Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour 6:30 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, I support the amendment, because I think there is a real issue here. Speaking as a former local authority leader—many people in this House are either former or current local authority leaders—I had three ombudsman judgments against me, of which two were correct and one, in my view, was not. That was over about 25 years, and most were associated with planning issues.

Throughout all my ombudsman experience, both in this sector and in the health service, the issues were between the ombudsman service and a publicly accountable body, such as a local authority or a health authority, in which there were members concerned to maintain the reputation of that authority, and to respond, if not precisely to the ombudsman’s proposals—the ombudsman had no enforcement powers—at least in a positive way. The ombudsman had no powers to make us do anything, but people would respond positively by trying to address the problem and see whether it was largely procedural or whether policy needed to be changed in some substantial way. That was because the ombudsman was overseeing a public organisation that had a reputation, with trustees, councillors and so on, who were accountable for their decisions in public, in the press.

If the Minister cannot support an amendment like Amendment 17, I hope that she will tell us how she would apply that same degree of scrutiny and enforcement to rulings against rogue landlords. There is a real issue here. Local authorities will respond, even if they cannot go all the way, but a private individual, knowing that the ombudsman has no statutory powers of enforcing a decision, may decide to go in a different direction and weather hostile criticism. Can the Minister help us by telling us in what ways the Government would ensure that the naming and shaming effect of ombudsman practice could apply in the private sector?