HC Deb 27 June 1988 vol 136 cc53-79

Amendments made: No. 368, in page 60, line 16 leave out `has been approved by the Housing Corporation' and insert 'is for the time being approved by the Corporation'.

No. 369, in page 60, line 18, leave out 'Housing'.

No. 370, in page 60, line 20, leave out `so approved' and insert 'approved under this section'.—[Mr. Waldegrave.]

Mr. Simon Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 388, in page 60, line 20, at end insert— `(1 A) The right conferred by this Part shall not be exercisable by a person approved under this section until after tenants of any dwelling-houses which such a person wishes to acquire have held a ballot on whether they wish their dwelling houses to be owned or managed by them co-operatively'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 398, in page 60, line 20, at end insert— `(1A) A parish or community council may be approved by the Housing Corporation under this section.'.

No. 178, in page 60, line 35, at end insert— `(5) The Housing Corporation shall have a duty to provide reasonable funding and training to tenants' co-operatives applying for approval under this Part;'.

No. 120, in clause 88, page 61, line 18, at end insert— 'This subsection shall not apply to an application made by a representative co-operative of tenants of those dwellings which are subject to the application'.

No. 397, in clause 89, page 61, line 38, at end add— ';and

  1. (c) in respect of property covered by a management agreement of the type referred to in section 27 of the Housing Act 1985 where the agent is a tenant management co-operative—
    1. (i) shall only include property covered by that management agreement; and,
    2. (ii) shall include all property covered by that management agreement.'.

Mr. Hughes

Most of these amendments are concerned with the opportunity to form tenants' co-operatives. Amendment No. 388 is tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), but amendment No. 397 has received all-party support. It emanates from the newly formed all-party group that has been set up to propagate the interests of co-operatives. The Minister for Housing and Planning was good enough to speak at its inaugural meeting. I hope that we shall receive from him a sympathetic response to the purport of the amendments.

The intention of amendment No. 398 is slightly different—to allow parish or community councils to become approved landlords.

It is interesting to look at the Conservative party manifesto of the last election. Its proposals for council housing say: We will give groups of tenants the right to form tenant co-operatives, owning and running their management and budget for themselves. They will also have the right to ask other institutions to takeover their housing. Tenants who wish to remain with the local authority will he able to do so. It was interesting—I applaud this—that tenant co- operatives—the opportunity for tenants to own and run their management and budget for themselves—was the first of those three options. The commitment in the manifesto that gives tenants rights to ask other institutions to take over their housing has slightly changed with the passage of time.

I think that hon. Members will agree that last week I had an interesting exchange with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time. No doubt Ministers have had an opportunity to read our exchanges. I asked the Prime Minister to explain the change in policy in part IV of the Bill, and the Prime Minister said: I thought that we had arranged that it was a majority of those voting—either for tenants' co-operatives or for a possible transfer to housing associations."—[Official Report, 23 June 1988; Vol. 172, c. 1257.] The point that must be underlined is that tenants' co-operatives were listed as the first option.

Amendment No. 388 argues that tenants should have the opportunity to consider whether they wish to go down the co-operative road before any new landlord can start campaigning to take over their housing. There is a widespread belief in the House that, if part IV is to give tenants opportunities, they must have the chance first to consider managing or owning their houses co-operatively and be given a specific time in which to do so. If that does not happen, there will be no realistic prospect of a tenants' co-operative. It will have been overtaken by alternatives from the private sector, which are already resourced and financed, and other approved landlords.

In Committee, the Minister did not make it clear exactly why he was not prepared to concede that tenants should have such an opportunity. I press him to be more explicit. As I said in Committee, his words about and support for co-operatives were encouraging. The Minister for Housing and Planning and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe)—often give examples of co-operatives that they have visited.

Paragraph 7 of "Tenants' Choice", which was published last week, states that the criteria for approval by landlords and the way in which they are applied, will need to take account of the special position of tenant co-ops or other community-based applicants which it might be proposed to set up, with help and guidance from the Housing Corporation, to take over property under Tenants' Choice. That is all well and good, but it begs the question: in practice, how will the Government, through the approval criteria mentioned in paragraph 7 and clause 87, take account of the special position of co-operatives? I hope that the Minister can answer that question in a detailed and explicit way.

I hope that the Minister can say something more than that he has just set up a review of co-operatives. Although I welcome the review, I am slightly surprised that the reporting date will be after the Bill becomes law. The Bill may become law in November, with the review date being in December, so there may be some difficulty about establishing the new regime for co-operatives. I hope that the Minister will tell us that tenants' co-operatives will have a special place, especially in the pre-selection procedure. There is no argument in law as to why tenants should not have a chance to choose the management or ownership of a co-operative before any new landlord can come forward.

There is another matter on which I have not yet heard a public comment or seen a written response. Discussions are taking place on the future of the Hayles estate in my constituency, a private estate taken over by the council. Hearings have been held at which a variety of prospective landlords can put their case. The first was Quality Street and the second was the Keniston housing association, and the local authority is soon to put its case.

A week ago, at the meeting with the Keniston housing association, when the council's leader was present, the proposal was to have an ownership co-operative that would employ a housing association for a limited period —say, five years—under a management agreement to manage the estate for the tenants. Having spoken to my colleague who speaks for my party on housing in Southwark and who lives in Kennington near the estate, I believe that the proposal provides for a lot of tenants' choice. They can choose initially who is to manage. That is consistent with the Government's arguments about tendering for the best service. Also, tenants have a continuing choice because, after five years, they can review who managed their property and decide whether to manage it themselves. Have the Government considered that idea, and does it find favour?

5.45 pm

An opportunity must be provided within the time sequence allowed in the Bill for tenants to consider this co-operative option before any other bid can be made. This is an exemplary opportunity to have real tenants' choice, rather than the con, the misleading system, described in part IV. It does not mean a once-and-for-all, one-way tenants' choice. This choice will allow tenants to move into and out of different forms of management. I hope that, if Ministers share the Opposition's motivation —that we should extend freedom for tenants rather than de-municipalise, which seems to be the Government's primary motivation—the Government will support a move in this direction.

I shall leave it to other hon. Members to speak to the amendment that emanates from the co-operative movement and the National Federation of Housing Co-operatives, and I await the Minister's response. The amendment deals also with the proposal that parish and community councils be landlords. There is a good argument of principle that there should be devolution of housing management to the level nearest the people. It will mean less bureaucratic and more responsive management.

I am not just talking about devolution with an authority, although some authorities have pioneered this approach. It is one of the good things, I am proud to say, that has come about in Tower Hamlets. It has been tried by Walsall and Islington. Surely a parish or community council should be allowed to take over a small amount of housing, whether in a rural village with two council properties or in a town with a large number of council properties. I hope that there is no objection in principle to that proposal.

I have argued for co-operatives to be given a real choice; otherwise they will be pre-empted by financing arrangements and practical organisational matters, which are a little more difficult than in a straightforward transfer into the private sector or an existing housing association. I have argued that people should be given an opportunity to decide the type of tenants' co-operative they want. This should be the first option before other landlords make bids for their property. I have made a specific request that co-operatives should be treated helpfully and differently by the Government. I hope that the Government consider the opportunity for town and community councils to be landlords.

Mr. George Howarth

Amendment No. 397 is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Its purpose is to protect the interests of tenant management co-operatives. I should like the Minister to bear in mind the fact that tenant management co-operatives, unlike other forms of co-operatives, are not the owners of a property. They manage the property in a co-operative way on the basis of an agreement with the owners, which is almost always the local authority, and that puts them in an odd position.

The Government want to give tenants choice. The Minister has said repeatedly that tenants' choice involves the growth of the tenant management co-operative sector. The difficulty is that, unless this amendment or a similar one is accepted, that sector may diminish as fast as it grows.

Could I explain that apparent anomaly? Under the "Tenants' Choice" provisions, a tenant management co-operative could find that it was lumped in with adjoining property, but such a co-operative, consisting of 100 properties, could be part of a wider estate of 300 or 400 properties. If a landlord were to make a bid for the property, the tenant management co-operative of 100 properties could he outvoted by the 300 or 400 adjacent properties. Apart from being outvoted, it could lead to the signing of the death warrant for properties in the co-operative. No further tenancies of the properties would be allowed. When properties became vacant, they would be transferred immediately to a new landlord. That would increase the number of vacant properties and it would also prevent internal transfers. Furthermore, the co-operative would be undermined by these provisions.

If there were a bid and the co-operative had to be treated as part of a wider group of properties, including those adjacent to it, it would undermine the co-operative principle: that a co-operative should be accepted as a corporate body that speaks collectively on behalf of its individual members. If co-operatives are to be treated as part of a wider group, the co-operative concept will be undermined.

If what I have predicted is to be prevented, the Government ought to accept the amendment. Alternatively, they could direct the Housing Corporation to take similar action. If the Minister can assure me that the latter course will he adopted, I shall be happy to withdraw my amendment. I hope that, after the Minister's reply, we shall be able to reassure existing tenant management co-operatives that such a problem will not arise.

Mrs. Roe

Before I deal with the individual amendments, I should like to make it clear that the Government are strongly in favour of the opportunities that housing co-operatives can give enterprising people to take a leading part in the management of their homes. I cannot advise the House to accept any of this group of amendments, but I hope that hon. Members will not be displeased with much of what I have to say, particularly in relation to amendment No. 397.

Amendment No. 388 provides that no application under part IV can be made until tenants have been balloted on whether they want an ownership or a management co-operative. The amendment is unnecessary. If a co-operative is what most interested tenants want, that will become clear during the preliminary, competitive phase of consultation that the Housing Corporation will run. Housing Corporation help and advice will be available to follow that up. There is no need for a separate formal ballot at the outset, confined to co-operatives.

An arrangement under which tenants in an ownership co-operative might employ an agent—for example, a housing association—to provide management services for a shorter or a longer period would not be prevented by the Bill. We would often welcome such a move.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am grateful for what the Minister has said. However, will she make it clear that when it is first brought into the discussion, the Housing Corporation will have a duty to alert all tenants to the possibility of a co-operative being formed and to make sure that tenants fully understand what that might mean? Will that possibility be put on the agenda by the Housing Corporation in all cases?

Mrs. Roe

The Housing Corporation will ensure that tenants know what alternatives are available to them. The ability to set up co-operatives will he spelt out to tenants, and they will be able to consider such a possibility.

Amendment No. 398 provides that a parish or community council may be approved by the Housing Corporation under clause 87. As parish and community councils do not currently have statutory powers to acquire and run rented housing, that would newly confer on them, in a limited way, the status of statutory housing authorities. Useful though the job that these councils do on other matters often is, they do not represent a pool of housing management know-how and experience of the kind that the Housing Corporation will he looking for when using its power to approve applicants under clause 87.

There is nothing, however, to stop individual parish or community councils with the right motivation and experience helping tenants to set up their transfer, even to the extent of helping them to set up a new tenant-led landlord, such as a community-based housing association. I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will accept that that is the best way forward.

I am broadly sympathetic to amendments Nos. 178 and 120. They share the Government's aim of helping tenants to have a fuller say in running their own lives. I agree without reservation with the principle that underlies amendment No. 178, but I cannot advise the House to accept the amendment. 'Tenants' choice' transactions are designed to be self-financing, without subsidy from public sources. That is the point of basing prices on tenant market value. However, for the reasons that I have given, the Government accept that tenants' co-operatives are special and that when they are being set up they may require non-capital support to make an application under tenants' choice.

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning said that adequate support of this non-capital kind for training and for similar setting-up costs would be made available. I repeat that undertaking now. Possible means of support that already exist include the ability of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to give financial assistance for housing management under section 16 of the Housing and Planning Act 1986. There is power for the Housing Corporation, under section 87 of the Housing Associations Act 1985, to give grants for the promotion of housing associations, including co-operatives. I expect the Housing Corporation to give information, advice and assistance—which in some cases might include training for would-be co-operatives—to tenants under the new powers that we have proposed for them in new clause 46.

The review of housing co-operatives that was recently announced by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and that is to report by the end of the year will consider, among other things, whether the existing institutional and financial arrangements for supporting co-operatives are right. I share the aim of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey of helping co-operatives with initial training costs, but I hope that he will accept that to achieve that aim will require more, in practice, than a declaratory amendment such as amendment No. 178.

I share, too, the underlying aim of amendment No. 120, which also promotes the formation of co-operatives, but I believe that a trumping power over existing applications would be unnecessary. I cannot imagine that the Housing Corporation would approve an application by a third party to include an area where there was clear evidence of tenant preference for a co-operative solution. Tenants' views on such points would emerge clearly by means of the initial beauty contests. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) will accept that the amendment is unnecessary.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North will be pleased to hear that I sympathise with the principle that underlies amendment No. 397. It is reasonable that people who have been interested in and active enough in the management of their own homes to vote together for a tenant management co-operative should be able to decide among themselves whether they wish to see further change. To make applications that included property that was subject to such a co-operative agreement conterminous with that agreement would also make a good deal of administrative sense.

If the transfer proceeded, the agreement would obviously cease to be relevant, while if the vote went against the transfer it would be unaffected. We wish to insist that, subject to this refinement, tenants of management co-operatives have in all respects the same right to consultation and choice under part IV as other public sector tenants. I am advised that the amendment is not technically accurate, but if the hon. Gentleman cares to withdraw it I shall undertake that a Government amendment to achieve the underlying intention will be prepared and brought forward in another place.

Mr. George Howarth

I am grateful to the Minister for her reply on amendment No. 397. Clearly, there is no disagreement between us on the principle that I tried to establish, and I am happy about that.

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Mr. Simon Hughes

My comment is similar to that of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). I look forward to an amendment on similar lines to ours being introduced in another place. That would give great encouragement to the co-operative movement, to members of the all-party group in the House of Commons and to their supporters in the other place. I noted what the Minister said about parish and community councils. I am not clearly persuaded that there is no opportunity to look at that again, but I am certainly willing, along with the Minister, to look at the matter again, and I shall reflect on what she said.

The Minister appears to have given certain undertakings that, if there is a clear expression of support for co-operatives, it will not be prejudiced in any way. The key may lie in the words about consideration of the financial support that may be forthcoming and how that will be part of the review of co-operatives. We await the decision of that review with impatience, but there may well need to be financial support other than that about which the Minister spoke and about which her hon. Friend spoke in Committee. Subject to those cautions and reservations, I should say that in general terms we appear to be making progress, and I do not wish to push my amendment to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Waldegrave

I beg to move amendment No. 371, in page 60, line 25, at end insert— `(2A) The Corporation shall establish (and may from time to time vary) criteria to be satisfied by a person seeking approval under this section and, without prejudice to subsections (1) and (2) above, in deciding whether to give such approval, the Corporation shall have regard to whether the person satisfies those criteria.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: Government amendment No. 372.

No. 108, in page 60, line 28, after 'description', insert `but only after consultation with that person's existing tenants, if any, and having taken account of any adverse reports as to the performance of that person in discharging landlord functions'.

Government amendments Nos. 373 and 374.

No. 109, in page 60, line 35, at end insert— `(5) In considering an application for approval under this Part, the Housing Corporation shall have a responsibility to ensure standards of landlordism no less favourable to tenants than their existing landlords, and shall have particular regard to and shall make all reasonable enquiries to correctly ascertain:—

  1. (a) the applicants' housing management experience,
  2. (b) the applicants' housing management performance,
  3. (c) the site of the applicants' existing housing stock in relation to the number of dwellings to be acquired,
  4. (d) the applicants' arrangements for consultation with their existing tenants,
  5. (e) the applicants' policy with regard to—
    1. (i) allocations,
    2. (ii) rent levels,
    3. (iii) rent review procedures,

No. 110, in page 60, line 35, at end insert— '(5) Approvals shall be reviewed on an annual basis. (6) Every person approved under subsection (1) above shall be required to provide the Housing Corporation with an annual report of their landlord functions; and to provide a copy of that report for the local authority concerned; and to lodge a copy with the local public library.'

No. 179, in page 60, line 35, at end insert— '(5) An approval under this section shall not be given to any person or persons who have acted in serious breach of the regulations laid down in section 89(2)(b) below. (6) An approval under this section shall be revoked by the Housing Corporation if in its opinion a person or persons have acted in serious breach of the regulations laid down in section 89 (b) below.'.

No. 121, in clause 89 page 61, line 38, at end insert `and `(c) shall be accompanied by proof of the person's approval under section 87 above'.

Government amendment No. 375.

Mr. Waldegrave

This is an important group of Government amendments and I shall put them in context. They run with new clauses 45 and 46, which we shall debate later.

First, we propose that the Housing Corporation should provide information, advice and assistance to tenants, including those who want to set up their own new landlord bodies, and to applicants and prospective applicants. This will include what might be called a marriage broking service, where necessary, between the two. New clause 46 would provide the power for this. Secondly, where there is tenant interest in transfer, the corporation will, wherever possible, arrange a preliminary test of tenant opinion involving informal consultation of tenants by more than one potential applicant in competition with one another.

Government amendment No. 373 would give the corporation power to make approval conditional on undertakings by applicants. My right hon. Friend will use his power under the Housing Associations Act 1985 to issue directions to the corporation to ensure that all the approvals that it gives are conditional on an undertaking to take part in the preliminary beauty contest and to abide by the outcome.

In terms of approval, Government amendment No. 371 provides for the corporation to establish criteria which will, as I undertook in Committee, be published. The central issues for these criteria will be stability, viability, competence and long-term commitment to providing rented housing for those who need it. The criteria will, in effect, provide guarantees for tenants of the kind that we shall be discussing in the context of Government new clause 30 for housing association tenants. I shall return to this in a moment.

After the statutory procedures begin, the corporation will keep tabs on applicants' progress for consistency with the approval criteria and undertakings. The power in Government amendment No. 373 to make approval conditional on undertakings will be relevant here. It will be used to set procedural guidelines for applicants to inform tenants when a formal application is made and tell them when various other key points of the procedures have been reached. Amendment No. 374 makes it clear that failure to meet criteria or to fulfil an undertaking could lead to revocation of approval. If approval were revoked at this stage—and Government amendment No. 374 sets out the procedures for this—the transaction would, of course, fall.

Tenants' guarantees, to which I have referred, are vital. In Committee we discussed the implications in this respect of the emergence of new types of landlord, not only under tenants' choice, but also through large-scale voluntary disposals of dwellings by the public sector and under the new basis for the operation of registered housing associations provided in part II of the Act. In particular, we must give any public sector tenant who is contemplating transfer to a new landlord assurances about the terms that will be on offer to him and the standards that he can expect. For each branch of the social housing sector, these guarantees will have to be tackled in a slightly different way, but by reference to consistent principles on which tenants can rely.

New clause 30, which we shall debate later, relates specifically to registered housing associations. It empowers the Housing Corporation, subject to consultation with the housing association movement and to the approval of the Secretary of State, to issue guidance to associations on the management of their housing stock. This will give the basis for a tenants' guarantee, and will provide a list—not an exclusive one—of matters that may be covered.

This guidance will have an important read-across to tenants' choice tenants because it will be based on the consistent principles that I have mentioned. It will comprise guidance on those for whom housing should be provided; and on those who are inadequately housed or homeless, and whose housing requirements cannot be met at prices within their means, or at all, elsewhere in the local market. Groups with special difficulties, such as ethnic minorities and the disabled, should get special attention. It will deal with the terms that tenants should be offered.

In addition to the statutory assured tenancy requirements, I would expect the corporation to insist on some contractual rights appearing in tenancy agreements. Details are for discussion and consultation, but some familiar elements from the old tenants' charter—for example the rights to exchange, to take in lodgers, to carry out improvements and so on—will certainly reappear.

The guidance must deal with how rents are to be set and reviewed. I want to ensure that the rent policies of associations and other tenants' choice landlords are compatible with the circumstances of the client groups that I have mentioned. It must deal with maintenance and repair and clear policies, procedures, targets and responsibilities will have to be set out. Above all, in terms of tenant relations, associations must communicate effectively with tenants about their rights and needs.

The full benefit of the guarantees associated with this guidance will be available automatically to all tenants transferring under tenants' choice to landlords that are registered housing associations. The arrangements that we are proposing will ensure that the formidable array of supervisory powers that the corporation enjoys are available to enforce the guarantees on such landlords.

For tenants of tenants' choice landlords other than registered housing associations, the ability of the corporation to set criteria and demand undertakings linked to approval will, as I have said, be used to provide comparable tenants' guarantees. These will cover the same ground and embody the same principles and will be enforceable through the corporation's power to revoke approval, through the applicant's contract with his transferring tenants, or both.

We envisage that, should disputes arise between tenants' choice landlords and their tenants before or after transfer, the corporation would be able to give tenants support in exceptional cases in resolving them. If necessary, that will be done through helping them to bring proceedings. Government new clause 45 will provide for this, and assistance under clause 45 will be available even if the acquiring body has ceased to have approved status.

Of the Government amendments that I have not mentioned, No. 372 empowers the corporation to charge fees for approval. Amendment No. 375 makes consequential adjustments to time limits where a notice of revocation is in force for a time but is withdrawn before it takes effect. All the powers and duties that I have mentioned would apply equally to the Housing Corporation and Housing in Wales.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

The powers that the Minister suggests seem to transfer the strategic housing planning powers from the local authority to the Housing Corporation. Therefore, will the local authority powers he overridden by the Housing Corporation powers, or will local authority powers be repealed?

Mr. Waldegrave

No, the local authority power will not be overridden. We are saying that the tenants transferring, for example, under tenants' choice, must have guarantees about the nature of their landlord. That is why we are dealing with the matter in the way we are. It is essential that as much as possible will be carried through in a legally binding contract between the tenant and the new landlord. It is equally important that, where the tenant's rights rest upon the law in that way, he should have a friend, potentially in court, to enable him to make those legal powers work, which is why we put forward the additional authority for the Housing Corporation in that way later in the Bill.

Ms. Primarolo

I understood that the Minister said that the Housing Corporation will give support and advice to tenants who are transferred to a new landlord and then find themselves in conflict over this contractual relationship. How will the Housing Corporation set itself up as an advice-giving agency on the necessary scale, and what funding will be provided for it to do so?

Mr. Waldegrave

It will have a more powerful role than that of an advice-giving agency. It is potentially an agency that could provide legal support and it would be undertaking the same sort of role that is available to my right hon. Friend in certain circumstances where test cases and others can be undertaken.

Ms. Primarolo

Test cases.

Mr. Waldegrave

Yes, as the hon. Lady says, it applies only in test cases. I would not want to mislead her into thinking that that was the exact analogy. I can give the hon. Lady the undertaking that the Housing Corporation will be funded to undertake this.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will doubtless be pressing us to go further. I hope that he will recognise that we have gone a long way to meet a number of the principal concerns that were expressed in Committee and in meetings inside and outside the House.

Mr. Tony Banks

Not as far as the Minister said he would go in Committee. As far as we are concerned, these Government amendments amount to the Minister's surrender note to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman had to say that, but it is not true. Those outside the House who have analysed this know that the tenants' guarantee that we are offering to all those who are transferring under any of these powers from present public sector housing either to other forms of public sector housing or to independent rented housing meet the clear commitment that we gave in Committee. There is absolutely no doubt about it. We shall be debating other aspects of the guarantee later in the day, but I have referred to it now because the aspects all hang together.

Mr. McCartney

What is the position following the transfer of housing stock to a private sector landlord when subsequently the company is sold off and those who are then in control of the company are not the sort who would be approved by the Housing Corporation or the tenants? Will the Housing Corporation be able to call a fresh ballot so that the decision can be reconsidered after the ownership of a company has changed from that approved by the Housing Corporation? My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that the Minister had surrendered to the Secretary of State, but I think that the Minister is a shark in sheep's clothing: in Committee and on Report he has smiled and given us promises but come back with nothing.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Those are strong words, but they are not justified. The original plan that I sketched out in Committee, with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), I called a charter. We have come to see that it is better to carry it forward, looking at the three different positions, as a tenants' guarantee, as it is the tenants, not the landlords, whose interests need to be protected by the House. Hon. Members have nothing else to say about this because the policy was developed not as a result of pressure from them but with the help of my hon. Friends in Committee, and the intentions that I set out in Committee are clearly met by the amendments in this and subsequent groups.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I have a simple question for the Minister. Why, even now, on the last day of Report, do we not have the terms of what was originally called the social charter and then called the tenants' guarantee? Why have we not seen it, despite promises? What has been the delay?

6.15 pm
Mr. Waldegrave

The commitment I gave was that on Third Reading we should have a substantial debate on this matter. We are having a substantial debate now, and if the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would recognise that I have set out the principles that lie behind the tenants' guarantee. It affects those transferring under tenants' choice. I have said how it relates to the permissions that the Secretary of State will give under what might be called the 'Rochford' transfers or any other transfers.

We have gone further than we said we would in Committee in one crucial respect, in that we have said that, for the first time, the Housing Corporation will be given explicit powers to take into account, in the way in which it deals with management associations, quality of management and other such matters, and not just propriety. That is a major step forward and has been welcomed by those outside the House.

Mr. McCartney

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I asked the Minister a specific question, which was: if, after a transfer to a landlord private company, it were to be sold, would the Housing Corporation enable the tenants to have another ballot?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a point for debate, not a point of order.

Mr. Waldegrave

The question does not arise, for two reasons. First, the Secretary of State has control over further disposals; secondly. and more importantly, the contracts to which I have referred, which will include the tenants' guarantee, will already have been built into the leases and will carry legal force, whoever is the underlying landlord. The point is a misunderstanding, as quite a number of the hon. Gentleman's points are.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith will no doubt argue that the approval criteria that the corporation will establish should cover, among other matters, management experience and performance, and it will do so. The hon. Gentleman will see these matters referred to in paragraph 9 of the explanatory document we published last week. I confirm that the corporation will be looking at track record on these matters when considering applications for approval, so the hon. Gentleman's underlying concern is largely covered already.

I agree, too, that, during the "beauty contest", tenants affected will often want to compare notes with applicants' existing tenants. I would expect the applicants, prompted if necessary by the corporation, to arrange this as a natural part of "setting out their stall", but there is surely no need for a statutory requirement. The tenants' most substantial safeguards will lie elsewhere—in the "beauty contest" as a whole and in the range of other tenants' guarantees that we shall be making available. Amendment No. 108 would, moreover, be unacceptable in any case because it would require the corporation to take into account every adverse report. We discussed this at length in Committee, and it is obviously absurd.

The hon. Gentleman has set out in amendment No. 109 his shopping list of criteria for landlord approval. We have thought it better in amendment No. 371 to give the Housing Corporation the responsibility, drawing on its existing experience and on consultation, to establish criteria, rather than to tie it rigidly to statutory ones. Some of the factors identified in the hon. Gentleman's amendment will be relevant to all, and all of them relevant to some, approvals. In considering all applicants, the corporation will have to look at housing management, experience and performance—embracing satisfactory arrangements for tenant consultation—financial status and stability. Therefore, that point is met.

I cannot go as far as the hon. Gentleman is proposing to ensure standards of landlordism no less favourable to tenants than their existing landlords". That would be a rather small consolation to some tenants who would be seeking a transfer. That is what the arrangements that I have outlined are intended to achieve, and the very broadly defined duty that he proposes to lay on the corporation to answer for the applicants' performance would add little or nothing to them.

Amendment No. 110 would require approvals to be reviewed annual. I certainly envisage that there will be annual elements in the corporation's monitoring of approved landlords; submission of annual accounts is an obvious example. On broader questions of management performance, which I suspect is what the hon. Gentleman has mainly in mind, strict annuality would be burdensome and unnecessary. Given the range of the guarantees that tenants will have, I do not see strong arguments for requiring approved landlords to produce formal annual reports for deposit with local authorities.

We achieve the intention of amendments Nos. 179 and 121 by different means. Amendment No. 179 would exclude from approved status any person in breach of the preliminary "beauty contest" procedures. For reasons that we shall discuss when we reach amendment No. 112, we see the "beauty contest" as an informal, rather than a statutorily regulated, process, but the corporation will make it a condition of any approval given under clause 87 to applicants that they undertake to agree to participate in that preliminary procedure.

On amendment No. 121, I undertook in Committee that the application form under clause 89 would be prescribed and would require the applicant to give a statement of the terms of his approved status. The power to prescribe the form is to be found in clause 102. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has accepted that this important but very detailed point can be dealt with in that way.

This is an important group of amendments. I am delighted that the Leader of the Opposition now welcomes the policy set out here, with four conditions. Those conditions—a proper voting system, a secret ballot, independent scrutiny, safeguards for tenants' future rights and appropriate landlords' and tenants' rights to veto—are all met in the Bill. I hope to see the right hon. Gentleman in the Lobby with us tonight. It would be characteristic of his relationship with his party if we did and, on that basis, we hope to carry forward this successful policy into the future.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I wish to put the Minister right on a number of issues, so that we can stop dealing in simple assumptions and start dealing with reality.

The failures in the Government's approach to the matter are, first, that the conditions are far too weak; secondly, that they do not go wide enough; thirdly, that they are the product of a mess where the Government's proposals have moved through a series of stages; and, fourthly, that they do nothing to assist either the good private landlord or the housing associations, or to give real power to the tenant.

If one is being offered a charter or even a guarantee, one looks at the small print to see what powers one can bring to bear if something goes wrong. One can look at this and cannot even find the small print because it is not there. In Committee, the Minister said that it would be wrong if we could not debate the substantive details on the Floor of the House on Third Reading. We do not have the charter. It does not exist. It is simply an obligation on the Housing Cororation to do certain things.

The Minister has made great play of assured tenancies, but we all remember the previous Housing Minister talking about a system of approval and how important it was. He reassured everyone that, every time one of those new assured tenancies was given, it would be given to a landlord who had been approved by the Department. Between 6,000 and 8,000 such tenancies were set up and, when the present Minister took office, he said in Committee, "We'll have to get rid of those tenancies because, frankly, it's a matter of crossing our fingers when we give that assurance." That is how weak the system is.

The test should always be whether the tenant can pick up the guarantee or the social landlords' charter, go to a lawyer and say, "Take my case before the courts. Fight the case on that basis. Here is the charter spelt out before you, signed by the landlord. We will decide it in court." 'The tenant does not have that power. It does not exist. The measure does nothing to help anyone—not the private landlord, the tenant or the housing association.

How did the Government get into that mess? Initially, they were prepared to consider the possibility of a housing association tenancy, but they then moved, because they did not like the idea. They did not want to give a housing association tenancy, so they began to talk about the social landlords' charter, which was then downgraded to a guarantee.

The Government have come up with the worst possible hotch-potch which affects some private landlords, housing associations and others and does not give what it should have given—a clear statement of the position for housing associations and then a clear cover to all private landlords. That was an opportunity to make a reality of the very things that the Government say they want to do, including protecting tenants from bad landlords, but the measure does not do that.

There is a need for an approval system for landlords generally, just as we have environmental health officers to check the standards of food. The provision of accommodation and the way in which people can be removed from their accommodation is so important to those people that we cannot just rely on the law being used in a simple way if, for example, a tenant can afford a lawyer or obtain legal aid, or if he is on the point of being evicted and can still manage to find a lawyer.

I wish to quote from a letter from a lawyer in the firm of Lloyd and Pratt in Newport, Gwent: Almost by definition most tenants will or should be Legal-Aid-eligible, particularly in this area, and it is my impression that tenants which suffer at the hands of rogue landlords are very hesitant before commencing any proceedings at all—they seem to fear the landlords too much even to take them on through the Courts. In the cases that come to my mind we have almost had to lean on the tenants to keep them going in the case and not to throw their hand in. That is the experience of just about every housing agency in this country. The problem is that tenants in such a weak position, if they are harassed or driven out, cannot fight back effectively, yet we are told that it is sufficient for the Housing Corporation to give some sort of approval, without necessarily knowing very much about the future landlord who will take over. The Government have introduced only minimal protection. I accept that the Government have made some concessions, but they have made only the weakest. The provisions do nothing to help any good landlord, whether a housing association or a private landlord.

Rochford district council is transferring properties to the Crouch Valley housing association, despite the fact that 300 out of 400 tenants said that they did not want to be transferred. The Minister was right to say that it is a difficult matter because it transgresses several amendments and new clauses. We shall deal with the issue of voting when we debate amendment No. 170. I do not want to refer to that in detail now, but it is a classic example. Tonight's "World in Action" programme, of which I and a number of hon. Members have had an advanced viewing, is a damning indictment of tenants' inability to fight back when they are taken over. That criticism is most disturbing.

I want to deal with the Secretary of State's involvement in this matter. He owned a property at 69 Warwick way. There is no doubt that he took a personal interest in that property. That is right and proper. He had a long leasehold in that property from 1968, and he applied for planning permission to erect an additional storey and convert the property into bed-sits and self-contained flats.

In April 1978, that house was taken over by the Cornerstone housing association, which put in a planning application to develop the house into four self-contained flats. I understand that, by that time, Cornerstone was the owner of the house. The tenants had objected to the planning application. Westminster city council was told later that the tenants had agreed to purchase the completed flats, or were making other arrangements. That was disputed. In 1979, the property was sold to Seniorforge Ltd. and, in December 1979, Westminster city council served statutory notices under section 45 of the Public Health Act 1936 and section 4 of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949.

6.30 pm

In 1980, a Westminster city council environmental health officer reported: The house is in a state of substantial disrepair due mainly to a lack of routine maintenance. In October 1980, the council served a notice under section 9(1) of the Housing Act 1957 because parts of the property were unfit for human habitation. In November, the council served a management order under section 15 of the Housing Act 1961. In 1981, those notices had expired without compliance by Seniorforge. In June 1982, Seniorforge obtained a High Court possession order on the ground that it needed to undertake certain works. The order required it to rehouse tenants in the house after the work had been completed.

There are then delays—

Mr. Waldegrave

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you explain to me the relevance of the remarks of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) to the Bill and to tenants' choice?

Mr. Soley

My remarks have everything to do with the Bill and tenants' choice. I am talking about transfer of properties from one owner to another. No matter how good, knowledgeable, and well-intentioned a landlord may be, that which I have described will take place if the powers of the local authority or of the Housing Corporation are inadequate. The trouble is that current legislation is being weakened by the Government's amendments.

The delays to which I was referring continued for two years. In 1983, Westminster city council, which is not the world's greatest council, was found guilty of maladministration by the ombudsman. That amounted basically to delays. The council was still paying for bed-and-breakfast accommodation for some of the tenants. Despite the refusal of planning permission, Seniorforge implemented the scheme. The council told tenants to move back into the premises and said that it would stop paying their hotel bills if they failed to do so.

It is alleged that the tenants were refused keys. There were allegations by tenants of harassment, and a court case followed. A photograph was produced which showed a tenant covered in blood. An arrest took place, but it was counter-alleged that the tenant injured herself with a meat tenderiser. The case was dismissed. Further complaints of harassment continued to be made. The rent was not registered and the flat concerned is alleged to have been sold in breach of grant conditions. In other words, Westminster ratepayers were owed money.

Further planning applications by Seniorforge were refused, but were later accepted after a simple change in the plans which meant that a bedsitter was described as a store room. On that basis, planning permission was granted. Tenants were then evicted and a demand was made that Seniorforge should repay grant moneys.

The Minister has questioned the relevance of the example which I have given. The House knows that the Minister has sold the Bill throughout on the ground that, by removing rent and other controls, it will be possible to increase the amount of private rented property that comes on to the market without increasing the dangers that are posed by the van Hoogstratens and Rachmans. I have provided a classic example of what will happen following the transfer of ownership from a good landlord who has done nothing wrong under a system which does not require any approval. There is no clearer way of establishing the truth.

In the example to which I have referred, two families were in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for two and a half years. The cost of providing that accommodation for them was met by the ratepayers, not by the company. Property speculation is clearly involved. Housing associations and councils are used to rehouse tenants who were the liability of the company, in this instance Seniorforge. Local authority powers were not exercised properly or effectively. Against this background, the Minster is weakening the powers that will be available to stop the practice. Legal aid will not be available——

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Will he explain how his allegations could possibly become realities?

Mr. Soley

We argued throughout our consideration of the Bill in Committee that there was a case for a housing association tenancy. We said that there was a case for going for some sort of social landlord contract. We argued that there should be approval. We contended that an approval system should ensure that a tenant could protect his rights.

The Minister appears to be becoming more and more agitated or worried. He has said repeatedly that the Bill can be enacted without recreating the dangers of Rachmanism. Our worries should not be confined to the van Hoogstratens of this world. I am troubled that a good landlord will be able to sell property without any check being made on the purchaser. Even when an assurance is given, it will not be backed up properly by law.

More importantly, we know from the Government's record that they tend to move the goalposts, so that today's assurance is not relevant tomorrow. There is nothing in the Bill to stop a future Minister making it much easier to obtain an assurance. The Secretary of State or anyone else can be a good and proper landlord and do his job properly. If he can sell his property under a system that does not require approval, I say in all seriousness, with the greatest force that I can command, that the Government should produce a Bill that offers much more protection to tenants than this one. It is so weak as to be unreasonable beyond belief.

As I have said, the Minister has questioned the relevance of my remarks. He must understand that the Cornerstone housing association does not emerge covered in glory from the example which I have presented to the House. The Minister is saying, in effect, "This does not trouble me too much," but that is the sort of organisation that could take over a property from a good and proper landlord. Indeed, that is exactly what happened. Everyone, from the Secretary of State and the Minister, must know that that is wrong, dangerous and bad.

No matter how good a landlord or individual members of a housing association may be, good intentions and knowledge will come to nothing at the end of the day unless the tenant has some guaranteed way in which he can make his powers felt in a court of law. Tenants must be given full support when it is necessary for them to take that course.

Did you notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the way in which the Minister slipped through his new clause, which he thought would meet our anxieties? He said that in "exceptional cases" the Housing Corporation would offer assistance. There will be so many exceptional cases that the Housing Corporation will not offer assistance. The Minister knows that legal aid is being cut and that it will not be available to many tenants.

In my example, the tenants moved to what is clearly a bad landlord. It is not a van Hoogstraten or Rachman-type organisation, but it is undesirable in the way in which it is operating. What are the tenants supposed to do? Under this legislation, the answer is, nothing. What do we seek to do? We say in amendment No. 109 that there should be approval criteria, and I argue that the criteria should be made available to all landlords. We must have some way of ensuring that tenants are not ripped off when moving from one landlord to another. The criteria include the applicant's housing management experience, his performance, the state of his existing stock, consultation with tenants, rent levels, review procedures, equal opportunities and standard terms of tenancy offers. What would be wrong if the Minister said, on behalf of the Government, "We accept that"?

If the Minister is serious about stopping those like Rachman and von Hoogstraten, surely the way forward is to ensure that greater powers are available to tenants. The Minister said, in effect, in Committee, "Hoogstraten ism took place under existing legislation, so that is no good." Unfortunately, he will weaken current legislation. He seems to be saying, "As landlords can do that now, we cannot really stop them. The Housing Corporation will be able to deal with some landlords. We shall leave it at that, in the hope that there will not be other examples of bad landlordism." There will be other examples. They will come about when people who have done a perfectly good job as landlords transfer property. The Minister will turn his head and say, "I'm sorry. I can't do anything about this, because it's not covered by the law." The Minister will have to say that, because he has refused our requests to include that provision in the Bill. If we could include that provision, that would be the way forward.

I ask the Minister to accept our amendments if he is serious about stopping the gross abuses by a minority of landlords. I ask him above all to bear in mind—as the Secretary of State understands from his experience—and to take into account the crucial point at which a property is transferred. Things can begin to go wrong at that point.

Mr. Simon Hughes

We have awaited this debate for a long time. From the Committee Hansards I notice that the Minister made various fairly explicit commitments about what should have happened by the time that we reached this stage in our proceedings. He anticipated that it might take the civil servants a bit of time to do the work, and that was certainly true. He clearly made commitments on many occasions in Committee. I will cite only one example, from column 1177: Some of what we are proposing will be in directions to the Housing Corporation, but the outline and the powers will be attached to the Bill. It would be fair to produce a discussion document or something of that nature in an outline form, on what was not in the Bill before it has left the House of Commons. Some of it will be in directions to the Housing Corporation; some of it will be on the face of the Bill. It would be fair to the Committee and to the House to give a rounded picture of what we propose. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) intervened to say: Perhaps I can clarify the matter. I understand that the Minister will introduce an amendment, though it will not cover everything. Is that correct? To that, the Minister's answer, which was even timed at 7.30 pm, was: There will be an amendment to the Bill from which this structure will depend. Technically we have an amendment, but in terms of outline structure, this is about as outline an amendment as has ever been drafted.

The Minister continued: I am going further, and I have not taken the advice of my officials on this because they will have to do more work than they expected. I think it would be fair to sketch out in descriptive terms, for the debate on Third Reading and in another place, a complete account of what we shall in due course direct the Housing Corporation to do in those parts that are subject to direction as well as those that are subject to primary legislation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 25 February 1988, c. 1177.] I listened to the Minister, and I accept that he complied with that part of his undertaking. For the first time, he has set out in descriptive terms an account of what in due course he and his colleagues will direct the Housing Corporation to do. If the Minister is honest, he cannot say that it is a complete account, because there is a document to come. It certainly will not be a discussion document or "something of that nature". If it is, it must be the most invisible discussion document that the Government have ever produced because "we ain't seen nothing yet."

We have asked why there has been a delay. The answer may be that the proposal has undergone a few metamorphoses from being the tenants' charter to the tenants' guarantee and then the tenants' will-o'-the-wisp by the time it reached Report stage.

It is important that we ask why the long-promised approval system is still not ready, after a much delayed and resumed Report stage. Apart from the constitutional question whether it is right to vote for something that we have not seen, we must ask other questions.

Will Ministers at the Department of the Environment state categorically on the record that those who undertake what is to be called the tenants' guarantee, those who undertake to write that guarantee into their agreements, will be organisations not from the public or private sector, but in a separate social sector? I asked that question in Committee and it is important that we have an answer, because otherwise the undertaking that they would not be in the private sector will have been breached.

Will rents in all cases be affordable for the tenants? It is no good saying that we will negotiate with individual housing associations or approved landlord, landlord by landlord, case by case, to meet their client groups unless the tenants are guaranteed an affordable rent and there is a guarantee that it remains affordable. There is no point in the rent being affordable at the beginning and then slipping out of range quickly thereafter.

6.45 pm

The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister say that if people do not want to go to the new sector they need not do so. That is all very well, but council tenants—as in some sense they will remain—will have to pay the rents charged by the private sector. At the end of the day, one of the most crucial qualities of a contract or tenancy agreement is the level of rent.

I will continue to refer to affordable rents until we get somewhere. We are talking about a social sector. We should talk about a sector which ensures that people pay rents that they can afford. The Government appear to be intervening at the beginning, but then effectively pulling out of the picture except on rare occasions. The Government will have given their blessing, via the Housing Corporation, to various approved landlords. They will be approved because they will have signed the tenants' guarantee, whatever that is; it is yet to be revealed.

Once that happens, in only the rarest cases will the Government have any role in policing the contract. It will be up to the tenant to go to court. Unless we know that the terms are continuing and cannot be broken later, that the terms cannot be negotiated for two, three or five years and then renegotiated in a way which was unhelpful for tenants, there is no guarantee. If a tenant who is secure, with a whole range of guarantees underwritten by this Government, then has those guarantees replaced by a time-expired guarantee, he has no real guarantee. We all know about guarantees. They are fine if something breaks down in the 12 months for which the guarantee applies. After that time, guarantees are not, to use the old cliché, worth the paper they are printed on.

My next question is slightly more technical, but is something that the Minister has not answered in detail. What happens if an approved landlord goes wrong after being approved? I understand that we cannot foresee everything. Some people may look good and have excellent records, but things might go wrong. They may run into financial difficulties and not perform their landlord obligations. They may suddenly realise that the only way to make ends meet is to raise the rents, and they become bad landlords because they are in trouble. The Housing Corporation may say that it will withdraw its support and approval, but that may be a bit late if things have already begun to go wrong.

Tenants need to know that they have the power to go to court to rescue a situation. The nearest parallel to that is the shareholder or debtor suing a bankrupt company. It is no consolation normally for people owed money by bankrupt companies to know that they can pursue them through the courts. People do not normally get anywhere in those circumstances. The matter is made worse if people are worried about the roof over their heads.

I do not want to prolong the debate, but this is a very important subject and we were promised a major debate on it a long time ago. We were promised the document, we were promised the deed, and we were promised the words—in writing. We have been given none of them. The Government cannot expect us to buy something blind, and we shall not do so.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

These clauses have two clear objectives. One is to dismember and fragment local authority housing. The other is to make it easier in the long term to make the maximum amount of money out of housing need. In discussing the safeguards that tenants may expect under the Government's proposals, it might be useful to hear the words of some of their supporters and of those who are running private tenancies. Mr. Archer is the spokesperson for Sheffield Private Landlords Association, and he took part in a debate with Sheffield's housing chairman on Radio Sheffield on 10 June. He was very honest and put into clear language what many Conservative Members know in their hearts to be true. He said: It is legitimate to harass private tenants in order to secure our investments. That is no longer outrageous in terms of Government policy, because what has already happened in the private market has been heavily subsidised with the connivance of the DOE and the DHSS for a very long time.

There is the case of Elwyn Morgan in Merthyr Tydfil, who in the last financial year made out out of the DHSS —it is not disputed by him—an estimated £104,000 in respect of two houses in multiple occupation. Recently I asked the Secretary of State whether the regulations which lift that landlord out of the existing safeguards will be reviewed in the light of the Bill, and whether the DHSS and the DOE will get together, to try to eliminate the abuses that are occurring. His answer was straightforward and comprised one word: no. The Government have no intention of safeguarding tenants against those who wish to make money out of them.

In the Merthyr Tydfil case, tenants signed over—legally, but, in my view, immorally—their benefits. Eighty per cent. of the benefits paid to his tenants was collected by the landlord using a secure locker, and less than 20 per cent. was handed over to the tenants. For that, they were given just bed and breakfast. If there are no safeguards under the existing mishmash, it is unlikely, as my hon. Friends have already said, that safeguards will be included in legislation that we do not yet know will be acceptable in terms of tenants' rights.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked what will happen if an approved landlord "goes wrong". What will happen if an approved landlord seeks disapproval? Having exchanged houses, and perhaps having exchanged tenants over a period of time, the landlord may feel that no obligation should exist. Under this year's Budget, such a landlord is entitled to tax relief under the business expansion scheme—which, as has been made clear in answers to parliamentary questions, offers no safeguards at all. Given the existing track record, we may expect a very poor deal for tenants.

In Sheffield alone over the past year, there have been 869 cases of harassment, and 60 turned out to be extremely serious. If that situation is mirrored across the country, it will produce 6,000 cases of harassment. As the legal aid system is already breaking down and people cannot get approval, it is hardly surprising that tenants are asking who will be stepping in to safeguard their interests. It will be clear from my comments that it will be neither the Department of the Environment nor the Department of Health and Social Security.

In Sheffield, market rents are at levels five times higher than existing council rents, and it has been made plain tonight that there will be no guarantees or safeguards covering affordability. Therefore, it is not surprising either that the tenants all over the country who are supposed to be the benefactors of the Government's proposals are universally rejecting them. I have never before experienced such an upsurge of feeling in my constituency as I have over this Bill, approached only by that relating to the housing benefits fiasco and the poll tax. People are, for the first time in their lives, prepared to come to the House of Commons and to speak out, and new tenants' associations are being formed. I congratulate the Minister for Housing and Planning on creating a new degree of activism that we thought could not exist, and on encouraging tenants to get together and fight for their interests, and to express their views.

One of my constituents, Mrs. Whightham, wrote to me saying that it is not the local councils which own Sheffield's assets, including its council housing, but the ratepayers and tenants. She wrote: The council are our agents, elected by us to manage and to maintain our stock. We are quite happy with the way they do their job. If we weren't, they would be out at the next municipal elections. Why can't the Government let us live in peace in our retirement? We survived the war with Germany and now our Government is making life harder and more stressful for us each day. Those are the words of someone who has never before written a letter to her Member of Parliament but who is distressed by what is happening and who knows perfectly well that with all the difficulties and problems facing local authorities in providing adequate housing, at the end of the day those elected through the ballot box are accountable. They were elected not on abstentions but on actual, determined votes. They are people who are accountable and who can be rejected. Who will reject the landlords of the future? Who will be there not simply to prevent the most outrageous abuses but to ensure that people have real choice?

There can be only three reasons why people should want to be involved in housing—not to make money, as would appear to be the case with those who used to speak on behalf of the homeless and the dispossessed and who now run some, but not all, of the housing associations and the Institute of Housing, who set themselves up in Quality Street, and who have abandoned the principles upon which they made their professional names. There are three simple tenets of housing policy. The first is to house the homeless, the second is to house the badly housed, and the third is to ensure that investment is made in adequate housing stock for the future, giving real choice, affordability and accessibility to the people of this country.

Mr. Waldegrave

I say to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), whom I genuinely respect, that his speech was not worthy of him, because in order to drag in the Secretary of State's name by a side wind, he distorted his speech and talked about something entirely different. When I challenged him to explain how anything in these clauses or in the Bill weakens the powers of tenants over landlords who may not have carried out their legal duties, the hon. Gentleman was unable to reply. Both parties agree that the Government have accepted a whole package of measures that will strengthen tenants' rights. The case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, quite unjustifiably, was settled in the courts, and on that occasion the tenants were shown by the court not to be in the right.

Mr. Soley

The Minister does not seem to have grasped that one of the organisations concerned was a housing association. Will he take that point on board, because he is supposed to be talking about such associations? The other point that the Minister does not seem to have grasped is the importance of extending the approval area so that not just one is covered. That was discussed in Committee, day after day. Has the Minister forgotten that?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Member has failed to grasp that nothing we are doing will weaken the situation and that everything we are doing is strengthening it. Secondly, the approval mechanism to which he attaches himself is far weaker that the legally binding system we are establishing.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Tell that to van Hoogstraten.

Mr. Waldegrave

From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman says, "Tell that to van Hoogstraten." Well, I have read in the newspapers—

Mr. Boateng

I am now standing up to say, tell that to van Hoogstraten.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is keen to get his name into Hansard from any position. I note, because my sources about van Hoogstraten are doubtless the same as those of the hon. Gentleman, being newspaper reports—I have not yet seen the television programme—that van Hoogstraten is getting out of the rented property business. He has been able to make money under the Rent Acts because of the gap between the real value of the property and the rents. The winkling out is to do with bringing those values together. I very much hope that we have seen the back of his involvement in rented accommodation in this country. He has been a creature of the Rent Acts, of rationing and control.

7 pm

Mr. Battle

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Waldegrave

No, I will not give way.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) made a powerful and authentic speech in defence of what one might call pure municipalisation. He attacked not just me, but the Institute of Housing, some of those in housing associations and—this is the difference between us—those who are attempting to bring more pluralism into the social rented sector, which my right hon. Friend defined in his recent speech in Harrogate.

Quite justifiably, in terms of his kind of Socialism, the hon. Member for Brightside says that it should be all municipal[Interruption.] At any rate, he is suspicious of any greater pluralism because he attacked by name Quality street, the Institute of Housing and other organisations that are seeking greater pluralism. I am willing to accept that challenge. It is precisely because we want more pluralism in that sector that we are bringing forward the Bill with its safeguards which will guarantee those tenants rights which we, and all hon. Members, believe should be provided for so that they are secure.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 254, Noes 168.

Division No. 380] [7.01 pm
Adley, Robert Benyon, W.
Aitken, Jonathan Biffen, Rt Hon John
Alexander, Richard Biggs-Davison, Sir John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Body, Sir Richard
Allason, Rupert Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Amess, David Boscawen, Hon Robert
Arbuthnot, James Boswell, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ashby, David Bowis, John
Aspinwall, Jack Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Atkins, Robert Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Brazier, Julian
Baldry, Tony Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Batiste, Spencer Browne, John (Winchester)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bendall, Vivian Buck, Sir Antony
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Budgen, Nicholas
Burns, Simon Hind, Kenneth
Butcher, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butler, Chris Holt, Richard
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hordern, Sir Peter
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Carttiss, Michael Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hunter, Andrew
Chope, Christopher Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Irvine, Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Irving. Charles
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jack, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Janman, Tim
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cope, Rt Hon John Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Couchman, James Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cran, James Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Critchley, Julian Key, Robert
Currie, Mrs Edwina King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Curry, David Knowles, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Latham, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Lawrence, Ivan
Day, Stephen Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Devlin, Tim Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Dickens, Geoffrey Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Dicks, Terry Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Dorrell, Stephen McCrindle, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Dover, Den Maclean, David
Durant, Tony McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Eggar, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Emery, Sir Peter Mans, Keith
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Evennett, David Mates, Michael
Fallon, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Farr, Sir John Meyer, Sir Anthony
Favell, Tony Miscampbell, Norman
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Fookes, Miss Janet Moate, Roger
Forman, Nigel Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Forth, Eric Morrison, Sir Charles
Franks, Cecil Neale, Gerrard
Freeman, Roger Nelson, Anthony
French, Douglas Neubert, Michael
Gardiner, George Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Garel-Jones, Tristan Nicholls, Patrick
Gill, Christopher Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Goodlad, Alastair Oppenheim, Phillip
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Page, Richard
Gow, Ian Paice, James
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Patnick, Irvine
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Patten, Chris (Bath)
Gregory, Conal Patten, John (Oxford W)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Pawsey, James
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Grist, Ian Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Ground, Patrick Porter, David (Waveney)
Grylls, Michael Portillo, Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Price, Sir David
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Raffan, Keith
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hampson, Dr Keith Redwood, John
Hanley, Jeremy Renton, Tim
Hannam, John Rhodes James, Robert
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Riddick, Graham
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Harris, David Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Haselhurst, Alan Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hawkins, Christopher Roe, Mrs Marion
Hayes, Jerry Rossi, Sir Hugh
Hayward, Robert Rost, Peter
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Heddle, John Ryder, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Sackville, Hon Tom
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Sayeed, Jonathan
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Scott, Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover) Trippier, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shersby, Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Sims, Roger Walden, George
Skeet, Sir Trevor Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Waller, Gary
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Speller, Tony Warren, Kenneth
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Watts, John
Squire, Robin Wells, Bowen
Steen, Anthony Wheeler, John
Stern, Michael Whitney, Ray
Stevens, Lewis Widdecombe, Ann
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N) Wilkinson, John
Stokes, Sir John Wilshire, David
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Summerson, Hugo Winterton, Nicholas
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Woodcock, Mike
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Young, Sir George (Acton)
Temple-Morris, Peter Younger, Rt Hon George
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Thornton, Malcolm Tellers for the Ayes:
Thurnham, Peter Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Alan Howarth.
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Abbott, Ms Diane Dunnachie, Jimmy
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Allen, Graham Eastham, Ken
Alton, David Evans, John (St Helens N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Armstrong, Hilary Fearn, Ronald
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Ashton, Joe Fields, Terry (L'pool B G n)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Fisher, Mark
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Flannery, Martin
Battle, John Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beckett, Margaret Foster, Derek
Bell, Stuart Foulkes, George
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Fraser, John
Bermingham, Gerald Fyfe, Maria
Bidwell, Sydney Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Blair, Tony George, Bruce
Blunkett, David Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Boateng, Paul Gordon, Mildred
Boyes, Roland Graham, Thomas
Bradley, Keith Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Grocott, Bruce
Buchan, Norman Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Caborn, Richard Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Callaghan, Jim Heffer, Eric S.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Henderson, Doug
Cartwright, John Holland, Stuart
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hood, Jimmy
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clay, Bob Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Clelland, David Howells, Geraint
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbett, Robin Janner, Greville
Corbyn, Jeremy Johnston, Sir Russell
Cousins, Jim Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Crowther, Stan Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, Bob Kennedy, Charles
Cummings, John Kirkwood, Archy
Cunliffe, Lawrence Leadbitter, Ted
Dalyell, Tam Leighton, Ron
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dixon, Don Lewis, Terry
Dobson, Frank Livsey, Richard
Doran, Frank Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Randall, Stuart
McAllion, John Reid, Dr John
McAvoy, Thomas Richardson, Jo
McCartney, Ian Robertson, George
Macdonald, Calum A. Robinson, Geoffrey
McFall, John Rogers, Allan
McKelvey, William Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McLeish, Henry Rowlands, Ted
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Mrs Alice Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Short, Clare
Maxton, John Skinner, Dennis
Meacher, Michael Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meale, Alan Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Michael, Alun Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Spearing, Nigel
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Steinberg, Gerry
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Stott, Roger
Moonie, Dr Lewis Straw, Jack
Morgan, Rhodri Turner, Dennis
Morley, Elliott Wall, Pat
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wareing, Robert N.
Mowlam, Marjorie Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Mullin, Chris Wigley, Dafydd
Murphy, Paul Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wilson, Brian
O'Brien, William Winnick, David
O'Neill, Martin Wise, Mrs Audrey
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Worthington, Tony
Patchett, Terry Wray, Jimmy
Pendry, Tom Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Tellers for the Noes:
Primarolo, Dawn Mr. Frank Haynes and Mrs. Llin Golding.
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 372, in page 60, leave out line 26 and insert— '(3) Subject to any directions under section 76 of the Housing Associations Act 1985 (directions by the Secretary of State), an approval under this section—

  1. (aa) shall not be given except to a person making an application accompanied by such fee as the Corporation, with the consent to the Secretary of State, may specify; and'.

No. 373, in page 60, line 32, at end insert— 'and

  1. (c) may be made conditional upon the person or persons concerned entering into such undertakings as may be specified by the Corporation;
and different fees may be specified under paragraph (aa) above for different descriptions of cases.'.

No. 374, in page 60, leave out lines 33 to 35 and insert— '(4) Subject to any directions under section 76 of the Housing Associations Act 1985, if it appears to the Corporation appropriate to do so (whether by reason of a failure to honour an undertaking or to meet any criteria or for any other reason), the Corporation may revoke an approval given under this section by notice in writing served on the approved person; and where such a notice of revocation is served—

  1. (a) the revocation shall be provisional until the expiry of such period, being not less than 14 days, as may be specified in the notice;
  2. (b) if the Corporation withdraws the notice at any time during the specified period, the approval shall be treated as never having been revoked; and
  3. (c) subject to paragraph (b) above, after the date of service of the notice, the person concerned may not take any steps in connection with a claim to exercise the right conferred by this Part;
but the service of a notice under this subsection shall not affect any transaction completed before the service of the notice. (5) In the case of a body which has been approved under this section, which does not have a registered office (at which documents can be served) and which appears to the Corporation to have ceased to exist or not to operate, notice under subsection (4) above shall be deemed to be served on the body if it is served at the address last known to the Corporation to be the principal place of business of the body. (6) The Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales shall each maintain a register of persons for the time being approved by it under this section, specifying the extent of the approval given in each case; and each register so maintained shall be open to inspection at the head office of the Corporation by which it is maintained at all reasonable times.'.—[Mr. Waldegrave.]

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