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The fact that ministers were prepared to alter the bill, which is due to become law within the next few days, shows them in a very positive light. It proves they are willing to listen and, where appropriate, change their minds.
I particularly welcome the further change in respect of the anxieties among registered social landlords that they could technically find themselves subject to enforcement proceedings by the new authority simply because of a failure to meet a standard. The possibility that a transfer of land or amalgamation or transfer of management powers could be justified simply on the basis of a failure to meet a particular standard has now been removed by the amendment to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred earlier, so there is a further safeguard there.
My main concern is that a new authority is coming into existenceI welcome the change of name, as the new one is much better than the previous onewith considerable expectation on it. I share the view about the competence of the new chairman and the new chief executive. Anthony Mayer was, of course, a distinguished former chief executive of the Housing Corporation, so he is very familiar with the processes of overseeing the work of housing associations. I am sure that he will bring to his new role as chairman of the authority considerable insight, expertise and acumen, which will benefit it greatly. Peter Marsh, the deputy chief executive of the Housing Corporation, comes in with similar expertise as the new chief executive.
My worry is that the new authority will be expected to do an enormous amount in a relatively short time. Not only will it have to create the new regulatory regime for housing associations but it will, perfectly properly, have to extend that to cover local authorities and arms length management organisations, too. That is a good objective that also imposes additional burdens. It will have to put in place complex procedures for ensuring that tenants are empowered, engaged and consulted on the procedures. At the same time, it will have to pay heedthis will be a strong priority in the current market circumstancesto the need to ensure the viability of social housing providers, who might well be under a certain pressure because of the impact of the credit crunch.
We know from the story of the Ujima housing association at the end of last year and the beginning of this year how extremely important it is to have an effective regulatory regime that can intervene quickly and effectively to reassure lenders and tenants when there has been possible mismanagement or a failure by a registered social landlord to maintain proper standards and when, as a consequence, there is a risk of those tenants losing their homes or of the association going into insolvency. In that situation it is clearly necessary for the new regulator to act quickly, decisively and effectively. I believe that the powers created in legislation enable that to happen.
Inevitably, there is a tension between acting swiftly and effectively and ensuring a proper consultation and opportunity for everyone to have their say, including the body concerned and its tenants. In its early months, the new authority will face some serious challenges in ensuring that it has effective machinery in place that will command the confidence of the lenders and ensure the integrity of social housing providers while, at the same time, putting in place all the other procedures for effective tenant engagement and responsiveness to tenant aspirations.
I hope that we have an implementation timetable that will ensure that all those tasks can be done in an orderly but effective manner. It would be a tragedy for social
housing if the new procedures were not introduced effectively or if there was any possibility that individual cases that caused concern might fall through the net. I do not want to exaggerate the risk, although there has been evidence in the past few days of another registered social landlord being brought under supervision because of concerns about the way its affairs have been managed. This is a germane issue and I hope that the Minister will give considerable attention once the Bill is an Act to ensuring that the implementation procedure is carried forward in a way that enables the authority to meet its considerable responsibilities effectively.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) referred to the number of changes that we are seeing later on in the process, and I should apologise for my appearance at this late stage, too. I was present on Report to hear about community land trusts, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, too.
I had the honour of serving on the Committee on the Planning Bill, which ran concurrently with the Committee on this Bill, and so I was elsewhere during that stage. However, I have looked at the amendments that we are considering and some of the discussions in another place, and it is clear that the Bill has come on in leaps and bounds and has moved forward. There seems to be a great deal more consensus about the direction of travel.
I deal first with the amendments relating to community land trusts. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield referred to Rock, in my constituency, a number of times. It would perhaps have been nice if he had given me notice of his plans to do so; it would also have been nice if he had told me that he was coming to the constituency. It would have been nice to have seen him there and to have welcomed him, but [ Interruption. ] I have always made a point of giving such notice myself, and I understood that that was the practice of the House. None the less, I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman is reaffirming his partys commitment to community land trusts. My party has been committed to them for some timeindeed, local authorities in Cornwall were working with Cornwall Rural Housing Association to move forward on the issue, which is why the hon. Gentleman had the benefit of seeing something on the ground and in practice.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, the scheme in Rock is a self-build scheme. I had the honour of introducing my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) to another scheme, one that was being run with Cornwall Rural Housing Association in Blisland, up on Bodmin moor, in my constituency. That scheme involves a mix of more conventional properties for rent through the housing association and the community land trust board. However, that scheme has had to be pushed forward with the help of North Cornwall district council because, as the hon. Gentleman said, despite the fact that the Government have said they favoured the community land trust model, there did not seem to be the confidence that the funding mechanisms were in place to allow it to go forward through the Housing Corporation. Although North Cornwall district council was in the right place at the right time to ensure that that scheme moved forward, I hope the amendments will mean that any other community land trust that faces the same problems will be able to get around those
issues and receive funding in the normal way. We will see a big development in this sector, and both sides of the House seem to be in agreement that that is a positive way forward.
I pay tribute to the work of Cornwall Rural Housing Association. It is committed to the scheme, and to developing first a Cornwell-wide model and, hopefully, more local models within that. I hope that I have been a vocal advocate of that, in terms of speaking to Members on both sides of the House.
Grant Shapps: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if the message from my office about the visit did not get through. He certainly represents a very beautiful part of the world. Does he agree that the problems that the rural housing association experienced in trying to assist the community land trust at Rock would have been helpedand will be, I hopeby the inclusion of the vital description of CLTs in the Bill?
Dan Rogerson: There seems to have been an issue in that community land trusts know what they mean by that title, and many people around seem to know, but when finance is involved financial backers want a definition in legislation. That gives backers the confidence, understandably, to put our collective money where our political mouths are.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Although I agree in principle that a provision in the Bill will assist us, the hon. Gentleman might consider the experience of the co-operative movement over a long period. The definition of a co-operative was written into law, but it was not much good in assisting the movement in obtaining the finance it wanted.
In the other place, my noble Friends raised issues about qualifying disclosure, which is a welcome change to the Bill, so that we can be confident that information is passed on only when absolutely necessary. Of course, discs have gone astray in transit in other circumstances, but I am sure it will not happen again in future.
As the Minister said, there have been clarifications about the disposal of land. The process should not necessarily be subject to the same regulation as social housing and should allow registered social landlords to behave in a way that better furthers their agenda to deliver affordable housing. I welcome the fact that under amendment No. 203, Parliament will have a further chance to look through the affirmative procedure at the enabling powers to which the Minister referred.
Having had the chance to look at the Bill only at a late stage, I am in a happy position, because we seem to be moving towards a measure that everybody is a little happier about. The Minister said that we want a regulator who acts in the interests of tenants and not necessarily in the interests of the policy objectives of the Government of the day. If the amendments take us closer to an organisationwhat will now be called a TSAthat very much acts in the interests of tenants, the Liberal Democrats will be much happier when that lies at the heart of the Bill.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I shall speak narrowly to amendments Nos. 66 and 67, which I am delighted will be incorporated into the Bill. I record my thanks to Lord Graham, who tabled them in the other place and who, in his wily and indefatigable way, persuaded all and sundry of the wisdom of including them. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the Ministers in the other place, Baroness Andrews and Lord Bassam
Does my hon. Friend agree that the provisions will help to make a difference not only in rural constituencies such as his and those of Opposition Members but in constituencies such as mine? The report that I recently placed before the Minister included a recommendation that we should recognise community land trusts.
Mr. Drew: Of course I agree. It is important that we move on after quite a tortuous process, but it is better to get the legislation right rather than doing things hurriedly and ending up with the wrong legislation. The Opposition laudably tabled the proposals in the first place, but the only problem was that they were in the wrong part of the Bill so they would not have done quite what we wanted. I am glad that the process has worked as it should and has teased out the facts, looked at the information in totality and applied it in the most sensible way possible so that we have a piece of legislation that is fit for purpose.
I thank David Rodgers, the chief executive of CDS Co-operatives, who has done much work behind the scenes. He is not completely satisfied, as the Minister knows. We shall live to fight another day, because we want to look at some of the ways land trusts can apply to other aspects of community ownership as well as housing. The wonderful community empowerment Bill is coming up, and we hope to look at the issue then and make use of the wonderful opportunities that are being offered. I will not use the words social engineering, which are dangerous in this day and age, but we can consider how communities can engineer opportunities to solve their problems. I make no bones about the fact that the issue is important in rural areas and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) says, it is important in urban areas, too. The main thing, however, is that we see it as important in its own right and not as something that will sit on the shelf gathering dust. The provisions will actually make a difference. A form of ownership was beginning that had no statutory basis whatever. That could not be right; it could have led to all sorts of legal challenges in the future. Quite apart from the issue of finance, there is the simple fact that community governance could have been undermined if there was a legal challenge. It is absolutely right that the provisions are in place.
I have two caveats, which we might consider in subsequent measures. My hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt have an overview of any legislation that may be introduced
in the next Session. We need to consider both how we define communities and how they generate enthusiasm for ideas bottom-up. We need to be careful, because the current definition is a bit narrow and self-seeking. We need to ensure that it gives as much opportunity as possible.
In addition, my friend David Rodgers would have words with me if I did not point out that we need to make it clear that in terms of forms of mutual home ownership, there is a particular co-operative way in which community land trusts can operate. If I did not make that point, it would also disappoint my three Co-operative friends on the Labour Benches [ Interruption. ] My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) has just glanced at me. I apologise for not including him. The mutual home ownership model is not the only form of community land trust and not necessarily the most preferred model at present, but in essence it is a genuinely co-operative form of ownership that some of usespecially at the Cashes Green scheme that the Minister will be visiting shortlyare keen should be pioneered. We think it has particular advantages where a community has really begun to address its problems and to propose solutions in which it has complete faith because it has ownership of them.
Mr. Iain Wright: With the leave of the House, I shall comment briefly on some of the issues that have been raised. I thank Members on both sides of the House for their comments and the generally warm sentiments that have been expressed about the amendments. I should like to make a number of points on cross-domain regulation and community land trusts, particularly with regard to the comments made by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps).
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want inadvertently to mislead the House; I do not want him to rewrite history and make it seem as though I had been fundamentally opposed to cross-domain regulation and community land trusts but suddenly underwent a conversion halfway through the passage of the Bill. I have always said that cross-domain regulation was an objective that we should pursue. I said time and again in Committee that the issue was complex and would require detailed consideration, helped by the work of Professor Ian Cole. Frankly, I also thought that the other place would not like a broad enabling clausea so-called Henry VIII clauseto allow the provision to come into being, but I was wrong. The will of Parliament was clearly expressed, and that is why the measure was included in the Bill.
I have always been a great fan of community land trusts. One of the 14 pilot areas is in my constituency. I think that CLTs are an incredibly important way of ensuring that land, buildings and assets generally are available for the local community in perpetuity. Again, it was always the intention that we would provide some legal definition of community land trusts.
May I finish my point? As I have discussed with my hon. Friend, whom I commend for her fantastic report on housing, which she recently gave me, I thought
that the scope of the Bill that will be introduced in the fourth Sessionthe draft Community Empowerment, Housing and Economic Regeneration Billticked all the boxes, with regard to community land trusts. I think that CLTs will be a key part of that Bill, and I thought that a legal definition could be provided in it. However, again, Parliament expressed its will, and the Government listened, and ensured that the definition was provided.
Linda Gilroy: I can confirm what the Minister says; he has had a long-standing interest in ensuring that community land trusts can prosper, as has my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and her predecessor, now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Some of us have discussed the issue not only with the Minister but with his colleagues, and we thank him for that.
Mr. Wright: I thank my hon. Friend for those kind comments. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I pay tribute to David Rodgers of CDS Co-operatives and my noble Friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, a fellow north-easterner who always describes himself as Lord Ted of Ed. I am not sure whether it is parliamentary to describe my noble Friend as wily, but I think I know what hon. Friend meant. In general, the provisions on cross-domain regulation, community land trusts and tenant empowerment seem to have been warmly welcomed by the House, for which I am grateful.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) made some incredibly pertinent points, as always, with regard to the nature and function of the regulator. Again, I am grateful to him for his kind comments on my involvement in the Bill. He made a good point about ensuring that business models are robust, particularly in the current climate; availability of finance is not what it was even six months ago. He is absolutely right to say that the regulator has a role to play. He also mentioned how important it is to make sure that the implementation procedure is closely considered in the period until the regulator comes into being, and I certainly pledge to do that. As regards regulation, he will know that previously there was only a very low level of intervention and a nuclear option. He knows that we are providing a new range of enforcement powers that essentially make the regulator more flexible and proportionate in what it does to raise standards for tenants. I welcome what has been said in the House tonight, and I hope that the whole House can approve the amendments.
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