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Lord Lucas: I am informed that "operating" subsumes "owning" assets. If a social landlord owns assets in an area, then he is operating in that area. However, I appreciate the noble Lord's concern. I shall check this matter again with lawyers and come back on Report if there is any need to remove doubt.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord. On the face of it, it seems a matter of plain English. However, the noble Lord says that "operates" may mean something else and I understand that lawyers sometimes think differently from the rest of us.

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will look again at this matter to make sure that although we all understand the intention in this regard, it is properly expressed in the Bill. Even if the noble Lord decides, on advice, that the expression in the Bill covers that at which I am aiming, I should still wish to have confirmation from him in the form of a statement clearly on the record that that is the case so that if ever there is a dispute about this matter, the courts can refer to a ministerial statement saying that "operates" means "owning assets". However, the noble Lord has said that

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he will seek advice on that matter and we shall see what happens at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 24:

Before Clause 6, insert the following new clause--

Delegation of Corporation functions

(". The Corporation shall have the power to delegate any part of its monitoring functions under this Chapter in respect of a registered social landlord to a relevant local authority after full consultation with them.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is quite simple. It is to enable the corporation to delegate any part of its monitoring functions, under the chapter which we are discussing, in respect of a registered social landlord to a relevant local authority, after consultation. By "relevant local authority", I mean an authority which is concerned in the area in which the social landlord operates or owns assets or, if the two are the same, simply operates.

The purpose of the amendment is to allow local authorities to take on regulatory responsibilities, particularly for local housing companies in which local authorities may well be shareholders. We must remember that that is a distinct possibility. In my view, the Government should allow the delegation of the corporation's functions to such local authorities in order that they may be in a position to be at least involved and control the companies within their relevant area which are part of their own business as a local authority in providing housing.

I understand that this was an amendment which was tabled in another place but was not selected for debate. Therefore, it is important for this Chamber to debate in Committee amendments which were not selected for debate in another place.

This runs along the lines which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I have been working along throughout our debates in this Session. We have been trying to get local authorities more involved and more responsible and we have been trying to give more delegated powers to local authorities rather than having everything centralised. At the moment, the corporation seems to be centralised, whether it is for England or Wales. In our view, it seems to be a good idea that some of these activities, particularly where they concern local housing companies, should be delegated to the relevant local authority. I beg to move.

Lord Hylton: I am very much in favour of increasing, where possible, the powers of local authorities. However, if a local authority happens to be a shareholder in the registered company, it occurs to me that a conflict of interest may arise. Therefore, in those cases it may not be desirable to achieve such delegation.

Lord Lucas: We have considered the ideas put forward in this amendment but we remain of the view

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that the monitoring functions of the Housing Corporation belong with the corporation and that that responsibility should not be dissipated.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that registered social landlords must work with local authorities to meet local housing needs.

Local authorities need to be reassured that the registered social landlords operating within their boundaries are providing good and effective services. They have an interest in all registered social landlords assisting them to meet their housing needs, regardless of size. I recognise that they will take a closer interest in a landlord that has taken over stock and tenants from the local authority; be it few houses by a small local housing association or a large-scale transfer to a local housing company established for the purpose.

The statutory responsibility for regulating registered social landlords rests with the corporation. It is accountable to Parliament to whom it must report, through the Secretary of State, annually. It is also subject to the oversight of the various committees established by the other place.

The corporation has a duty to ensure that the public funding invested in registered social landlords is protected. It also has a duty to ensure that the interests of tenants are protected and acceptable service levels provided. To enable it to fulfil its statutory function the corporation has been given a wide range of powers. These enable it to act quickly and effectively to redress any identified failings.

Only the corporation can exercise its functions. It can enlist the support and assistance of other bodies and organisations to help it to collect and interpret relevant information. Where it needs to buy in specialist expertise, it will approach private sector bodies or use existing public bodies; for example, the proposed involvement of the Audit Commission which is being provided for within the Bill. It can seek assistance from a local authority, and we have provided in the Bill, in Clause 32, for the exchange of information in support of any of the corporation's functions.

Registered social landlords operate across the whole of England and Wales. Some are small, locally-based organisations; others are very large landlords with properties and tenants in many local authority areas. The corporation, when exercising its regulatory function, must treat all registered social landlords equally. It must act consistently. Should it fail to do so, it would be open to judicial review.

If regulation is to be imposed consistently, the corporation must be in control of all decisions. Delegation of its monitoring for any individual registered social landlord would open up the possibility of a variation in standards. A local authority will have its own views based on local circumstances; it will not be able to judge performance across the whole sector.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, suggested that the provision for consultation would enable the corporation to offer the relevant guidance to a local authority. It would, though, still allow a local authority some freedom and so leave open the possibility for varying standards being set.

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There is nothing to prevent the corporation keeping in contact with local authorities; indeed, that is to be encouraged. If there is to be consistency in the regulatory function, we consider that the decision-taking needs to rest with a single body. For that reason, we would not go along with the thought behind the amendment that there is scope for delegating some of that particular function of the corporation.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Of course, under the Bill the regulatory function of social landlords will not rest with a single body. It will rest with the Housing Corporation which is the regulator for England and with Housing for Wales which is the regulator for Wales. They are two different bodies. They may work to the same principles, but my general experience in how things apply in practice in Wales versus England means that there may be differences in the application of those general rules between both bodies. Therefore, having split the regulatory function in two--and I do not want to talk about Scotland at this stage, because it is not referred to in the Bill--and, presumably, having another regulatory power for Scotland and, indeed, one for Northern Ireland, it is no case to say that there is one regulator for all registered social landlords in the United Kingdom.

Having decided that that is not the Government's case, I have a suggestion to make for what, I agree, is a relatively small number of registered social landlords and, perhaps, for the small local housing associations of which there are many. Why not take advantage of the powers and knowledge of local authorities, subject to agreed standards which would have to be agreed between, for example, Housing for Wales and the Powys district council, or between the Housing Corporation and an English local council? Why not disaggregate the arrangement even further? Once you split it into two, three or four--as the case may be in the United Kingdom--why not introduce an effective regulatory power for the smaller operations using the local knowledge of the authorities whose properties many of the social landlords will take over? I am not entirely convinced by the Minister's argument. Perhaps he would like to respond to that point because it is particularly relevant to Wales.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: Before the Minister responds, I should like to express my strong support for the amendment for the many reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. Perhaps the Minister can share with Members of the Committee the suggestions that the Government may make to the Housing Corporation as to how it should work with local authorities. It is important that such arrangements work smoothly. I understand the point made about delegation, but I am not clear how far the noble Lord thinks it would be a good thing for the Housing Corporation to take seriously the recommendations that are made. If it does

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not delegate, it could at any rate use the expertise of local authorities as much as possible without actually going as far as delegating.

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