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The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 110RB. Clauses 201 and 202 are about performance information. At least three of us here will take our minds back to only last year, when we debated performance information in the context of local authorities.
Under Clause 201, the regulator can require a provider to put together certain information and specify the matters to be covered. Clause 202 refers to information that is likely to be useful. The amendments are about what would be useful. They both require the breaking-down of information by local authority area. A number
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RSLs typically report against stock holdings and performance at a national level, so they are assessed at a national level, or there is an aggregation or averaging-out of performance, which means that poor performance in specific localities is not clear. Equally, particularly good performance is not made clear. If the reporting is not specific by area, those who are immediately and directly affected do not have the information which the Bill attempts in various ways to provide.
Information on RSL performance will also allow local authorities to ensure that tenants receive an equal service across the sector. It is clear that London Councils, which has asked me to put forward these amendments, is signed up to the Governments agenda because it states that information is a,
Baroness Andrews: I am happy to give the sort of assurances that both the noble Baroness and London Councils are seeking in terms of what we are looking for in these clauses. These are probing amendments about the purpose and effect of Clauses 201 and 202 about the way information will be provided, collected and published.
I want to focus on Clause 202, which really is the key clause, but the principles I shall set out reflect Clause 201 and Amendment No. 110RB as well. The clause states that the regulator is required to publish performance information at least once a year, but it also stipulates that that must include information likely to be useful to tenants, potential tenants and local authorities. We added that clause to the Bill in the other place because we wanted to clarify what the regulator had to do as a minimum to meet the recommendations of the Cave review regarding information for tenants.
It is true that the regulator has clear statutory objectives to ensure that tenants have chosen the opportunity to be involved in the management of their homes, but it is clear to me that in order for consumers to exercise genuine choice in any sort of market they have to have sufficient information about the alternatives on offer. They can hardly have any form of choice without information that enables them to compare how their landlord performs in their areas against other landlords. Part of the purpose of Clause 202 is to meet that need.
It is not just about information for existing tenants. Potential tenants of social housing also deserve to be able to compare landlord performance in their area when they enter the social housing system. That gives
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London Councils has argued that there needs to be a clause requiring this performance information to be broken down by local authority area level. I agree with that. I assure the noble Baroness that Clause 202 in effect requires the performance information published by the regulator to be broken down by local authority area level. If information has to be at that level in order to be useful to local authoritiesas I, the noble Baroness and stakeholders believe it doesthen that is what the regulator will have to provide in order to meet its duty under this clause.
It is reasonable, given that we are all agreed on this, to ask: Why dont we just say in the Bill that the performance information that is published should be broken down by local authority area?. In addition to the argument I have just put, we have here a clause that allows the right sort of flexibility. Instead of drafting Clause 202 in the way we have done, if we had drawn up a clause that had this sort of detail we would inevitably have ended up with a clause that had to cover every other aspect of the nature of the informationwhom it should be available to, how it should be provided, how it should be accessed; all sorts of exhaustive requirements. That would have been very difficult and would have left the regulator with little room to respond to changing needs.
I hope the noble Baroness will accept that that is the intention. That is certainly how we want to see the clause being interpreted and implemented. It is not merely limited to requiring that the performance information should be broken down by local authority level; it could cover other types of performance information that is of use to tenants and local authorities as well.
The same principles apply to the first amendment in the group. Amendment No. 110RA would require registered providers, when submitting performance information to the regulator under Clause 201, to break down that information by each local authority. Again, I can provide the assurance that the noble Baroness seeks. I hope that having that on the record will reassure local authorities that they will get the information in the most useful form as they need it.
Baroness Hamwee: That is indeed a helpful interpretation of the words likely to be useful. A point that has just occurred to me is whether deciding what information is likely to be useful would be one of the matters that the regulator has to consult on when he sets standards, as provided for in Clause 194. The Minister will know from our discussion a couple of days ago that I believe that local authorities should appear in the list of consultees. Those representing the interests of tenants are consultees, so there is obviously a fairly close link here.
The noble Lord said: This group contains four amendments to Clause 203. Three are government amendments, Amendments Nos. 110S, 110T and 110U, and one, Amendment No. 110SA, has been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The government amendments strengthen the statutory requirements for individuals conducting an inquiry into the affairs of a registered provider to be independent of the regulator. Noble Lords will know that statutory inquiries are undertaken when the regulator has serious concerns about the management of a landlord. The findings of the statutory inquiry can lead to the use of the regulators strongest intervention powers, including the transfer of a providers land. This power has been used on four occasions in recent years. It is therefore essential that the individuals conducting the inquiry are demonstrably independent of the regulator.
At present, Clause 203 requires that at least one of the team conducting an inquiry is independent of the regulator. Individuals are independent if they and members of their family are not and have not been in the preceding five years members or employees of the regulator. Current Housing Corporation policy is that all members of the inquiry team should be independent of the regulator. Amendments Nos. 110S and 110T will put this policy in the Bill. Amendment No. 110U extends the definition of independent so that individuals working for the Housing Corporation on a consultancy basis are also excluded. This reflects a change in working practices since the legislation was drafted. It is now more common for organisations like the regulator to employ individuals on a short-term consultancy basis, and we believe that it is important that any potential conflicts of interest are explicitly ruled out. I am sure noble Lords will agree that this will strengthen the protections already present in the system.
(1) This section applies where a designated body or locally recognised representative body makes a complaint to the regulator that the affairs of a registered provider may have been mismanaged, and is or appears to be detrimental to the interests of tenants of social housing.
The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to another aspect of the way in which the regulator should relate to tenants and to tenants organisations. As the Committee knows, I wish that the scope of the regulator would be wider and apply to other social
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We are in favour of different forms of engagement between tenants, their organisations and the new regulator. There are three dimensions to that. Unfortunately, I was not at the previous session of the Committee, but I would have strongly supported the noble Earls amendment to strengthen the duty in the Bill to engage with tenants. I regret that my noble friend the Minister rejected that approach and I hope that she will reconsider that. That is an ongoing framework within which the regulator should continue to engage with tenants organisations and tenants.
The amendment is more specific. We have just passed without amendment the references to inquiries by the regulator, but how do tenants and their organisations trigger such inquiries or other forms of intervention and action by the regulator? The new clause proposed by the amendment would allow tenants organisations that are nationally recognised by the Secretary of Stateand we know that a number of them existand organisations that are locally recognised by the provider, which have standard consultation procedures, to bring to the attention of the regulator situations of general mismanagement which they felt was carried on by a social housing provider in their area, or more generally. The amendment would give the right of initiative, in other words, to tenants and their organisations to bring to the attention of the regulator such alleged or perceived abuse.
The regulator would have to make its own assessment as to whether to do anything about these situations. It would have 60 days to decide on whether to take action and what form of action was necessary. In serious cases, it would probably decide to hold an inquiry, under the clause that we have just passed. This gives more power of initiation to the tenants organisations. There are some difficulties in defining those tenants organisations and how they would qualify in certain circumstances. Some of that probably has to be left to the regulator to tidy up, or is for the Government to tidy up in subordinate legislation.
It is important that people who feel that their current provider is mismanaging their property, their relations with the tenants or other services of the provider should be able to trigger action by the regulator. Judgment of the seriousness of the case and what form of action to take is the regulators responsibility.
The clause provides a positive a role for tenants and their organisations. I do not see its equivalent in other provisions. Although the Minister may feel that this is not quite the right way to do it, I hope that the Government recognise that we must convince tenants that a serious change is being made, whereby they have some levers in their hands. That would make the credibility of the new regulator more substantial than does the present draft of the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Best: I, too, support the amendment, while suggesting that it might be extended beyond the tenants and the properties managed by the provider to those others who live in mixed-income communitiesthe shared owners, part owners and owners who are in the same block but managed by the single social housing provider.
Lord Filkin: I, too, support the amendment. I hope that the Minister will speak positively about the principle, if not literally every word of the amendment. I cross-reference what we are seeing in the Ministers own department. John Healey as Minister for Local Government has called for powers for community calls for action, whereby the community is enabled to initiate change when it thinks that something is wrong. Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State, sees community empowerment as being a fundamentally important part of progressive politics. The amendment is four-square with that thrust of policy. Therefore, I hope that it will be given a warm welcome.
Lord Dixon-Smith: If one thinks of our debates in this Committee about tenant empowerment, one will see that the amendment is very helpful. The wording may not be perfectI do not suppose that the Minister would admit that the wording of any amendment proposed by any Member was ever perfect, because I suspect that her Bill team would feel offended if she did. I hope that she will none the less support the principle and thrust of the amendment and perhaps bring back her own.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I add my support. Tenants need a clear way in which they can make complaints and be listened to, and the amendment provides one of them. That does not necessarily mean that the wording is rightthe clarity of subsection (8) is a problembut I am sure that we could find a way through that. However, it needs to be clear to tenants what they have to do to make a complaint and what has to happen in response. The amendment does not tie the regulator to saying what it will do and when and how; it leaves it with the flexibility that it needs.
Baroness Andrews: My noble friend should feel well pleased by the response to his amendment. I align myself entirely with what the amendment tries to do. It provides a good opportunity to discuss broadly what the Bill means to tenants. We anticipated some of that debate when we addressed the issues raised the other day by my noble friend Lord Filkin.
My noble friend has put forward one mechanism for doing what he seeks. We, too, have put much thought into addressing how we make effective provision for the issues raised by tenants. It is very much work in progress for us. He will probably agree that designing a classical system for complaints to the regulator is not easy, and I appreciate the work that has gone into crafting the amendment.
Perhaps I may just run over the broader argument. There is a whole set of powers and duties in the Bill, and essentially they add up to a new system which for the first time allows for tenants to be more involved in the regulatory process. Essentially, Martin Cave suggested that evidence from tenants should contribute to the regulatory process, and it is that point that the amendment seeks to address. In recommendation 12, he said that the regulator should develop a range of ways of triggering interventions in consultation with providers and National Tenant Voice. That was addressed to the regulator. He also said that triggering mechanisms should ideally be based on a combination of desktop analysis, references from tenants and other bodies, including local authorities, and whistleblowing.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment. I agree that the regulator should be responsive to tenants concerns and use evidence from them to justify its interventions, as Clause 98 permits. However, I think that Cave was proposing that tenants or selected tenant groups should be given a new statutory right to require the regulator to take specific action in relation to tenant concerns. When he talked to us on 2 June, he said quite clearly that his intention was to provide for a conveyer belt of information to be sent to the regulator so that it could better decide what to do.
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