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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I support the amendment. It is only too easy to forget how difficult it is for people in local authority areas to understand how a local authority operates. It is a bureaucratic system which most people find quite hard to penetrate, even with those local authorities which are as receptive as possible to local feeling. Therefore, any amendment which obliges local authorities to publish in simple terms the basis on which they make any grants available can only be for the better. It seems to me that the very people who would benefit from the system are those who would say, "Well, the easier it is for us to understand what the local authority is up to, the better the system works". This is a very simple proposition and I support it.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment. It is wonderful when an amendment put forward to take into account the point of view of disabled people provides a positive benefit to the able-bodied members of our society.

The provision follows from our earlier debate on Amendment No. 1 at the beginning of this part of the Bill, when I argued the importance of local authorities having a policy and a scheme set out on the basis of local circumstances to determine how their discretion would work. This amendment will enable that mechanism to work effectively by providing to the local community a simple explanation of what happens under the local authority's discretionary grant system and how it works. That is inevitably likely to lead to debate and discussion and no doubt improvement and modification as time goes on, depending on the changes in local circumstances.

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Lord Lucas: My Lords, my noble friend's amendment introduces a new Clause 61 which would require a local housing authority to publish information on the house renovation grant system. I do not feel that primary legislation is the most suitable vehicle to achieve that aim.

We already provide guidance to local authorities under the present legislation, encouraging them to make suitable literature available to inquirers and we intend to continue to issue such advice to accompany this legislation.

My noble friend's amendment would also require that a local authority produce such information:

    "in the preferred reading medium of a member of the public".
That could require the individual authorities to provide literature in any medium requested by a member of the public. That could have significant cost implications. Although it is sensible to produce such literature which is suitable to the needs of a disabled person, it is very much a matter for the authority to decide itself after taking account of the likely demand for such literature. The desirability of such an objective however will also be covered in future guidance. I hope that gives my noble friend the comfort he requires.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, it goes quite a long way towards doing that. A lot of the information that one would expect to be provided will be similar from one authority to another. It may be possible for local authority organisations to get together and produce in various formats--sign language and video cassettes--something that will give everyone the basics; it is the basics that people want to enable them to understand what is happening and how to apply it. In the light of what my noble friend has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 61 [Minor definitions: Chapter I]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 53:

Page 36, leave out lines 41 to 44.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 53 to 59 with Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 35. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 62 [Index of defined expressions: Chapter I]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 54 to 59:

Page 37, line 20, column 2, leave out "21(2)") and insert ("(Disabled persons) (1) to (3)").
Page 37, line 24, column 2, leave out ("37(3)") and insert ("37(2)").
Page 37, line 34, at end insert--
("introductory tenant-- subsection 99").

Page 38, line 30 at end insert--
("secure tenancy and secure tenant section 99").

Page 38, line 30, at end insert--
("social services authority section (Disabled persons) (4)").

Page 38, leave out line 50.

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall move these amendments en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 64 [Qualifying buildings]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 39, line 8, leave out from ("it") to end of line 9 and insert ("comprises a minimum of two dwellings and satisfies the conditions prescribed for qualifying buildings in relation to a group repair scheme.
Before making any regulations under subsection (2) above the Secretary of State shall consult such organisations as he considers to be representative of local housing authorities.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now turn to the part of the Bill concerning group repair schemes; namely, schemes which allow a local authority to repair the exterior of buildings to which the scheme relates.

The purpose of the amendment is twofold. First, it seeks to add flexibility to the operation of the clause. As the clause stands, it requires the scheme to apply to four dwellings and the purpose of the amendment is to reduce the number of dwellings covered by the provision to a minimum of two. Secondly, the clause, as amended, would require consultation before the Secretary of State makes changes to the definition of qualifying buildings for the purposes of the scheme.

As I said, the purpose of the amendment is to add flexibility to a proposal which has merit, but which would otherwise be rather rigid in its application. Limiting the proposal to four or more houses may miss out worthwhile approaches where four houses do not stand next to each other yet they require the group repair scheme to apply to their exteriors.

The provision is sensible. It would enable the grant system to cover everything from a single pair of semi-detached houses to a whole street of terraced houses, provided three-quarters of the properties were in disrepair externally. I believe it makes sense. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, this amendment seeks to specify on the face of the Bill that a qualifying building in a group repair scheme must comprise a minimum of two dwellings, compared with the present minimum of four, and it removes the requirement that additional qualifying buildings satisfy conditions prescribed by the Secretary of State. It also makes it a statutory requirement for local authority organisations to be consulted before any regulations are made on group repair.

We recognise that the main aim behind this amendment is to simplify the conditions for a group repair scheme. As previously indicated by my noble friend Earl Ferrers in his reply to earlier amendments, we have some sympathy with this aim of simplifying the conditions for a group repair scheme. However, as my noble friend said at the time we would prefer to leave the detailed rules and conditions to be prescribed in regulations rather than set out on the face of the Bill.

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Beyond anything else, that would give us the chance to consult local authorities and others. However, we will certainly look at the possibility of reducing the minimum number of dwellings in a scheme when we come to make the regulations.

The amendment also provides for statutory consultation with local authority organisations on proposed regulations on group repair. We do not think that is necessary. It is our general practice to consult local authority associations on proposals affecting their members. We have, for example, recently established a new working group comprising local authority representatives to provide a forum for consultation on private sector housing renewal strategies. The purpose of this group is to assist us with the drafting of new guidance for local authorities which will be required as a consequence of the Bill. I hope that that explanation reassures the noble Lord.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for agreeing to go at least part of the way to meet the purpose of the amendment. I am happy that he is looking at the matter sympathetically and therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 66 [Approval of scheme by Secretary of State]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 61:

Leave out Clause 66 and insert the following new Clause--

Neighbourhood Renewal Assessments

(" (1) Before proceeding with a group repair scheme, a local housing authority must carry out a Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment to confirm that this is the most satisfactory course of action.
(2) The Secretary of State may specify matters to be taken into account by a local housing authority when carrying out a Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment for the purposes of subsection (1).
(3) The Secretary of State may for the purpose of subsection (1) additionally specify different matters to be taken into account in a Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment for different types of scheme and in different areas.
(4) Where a Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment confirms that the carrying out of a group repair scheme is the most satisfactory course of action, the local authority may proceed to carry out the work specified in the scheme after obtaining the prior consent of persons participating in it and resolving to approve the scheme.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment also concerns group repair schemes. The purpose of the amendment is to remove the needs for specific consent from the Secretary of State for group repair schemes and simplify the process by substituting a requirement that such schemes shall be subject to a cost benefit analysis specified in neighbourhood renewal assessment. Although there seems to be an element of jargon in the alternative approach, it seems to be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut to have the Secretary of State give specific consent for a scheme of this kind. My amendment would simplify the process by taking away from the Secretary of State the burden of having to approve every scheme that might be put before him and suggesting an alternative way whereby such schemes should be approved. I beg to move.

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9.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, no one is more in favour of neighbourhood renewal assessments than the Government. After all, we developed them, we give guidance on them and we recommend them. But they belong only in particular circumstances; and that is large-scale renewal assessment. We are talking here of something which might consist only, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, hopes, of two homes.

As intimated by my noble friend Lord Ferrers in the Committee stage debate, we intend to review the current general consent with a view to ensuring that this covers as many schemes as possible so that authorities will need the Secretary of State's specific approval only in exceptional cases. We prefer to give authorities the flexibility they require in this way rather than impose something which would be an enormously outsized obligation on all schemes.

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