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Lord Lucas: After that admirably concise explanation of the amendments, I am afraid that I may take a little longer in replying. There is much in the amendments that we like but I hope that I shall be able to demonstrate to the Committee that that which we like in the amendments is already in the Bill.

I begin with an explanation of the allocation arrangements as they will be following the enactment of the Bill. The Government propose that the resources for private sector renewal will continue to be ring-fenced; that is, they will be allocated to local authorities as two separately identified parts of the housing investment

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programme allocation, one for disabled facilities grants and one for authorities' activities in tackling unfitness and disrepair in private sector housing.

The resources available are divided between the Government Offices for the Regions on the basis of indicators of need for each region. The indicators used are based on levels of housing fitness and cost to make fit for those who are grant eligible using information from the English House Condition Survey. Importantly, they are agreed with the local authority associations before being adopted. Changes to the methodology employed may be made to meet the associations' concerns before they are finally agreed.

Prior to the commencement of each year's housing investment programme round, there is consultation with local authority associations on its operation and, following this, the department issues guidance to local authorities to assist them in preparing their housing investment programme strategies. Once the strategies are submitted, the government offices meet with each authority to discuss their bid.

The government offices will make recommendations to Ministers on the allocation of the resources to individual authorities in their region. This allocation will be arrived at by looking at the past performance of the authority in dealing with private sector renewal and the strategy they have presented for dealing with it in the future while having a regard to indicators of need at a local level. This is a similar process to that which we have followed in previous years but in future, once the pressure to give mandatory grants is removed, more emphasis can be placed on local authorities' strategies and their performance measured against those strategies. Once the final allocations have been decided, we intend that they will be announced by way of a parliamentary Question and press release, as at present.

I turn now to the amendments. Those to Clause 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, add nothing of substance to the current procedure for announcing the allocations. In practice the proposal would create arrangements for renewal programmes quite separate from those for other parts of the housing investment programme. I feel sure this would not be the intention of the noble Lord.

The amendments to Clause 91 would introduce a number of requirements as regards the level of contributions paid, the rate of those contributions, and the amount allocated for clearance action. Members of the Committee will have noted from my explanation how the allocation system is intended to work and the part that the strategies produced by local authorities will play in that allocation system. Indeed, the thrust of this entire package of measures is to make those strategies pivotal to the distribution of resources.

To suggest, as Amendment No. 111 does, that those strategies should in some way determine the level of resources available nationally for private sector renewal is simply not feasible. The resources made available through the Public Expenditure Survey process to be shared between the department's programmes are finite. I recognise the need to consider fully the resources required for private sector renewal but they must be

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considered alongside the competing needs of other housing programmes. Local authorities' housing strategies should be aimed at demonstrating how they will make the best use of the resources that can be made available and not as a tool for determining the extent of those resources.

Another part of this question of resources is the rate of contributions made by the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 112 would require that local authorities' housing strategies are taken into account when setting this level. A number of factors can be taken into account when assessing what an appropriate rate might be and the information from those strategies is certainly one of them.

The grants are in fact a public investment in a third party's assets. Therefore, I believe we have struck a suitable balance with the current rate of 60 per cent. subsidy. That impacts on the overall level of expenditure. Were the subsidy rate to be increased, then we would have to accept an overall reduction in the resources towards private sector renewal. That cannot benefit those who we all acknowledge are in need. I do not believe that it would be beneficial to reduce the level below 60 per cent. even though it would enable more to be achieved overall.

Resources are allocated to individual authorities on the basis of their past performance and their strategy and with reference to an indicator of need which takes account of the level of unfit dwellings in the local authority's area. When dealing with unfit property, local authorities are required to decide how best to use the resources provided--whether to renovate or, if necessary, clear property. That will be reflected in an authority's strategy, which can then be taken into account when considering its allocation. As noble Lords can see, Amendment No. 114 does not add anything of substance to what is proposed. Given the details of the allocation process that we intend to follow, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I wonder whether I may pick up one aspect of what the Minister has just said. As I recall it, he said that the expenditure patterns would be determined on the basis of previous experience. We are effectively talking about a discretionary system where local authorities have discretion to determine matters at local level. Moreover, there is the prospect of change in that situation--I can think in terms of changes of political control which might engender a change in strategy. If the expenditure pattern is to be based on past history, that would effectively deny the opportunity for discretion by the local authorities and the possibility of change. From the Government's point of view, that change may go either way. It might fall more in line with government policy or go in a slightly different direction. But we are talking about discretion and I hope that the Government will not curtail local authorities' ability to exercise that discretion.

Lord Lucas: I believe that I can give the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, the comfort which he seeks. As I understand it, the discretion is not to be fettered

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as to the way in which the policy is expressed or changed. We are looking at the effectiveness with which local authorities have put past policies into practice and whether the current proposals are such as to persuade us that effectiveness in the current year will be different, improved or worse. That will very much affect our thinking as to the level of grant which is appropriate rather than, as the noble Lord said, any change of political control to which we look forward in the spring.

Lord Ezra: The noble Lord indicated that the procedures envisaged go quite a long way towards meeting what is inherent in the amendments which I propose and also those proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. Nevertheless, I still have two doubts in my mind about all this: first, whether the present trend towards the progressive diminution of resources made available for renovation and clearance will not continue; and secondly, I am not absolutely clear how, within those procedures, a strategic approach can be adopted. It seems that that is to be reviewed annually based on past practice and I do not quite see how a forward-looking strategy would fit into the procedures. Perhaps the Minister will reassure me on those two points.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Lucas: So far as concerns funding, I can go no further than that which has already been published; namely, that the resources for 1996-97 will be maintained at their previous level. On the question of strategy, we see the local level, where knowledge of exact local conditions and needs is to be found, as best. That is where we are encouraging it to develop.

Lord Ezra: I shall study carefully what the Minister said and, pending my consideration of his response and of the question of whether to return to the matter at a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Applications for grants]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, leave out line 29.

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, it may be for the convenience of Members of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11 to 15, 19, 20, 22, 23, 32, 85 and 268. We come now to a rather delicate matter which has been reviewed by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of this place; namely, the extent to which Secretaries of State may legislate and produce subordinate orders, regulations and prescriptions and to what extent they are able to be revised by Parliament.

I turn first to Amendment No. 7 which illustrates a number of the amendments I have tabled. It is odd that Clause 2 as drafted should have a series of "particulars" which are specified on the face of the Bill and then, as a sort of appendix, the expression,

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    "such other particulars as may be prescribed".
It seems to me that convenience might have it that all one does is put down a clause saying that such particulars "may be prescribed" without enumerating anything that happens before. That is the effect of subsection (2)(d).

There are similar arrangements in, for example, Clause 2(3)(b) which says that,

    "'preliminary or ancillary services and charges' are specified for the purposes of this subsection by order of the Secretary of State".
There are various points at which the Secretary of State is empowered by the Bill, if it is passed, to make prescriptions, definitions or directions--or, indeed, whatever it may be--without parliamentary approval. As Members of the Committee would expect, that has attracted the attention of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.

The very substantive amendment in the group is Amendment No. 11 which responds to a point made by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. As drafted, Clause 5 imposes a very general power on the Secretary of State to exclude works from eligibility for grant aid by direction. It is not surprising that the Select Committee in this place commented on the clause. It observed that, at first sight, the clause raises a case for some degree of parliamentary control. In effect, the Secretary of State will have the power to revise fundamental features of the proposed system for grant aid and to do so without reference to Parliament. I do not want to go into detail in that respect because, within the group, there are certain government amendments which no doubt the noble Earl will wish to speak to in response to my moving Amendment No. 7. I should therefore like to reserve my further comments until I have heard what the noble Earl has to propose for the Government. I beg to move.

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