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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for telling us that the details of the procedures under these regulations will be made available to this House and another place, as is right and proper.
I can set out simply our attitude to what the noble Baroness said. I do not for a moment question her sincerity and determination that the funds should go, without discrimination, to parties regardless of attitude, and so on. Nor do I question the right of people to form trans-European or trans-national parties of any group of countries. They are perfectly entitled to do so. The question is: by what argument can one justify them being handed taxpayers' money to the tune of £46 million? We do not like that.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I do not like the figure of £4.6 million but I should like it even less if it were £46 million. We question whether the concept of Europe-wide political parties is the driving force in creating a true democracy in Europe where the need for democracy is so great, the democratic deficit so large and the legitimacy so strongly questioned. It is on the nation states and the political processes within them that the future acceptance, existence and development of a democratic Europe will depend.
We do not like what is being done. We do not like the exclusiveness of the arrangements. We do not like the implication. The noble Baroness has vigorously denied it, but however one reads it there is an implication that parties which want "integration"it is a very old-fashioned, centralised concept, as we have said again and againwill be all right.
We do not like the ambiguity in the treaty and declaration about the transfer of powers, to which my noble friend Lord Waddington has drawn attention with such characteristic clarity and robustness. Is something hidden here? We are left uneasy about this use of taxpayers' money promoting such activity at European level. We hope that the abuses will be halted. However, experience tells us that abuses tend to occur where large sums of money are splashed around and made available at European level for parties which have national connections. Perhaps it is possible to build a wall between the two, but we have not been told how to do so or whether the regulations will work. In order to express our disquiet, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) rose to move, That the draft deregulation order laid before the House on 29th November be approved [8th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the order will amend Section 135 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, allowing local authorities on a housing transfer programme up to two financial years in which to complete a housing transfer. The legislation currently requires local authorities on a housing transfer programme to complete the transfer within one financial year.
My department has fully complied with the required procedure. The order was laid before the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House and the Deregulation Committee of the other House on 31st January 2001 for initial scrutiny. Reports were made by both committees confirming that they were satisfied with the proposed procedural change. A small amendment of a technical nature in reference to the drafting of the order was accepted by the department and the draft order was amended accordingly. The order was subsequently laid for final scrutiny on 28th November 2001 and a Motion to approve the order was passed in the other House on 19th December 2001. Passing this order today will complete the process.
Housing transfers or disposals, as they are referred to, involve the sale of a local authority's housing stock to a registered social landlord. Where such a transfer involves more than 499 dwellings over a five-year period to the same landlord, it requires a place in the annual housing transfer programme.
Transfers are complex and time consuming, involving a range of private sector organisations, including funders, solicitors, professional consultants and advisers, surveyors, and RSLs. All of these groups offer a service to the local authority and new landlord which is potentially adversely affected by the current requirement to complete a transfer by the end of the financial year. The year-end pressure increases costs, as additional personnel are required to keep pace with the workload. Also, because of the limited period, the
The new arrangements contained in the order will overcome this. From the current year's programme local authorities will have up to two financial years in which to complete transfer, enabling them to develop their proposals further and to work to more realistic timetables. The transfers will be spread out over a two-year period, alleviating the bottleneck currently experienced in February and March when a large number of local authorities are trying to complete at the same time. This will lead to a more efficient use of personnel, as authorities will not be competing for their services and, in turn, may bring down the costs of the transfer and the terms of the loans which may previously under the current arrangements have been adversely affected. The department will agree timetables for each transfer with local authorities to ensure that all transfers do not slip towards the end of the second financial year.
This provision is particularly timely, as transfers are now taking place in larger urban authorities with local authorities and new landlords are being required to develop and implement far more complex schemes. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft deregulation order laid before the House on 29th November be approved [8th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)
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