Asylum Seekers: Missing from Registered Address

Debate between Lord Gascoigne and Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
Thursday 2nd May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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Much as I am loath to do this, I have to disagree with my noble friend’s broad point. In the scheme that he referred to, an initial cohort of suitable cases, around 2,000 people, were identified for removal and placed on immigration bail with strict reporting conditions. For those outside the group, there is still a wide range of tools, some of which I discussed earlier, to maintain contact with them. This includes face-to-face and digital reporting, and it is worth making the point that many individuals are residing in Home Office accommodation. But it is also worth making the point that compliance for this cohort has remained high, and therefore we are confident of the whereabouts once the decision to detain is made.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, Home Office sources have told the Times that only 400 to 700 detention spaces are reserved for migrants who are due for deportation to Rwanda. Can the Minister confirm that this equates to less than 1% of the current asylum backlog in the UK? The Prime Minister promised to detain everyone who has crossed the channel on a small boat, a record 30,000 last year. Given that we have only 2,200 detention spaces, what will happen to the remaining 28,000?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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The point to make is that we were well prepared for this moment when it comes to Rwanda. I appreciate the time limits, but we have already done a number of things. We have trained dedicated caseworkers and increased the number of detention spaces to 2,200. We are doing a whole variety of things around ensuring that the legal proceedings are done speedily. We have looked at the flights; the Prime Minister has already said that this will be done over the next 10 to 12 weeks, and we also have an airport on standby ready to deliver what we said we would.

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill

Debate between Lord Gascoigne and Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bailey, for his passion on this matter, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said. It is appropriate to bring a probing amendment on this, to seek out some clarification from the Government about their intentions. It is clear that service charge accountability sits right at the heart of much of the Bill, and we would not want to do anything against that. It does seem a little odd that part of the Bill’s intention is to remove that right of private prosecution, so I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

The other point raised by the noble Lord was that we are going to have a hiatus when the Bill is passed, because it is not going to come into force until 2025-26. Can the Minister comment on what leaseholders can resort to in that interim period, in order to get matters justified if they have a persistent rogue landlord? Otherwise, we will have a gap where the original provisions are repealed and these ones have not yet come into force.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, about council leaseholders. There are other protections in force for council leaseholders. The health and safety Act and its provisions should sit there to protect council leaseholders from any poor landlord practice from councils—I know they have not always done so, but they should.

I am interested to hear the Minister’s response to this very good probing amendment.

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Bailey of Paddington for Amendment 76A, which seeks to retain the existing enforcement provisions concerning a landlord’s failure to provide information to leaseholders. I am grateful to other noble Lords who took part in this very brief discussion.

I fully agree with my noble friend that it is important to have effective enforcement measures in place where a landlord fails to provide relevant information to leaseholders. The existing measures, including the statutory offence under existing Section 25 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, have historically proven to be ineffective. Local housing authorities, as the enforcement body, are reluctant to bring prosecutions against landlords, and the cost and complexity of doing so are a significant barrier to leaseholders bringing a private prosecution. That is why we are omitting Section 25 and replacing it with the more effective and proportionate proposals set out in Clause 56 of the Bill. Therefore, I am afraid that we cannot accept the amendment. Not only does it require—

Housing: New Homes Target

Debate between Lord Gascoigne and Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising this. There are a number of points there, and I will not be able to do justice to all of them, but I will write on all of those things. I think it is about a quarter of the affordable homes programme that has to be done through the modern methods of construction. In terms of insufficient workers—I shall write to make that point—the Department for Education is looking at the training routes, but it is also something that the Government are looking at through the significant apprenticeship programme that we have got, and part of that is allocated towards construction workers. In terms of doing more to support SMEs, it is something we will do but I promise I will write to the noble Lord to set out all these things.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government’s reckless decision to abolish housing targets will have devastating consequences across England, making a safe and secure home an ever more distant prospect for millions. Do the Government recognise that, with social housebuilding numbers plummeting, there is an ever-increasing burden on the taxpayer—now around £35 billion—as benefit payments go to private landlords? How will the Minister work with the Treasury to ensure that public money goes into bricks for social housing, not benefits to line landlords’ pockets?

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right to talk about the need to build more homes, and that is exactly what we are trying to do. I tried to address the point about social housing earlier. That is why there is the £11.5 billion in affordable homes. With respect, a key part of this is having a plan. We have a long-term plan, but it is not that alone but ensuring that there is funding behind it and that we unlock land, put infrastructure in and try to do all we can to support not just first-time buyers but those who may have lower incomes.

Higher-Risk Buildings (Keeping and Provision of Information etc.) (England) Regulations 2023

Debate between Lord Gascoigne and Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
Monday 18th December 2023

(6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests set out in the register as a serving councillor on a district council and a county council, a vice-president of the LGA and vice-president of the District Councils’ Network. I do not think I have had the opportunity to welcome the Minister to his new role, so I do that now. I thank the DLUHC team—we do not do that enough—for a clear and thorough Explanatory Memorandum, which was extremely helpful in reducing the number of questions that I will ask this afternoon.

We are now more than six years on from the tragedy of the fire and the loss of 72 lives at Grenfell Tower. I am pleased to see that progress is being made at last to address the multitude of issues that arose from it and previous dreadful fires, such that as Lakanal House in Camberwell in 2009. I pay tribute to the determination and commitment of the survivors of Grenfell and the other campaigners, such as the Cladiators, the National Leasehold Campaign, End Our Cladding Scandal and the UK Cladding Action Group. Their powerful voices and front-line witness have enabled the landmark legislation of which this statutory instrument forms the latest step. At last, we are moving to a point where the responsibilities of all concerned—the construction and development industry, freeholders, statutory agencies and the regulator—are becoming clearer. Importantly, we are moving to a point where those responsible for failure can be held accountable for their actions, although we must keep our eye on enforcement processes, as it seems they are not the strongest part of this new regime. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to the well-understood and respected powers of the HSE, so can the Minister say whether the building regulator will have equivalent strength in terms of enforcement powers?

My first concern is that, even with the strongly stated intent of the Government and the Secretary of State—and, I am sure, the Minister—remediation is still not progressing as quickly as it should. This is not just in relation to cladding; other serious and potentially high-risk defects have been identified but not addressed, as we in my local area know only too well from the experience of the beleaguered residents of Vista Tower in Stevenage. The financial and other impacts of this on residents have been truly devastating; many issues relating to insurance, mortgages and so on remain unresolved.

As we go through the process of considering building safety SIs that implement the various steps towards full implementation of the Building Safety Act, can the Minister reassure us that the department is also keeping an eye on the bigger picture, especially in relation to the remediation that was urgent six years ago and in too many cases has still not been done? Like the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, my party is greatly concerned about the situation in relation to buildings up to 11 metres.

I turn to the regulations. As the Minister said, they are about the golden thread of information, the principal accountable person and any other accountable person for what is classified as a high-risk building. It is vital that all leaseholders and residents are given a voice and empowered by this new regime through that critical information. We have spoken about the previous learning. I have a number of issues to raise in relation to the SI before us.

I start with a serious issue that will be concerning all the action groups and the residents they represent. In a number of places, the SI and the Explanatory Memorandum refer to the significant costs of the administration of this information-sharing regime. Quite understandably, based on the debacle and daylight robbery that some leaseholders have seen in relation to service charges, there are legitimate concerns that this will see considerably more unaccountable costs piled on to the charges that beset all leaseholders at the moment. With the only recourse often being via the complex route of a First-tier Tribunal, what reassurance can the Minister offer residents that there will be some oversight of the passporting of the costs of this regime?

Regulations 7 and 8 set out the role of the accountable person in sharing information with residents and owners of residential units. I appreciate that a great deal has already been done in determining the role of the accountable person but can the Minister outline whether a register of such persons is to be kept and maintained by the regulator, as well as whether that document will be publicly accessible?

This SI rightly focuses on the recommendations in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report that there should be a golden thread of information connecting information held on building safety, and that this should be transparent to residents, leaseholders and homeowners. My concern about Regulations 15 to 18 is that they have the potential to provide a get-out clause from this golden thread for unscrupulous building owners. The regulation around the security exemption is fairly straightforward and clear—I was particularly pleased to see that the exemption for MoD buildings will not apply where there is a small number of MoD families living in a building that is not owned or managed by the MoD—but I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about why an MoD building should be different from another type of building in this regard.

The exemption that particularly concerned me was the “commercial sensitivity” exemption in Regulation 17—[Interruption.] My apologies: I have been calling the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, by the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. That is my flu brain not working, I am afraid. I know that this exemption was one of a small number of challenges that came up in the consultation process. We have all seen the misuse of commercial sensitivity in other contexts, from viability in planning to classification of documents. One only has to think of all the issues relating to the procurement of the cladding at Grenfell to be concerned that commercial sensitivity should be applied only where it is absolutely necessary. What steps will the regulator take to ensure that this is the case? Will the regulator have powers to intervene if there is a dispute about whether a document can be classified as commercially sensitive? Can the Minister reassure us that it is intended that this exemption be used only in exceptional circumstances and be subject to challenge?

Schedule 1(15) sets out in detail the documents to be retained in relation to the golden thread information; that is helpful, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said. I have one query on this, which relates to the references to “mandatory occurrence reporting”. There is a table in paragraph 208 of the impact assessment that sets out some of the detail of what constitutes a mandatory occurrence. Can the Minister tell us whether that is an exhaustive list? Would the reporting of a mandatory occurrence also contain information about mitigation steps needed to prevent future occurrence?

Schedule 3, on resident engagement, helpfully explains residents’ right of access to documents. Can the Minister clarify whether prospective purchasers will be able to access these documents? We have heard a lot from people in the industry about the concerns that any prospective purchaser has around buying a property in a high-rise building. It seems really important that prospective purchasers, as well as those people already living in the building, can access these records. Lastly, can the Minister explain whether these important issues relating to document access and retention will be subject to periodic review to ensure that they are working as intended?

We are as concerned as the Government to see building safety moving forward with no further delay, so we will not oppose this SI. With more than 4 million people in the UK living in buildings over 11 metres tall, including 1.3 million in buildings over 18 metres—we need to see the 63 consultation responses in the light of those huge numbers, but we all know how tricky consultation can be—we need to ensure that all the outstanding recommendations of the Hackitt report are implemented as quickly as possible. We look forward to considering the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill in your Lordships’ House so that we can propose further ways to tackle some of the inequities of the outdated feudal leasehold system that also have an impact on building safety.

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions. As the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said—I cannot remember what phrase he used; he may have said “endured”—last week’s discussion, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, was certainly a thoughtful one. I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, earlier and congratulated him on it; it showed the virtue of the House and the contributions that many of your Lordships make to it.

In a similar vein, the comment was made that not many attendees were there. What is important is not the number of attendees but the quality of the debate. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, who have thrown many fine questions at me. I will certainly try to answer them as well as I can, but they have shown that this has been another constructive debate.

I will try to answer now some of the points made. Forgive me, but I may miss a few while I am trying to give answers; I will certainly make sure that we respond in writing to those. There are some points on which I will have to write with further information.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about the length of time and the delay. The right thing to say is that, given that these changes are so wide-ranging and systematic, we must ensure that we get this right. That will take time, I am afraid, but I can genuinely assure him that this is not slackening—again, a word that I think he used. It is a necessity to get it right.

The noble Lord also asked whether this could be a broader regime, as well as about height and things like that. The height of 18 metres was agreed following engagement with stakeholders and the definition of “high-risk” after Dame Judith’s report, which originally suggested 10 storeys; that would be around 30 metres. The 18-metre threshold is set in the Building Safety Act and was debated during its passage. The scope covers buildings that present the highest risk, protecting those residents who need it the most.

I was asked when the regulations will come into force. As noble Lords will know, they will go through Parliament and, once they are approved and the related commencement regulations are signed by the Minister, they will come into force alongside the Higher-Risk Buildings (Management of Safety Risks etc) (England) Regulations 2023 and Section 83 of the Building Safety Act 2022.

I was asked whether we will keep the new regime under review. The building safety regulator will do so, and this is in line with its statutory duty under the Building Safety Act. I was also asked about how the electronic database will be handed on and whether it will be kept up to date. The accountable person will need to hand an up-to-date database on to the next accountable person, and it must be transferred electronically, without the data being lost or corrupted. This means that it is, in effect, easily transferable to the next person, but it is the responsibility of the accountable person to ensure that they are keeping the information up to date and able to be transferred.

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Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I made the point that I understand about the personal and the security data, but my concern is that the commercial confidentiality data has the potential to be misused by unscrupulous landlords. What is and what is not subject to that needs to be tightly defined, and there needs to be a mediation process run by the regulator to decide—rather than the poor old leaseholder, who is already besieged, having to go to the First-tier Tribunal to get hold of the information they need.

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me for not addressing her question rightly. I will certainly make sure that that point has been registered; it may already have been, but I will make sure that it has. In that vein, I will write to confirm one way or the other. I will have to write to the noble Baroness on a number of points that she raised around remediation and the mandatory occurrence training—I think she mentioned that there is a table. I will have to write on that. As I say, there are a number of other issues—