Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas: Both amendments concern the Secretary of State's powers to make changes to the description of the landlords who are to be treated as social landlords for the purposes of membership of an improved ombudsman scheme. Amendment No. 175 would prevent the Secretary of State from adding to, or amending by order, the description of landlords who are to be treated as social landlords. Subsection (2) of the Bill identifies the categories of landlord currently appropriate to be regarded as social landlords.

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1636

As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will appreciate, the world of social housing is not static. In time other categories of landlord may need to be brought into the statutory scheme. I instance housing investment trusts. We are here looking just at the ombudsman scheme rather than it being brought into the Bill as a whole.

While we do not have any particular category of new landlord in mind, it is important that when they do appear we are able to ensure straightaway that tenants have recourse to the approved ombudsman as soon as possible. To achieve that we are proposing that the Secretary of State should have the power by order to amend the description of social landlord. That will not affect those landlords who, under Schedule 2, can voluntarily choose to join the scheme.

Amendment No. 176, which I propose to move, is required to rectify an omission identified by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. We are grateful to it for doing so. Because any amendment to the description of landlords is likely to be relatively simple, we had intended that the Secretary of State's order-making powers should be subject to negative resolution procedures. However, due to an oversight, the necessary provision was omitted. The purpose of the government amendment is to correct the omission. I am pleased to say that in its report the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee agreed that the negative procedure would be appropriate.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his response to my amendment and for acknowledging the oversight that took place in the Government's deliberations. On the assumption that the noble Lord will move Amendment No. 176, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 175.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 176:

Page 31, line 6, at end insert--
("( ) Any such order shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: To give the noble Lord, Lord Williams, the required comfort, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Social rented sector: housing complaints]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 177:

Page 131, line 24, at end insert--
("(16A. A duty of the Housing Ombudsman annually to consult its members on its activities and costs.").

The noble Lord said: We now move to Schedule 2. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I also speak to Amendment No. 178 standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. As drafted, Schedule 2 does not oblige the housing ombudsman to consult members on activities and costs. Ombudsman schemes, if I may call them that, might draw up annual budgets in a fashion without regard to the costs for members or for value for money. The amendment that

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1637

I propose will provide a formal mechanism for members of an ombudsman scheme to comment on the activities, costs and budgets and, therefore, it will provide a degree of influence over the level of contributions that they may have to make. We want to ensure that the independent housing ombudsman schemes which are established are responsive to their members and have regard to value for money in the service that they provide.

Amendment No. 178, if accepted, will require that consultation takes place with the representatives of social landlords before any ombudsman scheme, or any amendment to a scheme, is approved. In general, housing associations welcome the Bill's provisions for an independent statutory ombudsman. Membership of an ombudsman scheme will be compulsory for registered housing associations and, in future, for all registered social landlords. These landlords will have to meet the costs of the scheme, which is not unreasonable, and they will be affected by decisions taken by the ombudsman under the scheme. In our view, it is equally reasonable that registered social landlords should be properly consulted about the ways in which such schemes will operate. To date, the clause has been phrased to allow for consultation to be carried out either by the Secretary of State or anyone else who proposes an ombudsman scheme or changes to a scheme. We believe that the Secretary of State should be obliged to consult such bodies representative of social landlords as he thinks fit, and that is the object of Amendment No. 178. I beg to move Amendment No. 177.

7 p.m.

Lord Lucas: If the Committee agrees, I should like to speak to both Amendments Nos. 177 and 178. Both amendments concern the scheme to be submitted by a prospective independent housing ombudsman. We fully appreciate the concerns that lie behind the first amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, which would require the ombudsman to consult annually with its members on its activities and costs. The noble Lord may be concerned that in setting the annual charge the ombudsman may not have regard to the impact of the costs of the service on member landlords, or to the importance of achieving value for money from the scheme. I should like to reassure the noble Lord that the Secretary of State will consider carefully the quality of any scheme and how the costs are to be defrayed by the members; in short, the value for money that the scheme provides. He will, of course, wish to ensure that the scheme is capable of being sufficiently responsive to its prospective members, while at the same time it is properly independent. If he is not satisfied on this point, he may decide not to approve the scheme.

Amendment No. 178 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require the Secretary of State to consult with bodies representative of social landlords before approving a scheme, and is unnecessary. In submitting a scheme for the Secretary of State's approval, the prospective ombudsman will be expected to have demonstrated that social landlords and

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1638

their representative bodies have been fully consulted. Given this, we see no reason for these bodies to be consulted separately by the Secretary of State.

I hope that that gives the noble Lord, Lord Williams, enough comfort to withdraw his amendment and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, enough comfort not to move hers in due course.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He provided the comfort for which I was looking. On balance, I do not believe that it is necessary to have something on the face of the Bill. A ministerial Statement such as the one that the noble Lord has given the Committee suffices. I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. I accept his arguments about Amendment No. 178. Unless the noble Baroness has any objection, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 177. I leave it to the noble Baroness to decide whether or not she wishes to move Amendment No. 178.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 178 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 179:

Page 132, line 25, at end insert--
("Proceedings for such an offence may be brought only by or with the consent of the Corporation or the Director of Public Prosecutions.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 179 to which I spoke with Amendment No. 46.

[Amendments Nos. 179A and 179B, as amendments to Amendment No. 179, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 179 agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 180:

Page 133, line 32, leave out ("charitable").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendment No. 180 with Amendment No. 143. I beg to move Amendment No. 180.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 181 not moved.]

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 51 [General provisions as to orders]:

On Question, Whether Clause 51 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Williams of Elvel: I have some difficulty with this clause. It seems to me to be, if not a Henry VIII clause, at least a Henry VII clause. The clause reads:

    "(1) The following provisions apply to any power of the Secretary of State under this Part to make an order.

    (2) An order may make different provision for different cases or descriptions of case...

    (3) An order may contain such supplementary, incidental, consequential or transitional provisions and savings as the Secretary of State considers appropriate".
All of that is very well, and Henry VII would have been very proud of it.

Can the Minister say whether there is any restriction on the power of the Secretary of State under this clause and, if so, what it is? How does the Secretary of State,

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1639

or a future Secretary of State, intend to use the powers under the clause? Perhaps this could take the form of a ministerial Statement. Over the years I have seen this clause before in Bills with which I have been concerned on the Opposition Bench. I have raised the same point but have never received a satisfactory answer as to how the Secretary of State may use these powers. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could give me some reassurance as to my worries.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page