Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

On the speeches made by my noble friend Lord Howarth—who gave a tour de force of the issues about design and quality, especially his emphasis on the term “beauty”—my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, we had an excellent debate the other day on architectural design and quality. This debate had echoes of it. I know that noble Lords are asking me to strengthen part of the Bill in that respect. We are listening hard. I take the point about design-review panels. We will look in all the ways in which we can to strengthen the already vast range of opportunities, incentives and requirements. Quality in the terms of our objective means designers, but we will go on listening to this debate.



28 Apr 2008 : Column 117

The same applies to accessibility in lifetime homes, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, referred. We have made a lot of progress in establishing a timetable for lifetime homes and public housing and a timetable of 2013 for all housing. We have now established a proper dialogue with industry and we will help it to achieve progress, but we will have no problem regulating if it does not make enough progress. However, by making lifetime homes such an important aspect of our work, not only in relation to ageing but for all of us, we will be in a much stronger position to make the sort of adaptations that we want for people who are in wheelchairs, for example. I will think more about what the noble Baroness said about how we can ensure in policy in general that we pick up that important point.

On villages and allotments, we have strong and specific legislation on allotments, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, well knows. We know, because the allotment societies tell me—I meet all of them—that we have enough legislation but that it is probably not implemented systematically in some places. We have therefore put out guidance rather than looked again at what the law might do because that is not the point. On the noble Baroness’s general question, the Bill does not change the current position on the protection of green spaces, open spaces and allotments. I can give her that assurance because I think she thought that Schedule 3 in some ways weakened that provision. It does not.

My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton talked about community land trusts. I am sure he will know that we are sympathetic and that we continue to provide support to the University of Salford’s pilots. We will support such support in principle, but I look forward to any further debate which he provokes if he makes any attempt to improve the Bill, as he would see it, in that respect.

Likewise, on park homes, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for housing announced in a debate on 27 March that we are committed to reviewing the existing system of licensing park homes and that we will publish a consultation paper later.

I shall move swiftly to Part 2 and to the point about regulation, which is obviously as important. Many noble Lords addressed the problem of the domain and why we are excluding local government and the private rented sector. These are good questions. On local government tenants, all I can say is what I have already said; we are fully committed to it. We have made a pledge that we will include local authorities within two years. The private rented sector is a very different and problematic area—no one knows this better than the noble Lord, Lord Best—but the work that is being done by Julie Rugg is fundamental. It looks at a whole range of issues, and I feel fairly confident that we will come out at the end of that with a set of proposals.

On the point made by my noble friend Lord Smith about retaliatory eviction, Julie Rugg’s review was almost prompted by the cases that were brought by the CAB, so she will obviously look at that issue, which I agree with him is very serious.



28 Apr 2008 : Column 118

There was much debate, powerfully led by my noble friend Lord Filkin, on the position of tenants and the question of choice. I do not agree, I am afraid. The provisions for tenants and choice are very powerful. The point about the regulator—Cave rightly identified the absence of choice as a reason for regulation—is that we want a dynamic market in housing management. We aim to achieve it through the Bill. The regulator’s objective is to promote choice, and the registration of a wider range of providers will extend choice. But the Bill has the fundamental objective—objective 3—of involving tenants for the first time. I hope that that will address some of the anxieties of the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches who spoke about that.

Clause 202 requires the regulator to provide information on the performance of providers. I am sure that we will have lively debates on the nature of that information. The Bill provides for the greater ability of the regulator to require providers to contract out management following an inquiry. We certainly have a set of propositions to debate in detail in Committee. My noble friends Lord Morris and Lady Jones raised non-housing activity. Essentially, regulators can set standards for non-housing activities, but they will need to be connected to social housing. The regulator should not seek to stifle innovation, which is the opposite of what we want. The issue of non-housing activity is quite complex.

My noble friend Lord Whitty raised a set of issues, including the duty to engage with tenants. I say to him and to my noble friend Lord Filkin that we are listening hard to what is said about the issues that they raise. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Whitty welcomed the change to tenant ballots, but I am not surprised that he is not entirely satisfied with it. I look forward to further debate with him on the nature of information; we always listen closely to his concerns. On the HRA subsidy, the HRA review will look at a wide range of those issues.

To conclude, listening and responding to tenants will be at the heart of the culture of the regulator. Listening and responding is what we do. My noble friend Lady Billingham talked about regeneration. With her enormous experience, she spoke about sport and leisure essentially being two of the most important factors for driving regeneration. The experience of Corby is outstanding in that respect. The problems that she raised about the ability of the planning system to respond to what she wants to see are known to me and I am sure that we will have an active debate on that. It is part of our approach to making the community more vibrant, more resilient and well provided for.

Listening and responding to tenants is at the heart of the culture of the regulator and at the heart of this Bill. For the first time, housing association tenants will know what they have a right to in terms of standards of accommodation and the quality of their homes. They will know when those standards have been breached and what action has been taken, which takes us a long way forward from the situation that we have had in the past.



28 Apr 2008 : Column 119

There will be much to discuss on the detail. I am sure that the amendments that come forward will be creative and thoughtful. It will be a pleasure to engage in that debate. For the moment, I thank everyone who has spoken. I am grateful for the welcome that has been given, not least to those provisions at the back of the Bill about Gypsies and Travellers, the Armed Forces and the important changes in the HRA system, on which I am quite sure that we will have separate,

28 Apr 2008 : Column 120

but very good, debates. I commend the Bill to the House and I look forward to the next stage.

On Question, Bill read a second time.

Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [HL]

The Bill was reported from the Joint Committee without amendment and recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page