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It is reasonable for the Government to say that anything at this stage of the Bill has to be within the objectives set out at the beginning of the BillI agree to that extent. I am intrigued by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about the clause being minimalist. The Bill is hardly minimalistit is a 220-page, expanding-all-the-time, maximalist Bill. Nevertheless, it is always curious to see in which areas the Government want to tie everything down to detail and in which areas they want simply to provide general powers. There never seems to be any overall sense to why this happens in different places. However, I have received an answer and I will read it again.
Lord Greaves: Clause 32 concerns the power to form companies and, to a degree, I understand more why this is in the Bill than the previous wide clause. Nevertheless, the noble Lord referred earlier to believing the HCA will be a plc, and one wonders whether the clause would allow it to convert to a plc. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister the extent to which the Government believe it will be involved in the corporate sector and in forming companies. Perhaps he will give two or three examples of where this might be a sensible way forward.
Part of my concern, again, is that this is minimalist legislation, to use the terminology of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. The clause consists of two lines. It is the kind of legislation that used to be passed 70 or 80 years ago when Bills consisted of five or six pages. Nowadays we expect to see laid out the circumstances in which the provisions can be used. I accept that the phrase,
is used, but we expect to see phrases such as regulations will determine it, they will set out the principles in which it will happen or some of the principles set out in the Bill. There is nothing here; it is more minimalism. I look forward to the Ministers comments.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has anticipated, the explanation in this case is similar to the previous one. The ability to establish a company or to acquire an interest in one is subject to the Secretary of States consent. That ability is required to enable the agency to operate more effectively in implementing a policy or innovating activity through the medium of a company to which it, central government or other agencies could give financial assistance. It would also enable and allow the agency to participate indirectly in joint ventures if that was the most effective method of delivering its objectives.
Again, these powers are modelled on the Urban Regeneration Agency powers. The ability of the agency to establish or acquire an interest in a company will be important in allowing the agency to operate as an
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Before the agency can establish a company or acquire an interest it will need the Secretary of States consent and the agency will have to demonstrate why a company or an interest in a company is needed. The functions that the company will have will relate directly to its objects. For example, the current arrangements under which the Urban Regeneration Agency works as English Partnerships have enabled it to carry on a business by virtue of Section 160(1)(g) of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. So this is not a new power; it was there previously. Using these powers, English Partnerships currently runs joint ventures including the English Cities Fund, Priority Sites Ltd and Network Space. English Partnerships is joining with the Housing Corporation to form one single entity and these powers will be required for that work to continue. The joint ventures that I have described have enabled English Partnerships to carry out its work.
The noble Lord said: We now move on to a bit of the Bill in which the Government are in favour of lists. The Minister referred earlier to lists, suggesting that they do not like them, but sometimes the Government like them and sometimes they do notand I suppose that we will have to live with that. But here is a list of community services that the HCA may carry out or facilitate the carrying out of.
Amendments Nos. 77A and 77B, which sit together, have a twofold purpose. The first is to produce better working; I think that my wording is neater and clearer. But the second and more important purpose is to draw attention to a little bit of the Bill which is complete nonsense. Occasionally, we have the duty to prevent the Government legislating nonsense.
and, indeed, cremation or burial services. This is the bit of the Bill where there is actually an undertaker. It can assist in the movement of us all into the next world or wherever we may or may not go. So undertaking was quite right. It can also provide other community services. Some of us may think that perhaps the HCA will gallop to the rescue and keep all the local post offices going that are closing down, but I do not think that the Government would let it do that.
Many of us spend a lot of time trying to do both those things and the HCA is welcome to do the same, but to legislate and put on record that those are things that it may docomparable with providing employment or health services, which are practical and tangible thingsis nonsense. If it said that the HCA may employ local community support officers or things like that, that might be too much detail but it would be sensible.
One thing that is sometimes useful to see whether wordings make sense is to turn them around and turn them into a negative. If the Bill said that the HCA may not provide employment, that would be a sensible thing to say in terms of making sense; it might not make sense from the point of view of policy, but it would be clear what it meant. But if you said that it may not prevent or reduce anti-social behaviour or crime, that would be complete nonsense.
Whenever people said that they were going to do something or that something was going to happenthat people would be able to go to Morecambe for their holidays next year or whether it was going to be a nice afternoon with the sun coming outmy grandmother used to say, It might or it might not. That was one of her stock phrases. Well, I say to this clause that the HCA might or might not prevent or reduce anti-social behaviour, but the legislation ought to be sensible and say something along the lines of, it will take steps aimed at doing that. As it stands at the moment, it is legislative nonsense. I beg to move.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Once again, I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Essentially, Clause 33 is in two parts, but paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) and (g) of subsection (1) very much parallel the functions of the regional development agencies and I wonder what the relationship between those bodies and the Homes and Communities Agency will be. On paragraphs (e) and (f), the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is perfectly correct in saying that the wording is slightly peculiar. I assume that the Homes and Communities Agency itself will probably do neither of those things, and the wording permits housing associations or ALMOs to do them. But we should not have to assume anything
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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: The one word in the long list of provisions in Clause 33 that mildly surprises me is religious, with reference to services. I can see that the other services concerned could well fall under a body of this sort, but religious services imply that some outside organisation would be involved in providing that particular activity. I ask about this only in order for the Minister to tell me that my fears and apprehensions are totally unfounded and it is quite appropriate for the organisation to be providing that service as against enabling somebody else to do it.
Baroness Andrews: What an interesting short debate that was. I take the noble Lord's point. It takes us back a little to some of the debates we hadit seems a lifetime agoin the opening stages of our deliberations when we discussed the ability of the HCA to provide directly and the need for it to have that power, as opposed to simply enabling other people to do things. In a way, this is partly a continuation of that sort of debate. One of the objects of the HCA, which makes it clear and different from the Housing Corporation, is the explicit requirement for the agency to support regeneration, the development of communities in England and their continued well-being.
We have a clear idea of what we mean by community services and I know that the noble Lord knows that extremely well. Some of those ideas are clearly set out in this list, such as new businesses, providing employment, providing business or employment, providing safe and attractive environments and so forth. I will return to anti-social behaviour and reducing the fear of crime in a moment. This is a necessary power and this is a necessary way to express that power in the form of the HCAs ability to provide directly, because it will be able to do that. Those types of services, essentially created by the HCA but in partnership with local authorities, will make communities viable, sustainable and indeed enjoyable in the future.
I understand on one level, quite rightly, that the noble Lord wants to make it clear that these services are provided appropriately and where reasonable either by the HCA or by any other person or organisation. To address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, the provision of religious services means communities and community facilities rather than buildings for worship, as I understand it. But when we come to how these services will be provided, what is important is that we must be realistic. We want to retain the power to provide, hence the direct language in the clause, but no community service will be imposed on any local authority. It will be part of the partnership about which we have already spoken a great deal in this Bill between the HCA and the local authority. What does the community need in order to be regenerated, renewed and properly planned and resourced for the future?
It is important that the HCA has the ability to provide directly, because we know that the capacity of local authorities and local agencies will simply not be
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It was asked how one realistically imagines the HCA preventing anti-social behaviour or crime. There is a whole range of practical measures, some of which I am fairly sure have been supported in the past by English Partnerships. I think of what we have seen in disadvantaged areas in our regeneration workfor example, community wardens and better street lighting provided directly. We are talking, essentially, about designing out crime. Some of the housing estates that I have seen during the past couple of years, where we are addressing dysfunctional design, lead one to wonder what the architects were thinking of in the beginning. Narrow alleyways, for example, are perfect territory for the runaway vandal or petty criminal. It is impossible either to catch or contain them. We have learned much in recent years about how one can make places safer and design in safety. That is the outcome that we are looking for in those clauses.
Nevertheless, this is a really interesting debate. I am sure that the noble Lord agrees with us that we are right to give such priority to community services and the need to provide. I hope that he will agree that the language is appropriate for the reasons that I have given and that, through the close working relationships between local authorities and the HCA, we will see the changes that we both want.
Baroness Hamwee: I wonder whether I can press the Minister a little further. She has not explained the need to provide or facilitate religious services. She has not justified the inclusion of cremation and burial services. I am confused by the term social in this contextrecreational services, one understands. Does social ... services mean social interaction or social services in the sense to which we are all accustomed in the local authority context?
We might be told that English Partnerships had some of these powers and that they should therefore be translated to the new agency. As my noble friend asked, what is the justification for a list rather than a well-being power similar to that held by local authorities? The list is a mixture of services and presumably the physical environment for themI do not think that it is suggested, for example, that the HCA will undertake or facilitate health, district nursing or chiropody services. Yes, it will facilitate the provision of buildings for them, but why not mention also, for example, buildings for educational services provided by other authorities? It is a very peculiar clause.
Viscount Eccles: Perhaps I may add to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I apologise if drawing on ones personal experience is not always a brilliant idea; it is better to get on to the general propositions. I have been the chief executive of a sizeable non-departmental public body and the chairman of a similar body. When you look at an Act of Parliament,
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Baroness Andrews: I am beginning to wish that the noble Baroness had been detained longer at her conference. She has certainly raised some interesting issues. Again, the problem of having a list has arisen. The overriding principle behind these items is that, when there has been question of partnerships building regeneration across the countrythat is, in the work of English Partnerships in relation to local authorities and in other waysthese are the sorts of things that local authorities have said they want and they are things that make a real difference. They are clearly not to do with statutory services or providing educational institutions; rather, they are about putting in place things that make a real difference to a place. They are what makes a place safe, attractive and thriving.
The term social does not mean social services; it means social provision. That could be community provision; for example, a community hall or somewhere for the voluntary sector to meet and get on with the things that it can do best. It fits alongside recreational activity. In that context, religious does not mean building places of worship; it means enabling religious organisations, which sometimes need space for religious community activity. There are many examples of that. Again, it is about meeting the needs of the local community and about what can be agreed between the local authority and the HCA in its partnership.
On that basis, the list is both flexible enough to allow for the sort of innovation and social enterprise that the HCA would be very good at encouragingthat is, providing employment or training opportunitiesand broad enough to be able to do the sorts of things that I suggested in terms of the environment, such as attending to proper design. Frankly, people will always be able to point out flaws and criticise this type of set of definitions, but here we have something that is fairly robust and flexible.
With regard to cremation or burial services, my understanding is that, when you are involved in shaping places, whether they are new or old, you have to think of those essential parts of community provision. It may look a bit odd to include that type of service but I think that it makes sense if you are looking at the needs of the whole community.
I am afraid that I cannot do better than that. I suspect that we will have a long debate on this matter at some other point. If I were to write to noble Lords, I could explain in a little more detail some of the rationale behind this provision and the way in which we expect these elements to combine together to fill the picture of community provision.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for having linked me to her observations. I congratulate her on having
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As to religious servicesthe gravamen of my observationsI should be entirely content if the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, felt any inclination to intervene to say whether he regards what is currently in the Bill to be entirely normal or whether I am being unduly pedantic. If the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is considering bringing forward amendments on Report to tighten up this language, I would be happy to co-operate with her.
Lord Greaves: The more I listen to noble Lords the more I believe there are curious things in this clause that I did not understand when I tabled my amendment. There are some curiosities in it which need bottoming.
There is no fundamental difference between the Minister and other Members of Committee on the need for the HCA to do some of these things or, preferably, to facilitate and support other people to do them. Although there are questions about the religious side of it, I do not believe there is a problem about cremation or burial services. If the agency is going to be involved in building a new town, it may need a burial ground, a cemetery and a crematorium. These are expensive to produce and, left to its own devices, the private sector will not provide them. Local authorities are usually shocked by the cost of providing crematoria nowadays.
There is no argument about the basic need for a clause which allows the HCA to provide or support a broad range of services. Whether the list is corrector whether putting community services down as a catch-all is more minimalistI do not know, but there are some curiosities in relation to religion and social services. The wording has a meaning. It is okay for the Minister say, It does not mean social services; it means social provisionbut it says social services.
Returning to paragraphs (e) and (f), I am not sure whether the Minister picked up the point I was trying to make. Some of the activities on the list are practical things to do which also provide outcomes. For example, if you provide employment you are doing something actual and practical and you have the outcome of more people in jobs. But with health servicesif that is not a statutory service I do not know what isyou are providing something that is not the outcome. If you were putting the outcome in the Bill you would not write health services; you would say, The HCA may improve the health of people in an area. The point I am making about anti-social behaviour or crime is that what is written down is just the outcome and not the process or the practical action which has to be taken. That is why it is a nonsense to put those two paragraphs into legislation.
I am not arguing about the need to tackle these problems or about some of the things that work that the Minister mentionedalthough if anyone knew how to do this perfectly we would be a much better society than we arebut huge and increasing work on the ground is going on to prevent and reduce anti-social behaviour and crime and to reduce the fear of them.
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I do not think we will need a long discussion on this clause on Report. That would be a complete waste of everyones time when we may want to debate more fundamental matters. However, if we can get a meeting of minds in the mean time about a more sensible wording of the clause, we will probably reach a consensus. I hope the Minister will think in those terms. With that hope, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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