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Lord Lucas: As the noble Lord said, Clause 9 requires a registered social landlord to seek the consent of the corporation before disposing of land, including houses and other property on it.

Subsection (2) provides that when the corporation gives its consent to the disposal of land, this may be given subject to conditions. Amendment No. 47 proposes that the corporation must issue guidance on these conditions and do so before the Bill is enacted.

The corporation is required under subsection (3) to consult on any general consent. It may be helpful if I outline how the existing provisions work in practice.

The corporation revised its general consent last year after extensive consultation. The object was to reduce bureaucracy while maintaining adequate accountability for public funds. There are only two main categories where specific consents are still required: first, where a charge is granted to a private lender. The corporation must be satisfied that this will not endanger the viability of the landlord, and hence past public investment. And, secondly, where existing stock financed by public funds is to be sold on the public market. Neither of these cases is suitable for general consents. Nor do they lend themselves to establishing key principles, except at the highest level of generality.

There is no intention to make any significant change to this tried and tested approach. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will agree that we are in practice going as far as we can in the direction that the amendment suggests.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his response. However, will these matters be spelt out in some guidance from the corporation, or are we to rely on what the Minister said this evening?

Lord Lucas: I am sure that the noble Lord can always rely on what I say, as long as I am right.

Subsection (3) states:

That process embraces most required consents. The resultant general consent is consulted on and published. Other than the two main exceptions, and others, that I have described this evening, there is in effect a document which constitutes guidance because it is the

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general consent which has been consulted on. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, appears to be seeking.

The guidance is either covered by parts which are in the general consent or involves bits which could not easily be covered by guidance. Therefore there is no need for more guidance than that provided by the general consent.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sure that whatever the Minister says is right. However, I cannot understand why we have the expression "may be given subject to conditions". Subsection (3) states that the corporation shall consult such bodies, as the Minister said. Why do we have the expression "subject to conditions"?

Lord Lucas: I do not immediately see how one can avoid the expression "subject to conditions" if one wishes to be able to give a consent in any terms other than "yes". If one wishes to say, "Yes, if you do such and such", one has to be able to put a condition in place, particularly if one is considering a rather complex proposal of the type that I described as a difficult area. It is quite reasonable for the corporation to be able to put conditions on its consent. The general consent would presumably not be subject to conditions. If it is a general consent, people can do it; the consent is given.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I do not wish to prolong this argument. If there is a general consent which is agreed, and a specific consent which is covered by subsection (3) involving consultation and so on, why do we need those words in the Bill? They arouse suspicions in some people who are not as familiar with the Bill as is the noble Lord. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 48:

Page 6, line 1, leave out ("A disposal") and insert ("An agreement to dispose").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 48, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 49.

It is a small and possibly legal point. What is a disposal? I have always believed that there was something called an agreement; that an agreement provided for certain matters including a disposal; and that an agreement can be void, but a disposal cannot be void because it is only the result of an agreement to dispose.

It is a drafting point that I have raised previously with the Minister. However, I shall be glad to hear his views on whether I am right or wrong. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: I find myself asking the same question. I have not yet been able to satisfy myself that the problem which the noble Lord describes does not exist, although many are confident that it does not. I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to assure myself one way or the other as to what this wording means when viewed by a lawyer as opposed to a rather confused accountant. Perhaps I may come back on the matter before Report stage.

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Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord for sharing my confusion. However, the Government have put forward a Bill which contains the text. I am not a lawyer by training, but certain of my noble friends who are take the view that I have described. An agreement can be void; a disposal can only result from an agreement. Therefore, a disposal by itself cannot be void. I understand that although I gave the Minister notice, he wishes to take advice. I look forward to hearing from him before the Report stage as to what the advice was. It may be that the advice will be disputed, if it comes down in what some of my noble friends feel is the wrong way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 50:

Page 6, line 16, after ("sale") insert ("or").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if, in speaking to Amendment No. 50, I speak also to Amendment No. 51. The definition of "disposal" gives me and some of my noble friends trouble. I can easily accept that if the rubric of the clause were "disposal of land or interest in land", then the words in Clause 9(7) would be appropriate. I understand that the rubric is not part of the Bill and will not be part of the Act in law. Nevertheless "disposal" in ordinary language means "sale", but it does not mean "mortgage, charge or any other disposition". That is a disposal of an interest in land. I do not believe that the drafting is quite correct. Having given notice of the point to the Minister, I am sure that he has considered the matter with great care. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: I am sure that the noble Lord and I are of one mind that mortgages and charges should be subject to the protection given by this clause. At issue is the difference between the ordinary English meaning of the word "disposal", which does not include a mortgage, and the meaning given to it in this clause, where it does. I am advised and am myself sure that within its context the clause achieves what it sets out to by misusing--if you will have it that way--the word "disposal" to bear meanings that it does not ordinarily bear.

I am not concerned that the clause will do less or more than it is supposed to do. I share the noble Lord's distress that the poor word "disposal" should be abused in that way. We cannot devise anything better that satisfies us and certainly not in the time that we have had to consider it since the noble Lord brought his amendment to our attention. Our distress is merely at the abuse of the English language rather than any possible consequences for people affected by the Bill. In the absence of any suggestions as to how the problem might be got around without damaging the Bill, as the amendment would, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Yes, I have some suggestions. It seems to me easy to produce them. If we take the rubric of the clause:

    "Consent required for disposal of land",

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and add to that, "or disposal of an interest in land", it would then feed through in the drafting of Clause 9. It seems to me that it covers the point. "Disposal" is a word used not just in this Bill but also in many other Acts of Parliament. It seems odd to have a definition of "disposal"--and I accept that if the Bill says "disposal" should mean that, then it is right--which cuts across disposal of shares under the Financial Services Act, disposal of interests in property under the Housing Act and disposal of companies under the Companies Act, and all kinds of other things.

It seems to me that the wording could easily be drafted to take account of disposal of interest. That would cover lease, mortgage, charge or other disposition, because that is what it is about. I would have no problem with it. However, it seems odd to use the word "disposal" when we could easily use the words "disposal or disposal of interest in". I offer that suggestion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Lettings and other disposals not requiring consent of Corporation]:

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