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Lord Lucas moved Amendment No.61:

Page 10, line 43, leave out ("Part") and insert ("paragraph").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendment No.61 with Amendment No.2. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No.62 not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Bristol moved Amendment No.63:

Page 11, line 16, at end insert--
("( ) The right conferred by this section shall not arise where the dwelling is subject to a restrictive covenant which restricts its provision and future use to affordable housing.").

The right reverend Prelate said: I speak for the first time in Committee. Perhaps I should declare that I am a Church Commissioner and also president of a diocesan board of finance, which means that I may have an interest in relation to some of the matters that I deal with.

I thank the Minister for his explanation of Clause 16, but, when I have shared with the Committee my concerns, some aid and comfort may be required in understanding the implications of the proposals. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that I believe the debate which was concerned with the right to buy and the requirement to sell has to be seen in a wider context. Sometimes rights have to be given up for the sake of the responsibility to the whole so that all may have homes in which to live. Therefore, our major concern is the loss of affordable rented accommodation. I do not believe that the issue is about full market value. The issue is whether one can replace in the right places, both in urban and rural areas, housing which is exactly the same as that which one has to sell. It is that major issue that I wish to address.

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In 1992 the General Synod passed a motion which called upon the Church Commissioners, parochial church councils, diocesan boards of finance and glebe management committees together to manage their resources to increase the nation's stock of housing at rents affordable to those on low incomes. It was never the intention to provide housing for sale; the aim was to charge rents which could be afforded by those on low incomes. In response to that Synod motion, which was carried by a large majority, several dioceses and the Church Commissioners found ways of making Church land available to housing associations for the development of rented accommodation. There have been ll dioceses which have involved themselves in those schemes, both in rural and urban areas and from small schemes to large ones.

At present, housing associations, as we have heard, may choose whether or not to confer the right to buy on their tenants, but in future it appears that any accommodation developed with social development grant from the Housing Corporation will have to be available for purchase by tenants.

We are concerned about that, and all the signs are now, since the publication of the White Paper, that at least three dioceses have put a moratorium on providing the land for the creation of rented accommodation, which will be at low levels for those on low incomes. We are concerned that we want, as a Church, to enter into partnership with the society in which we live, and for that partnership to provide that kind of rented accommodation. It is with those concerns that the amendment is put down in my name. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The amendment seeks to exempt from the new right properties with any form of restrictive covenant requiring their continued use as affordable housing. I understand the concerns that lie behind the amendment. The right reverend Prelate explained them briefly, and I shall attempt to answer briefly, as he has set a good example to some of the rest of us. It is a problem as regards landowners which my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Dalzell addressed in an earlier debate. I believe that both can reasonably be taken together.

Of course private landowners and the Church have used their glebes, for example, for social housing. The clergy, whether in the Church of England or the Church of Scotland, seem to have decided that part-time farming is no longer something that interests them. They want to dispose of the land in a sensible and excellent way. They wish to ensure that their gift will be of lasting benefit to the community.

I hope that I can assure the Committee, as I have already tried to do, that the fear that the principle behind the gift will be lost is unfounded. The original tenants will continue to live within the community, but as owner occupiers. They will not have to move away in order to fulfil what are quite reasonable and proper aspirations of being home-owners. And, as I tried to explain earlier, the money that the landlord association receives for the property will be re-invested within the area to provide another home for a family in need. That seems to me to be a good outcome to the community. The tenant who

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wishes to buy has the right to buy and can remain. There is then a mixed ownership which I believe everyone agrees is a good thing, but the value of the property, which will include of course the value of the land that has been given, whether it was given by the Church, a charitable organisation or the landowner, will fall to the social landlord who will then have to use that money to provide this other house. Therefore the money, the principle, the kind thought--if I may call it that--will not be lost. It may not be in the same place or the same bricks and mortar as it started out being, but it will be in a nearby place and equally in bricks and mortar.

If we were to exempt any property where a restrictive covenant applied, as the amendment suggests, my fear is that that could effectively undermine the whole scheme. I know that that is not the right reverend Prelate's aim, but such covenants could be applied freely at the discretion of landlords, and could be used as a device to prevent tenants buying. That would be to the detriment of those tenants who would then be deprived of the right to buy.

As I said, I believe that landowners, the Church, and other charitable bodies should have no worries about continuing to give land at a discount, because if the property is sold the tenant will not receive the windfall gain from their generosity. It will be the social landlord who will receive that windfall gain. It is recycled by that association into a replacement property, which means that the benefit for which the land was originally given will continue. I hope that, in view of that explanation, which largely comes within the larger explanation I gave at the beginning, the right reverend prelate will be able to withdraw his amendment, and--much more importantly--his colleagues around the country will feel able to give land in the generous way that they have done.

Baroness Hamwee: I support the amendment. I have no land within my gift but, if I had, or if I had a connection with an organisation that had, I do not think that I would be reassured by that response. The right reverend Prelate began by explaining that the concern of the associations and organisations for which he spoke was with regard to replacement. I do not believe that one can easily say that the property will be replaced; it may be replaced not quite in the same place, but it will not be very far away. We will come on to debates about rural areas and we will also have debates about urban areas, no doubt, later in this Committee. But those who seek to build property know that it is not that easy to find sites for property, particularly sites which may be developed in an environmentally acceptable way, but which are on land that does not require investment in order to get it up to the point at which one can start to develop. I am talking now about brown field sites.

There are a number of issues raised by this. It is late, so I am not going to speak at too much length about them. I hope that we can return to the difficulties of replacement, which I do not believe are anything like as straightforward as the Minister has suggested. He thought that any landlord might impose a restrictive covenant, restricting the use of a property to affordable housing and, in that way, stop it being sold. That seems

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to me to be fairly unlikely, because he would be cutting off his nose to spite his face, as he would not be getting the income. By definition, if it is affordable, then the rent is going to be low.

I am also interested--and it had not occurred to me until the right reverend prelate began to speak--in the relationship between covenants such as are referred to here and the right to buy. Does the covenant become unenforceable because of the legislation? It seems to me that is the case. If that is so, the Government should say so quite directly.

Lord Berkeley: I rise very briefly to support the right reverend prelate in this amendment. I am astounded that a restrictive covenant placed by the Church or some other body on a new potential development for affordable housing can be overturned by anybody coming along and saying that they would like to buy it. It is like compulsory purchase, by any other name; it is appropriation. I am not persuaded that there would be another piece of land or property around the corner which could conveniently be substituted. Life is not quite like that and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee said, we should come back to this later. It seems to me that this requires much more examination and consideration if people are to continue to covenant land for this very important purpose without the fear that, in two or three years' time, just after the house has been built, it may be sold off to whoever happens to be in there at the time.

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