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Housing Bill

3.14 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Housing Bill, have consented to place their prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.--(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for intervening at this stage but perhaps I should remind your Lordships that there is a heavy agenda in front of us on the Housing Bill, as your Lordships will have seen on the Marshalled List which was published this morning.

I hope that I speak for the House in saying that I do not believe that Third Reading should be the subject of long debates about issues which were decided or debated during earlier stages of the Bill. Indeed, the Companion at page 134 states:

    The principal purposes of amendments on Third Reading are to clarify any remaining uncertainties, to improve the drafting and to enable the Government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the bill".

At the moment, I am not attacking the Government on this issue because, in certain respects, they have responded to the undertakings that they gave and to the wishes of the Opposition at earlier stages of the Bill. However, I find it rather odd that on Third Reading in your Lordships' House, the Bill having gone through another place and through all its stages in this House bar Third Reading, we should now be confronted with a new schedule, admittedly meeting the principles which the Opposition wished, which contains 21 pages of drafting.

Perhaps I may remind the House and the Government that Third Reading is not an occasion on which to raise issues, and to continue to raise issues, which have been

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debated. No doubt the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will appreciate that we on this side of the House have been very moderate in the amendments that we tabled.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, read a Statement which came from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the effect that, presumably, having read the Bill as it currently stands awaiting its Third Reading, they believed that there was no issue that they wished to raise and that they were content. Were both Royal Households aware of the latest government amendments to the Bill, which were tabled only yesterday, for consideration on Third Reading?

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for having tabled amendments late at this stage. Perhaps that is a reflection of the amateur nature of this House in that some of us have difficulty in responding instantly to what is happening.

It has been difficult to get to grips with the number of government amendments during the limited time available. This morning I realised that there was one to which I should like to table a manuscript amendment, only to learn that that is not permitted on Third Reading. Will the Minister acknowledge the fact that in respect of a major Bill of this size, scale, complexity and importance, to use the timetable which your Lordships agreed--which was at no stage longer than the minimum period and at one point less than that--does not do justice to the role of this House as a good revising Chamber? I doubt that I have been alone in finding it difficult to carry out what I perceive to be my duties in that regard as a result of the timetable.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is, as always, a pleasure to operate opposite the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, because I find that we so often agree on the important matters of life. What he has said this afternoon is perfectly correct. There should not be long debates about issues which have been discussed before. It is not the purpose of Third Reading to raise and to continue to raise issues that have been discussed before. The purpose of Third Reading is to clarify any uncertainties, to clarify the drafting and for Her Majesty's Government to give effect to commitments which were given before.

I do not blame the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for raising this matter. I do not mind saying that I was quite appalled when I saw the length of the Marshalled List. Many of the amendments, I freely admit, are government amendments. The reason why they are government amendments is that we have tried to clarify the uncertainties to meet the commitments and to give effect to other undertakings which we gave earlier.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, quite understandably refers to one particular amendment which covers 21 pages in the Marshalled List. That is, by any standards, fairly copious. The reason for that is that, although it is only a minor amendment which relates to contracts, it needs to amend the whole of one part of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987. Therefore, it was concluded that, rather than amend that particular

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part of the legislation in a number of different places, it would be easier, both now and for people studying the law in the future, to have the whole part put down as one amendment. While it looks copious, it is, in fact, only putting one relatively minor effect into place.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. As always, he is very courteous and, indeed, we agree on the matter. Nevertheless, there are 21 pages of new drafting which I personally saw this morning. I do not understand how noble Lords in all parts of the House can, if necessary, properly investigate, revise or amend the drafting of such a long amendment. I simply put that point because I am sure that the noble Earl, like myself, has the interests of the House as a revising Chamber at heart.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is kind enough not to push the issue. He says that he just puts the point and I accept the point. I realise that it does create difficulties but one is left with the position of either taking the opportunity to get the Bill as right as possible or leaving an obvious flaw in it. That is the reason behind it.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, asked if Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness had agreed to the new amendments.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, if I may correct the noble Earl. What I asked was not whether the Royal Households had agreed the amendments but whether they had had sight of them.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the position is that in the case of a Bill which affects the Prerogative of the Crown, consent is normally signified before the Motion for Second Reading. When a Private Member's Bill is directed substantially to the Queen's Prerogative, the practice is to move an Address for the consent of the Crown before introduction.

As regards a Bill affecting the interests of the Crown, the normal practice is to signify consent on Third Reading in order to take account of any amendments made to the Bill except in the case of private Bills where consent is signified by a Minute entry.

This is a formality, but an important formality. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that if any of the amendments which have been tabled in today's Marshalled List were to affect materially the position of the Crown, they would have been alerted to that fact.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said she had not had enough time to look at this. I can understand that too, for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has given. I make some apology for the fact that this is one of the cries that always happens at this time of year. We have given quite a lot of time to the consideration of this Bill in Committee, on Report and again at Third Reading. I do see that it is always difficult to have sufficient time. If I may say, in the most delicate of fashions, it is sometimes difficult for us to deal with the amendments of the noble Baroness because they, too, have the habit, curiously

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enough, of being tabled at the last moment. So there are difficulties both ways. With that explanation, I hope that your Lordships will be content that the Bill be now read a third time.

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Clause 1 [The register of social landlords]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 14, after ("registered") insert ("in the register kept by the Corporation").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 97 and 98. All these amendments would fall within those allowable under the dictum of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. They are minor drafting technical improvements to the Bill giving it a final polish.

Amendment No. 1 clarifies that the reference in Clause 1 to a housing association registered under the Housing Associations Act 1985 means one in the register kept by the corporation. Amendment No. 7 corrects a cross-reference in Clause 42. Amendment No. 8 deletes a reference in Clause 56(2)(c) to a registered charity, which is already dealt with by the definitions in Clause 58(2). Amendments Nos. 9 and 11 insert a definition of "trustee" into Clauses 58(10)(a) and 64 respectively, to ensure that when the word is used in Part I it has the same meaning as it does in the Charities Act 1993. Amendment No. 10 deletes an otiose "with" from the definition of "house" in Clause 63. Amendment No. 97 deletes the words "order and" from paragraph 13(6) of Schedule 1: that sub-paragraph is concerned only with "resolutions". Amendment No. 98 corrects a cross-reference in sub-paragraph 13(8) of that schedule. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 8 [Power of registered social landlord to dispose of land]:

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