Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Monkswell: Following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, it is recognised that one of the problems, if I may put it like that, of home improvement or renovation work is the lack, or the reduction over time and a projected reduction, of central government funds which have been available, and which are going to be available, for that activity. While we may be concerned about that, there is not a great deal that we can do in terms of amending the Bill.

It is useful to remember that over the years local authorities in various parts of the country have exhibited amazing ingenuity in developing and helping the people living in their areas to gain improvements in their circumstances. The one particular paragraph of this amendment which lends itself particularly to my support is paragraph (e), which states that the local authorities are enabled to,

standards in the private sector.

One of the results that one might hope will emerge from the discretion that local authorities will be granted by this Bill is the flowering of ingenious ways of promoting and supporting the development of sound practices as regards encouraging private investment in the private housing stock, without necessarily the expenditure of large amounts of public money. That would achieve the aims of this Bill which, I believe, everyone must agree are effectively set out in paragraph (d); namely, to:

    "bring about an improvement in the condition of private housing in the area".

Lord Ezra: I hope that when the noble Earl replies he will make it clear whether his objection to this amendment is to the wording of the purpose clause or whether it is to purpose clauses as such. If it is the latter I shall be very disturbed because I believe that there is now a major trend towards trying to simplify legislation. In fact, there is to be a debate tomorrow to be introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, on simplifying tax legislation, and goodness knows, that is required. I believe that we should be aiming to simplify all legislation that comes through this House. A purpose clause for a part as important and complex as this seems to be highly desirable. Therefore, if the noble Earl does not agree with the wording of this purpose clause, will he bring forward at a later stage a purpose clause of his own?

Earl Ferrers: The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that purpose clauses have been put in legislation before. She referred to the Family Law Bill, as I knew she

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1583

or somebody else would. As my noble friend Lord Elton said, there was good reason for that particular clause being put into that Bill, which is of a very different nature from this Bill.

One of the dangers of putting in this clause is that it will, or may, curtail and limit the powers which the authorities have under the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked whether I objected to purpose clauses as such or merely to the wording. I object to the wording of this purpose clause and to purpose clauses in this Bill. I was always taught that legislation ought to be as concise as possible. Most noble Lords now agree that legislation is becoming longer and longer. One is obliged to set the law. If we include a purpose clause, that confuses the position regarding what is actually the law as set out in the main part of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said that all the amendment does is to tell local authorities what they are meant to do. With great respect to the noble Lord, it does not say that and it does not tell them what they are meant to do. It enables local authorities to do certain things, but they are already able to do those things which his amendment enables the local authorities to do: they have the powers. There is no point in inserting an amendment which gives local authorities powers which they already have. That is why it would be wrong to include this amendment.

The amendment would also tend to make people think that this proposed clause would be what the whole Bill was about, and that could well limit the very considerable breadth of powers which are already contained in the Bill. Throughout the Bill it is stated that the Secretary of State "shall" or "may", or the local authorities "shall" or "may". There are already very considerable powers. It would be wrong to include an amendment such as this, which does not add to those powers but which enables local authorities to do things which they can do already.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I do not believe that under the Bill, as proposed, local planning authorities can meet paragraph (d) of the amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, quite rightly pointed out. That was the whole burden of my Second Reading speech. As I understand it, the Government believe that this Bill enables local authorities to do something, but, as I understand it, that action cannot be undertaken under the Bill, as drafted, compared with the situation proposed in the amendment.

If that is the Government's intention I am perfectly happy to strike out paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of our amendment and to put in paragraphs (d) and (e) because, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, quite rightly pointed out, paragraph (d) is the crux of the matter; namely, does the Bill enable local authorities to do what, until now, they have been doing on a mandatory basis and, as proposed in paragraph (e), encourage private investors? If the noble Earl objects to those two principles then I take a very different view of the Bill from that which I had before we started.

Earl Ferrers: Perhaps I may be able to help the noble Lord out of his difficulty. It is not that I do not like what he is saying. Paragraph (d) states that the purpose of that

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1584

part of the Bill is to enable local housing authorities to "bring about an improvement". They already have a duty under Section 605 of the Housing Act 1985 to make inspections of the private sector stock within their own areas. That information is used by them to set their priorities for action and to devise what their strategies shall be, with the basic aim of improving the conditions in the private sector. So they have those powers, and they do that.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Up to now it has been mandatory and not discretionary that they should do that. This part of the Bill introduces a discretionary grant system. Up until now it has been mandatory. I agree with the Minister that the idea of enabling local housing authorities to bring about an improvement in the condition of private housing in the area up until now has been mandatory. They have been required to do that. It has all been okay, but now we have a discretionary system. All I am doing in my amendment, which is supported by my noble friend and other Members of the Committee, is saying that that is something which is desirable, and which local authorities should be able to do under the Bill. It paves the way for subsequent amendments.

Earl Ferrers: I wonder whether I can help the noble Lord a little more. It is true that previously the grant system was mandatory, but now it will be discretionary. That does not mean that Section 605 of the Housing Act 1985 does not apply. Of course local authorities have the right and duty to look at their housing, and to take account of it. What is discretionary is where they then place the money. Do they give it to that area or to some other area? That is the discretion part, not the fact that they should not take account of the housing stock in their area.

Lord Williams of Elvel: It has been an interesting debate which has set the tone for the Committee's proceedings. I find the Minister's argument not wholly convincing. Nevertheless, we shall have a look at what has been said. I do not wish at this point to divide the Committee, but I reserve the position that at a later stage we may wish to put in a purpose clause which may be differently drafted, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the Minister said. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that a purpose clause at the beginning of this part could well help local authorities, the public, and the courts to understand what Part I is meant to achieve. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 [Grants for improvements and repairs, &c.]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 10, at beginning insert--
("Subject to section (Disabled adaptations to dwellings) below").

The noble Lord said: I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 and 267. Before I do so, I have been asked to let the Committee know that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, tenders her apologies for not being able to be present. Unfortunately, her noble kinsman, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, is not

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1585

well. I am sure that the Committee will join me in hoping to see them both back in their places as soon as possible.

Amendment No. 2 is purely a paving amendment to Amendment No. 5, and Amendment No. 267 is consequential upon Amendment No. 5. Disabled facilities grants are available to give financial assistance to disabled people for adaptations to their homes to enable them to live independently. A quarter of all households have a disabled member. There are 6.2 million people who are registered disabled, 4 million of whom have a mobility problem, according to the OPCS survey on disability in 1988. Research in 1994 by the Suffolk Coastal and Mid-Suffolk Disability Housing Research Group into the hidden housing needs of those who may not be registered as disabled found that nearly half of the people interviewed had difficulty with or could not use their front door, and half said that they were unable to use their bathroom facilities safely and independently.

As the population ages, the number of disabled people living in the community is likely to increase substantially. Ensuring that housing is made accessible to a disabled occupant will not just greatly improve the quality of life of older and disabled people; it is likely to reduce state funding in other areas of government policy. People who are able to manage adequately in their own homes, due to suitable adaptations, are less likely to require additional care in their own homes from local social services. They are also more likely to be able to remain in their own homes, thus meeting their expressed aspirations, and saving the expense of costly residential care.

Only a minority of the population is aged between 18 and 40, fit and able-bodied. Yet most housing development seems to be designed for that minority group. As a result, there is a considerable need for adaptations to existing properties to enable people with disabilities to manage within their own homes. The express purpose of the Government's care-in-the-community policy is to enable people to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible.

Disabled facilities grants are a major plank in that policy. At present provision for adaptations to private housing is made on an ad hoc basis. Disabled facilities grants are allocated when and if people apply for them. Many people are unaware of their existence. Others may not apply due to the real or perceived complexity of the system, or of delays. An annual report, as I propose in the amendment, would enable the housing needs of older and disabled people to be addressed systematically. It should address the need for adaptations to properties in the private, council, and housing association sectors. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs: I warmly support the arguments used by the noble Lord and the amendments that he proposes. People, as they become older and begin to suffer from a lack of mobility, have in my experience one strong wish, which is to stay in their own homes for as long as

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1586

possible. It is government policy, at least theoretically, that people should be encouraged to do that. Here we have an amendment which sets that out clearly. It would be invaluable if, as it says in Amendment No. 5, the Secretary of State were to publish such a detailed report of adaptations to dwellings in the manner suggested. That would be informative for us all, and it would help publicise to people who are becoming aware of their decreasing mobility that it might be possible for them to obtain help in having their homes adapted so that they can go on living there longer. That is what people wish, and the amendment sets out that proposition clearly.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page