Government amendments 143 and 144 will provide the private rented sector with certainty that we will regulate to ensure that tenant energy efficiency improvement regulations come into force no later than 1 April 2016. Under the regulations, tenants will be able to ask for consent from their landlord to make relevant energy efficiency improvements under the green deal or ECO, and they may not be unreasonably refused. Like the minimum standard regulations, it is a big step forward, and the Secretary of State will have a duty to make the regulations.
Amendment 127 proposes that tenants’ rights regulations should be introduced no earlier than April 2014. However, with regulatory certainty, we need to provide landlords with a reasonable period—until 2016—to prepare and get up to speed with the regulations. I commend the Government amendments to the Committee, and I hope that during our discussions and debates on the issues, I have given hon. Members sufficient reassurance that the hon. Member for Wells will not press her amendment.
I wanted to raise an issue about the use of “must” rather than “may”. The amendment strengthens what is essentially, as we discussed earlier, a subset of the framework regulations set out in clauses 3 and 6. The Minister might remember that we discussed landlords of landlords, an issue that could be covered in the framework regulations. Indeed, the framework regulations in clause 6 provide specifically for those regulations to
“may make provision for dealing with cases where…at the time when a plan is entered into the improver and the bill payer are different persons”,
which is essentially the case in clause 43.
Is the Minister at all concerned about the fact that if the clause is agreed to as drafted, he will be required to provide two entirely separate sets of regulations, which will be laid before the House and, potentially, debated on two separate occasions? In terms of the neatness of the Bill and its ability in the fullness of time, hopefully, to incorporate my concerns, I have raised the concern that not all landlords have a relationship with a tenant in the way set out in the clause. That needs to be incorporated into legislation, or at least referred to in regulations, separately from a strict landlord-tenant relationship. The whole clause might therefore be incorporated into the provisions for the overall framework regulations in clause 6; that would save us time later as far as regulations are concerned, facilitate the extension of the definition of “landlord” and deal with the possibility of refusal and sanctions against a landlord or bill payer for not agreeing to a green deal in the way that we discussed.
I listened closely to what the hon. Gentleman was saying, but I cannot move further than the position that I have already articulated. I appreciate the sentiments behind what he is saying, but we have considered this in light of official advice, and in light of how we anticipate that the body of legislation will move forward. We are confident that the regulations that we propose to lay before the House will be up to the job, and we do not see any inherent conflict of the kind that he seems to anticipate. It is not something that we have skated past lightly.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Government amendments 143 and 144 will provide the private rented sector with certainty that we will regulate. Amendment 127, which proposes that tenants’ rights regulations be introduced no earlier than 2014, would still provide the regulatory certainty, but we need to allow landlords a reasonable period—until 2016—to prepare and to get up to speed with the regulations. I have already made that case, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand where I am coming from.
Will the Minister provide clarification on the question of reasonableness in the legislation framework? It looks as though the bill payer will be well protected, but landlords might need some protection. For example, the green deal or ECO might need to be introduced on properties that the landlord could not improve because of conditions that are laid down in conservation areas, or for listed buildings. In such situations, the tenant might want and request the improvements, but the landlord would be prevented from making them because of the listed building status or conservation area status.
I am not a lawyer, or legally trained, but I know that “reasonable” has quite a strong legal basis. Being unreasonable is also something that the courts are used to dealing with, and it is readily defined on a regular basis across a range of legislation. The hon. Gentleman suggests that it would be unreasonable to install measures in a property that is in a conservation area, but I do not think that it would come down to not installing energy efficiency measures at all. I find it difficult to conceive of any property to which one would not be able to make some improvements that would still take into consideration its listed or conservation status. That would be taken into account in the green deal assessment; one would expect a professional green deal assessor—particularly in a given locality—to be used to proffering sensible advice that considers the status of the building or the area in which it is located, and to propose sensible measures.
It is one of the great hopes of the roll-out at scale of the green deal programme that we will be able to drive forward greater innovation in the technologies, innovations and treatments that are available for listed properties and properties that are in conservation areas, because at the moment it is a real problem. The hon. Gentleman has raised a legitimate concern, and we need to encourage the industry really to invest in finding solutions to the sorts of problems that he has mentioned. I would hope that the test of reasonableness will evolve quickly as the market develops and brings forward new technologies and interventions that are appropriate to the types of building that he has mentioned.
I hope that I am intervening on the Minister; I have slightly lost track of where we are in the proceedings. I wanted to put on record my support for what the hon. Member for Wansbeck has said. The challenge is to encourage innovation not only in the industry but among council conservation officers. I represent a constituency with many listed buildings, which are not at all grand; they are often listed for quite interesting reasons. There is a real challenge in rural areas to ensure that councils can look at some of these measures. Even important things such as solar power or ground source heat solutions, which can be very cost-effective, would not be permitted in many conservation areas, and it would be heartening to hear that we are encouraging local councils as well as industry to look more favourably on such measures.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is, as much as anything, about ensuring a culture change and a change of mindset among many local authorities, so that they are much more prepared to embrace innovation. They have not done that before because there has not been that innovation, and the industry has been very slow to bring forward solutions for those sorts of properties. By creating this green deal framework and its large, attractive market, we hope that the private sector will rise to the challenge. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Wansbeck.
I welcome what the Minister says about the interplay between heritage organisations, local authorities and the council officers who deal with heritage. I seek an assurance from him that during the development of the Bill there were discussions with organisations such as English Heritage and Cadw, so that they are aware of what this means for them. It would be interesting if a tenant accused a landlord of unreasonably refusing energy efficiency measures when the responsibility lay with the heritage officer from a different organisation. How does that Minister see that working out?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have been liaising with a whole range of stakeholders and interested parties. In addition to English Heritage, the likes of the Royal Institute of British Architects have made important contributions and continue to inform our thinking as we move towards secondary legislation. One of the hallmarks of the whole green deal process and this sense of co-creationism has been the willingness of a range of outside bodies to engage in a positive way. I met the chairmen of the various stakeholder forums that look at innovation, skills training and regulatory practices yesterday, and their engagement is very important. I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very engaged in talking to all the responsible bodies and others. I hope that I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Wells sufficient reassurance to persuade her not to press her amendment.
I want to put on record our unhappiness with Government amendment 144, which pushes regulations for tenants’ energy efficiency improvements back a year to 2016. I reiterate the point I made earlier: 2016 is the year of our fuel poverty eradication target. What is the Minister’s rationale for postponing the date for bringing in minimum efficiency? He said before that the date would allow landlords to prepare for the regulations and not incur any financial costs. The whole point of the green deal is that the landlord does not incur the cost; it is the tenants who do so through their green deal repayments. I am keen to know a bit more about the rationale for pushing it back a year.
I have tried to wind up about three times now. In summary, we are retaining the proposals under the tenant energy efficiency regulations, but we are introducing them with regulatory certainty. We must therefore give landlords longer to prepare; hence the date change to no later than 1 April 2016. Bringing in regulatory certainty moves the agenda on and gives the Bill much more force than it had even at Second Reading or in the other place. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wells will not press her amendment.
On a point of order, Mr Crausby, I wanted to comment and ask the Minister to clarify something. Clause 43 is about the power to make tenants’ energy efficiency improvements and the regulations that relate to that. Will the Minister please clarify whether others can make a request to a landlord on behalf of a tenant? The Minister will be aware that I have raised that point in connection with university students and others, including those who live in areas of deprivation. My concern is that it may not always be appropriate for tenants, or they may not have the ability, for whatever reason, to raise such issues themselves. It is important that there should be some ability for others—a university residence officer, a citizens advice bureau, possibly a local authority or anybody else—to be able to make the request for energy efficiency improvements with a tenant’s permission.
That is an important point and I am happy to be able to satisfy my hon. Friend. It is the intention of the Bill to enable third parties, with the permission of tenants, to request green deal assessments. Obviously, any green deal package of measures will have to meet with the agreement of the tenant or tenants in question. We can certainly envisage situations, such as those that she suggested, in which third parties act in the interests of a wider group individuals, such as university students.
On a point of order, Mr Crausby, we were expecting amendment 127 to be spoken to, because it is grouped with the other amendments. With your permission, I wanted to put on record—