Housing and Regeneration Bill

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Clause 69

Low cost home ownership
Amendments made: No. 170, in clause 69, page 32, line 13, leave out ‘for eligibility’.
No. 171, in clause 69, page 32, line 13, leave out from ‘is’ to end of line 14 and insert
‘made available to people whose needs are not adequately served by the commercial housing market.’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 69, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 70

Shared ownership low cost rental
Amendment made: No. 172, in clause 70, page 32, line 42, leave out ‘shared’ and insert ‘home’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 70, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 71 to 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 74

Leaving the social housing stock: disposal with consent
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 173, in clause 74, page 34, line 6, after ‘with’ insert ‘—(a) ’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 174 to 176.
Mr. Wright: These are technical amendments to ensure that clauses 74 and 75 have their intended effects. Those clauses are part of a group of clauses that sets out circumstances in which homes can leave the social housing stock. As the Committee knows, clause 67(2) provides that once a dwelling is classified as social housing, it remains social housing until one of the events specified under these clauses takes place.
The clause covers homes that leave the social housing stock with consent. The regulator’s consent is described as being
“in accordance with Chapter 5.”
That chapter sets out the disposal consents regime. Government amendments Nos. 173 and 174 will add references to other provisions under which registered providers may require consent for disposals of land, namely section 171D of the Housing Act 1985 and sections 81 and 133 of the Housing Act 1988. Those provisions refer to homes subject to the preserved right to buy and homes originally owned by housing action trusts or local authorities, where the Secretary of State’s consent was required for the original disposal. Currently, those provisions require registered social landlords to seek the Secretary of State’s consent for subsequent disposals. However, we propose to amend the Bill to pass to the regulator responsibility for consenting to onward disposals by registered providers.
Government amendment No. 175 clarifies that a dwelling does not cease to be social housing if a disposal is made with the regulator’s consent as part of shared ownership or equity percentage arrangements. Under such arrangements, purchasers can buy their home in several stages. Each stage could, in theory, constitute a disposal with the regulator’s consent. However, the home will leave the social housing stock only when the purchaser buys the final share of his or her home. That event is covered in clause 72.
Government amendment No. 176 is a very technical amendment to clause 75, the current wording of which is somewhat ambiguous. It allows the regulator to direct that a specified dwelling is to cease to be social housing if it has
“ceased to be low cost rental accommodation or low cost home ownership accommodation”.
Under the strictest possible interpretation, it cannot cease to be low cost rental or low cost home ownership accommodation until it ceases to be social housing. The amendment will simplify the wording so that the regulator can direct that a specified dwelling is to cease to be social housing. I hope that I have clarified those matters and that the Committee accepts the amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 174, in clause 74, page 34, line 6, at end insert—
‘(b) section 171D of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68) (consent to certain disposals of housing obtained subject to the preserved right to buy), or
(c) section 81 or 133 of the Housing Act 1988 (c. 50) (consent to certain disposals of housing obtained from housing action trusts or local authorities).’.
No. 175, in clause 74, page 34, line 6, at end insert—
‘( ) Subsection (1) does not apply to a disposal in pursuance of shared ownership arrangements or equity percentage arrangements.’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 74, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 75

Leaving the social housing stock: regulator’s direction
Amendment made: No. 176, in clause 75, page 34, line 13, leave out
‘, which has ceased to be low cost rental accommodation or low cost home ownership accommodation,’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 75, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 76

Housing stock under Housing Act 1996
Amendment made: No. 177, in clause 76, page 34, line 32, at end insert—
‘( ) Exception 1A is accommodation made available only to students in full-time education or training.’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 76, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 78

English bodies
Alistair Burt: I beg to move amendment No. 307, in clause 78, page 35, line 19, at end insert—
‘(e) a local housing authority under sections 1 and 2 of the Housing Act 1985, and
(f) a person controlled by a local housing authority.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 308, in clause 79, page 35, line 24, column 2, after ‘landlord’, insert
‘or a person controlled by the landlord’.
Amendment No. 309, in clause 79, page 35, line 25, column 2, after ‘landlord’, insert
‘or a person controlled by the landlord’.
Amendment No. 310, in clause 86, page 38, line 7, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 311, in clause 86, page 38, line 9, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 312, in clause 86, page 38, line 11, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 313, in clause 93, page 39, line 34, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 314, in clause 93, page 39, line 34, at end insert ‘of social housing’.
Amendment No. 315, in clause 104, page 42, line 27, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 316, in clause 104, page 42, line 27, at end insert ‘of social housing’.
Amendment No. 317, in clause 104, page 42, line 29, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 318, in clause 104, page 42, line 29, at end insert ‘of social housing’.
Amendment No. 319, in clause 105, page 43, line 12, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 320, in clause 105, page 43, line 12, at end insert ‘of social housing’.
Amendment No. 321, in clause 105, page 43, line 13, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 322, in clause 105, page 43, line 13, at end insert ‘of social housing’.
Amendment No. 323, in clause 105, page 43, line 14, leave out ‘registered’.
Amendment No. 324, in clause 105, page 43, line 14, at end insert ‘of social housing’.
Amendment No. 337, in clause 111, page 45, line 8, at end insert ‘, or
(c) a local housing authority within the meaning of section 1 of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68), or
(d) a person controlled by a local housing authority.’.
Amendment No. 338, in clause 163, page 65, line 20, at end insert—
‘(6) Exception 5 is that consent is not required by local housing authorities.’.
Amendment No. 325, in clause 195, page 74, line 19, at end add—
‘(b) shall not apply to local housing authorities and persons controlled by local housing authorities.’.
Amendment No. 339, in clause 223, page 82, line 25, at end insert ‘, or
(c) the registered provider is not a local housing authority or a person controlled by a local housing authority.’.
Amendment No. 340, in clause 225, page 83, line 40, at end insert ‘, or
(d) the registered provider is not a local housing authority or a person controlled by a local housing authority.’.
Amendment No. 333, in clause 235, page 89, line 10, at end add—
‘(7) The definitions of “subsidiary” in subsections 235(1) to (5) and “associate” in subsection 235(6) shall not apply to persons controlled by local housing authorities.’.
New clause 60—Regulatory powers: local housing authorities
‘(1) The regulator shall regulate local housing authorities and persons controlled by local housing authorities using powers provided under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.
(2) The powers of the regulator as set out under sections 172 to 193 shall not apply to local housing authorities and persons controlled by local housing authorities.’.
Clause 110 stand part.
Alistair Burt: This is an important section, but I think that we will all try to be concise, because, having discussed the matter in an evidence session, we know what we are about. In tabling the amendments and in the sentiments behind them, I am delighted to be joined by the hon. Member for West Ham. We will be as succinct as possible in putting forward our arguments.
The Committee will be aware that a discussion is taking place in the housing world about domain regulation and whether all social housing should fall under the same process of regulation, as recommended in the Cave review. The amendment probes the Minister about the extent to which his discussions have proceeded with those involved in the housing world to ascertain whether the Bill could be used to bring together under one domain the necessary regulation. I am speaking principally from a brief presented by the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Housing, which supplements the evidence that they gave during the evidence-taking sessions.
The memorandum sets out all those who helped to put the note together:
“The policy position in this note has been shaped and agreed by the LGA Environment Board, a group of expert council officers in housing and corporate performance roles, and the CIH Policy and Practice Board, a group made up of senior figures from across housing associations, local authorities and ALMOs. No one in either of our memberships has expressed any disagreement with it. It is also supported by the National Federation of ALMOs, the National Housing Federation, National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations”,
and others from that part of the housing world. All those groups and people have significant day-to-day experience of what the effect of the amendment would be, and they believe that it is worth doing, is practical and can be done.
The memorandum continues:
“We welcome very much the Minister’s”—
the then Minister for Housing, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury—
“statement in her oral evidence session that ‘If there were consensus on the matter and everyone felt that we could get far enough fast enough, we would obviously be happy to look at amendments’ to enable regulation to operate domain-wide without the need for further primary legislation.”
It continues:
“We also agree with her that the regulation of council landlords could not operate identically to housing associations”.
That point is covered in new clause 60 as a consequential amendment.
The key point that the LGA and the CIH make is that there exists sufficient recognition, across the housing sector, of the import of bringing regulation under one domain for the Government to risk introducing it into this legislation, if not by accepting the amendment, but by undertaking seriously to consider the possibility of introducing an equivalent amendment in the Lords. The LGA and CIH accept that there is a risk in amending legislation, and that it must be as right as possible. However, they and we point out that a significant number of Government amendments—118 in part 2—have been tabled which we will deal with fairly late in our proceedings. That is a lot of Government amendments to get through and it will take up time. We acknowledge that that is part of the process, but as so many Government amendments are to be considered, why not think seriously about my one, on which there is such strong consensus?
3.30 pm
The LGA and CIH believe that there are
“serious risks in not providing for the establishment of domain regulation in the current legislation.”
They state that, first, the achievement of the objective set out in the Cave review and agreed by the Government will depend on further primary legislation, for which, as we all know, there is not always time. Secondly, they state:
“Even if time for further legislation were available in the 2008-09 session, it is impossible to see how it could be enacted, necessary secondary legislation put in place, and the regulator’s operating approach defined and started simultaneously with the start of the new regime for housing associations in April 2009. There must be a serious risk that the new regulator will be set up and commence operations with a focus on housing associations...and that it would struggle to develop the necessary equivalent competence and focus on local authority landlords.”
They believe that the risk of not including such regulation under the same domain at the same time outweighs the risk of accepting the amendment.
Finally, the LGA and CIH put forward a joint view as to how the regulation of local authority landlords should operate. First, they say:
“In line with the recommendations of the Cave Review, the approach, across the whole domain, should be customer-driven but deregulatory in character.”
Secondly, they state:
“Regulation should only apply to the landlord functions of councils and ALMOs”.
They believe the other strategic roles, allocations and private sector regulations should be included in the comprehensive area assessment, which is the import of new clause 60, and be taken up under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. Thirdly, the say:
“The regulator's approach to information requirements, inspections and intervention must be consistent with the local performance framework”,
and fourthly:
“Regulation can and must respect other characteristics of councils as institutions.”
I know that the hon. Member for West Ham wishes to speak, and I have done my best to prĂ(c)cis the arguments. The bottom line is to ask the Minister what his intentions are. When we dealt with the matter in the evidence session, the general consensus was that if it could be achieved, it would be a good thing to do. Those closely involved have considered it further and think that it can be done. Having spoken this morning to someone representing the Local Government Association, I think that the Minister can be confident that his officials have not offered any chink of light that the Department believes it can be done, so I am not putting his officials on the spot. However, the view of those with whom the Government have negotiated in the housing sector is plainly that it can be done, and I hope that the Minister can give us some hope that an appropriate amendment can be made, if not here then in the other place.
Lyn Brown: May I ask your advice, Mr. Gale? I have only just realised that amendments to clauses 111, 163, 223, 225 and so on, seem to be part of the same argument as those in this group. I am happy to speak to them now, or I could do so later.
The Chairman: I am sorry, but the hon. Lady must tell me which amendments she is talking about.
Lyn Brown: I have only just realised that the amendments to clauses 111, 163, 223, 225—most importantly, amendment No. 344—appear later on the agenda.
The Chairman: We are going to discuss all the amendments that are grouped under clause 78, irrespective of the clause to which they are relevant. As and when the other clauses on the selection list are reached, there may be an opportunity for a stand part debate.
Lyn Brown: I will just go on, and you will rule me out of order if necessary, Mr. Gale.
The amendments are intended to ensure that meaningful protection is offered by the regulator of social housing to all tenants and residents living in social housing, as defined in clause 67. At present, the measures in the Bill do not give the same level of protection to tenants and residents living in social housing that is owned and/or managed by local authorities and ALMOs as they do to those whose landlord is a housing association or a private sector social housing manager. Standards should be the same for all providers. As the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire stated, that concept is supported by the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Local Government Association and the National Federation of ALMOs, the National Housing Federation, the National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations, the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, the Tenants and Residents Organisations of England and Shelter. All these organisations share the view that social tenants, whatever the type of landlord, deserve and should be able to expect the same protections.
[Sir George Young in the Chair.]
The exclusion of local authorities and ALMOs from regulatory oversight by Oftenant would mean that not all tenants would get the same protection, and it might well send the message that tenants are not the primary consideration of the House and that a focus on tenants will not be the new regulator’s primary characteristic. The case for domain regulation was clearly made in the Cave review which—notably—is called “Every Tenant Matters”. That philosophy is at risk of being lost if half the social housing tenants have reduced levels of protection.
I cannot see that the inclusion of local authorities and ALMOs is problematic for the Government, as the Bill already enables different treatment for non-profit and profit-making providers within an overarching framework of standards and regulatory objectives that apply to all. The Bill could equally differentiate between the detailed treatment of local authorities and of ALMOs while realising ambitions for domain-wide objectives and standards. For example, there are differences between ALMOs, local authorities, housing associations and for-profit providers that mean that enforcement mechanisms would need to be different according to provider type. Domain regulation needs to fit into the local government performance framework and the proposed comprehensive area of assessment. Surely, that is no barrier, as it does not need to be dealt with in this legislation, and can be addressed later through protocols and terms of reference negotiated between Oftenant, the Audit Commission and other relevant bodies. If the Bill does not establish domain regulation, I understand that we would be dependent on further primary legislation, so I would welcome the Minister’s view on the matter. There is always intense competition for parliamentary time, and it is easy to see how future legislation to tidy up housing regulations could be pushed aside in favour of higher priorities.
I am concerned that if Oftenant begins its work dealing only with housing associations of whatever ilk, the organisation’s structure and mechanisms will be tailored, quite understandably, to working with housing associations rather than across the social housing sector. Many of my constituents would benefit from a simple and readily identifiable regulator that could deal with their problems and complaints in a uniform manner. The diversity and range of providers, particularly in areas of London such as my constituency, only makes this issue more important. Amendment No. 307 would allow housing associations and ALMOs to be subject to the new housing regulator—the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords—in a similar manner to other social landlords.
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
I am still going—is that alright?
The Chairman: If the hon. Lady is out of order, I will tell her.
Lyn Brown: Thank you, Mr. Gale. Amendments Nos. 308 and 309 are necessary to ensure that as well as local housing authorities, ALMOs are considered providers of social housing for the purposes of part 2, chapter 2. As an ALMO is not legally a landlord of a property, it is important that the Bill recognises that a person may operate social housing on behalf of a landlord eligible for regulation. That is again necessary to enable a single regulatory body to be set up for all social tenants. The deletion of clause 110 would complement this package of amendments, as it specifically ensures that local authority bodies and ALMOs are unable to register with Oftenant, and therefore prevents it from regulating them.
The amendment to clause 111 is designed to bring both local authorities and ALMOs within Oftenant’s remit, but, at the same time, to maintain the distinction between profit-making and non-profit-making landlords. That is crucial to ensure that later stages of the Bill do not conflict with the organisational and constitutional arrangements governing ALMOs and local authorities. Clause 163 simply ensures that Oftenant would not regulate the disposal of property and assets by local authorities that are already overseen by other appropriate bodies. The amendments to clauses 223 and 225 would ensure that if Oftenant’s remit extended to local authority properties, the rights of local authority tenants to make decisions about the management of their homes would be protected.
I recognise that the Government fully intend to extend the remit of the regulator to cover local authority and ALMO properties. It is important that allowance is made in the Bill for the different governance and financial arrangements within social housing provision, but I hope that the Minister will consider the suggestions outlined in the amendments as a mechanism to achieve full regulation of the social housing sector in the Bill. Even if the Bill included both ALMOs and local authority sectors within the remit of the regulator, it would still neglect a method of social housing provision that, especially in areas such as mine, provides considerable levels of housing.
I would argue strongly that those properties should be subject to regulation by the regulator. A significant amount of public money is expended on purchasing temporary accommodation, but without the equivalent regulatory framework within which housing associations and local authorities operate. I believe that, if private landlords want to access the often lucrative temporary accommodation market on behalf of local housing authorities, they should be willing to accept the responsibilities that being a social landlord should involve.
As the Minister will appreciate, I have received many reports of extremely sub-standard temporary accommodation supplied by the private rented sector, and have heard of numerous cases of families desperate to secure alternative social housing, as their temporary accommodation is appalling. I appreciate that the use of temporary accommodation provides local authorities with flexibility, and that additional regulation may reduce the number of properties available for temporary accommodation, but I believe that the proposed provisions would help to cool the housing market in my area, and possibly enable more owner-occupiers to purchase property. I am surely not alone in believing that the vast sums of money spent on accommodation should ensure that the services provided are effectively scrutinised and of a certain quality.
To return to my previous point, standards should be the same for all providers of allocated housing from the public purse. Public money should mean public accountability, which is why I tabled amendment No. 344 to clause 109. It would add to the list of organisations eligible for registration with the regulator any provider of secure accommodation under section 7 of the Housing Act 1996. I accept that the amendments, particularly amendment No. 344, may be difficult to accede to on the hoof, but I urge the Minister, at the very least, to take those matters away and to consider them further.
The Chairman: Just for the record, amendment No. 344 is not part of this group of amendments. Apart from that, the hon. Lady got through it extremely well. I will have a chat with her later.
3.45 pm
Mr. Slaughter: There appears to be some consensus on the issue of cross-domain regulation, which I will endeavour to breach, although I might not succeed. I have subscribed to amendments Nos. 336 and 337, which were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and would have much the same effect as those tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire. I very much support the earliest possible extension of regulation to ALMOs and local authorities.
On Second Reading, I was highly critical of the performance of some RSLs in my constituency and elsewhere in west London and I may well be again later in our proceedings. However, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and I am pleased that the LGA and the National Federation of ALMOs, which has been in contact with me on these and similar amendments, are keen to suffer, or be rewarded with, an equivalent degree of regulation.
Rather that detaining the Committee with general arguments, I want to give a telling example from this week. As we have heard, the ALMO for the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has just been awarded one star and has poor prospects for improvement. That means that it has failed its inspection and that there is the prospect of the bulk of the decent homes money—£114 million—not being made available to improve 17,000 council homes in the borough. [ Interruption. ] Well, I will pursue the issue a little more because it shows that whatever our opinion of some RSLs—as I have said, they, like some ALMOs, are generally less democratically accountable than local authorities—the management of council housing is highly variable in its quality, and there is no less reason for it to be regulated in the generally excellent way proposed in the Bill.
I speak with some experience on this issue and I know, because I ran it, that Hammersmith and Fulham’s council housing department used to have an excellent record. The tenants went in deputation to the then Secretary of State to ask not to become an ALMO, because they wished to remain under local authority control. They did not take the nuclear option that people in Camden did, and they were right not to do so, because they saw the problems they would have accessing funding. Nevertheless, it was clear that tenants were happy with the subsequent arrangements. Funding was granted to the tune of £192 million, and the first tranche of £178 million has been paid on the basis that it was better to go ahead and have the necessary works done.
The decent homes programme is more than a year behind schedule. The quality of work is, in many cases, appalling. There are 5 per cent. year-on-year cuts in the Budget, so matters that are not covered by the decent homes programme, such as the renovation of marginal areas, are not dealt with. Yet a surplus of more than £20 million has been accumulated. The purpose of that surplus is for non-state schemes, which are directed at providing housing for those on incomes that are two or three times the average. In other words, people who are on very low or no income are being asked to subsidise people who are on two or three times the average income.
It is also the case that any plot of land on estates, whether it be tenants’ halls or ball courts, is being sold off for commercial gain. Generally speaking, the only way in which council tenants and their assets are being regarded by the Conservative council is for the purposes of asset stripping.
The Chairman: Order. I have been trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s arguments very carefully. However, what we are listening to is a Second Reading debate. I have tried to allow quite a lot of latitude to hon. Members this afternoon, because these issues are complex and interrelated. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will indicate to me, and to the Committee, which particular amendment he is speaking to.
Mr. Slaughter: I am speaking to amendments Nos. 337 and 336, and explaining why it is necessary for local authorities and ALMOs to be regulated. I—
The Chairman: Order. Before we go any further, amendment No.336 has not been called. Amendment No. 337 has, so perhaps we could stick to that.
Mr. Slaughter: I take your point, Mr. Gale, and I am bringing my remarks to a close. I often feel that concrete examples are better than theory when it comes to explaining why protection is needed for tenants in social housing. Frankly, the division between those in RSL housing and those in ALMO or council housing is not an official one and should be removed as quickly as possible.
Mr. Love: I will be brief, Mr. Gale.
The second important issue that must be raised is that Sir Simon Milton made it clear that the motivation for the Local Government Association’s decision was that it did not want to be excluded at the beginning of the set-up of Oftenant. It is important, for all the reasons we know, that the local authority voice and the ALMO voice should be heard within Oftenant from the word go, or as early as possible. If the LGA is not to be part of the regulatory coverage from the beginning, I hope that the Minister will suggest ways in which it may be consulted on how Oftenant should develop until it is part of the process.
Mr. Wright: I have detailed briefing notes on the amendments, but I thought that I would spare the Committee my reading them out, because—hon. Members will shout me down if I am wrong—I have interpreted the amendments as being more about probing than amending the Bill.
Lyn Brown indicated dissent.
Mr. Wright: It is interesting, Mr. Gale, that my hon. Friend does not show impatience with your good self when seeking your advice—quite rightly, too—but she is certainly showing her impatience with me.
The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire himself said that we would be taking a risk in accepting the amendments—or something along those lines. That is at the heart of my opposition to them and to the general movement on cross-domain regulation. Accepting the amendments would mean taking a somewhat premature decision on defining the framework under which the future regulation of local authority housing management functions would operate. The amendments would also run the risk of introducing a flawed framework that fails to provide what we all want: a sensible and effective regulatory regime.
Let me repeat our firm intention. Our long and medium-term aims are for a single regulatory framework for existing registered social landlords and local authority landlords of social housing. I cannot be much clearer than that. However, I think that hon. Members appreciate that bringing local authority landlords within the regulatory framework is a complex job.
Mr. Wright: We have been clear in saying that the time scale is within two years. People talk about two years, but I do not expect it to take that long, because there is no policy difference or philosophical aspect on which we disagree. We are simply trying to overcome practical, governance-related obstacles. That is why we have created an advisory group to advise on this matter. I may have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman on his question, “If not now, when?” It will be when the advisory group considers that the barriers have been overcome. Before I talk more about the group, I give way to my hon. Friend.
Lyn Brown: Has the Minister considered my point about setting up an organisation and establishing it with the housing associations? Slotting local authorities and the private sector into that system might cause problems, given that organisations tend to mould themselves to their tasks. Bringing in others at that later point might cause difficulties.
Mr. Wright: In order to have the seamless transition from the Housing Corporation to the new regulatory body, the regulator will work very closely with organisations such as the LGA. I do not want to box the regulator in, but given that our policy intention is to have cross-domain regulation, it makes sense to ensure that, when the time comes, and when the barriers that the advisory group have been set up to look at are overcome, we move to that cross-domain regulation as quickly as possible.
On the advisory group: I want to give a flavour, I do not want to go over it amendment by amendment, giving technical reasons why I oppose them, but it is important to give hon. Members some reassurance about what we are looking at. The advisory group is chaired by Professor Ian Cole from Sheffield Hallam university.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I know him.
Mr. Wright: A good Sheffield MP—I am glad that my hon. Friend knows him. We have talked about stakeholders, and they contribute to the process. The advisory group includes representatives from all the major stakeholders, including the LGA, as well as a number of individual local authorities, the Housing Corporation, the Chartered Institute of Housing and other umbrella groups that represent the interests of tenants—the Tenants and Residents Organisations of England for example. I understand that the panel has held its first meeting and is due to meet again in February to discuss what are known as first order issues.
4 pm
I do not want to pre-empt the work of the advisory group. There are complex matters involved that I cannot sum up easily in this debate. However, I have been advised, and must convey several points to the Committee.
The panel has identified three issues of what it calls first order importance: matters that it wants to consider in depth over the next few weeks. Those are: standards; information requirements; inspections and their triggers; and intervention and enforcement powers. I hope that reassures hon. Members. Work is ongoing, there are practical obstacles, and those are being looked at by the advisory group. However, I am well aware of the frustration among stakeholders that we have not provided for cross-domain regulation as the Bill stands.
Let me point out to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and others, that to rush to legislate and to have that risk when we still need to determine practical solutions to a range of complex and difficult issues, would be foolhardy and benefit no one. It would be detrimental to tenants of local authorities. I want to reassure colleagues that we are not dragging our heels or seeking to over-complicate matters. I would like to see the measure brought in as quickly as possible, as soon as the advisory group is satisfied that the barriers have been overcome. I hope that that reassures hon. Members.
Alistair Burt: When I saw the brief from the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Housing, I knew that when it got to the paragraph dealing with “a degree of risk”, officials’ eyes would light up. I knew how the brief would then be constructed—talk about giving something away. Those who have put the case to us have been honest in their approach, wanting to take things forward and recognising the risk, but also recognising the risks of not moving at the same speed. Of course I accept what the Minister has to say. I know that the advisory panel has had its first meeting, and I wish it well.
I am slightly puzzled as to why, between colleagues who know the area well, there appears to be a gulf between those who believe that the conditions are right now and think that it can be done, and those responsible for making the change who think that it may be as far as two years away. I am genuinely puzzled by that. I have no wish to press the amendments to the vote, although I may return to the matter on Report from the Back Benches. I would like those who have been dealing with us to look at what the Minister has said and perhaps press a further case to try to move him on the issue.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question agreed to.
Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 79 and 80 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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