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Dr. Turner: I appreciate everything that the Minister said. I am reasonably content with the question of future stock transfers. It is important that this should be right, given the pressure for local authorities to transfer ownership of their stock. The potential number of housing units involved could be extremely large and could therefore cost a large part of the potential energy saving. Nonetheless, I am happy with the proposed arrangements for future stock transfers and that reasonable energy conservation provisions will be built into the stock transfer agreements.
My amendment No. 12 concerns stock transfers that have already taken place. In the past, the regime governing stock transfers has been less explicit and well practised, and many stock transfers have taken place without this provision being incorporated in the stock transfer agreement. It tries retrospectively to do something about stock that has been transferred in the
Column Number: 61past. The amendment has the agreement and support of the National Housing Federation. The Local Government Association is also keen on it and would like to see it included in the Bill.
Although it may seem surprising that both bodies would wish to take on extra duties in this respect, it seems that they do because they clearly recognise the importance of dealing with previously transferred stock. My outstanding concern, as expressed in amendment No. 12—which I am not prepared to press to a vote today—is that energy conservation arrangements for previously transferred stock should be addressed. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurance on that point.
Mr. Meacher: I am happy to give assurance. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are not talking only about future transfers. As I said, we can make the inclusion of energy conservation standards in the contract a condition for future transfers. It is not appropriate for the local authority to set targets for the registered social landlord after property has been transferred to him, because once housing stock has been transferred from the local authority to a registered social landlord it becomes his responsibility under the terms of the transfer agreement.
That does not mean that where a transfer has already taken place we have lost control of improvements in energy efficiency standards. The registered social landlord will be subject to the Housing Corporation's energy efficiency standards. The Housing Corporation, in collaboration with the Government, will be concerned to improve those standards. There will be a separate discipline on registered social landlords if there has been past transfer; they are not outside the purview of a framework of consistently rising standards. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend is satisfied that a system is in place to drive up standards for past as well as future transfers.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I am grateful for the Minister's clarification. I apologise for arriving late; I was trying to get a breakdown of the stock that has already been transferred to registered social landlords. Would the Minister take a belt-and-braces second look at the consistency of treatment between previously transferred stock—some 600,000 properties—and the next wave of transfers? We must ensure that we do not create inconsistency in the treatment of registered social landlords and of other landlords or property owners.
If targets are set in the Bill, I have no doubt that they will be reflected in the new arrangements. Registered social landlords have told us that they are unclear about whether the Housing Corporation will require them to work to the same rules and standards under the new arrangement. I hope that the Minister will reassure us about clarity and consistency in the application of the measure. It would be such a shame if, inadvertently, we were to create the impression of confusion and disagreement, which do not exist.
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Mr. Sayeed: I accept the Minister's point that it is not sensible to expect any organisation—including a local authority—that has transferred the ownership, rights and duties of a property to another party to assume the right to manage the property as though it were its own. However, in addition to achieving clarity, it is important that we create no disparity between different types of registered social landlord or between the properties that they own; I echo the point that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South made.
I do not like retrospective legislation. Generally, it is bad, because it breaks the concept of contract. However, we must not allow one set of tenants of a registered social landlord to be treated less fairly or effectively than another set. Therefore, I wish to be reassured by the Minister that, however it is imposed, there will be a set of rules that will have a common effect for all tenants of registered social landlords.
Mr. Meacher: I am happy to respond positively to that comment, because I agree with its objective. I accept that inconsistency in the treatment of future and past transfers and of registered social landlords and other landlords would be wrong.
The Housing Corporation not only will require but has required higher energy efficiency standards. I said on an earlier amendment that the Housing Corporation introduced new performance standards for RSLs in 2000–01 on energy efficiency and the renovation of housing stock. I said that that related specifically to the average standard assessment procedure rating of dwellings for all RSLs with more than 250 homes. The corporation will replace the current SAP performance indicator with a performance measure against the decent homes target.
That shows a steady ratcheting up of standards. However, without giving a commitment, I am happy to reconsider the provision to assure myself before Report that there is a level playing field for local authorities, RSLs and other landlords and that a mechanism is in place that can deliver that.
Amendment agreed to.
The Chairman: For the benefit of hon. Members who arrived late, I should point out that due to a ministerial appointment with the Cabinet, we are rescheduling the sitting. We shall break from approximately 5.15 until 6.45 pm. I neglected to mention earlier that the intention is to continue until 7.30 pm.
Mr. Meacher: I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 2, line 15, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 13, in page 2, line 16, leave out 'Secretary of State may' and insert—
No. 14, in page 2, line 17, leave out 'stipulate guidelines for' and insert—
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No. 15, in page 2, line 19, leave out 'for'.
No. 16, in page 2, line 19, at end insert—
(4A) Copies of any report referred to in section 2, 3 or 5 of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (reports by authorities on energy conservation measures to be taken by the authority and others, and progress reports) made by an energy conservation authority shall be made available to members of the public at the offices of the authority during working hours.
(4B) In this section—
''the appropriate authority'' means, in relation to England, the Secretary of State and, in relation to Wales, means the National Assembly for Wales;
''energy conservation authority'' has the same meaning as in the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995;
''registered social landlord'' means a body for the time being registered as a social landlord under Chapter I of Part I of the Housing Act 1996; and
''utility company'' means any body supplying gas or electricity to domestic consumers.'.
No. 33, in page 2, line 22, at end insert—
( ) In this section—
''energy conservation authority'' has the same meaning as in the principal Act,
''energy conservation report'' means a report prepared under section 2 or 5 of the principal Act,
''the principal Act'' means the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (c. 10).'.
Mr. Meacher: Amendment No. 31 relates to the Secretary of State's powers to give guidance to energy conservation authorities on their energy conservation reports. The amendment proposes revising the wording for two reasons. First, section 4(1) of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 already contains provision for the Secretary of State to give authorities guidance on the preparation of their progress reports. Secondly, the amendment will include under section 4(1) of the 1995 Act a power to give guidance on the implementation of measures set out in the reports.
Following a long and anguished debate this morning, I am well aware of Committee members' concerns about implementation and ensuring that the targets are met. The amendment will enable the Secretary of State to give guidance on the implementation of measures in connection with the fuel poverty strategy. We have appointed Mr. Peter Lehmann to be the first chair of the fuel poverty advisory group, which will advise the Government on delivery of the fuel poverty strategy for England. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
Dr. Turner: I do not have much difficulty with the amendment, which has virtually the same purpose as the original subsection. Mine are purely minor drafting amendments, as is the Minister's amendment in effect. It calls for what we should like to see in the Bill but in the words of parliamentary counsel. As long as the amendment results in
Column Number: 64consistent reports, which are prepared on a like-for-like basis, so that we can all see where we are going, I am content.
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