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Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am sorry to interrupt him. He is doing extremely well. There is a distinction between adjudication and arbitration which at the moment is confused in the clause; namely, arbitration is final and non-appealable, whereas adjudication is interim, temporary and appealable.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, to go into an answer on that point would be to detain the House longer than it deserves. I promise to write to the noble Lord to set out our views. If we come to discuss this matter again in Committee, we shall therefore do so each understanding the other.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie, also asked why in Scotland the scheme will be made by the Lord Advocate. It has been decided that the Lord Advocate is best placed to make the scheme in Scotland because of his ministerial responsibility for arbitration procedures in Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said that lawyers will have a field-day in relation to what constitutes an "adequate mechanism" for payment in Clause 107. The industry covers thousands of different operations and dozens of different types of contract. Payment is already determined in far too many ways for us to come up with a single definition. This legislation requires that payment should be defined in terms of amount and date. That will be a big improvement on what happens at the moment.
Many noble Lords praised the work of Sir Michael Latham. We join in that praise. There has been a great deal of consultation between government, all sides of industry and Sir Michael which has resulted in the broad consensus reflected in this legislation.
I now turn to architects' registration. Perhaps I should declare a very remote interest. A forebear of mine was the first president of the RIBA. His qualification for that position, so far as I can discover, was tearing down an old and beautiful house and putting an unlivable in
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, made reference to the Government's change of heart in this matter. Indeed, we confess it. We were persuaded by the almost universal objections from architects and by a certain amount of public concern. My noble friend Lady Denton announced the government decision not to proceed with abolition but instead to examine measures to simplify the present arrangements. I am grateful for the praise from the Liberal Benches for that decision.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked about the statutory protection that the term "architects" has and whether it is our strategy that that should continue. (I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord.) A significant proportion of architects are not members of the Royal Institute of British Architects. We accepted the recommendation of the RIBA and of the architects themselves that there should be a separate registration and professional representative body.
I now return to Part I of the Bill and the abolition of mandatory grants. My noble friend Lord Ferrers has already explained that the pressure for mandatory grants has distorted the operation of the current regime. In other respects, however, the regime has provided a clear basis on which local authorities can carry out their responsibilities for private housing. As my noble friend said, responsibility for keeping a property in good order clearly rests with the owner. The primary aim of the grant system remains to help low-income home owners whose homes are unfit and who cannot afford to undertake repairs.
Resources will always be finite. Our proposals will enable local authorities to make decisions at the local level as to where resources can be used best. I am grateful for the welcome given to that by my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I did not sense the same welcome on the Benches opposite. There was perhaps some feeling that resources were not adequate. I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Williams, say that resources should be increased. But then he and his noble friend Lord Dubs have had a spell cast on them by the Gordon Brownies and can only croak when it comes to such subjects.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, there was also some questioning, and I was very surprised by it, of our decision to give greater discretion to local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that that would result in different local authorities doing different things. Indeed, so it would. However, does the noble Lord not think that local authorities should be allowed that kind of discretion? Is it not something for which he
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, sought assurance that our proposals will not lead to reduced resources. Of course resources have to be determined annually in the Budget. There are many calls for resources which cannot all be met. However, there will be no reduction in the provision of over £250 million between 1995-96 and 1996-97 despite the tough constraints on public expenditure.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment today announced proposals for financing private sector renewal. Resources will continue to be allocated specifically for private sector renewal purposes. That will ensure that those resources are used for that purpose rather than diverted elsewhere. There will also be a separate allocation for disabled facilities grants.
The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked why Part I of the Bill does not apply in Scotland. Scottish law on housing fitness is different from that in England and Wales. I understand that the Scottish Office has conducted its own review.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, shares our concern that the elderly and infirm should continue to live in their own homes. For that reason we propose that they should be eligible to receive help with repair, improvement and adaptation of their home through home repair assistance.
The noble Baroness is also concerned about our proposals for the delayed payment of disabled facilities grant, as was the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Authorities should use this measure only sparingly and in exceptional cases and not where urgent adaptations are required. We will make that clear in the guidance on the new grant regime. We have no reason to believe that that should cause undue hardship, as authorities have six months to respond to an application anyway and most works are likely to take as many months to be completed. The authority must also inform applicants of the earliest date of payment where a grant is approved. The proposal would give authorities an additional administrative tool to enable them to schedule payments more efficiently, including between financial years where necessary, and to exert some control over mandatory grant expenditure.
Concern was also expressed by the noble Baroness and by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the prior qualifying period would prevent the first-time buyer entering the market. In general, we believe that where people are looking to enter into home ownership, it
Noble Lords raised a number of other points on the tools, other than renovation grants, that local authorities are to be offered under this legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and others welcomed relocation grants. The noble Lord also questioned whether the single regeneration budget (SRB) was legal. I can comfort the noble Lord. Yes, it is. But it draws on a range of powers, widely scattered throughout legislation. We believe it sensible to draw them all together in one Bill in one place. I was grateful, however, for the praise that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, implicitly lavished on the single regeneration budget. He asked for its improvement. We can always hope for that. However, I remember that not so long ago the whole concept of it was rubbished by the Opposition. I am grateful for their change of view.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked whether new resources would be provided for relocation grants. The cost of relocation grants will need to be met from within the overall private sector renewal resources. Our aim is to provide a further tool for local authorities to use as they see fit. The change from mandatory to discretionary renovation grants will give authorities more scope to deploy resources according to their own priorities. If they give relocation grants, subsidy will be payable by central government in the same way as for other slum clearance activities. It is currently 60 per cent. We have no proposals to change that.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked about the home energy efficiency scheme. He wondered why we proposed to widen the scheme to include lighting when the resources available had been reduced. We feel it is desirable to make the scheme as flexible as possible to give the best possible benefit to people in the greatest need of help. The amendment will allow the scheme to include all realistic energy-saving measures, including energy-efficient lighting, which is especially cost effective. It is a structural change not linked to the money allocation in any one year. There is no commitment to change any feature of the scheme. The amendment only effects our power to do so.
The noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Dubs, asked for assurances that once UDCs are wound up the property would pass to local authorities. The UDCs intend to dispose of assets prior to wind-up. Each UDC will formulate its own plans in the light of its own circumstances as to where assets go. Some property may pass to local authorities, but that is not the only possible route. Clauses provide for one or more residuary bodies to receive the remaining assets. We should remember who has paid for the assets: the Exchequer. We must be careful in making any assumptions that local authorities should be the beneficiaries of UDC assets.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg devoted his speech to an extensive proposal for a new role for the Commission for the New Towns. I am delighted to pay tribute to the work of the commission. It has done an excellent job in disposing of new town property with major receipts to the
My noble friend's proposal for a single government property agency goes beyond the clauses in the Bill. Nevertheless, we take his point about the need for co-ordination in the disposal of government assets. If that is not the case, I shall inquire further. I shall take away his proposal for a single property disposals agency and we shall consider it further before the next stage of the Bill.
A large number of detailed points have been raised on what is, in a sense, a technical Bill. I am sure that we shall return to them in Committee. For their part, the Government will bring forward a few minor technical amendments to keep the noble Lord, Lord Williams, happy. He will appreciate that, as he said himself, the Bill is one half of Siamese twins. There may be some minor plastic surgery required on the join. We undertake to give good notice of any such amendments.
Overall, we believe that the proposals before the House today will secure a system which provides flexibility so that local authorities are able to target help on people and areas most in need of the available resources, as was intended when the present system of grants under the 1989 Act was introduced. I commend the Bill to the House.