interesting amendment. I had not really thought of the surpluses. We do not want to waste money but surely it can be used in such a way as to promote the policy of developing actions for resilience.

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I am afraid I cannot support this amendment. To me it shows a misunderstanding of the role of insurance more generally and of Flood Re in particular, which must build up its funds from premiums to cover current and future losses smoothly. The scheme already has five-yearly reviews so that all assumptions can be reworked and contributions adjusted, either upwards or downwards. Diverting funds into the totally separate adventure of pre-emptive risk mitigation is not a function of insurance and nor should it be for Flood Re. The analogy is asking car insurers to invest in better road signs or road infrastructure. It might help mitigate the risks but it is not the role of the underwriting industry; it is the role of government, national or local.

6.30 pm

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I shall put a contrary view to that just put by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. There are two important issues in this amendment. The first is whose money is being paid out through the Flood Re system, and therefore what happens to it if there is a surplus, and the second is what safeguards can be put in place to ensure that households at high risk undertake prevention works and do not just assume that if there is a flood in their property others will pick up the cost that can be paid for through Flood Re insurance.

We debated this in Committee. I have concluded that if there is a surplus, it is not just the Treasury’s money nor just the insurers’ money; it is the public’s money because the public have paid the levy. In that sense, it becomes primarily the Treasury’s money because it funds public spending. However, if the public are contributing through a household levy, they have a right to expect that those potentially in receipt of other people’s money do work to their own property. The question then is whether this scheme, particularly if it is in surplus, should help towards that objective.

I think we are going to find that this is not just a time-limited scheme. I recognise there are regular, five-year reviews. It is a time-limited scheme. At the end of it, what will happen if there is a surplus left in the scheme? I would like to think that in that timescale, we would have secured major improvements to flood protection of individual properties in high-risk areas. For that reason, asking the Government to include guidance about the application of surplus funds during the operation of the scheme to support the uptake of resilience measures by householders is perfectly reasonable.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 802

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have some slight difficulties with this amendment. I understand the concept and, in a sense, I want the outcome. The role of the insurance companies’ relationship with householders—whoever they may be, in the light of the previous debate—in improving the resilience of their properties is an important dimension of this scheme. Some of it is deliverable through the normal relationship between insurance companies and their premium payers, in the sense that a condition of the insurance or of the level of excess on the insurance can be that they put in such-and-such a resilience measure or that they meet certain standards in the property. The insurance companies can in some circumstances go further than this and make a grant towards them. The problem with the amendment is that it feels too open-ended.

To answer the question about whose money it is, the money is contributed by the rest of us. It is the £10.50, or whatever it turns out to be, that the rest of the population puts into looking after high-risk properties. There is therefore a need for due diligence that that money does not go to diffuse purposes. If this amendment would lead to significant sums of money in surplus years being used in a different way, then issues of accountability arise. A more tightly worded amendment would probably meet with my approval, but people reading this could think that, if you have a surplus of £500 million after 10 years, you should be spending it directly on grants to householders in risk-prone areas to improve individual or communal flood defences. I do not think that is what is meant, but the wording could be susceptible to that meaning. I therefore support the general concept, but I do not think this amendment achieves it in a way that is easily defensible to home owners who are contributing to the financing of this scheme.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Parminter for her amendment, which deals with a very important subject. I thank all other noble Lords who spoke to it.

Actions taken by government, communities, individuals and businesses to reduce levels of flood risk are indeed the best and most cost-effective way to secure affordable insurance and value for money from Flood Re in the long term. In addition to the substantial levels of investment in flood defences that I referred to in an earlier debate today, we are also taking action to ensure that households are supported to improve their property-level resilience. For example, grants of up to £5,000 are available for households and businesses that have flooded this winter, and applications open tomorrow. In addition, there are community projects in which we are investing more than £4 million over two years in order to learn about the most effective strategies to drive community resilience to flooding. Nevertheless, I recognise my noble friend’s intention to see Flood Re’s role reflected in the Bill.

Reserves that build up during the lifetime of Flood Re will primarily be used to pay flood claims in the bad years. Flood events are by their nature unpredictable, so while it may be possible that Flood Re would have a number of good years in which it built up reserves, it is equally possible that a run of bad years with heavy flooding could wipe out any reserves built up within

31 Mar 2014 : Column 803

Flood Re. As such, it is not easy to identify surplus funds, and any decision about Flood Re’s reserves will need to involve judgment about the level of cover needed for the unpredictable risks it bears.

Added to this, as an authorised re-insurer, Flood Re will be required by the Prudential Regulation Authority to hold certain minimum levels of capital. Any commitment by Flood Re to spend a certain portion of reserves in a certain way—for example, on betterment or resilience—would necessarily increase the amount of capital it is required to hold on an ongoing basis, having an impact on the cost of the scheme and ultimately the levy.

It may well be that, in due course, the Flood Re administrator decides that investments of the sort my noble friend would like to see present the best way of Flood Re fulfilling its obligations to manage the transition and act in the public interest. However, these are choices that are difficult to make before the scheme is established or has any sort of track record. Nothing in the Bill precludes this.

Alternatively, in due course, Flood Re may decide, in consultation with government, that the best use of any surplus is to reduce the level of the levy, thereby helping to deliver affordability for all policyholders, not just those in Flood Re. We would not, at this stage, wish to see Flood Re’s hands tied in legislation that could have an unpredictable and undesirable effect.

We have always been clear that there should be a gradual transition to more risk-reflective prices. We expect the transition plan to set out how Flood Re intends to support households to adapt to the withdrawal of support from Flood Re over time. We will not designate Flood Re unless we are satisfied with the industry’s proposals for the scheme, including the transition plan.

It is important for Flood Re to retain flexibility in the way it discharges its public interest duty and plans for transition in order to ensure that it is in a position to balance these requirements against its core financial obligations. However, my noble friend’s amendment draws attention to the need to offer more clarity about what might happen in the event that a surplus is accumulated, particularly in relation to managing the transition.

I should say that I have considerable sympathy for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I have first-hand experience of where exactly the type of sensible resilience measures he has suggested cost no more than putting things back exactly as they were before the flood so the insurance claim could cover them. He also referred to advice, which is clearly an important part of that. A number of sources of independent advice are available today. The National Flood Forum can direct flood victims to appropriate measures. Furthermore, we are continuing to discuss with the industry whether any of the reserves could be used to fund surveys.

As I have said, I am very grateful to my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for bringing this to my attention. I would like to take the opportunity to discuss their proposals with them further before Third Reading. Although I cannot of course guarantee that I shall be able to bring something back, I may be able

31 Mar 2014 : Column 804

to clarify the Government’s position further. I hope that I can persuade my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Parminter: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and my noble friend Lord Shipley, for their support for this amendment. My noble friend Lord Cathcart suggested that I may have misunderstood the insurance industry. We all have our dirty secrets, and many noble Lords may think of me as a squeaky-clean campaigner, but I have to say that I have been employed in the City by Lloyd’s of London, so I do know a thing or two about insurance.

I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that the wording of the amendment may not be as clear as we would all hope to achieve to ensure that any surplus funds are used to manage down flood risk and help people to transition to a better place at the end of this temporary scheme. I hoped that it would be seen to be not prescriptive and unhelpful and I am very grateful again for the comments of my noble friend the Minister and for his kind offer of discussions with myself and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which we are both delighted to accept. We will return to this matter at Third Reading. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 90ZA withdrawn.

Amendment 90A

Moved by Baroness Northover

90A: Clause 53, page 109, leave out line 10 and insert “obtain the consent of the FR Scheme administrator, which is not to be unreasonably withheld.”

Amendment 90A agreed.

Clause 54: Scheme administration

Amendment 90B

Moved by Baroness Northover

90B: Clause 54, page 109, line 26, at end insert—

“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may require the FR Scheme administrator to provide the following information to relevant insurers who have issued insurance policies that are reinsured under the FR Scheme, so that those insurers may supply the information to holders of those policies—

(a) information about how to find out about the levels of flood risk to which an area in which household premises are situated is subject and how any flood risk may be managed;

(b) information about the FR Scheme, including information about the effect of section 51(2)(b) (transition to risk-reflective pricing of flood insurance for household premises).”

Baroness Northover: My Lords, in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, tabled an amendment which sought to require the Flood Re scheme administrator to increase awareness among the beneficiaries of Flood Re about their local flood risk. We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for highlighting this

31 Mar 2014 : Column 805

important matter. In Committee, we explained that we agreed with the intention behind the noble Lord’s amendment and agreed to consider this further and return to it on Report. We think it is important that policyholders whose buildings, contents or combined insurance policies are ceded to Flood Re know about their flood risk so they can take simple measures such as signing up to free flood warnings as well as investigating longer-term options for managing their flood risk.

To plan for the future, these households also need to understand the likely impact of the transitional nature of the Flood Re scheme, which is subsidising their premiums. I am therefore today bringing forward Amendment 90B, which would allow the Secretary of State to require Flood Re, through regulations, to provide information for relevant insurers to pass on to their policyholders who will benefit from Flood Re. The information would cover the Flood Re scheme, flood risk and actions that householders can take to reduce the risk and impact of flooding. Our expectation is that standardised information will be sent to the customer by the relevant insurer that is ceding the policy to Flood Re. This makes sense because it maintains the relationship between insurers and their customers. Flood Re will need to work with the flood risk management authorities in the UK to ensure the information about flood risk is accurate and appropriate.

As a consequence of this amendment we are also making three other minor amendments, Amendments 90H, 90J and 90K, which affect Clause 69 and give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations defining “flood” and “flood risk” in the context of Flood Re and not just in the context of the flood insurance obligation, as was the case previously. I beg to move.

6.45 pm

Lord Grantchester: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 90CE, which is grouped with these amendments. I was slightly confused as to whether the Government were putting their name to our amendment, because I noticed that we have a little “g” in front of our Amendment 90CE. But I will take that as a misprint and that I must still convince the Government of the merit of the case.

The amendment would put in place regulations that would add clarity to set the date of commencement for Flood Re. It would also create a database of properties at risk of flooding and indicate whether the property is covered by the flood scheme. The amendment will insist that the database must be set up before Flood Re starts, as that would be logically helpful.

I begin by welcoming the Government’s helpful concession, particularly in Amendment 90B, which sets out regulations to allow insurers to provide information to policyholders in the scheme. We are glad that the Government have listened and acted on our concerns expressed in Committee with the introduction of their amendment, but we still feel that it does not go far enough. Delivering information to those already in the scheme—that is, policyholders—is helpful as far as it goes. Although it is important that insurance companies are well equipped and able to deliver information to policyholders in relation to the

31 Mar 2014 : Column 806

flood scheme and how they can protect their properties adequately, we believe that the database proposed by our amendment would be a lot more useful, primarily for potential homeowners but also for mortgage lenders. It has become much more difficult of late for people to get mortgages and it is even more difficult to get a mortgage if the mortgage lender is at all concerned about damage from flooding. As such, information should be provided to homebuyers at the start of their journey of finding a home rather than further along the process, after they have agreed with the vendor on a purchase or when they are at the stage of consulting mortgage companies after engaging solicitors. The database must be accessible to everyone and allow them to check whether a property for sale or rent is covered by the scheme and highlight its risk to flooding. This would prevent the all too recognisable reality experienced by people in the recent flooding whereby home owners were blindsided by their properties flooding and then found themselves caught when their insurance companies reassessed their policy terms. The database would also avoid the scenario whereby a home owner may believe that they are covered by Flood Re when in reality they are not.

It is a very straightforward amendment, which brings the whole subject of the database and properties into the public domain. It would add transparency and clarity to the scheme. At present, with the complicated nature of the scheme, especially in terms of eligibility, we should do all that we can to assist those potentially affected by the scheme by making them all the more aware of where they stand with regard to flood insurance on the property that they are inquiring about, not just once they become policyholders. We have already heard today of the complexities behind the scheme as regards leaseholders, as well as the exclusions for small businesses and other aspects.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for tabling Amendment 90CE, which proposes a publicly searchable database of flood risk. I am desolate that I must disappoint him as we cannot accept the amendment even though it does have a little “g” in front of it. Nevertheless, we agree with the intention behind the amendment that households that are ceded to Flood Re should be made aware of their flood risk. Knowing about flood risk is essential to helping affected households to manage their flood risk effectively, both in the short and long term. That is why we have recently published a note entitled Homebuyers and Their Flood Risk, in which we have explained the information currently available to prospective homebuyers.

It is a well established principle of the conveyancing process that the onus is on the buyer of a property to conduct their own searches and investigations into the potential risks to that property. In England, the Environment Agency provides a freely accessible resource of flood risk information for any area. Anyone may use this service to identify whether their post code is at risk of flooding from rivers, the sea or surface water. Similar resources are available to households in other parts of the UK. Should a household wish to identify flood risks specific to their property, commissioning a flood risk survey from a suitably experienced professional

31 Mar 2014 : Column 807

would identify the ways in which water can enter a property and what measures could be taken to prevent or limit possible damage. We believe that requiring Flood Re to help insurers guide their customers to information about flood risk and how to manage it will add significantly to public awareness of flood risk. That is why I moved Amendment 90B and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his welcome of it. I hope therefore that noble Lords are willing to accept the government amendments in this group and that the noble Lord will be content not to move his amendment.

Amendment 90B agreed.

Amendments 90BA and 90C

Moved by Baroness Northover

90BA: Clause 54, page 110, line 23, leave out paragraph (a)

90C: Clause 54, page 111, line 1, after “section” insert “—

“flood insurance” has the meaning given in section 51;”

Amendments 90BA and 90C agreed.

Clause 56: Disclosure of information: preparatory purposes

Amendments 90CA to 90CD

Moved by Baroness Northover

90CA: Clause 56, page 111, line 14, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) The Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs may disclose relevant HMRC council tax information to any person who requires that information for either of the following descriptions of purposes—

(a) purposes connected with such scheme as may be established and designated in accordance with section 51 (in any case arising before any scheme is so designated);

(b) purposes connected with the FR Scheme (in any case arising after the designation of a scheme in accordance with section 51).

(1A) A person to whom information is disclosed under subsection (1)(a) or (b)—

(a) may use the information only for the purposes mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b), as the case may be;

(b) may not further disclose the information except with the consent of the Commissioners.”

90CB: Clause 56, page 111, line 19, at end insert—

““relevant HMRC council tax information” means HMRC council tax information relating to premises which are household premises and consisting of any of the following—

(a) the address (including the postcode) of the premises;

(b) the council tax valuation band in which the premises fall;

(c) information about when the premises were constructed;

(d) the National Land and Property Gazetteer unique property reference number for the premises;

(e) the unique address reference number allocated to the premises by the Valuation Office of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.”

90CD: Clause 56, page 111, line 20, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

31 Mar 2014 : Column 808

“(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the definition of “relevant HMRC council tax information” in subsection (2).

(4) If the Secretary of State by regulations under subsection (3) amends the definition of “relevant HMRC council tax information” to add further descriptions of information, those regulations may include the provision described in subsection (5).

(5) The regulations may provide that if a person discloses, in contravention of subsection (1A)(b), information which is relevant HMRC council tax information by virtue of the regulations and which relates to a person whose identity—

(a) is specified in the disclosure, or

(b) can be deduced from it,

section 19 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 (wrongful disclosure) applies in relation to that disclosure as it applies in relation to a disclosure, in contravention of section 20(9) of that Act, of revenue and customs information relating to a person whose identity is specified in the disclosure or can be deduced from it.

(6) The Secretary of State must consult the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs before making regulations under subsection (3).”

Amendments 90CA to 90CD agreed.

Amendment 90CE not moved.

Clause 57: Flood insurance obligations

Amendment 90D

Moved by Baroness Northover

90D: Clause 57, page 111, line 37, leave out “relating to the effects of flooding” and insert “arising from a flood”

Amendment 90D agreed.

Amendment 90DA

Moved by Lord Whitty

90DA: After Clause 63, insert the following new Clause—

“Appeals on removal from the Flood Reinsurance Scheme

(1) The Secretary of State shall by order establish a right of appeal for a household which has been removed from the Flood Reinsurance Scheme.

(2) The Financial Conduct Authority shall be responsible for the hearing and administration of appeals under subsection (1).

(3) An order under subsection (1)—

(a) shall be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(4) An order under subsection (1) must be made before the Flood Reinsurance Scheme has been implemented.”

Lord Whitty: My Lords, Amendment 90DA is relatively straightforward. Clause 63 provides for reviews and appeals against premises being deemed not eligible to be entered in the register of those covered by Flood Re. As it is written, Clause 63 indicates that when the register is drawn up there is a list of which households are either in or out, according to the risk assessment at the time.

This is a 25-year scheme and things will change over 25 years. My amendment is designed to add to the provisions of Clause 63 and appeal against the

31 Mar 2014 : Column 809

removal from that list at a later stage. It is really a tidying-up. However, removal from the list could arise for a number of different reasons. It could be because the insurance sector had decided that the risk had changed; but that could be because the Committee on Climate Change—the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is no longer in his place—had advised of a change and that there was less risk in that particular area. It could be that the Environment Agency’s map had changed. It could be that the aggregated data from the insurance companies showed that that type of property was at less of a risk than it was assumed to be at the beginning of the scheme, bearing in mind that we are potentially 25 years on. It could be that resilience had been provided on some other basis—for instance, a flood defence scheme may have been built down the road—or that the catchment management in that area had significantly improved and diverted the flood away from that property to somewhere else. In an urban area, it could be that there had been major investment in the drainage system, which meant that the property was significantly less susceptible to surface flooding. There are all sorts of reasons why, objectively, the flood risk might diminish. Regrettably, in the light of the macro information from the Committee on Climate Change, it is more likely that a property will be drawn into the list than drawn out of it; but there will be such exclusions.

There could also be exclusions that are more esoteric to the insurance industry, in the sense that if insurance companies were insisting, as a condition of continued insurance, that that resilience measure should be introduced at the expense of the householder, one way or another, and the householders were not prepared to provide for that level of resilience expenditure, then either the offer, or renewal, of insurance would be taken away or the excess would be put at a level which the premium payer was not prepared to pay.

There are all sorts of reasons why a property might end up being removed from that list. If that is the case, there has to be the equivalent appeal against that in a situation where one is excluded from the list from the word go. As I read it, Clause 63 provides only for exclusion from the register in the first place; it does not provide for removal from the register. My amendment seeks to correct that gap. I beg to move.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for this amendment. As we have previously discussed, a rigorous regulatory and dispute resolution regime for the insurance industry already exists, to ensure that insurers treat their customers fairly. Flood Re will not change the direct relationship between the insurer and the householder. Where households do not feel that a complaint has been treated fairly, they can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service, which offers a free dispute resolution service for people who wish to complain about how their insurance company has treated them. While the Financial Ombudsman Service is equipped to deal with individual complaints, the Financial Conduct Authority has a statutory objective to protect the wider interests of consumers and ensure that firms are giving a fair deal to their customers.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 810

We need to remember that Flood Re is a voluntary scheme: insurers are not obliged to use it. We therefore maintain that there is no need for a specific appeal mechanism for Flood Re per se. Flood Re is not based on a register of properties; it is a voluntary scheme and so there are no grounds for an appeal mechanism.

However, the noble Lord is emphasising concern about who might be excluded from Flood Re over time. As was said in the other place, the memorandum of understanding agreed between the Association of British Insurers and the Government last year talked about genuinely uninsurable properties. As my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Water, Forestry, Rural Affairs and Resource Management said, there will be no such thing as a genuinely uninsurable property at the start of Flood Re. However, there might be a case that over time, if householders choose to take no action to tackle their flood risk, Flood Re might seek to find a mechanism whereby they no longer benefit from the public subsidy. We have reflected further on that issue, working closely with the ABI. I can reassure noble Lords that our focus is on supporting households to become more resilient, not on excluding them from the Flood Re scheme.

As householders with policies ceded to Flood Re will be benefiting from subsidised insurance, important signals to them about flood risk—for example, the price of insurance and the levels of excess charged—will be lost. We have therefore agreed with the industry that Flood Re will provide information to insurers to pass to householders about flood risk, Flood Re itself and how to reduce the likelihood and impact of flooding. An amendment to that effect has been tabled.

We are continuing to explore with industry how people could be incentivised, perhaps, for example, by Flood Re paying for a survey after a property has flooded a number of times. My noble friend mentioned that. This would depend on Flood Re having sufficient reserves. Another incentive could be to increase the excess after repeated flooding.

There are a number of practical considerations to work through. However, there is a clear commitment between the Government and the insurance industry to putting in place an incentive-based approach rather than an exclusionary approach. I hope that noble Lords will also agree that the approach we have outlined strikes a fair and appropriate balance between supporting householders at high flood risk and the affordability of the scheme as a whole, and that the amendment will therefore be withdrawn, bearing in mind what I said at the beginning about the direct relationship between the insurance company and the householder and the means of redress that they can avail themselves of.

7 pm

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply but I am not sure that it entirely meets the point. As a former chair of Consumer Focus, I am very familiar with the steps that people can take to obtain redress from financial services agencies, including the insurance industry. I am perhaps slightly less sanguine about the effectiveness of it but that is a different matter. However, the fact is that the Bill provides for a register and, in Clause 63, provides for people to

31 Mar 2014 : Column 811

appeal against a body being excluded from that register in the first place. Unless I am completely misunderstanding the issue and what the noble Baroness said, I took it she accepted that there was a possibility of someone being excluded in one of the situations that I described—namely, when the insurance company’s request that the householder introduced some resilience measures at their own expense as a condition of continuing to have that insurance could lead to their exclusion from the list. All I am saying is that if there is an appeals process at the beginning, why is there not one all the way through? I may have misunderstood something that the noble Baroness said and the purpose of Clause 63.

Baroness Northover: Perhaps I can clarify at least one point in relation to Clause 63 and the register. Clause 63 relates to the flood insurance obligation. It is not relevant to Flood Re. However, I am happy to write to the noble Lord to clarify this area.

Lord Whitty: That would be useful for all concerned, so I will shut up. I am very grateful for the Minister’s offer to write to me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 90DA withdrawn.

Clause 69: Interpretation

Amendments 90E to 90K

Moved by Lord De Mauley

90E: Clause 69, page 120, line 30, at end insert—

“(A1) In this Part “insurer” means—

(a) a person who—

(i) is authorised for the purposes of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (see section 31 of that Act), and

(ii) has permission to carry on the activities specified in Article 10 of the Financial Services and Markets (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/544), or

(b) a member of the Society (within the meaning of the Lloyd’s Act 1982).

“(A2) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the definition of “insurer” in subsection (A1).”

90F: Clause 69, page 120, line 31, after “define” insert ““relevant insurer””

90G: Clause 69, page 120, leave out lines 32 and 33

90H: Clause 69, page 120, line 38, at end insert—


90J: Clause 69, page 120, line 39, leave out ““flood insurance”” and insert—

““flood risk””

90K: Clause 69, page 121, line 7, after “subsection” insert “(3) or”

Amendments 90E to 90K agreed.

Clause 70: Period of operation

Amendment 90L

Moved by Lord De Mauley

90L: Clause 70, page 121, line 33, leave out “(including” and insert “(whether or not otherwise capable of being transferred, and including”

Amendment 90L agreed.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 812

Clause 71: Regulations and orders

Amendments 90M to 90T

Moved by Lord De Mauley

90M: Clause 71, page 122, line 7, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply in relation to an order under section 70(3) if the only provision made by the order is provision for, or in connection with, the transfer of property, rights and liabilities.”

90N: Clause 71, page 122, line 16, at end insert—

“(za) regulations under section 51 (the Flood Reinsurance Scheme),

(zb) regulations under section 52 (Scheme administrator),”

90P: Clause 71, page 122, line 17, leave out “53(1)” and insert “53”

90PA: Clause 71, page 122, line 17, at end insert—

“( ) regulations under section 56,”

90Q: Clause 71, page 122, line 17, at end insert—

“(aa) regulations under section 54 (Scheme administration),

(ab) regulations under section 57 (flood insurance obligations),

(ac) the first regulations to be made under section 58 (target number),

(ad) regulations under section 59 or 60 (information),

(ae) the first regulations to be made under section 61 (register of premises subject to greater flood risk),”

90R: Clause 71, page 122, line 19, at end insert—

“(ba) regulations under section 65 (compliance reports),”

90S: Clause 71, page 122, line 21, leave out “or” and insert—

“(da) regulations under section 69 (interpretation), or”

90T: Clause 71, page 122, line 24, at end insert—

“( ) If a draft of an instrument containing an order under section 70(3) would, apart from this subsection, be treated for the purposes of the Standing Orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument, it is to proceed in that House as if it were not a hybrid instrument.”

Amendments 90M to 90T agreed.

Amendment 91

Moved by Earl Cathcart

91: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—

“Internal drainage boards: apportionment of drainage expenses

(1) The Land Drainage Act 1991 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 37(5) (apportionment of drainage expenses), at end insert—

“(f) in the case of—the Secretary of State may by order define an equivalent measure for valuing the land”.”

(i) any land to which none of the paragraphs (a) to (d) applies and it is not possible to calculate a value under paragraph (e)(ii) as the relevant rating lists no longer exist or cannot be located, or

(ii) land to which one of paragraphs (a) to (c) does apply but for which the relevant rating lists no longer exist or cannot be located,

the Secretary of State may by order define an equivalent measure for valuing the land”.”

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Howard moved this amendment in Committee. Unfortunately, he cannot be here today and has asked me to move it again on his behalf.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 813

As a farmer, I pay land drainage rates and, in a past life, I was a member of a Norfolk internal drainage board. Internal drainage boards get their funding from two sources: from farmers and agricultural landowners, for draining agricultural land—this is the land drainage rate; and from local authorities, for draining developed areas—this is the special levy. IDBs work out the special levy that they charge local authorities based on the value per hectare of the developed land. This is clearly set out in the Land Drainage Act 1991. This amendment does not change this calculation, which is clear, fair and transparent. IDBs need to know the value per hectare of developed land to calculate the special levy. However, the Land Drainage Act 1991 says that IDBs must work out the value per hectare of developed land from lists of rateable values of property compiled in 1990—25 years ago. Using these old lists of rateable values to work out the value per hectare of developed land is neither fair nor transparent as the IDB needs to have the lists. In many cases, the lists no longer exist. In addition, they are out of date and do not include anything built after 1990. As the lists are out of date, the variation of values in them may be wrong as relative property values between areas have changed since1990.

The only way to solve this problem is to change the Land Drainage Act through this amendment to give the Defra Secretary of State the power to set out another way of working out the value per hectare of developed land, so that IDBs do not have to use the old rateable value lists, if they have them.

The amendment is not prescriptive. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past by setting the way of working out the value per hectare of developed land in primary legislation. The amendment would rectify that mistake by taking the prescription out of the Land Drainage Act and instead giving discretion to Defra to set a method that is appropriate now, and to change it in the future if circumstances change. This is important as IDBs do vital work not just in protecting people, their homes and businesses and some of our best farm land, but also play a key role in keeping our power stations, ports, roads and railways working.

In addition to their usual maintenance costs, IDBs now face heavy bills to repair and rebuild defences, drainage ditches and pumping stations after the ravages of this winter, with its record rainfall and the biggest tidal surge in 60 years. Unless IDBs have a fair way of valuing developed land, they cannot set a fair special levy on local authorities, so they cannot raise the funds they need to do their vital work. This amendment will ensure that IDBs can get the funds to do their vital work, while also sorting out past mistakes by replacing prescriptive and out-of-date legislation with a simple discretionary power.

After my noble friend Lord Howard brought forward this amendment in Committee, my noble friend Lord De Mauley wrote to all 120-odd IDBs to ask whether this was a concern for them. When I met my noble friend Lord De Mauley and his officials last week, he said he could not conclude that it was an overwhelming concern as he had had only six responses from the IDBs. I do not know the timescale between the letter being sent out and our meeting, but I do not think it

31 Mar 2014 : Column 814

was that long. I do not know what the latest position is with regard to responses from the IDBs, but I do know that the Association of Drainage Authorities has written supporting the amendment. The CLA and the NFU have also written supporting the amendment.

The letter from the NFU adds another point that I have not raised yet. It states:

“The NFU … considers that there is a need for this change both for existing IDBs but also to enable the creation of new IDBs in areas where they don’t currently exist, we would therefore urge support of this amendment”.

It goes on:

“Such an amendment is especially important for areas where the Environment Agency is considering to withdraw from maintaining significant drainage assets. It is our view that in areas such as on the Pevensey Levels in East Sussex or within the Alt Crossens catchment in West Lancashire, to name but two, there is a strong need for IDBs to be established in order that existing water level management activity may continue and that the cost of that activity is shared equitably between the beneficiaries”.

I hope my noble friend will accept this amendment. Being more realistic, I hope that he does not reject it today, but rather agrees to take it away and look at it between now and Third Reading. If he then agrees that there is a hole that needs plugging, he can either accept the amendment or come back with his own. I beg to move.

Lord Grantchester: My Lords, during our debates in Committee, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, seemed purely a matter of practicality. The noble Earl should be congratulated on finding this shortfall in the relevant documents. The Minister wished to reserve the Government’s position pending further evidence. I merely rise to ask the Minister whether the position could be addressed by secondary legislation. That would allow Parliament to keep a watch on the situation and assess when and if it develops.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I apologise that I did not manage to get in before the Labour Front Bench. Before the excellent exposition by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, I had no detailed knowledge of the technical benefits brought about by this amendment. However, I do know about the vital importance of the role of IDBs in the land drainage sector, both as a former chairman of the CLA water committee, who was once the keynote speaker at an Association of Drainage Authorities lunch—a memorable occasion—and as a farming resident in Somerset.

The 2010 Act, not entirely wisely in my view, gave new land drainage responsibilities to county councils and district councils, taking away from the previously comprehensive responsibility of the Environment Agency and IDBs. This has caused a degree of chaos, certainly in Somerset, with no one really taking full responsibility for their duties or even, to begin with, knowing what those duties entailed. That is by the by. My key point is that the one solid rock in all this has been the IDBs. Their local and comprehensive technical and engineering expertise is absolutely vital and we would be lost without them. Anything that helps them to perform their duties better must be in all our best interests. I strongly support this amendment, which would seem to further that end.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 815

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising this issue again and other noble Lords for contributing their expertise. As we previously explained in Committee, the Government value and support the important work that internal drainage boards, IDBs, undertake to manage water levels, reduce flood risk and protect critical infrastructure. We want to ensure that they can carry out their work without unnecessary hindrance. Defra has also developed a close and constructive working relationship with the Association of Drainage Authorities, ADA. Defra officials meet with ADA on a regular basis, including through a technical advisory group, which meets quarterly, to discuss a wide range of issues relating to IDBs. It is helpful that my noble friends have raised this issue with us, as ADA had not highlighted this previously as a potentially significant or widespread problem.

We have since sought information on this issue from ADA, as my noble friend indicated, and are in continuing discussion with them. ADA has written to all 120 IDB clerks to gather their views on this issue. Responses have been received within the past month and I can update the numbers. From a small number of IDBs, five say that they have access to rating lists, while six have said that they foresee a possible need for an amendment such as this. We do not therefore yet have the evidence to demonstrate that the unavailability of rating lists poses a widespread practical problem for IDBs.

7.15 pm

We are therefore not satisfied that there is a definite need for legislative change to address this particular concern. We are also not satisfied that the power that my noble friend has proposed necessarily offers the right approach to addressing this concern, should legislation be required. The power would require the Secretary of State to define an equivalent measure for valuing land. However, if it turns out that the original rating lists are no longer available in some parts of the country, it may prove challenging or impracticable to design a completely equivalent system.

This might mean that we would have to consider a wider revaluation of the urban land. This would have the effect of increasing special levies on unitary and district authorities and could, of course, in turn increase council tax for ratepayers in IDB areas. Given the potential impact of this power on taxation, we would need to consult across government, and wider consultation with the public would also be required. Therefore, as can be seen, there are a number of potentially serious unintended consequences of implementing such a power. We therefore need to give these a great deal of careful thought and fully understand their impact.

We appreciate that this is intended to be only an enabling power. However, this power is more than just a technical amendment and Parliament would rightly expect to see considerable detail explaining how the Government intended to use such a delegated power before agreeing to its inclusion in the Bill. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said. I also remember how the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, took me to task for not following everything that the Delegated Powers

31 Mar 2014 : Column 816

Committee wished to do. Of course, the Delegated Powers Committee might be very interested in this particular arrangement.

In view of our concerns, and the current lack of definitive evidence of the need for legislative change, we cannot justify to Parliament the inclusion of such a delegated power in the Bill at this time. Nevertheless, we much appreciate the points that my noble friend and others have made. We realise that we need to investigate this issue thoroughly. As I mentioned earlier, we have been working with ADA as a priority to understand the extent of any problem, and we understand that it will provide more information when it receives it from IDBs. We also wish to explore with ADA whether the issue could be resolved through non-legislative options first before considering the need for legislative change.

We welcome further and more expansive information on the practicalities of this issue for IDBs. If it becomes clear that there is no non-legislative way of resolving the issue, we will deal with the matter at the earliest opportunity. I hope that reassures noble Lords. Given the taxation implications of valuing the land in another way or revaluing the land for IDB funding purposes, it is possible that we could use the annual finance Bill to make any legislative changes in future.

I therefore urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment. Following our continuing investigations with ADA, we would be happy to write to him and to my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, who tabled an amendment in Committee, and notify them of the outcome and any course of action to be taken.

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I thank the Minister for picking up the baton on this. From what she said, I can see this is not an easy one to take forward, but there seems to be a concern with some of the IDBs and I thank her for continuing to talk to ADA to see what the best course of action is. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 91 withdrawn.

Amendment 91A

Moved by Lord De Mauley

91A: After Clause 74, insert the following new Clause—

“Sustainable drainage systems: non-performance bonds

In Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (sustainable drainage), in paragraph 12 (non-performance bonds), in sub-paragraph (4)(c)—

(a) after “sums received” there is inserted “from a person”;

(b) for “the developer” there is substituted “that person”.”

Amendment 91A agreed.

Schedule 11: Orders under section 77: further provision

Amendments 91B to 91D

Moved by Lord De Mauley

91B: Schedule 11, page 225, line 6, at end insert—

“Changes in water supply licensing

1A (1) A section 77 order may make provision in connection with the introduction of new water supply licences.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 817

(2) A section 77 order may in particular—

(a) make provision for old water supply licences to continue in effect, subject to provision made by a qualifying scheme;

(b) make provision about the granting of a new water supply licence on application made by the holder of an old water supply licence.

(3) A qualifying scheme is a scheme that—

(a) is made by the Water Services Regulation Authority, and

(b) contains such provision as is described in sub-paragraph (4).

(4) The provision mentioned in sub-paragraph (3)(b) is—

(a) provision for the revocation of all old water supply licences—

(i) on the first day on which it would be possible for a new water supply licence to come into effect, or

(ii) in accordance with arrangements in the scheme and before a day specified in or determined under the scheme,

(b) provision for compensation to be paid by the Water Services Regulation Authority in connection with the revocation under the scheme of an old water supply licence,

(c) provision, in a case where the scheme allows a holder’s old water supply licence and new water supply licence to have effect at the same time, for preventing the holder supplying water to premises in reliance on the old water supply licence where—

(i) the premises supplied are the premises of a person who was not a customer of the holder immediately before the grant of the new licence, and

(ii) the premises could be supplied with water in reliance on the new water supply licence,

(d) provision for compensation to be paid by the Water Services Regulation Authority in connection with the restriction imposed on an old water supply licence under paragraph (c),

(e) provision about the determination of—

(i) claims for compensation payable under the scheme, and

(ii) appeals from the determination of such claims, and

(f) provision satisfying such other requirements as may be specified in a section 77 order, including requirements about the persons who may claim compensation, the measure of compensation and matters by reference to which compensation may be reduced.

(5) Requirements imposed under sub-paragraph (4)(f) may allow the scheme to make provision by virtue of which the compensation payable in a particular case may be nil.

(6) A qualifying scheme may include provision about—

(a) the making of claims for compensation;

(b) the matters to be proved by a claimant.

(7) Sub-paragraphs (4) to (6) are not exhaustive of what may be included in a qualifying scheme.

(8) A section 77 order may make provision for a relevant person specified in the order, or appointed by the Secretary of State, to determine—

(a) claims for compensation payable under a qualifying scheme;

(b) appeals from the determinations of such claims.

(9) In sub-paragraph (8) “relevant person” means—

(a) the Water Services Regulation Authority, except in relation to appeals from the determination of claims for compensation,

(b) the Competition and Markets Authority, or

(c) any other public authority (within the meaning of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998).

31 Mar 2014 : Column 818

(10) A section 77 order may provide for functions of the Competition and Markets Authority (“the CMA”) relating to compensation payable under a qualifying scheme to be carried out on behalf of the CMA by a group constituted for the purpose by the chair of the CMA under Schedule 4 to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.

Modification of conditions of old water supply licences

1B (1) Where a section 77 order makes provision for old water supply licences to continue in effect, that provision may include provision for applying new sections 17I to 17R to old water supply licences, with such modifications as appear to the Secretary of State to be appropriate.

(2) Provision under sub-paragraph (1) may include provision for treating a reference to a new water supply licence as including a reference to an old water supply licence.

(3) Provision under sub-paragraph (1) may include provision for treating—

(a) a reference to a standard condition of a new water supply licence as including a reference to a standard condition of an old water supply licence, if the two conditions are in, or as nearly as may be are in, the same terms;

(b) a reference to a standard condition of a new water supply licence giving the holder a new retail authorisation as including a reference to a standard condition of an old water supply licence giving the holder a retail authorisation, if the two conditions are in, or as nearly as may be are in, the same terms;

(c) a reference to a standard condition of a new water supply licence giving the holder a new restricted retail authorisation as including a reference to a standard condition of an old water supply licence giving the holder a retail authorisation, if the two conditions are in, or as nearly as may be are in, the same terms;

(d) a reference to a standard condition of a new water supply licence giving the holder a new wholesale authorisation as including a reference to a standard condition of an old water supply licence giving the holder a supplementary authorisation, if the two conditions are in, or as nearly as may be are in, the same terms.

(e) a reference to a standard condition of a new water supply licence giving the holder a new supplementary authorisation as including a reference to a standard condition of an old water supply licence giving the holder a supplementary authorisation, if the two conditions are in, or as nearly as may be are in, the same terms.

Changes in water supply licensing: Wales

1C (1) A section 77 order may make provision in connection with the extension of new retail authorisations and new wholesale authorisations to the use of supply systems of water undertakers whose areas are wholly or mainly in Wales, where that extension takes place after the introduction of new water supply licences.

(2) A section 77 order may in particular include provision for or in relation to the payment by the Water Services Regulation Authority of compensation to any person holding a new water supply licence who—

(a) following the coming into force of any provision of this Act, is unable to carry on activities that had previously been authorised by a new restricted retail authorisation, or a new restricted retail authorisation and a new supplementary authorisation, given by the licence as a result of—

(i) a new retail authorisation or a new wholesale authorisation or both having been required in respect of them, and

(ii) the person’s licence not having been varied to add a new retail authorisation or a new wholesale authorisation or both, because the person did not apply to vary the licence, or did not apply to add

31 Mar 2014 : Column 819

the appropriate authorisation or authorisations, or because the person’s application to vary the licence was refused or granted only as to one authorisation, and

(b) has suffered loss or damage as a result of not having a licence that enables the person to carry on all those activities.

Introduction of sewerage licensing

1D (1) A section 77 order may make provision in connection with the introduction of sewerage licences.

(2) A section 77 order may in particular include provision for or in relation to the payment by the Water Services Regulation Authority of compensation to any person who—

(a) before 31 March 2014 was carrying on any activities in relation to the sewerage system of a sewerage undertaker,

(b) following the coming into force of any provision of this Act—

(i) is unable to continue to carry on those activities as a result of their having been prohibited,

(ii) is unable to continue to carry on those activities as a result of a sewerage licence having been required in respect of them, and the person’s not having applied for, or the person’s having been refused, a sewerage licence, or

(iii) is unable to continue to carry on those activities in the same manner as a result of the person’s having been granted a sewerage licence the effect of which is to restrict the carrying on of the activities, and

(c) has suffered loss or damage as a result of—

(i) those activities having been prohibited,

(ii) a sewerage licence not having been granted, or

(iii) those activities having been restricted.”

91C: Schedule 11, page 227, line 11, leave out “for a relevant period”

91D: Schedule 11, page 227, line 43, at end insert—

““sewerage licence” means a sewerage licence granted under section 17BA of the Water Industry Act 1991.”

Amendments 91B to 91D agreed.

Clause 80: Commencement

Amendments 91E to 94

Moved by Lord De Mauley

91E: Clause 80, page 125, line 6, after “56” insert “, so far as relating to the power to disclose information under section 56(1)(a)”

92: Clause 80, page 125, line 18, after “water” insert “or sewerage”

93: Clause 80, page 125, line 24, at end insert—

“( ) section (Report on water abstraction reform);”

93A: Clause 80, page 125, line 29, at end insert—

“( ) section (Sustainable drainage systems: non-performance bonds);”

94: Clause 80, page 125, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) The power of the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers to make an order under subsection (3) is to be exercisable by statutory instrument.”

Amendments 91E to 94 agreed.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 820

Schedule 12: Commencement orders: appropriate authority

Amendments 95 to 97

Moved by Lord De Mauley

95: Schedule 12, page 232, line 23, leave out “paragraph 3” and insert “this Schedule”

96: Schedule 12, page 232, line 25, leave out “(as amended by section 2 of this Act)”

97: Schedule 12, page 232, line 29, leave out “(as inserted by section 4 of this Act)”

Amendments 95 to 97 agreed.

Health: Deaf People

Question for Short Debate

7.20 pm

Asked by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they intend to take to improve the health of deaf people.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab): My Lords, I open by thanking the Minister and noble Lords who are going to take part in this important debate. It is about deaf people, by which I mean people who are born or become profoundly deaf before the age of five. They usually prefer to communicate in British Sign Language and see themselves as part of the deaf community. By this definition, there are an estimated 70,000 deaf people in the United Kingdom.

I am speaking to a deaf health study called Sick of It, launched last week, on 25 March, which is the largest and most extensive study of the health of deaf people in the world so far. Most of the study was funded by the Big Lottery Fund and carried out by the charity SignHealth in partnership with the University of Bristol. I am particularly indebted to Dr Andrew Alexander, SignHealth’s medical director, who provided me with the briefing for this debate.

Before now, there has never been any research on this scale into the health of deaf people in this country. Although there have been a few small studies looking at access to health—all found it poor—no Government have ever specifically addressed the health of deaf people as I have defined them here. The closest initiative was Mental Health and Deafness—Towards Equity and Access. Although this started as a consultation on mental health, it included a lot on the wider barriers faced by deaf people. The report was supported by funding which was received by each primary care trust to help it implement the recommendations of the report.

Deaf health rarely features on any agenda, with the notable exception of that of the House of Lords. Even within health and equality programmes, attention is normally focused on groups with a higher profile. It does not help that being deaf is a hidden disability and that there is so little awareness of the barriers that deaf people face. This is usually the case on the health front

31 Mar 2014 : Column 821

line as well. Most staff will think that speaking louder or writing things down will solve the problem. When surveyed, a very high percentage of doctors wrongly thought that they had communicated well with their deaf patients.

I turn to the report’s methodology and findings. There were three stages to the report: first, an online survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI; secondly, personal health assessments were made of 298 deaf people, including looking at their blood pressure and BMI and taking blood tests, et cetera; thirdly, there were in-depth interviews of deaf people. The findings were as follows. First, underdiagnosis and undertreatment of potentially serious conditions was more common for deaf people. Secondly, high blood pressure was almost twice as common in deaf people as in the rest of the population. Thirdly, deaf people have generally healthier lifestyles than the rest of the population in terms of smoking and alcohol but are more likely to be overweight. Fourthly, there is underdiagnosis: deaf people are twice as likely as hearing people to have high blood pressure that has not been diagnosed and may also be more likely to have undiagnosed diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Moving on to poorer treatment, the report also found that when deaf people have been diagnosed, they are more likely to be on inadequate treatment for those conditions. It has been estimated that if the deaf community had the same health profile as the general population, the NHS would save about £30 million per year.

I will now talk about access and communication. A large number of deaf people reported not seeing their GP because they were put off by the prospect of poor communication. A large proportion booked appointments by going to the practice in person—some 45%—whereas very few hearing people book appointments in this way. Only 15% of deaf people said that their GP was good at listening to them, compared to 51% of the general population. At most, 30% could use BSL in a consultation even though, in total, 94% would prefer to sign. More than half had to use an English-based form of communication—for example, lip reading or writing notes—but only 5% would prefer to communicate in that way. This disparity between how deaf people have to communicate and how they would like to communicate is an indictment of the health service, and an explanation for the poorer health outcomes of deaf people. Only 25% of deaf people have confidence in their doctor, compared to 67% of the general population.

There is also a wider issue about access to information. Because health information is not widely available in an accessible format, a lot of the deaf people studied were unsure about their health and unsure what their prescriptions were for or how to take their medicine. While many hearing patients would find out more information from friends, family or the internet, these options were less available to deaf patients. As a result, few of the deaf people interviewed through the in-depth process appeared actively engaged with their own personal health management.

What are the prescriptions for change? I should just say that change from the point of view of the deaf community is about equal rather than special treatment.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 822

The first prescription is that systems within the health service need to be accessible. From booking an appointment to getting test results, there should be a communication agreement for each deaf patient, which is then coded and recorded in their patient record. Secondly, deaf patients should be able to book appointments online and be able to use texts to communicate with services. Thirdly, deaf patients should be able to communicate during consultations in their preferred language. Health services must expect and plan for deaf patients. Clinicians should remember that interpreters are not just for deaf people but help the doctor to understand and diagnose properly. Fourthly, providers must make sure that staff know how to book an interpreter and ensure that interpreters are suitably qualified. Fifthly, health information needs to be made accessible in other formats, including BSL and subtitles. Currently, only 10 out of a total of 900 NHS Choices videos are available in BSL. The proposed information standard on accessibility should be supported with a funded programme.

I move on to some questions, which I have given notice of to the Minister. First, are there any plans to ensure that NHS Choices increases the number of videos available in BSL? Secondly, what would the Minister recommend to a deaf person who wants to see a doctor but is told no interpreter is available or that it is too expensive? It was brought to my attention earlier today by Dr Clare Redstone, a GP, that it is very common to experience problems in booking interpreters. Thirdly, what steps will the Government take to encourage the NHS Executive and Public Health England to promote the health of deaf people? Fourthly, when can we expect the NHS computer system to be able to tell us how many deaf people there are and which services they are accessing? Fifthly, will implementation of the proposed information standard be supported with a funded programme which can help to educate and support health services?

My sixth question is one that I sent the Minister earlier regarding whether psychological therapies providing BSL should be the responsibility of specialised commissioners. I understand that the Minister has since decided that psychological therapies for deaf people should not be on the list of prescribed services. Therefore, in the updated situation, my question is: how can we ensure that psychological services nationwide are available for deaf people? I understand that there is a very patchy covering at the moment. Lastly, what does the Minister think would be the best way to raise deaf awareness among staff working in the health service?

I look forward to the Minister’s response. I understand that she is working on a cross-governmental strategy on hearing loss and that the report on this is ongoing. My debate today is about a very specific cohort within that deaf community, and I hope that she will be able to address the questions that I have raised.

7.30 pm

Lord Borwick (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for bringing this matter to debate following the SignHealth report.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 823

I must, first, declare an interest. For about the past 25 years, I have been a trustee of the Ewing Foundation for deaf children, a charity that has, for the past 60 years, helped to improve the teaching of children who use their residual hearing and lip reading to communicate by speech.

The change in the prospects and outcomes for deaf children due to the introduction of cochlear implants, digital hearing aids and newborn hearing screening is one of the most exciting stories in disability. Noble Lords may have seen the publicity in the papers on Friday, or even the YouTube film, of the joy of a deaf girl of 40 hearing for the first time when her cochlear implants were turned on. For the first time, she can hear music, the laughter of babies and the songs of birds. This revolution has come from cochlear implants, which will radically reduce the disabling effects of profound deafness in children and adults.

The Sick of It report is important and interesting, but I am afraid that it gives away its self-selected background. A statistic on the page about communication issues claims that 80% of deaf people want to communicate using British Sign Language. The noble Lord suggested that that figure was 93%, but I think it is the definition of “deaf” that accounts for the difference. That statistic is a conundrum to me, in that the vast majority of deaf people, using a more ordinary definition of the word, are elderly people who do not use British Sign Language. Indeed, the CRIDE report said that 79% of deaf children use only spoken English. It may be that the definition of deaf depends on who is hearing it.

A strong part of good communication is literacy. Unfortunately, communicating through sign language while learning to read and write in English is like talking in English and reading and writing in Chinese. I am filled with admiration for all the children who can do it. Noble Lords may have strong opinions about whether tweeting and texting can really be described as literature but they are fundamental to the lives of many teenagers nowadays. There is some great technology coming forward. The Apple digital assistant, Siri, and many other programs can transcribe your questions, and a doctor’s replies can be sent from an iPad to a simultaneous remote caption service. All these new technologies need literacy.

The theme of the report is that good communication is fundamental to good health, and that makes sense, but it is true not only of deaf patients; communication with all patients can be made better.

Another feature of the report is isolation, and deafness is very isolating. Research has shown that in old age the combination of cognitive decline and hearing loss can be fatal. Hearing loss seems to speed up dementia, so perhaps hearing loss in older patients should be treated more aggressively when it is first diagnosed, and deaf awareness training given to more health professionals.

Time after time, surveys suggest that there is a correlation between good health and good education, so the most powerful advantage to the health of deaf people is to make sure that they get a great education. Profoundly deaf children now, thanks to cochlear

31 Mar 2014 : Column 824

implants, can be educated primarily in mainstream schools, with hearing friends and ordinary prospects for the future.

But cochlear implants are expensive, although not so much in their implantation, which, like everything electronic, is improving technically and reducing in price. The real cost comes in training the baby or the child who needs to get the most out of their implant. However, this is so much cheaper than a lifetime of interpreters. I must compliment all parties for getting on with the cochlear implant programme and not stinting on this project. Ten thousand people have had cochlear implants so far. That is a marvellous achievement and it is changing society. There are now only a very small number of children below the age of five who use sign language, and BSL may be regarded in the future as being used by fewer and fewer deaf people. Who knows what will happen? Many other skills have been superseded by technology. We will have to do our best to support those who continue to use sign language but they will gradually become a tiny minority of deaf people.

Some 40% of deaf children have disabilities in addition to hearing loss. Deafness and autism or deaf and blind with a learning disability are combinations that are becoming more common, partly as a function of doctors saving extremely premature babies who in past years would have died. These babies can now survive at 22 weeks’ gestation, but with multiple problems. Some parents are better than others at caring for a child with challenging behaviour who may never live independently but, sadly, some children are effectively abandoned by their parents to the state—a sad future for a child following heroic efforts to save an extremely short pregnancy.

I have two questions for the Minister. The first concerns the reducing number, and increasing age profile, of qualified teachers of the deaf. The report stresses the importance of good health education for deaf people. Deaf children and young people need to be equipped with information and strategies to access health services independently as adults. To achieve that, we will need more teachers of the deaf. How can we get them?

The noble Baroness was asked a very similar question in a debate last October by my noble friend Lady Brinton, and she replied with information about the national scholarship fund. How many teachers have applied for, and how many have been granted, help from this fund to train as teachers of the deaf? It appears that this fund is not working well enough to solve the problem, so what else can be done to encourage more teachers to work in this specialist area?

Secondly, can we increase the amount of communication in our health service that is duplicated both verbally and by text? It is far cheaper to have a text system of booking appointments than an interpreter, and that expenditure will benefit not only deaf patients but all patients who can read and write in English.

7.38 pm

Lord Addington (LD): My Lords, having seen the title of the SignHealth report, I was surprised by nothing that I read in it. If you think about it, when

31 Mar 2014 : Column 825

you are dealing with a medical situation, being able to tell somebody what the matter is has to be a huge advantage. Man as an animal is supposed to be a compulsive communicator. One major thing that we do is to talk to each other and if something gets in the way of being able to communicate properly, we will have problems. The question is: how do we deal with that? We will never get it absolutely right.

I have to declare an interest. I am chairman of a company called Microlink, which supports disabled people through its innovations, usually involving computing. This has led me to take a closer look at this area. Indeed, one of our case studies concerned being an online interpreter. Most of us are online. It is a much better use of an interpreter’s time to be able to use British Sign Language online than it is for him or her to have to follow a person around.

In addition, if we are supposed to be enhancing the dignity of a person, we want to give them as much independence as possible. A translator is an expensive, difficult piece of kit you may not want in the room when you are talking to your doctor about, for example, sexual health or reproduction, particularly if they are there all the time. Having something online, as described here, seems a perfectly sensible way forward but to use it both parties must know that it is possible and how to access it. Making sure that that information is discerned throughout the system for the client base and the provider is essential to getting the best out of it. That must be looked at and people must know it is available. If it can be done comparatively easily, which seems to be the case, everyone must know. That would enhance the dignity of the patient and make the job of the doctor easier. We can go into the night speaking about that.

As the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, has mentioned, lots of technologies are language-based. If you are literate, you would have another means of communication. As someone who is dyslexic, I have a little story about one of these bits of technology. Through the aforementioned interest, I saw a wonderful piece of kit which addresses literacy and gives a person some personal space. The UbiDuo comes from the States, although I do not think that we would have given it that name. Basically, you use two keyboards and two screens that are roughly the size of small computers, and you get instant translation of your communication to someone else. They can read it and communicate back. I was shown this at a conference where everyone else was oohing and ahing about it. I discovered that I was the only person who could not use it because I am dyslexic, which shows that everything has its limitations. However, if you are informed and know what is going on, you can overcome that and get through to the other person. A line of communication can be established. There are many different types and uses of language. If we can establish the fact that they are available and known about, these problems will be cut.

Most of what we are talking about will cut across government departments. How would anything being talked about here not be covered in one’s health employment profile? I bumped into Mike Penning, the Disability Minister, who said that he is going to try to work across departments. It is nice to know that

31 Mar 2014 : Column 826

disability has been slightly pushed up and now has a Minister of State. There will be the same problems in health, employment and education. Everything relates and cross-references. How we deal with that is very important.

When someone leaves a medical establishment, hospital or doctor’s surgery, how will they interpret the lifestyle support that they will receive? I know Mike Penning reasonably well and he is a tenacious individual but I do not know how much he and Ministers in other departments can make sure that this support is followed through. If deaf people are overweight and want healthier lifestyles, it is true that they have more trouble accessing, for example, exercise and outdoor activity. What are we doing to make sure that they can or that they do not have to jump over hurdles? We should be able to take our solution from one place to another.

We have just heard a very positive description of what might happen with cochlear implants. That will never deal with all the problems but it might deal with quite a lot of them. However, as the noble Lord said, most people’s hearing problems are probably late onset. As with most disabilities, they build up. The deaf community has vociferous factions within it which will tell you that true deafness is something else, that it is what they have and not what someone else has, and that their approach and nothing else is the proper one. They are like all other communities I have ever met in that regard. However, unless you can get an approach which covers a variety of ways of dealing with the communication problem, addresses all those areas and accepts that they are all equally valid, you will always create more holes, cracks and barriers than you should otherwise have.

Finally, I have a story about the aforementioned UbiDuo. When Esther McVey was the Minister for Disabled People, she was at a conference and decided to have a chat with the deaf man who was doing a demonstration. After a long conversation with aides possibly tugging at her elbow to get her out of the room, we went along and said, “This is wonderful. Isn’t it a great piece of kit?”. A woman from the next stall said, “I wonder if she would have been quite so keen if it wasn’t such a tall, good-looking man on the other side”. If my honourable friend had not noticed that, the woman on the next stall certainly had. Allowing someone to interact on a basic human level is what we are after. This is merely an application that can be used in the healthcare that we are looking at. Unless we approach it like that, we will miss far more opportunities to enhance people’s lives overall than we should.

7.46 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on securing this debate on much needed improvements for the health needs of deaf people. Although deaf people have the advantage, unlike the blind, of being able to see, the fact that deafness is not a visible disability, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has said, means that other people are not necessarily aware that you are deaf. Therefore, less immediate attention is given in trying to help with any problems that the person will be facing. Perhaps that lack of awareness of deafness

31 Mar 2014 : Column 827

also helps to explain why so few Members of your Lordships’ House are taking part in this important dinner-break debate.

As someone who has had hearing problems since my children were born, and as I have now reached the limit of what hearing aids can do to help me understand what people are saying, I have some, although obviously not a complete, understanding of the problems and frustrations that deaf patients face. Most definitely I have sympathy with the concerns so graphically illustrated in the pamphlet How the Health Service is Failing Deaf People. It clearly makes sense for doctors’ surgeries or hospitals to have the kind of BSL support or other technical arrangements to hand that the authors of this pamphlet are advocating should be routine but clearly are not. Although I suspect that not everyone who is deaf will mind having someone close to them speak to the doctor, the individual’s wishes should be paramount.

Surely, it must be of concern to us all that so many deaf people have a considerably poorer health record than the average citizen. I was glad to see from a Healthwatch briefing sent to me over the weekend that a few areas of the country are beginning to realise the extent of the problems that deaf or hard-of-hearing patients face. In 2013, Kirklees Healthwatch followed up numerous concerns identified in its survey of the area. I hope that at least some of these—for example, deaf awareness training being developed and rolled out for provider staff, including handling phone calls, personal visitors and booking of BSL interpreters—are beginning to happen. Healthwatch also reports the beginnings of awareness and action in areas such as York, Wakefield, Staffordshire and Stockport. As well as the important reasons in the pamphlets for the relevant help proposed, there are other reasons why a greater priority needs to be given to those who are deaf or in the process of going deaf. Ageing, by itself, inevitably brings hearing loss. As people are living considerably longer these days, they will have hearing problems for a longer period of their lives. As well as that, the way that today's young expose their ears to incredibly loud media sounds will inevitably mean that when age kicks in, their hearing loss is bound to be considerably worse, last longer and probably start at an earlier age.

Interestingly, in your Lordships’ House, despite all the modern hearing loops that are fitted in the Committee Rooms, which others may also have found quite difficult to communicate with, I find that the very best hearing loops available are those that we can switch into in the Chamber in itself—where we are at the moment. This has a great deal to do with the considerable improvements that have recently been completed here, but I suspect that it is also helped by the way that the microphones all hang down from the ceiling and speakers are located in the seats of every Bench for people to listen through.

As in so many other ways, because so many noble Lords themselves are going through the stages of ageing, including hearing loss, apart from each one of us checking that appropriate equipment and help are available in our own doctors’ surgeries—which I certainly hope every one of us here today will do—debates such as this that seek government backing can also help to raise awareness of the necessary action to be taken.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 828

With that in mind, I look forward to what the Minister can tell us about what the Government will do to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about his six questions and the others that we have added. These considerable changes must take place in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals to meet the wide range of needs described so graphically in the pamphlet, How the Health Service Is Failing Deaf People. To continue with such failure would surely be a disgrace.

7.52 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for his initiative and his excellent speech. I declare my interest as chair of an NHS foundation trust, a consultant and trainer with Cumberlege Connections and president of GS1.

Parliamentary debates about the quality of public services to deaf people are all too infrequent. Therefore, like the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I welcome the opportunity to put that right tonight. As noble Lords have said, it is particularly opportune because of the publication on 25 March of this excellent report by the deaf health charity SignHealth. I was very privileged to speak at the conference held on 25 March to launch the report.

As my noble friend said, the report makes very sobering reading. He went through some of the details, but the headline results of issues in relation to deaf people in the health service—underdiagnosis, poorer treatment, poorer communication and lack of accessible health information—are a salutary wake-up call to us all. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, this has been reinforced by some interesting work by local Healthwatches, which we were sent over the weekend. The noble Baroness referred to Kirklees Healthwatch, but I also notice work in York, Wakefield, Staffordshire, Enfield, Islington and Stockport. All of those local Healthwatches are doing good work in their areas. I hope that the Government will listen to what Healthwatch is saying and act on some of its recommendations and proposals.

My noble friend referred to a number of recommendations made by SignHealth to try to turn the situation around, such as communications agreements for each deaf person coming into contact with the health service. It is surely a sensible recommendation that they should be able to book appointments online using SMS text to communicate with services. Also, health information needs to be more accessible in other formats, including British Sign Language and subtitles. Importantly, there is the recommendation on psychological therapies, which ought to be available to deaf people in British Sign Language nationwide. It has been reported to us that Ministers have turned that recommendation down. I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on that. If Ministers have turned it down, does she think that that is consistent with the Equality Act duty?

I want to ask the Minister about this more generally. She knows that individual National Health Service bodies and the department’s arm’s-length bodies have public sector equality duties under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. This duty requires public authorities

31 Mar 2014 : Column 829

to have due regard to eliminate discrimination between those with and without a protected characteristic and to advance equality of opportunity between those with and without a protected characteristic. My understanding is that that means removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people in protected groups and considering steps to meet the needs of protected groups where they are different from those of other people. Public authorities are also under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people to make sure that a disabled person can use a service as close as reasonably possible to the standard usually offered to non-disabled people. From the SignHealth work, it is pretty apparent that for many deaf people that duty is not being effectively applied. Again, what action are the Government taking to monitor the implementation of the Act’s duty and what action will they take if it is clear that public authorities are failing in that duty?

We have had some debate about the necessity of interpreting services. I have been contacted by a general practitioner who is particularly concerned about this issue. She tells me that there is currently confusion in the NHS about the funding for interpreters since the reorganisation and replacement of primary care trusts by clinical commissioning groups. My understanding is that in many parts of the country primary care trusts funded interpreting services but, since they were abolished, there seem to be two problems. One is that clinical commissioning groups have not always been prepared to continue to fund those services. Secondly, there has been the issue of how GPs might obtain funding from NHS England, which is the body that they are now in contract with, for interpreting services within their own surgeries. I understand that, while at first some GPs were successful, there are indications that funding is now being withdrawn. That means that GPs will have to pay for interpreting services out of their practice expenses. Again, I would be interested in what the Minister has to say about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Borwick, made an interesting speech and I certainly take his point about literacy and the achievement of the cochlear implant programme. However, I was delighted with the official recognition of British Sign Language some years ago. I recall the bad old days when some deaf children were forbidden to use sign language at school. We have all moved on from that and, for those deaf people who use sign language, it is important that interpreters are available in the NHS. I also share his concern—he raised the point that we debated in October—about whether enough people are coming forward to train as teachers of deaf children. That is a very important point.

I very much take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about online interpretation. He was really saying that that solution was capable of a much wider interpretation than simply talking about deaf people themselves. We must surely be on the edge of a revolution in communications and the use of IT in the health service. This could clearly bring great advantages for many people who find communications difficult at the moment, but I do not think it takes away the responsibility of people in the health service

31 Mar 2014 : Column 830

to improve the way they do things now. It is very clear that some deaf people are finding services very inaccessible indeed.

Lord Addington: I totally agree with the noble Lord: it is another way of skinning the cat—that is all.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The NHS has a long way to go to use the technology that the noble Lord has put forward. I welcome the suggestions that he made.

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby asked the Minister a number of questions. I would like to put forward a number of proposals for the Government to consider. For many years, the outcome of health services for deaf people has been overlooked. We are talking about a relatively small group of people—people who inevitably find communication difficult. Will the Government consider the appointment of a national champion—perhaps a national clinical director—to champion health services for deaf people? The clinical directors that the department and NHS England have taken on have been outstanding in giving leadership in relation to a number of clinical areas. I wonder whether, for deaf people in particular, having a champion at national level could help disseminate information and really bang heads together to ensure that much more focus is given to the needs of these people.

Secondly, will the Minister encourage Healthwatch to continue to build on its work to give specific focus on services for deaf people?

Thirdly, will the Minister encourage health and well-being boards at local level to pick up our concerns about across-the-board services? The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a very strong point about the role of the Minister for the Disabled at national level. At local level, the health and well-being boards could clearly carry out that same function.

Fourthly, will the Minister encourage the development of clinical networks in each local health area so that there is co-ordination of services across primary, secondary and tertiary care as regards the needs of deaf people?

Finally, will the Minister institute regular meetings between deaf organisations and the NHS within each local health area so that there can be proper discussion and debate about the needs of deaf people?

This is a very important debate and I am sure that we all look forward to a positive response from the Minister.

8.03 pm

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for securing this short debate on the health of deaf people, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the serious concerns that he raises. This has been a really good, well informed debate and many excellent questions have been asked. I would point out that my scripted speech is six-minutes long, so I hope to answer as many of the other questions as possible within the rest of the time available to me. However, in tested and time-honoured tradition, I will send a letter to all noble Lords to address anything that I have not covered.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 831

I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of SignHealth and the efforts that it has made to achieve equal access to healthcare and better health outcomes for deaf people. The findings outlined in its recent report, Sick of It, are truly shocking. The fact that deaf people are more likely to have undiagnosed conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes and that they are more likely to receive inadequate treatment when they are diagnosed, is completely unacceptable. This Government are committed to delivering health outcomes that are among the best in the world for people with hearing loss.

Before getting to the main issue of the health of the deaf population, I would like to spend a few seconds outlining service improvements to those with hearing loss or who are deaf. These include the rollout of a national screening programme for newborn children; significantly reduced waiting times for assessment and treatment, with almost all patients now treated within 18 weeks, with the average being four and a half weeks; and greater choice of hearing aid services—for example, through independent high street providers. In particular, by taking forward measures which enable the early identification of deafness, we are able to provide a clear care pathway for services and enable parents to make informed choices on communication needs.

However, as SignHealth’s report shows, it is in the most basic way that we are failing deaf patients. Small adjustments could make a real difference by enabling those with hearing loss to communicate with their health providers. Have services thought about how deaf patients can book a GP appointment if they cannot just pick up a telephone? Once they have made an appointment, will they know when their name is called or will they be left sitting in the waiting room? Once they get to see their GP or hospital clinician, will they be able to communicate with them? I am sure that SignHealth would readily identify with the questions I have posed.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about the use of technology in communication, and he brings his personal knowledge to bear. Online signing is something that might be sensible, and an intelligent use of services such as Skype might also be helpful. Critical to all of this—and I shall come to it later— is the co-commissioning of these sorts of services. That sort of approach would not only give patients their dignity but also help make the GP’s job more straightforward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, urged noble Lords to carry out checks in their own practices. I do not think that anyone would dare not to do so after that. Certainly with my own practice in Bodmin, in the heart of Cornwall, I can book online to see a doctor or a nurse. When I turn up for a visit I do not talk to a receptionist, I just press a touch-screen pad which asks me for my date of birth and my gender. It then says, “Ah! Are you Mrs Jolly?”, and tells me to sit down and wait. All those services would work perfectly well with deaf people and there is no reason why they should not be replicated throughout the land. What happens behind the consulting room door may not be as good as all of that—I just do not know.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 832

There are currently over 10 million adults in England living with hearing loss; the World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030 the figure will rise to 14.5 million. It is therefore vital that health and social care services are geared up to be able to communicate with deaf people and those with hearing loss in order to promote good health and address their health needs. All options should be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, told the House about the public sector equality duty. This requires all public bodies, including those who provide health and social care, to, “advance equality of opportunity” and to,

“have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination”.

SignHealth’s Sick of It report is right to remind deaf people that they have a right to complain when a service provider has not taken their particular needs into account. However, it is up to the service providers to anticipate the requirements of disabled people and the reasonable adjustments that may have to be made for them in advance, before any disabled person attempts to access their service. The reasonable-adjustment duty is an anticipatory duty, so it is just not acceptable for health services not to be equipped to provide communication support for those who need it. This may involve the use of British Sign Language, but it may also involve the use of basic technology such as display screens in GP waiting rooms. It may also involve something as simple as text messaging—nearly all noble Lords referred to that—as all of us become increasingly reliant upon this and other electronic forms of communication.

My noble friend Lord Borwick talked about skills possibly being superseded by technology and referred to cochlear implants, texts and the internet. I defy any noble Lord not to be touched by the moving story of Joanne Milne as she heard for the first time this week but a lot of this will take a long time to roll out. It will take a while before the youngsters reach the age of older people who are deaf or have hearing loss. This will not be an instant fix.

I am happy to be able to report that progress is being made on the NHS information standard. As part of the commitment to improve the experience of patients using NHS services and empower people to be equal partners in their own care, NHS England is developing an information standard for the provision of accessible, personalised information. The standard will ensure that disabled patients, service users and carers receive information from NHS bodies and providers of NHS care in formats that they can understand. It also requires that they receive appropriate support to enable them to communicate with service providers. Successful implementation of this information standard will improve the health outcomes and experience of disabled people. It will also reduce the number of appointments and screening opportunities missed by patients who have received invitations or information in formats that are inappropriate for them. It is intended that the standard will be finalised in late 2014, with organisations required to comply in 2015. Alongside the statutory information standard, NHS England will publish guidance on making reasonable adjustments to meet the communication needs of service users with disabilities.

31 Mar 2014 : Column 833

We know that there is a need to improve both the commissioning and integration of health and social care services for people with hearing loss, as well as the provision of new and innovative models of care. This is why we are also developing a new action plan on hearing loss. The action plan will identify the key actions that will make a real difference to health and social care outcomes for children, young people and adults with hearing loss. NHS England is currently engaging with a range of stakeholders, including the Department of Health, Public Health England, other government departments and agencies and key stakeholders, and aims to publish the action plan as soon as possible.

I hope that I have been able to reassure the House that the Government have a strong commitment to promoting the needs of deaf people across a range of public services but, in particular, ensuring that deaf people have equal access to health and social care and improved outcomes equal to people who do not have hearing loss. Equality is the watchword.