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Baroness Hamwee: Before the Minister responds, perhaps I may ask him a question along similar lines. I am grateful to the noble Earl for commenting on Amendment No. 85. I had not spoken to it. It seems to me that his answer contradicts to a quite considerable extent the assurance given a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. In response to my noble friend Lord Ezra, he said that strategies were best set locally.

Amendment No. 85 seeks to amend Clause 55 which gives the local housing authority the power to impose other conditions at its discretion when approving an application for a grant provided that the authority has the consent of the Secretary of State. Does that give local authorities the flexibility they should have? It seems to me that the provision would add to the Secretary of State's own administrative caseload, but that is perhaps a matter for him and not for me.

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If the Government are not minded to move on this point, will the Minister further explain how the power will be used? Do the Government propose to give general consents covering specific categories--in other words, an umbrella consent? Alternatively, do they propose to examine each application on its own merits?

On the more general matter to which attention was drawn by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, I am sorry that the Government did not take the opportunity to explain what consultation processes they would go through before laying any further regulations. In an area where there will be much experience on the ground, it would be helpful if the Government could say that they will take full note of that experience and consult widely. I am sure that the Minister will tell me that that is what the Government intend, but it would be good to have it on the record.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I wish to reinforce what the noble Baroness said, particularly in respect of government Amendments Nos. 12 to 15 which deal with the point raised by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I accept that regulations are subject to a parliamentary procedure. Nevertheless, as the Committee knows, if it is challenged, that parliamentary procedure involves rather cumbrous processes.

I would expect the Government to consult widely before introducing regulations which, after all, could have a substantial impact on the grant system. I would also expect the Government to be aware of their consequences and to explain such regulations before putting them forward. I do not suggest that we should move from here to primary legislation, but I wish to hear from the Minister that what I have suggested is the case and that there would be wide consultation, which should be made public, before the powers under the amendments to Clause 5, to which the noble Earl spoke and which he is about to move, are given to the Government.

Earl Ferrers: Members of the Committee have asked a number of questions, including the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. He explained the dramas he experienced in moving into a house where, if he had been unable to obtain the grant within three years, he would, as they say in Norfolk, have been in a muddle. I can understand that. By raising the point now, he has pre-empted what I intended to say later, referring to Clause 10. We accept that in certain areas the conditions that normally apply will not do so. They include conversions, works for fire precautions to provide a means of escape from fire, properties in a renewal area and so on.

We wish there to be a presumption that the three-year prior qualifying period should apply, but we have taken note of the representation which was made before the publication of the Bill and which was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, this evening. At a later stage, we intend to bring forward an amendment to give local authorities the discretion to disapply the condition to individual applications where to give grant will be in accord with the local strategy. I believe that that ought

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to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, as well as others. A number of local authorities, although generally supporting the principle of a prior qualifying period, have expressed concern that some deserving cases would be excluded from grant.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was concerned about her Amendment No. 85. She thought that my answer might not agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lucas. There is never any disagreement with what my noble friend Lord Lucas says, but I shall try to satisfy her. The provisions in the Bill set out the broad parameters within which local authorities can provide renovation grants. However, there must be an element of central control so as to ensure that all local authorities adopt consistency of approach across the country and that changes are carried out in a controlled manner. That is why we think it is right that authorities should require the consent of the Secretary of State before they apply additional grant conditions.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked whether we would consult widely before making the regulations and take on board the wealth of experience that exists. The answer is that we will consult widely over it.

Lord Williams of Elvel: As regards consultation, can the noble Earl reassure me that the results of the consultation process will be made public?

Earl Ferrers: Yes, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. He also pointed out that if the alterations are approved, with Parliament taking responsibility, parliamentary procedures are cumbersome under the negative resolution procedure. I know what the noble Lord means and it is not the first time that the suggestion has been made. It is always made when we produce a negative resolution procedure. The only alternative is to have an affirmative resolution procedure which takes up much parliamentary time. It is a recognised way of getting parliamentary approval. If noble Lords or others do not like it, they can always debate it. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, shakes his head and I understand why, but it is a matter of parliamentary approval. Without my amendments, we would not have had parliamentary approval. Therefore, I should have expected the noble Lord to welcome the amendments wholeheartedly. I am sorry that he retains a minor grudge over it, but I am sure that it is not deep.

Lord Williams of Elvel: It is certainly not deep; the noble Earl understands exactly what I am grudging about. He knows that if he were in my place he would be equally grudging, if not more so, as he may find out in the course of time. We have had a good debate on delegated powers and the rights that the Bill gives to the Secretary of State to do certain things. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his long response to a number of points in the group. With the reservation that I shall have to read carefully what the noble Earl said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

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Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Ineligible applicants]:

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [The age of the property]:

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Excluded descriptions of works]:

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 12 to 15:


Page 3, line 23, leave out ("direction of") and insert ("regulations made by").
Page 3, line 24, leave out ("Directions may be given") and insert ("Regulations may be made with respect").
Page 3, line 25, leave out ("given") and insert ("made").
Page 3, line 27, leave out ("Directions") and insert ("Regulations").

The noble Earl said: I have spoken to Amendments Nos. 12 to 15. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

5 p.m.

Clause 6 [Defective dwellings]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 16:


Page 3, leave out lines 42 and 43.

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I feel that it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I also speak to Amendments Nos. 17 and 18. With the leave of the Committee I shall cover the debate on Clause 8 stand part. I also hope, before the Minister's remarks, at least to have addressed Amendments Nos. 21 and 35 standing in his name. These are almost entirely drafting points.

Turning to Clause 6, and to lines 42 and 43 on page 3 of the Bill, to which my Amendment No. 16 is addressed, I am not entirely certain, and should be grateful if the Minister can help me, what is meant in Clause 6(1)(c), which reads:


    "required to reinstate that defective dwelling".
That seems a rather odd expression. I should be grateful if the Minister will say what the phrase "reinstate that defective dwelling" means.

Moving on to Amendment No. 17, which relates to Clause 7, I am not entirely certain about the expression, "or proposes to acquire". I shall be grateful if the Minister will spell out what the expression means. Amendment No. 18 relates to the same provision, "propose to acquire". I am not quite sure whether in relation to an applicant it is a general proposition: I should like to buy something; I have signed a contract to buy something; I propose to buy something; my estate agent proposes that I should buy something. I am not sure what that means in practice. I ask this in order to guide interpretation of the statute when the Bill becomes law.

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Amendments Nos. 21 and 35 are government amendments, and I wait to hear an explanation from the Minister as to his intention.

If I might subsume in this introduction the debate on Clause 8 stand part, I am a little worried about the certificates that the clause requires in the case of an owner's application. The clause as drafted states,


    "An 'owner-occupation certificate' certifies",
this, that and thus. I am a little concerned that it may lead to difficulty, particularly for those people who are vulnerable, whether they are old, disabled or whatever. They may find it almost impossible to fulfil the requirements of the clause. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would explain how the Government see those requirements being met. I am afraid that this is something of a rag-bag of a group of amendments. However, I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to satisfy me on all these points. They are probing points, and are not meant to alter the Bill as it stands. I beg to move.


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