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The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

It is customary at this stage of the Bill to make some comments about those who have been of great assistance. I should like to do so very briefly.

First, I express my appreciation for the support that I have received in this House. I particularly valued the support from the Opposition Benches and from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I thank the Opposition Chief Whip who sat patiently through the Committee stage; I am extremely grateful to him. I am grateful for the expressions of support which I received from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and from my fellow chartered surveyor the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I should like to express my sincere thanks to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his support and wise counsel.

Through the Minister, I should like to thank the officials of the Department of the Environment, in particular Mr. Paul Everall, Caroline Cousins, Mr. Ian Day and Mr. Andrew Viner of the legal section of the department. My thanks are also due to parliamentary counsel for his input.

I pay tribute to the officers of this House and in particular to the Public Bill Office for its advice and assistance in my novitiate in taking this Bill through your Lordships' House. I thank the Government Whips' Office for its help at all times. I thank also the staff of the Library who have dug up for me arcane documents and references. I am grateful for the support and advice of the Pyramus and Thisbe Club, which is a body of practitioners in party wall matters which has devoted time and energy to giving advice on the Bill.

This Bill goes to another place with all-party support. It has the support of many bodies outside the House--the Construction Industry Council, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the British Property Federation, the Architects and Surveyors Institute, the Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers and my own professional body, which is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I have received many unsolicited letters of support from private individuals and professionals, and the number of articles expressing support in professional journals as well as the national press convince me that the tried and tested provisions of the London Building Acts, which this Bill seeks to emulate, will indeed be of lasting net benefit to the rest of England and Wales.

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Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(The Earl of Lytton.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (The Energy Charter Treaty) Order 1996

3.13 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order relates to the Energy Charter Treaty which was signed by the United Kingdom and 42 other parties (50 by the closing date), including the European Community and all member states, in December 1994. The order specifies the treaty as a European treaty under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972.

The concept of an energy charter--a political declaration to encourage investment and trade in energy--was conceived in 1990 as a response to the need for economic recovery in the then Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. The charter was signed in December 1991. The treaty text, which gives legal effect to most of the provisions of the charter, was completed in summer 1994 and signed in Lisbon in December that year. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Miller of Hendon.)

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am most obliged to the noble Baroness for outlining the provisions of this order. Will she tell the House why it has taken 18 months for a comparatively simple treaty, as I understand it, to reach this particular stage?

In view of a certain amount of dubiety as to whether or not Ministers read treaties, will she assure the House that this treaty went before the Cabinet and was approved by a Minister who is willing to acknowledge that he or she, as the case may be, has read it?

Further, will the noble Baroness tell the House what benefits the Government anticipate as a result of entering into this particular commitment on behalf of the United Kingdom and the likely costs which may conceivably result from incorporating it into Community legislation?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am unable to tell the noble Lord why this matter has taken so long to reach this stage. I must say that I thought that the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked me a question it would be on a matter which contained the word "European". I imagine that it took a long time because it had to be given extremely careful consideration. I cannot give the noble Lord an assurance that every single word in the treaty was read by everybody because I have not asked Cabinet Ministers whether or not they have read the treaty. I can assure the noble Lord that I certainly read my briefing extremely carefully.

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There will be definite advantages in due course arising from this order, not only with regard to energy but also with regard to trade generally. I am not sure about the benefits which it will bring but everybody is of the view that the provisions of the order will be extremely beneficial.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may remind her that when we discussed a treaty which was before the House for approval a few weeks ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said that she would ensure that methods by which your Lordships' House could have an opportunity to consider treaties more effectively would be looked into. It was suggested that perhaps there should be an explanatory memorandum available for us in the Printed Paper Office, or perhaps a Scrutiny Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, supported those suggestions at that time. Perhaps the noble Baroness will give me an assurance that she will remind the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, of that undertaking which was given to look at our methods of dealing with such matters.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I shall certainly speak to my noble friend Lady Chalker about that. There is a document called The Energy Charter Treaty: Key Points for British Business in the Library which outlines all the benefits to be derived from this order. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, may wish to read that document.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Housing Bill

3.19 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Lucas.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Right of tenant to acquire dwelling: supplementary provisions]:

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 11, line 17, leave out ("may").

The noble Lord said: I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I hope that Members of the Committee and my noble friend on the Front Bench will forgive me for intervening on this Bill but I shall do so only in relation to rural housing because I took a passing interest in the subject during the passage of the 1989 Act. However, I should like to put on record at the start the fact that I am extremely grateful to the Government--as, indeed, are the organisations with which I am in touch--for the progress made over the problem of rural housing since the passing of the 1989 Act. I hope that my noble friend

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will find that the amendments to which I have attached my name are at least helpful, even if he is unable to accept all of them.

Although Amendments Nos. 69, 71, 73, 77, 82 and 83 are grouped together, perhaps Members of the Committee will allow me to address Amendments Nos. 69, 71 and 73 at present. The three amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Peyton would make it a duty for the Secretary of State to make regulations designating certain rural areas, although he would still have the right to specify the rate of discount.

The amendments are really paving amendments for the substantial amendments, Amendments Nos. 82 and 83, tabled in the name of my noble friend, and Amendment No. 77, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. It may be better, after I have formally moved Amendment No. 69, if the noble Lord, Lord Carter, introduces his amendment, which is of substantial merit, before we all speak to the whole group of amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: In speaking to this group of amendments I should, first, declare an interest as a trustee of the Rural Housing Trust. However, I should point out that the amendments which are tabled in my name do not necessarily reflect the views of that trust. However, we think it important on this side of the Committee--indeed, it applies to other parts of the Committee--to use the Committee stage to probe the whole of Clause 17 with a view to ascertaining the Government's intentions and to see whether we can improve the wording of the Bill. That is the function of this Chamber. We wish to give the Minister the chance, which we are sure he will welcome, to give us an assurance on a list of undertakings. We also wish to give the noble Lord the opportunity to reflect upon what we say and to revise and improve the Bill before the Report stage.

There is no need for me to repeat the history of how Clause 17 came into being. That was covered on Second Reading. All of us involved in the rural housing field welcome the change of heart on the part of the Government. The housing White Paper proposed the removal of the exemptions policy for rural areas. However, that has now been restored through Clause 17. I am glad to have the opportunity in today's proceedings on the Bill to congratulate the Rural Housing Trust, the CLA, the NFU and many other organisations on their efforts in persuading the Government that it was right to bring back the rural exemptions and put them in the Bill.

In the group of amendments we deal with all aspects of Clause 17. We wish to see whether we can get the Government to think much more clearly about the way in which the rural exemptions will work and to examine the problem. I sympathise with the Government in their efforts to get at what we mean by a "settlement". They have used the very exhaustive procedure of examining all the various parishes and settlements and, indeed, have sent out consultation papers. They have made a valiant effort to meet the point. However, we still wonder whether the definitions should be clearer and

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whether there should be more on the face of the Bill than is left to regulations at present. We also want to see a degree of permanence in the arrangements.

There is a fear that the supply of land will dry up if landowners feel that the policy may be reversed again. We know that no Parliament can bind its successor but if the permanence of the exemption arrangements is set out on the face of the Bill it will be that much harder to alter them. However, as I said, the Government have made a valiant effort, and we congratulate them.

It is possible that the approach in the amendments is not exactly the best way to deal with the matter. However, we believe that the proposals would be a good start. Indeed, our approach may be better than that of the Government; we hope to convince them that that is so. I believe that it is a proper use of the Committee stage to probe the whole operation of Clause 17. Then, depending on what the Minister tells us regarding the Government's intentions, we may wish to return to the matter on Report.

I shall deal with the amendments briefly. As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, Amendments Nos. 69, 71 and 73 are paving amendments. Amendment No. 77 is the substantive amendment in the group. I have to admit that I drafted it myself. Therefore, I shall be entirely happy if the Minister tells me that it needs redrafting. Nevertheless, the amendment has a simple approach. Once one has decided on the houses which have received rural exemption, we propose that a register should be made of them. I believe that I am correct in saying that every local authority will have a list of all the houses in its area which have an agricultural exemption as regards use. It would not be a big task--there will not be an enormous number of houses involved--but it would be extremely helpful if the relevant local authority were to maintain what I have described as a register of exempt rural properties. I take no pride in the name. If the Government prefer another form of words, I shall be happy to accept it.

The second subsection of Amendment No. 77 reads:

    "Dwellings entered on the Register of Exempt Rural Properties shall not be removed from that Register and their exemption from the purchase grant scheme shall be permanent".
That is a fairly straightforward way of achieving the degree of permanence I believe we all want to see. The amendment accepts the principle of Clause 17(1)(b), namely, the designation of rural areas. We shall certainly return to that aspect. However, if the Government's designation approach turns out to be the one that is finally adopted, which is very likely, I feel that the properties which are so designated should be registered and that such designation should be permanent.

As I said, I drafted the amendment myself simply to get the Government's reaction to the idea. Of course, if they like the approach, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment and for the Government to redraft it. The purpose of the amendment seems so obvious that I should have thought the Government could at least accept the principle behind it.

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The other amendments in the group, which were originally tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and myself added our names, are Amendments Nos. 82 and 83. Obviously, Amendment No. 82 deals with technical points about the granting of planning permission for "construction" and so on either side of the grant of that permission. The wording of the amendment is straightforward.

The proposed subsection (8) of the amendment seeks to meet the point. I am not sure that,

    "a population of more than 10,000 people",
is the right figure, but it is an attempt to try to lift the fairly artificial barrier of 3,000 to ascertain what the Government intend to do. I believe that the Government have said that they are prepared to see some variation around the margin of 3,000, but I am not sure whether they are prepared to see a variation from 3,000 to 10,000. I am sure the Minister will understand that this is an attempt to find a slightly more flexible way to deal with the problem of the enlargement of a rural settlement. For example, what happens if an exempt property is in a settlement of, say, fewer than 3,000 people and the settlement then grows? I am sure that the Minister will be prepared to answer that point.

Amendment No. 83 deals with settlements the other way round, that is to say,

    "all settlements with a population of fewer than 3,000 people, and other settlements"--
and this is a most important part--

    "in relation to which the Secretary of State is satisfied that there are likely to be particular problems for a registered social landlord in securing further land on which to provide additional dwellings".
That approach is picked up in a slightly different way in Amendment No. 79. However, I am sure that Members of the Committee will understand what we are trying to achieve by way of this group of amendments, and those which follow, as regards Clause 17. The amendments are an attempt to persuade the Government that although their approach to the problem is welcome the clause could be improved and a degree of permanence should be built into the exemptions once they are granted.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: I am sorry to repeat myself but as I have added my name to the noble Lord's amendment, and I have also been asked by my noble friend Lord Peyton to move his amendment, I perhaps ought to say a few words now. As the noble Lord has explained, Amendments Nos. 77 and 82 both have the same important objective; namely, to make sure that once an area is designated exempt it always remains exempt. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Peyton spells out clearly--as the noble Lord pointed out--that all settlements with a population of fewer than 3,000 people must be designated exempt and remain so even if the population grows, unless the area changes its character or its population rises above 10,000. However, I understand the noble Lord's reservations about that figure.

Amendment No. 83, to which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has added his name, seeks to reflect the views expressed in the Secretary of State's consultation

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paper and gives him the power to include other areas if he thinks fit, for example, national parks or green belt areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, explained so well, Amendment No. 77 is far less restrictive than Amendments Nos. 82 and 83. I shall be interested to learn of the preference of my noble friend Lord Mackay. Needless to say, I want to be on the winning side. The Government should be as definite as possible about this matter, otherwise land will not be forthcoming. It is essential that these houses are not lost to the local community. We have been through this matter before in this Chamber many times. However, I understand that if any house is sold, the proceeds will be reinvested in other local accommodation. I should be pleased if, when he replies, my noble friend will spell out what "local" means. I suspect it is considerably less local than what I might consider local.

I repeat my considerable thanks to the Government for having come so far since the 1989 Act. The Committee may remember the somewhat vitriolic exchanges that took place then, followed by a somewhat disastrous Division. The situation today is totally different. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, would agree with that as he took part in the proceedings on that Bill. I think that we are all agreed on what we want to achieve.

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