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Lord Williams of Elvel: I did not propose in that Bill to purchase the mansion of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I was using that as a hypothetical possibility which the noble Earl indeed ruled out.

Lord Lucas: The noble Lord was indeed making a frivolous proposal, which was exactly the sort of thing he wished to protect local authorities against. I hope that we were able to convince him that local authorities had sufficient powers to enable them not to incur expense if such frivolous applications were made.

This is not the case with the Housing Corporation. It has to take applications seriously and investigate them properly. Therefore, if it were to occur that a significant number of frivolous applications were being made, this ability to charge a fee would be useful. But there are two key points to be made. Any charging proposals would have to be included in the new determination on the manner of applications. The corporation is required to consult on that determination. It could not introduce a charging system without warning and it would have to take representations into account.

Secondly, the corporation is required to follow the principles set out in government accounting. Any fee would have to be related to the costs involved. For example, it would be reasonable for it to charge a relatively nominal fee for standard applications, with additional charges for organisations with complex business plans. With those safeguards in place it is reasonable to allow the corporation to charge fees in the future if it deems such a procedure to be necessary.

Lord Hylton: The noble Lord the Minister has said in relation to Amendment No. 16 that he believes it to be desirable that the Housing Corporation should have a wide discretion. Let us suppose that it exercises that discretion to refuse an application; will there be any right of appeal against the decision? Also, would it not be most desirable that the criteria for non-registration should be published so that they can be known in advance?

Lord Lucas: I do not immediately have an answer to the very reasonable questions asked by the noble Lord. I shall write to him before Report stage.

Baroness Hamwee: At the risk of sounding a little impertinent, may I say in response to the Minister's comments that it is perhaps appropriate to wait and see what the Committee does with Clauses 4, 5 and 6, which deal with the criteria and appeals against decisions,

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because the points I have raised are probably better taken in context with the clauses that we end up with there. The Minister wishes to intervene.

Lord Lucas: Having received sudden inspiration, I am now able to confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that a right of appeal is indeed contained in Clause 5 and the criteria will be published.

Baroness Hamwee: I was trying gently to say the same thing. I shall withdraw this amendment but, before I do so, perhaps I may say that the Minister said, quite sensibly, that the Housing Corporation needs to alert, to take one example, the registrar of companies to the fact that a company has particular conditions which will attach to it. Has it not come to a very cumbersome pass that such a straightforward matter as that, entirely ancillary to the general powers of the Housing Corporation, needs to be spelt out? That takes one-third of a page of legislation. We need then to be sure that those words are precisely right and give no scope for confusion. That also raises questions about whether other ancillary matters which are not spelt out are then within the powers of the Housing Corporation.

I believe that we sometimes need to stand back and consider rather more laterally the implications of the way in which we approach some of these matters. However, having got that off my chest, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 19 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Removal from the register]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): Before calling Amendment No. 20, I should inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 21.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 3, line 39, leave out from ("shall") to end of line 40 and insert ("give the body at least 14 days notice that it intends to remove the body from the register.
( ) Where the Corporation receive a response to that notice they shall consider it and notify the body of their decision.
( ) Where the corporation decide to remove the body from the register they shall not do so until after the time for an appeal to the High Court under section 6 below (appeal against decision on removal) has expired.").

The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 20, grouped with Amendment No. 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and Amendment No. 22 in my name. It may be convenient if I refer here to Amendment No. 25, which is to take out a clause of the Bill that my other amendments seek to replace. I hope that this is a fairly straightforward matter, proposing an alteration of the process of removing a registered social landlord from the register. It makes it clear that the Housing Corporation is to notify the landlord of its intention, then make a decision and allow time for appeal before implementing the decision. The Housing Corporation notifies the companies registrar and other registrars only

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when it removes the landlord from the register. The structure under the Bill is perhaps a little unclear. Is it intended--this is the point of the amendment--that the registrar should be notified before removal, pending appeal? I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I would like to speak to Amendment No. 21 standing in my name. It seems to me that 14 days, which would be, I imagine, calendar days rather than working days, is rather short notice when a social landlord is to be removed from the register. There may be holidays, there may be bank holidays, there may be all sorts of intervening matters. This is purely a probing amendment, and I would question whether 14 days is sufficient notice to allow proper consideration by the social landlord of what is being done.

Presumably, the social landlord would be in a position, having been given the notice, to correct the deficiencies which have led to the notice in the first place. That is what I understand, and I hope the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong. If that is the case, I should have thought that 14 days is not long enough, having received the notice, for the social landlord to act in the manner in which it should act in order to remain on the register. It is really to try to help social landlords that I suggest 14 days might be insufficient.

The Earl of Kinnoull: I have not perhaps fully understood the matter further on in the Bill, and I wonder whether my noble friend could say what the financial consequences would be if a social landlord were to be removed from the register.

6 p.m.

Lord Lucas: Clause 4 of the Bill establishes the conditions to be satisfied before a social landlord can be removed from the register and the procedures that the corporation has to follow. It may be worthwhile to rehearse what they are. They are that the landlord is a body no longer eligible for such registration or has ceased to exist or does not operate.

Amendment No. 20 would require the corporation to notify a landlord of its intention to remove it from the register. Should it make representations to the corporation, it would, if it decided to proceed, be required to wait until completion of the period for an appeal to the High Court before effecting the removal.

In Amendment No. 21 the noble Lord, Lord Williams, proposes that the corporation be required to give at least 28 rather than 14 days' notice to a body before removing it from the register. The changes proposed here are unnecessary. The corporation can only remove a body from the register where it is no longer eligible, or has ceased to exist or does not operate. The corporation is required to give at least 14 days' notice, and is able to use its expertise and judgment in these matters to apply a period of notice in excess of 14 days where it is sensible to do so. Any active social landlord who is to be de-registered, will have had plenty of warning of what is afoot. This will not come as a surprise and he will be ready to appeal if he feels that is justified. The corporation must be able to take decisive action.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has further proposed that before taking a decision to remove a body from the register, the corporation should consult with a relevant local authority in whose area the landlord has assets. In practice the corporation will have consulted long before reaching such decisions. It would want to alert a local authority which has plans to work with a questionable landlord before de-registration became an issue.

I believe these amendments to be unnecessary and invite the noble Baroness to withdraw Amendment No. 20.

Baroness Hamwee: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 4, line 6, after ("body") insert ("owns assets or").

The noble Lord said: I am rather concerned about the word "operates" as it appears in the Bill as drafted. Social landlords of varying descriptions "operate" in the sense of "manage" and "operate" in the sense of "owning assets". The two do not necessarily go together. I should have thought that an amendment along the lines which I propose, which would clarify exactly which local authorities are to be consulted before a social landlord should be removed from the register, is appropriate because a social landlord may own assets in a local authority area and not manage them. Conversely, a social landlord may operate assets in a local authority area but not own them.

Therefore, the Bill will be drafted properly if it encompassed both owning assets and operating. They are two quite different functions and I believe that the Bill would be better drafted if my amendment were accepted. I beg to move.

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