Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am afraid that it is scant assurance, but perhaps that is not the fault of the Minister. He suggested that if a provision of this kind were accepted we would be likely to provide for an information overload. He went on to explain the detailed but not statutorily required provisions for providing information in a number of places, not necessarily easily accessible or comparable.

I do not think that it is a good argument to say, "The information is there but we shall not commit ourselves to continuing to provide that information, and, if we do

22 Apr 1996 : Column 1001

provide it, heaven forbid that we should make life terribly straightforward for anyone who is attempting to use the funds available from the regeneration budget in the best interests of the community".

I feel quite strongly on this subject. On the basis of the noble Lord's scant assurance, I look forward to hearing from him. I hope that he will respond to the points that I have made both in moving the amendment and in responding to it in time for me to consider what to do on Third Reading.

While I accept that the requirements of the budget are evolving and that it is an organic process, nevertheless, I believe that they are considerable and that it is appropriate to seek to find mechanisms for making the whole process a great deal more transparent. There needs to be a degree of accountability, which is sadly lacking. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 164:

After Clause 126, insert the following new clause--

Regeneration Companies in which local authorities have interests

(". Part V of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 shall not apply to any company whose sole purpose is the regeneration of an area in line with the published regeneration strategy of the local authority concerned.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, local authorities may set up companies in order to undertake regeneration work in their localities. The difficulty is that if what they do is constrained by Part V of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, any capital expenditure incurred by a local authority will be set against the local authority's capital limits. That would act as a serious constraint upon the ability of local authorities to fund other capital projects. Therefore, the main purpose of the amendment is to take away that constraint and give local authorities more freedom with which to undertake regeneration in their areas.

However, Part V of the Local Government and Housing Act also has other disadvantages. When a local authority sets up a company by putting in a small proportion of the equity of that company, it may well discourage the private sector from participating because it may sense that the local authority is not willing to make an adequate commitment to the project. Again, I believe that it is right that local authorities should have the flexibility to vary the amount of equity which they put into a company to reflect local circumstances. It may well be that where the private sector sees that the risk is high, the local authority must make a greater contribution to the equity stake of that company.

There is also the further point that there is uncertainty as to whether the private sector controlled companies are eligible to receive European Union funds. Therefore, the effect of the amendment would be to give the same exemption to companies set up specifically by local authorities to undertake regeneration schemes according

22 Apr 1996 : Column 1002

to statutorily approved development plans. That would be a sensible amendment and would give local authorities more freedom of action.

Finally, the amendment would have the added advantage that it would avoid the need for the Secretary of State to have to exercise his discretion to give exemptions from Part V on a case-by-case basis. That is a rather burdensome piece of bureaucracy and this amendment would allow a more consistent approach. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, one of the aims of the regulatory regime introduced with Part V of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 is to encourage local authorities to enter into joint venture arrangements where the private sector is in the lead. The exclusion of all regeneration companies from the regime would undermine that objective.

In any case, as has been said, the Secretary of State already has powers under Sections 68(1) and 69(1) of the 1989 Act to exempt local authority controlled or influenced companies from the restrictions imposed by order under Part V. Applications from regeneration-orientated companies will be considered on their merits. A number of time-limited exemptions have been issued to city challenge and SRB challenge fund companies. I suspect that the difference between us on the matter is entirely one based on politics and, therefore, for the purposes of this evening, irreconcilable. However, I shall take up the small point mentioned by the noble Lord about European funding and write to him on the subject.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I was not aware that the difference between us was simply a matter of party politics. I was about to say that the Minister obviously wanted to be helpful on various occasions today. Indeed, I was hoping that he would be equally helpful on this amendment. But, alas, it was not to be. I fear that we shall not make much progress with the amendment this evening. Therefore, as the Minister is being totally intransigent, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 127 [Resolution by local housing authority to pay relocation grants]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 165:

Page 74, leave out lines 5 to 18 and insert--
("(a) consider whether their resources are sufficient for the purpose of carrying into effect a resolution declaring the power to pay relocation grants to be exercisable as regards that area; and
(b) in deciding that question, have regard to such guidance as may from time to time be given by the Secretary of State.
(2) Where a local housing authority decide that their resources are sufficient for that purpose, they shall--
(a) consider whether to pass such a resolution; and
(b) notify every person on whom notice is required to be served under subsection (2B)(a) of section 289 of the Housing Act 1985 that they are so considering and invite him to make representations.
(3) In deciding whether to pass such a resolution, a local housing authority shall--
(a) have regard to such guidance as may from time to time be given by the Secretary of State; and

22 Apr 1996 : Column 1003

(b) take account of any representations made by persons notified under subsection (2)(b).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall, with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendment No. 166. Local authority associations have pressed us to make these two amendments, the purpose of which is to remove the obligation on local housing authorities to consult those who are to be displaced by area clearance about the possibility of giving relocation grants if the authority does not have the resources to make such grants available.

As currently worded, Clause 127 imposes a duty on authorities to consult people in the area clearance before they decide whether they should make the power to give relocation grants available in that area. The requirement could raise expectations that grant might be forthcoming even though an authority then finds that it does not have the resources to pay the grant. Clearly this is unsatisfactory from the point of view both of the authority and of the people who are being consulted.

Amendment No. 165 will enable authorities to consider the question of resources first so that they need only consult if they are satisfied that resources are available. They will be required to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on the matter. Amendment No. 166 is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 166:

Page 74, line 25, leave out ("(2)(b)") and insert ("(1)(b) or (3)(a)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 129 [Relocation grants: qualifying persons and qualifying dwellings]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 167:

Page 75, line 23, leave out ("if") and insert ("whether it is new or existing, provided it is considered by the local housing authority to be of a suitable size and condition and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that local authorities have the opportunity to pay relocation grants not only for new build dwellings but also in relation to existing dwellings providing that the local authority considers them to be suitable. As I understand it, without the amendment there would only be the power to pay relocation grants for new build dwellings. That seems excessively restrictive.

The grants about which we are talking can be offered by local housing authorities to people who lose their homes as a result of clearance activity. The grants will supplement existing compensation provisions to enable the people affected to purchase a replacement dwelling within the same clearance area or within any other area designated by the local housing authority, having regard, of course, to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Again, it seems to me that the amendment would add flexibility and make it easier for local authorities

22 Apr 1996 : Column 1004

to achieve their aim of clearing areas by offering the wherewithal for decent, alternative housing. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page