§ Mr. Waterson
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made in establishing an independent housing ombudsman service for dealing with complaints against social landlords in England; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Curry
The Housing Act 1996 provides for the first time that the Secretary of State may approve a scheme for the establishment of an independent housing ombudsman service for dealing with complaints against social landlords—the definition in the Act does not include local authorities. Earlier in the year we invited the current non-statutory housing association tenants' ombudsman to consult widely on a draft scheme for England which could be in place in time for 1 April 1997.
Following consultation, the ombudsman has submitted a scheme which I have approved. In considering the scheme, I have been concerned to ensure continuity with the existing non-statutory service. But I have also been keen to ensure that the new service is soundly based and able to achieve value for money for members, that its administration is straightforward and accountable, that its 633W procedure for dealing with complaints is accessible and fair, and that it has suitable and effective arrangements for safeguarding the independence of the ombudsman. The scheme will be administered by a company limited by guarantee, with equal representation on the board for member landlords, tenants and the public interest.
All social landlords must subscribe to the independent housing ombudsman service. This scheme should meet their needs and those of others involved. It should also prove attractive to other landlords who may wish to join.
I have placed a copy of the approved scheme in the Library.