Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Swinfen: Before I decide what to do with the amendment, can my noble friend tell me what practical

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1634

steps the Government are taking to reduce the two to two-and-a-half year waiting time for assessments for adaptations?

Lord Lucas: Not at this instant, but I shall write to my noble friend.

Lord Swinfen: That is a disappointing tail to a disappointing dog. However, at this hour I do not wish to press the amendment. I shall withdraw it and reserve my right to come back at a later stage of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [HMO grants: the interest of the applicant in the property]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 15, leave out lines 27 to 29.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 44 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 45, 58, 67, 73 and 116. This group of drafting amendments does not change the substance of the measures to any great degree.

I deal first with Amendments Nos. 116 and 67. Amendment No. 116 ensures that consents given under Clause 93 can be given for particular cases or descriptions of cases. It provides the Secretary of State with the flexibility to give the various consents in unusual or extreme cases, without changing the general policy. As a consequence of the change, Amendment No. 67 removes the same power from Clause 37, where it is specific to that clause and will therefore be unnecessary once the amendment to Clause 93 has been made.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 58 remove from Clauses 26 and 34 provisions on matters dealt with by Clause 140. Amendment No. 45 makes clear that residential occupation does not include holiday lettings and will prevent grant for houses in multiple occupation being given for holiday homes. The amendment will bring the Bill into line with the current legislation in that respect. Amendment No. 73 merely makes a minor stylistic change. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 26, as amended, agreed to.

7 p.m.

Clause 27 [HMO grants: certificate required to accompany application]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 45:

Page 15, line 44, after ("(b)") insert (""residential occupation" does not include occupation for a holiday, and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 27, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 28 [HMO grants: prior qualifying period]:

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 28 shall stand part of the Bill?

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1635

Lord Williams of Elvel: On this question, I find myself in some difficulty because it seems that, according to what the Minister said earlier, the Government will move amendments to Clause 10. I assume that the amendments will be reflected in Clause 28, which deals with qualifying periods in the same way as Clause 10.

Since the noble Earl is unable to give me anything other than King Lear-like threats that amendments will come in due course but we know not what they are, I imagine that the same position will be taken on Clause 28. If that is wrong, perhaps the noble Earl or the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will tell me. It seems to me that the two clauses are related.

Lord Monkswell: I support the thrust of what my noble friend has said. The noble Earl made the chance remark that the Government were thinking of making provision for a reduction in the qualifying period. However, previously he seemed to suggest that there might be situations when the qualifying period could be waived. Bearing in mind the difficulty of giving the precise amendments which might be forthcoming from the Government, I hope that they will consider that there could be circumstances in which the qualifying period would be waived rather than reduced to a shorter period.

Earl Ferrers: King Lear rises again. I cannot tell the noble Lord, Lord Williams, what will be in the amendments. We will bring forward an amendment to enable local authorities to disapply the three-year qualifying period in respect of Clause 28. Circumstances may arise where an ownership condition with the element of local authority discretion needs to be applied to HMO grants. For that reason, we believe that the Secretary of State should retain the appropriate powers, which include the option to vary the period by order. The Secretary of State can do so and I believe I am right in saying that local authorities cannot. I take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, made. I believe that he is wrong, but I shall bear it in mind.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [HMO grants: purposes for which grant may be given]:

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Power to restrict certain landlord's applications]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 48.

Page 18, line 27, after ("is") insert ("not").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if, in moving this amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 49, standing in my name, although the amendments address two different matters.

Amendment No. 48 is purely designed to elucidate the expressions in Clause 31. I should have thought that in line 27 the word "not" has been left out because, as I read the provision, it does not make much sense. However, if the Minister can assure me that it makes

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1636

sense without the "not", I shall be glad to have a full explanation. The ordinary public reading the Bill may not understand why there is no negative in line 27, therefore the ordinary public will rely on Hansard in order to understand what the clause is meant to achieve.

On the other hand, Amendment No. 49 is more substantive. It relates to grants to landlords and its purpose is to ensure that such grants are permitted where they are consistent with a local housing authority's private renewal strategy which has been agreed with the Secretary of State. The Government's explanatory paper, The Future of Private Housing Renewal Programmes in England, proposed that most landlords' renovation grants and grants for houses in multiple occupation should be withdrawn and discretionary grants available only in renewal areas.

The retention of local authority powers to give grant aid to landlords in the Bill is a welcome change to those proposals. It represents government recognition that landlord grant is an important component of the powers that local authorities have to effect improvements in private rented housing.

Clause 31, however, appears to contradict that policy intention by including a wide-ranging power for the Secretary of State to restrict the use of landlord grant by order. This amendment seeks to remove such power from the Secretary of State in relation to grants which make a contribution to meeting the strategic aims of local authorities. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: If I understand Clause 31(1) correctly, I think I prefer it without "not". It seems to start from the presumption of local authority discretion which may then be reduced by the Secretary of State rather than putting the power first in the hands of the Secretary of State. However, it is for the Government to defend their wording.

I want in particular to support Amendment No. 49. Last night, as I was putting together papers for today's proceedings, I had the usual evening courier delivery from my own local authority, Richmond. It happened to include a newsletter on Richmond's private sector housing strategy. It seems that the contents of the agenda for a recent meeting, which are reported in that newsletter, go a very long way to support this amendment.

To give the Committee a flavour of what is dealt with in such a private sector housing forum, the agenda included feedback from sub-groups on an advice pack for landlords and on an accreditation scheme for landlords. It included a building society presentation on mortgage lenders' attitudes to property rental and on the implications for mortgage indemnity insurance; an item on the role of the local housing advice team; and a housing benefit update. That sort of forum is a very valuable tool, bringing together the various parties and players on the housing scene. I therefore very much support the amendment.

Lord Lucas: So far as Amendment No. 48 is concerned, I share the preference of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the way things are in the Bill. Of course it would be possible to construct the negative

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1637

within the positive, and vice versa, and to use whichever version were to pass into final legislation to achieve either a positive or negative effect. But if ever we were to do anything under Clause 31 as it is at the moment, which we have no current intention of doing, we should be intending to exclude some category of area, rather than any class of landlord, from the application of the scheme. Therefore we should prefer the present wording.

Amendment No. 49 would allow any restrictions on eligibility of landlords' applications imposed by the Secretary of State in an order to be overridden where the application conformed with the local authority's private housing renewal strategy; or, if Amendment No. 48 were passed, it would do exactly the opposite.

It is not our present intention that any order should be made under Clause 31. However, were there to be any, this amendment would allow a local authority's strategy, which has no legal force, to take precedence over a decision based on primary legislation.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. Are not the private housing renewal strategies of local authorities agreed with the Secretary of State? Therefore does not that strategy itself have some governmental authority?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page