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Lord Hanningfield: Perhaps the Minister would give an indication of the burden on local authorities. It has been estimated that three additional staff may be needed.

Lord Rooker: My initial view, as the noble Lord said, is that it sounds preposterous as it builds in red tape. I shall take advice on it before the next stage. I cannot see that it should be an onerous burden on well run housing authorities. It is something new; it is to the overall benefit of social housing; and we shall ensure that it is not clogged up with red tape.

Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for that reply. The Minister mentioned red tape and I am sure that the Committee is agreed that we want to minimise burdens on local authorities. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 212AB:

"(11) The limitation imposed by a covenant within subsection (2) (whether the covenant is imposed in pursuance of subsection (1) or (8)) is a local land charge.
(12) The Chief Land Registrar must enter in the register of title a restriction reflecting the limitation imposed by any such covenant.""

The noble Lord said: Clause 165 requires owners who wish to resell their housing in 10 years of them having been brought under a right-to-buy scheme, first to offer them at market value to the former landlord or to another body prescribed by the Secretary of State. That is to allow other social landlords the chance to purchase the property where the former landlord has transferred his remaining interest in that property or
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connected properties to another body. The Secretary of State will be able to prescribe the time limits within which such offers should be accepted and the circumstances in which the right of first refusal will lapse. He will protect the interests of prospective sellers on which he has consulted.

The aim of the right of first refusal is to provide a means whereby property that is sold under a right-to-buy scheme can revert to the social housing sector without imposing an undue burden on the prospective seller. The amendment is designed to ensure that the right of first refusal is not overlooked.

The right of first refusal will be imposed in all cases where there is a right-to-buy sale, apart from in rural areas, which I shall deal with later. However, the position is different in respect of voluntary disposals. Those can take place only with consent. General consents have been issued by the Secretary of State in relation to disposals by local authorities and indeed by the Housing Corporation in relation to disposals by social landlords, but not by the Secretary of State in relation to housing action trusts because voluntary disposals are very rare in that context.

Generally, it is the case that voluntary disposals should not be on terms that are more generous than right to buy, as that could enable evasion of the right-to-buy scheme. I should also stress that we do not intend that general consents will allow for the exclusion of right of first refusal. As a matter of practice, the right of first refusal will be included in the vast majority of voluntary disposals.

In national parks and in other designated rural areas, it is intended that general consents will allow landlords to choose between a right of first refusal and a restriction requiring sales to be made only to local people. That is intended to preserve existing choice, where restriction is more appropriate for landlords in rural areas. That will not, of course, be the case with housing action trusts which operated only in urban areas.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure the enforceability of a right of first refusal covenant, where one is imposed, by changing the enforcement provisions so that they are in line with the provisions of the Land Registration Act 2002. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 165, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 212ABA:

(1) To monitor sales resulting from right to buy, local authorities will be required to formulate and publish publicly a yearly marketing plan for right to buy sales.
(2) The marketing plan will include—
(a) figures on the number of properties sold through the right to buy scheme in the last 12 months,
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(b) a target figure for the number of properties to be sold through the right to buy scheme in the coming 12 months, and
(c) plans for how to achieve the target figure under paragraph (b)."

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 212ABA would introduce a marketing plan for local authorities in regard to the number of right to buy sales within their area. The clause was discussed at some length in the other place. However, by putting it before this Committee, I hope that the Government will have had a change of heart and will look more favourably on its merits.

Consistent with the spirit and intention of the original right-to-buy legislation, it is important that we simultaneously put proper demands on local authorities that may not be carrying out their proper obligations in respect of the right to buy as enthusiastically as they might. It is clear from a study of local authorities across the country that some drive the right to buy with enthusiasm while others are reticent in encouraging people to take it up. That can involve the speed with which they deal with inquiries, how they market their local policy and how they value their properties.

The plan would include targets on the number of properties that the authority planned to sell and how many it had sold, as well as how it would achieve that target. That seems to me a sensible, constructive and measured way to encourage local authorities to think creatively about how to deal with the right to buy. Few local authorities would think that it could not be taken on board at small cost. It would not be a massive exercise because good local authorities are doing much of that work already. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: This is a request for more red tape and burdens on local authorities. It is also worth pointing out that the way in which the amendment is drafted excludes more than 800,000 housing association tenants who have the right to buy following stock transfer from local authorities. If it is thought that there should be marketing for the rest of the local authority tenants, I do not see why those 800,000 are missed out.

On the other hand, we do not agree with it anyway. By its nature, the right-to-buy scheme is demand led. Tenants have a legal right. Notwithstanding what was said earlier, the Labour Party may have come late, but it was 1986 when we changed our policy on that. The snag is that we forgot to tell anyone at the ensuing general election. I know that because I was the shadow housing spokesman.

In 1999–2000 and 2000–01, more than 90,000 tenants applied for the right to buy and were accepted. In 2001–02 the number rose to 102,000; in 2002–03 it was more than 149,000; and the figure fell back to 110,000 in 2003–04. The number of completed sales has increased from about 40,000 a year some seven years ago to between 52,000 and 54,000 in the next
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three years, 63,000 in 2002–03 and almost 70,000 in 2003–04. Given those facts, it is somewhat surprising that the right to buy scheme needs to be marketed.

Lord Hanningfield: We were not suggesting that local authorities should have a marketing plan. As the Minister knows, I am the last person to suggest further red tape for local authorities. It would have to be done without much of that. I have heard the Minister's answer and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 166 [Information to help tenants decide whether to exercise right to buy etc.]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 212AC:

The noble Lord said: While, on the whole, we can lend our support to Clause 166 which deals with the provision of information to tenants, Amendments Nos. 212AC and 212AD are simply designed to aid and to clarify the process a little further.

As the Bill presently stands, it is up to the Secretary of State to decide when information regarding right to buy should be provided to tenants. It appears to be a degree of centralisation that is one step too far. Surely, it should at least be left to the relevant local authority in question. Additionally, it would appear sensible that a tenant, on completion of a tenancy agreement, be provided with such information as is the intent of Amendment No. 212AD. Furthermore, Amendment No. 212AC would ensure that there is a one-off delivery of such information to existing tenants. That would appear to be a sensible and rational way forward and one that I would hope that the Minister could support. I beg to move.

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