Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 47:

Page 30, line 40, leave out from beginning to ("any") in line 41.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 48. These amendments will mean that where a property is disposed of to an associate of the

18 Apr 1996 : Column 871

person making the disposal under Section 57(1)(a) or a disposal under a will or intestacy under Section 57(1)(b), the owner-occupation condition will continue for the new owner.

The change ensures that the owner-occupation condition for renovation grants is consistent with the condition in Clause 48 for repayment on disposal after a renovation grant has been given. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 48:

Page 30, line 42, at end insert ("if there is a relevant disposal of the dwelling that is an exempt disposal, other than--
(a) a disposal within section 57(1)(a) (disposal to associates of person making disposal), or
(b) a disposal within section 57(1)(b) (vesting under will or on intestacy).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 55 [Power to impose other conditions with consent of Secretary of State]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 33, line 2, leave out (", with the consent of the Secretary of State,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Clause 45 allows a local housing authority to impose conditions on its approval of an application for grant but those conditions are to be subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. I seek to remove the requirement for the Secretary of State's consent. This amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 50 and 51, to which no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, will speak when moving what is perhaps a slightly more moderate amendment than mine.

When we discussed this matter in Committee, I commented that the provision seemed to add to the Secretary of State's own administrative caseload. I said that that was perhaps a matter for him and not for me. On reflection, I should have said that it was a matter for me. It is a matter for all noble Lords. After all, we are all concerned with good administration. As I read this provision, it requires consent in every particular case. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, may tell me that that is not so.

At that time I asked, if the Government were not minded to concede the point, whether the Minister would explain how the power was to be used; and in particular whether the Government proposed to give umbrella consents--in other words, consents covering specific categories. For instance, standards of management, repair, maintenance, nomination rights and that type of thing could perhaps be approved in a general way and therefore be available to be imposed by local authorities.

My concern about this provision is that it seems to be contradictory to the aim of allowing local authorities to use the grant system flexibly in support of their own local strategic aims. To have to go to the Secretary of

18 Apr 1996 : Column 872

State for consent on what may be many occasions seems extremely cumbersome, and indeed goes against the spirit of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, as the noble Baroness pointed out, this amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dubs. As she pointed out, our amendments are slightly milder than hers.

In Committee, as noble Lords may recall, we sought to remove entirely the requirement for the Secretary of State's consent. The Government rejected that, arguing that there must be an element of central control so as to ensure that all local authorities adopt a consistency of approach across the country. On different occasions the Government have argued in different ways. I am not quite sure whether we stand on that point. I am quite satisfied that a balance has to be struck between discretion on the part of local authorities and the need for national consistency.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that in this case the Government have got it wrong. If local authorities are to use the grant system flexibly in support of their local aims and to maximise the system's effectiveness in meeting specific local housing need, they really must be free to do so without seeking the Secretary of State's consent in every conceivable instance.

The Government rejected our argument in Committee, so we are offering a slightly modified version. The amendment to which I speak would have three purposes. First, it would remove the requirement to seek the Secretary of State's consent when a local housing authority imposes additional conditions on grant aid. It would seek also to make the exercise of discretion by local authorities the subject of guidance by the Secretary of State. So it is a gentler amendment than those we moved in Committee. But it would also require the Secretary of State to consult before the issue of such guidance.

If I had my choice, I should go with the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, since that was the one we moved in Committee. Nevertheless, I offer a slightly reduced, milder amendment in the hope that the Government may concede an inch or two on this matter.

9 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it all seems to me very appropriate that New Labour should be a milder version of the Liberal Democrat Party. It fits in very well with current images.

Having listened carefully to what was said in Committee and looked carefully at the amendments, we still hold to the way in which matters are set out in the Bill. My noble friend Lord Ferrers explained in Committee the importance that we attach to ensuring consistency of approach and the need for there to be some control over the rate and nature of the changes to the grant system that the imposition of conditions represents.

18 Apr 1996 : Column 873

There is an important obligation on the Secretary of State to protect grant applicants from unfair or unreasonable conditions being applied by a local authority or access to grant being prevented by the application of such conditions. Allowing conditions to be imposed only with the consent of the Secretary of State will provide this reassurance which we believe grant applicants deserve.

But we expect that there will be wide-ranging general consents and umbrella consents covering such conditions as nomination rights on grant improved properties, the recovery of specialised equipment, insurance on grant improved property and the maintenance of improved property. We see those umbrella consents under the control of the Secretary of State providing much of the flexibility that local authorities will need. But we believe that the ultimate control of the use of such consents should be with the Secretary of State.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may say how sorry I am to raise this matter. We are having a serious debate about provisions in this Bill. I very much hope that in future the Minister will refrain from what I regard as rather silly comments about the relative standing of different political parties.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the noble Lord has answered the point about umbrella consents which prompted me to table the amendment in the same form as various noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and myself, put forward an amendment at the last stage. I am glad to hear that there will be general consents.

Can the Minister give an assurance now that there will be consultation with the local authority associations in fairly short order with regard to those general consents? While conceding that the Government are to keep central control of the matter, I am sure that they would want to keep control in a way that does not cause falling out with the local authorities.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I can confirm that we shall proceed with that consultation.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 50 and 51 not moved.]

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 52:

After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--

Local housing authority to publish information on the grants system

(" .--(1) A local housing authority shall publish, in simple terms, information on the grants system payable under this Part.
(2) In this section, "publish" means produce information in the preferred reading medium of a member of the public.").

18 Apr 1996 : Column 874

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a new subject that we did not discuss at Committee stage and this is a probing amendment.

The purpose of the amendment is to place a duty on a local housing authority to produce information on the house renovation grants, common parts grants, disabled facilities grants, HMO grants and group repair and home repair assistance in accessible formats; in other words, in large print, braille, audio cassette or sign language. It is also intended to comply with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act.

The Government's proposals omit any reference to the provision of information on the grants scheme. It is essential that visually impaired members of the public are informed of the types of grants, the "eligible" criteria, the amount of grant, how to make an application and how the system operates.

The amendment deals specifically with the needs of visually impaired people. However, as the House will know, there is also a need to cater for people who do not read or speak English, of whom there are a considerable number in this country. Perhaps my noble friend will also deal with that point in his reply.

The amendment may not be well drafted but I am sure that my noble friend understands the principle behind it. If necessary, it can be redrafted and we can return to it at a later stage. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page