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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I appreciate that this amendment is intended to give authorities some measure of control over the kind of dwellings which would qualify for relocation grant. The stipulation that the qualifying dwelling should be a new or an existing dwelling is, in our view, unnecessary since, in the absence of any qualification to the word "dwelling", both are implied. That is certainly what we intend, and we shall no doubt make this clear in our guidance to authorities on the new provisions.

The more substantive point is whether it should be a matter for local housing authorities to decide whether a dwelling is of a suitable size or condition for the person applying for grant. Clearly it is important that a person should not be given more funding than is necessary to buy a home which will meet his family's reasonable housing needs. Conversely, it may be a poor investment to fund the purchase of a home which is in poor condition or which is likely to lead to overcrowding. We had intended to meet these concerns by specifying conditions as to the size and physical state of the property using the powers in Clause 128(2)(c). Further, authorities will have the power under Clause 130(1) to decide the amount of grant that they are prepared to give in particular cases.

We believe that these powers should enable us and authorities to ensure that grant is only paid in appropriate cases. However, although I cannot promise anything, we will certainly look at the noble Lord's suggestion more closely to see whether additional local authority discretion would help here. I hope that in the light of that improved forecast compared with the previous amendment, the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am delighted that the Minister has changed tack and is being helpful and conciliatory. In the light of what the Minister has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 131 [Relocation grants: condition for repayment on disposal]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 168:

Page 77, line 24, leave out from ("in") to ("as") in line 25 and insert ("a hospital, hospice, sheltered housing, residential care home or similar institution").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 12 on the first day of Report, but there was some confusion about whether the amendment was on a Marshalled List. To put the record straight, the purpose of this amendment is to extend the list of care institutions to which an elderly or infirm person may go to live without triggering the requirement to repay relocation grant, to include a hospital, hospice or similar institution, bringing Clause 131 into line with the corresponding provisions on renovation grants in Clauses 11 and 48 of the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 137 [Home energy efficiency schemes]:

[Amendments Nos. 169 to 172 not moved.]

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 173:

After Clause 137, insert the following new clause--

Provision for disabled people in construction of new dwellings

(" . The Secretary of State shall exercise his powers under section 1 of the Building Act 1985 to introduce an extension to Part M of the Building Regulations 1991 in order to ensure that in the construction of new dwellings reasonable provision shall be made for disabled people to gain access to and to use the dwelling, including sanitary conveniences.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a similar amendment to one that I moved in Committee. As can be seen from the wording, it is designed to ensure that, on this Bill becoming an Act, the Secretary of State shall exercise his powers to extend Part M of the building regulations so that,

    "in the construction of new dwellings reasonable provision shall be made for disabled people to gain access to and to use the dwelling, including sanitary conveniences".
The Government have already indicated their intention of bringing in regulations under Part M for new residential dwellings. This will bring privately funded new housing into line with publicly funded housing as housing association and local authority housing is already built to this standard.

In January 1995 the Department of the Environment produced a consultation paper with representations to be submitted by the end of April last year. This matter has therefore been under consideration for nearly a year. In Committee my noble friend Lord Lucas stated that he was unable to say when there would be any movement in this matter. Perhaps, three weeks later, he will be able to give the House more encouraging information. I understand that the major concerns over the extension of these regulations to dwellings are, first, a general dislike of regulation. That, of course, is understandable, but unjustifiable in this case. Only a level playing field and clear, simple, minimum standards will bring about necessary change in practice. The construction industry had similar reservations about the introduction of Part M to non-domestic buildings 10 years ago, which have proved in practice to be unfounded.

Secondly, there are worries about cost. The Department of the Environment's cost compliance assessment (for Part M applied to new housing) demonstrated that cost is not a significant factor. It also showed that the application of Part M would not affect valuations--that is, that new housing would retain value vis-o-vis second-hand housing on the market.

Thirdly, there is fear of change. Current house types are popular. Will changes in design brought about by regulation put off potential house buyers? Accessible features are attractive and add rather than detract from the appearance of a new house. A recent user evaluation of Lifetime Homes (by the University of Humberside) established that all 62 respondents who were older but not necessarily disabled people held a very positive view and were impressed with the flexibility of use that the new houses offered.

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Fourthly, there is the possible reduction on some sites in the number of dwellings that can be built. This, I think, would be on very few sites. But this was also the case when other regulations on light, air, parking and depths of gardens were introduced.

The question that should be answered then is not whether regulations should be introduced but what prevents their introduction. In recent housing debates the Government have argued that it is difficult to allow special treatment for particular groups of people; for example, the elderly and people with disabilities. Special treatment becomes necessary only if ordinary arrangements do not take everyone's needs into account. It has been amply demonstrated, through Lifetime Homes and the adoption of accessibility standards by housing associations over the past two to three years, that ordinary new houses can provide for most people, irrespective of age or disability.

In replying to the amendment, can my noble friend say whether he would be prepared to arrange a meeting with me to discuss this matter as it may well be the best way to resolve the difficulties? I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, with his usual persuasive powers.

I believe that these arguments have been put forward on a number of occasions during Committee and this stage of the Bill. The Government have moved part of the way towards accepting the force of the argument but have never given the complete commitment that I and the noble Lord would like.

The proposition in this new clause is reasonable. If we do not achieve the aim of the new clause, we run the risk that new buildings will be built; they will not have the facilities for disabled people; and when occupied by people who eventually become disabled the cost of adapting those buildings will be much greater. Alternatively, people will have to leave those buildings and find other accommodation more consistent with their needs and developing disabilities.

There is a backlog. Many buildings in this country are occupied by elderly people who may become disabled and need adaptations. If we were to make the move now and undertake what the amendment provides, we would begin the process of ensuring that all buildings over a period of time are suitable for use by disabled persons.

It is a reasonable proposition. I hope that the Minister will accept it. It represents long-term economy. It represents the proper way of meeting the needs of disabled people and makes complete sense. It does not involve the Government in having to lay out a lot of money. I cannot understand why the Government do not accede to the persuasive arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, moved a similar amendment at the previous stage, at about the same hour of the evening, I felt that the response which he obtained was unhappy.

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It combined the astonishment of the Government at the large number of replies to their consultation on the White Paper and the apparent inability or lack of enthusiasm on their part to move speedily in assessing those responses with a request to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, to contain himself in patience. When he asked his noble friend whether he could give an indication of when there would be movement, the answer was entirely to the point. It was "no".

I remember being a little startled that after a response which seemed to be sympathetic to the subject matter of the amendment, the Government could not even produce an emollient and encouraging response. Perhaps one should admire them for their honesty. However, it is an appropriate point to raise again. I hope that this time the Government, having heard the arguments and had an opportunity to reflect on the bluntness expressed last time, may be more encouraging and constructive in their response.

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