Housing and Regeneration Bill

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New Clause 19

National Tenants’ Voice
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall by order make provision for the establishment of a body to be known as the National Tenants’ Voice.
(2) The objects of the National Tenants’ Voice shall include the following—
(a) to represent the interests of tenants in the social rented sector;
(b) to act as an advocate for tenants to the Regulator of Social Housing, providers of housing accommodation, Communities England, other government departments and bodies, mortgage lenders and others;
(c) to carry out and promote research into matters affecting the interests of tenants;
(d) to evaluate the effects of policies and practice, both national and local, on tenants;
(e) to promote good practice in matters affecting the interests of tenants;
(f) to give support and assistance to national tenants’ representative organisations and where appropriate to foster co-ordination of activities and mutual support; and
(g) to perform such other functions as may be prescribed.
(3) In subsection (2), “tenants” shall include those who occupy accommodation under periodic or fixed term tenancies or under long leases, and other lawful residential occupiers who receive housing services from providers of social housing.
(4) The Secretary of State shall by regulation make provision for the constitution and composition of the National Tenants’ Voice, for membership of its governing body, for the determination of procedures, for the establishment of executive and administrative support, and for the delivery of reports and accounts.’.—[Lembit Öpik.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Lembit Öpik: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause would establish a national tenants’ voice, which would provide advocacy, support and research services and promote good practice in matters affecting the interests of tenants. The creation of a national tenants’ voice was envisaged in the Cave review, which was published in June 2007. Perhaps even more important, following the publication of the Hills report on social housing in February 2007, the Government are pursuing an agenda of radical reform, as the Minister himself says. That means that we are in a period of flux and uncertainty as we do not know all the details yet. The changes under consideration include periodic reviews of tenant circumstances, the recently published action plan on overcrowding, the upcoming review of the housing revenue account and questions about how housing providers are monitored and regulated.
This is the time for a national tenants’ voice. The Cave review said that a national tenants’ voice should be established
“to be an advocate for tenants in national debates and undertake dialogue with the government, regulators and providers’ representative bodies, on more equal terms.”
It goes on to propose that
“there should be consultation on the core standards for social housing and that this should be an early focus for the new national tenant voice. The performance of service providers will be judged against the standards that are developed.”
A national tenants’ voice could also act as an advocate for tenants in the private rented sector, which we have returned to a number of times in the Committee’s proceedings. Often, private tenants are in a vulnerable position. They live in the worst conditions and have relatively little security of tenure. They have almost no say about their rent, and they often feel in an inferior position when it comes to dealing with their landlord. The Minister may consider siting the national tenants’ voice in the National Consumer Council, but Shelter, which feels very strongly about the need for such a voice, does not think that permanently locating it in the council is appropriate.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): When the hon. Gentleman says national does he mean English?
Lembit Öpik: Yes, I do mean English. The Bill as it pertains to proceedings is exclusively in relation to England. Scotland and Wales have their own settlements and report respectively to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.
Shelter feels that it is inappropriate to site the national tenants’ voice within the NCC. It thinks that such a voice should be free-standing and independent, hence the wording of new clause 19. Once again, I hope that the Minister will take a sympathetic view on this matter, which follows directly from the Cave review.
We consulted on this issue in summer 2007. The response from tenant groups and housing associations was extremely positive. Some 65 per cent. of those who responded supported the idea of a national tenants’ voice, with a further 29 per cent. giving qualified support. Only 6 per cent. were not in favour. I have had tenant groups in my office and they advocated very strongly the idea of a national tenants’ voice.
On that basis, we are very committed to existing national tenant organisations, such as Tenants and Residents Organisations of England, the National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations, and the Confederation of Co-operative Housing. Such organisations need to play a key role in the establishment of a national tenants’ voice. They feel that it is very important that tenants should have a role in managing the organisation. One option is to locate the national tenants’ voice within the new National Consumer Council when it is formed.
The new council will be established later this year under powers set out in the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007. It will bring together the current National Consumer Council, Energywatch and Postwatch to create a much more powerful and streamlined consumer body. Our view is that there are considerable advantages in locating the national tenants’ voice within the new organisation. It will, for example, strengthen both its advocacy and research functions. On that basis, we have set up a project group, involving key stakeholders, such as tenant organisations, to take forward those proposals. The group will meet first in late February or early March and will be tasked with advising us on the details of the remit, location and governance structure of the NTV. As part of that, it will hold discussions with the new National Consumer Council about its role and the viability of locating the NTV within the NCC.
I stress to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and the wider Committee that discussions cannot take place until the new council has been appointed. We expect that to happen in February, and we anticipate the project group completing its work by the end of the year.
Mr. Love: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about a national tenants’ voice. I wanted to make the plea that we should not forget tenant representation at a local level. From my own experience, it is incredibly patchy, and if we do not have representation at a local level, the national level will not mean very much. I ask the Minister not to forget local representation, and to do what he can to ensure that we get proper coverage at a local level.
Mr. Wright: As ever, my hon. Friend is correct. We have had many debates during the last few sittings about the need for the regulator, and to ensure that tenants’ voices are not lost with regard to standards. The regulator will be a powerful driver in ensuring that we raise housing standards, and to ensure that tenants are consulted and engaged on a regular basis at a local level.
I think that tenants organisations should be involved in setting up the governance arrangements of the national tenants’ voice, as they have been in local discussions, and in the decision whether it should be sited in the national consumer council. It is not correct for me, the Secretary of State or other Government Ministers to establish a particular form for the national tenants’ voice. There will be a project group, and given what I have said about the importance of tenants’ voices being heard at local and national level, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press his new clause.
Lembit Öpik: The Minister has said that at this stage he does not want to establish a particular form, but at the same time he is establishing one. He says that he believes that the national tenants’ voice should be contained within the National Consumer Council. I do not disagree in principle, but I have issues with that. Shelter holds the view that the NCC will give the tenants’ voice insufficient power and authority to dispatch its duty to the millions of people who are tenants in and around the country.
The Minister said that 65 per cent. of those surveyed supported the idea of a national tenants’ voice. Shelter has provided outstanding support to myself and other hon. Members during the passage of the Bill, and I thank it for that. Shelter is not trying to create arbitrary free-standing institutions for the sake of it. It wants to ensure that a tenants’ voice is worthy of the name. I hope that the Minister will reflect on new clause 19, and that in informal conversations we can pursue the matter further. We all want the same thing—to ensure that it works. In order to provide space for that further dialogue, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 274

Orders and regulations
Amendment made: No. 29, in clause 274, page 116, line 19, at end insert—
‘( ) an order under section 14(8),’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 274, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 7

Amendments of enactments: Part 1
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in schedule 7, page 158, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 1 on page 159 and insert—
‘(4) Omit subsection (2).’.
This is a straightforward and technical amendment. It omits subsection (2) of section 8(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. As I am sure members of the Committee will recollect from our debate on Government amendment No. 23, we have amended the Bill to ensure that some non-local planning authority functions, such as the duty to keep registers of enforcement notices may be given to the Homes and Communities Agency concurrently with the existing body under a designation order. Subsection (2) of section 8(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides that where the agency has non-local planning authority functions conferred on it in relation to a designated area, the agency will be the local planning authority in place of the existing body. That removes the powers of the existing body and slots the agency into the planning regime where functions have been conferred. We no longer want that in all cases, so we tabled amendment No. 23. The amendment is consequential to the acceptance of amendment No. 23.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 275 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10

Amendments made: No. 123, in schedule 10, page 166, line 5, at end insert—
‘Leasehold Reform Act 1967 (c. 88)
In section 1—
(a) in subsections (1)(a) and (1A), the words “at a low rent”,
(b) in subsection (3A)(b), the words “, 1AA”.
Section 1A(2).
Section 1AA.
Section 4A.
In section 9(1C), the words “, 1AA”.
In section 9A(1), the words “, 1AA”.
In section 32A(1)(b), the words “or if section 1AA above were not in force”.
In Schedule 3, paragraph 6(1A).’.
No. 303, in schedule 10, page 168, line 22, at end insert—
‘Housing Act 1988 (c. 50)
Section 81(6).
Section 133(6).’.
No. 124, in schedule 10, page 168, line 22, column 2, at end insert—
‘In Schedule 5, in paragraph 13(5), the word “and” following paragraph (a).’.
—[Mr. Wright.]
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 31, in schedule 10, page 168, line 24, at end insert—
‘Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8)
Section 8A(2).’.
This is a straightforward and technical amendment adding section 8A(2) of the 1990 Act to the list of legislation being repealed. For the reasons set out a few moments ago on Government amendment No. 30, subsection (2) is no longer necessary.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 125, in schedule 10, page 168, line 25, column 2, at beginning insert—
‘Section 65.’.
No. 126, in schedule 10, page 168, line 41, column 2, at end insert—
‘Section 105(2).’.
No. 127, in schedule 10, page 168, line 47, column 2, at end insert—
‘In Schedule 9, paragraphs 1 and 2(2), (4), (5), (6) and (8).’.
No. 304, in schedule 10, page 168, line 47, at end insert—
‘In Schedule 2, in paragraph 11(4)—
(a) “or the Housing Corporation”, and
(b) “or, as the case may be, the Housing Corporation”.’.
No. 305, in schedule 10, page 169, line 12, after ‘paragraphs’ insert ‘68(a),’.
No. 306, in schedule 10, page 169, line 12, leave out ‘and 94’ and insert ‘94 and 97(3)’.
No. 128, in schedule 10, page 169, line 24, at end insert—
‘Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 (c. 15)
Section 141.’.
—[Mr. Wright.]
Schedule 10, as amended, agreed to.
Clause s 276 to 278 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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