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Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord kindly suggested that his remarks related to a number of different amendments which he described collectively as a rag-bag. That is no derogatory term. They are all very important and are all different. I shall do my best, as usual, to satisfy the noble Lord.

In regard to Amendment No. 16, Clause 6 ensures that no grant can be approved under the Bill for dwellings designated as defective under Section 528 or 529 of the Housing Act 1985 if grant under Part XVI of that Act is already available for the same purpose.

The clause as drafted is not as plain as one might wish. However, it reflects--and this is important--the wording of the 1985 Act, under which reinstatement of defective dwellings has, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be glad to know, a specific meaning. If Clause (6)(1)(c) were removed, which would be the effect of this amendment, there would be a risk of double funding.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 17 and 18, Clause 7 sets out the criteria for eligibility of owners and tenants to apply for a renovation grant. It is essential that grant resources should be aimed at those who are responsible for the cost of repairs and improvements and who have the power to carry out the works to the property.

The amendments proposed by the noble Lord would either alter the criteria or would remove the Secretary of State's power to make an order extending eligibility, where that is thought necessary or desirable, to individuals or descriptions of tenants who do not meet the criteria in the primary legislation.

Amendment No. 17 would remove from those eligible to apply for an owner's renovation grant those who had not yet acquired an owner's interest in the property but were in the process of doing so.

As part of their strategy, many local authorities have plans to use the grant system to help bring empty property back into housing use and to renew run-down areas. We consider that, in some instances, encouraging potential purchasers into the area by making it possible for them to apply for a grant can be an essential part of a local authority's initiative. For that reason we have excluded landlord's grants and grant for properties in renewal areas

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from the new prior residence and ownership qualification in Clause 10. To remove eligibility to apply for renovation grant from those who are in the process of buying a property but have not yet completed their purchase, which would be the effect of this amendment, could hinder schemes of benefit to the local community.

Obviously, the renovation grant should not be used--

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl. I am most grateful. He said, "in the process of acquiring". Is that the definition--which I willingly accept--of "proposes to acquire"?

Earl Ferrers: I am not sure what is the noble Lord's question.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry. I failed to express myself carefully. My Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 were probing amendments, to find out the meaning of the expression "proposes to acquire" in Clause 7.

As I understand it, in his response the noble Earl is saying that "proposes to acquire" equals "in the process of acquiring", which is an advance on the expression "proposes to acquire". I do not want to jump the noble Earl into anything. I should simply like to know whether I am right in thinking that that was his meaning.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord is deeply generous in not wishing to bounce me. In normal English parlance I believe that the noble Lord is correct. However, if I might, I should like to consider the impact of his remarks and give him a considered view.

Obviously, as to what is meant by "in the process of acquiring", somebody goes to a person and says, "Can I buy your house?", the person agrees and one is in the process of making arrangements in relation to mortgages, banks, etc. One can never tell whether the process will work out in practice, because for one reason or another the parties may not bring the matter to fruition. But in general that is what is meant by "in the process of acquiring". If the noble Lord would like a more specific, considered view, I will let him have one later.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am most grateful to the noble Earl. I understand what he means by "in the process of acquiring". The question I was trying to put was: does the expression in the Bill, "proposes to acquire", equal "in the process of acquiring"? They are in my view two slightly different things.

Earl Ferrers: Yes, the noble Lord is right. I now see the difficulty that he labours under. For instance, I might think that the noble Lord's house is a very nice one and should like to buy it, but the noble Lord has no intention of selling. I say that I propose to buy that wretched man's house--not referring to the noble Lord but to some other person who would come under that description--I propose to buy that fellow's house. But of course the fellow concerned may not wish to sell it. In that case that would fall right outside the Bill.

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With regard to my own Amendments Nos. 21 and 35, where a tenant's application is made for either a renovation grant under Clause 9 or a disabled facilities grant under Clause 23, the application should normally be supported by a certificate of intended letting provided by the applicant's landlord.

Such a certificate need not be provided, though, where the local authority considers that it would be unreasonable in the circumstances to ask for one. These amendments would change the emphasis in relation to obtaining a landlord's certificate by allowing the local authority not to require a certificate rather than not to seek one. In other words, it is not necessary to have the certificate but one must try to obtain the certificate. I hope that that will make it clear that the landlord will not have the option of refusing a certificate where the local authority wants one but it leaves the authorities free not to require certification in appropriate cases.

I hope that that explanation satisfies the noble Lord's concern as well as explaining the purposes of my amendments.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am, as always, most grateful to the noble Earl. I agree with the government amendments to which he referred. After his explanation on the subject of my amendments, Amendments Nos. 17 and 18, on the question of "proposes" to acquire, I wonder whether it would be better to say in the Bill what the noble Earl said recently at the Dispatch Box: instead of "proposes to acquire" say "in the process of acquiring". That would make it absolutely clear to my mind that that is what we are talking about. The noble Earl has made it clear to me, but I do not see why it should not be in the Bill rather than just have a ministerial explanation of what I perceive to be a slightly doubtful expression.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord makes a perfectly reasonable point. I shall certainly consider it. I have never thought that any words that I might use at the Dispatch Box would find themselves in primary legislation; but if they do, I shall ensure that the words "wretched fellow" are kept out. I shall certainly look at the noble Lord's suggestion.

Lord Williams of Elvel: The noble Earl used the expression "wretched man" and now he uses the words "wretched fellow", which is perhaps even more insulting. The noble Earl's words may well, if I may say so, find themselves at some point in the future in some court judgment. I do feel that we ought to have this point in the Bill. I am most grateful to the noble Earl for considering the drafting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 7 [Renovation grants: owner's applications and tenant's applications]:

[Amendments Nos. 17 to 20 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

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Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Renovation grants: certificates required in case of tenant's application]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 5, line 19, leave out ("seek") and insert ("require").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 [Renovation grants: prior qualifying period]:

[Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Williams of Elvel: My noble friend Lord Monkswell and the noble Earl's responses have rather taken the wind out of my sails on the qualifying period. I understand that the Government will bring forward some amendment to Clause 10, and presumably Clause 28 which is linked to this matter, about the qualifying period. In our view, the three-year residence rule is unnecessary. It seems to have been brought in only to stop the perceived--as I use the word--use of public funds to increase artificially the value of unfit properties on sale.

I do not believe that there is any justification for the provision. My noble friend has made the point. I should like to see the prior qualifying period removed altogether. Nevertheless, if the Government intend to bring forward amendments to Clause 10, not simply to satisfy my noble friend Lord Monkswell and others like him, in some way as the noble Earl described, I shall wait to hear when those amendments will be brought forward and what they say.

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