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Lord Williams of Elvel: That may be so; indeed, I understand that. However, if a company under the Companies Act does not do what it should do and, say, fails to produce its accounts, the prosecuting authority would not be the DTI; the matter would be handed over to the DPP. It is the Government who prosecute, not a quango or a regulator. Can the Minister say whether any

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quango or regulator has any powers of prosecution regarding criminal offences? If not, then I believe that we shall have to look rather carefully at the matter.

Lord Lucas: I am sure it is quite right that we should look carefully at the matter. As I said, I am not aware of any precedents. The organisation that we are discussing is something of a unique body as regards the amount of money which it dispenses and the variety of organisations to which it dispenses it. We need to look at it in terms of the appropriate ways in which that organisation should control the people to whom it passes the money. The solution that we have put forward is that it should be done by means of giving the corporation the power to initiate criminal prosecutions. Of course that is something which does, as the noble Lord said, require serious consideration; indeed, we have given it serious consideration. However, we are very happy to listen to the views of noble Lords opposite, and others, as to whether it ought to be done in a different way.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord. However, it does not seem to me that the quantum really matters; it is the principle that matters. The Housing Corporation is a quango and Housing for Wales is a quango. The members of those quangos are appointed by the Secretary of State. They are not elected and they are not accountable to Parliament other than in a way which we shall discuss later in the Bill. When I was chairman of the Price Commission and the head of a quango I had no power at all to prosecute anyone who had contravened the pricing regulations. It was up to the Department of Trade and Industry to refer that matter to the DPP at the time. All I can say is that I shall be quite happy if the Government can produce any serious reason why this should not be a DPP matter--a criminal offence--and why it should be handed over to a quango which is unelected, unappointed and which has no real substantial experience of criminal matters.

Lord Lucas: I am certainly unable at this time to produce the parallels which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, asks for. I shall certainly undertake research and write to him and, as I have said, I shall also consider carefully the points which he has made about the principle involved. That is important and I shall be happy to express our considered views to him and, I hope, convince him that what we are doing is the right thing. To the best of my knowledge, what we are doing is a new procedure and therefore requires consideration. To the best of our knowledge it is the best and most practical thing to do. As I say, we are certainly conscious that we need to listen carefully to what may be said by others as regards their views on the solution we have proposed.

Lord Monkswell: How do the Government envisage this working in practice? The Government intend the Bill to say that the Housing Corporation will be the regulator and the prosecuting authority. That raises concerns about the powers of a regulator to get people to do what it wants if it can say, "If you do not do what

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we want, we will take you to court". I am sure that the Minister would not want that to occur. Therefore, presumably, there would have to be some practical separation within the Housing Corporation of the regulatory function and the prosecutorial function. We learnt from the Scott Report about how the system worked within Customs and Excise. There was a separate department within Customs and Excise that exercised the prosecutorial function. It is important that we get some idea from the Government as to how they envisage this new procedure will work in practice. Will the Housing Corporation be required to have a separate department within its organisation that specialises in the prosecution aspect, or is it envisaged that the same department within the Housing Corporation would carry out both the regulatory and the prosecuting functions? It would be useful if we could get some idea of how the Government envisage this system working in practice.

Lord Berkeley: Perhaps I can suggest a similarity between this discussion we are having about judge, prosecution and jury, and rail privatisation. In the case of rail privatisation, there is a rail regulator who is totally separate from the franchising director who hands out well over £1 billion a year to the passenger train operators in return for their operating a certain pattern of services. The two organisations are totally separate and to my knowledge neither has any capability at all to bring criminal prosecutions against a train operator for non-performance. That is not perhaps quite so likely as in the case of some landlords but the principle is the same. I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel.

Lord Lucas: I am still struggling somewhat to imagine what lies at the heart of the concerns which are being expressed by Members of the Committee on the Benches opposite. It does not seem to me that this is anything more than a sensible and convenient way for things to be done. One example has been drawn to my attention which relates to the Companies Act 1985. Sections 447 and 451 of that Act concern prosecutions which may be brought by the industrial insurance commissioner. To some extent the powers that we are looking at today have been in existence for a long while also in the Housing Act.

Lord Williams of Elvel: With respect, the industrial insurance commissioner is not a regulator. This is the problem; namely, that one has a regulator who regulates, and a regulator who is also a prosecutor. That seems to me to be the problem. The noble Lord said that he did not understand the problem of Members of the Committee on this side of the Chamber. However, that is the problem. One either has a regulator or one has a prosecutor because we have an adversarial system of justice in this country, or at least we did until recently--

Lord Lucas: I hear what the noble Lord is saying. I clearly need to give myself more time to get my mind around the difficulties which he envisages. A solution does not immediately spring to mind. As I said, this is a system which has been operating for some years, albeit to a smaller extent within the previous Housing Act. Indeed, another place has criticised the Housing

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Corporation for not employing its powers more frequently than the two or three times a year on which it does so. It is only an infrequently used power and does not require a special department, any more than bringing a private prosecution requires a special department in the case of an individual. It is just something which is done by the corporation when it is required to be done, in the way that any ordinary prosecution would be brought. I do not see the problems which seem to be in the minds of Members of the Committee opposite. However, I am quite happy to contemplate this dichotomy of the regulator and prosecutor to see whether there is anything which comes to our mind that suggests that the two cannot live in the same body.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said. He does not see the problem. It seems to me there is a clear problem which I have tried to explain on about three occasions now. I am sure he will go away and think about it. The Housing Corporation has been given massive new powers by this Bill. That is not given without our approval; I am not trying to quarrel about the new powers. I repeat that I do not see why there should not be some restraint at some point on the corporation. The point at which it seems to me there might be a restraint--depending on whether the Government think it is right or wrong--is the point of being prosecutor, because if the Housing Corporation is going to prosecute, it means that the Housing Corporation will be adversarial. The idea of a regulator is that he should not necessarily be adversarial. The whole point of the Housing Corporation--and any regulator--is that it should try to encourage, and to a certain extent regulate, the industry which it is regulating or encouraging. If at the back of it--unlike Customs and Excise and other departments--there is a prosecuting authority there, I believe that the role of the Housing Corporation slightly changes. I accept that these are minor matters but they are matters which this House, as a guardian of the constitution--if I may put it like that--should consider rather seriously. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 46A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 46, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 46B, as an amendment to Amendment No. 46, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 46 agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Consent required for disposal of land by registered social landlord]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 47:

Page 5, line 37, at end insert ("which shall be set out in guidance issued by the Corporation before the commencement of this Part").

The noble Lord said: We are now back to the main part of the Bill as opposed to the schedule. We are dealing with the control by the two corporations--that is to say, the English and the Welsh corporations--of transactions in land and disposal of land. In Clause 9 the

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consent of the corporation is required for any disposal of land by a registered social landlord. As drafted, the clause states:

    "The consent of the Corporation ... may be given subject to conditions".

Amendment No. 47 is a probing amendment which asks the Government to explain the conditions that the corporation might have in mind when it gives its consent. Social landlords would find difficulty in accepting an open ended "subject to conditions" provision. When the noble Lord replies, perhaps he will specify the conditions and in what circumstances they might be applied. I beg to move.

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