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Secondly, to pick up my noble friends point, the system must maintain stability. We are talking about £35 million of investment. Stability is in everyones best interests: tenants, providers and the general community. Uncertainty over whether managers might be spontaneously sacked leads to perverse and difficult consequences of unexpected costs and disruptionmaybe even a rise in the cost of capital if lenders perceive greater risk. It is important that we consider this, and Martin Cave raised it when he met with us.
Thirdly, housing associations are independent bodies, often charitable, with a strong record of innovation. Provided that the performance standard is good, they should be able to get on with their business. If they are not permitted to make decisions on how to achieve good outcomes on this basis, there could be issues over their independence. Fourthly, a direct tenant right to sack introduces a system of multiple regulation with a lot of scope for conflict. We are trying to achieve a proper consensus based on evidence and the balance of interests.
On balance, the regulator is best placed to make these difficult decisions. He will be proactive and take tenants influence into account, in all the different ways I have described. It is therefore clear why I cannot accept Amendment No. 103D, not least because I do not know what the trigger for management change would be. I do not know who would decide what core management was and how it would be judged.
On Amendment No. 104ZB, I think it unlikely that we could have specified in the Bill the structural barriers that Cave identified. The barriers he was talking about are real and their existence is a key reason for needing regulation. That is why the system of regulation gives the regulator levers to begin to address them. The objectives and the standards, and their interrelationship, will address the barriers. In objective 2 we do not specifically refer to the structural barriers, but I do not see anything in this amendment which would not be covered by objective 2.
The point raised on VAT is very serious. All I would say, in the interests of brevity, is that I cannot change that rule. I am afraid that however much I would like to, I cannot hold out any hopefor reasons that the noble Lord knows full wellthat the rule will be changed. I appreciate the reason for his raising it.
I hope that I have sufficiently explained the workings of standards and especially standards which influence tenants influencing management. I hope I have been clear that standards could include both the appointment of new managers and major proposals. I shall conclude with that, as I take the point raised by the amendment as a way of facilitating debate.
I turn back to where I started. I hope I have clarified why I believe that the system we have means that the regulator will deliver the outcomes that the noble Lord wishes to achieve, and why we think that
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Lord Filkin: I am particularly grateful for my noble friends tone and for the offer she has made to give thought to the kernel of these issues. I respect the fact that she has treated them seriously rather than using tangential arguments to dismiss them. I shall be delighted to work with her on that, if she so wishes.
Not for the first time and not for the last time, I am sure, I find that I agree very strongly with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I think he signalled that he agreed with me. The only sensible thing I can say is that I invite him to join my party rapidly. Clearly, we need him. In a sense, he says from the basis of being a regulator and having deep experience, that you must have mechanisms to change the system. If you do not, ultimately, you will leave tenants disempowered, as they are now.
This debate is deeply imbued with paternalism and welfare-ism. Having been a landlord for more years than I care to remember, do we really believe that some consumers should have as many rights as others? As we are talking of the poor, do we really think that they cannot be trusted to do this? One little joke before I move on: like the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, I have been involved on boards of collective leaseholders working together and I have found quite as many of the mad, the bad and the sad there as I used to when managing very large-scale council provision and seeking to give tenants the choice over major investment decisions on their estates. We are wrong if we think that there is a monopoly of wisdom with the traditions of the middle class.
Some of the arguments I heard against the need for this, which relied on mechanisms of detailed practice, felt like the traditional views of landlords and providers, rather than as though we were starting from the point of view of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccleshow would we empower tenants to have choice?which, in time, would have the benefit of giving them a better service. Clearly issues such as protecting the asset and the debt are fundamental. That is why the amendment proposes a system that is proposed by the regulator, because it would have to be copper-bottomed and enshrined in law such that no one could give power to anyone who did not have a prime duty. I do not give too much attention to the argument that this could not be done because the staff might be affected, because we must put the interests of consumers above those of the producers.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend and I look forward perhaps to having the opportunity to explore this further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(1) It shall be the duty of the regulator, in performing its functions, to ensure that tenants of social housing, bodies representing their interests and, where appropriate, members of the public are involved in the exercise of its functions.
(2) The regulator must take such steps as it considers appropriate to secure the involvement of tenants of social housing and bodies representing them in the exercise of its functions in the manner referred to in subsection (1).
The noble Earl said: This is a fairly simple amendment, the aim of which is to require the regulator to engage and involve tenants, and members of the public where appropriate, when carrying out its regulations and inspections of social housing providers. There is currently no specific duty to engage social housing tenants. We saw the list of duties in Clause 88, but there was no mention of engaging with social housing tenants.
Involving service users and the public is, we are told, a key part of the Governments strategy for ensuring that people have an opportunity to have their say and to become involved in their local services. The amendment, which is supported by a number of organisationsincluding the National Consumer Council, the National Housing Federation, the Local Government Association, and the National Federation of ALMOs, to name a fewwould also ensure that the regulator had a duty to engage with the National Tenant Voice, a new national body that represents the interests of social housing tenants.
The Minister has said that the Bill will ensure that tenants are at the very heart of the new regulatory systemI think she wrote that in a letter to us recentlybut the Bill does not go far enough in meeting the proposals of the Cave report to ensure that tenants are at the heart of the new regulatory system. It is important that the Tenant Services Authority has a duty to engage with tenants in carrying out its functions. I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: This is another extremely important issue, which is closely related to the long debate that we have just had. From the outset, as part of the Cave report, Every Tenant Matters, we have signalled the inclusive listening culture that I want from the new regulator. The whole purpose of the Bill is to establish a new deal for tenants. Indeed, the second objective is to ensure that the actual or potential tenants of social housing have appropriate choice and protection. The third objective is to ensure that tenants of social housing have the opportunity to be involved in its management. Those objectives frame everything.
I set out in the previous debate the arrangements for consultation and publishing information. Together, those powers and duties form a robust and transparent
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The problem is whether the amendment would achieve its aims. As I have said, we all want to see the regulator involving tenants, but the amendment gives the regulator a statutory duty to involve tenants in its own work, which is partly the problem. The regulator has an objective to ensure that tenants have the opportunity to be involved in the management of their own homes and it may set standards for landlords on this issue. However, the amendment looks at tenant involvement in a different way: it puts an explicit duty on the regulator to involve tenants in the exercise of its functions. I wonder how it would work with all the activities in which the regulator will be engaged. I am not sure precisely what forms of engagement with tenants, which are not already covered, the noble Lord believes are necessary, where the boundaries might be or the nature of the involvement.
Earl Cathcart: There seem to be four areas: namely, that it provides tenants with information about the exercise of its functions; it consults them about the exercise of its functions; it involves them in the inspection of registered providers of social housing; and it involves them in the process of national studies and how that affects them.
Baroness Andrews: I am grateful to the noble Earl for reminding me of the detail in the amendment. It still raises the question of where the boundaries would lie in such a way so as not to overwhelm the regulatory process, bearing in mind that this is a small body. We want to be sure that this focuses on its main tasks. The regulator clearly needs to consult with tenant representatives when setting standards and guidance, which are its principal activities.
The noble Earl raised inspection in particular, which is central to what he said; we will come to that in a later group. However, the Audit Commission, which will do most of those inspections under amendments that I will bring, customarily uses lay inspectors. I am sure that we would expect that to happen and I am equally sure that some of those lay inspectors will be tenants. I will be able to go into more detail when we reach that group.
I can also reassure the noble Earl on the tenant voice. He will know that we are making significant progress with the creation of the National Tenant Voice, which will provide a voice and expertise for tenants at a national level through advocacy, research and support for representative groups. It will work closely with the regulator to drive up housing standards. Therefore, it will be able to do many of the things that the noble Earl would want to see under his amendment.
On another recent development, we currently envisage that the board will comprise the chair, chief executive and seven members. Among the seven members, we
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The noble Baroness said: The amendment would add something to Clause 99, dealing with information, advice and so on. I am aware that we have spent quite a lot of time already this afternoon on important matters, but I do not want to suggest that this is unimportant. I will be happy to be told at the end of what need not be a very long exchange that the research in my amendment is covered by the clause and, more importantly, although we do not have the regulator in place, that the Government have in mind that the regulator should pay serious attention to this.
The amendment is about research on levels of income and the affordability of housing. We talk about affordable housing in a rather glib way, without stopping to work out what is affordable. That will vary across the country, as will rents. Doing the arithmetic and bringing the income and outgoings together into the same calculation
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I want to approach this from the people end as well as the bricks-and-mortar end. Unless attention is paid to what is affordable in reality, with an estimate of the needs of those who are not adequately served by the marketmore than an assessment; some detailed, tough work on what is actually affordablethe final words in a Bill that is 222 pages long and growing will not deliver for a lot of the people whom we want to see the Bill deliver for. I beg to move.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It will add a significant amount of research-based evidence to the arguments on the dispensation of grants in particular, and will bring transparency to the decisions taken by the regulator and the Homes and Communities Agency by helping not just the providers but also the consumers of housing to understand why policy goes in one direction versus another.
Viscount Eccles: Amendment No. 105 in my name covers a rather different subject; I should perhaps have pointed that out. It is about the disappearance of the Treasury syndrome. The Minister said that she would write to my noble friend Lord Brooke, who is not in his place. That letter will no doubt come and Members of the Committee will receive copies of it. His point was that not having the Treasury appearing with great regularity in the Bill is a major change from predecessor legislation. If I take two or three predecessor Acts, the Treasury makes about 20 appearances in each. In this Bill, the Treasury appears once, in Clause 97(4), in brackets,
My amendment only goes to accounts. At the moment, the Housing Corporation and the Urban Regeneration Agency get an annual direction from the Treasury about their accounts. It is detailed and is repeated in their reports and accounts. In answer to the question about why the Treasury is no longer necessary, the Minister said it was okay because accountability was still ensured. I am not certain that accountability is the issue. As I understand it, when Secretaries of State are going to disburse moneys under an Act of Parliament, they do not have any money, so they have to go to the Treasury because the Treasury holds all the funds in its Consolidated Fund. Therefore, the Secretary of State needs to make a call on the Treasury for funds. I would have thought that that should be acknowledged in the Bill, if nothing else is acknowledged. I speculated about why this change of practice has come about. I wondered whether it was something to do with ultimate control and whether there was some issue whereby if you put the Treasury in too often, you would have to conclude that the ultimate control of the body concerned, the HCA and the regulator in this case, would lie with
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Baroness Andrews: We have had two rather different but equally important debates. On the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am absolutely of one mind with her and her noble friend on the importance of this sort of research, irrespective of who does it. We need a much clearer idea of the living standards and choices that people make in terms of their income and the demands on them. I have seen some of Peter Ambroses important workhe is a professor in housing studieswhich is quite well known in this field.
I reassure the noble Baroness that, as she knows, the regulator can already carry out a wide range of studies and research under Clause 99. The scope is limited in two ways. The purposes of the study must be to advance the objectives set out in Clause 88 and must relate to social housing. I am sure that a study of the type proposed would advance objective 2, as it is concerned with the protection of tenants and potential tenants; for example, protection from excessive rent levels. It is also likely that this sort of study would be research on social housing. If it is, the regulator should certainly be able to do it already if it wishes to. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Baroness on that point.
Swerving to the point about the Treasury, I am not sure whether Members of the Committee should look forward to the letter we are promising. I am told that it is now about 30 pages long on Part 1. We are scrupulous in our attention to detail, and honour our promises, but it will be indexed so that Members of the Committee do not have to read all of it. I am sure that it will deal with this point about the Treasury and many of the other wide-ranging issues raised on Part 1.
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