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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Peter Atkinson
Beresford, Sir Paul (Mole Valley) (Con)
Borrow, Mr. David S. (South Ribble) (Lab)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
Goldsworthy, Julia (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
Jack, Mr. Michael (Fylde) (Con)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Slough) (Lab)
Marris, Rob (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)
Reid, John (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab)
Rogerson, Dan (North Cornwall) (LD)
Shapps, Grant (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con)
Stringer, Graham (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)
Watts, Mr. Dave (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Wicks, Malcolm (Croydon, North) (Lab)
Wright, Mr. Iain (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 11 November 2008

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Draft Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2008

Mr. Atkinson, may I begin by saying what an absolute pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship. It is particularly pleasing to me to have a fellow north-east MP to keep me in check.

The order is relatively straightforward. I hope that I will not disappoint the Committee if I do not detain it too long. The order makes a number of amendments to legislation which will be necessary once certain provisions of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 are commenced.
Before I go into the substance of the order, it might be useful to hon. Members if I set out the context and explain how the order fits into a wider package of orders. In addition to this order, two orders are before the House that are subject to the negative resolution procedure. The first is similar in nature to this one, save that it amends secondary legislation as opposed to primary. The second order transfers existing functions of the Housing Corporation to the Homes and Communities Agency and the new regulator, the Tenant Services Authority. All of these orders are linked in terms of timing to the commencement of section 5 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. There is no great secret to section 5 above all others, but the point is that these orders should take effect in line with the relevant commencement order for the Act. That is currently planned for 1 December.
Hon. Members may recall that there was a large amount of support for the main principles of the Act—essentially the creation of the HCA, bringing together investment and delivery and the creation of a new regulator for social housing, the Tenant Services Authority, in line with the recommendation of the Cave report “Every Tenant Matters”. Hon. Members may also be aware that the new bodies now actually exist, albeit in a limited form at present, for example, for the purposes of appointing board members. This order will come into force when the main powers and functions are turned on or transferred from the existing bodies—the Commission for the New Towns, the Urban Regeneration Agency and the Housing Corporation—to the new organisations.
The purpose of the majority of the amendments is to update references to predecessor bodies and other references in existing legislation to ensure that these reflect the position once the HCA has been created and the predecessor bodies abolished. There is nothing pertinent to the Tenant Services Authority in the order. Where taxation matters are concerned, the intent is to leave the current position substantially unaltered. The effect of the amendments, other than in the rewording of existing Acts, is therefore extremely limited. They do not contain substantive policy issues, but are technical in nature. They are designed to reflect the passing of certain functions and powers from the predecessor bodies to the new ones, but to do so in a way that leaves the rights of tenants and others unaffected, which is as far as possible tax neutral and allows for co-operation between the HCA and Welsh Ministers in respect of some of the functions of the CNT.
Unless the Committee wishes me to do so, I will not go into the detail of every amendment in the order, but I will be happy to answer any queries that hon. Members have on specific provisions in the schedule to the order. I hope that, on that basis and on the basis of that explanation, hon. Members will approve the order.
In some respects, the world is a very different place to the one in which the Homes and Communities Agency was discussed in Committee, but I still think that the agency is essential, and the order helps to realise and achieve it. I look forward to hearing the debate.
4.34 pm
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson, and welcome the Minister back to discussions about the HCA. He, as ever, has a good grasp of the Bill, and speaks about it with great knowledge. However, none of that masks the fact that this was a Bill which, as he will recall, was amended umpteen times through the Committee and Report stages—379 times at my last count—and today we come here to consider yet more amendments to the Government’s own legislation. I simply pose this one simple question. How can it be that the Government and the Minister failed to introduce a Bill that was better thought out in the first place and dealt with some of the issues up front? Instead, during the passage of the Bill, let alone today, the Government kept bringing back additional clauses for us to debate. Some of the amendments, as the Minister rightly says, are extremely technical in nature, but that is not an excuse for poor direction or poor preparation of the Bill in the first place.
The Minister also claimed that the Housing and Regeneration Bill and indeed, the Homes and Communities Agency enjoyed “large levels of support”. I am not certain whether we sat through the same Committee and Report stages of the Bill; my recollection is somewhat different. The HCA is a mammoth organisation—a mega-quango—which has been designed to crush all that lies before it. It has powers to compulsorily purchase, to plan, to provide its own planning permission and powers to build and to be the management for its tenants. It has awesome powers.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we are dealing with consequential provisions, not having a debate about the whole of the original Bill.
Grant Shapps: I will not dwell on my hon. Friend’s intervention, Mr. Atkinson. The Minister did rather entice me into that comment about the scope of the Homes and Communities Agency by saying that its creation enjoyed “large levels of support”. It did not. We will now have to see how it operates. Although we have no objection to the amendments being made, in order that the quango can operate, it would have been far preferable to have this sorted out in the original legislation as far as possible.
4.37 pm
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. I cannot claim to be a close neighbour, unlike the Minister, being from the south-west rather than the north-east, but it is still a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
The Minister talked about the change in circumstances, and that is a crucial point that the fledgling agency will have to get to grips with as it moves forward in dealing with the huge tasks in front of it. It strikes me that it has two tasks. One is taking forward regeneration of areas that may be taking a further hit now as industries are suffering or will suffer. Businesses in my constituency have contacted me about the crisis that they may face and the need for Government agencies to be mindful of that. The second, of course, is the pressing need for action on housing. We debated in Westminster Hall last week the Select Committee’s report on the rented sector and the Government’s response to that.
My party supports the bringing together of agencies and the replacement of several quangos with one or two. It is fair to say that my hon. Friends who served on the Committee that considered the Housing and Regeneration Bill supported the concept in so far as it replaced two or more quangos with one. However, in common with the Conservative spokesman, we would have preferred to see greater devolution of power and responsibility to locally elected people so that they could take strategic decisions on all sorts of important issues that affect their area.
I shall be grateful if the Minister can reassure me on a couple of points. Will he assure me that the agency is not to be given any extra responsibilities on top of the enormous task that it has already been given in the Bill? That is crucial. It could take on a lot more responsibilities in other areas of policy connected with what it has been given, but it is crucial that it focuses on the main task in hand. Are there any questions of oversight and prioritisation of the work of the agency? Are there opportunities for local agencies, bearing in mind that different parts of the United Kingdom are affected by the amendments? Will there be as much opportunity as possible for locally elected representatives to have input into the work of the agency as it moves forward?
4.40 pm
Mr. Wright: May I, through you Mr. Atkinson, thank hon. Members for their comments. I wish to make three essential points in response to hon. Members. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield said that a large number of amendments had been made during the passage of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. He is right; there were an awful lot of amendments, but we wanted to get the legislation exactly right. The order before us this afternoon is entirely in keeping with parliamentary procedure. Once a Bill has received Royal Assent, consequential amendments to previous primary legislation are made. That is entirely in order.
I do not wish to disagree with the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield about how he disagreed with the establishment of the HCA. I greatly enjoyed the battles that we had in Committee on that. To be fair to him, he has been incredibly consistent in using the phrase “mega-quango” when talking about the agency. Let me quote something from the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who played a key role in the Committee stage. He said:
“I wish to indicate to the Minister our general approach to the clause following the debate on Second Reading. As he knows, we are not necessarily against the establishment of the HCA. The concerns that we mentioned on Second Reading, which will be echoed in Committee, were raised to query and scrutinise the plans and to ensure that the plans achieve the objectives that have been set out.”——[Official Report, Housing and Regeneration Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 149.]
That was a sensible approach and it backs up my claim that there was wide support for the creation of the HCA.
The hon. Members for Mole Valley and for North Cornwall expressed concerns which I took essentially to be the same thing. They were concerned about the relationship between the HCA—a very powerful national agency—and local government. This was deliberated at length in Committee. The chief executive, Sir Bob Kerslake, is firm on this, as are Ministers and the Government as a whole. The HCA will be a national agency delivering locally. Key to that is the relationship between the agency and local authorities. It would be counter-productive, particularly in the current economic climate, if the agency came in with a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. If the agency is really successful, it will be flexible and work closely with local authorities to help local partners realise their vision for development and housing growth as well as the wider aspects of regeneration in their area. That is key and it has been put at the heart of the agency already.
Sir Paul Beresford: The Select Committee had the privilege and pleasure of meeting the chief executive and discussing the matter with him before the agency was set up. He made it clear that he intended to discuss with local authorities. However, I asked him whether, if it did not work with the local authorities he had a sawn-off shotgun in his bag. The answer was yes. In other words, it would be discussion as far as it could go, but then he was prepared to steamroller local authorities—the elected members.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at fifteen minutes to Five o’clock.

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Prepared 12 November 2008