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Mr. Bone: The Housing Corporation's total running costs for the current year will be £40.3 million. Did the Government consider removing the requirement for the Housing Corporation to rubber-stamp disposals? That would reduce regulation and costs.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I think that I shall disappoint the hon. Gentleman when I say no. I know that several of his colleagues asked why the Bill was not broader and why other items were not included. The measure deals with a specific problem, which was believed to be urgent and pressing, and it was therefore appropriate to tackle it as expeditiously as possible.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) asked on behalf of the Liberal Democrats whether other non-departmental public bodies were caught in the same dilemma as the Housing Corporation. We have studied the situation, and we are not aware of any other bodies for which such retrospective legislation is required. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning said earlier, other bodies of a similar nature to the Housing Corporation already have, or subsequently had, a power of delegation. We perceive the Housing Corporation's situation to be a specific anomaly.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the impact of rejecting the Bill, which is a consideration that has tasked those who have had a chance to consider it in depth. To reject the Bill would be to cast doubt on the validity of several classes of statutory decision already taken by the Housing Corporation, most notably the consent to dispose of land under section 9 of the Housing Act 1996. Lenders have expressed considerable concern about the lack of certainty over such decisions, and they could decide to take remedial action if the situation persisted, including re-pricing loans, preventing the drawing down of existing funds, or not taking forward new business. Clearly, that would have serious consequences, such as damaging the financial viability of registered social landlords or preventing new developments from going ahead. The Bill is designed to ensure a continued flow of private finance to the RSL sector, and to ensure that RSLs are financially viable and that tenants are protected.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) asked about general consents given under section 9 of the Housing Act 1996. Our view is that section 9 deals only with general consents for the disposal of land. There are also uncertainties about other matters, however, including the registration of RSLs and the consent to rule changes of RSLs. We need to resolve all
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those issues, not just those relating to section 9, which is why we did not think that it was an appropriate vehicle for dealing with this matter. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath specifically mentioned that point.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough also asked about the original legislation, suggesting that the board make these decisions itself, as well as about the pay of the Housing Corporation's directors. The directors' pay is in line with that of other bodies of this nature, including English Partnerships. When the Housing Corporation was established, its role and functions were very different. Today, it makes such a large number of statutory decisions that it has become administratively inefficient, and it would be a bad use of the board's time for it to take every statutory decision required of it in modern times. When the Housing Corporation was set up, powers of delegation were more readily implied. There was no intention in the Housing Act 1964 that the board should spend all its time on what could be low-levelalbeit statutorydecisions, and the Housing Corporation now makes thousands of decisions every year.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about ensuring that we had adequate time to debate this issue. We do have more time now, should he wish to catch the Speaker's eye, although I do not think that that is necessarily the case. We have clearly had adequate time to deal with this matter today, and I am confident that the usual channels will ensure, as they always do, that we have a decent number of sittings in which to scrutinise the Bill in Committee.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) raised serious questions about his own patch. They related to transfers, of which there have been three from Cherwell district council since 1995. I have to say to him that there has been a 36 per cent. increase in regional housing funding between 2004 and the allocations up to 2008. He raised serious concerns about the success of the negotiations between the local authority and the developers, and about the lack of adequate provision in respect of new developments. If I may be so bold, I should like to suggest that, were the officers of his local authority to seek assistance from the officials at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, we would be very happy to have a dialogue with them to ensure that they are well prepared to get the best possible deal on future developments. If the hon. Gentleman wished to write to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning about this, I am sure that she would be only too happy to deal with the points that he has raised in more depth, although they were perhaps slightly outside the scope of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) asked about delegation to members, sub-committees and employees, and whether that was too broad a power. We are advised that that is a typical power of delegation for a body of this nature, and for other organisations and public bodies such as the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection and the Audit Commission itself. Such powers are necessary
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for the Housing Corporation to operate efficiently and effectively, and are similar to those for similar organisations.
Mr. Hands: But does the Minister accept that the scheme of delegation in the Bill is absolutely all-embracing compared with that for a local authority, which has a clearly defined scheme of delegation as to what may be delegated to officers from executive members and what may then be delegated to committees and so on, with clear financial thresholds? Surely such an all-embracing power of delegation cannot be right.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point that the powers are clear and extensive, but the local authorities with which he makes a comparison are a different case. We are talking about different powers and a different structure, and about that which is in place in similar bodies. We are therefore clear that the provisions are not only necessary but wholly appropriate.
The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield also asked whether the matter could be handled in any other way, without retrospective power. We have tried to demonstrate comprehensively that there is not another way. We have investigated alternative solutions, but the legal advice is that retrospective legislation is the only way to achieve absolute certainty. It is also the only way to give lenders to housing associations the security that they require to safeguard the housing association sector.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) raised many points, to some of which, obviously, I am not likely to respond. As part of his contribution, he asked about the accountability of registered social landlords in tenant participation. As he knows, RSLs are accountable to the Housing Corporationhe made that pointand must comply with the regulatory code setting out the range of expectations in relation to governance, management and financial viability, including expectations relating to tenant participation. The regulatory requirement is for all RSLs to have an appropriate tenant involvement policy. We agree that we need to make sure that we do enough, and more if necessary, to ensure that all tenants are able to participate in the affairs of their RSL. The Elton review makes several recommendations, which we will consider carefully in due course.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), like many of his colleagues, expressed support for social housing and for more of it. We would be interested in answers to the question of how the Opposition intend to fund that. In his usual gracious manner, however, he concluded that he accepted the need for and logic of the Bill, and recommended that his colleagues should support it.
We have spent some timeperhaps not as long as might have been anticipatedcovering all the aspects of a very short Bill. We have also spent considerable time and effort over the past few months attempting to understand fully the concerns of all stakeholders, and to come up with an appropriate and effective solution. We have worked closely with not only the Housing Corporation but lender representatives, the Financial Services Authority and the trade bodies of RSLs in England, Scotland and Wales. Our officials have liaised closely with their counterparts in Wales and Scotland.
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I am extremely grateful for the positive contribution that those representatives have made quickly to resolve the issue, which, although technical in nature, has far-reaching ramifications, as everyone has agreed. The end result of that close working and co-operation is the Bill in front of us.
To conclude, this Bill is the only practicable way to address the problem that we discovered at the end of last year and to restore what was, until then, perceived to be the status quo. I therefore wholeheartedly commend the Bill to the House.
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