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Lord Monkswell: I apologise to my noble friend for my inconsideration in talking to this matter before we came to it. Since I am on my feet, perhaps I may just mention one other aspect of the clause.

The first line of the clause uses the word "entertain":

I do not know whether I am right, but I would read those words to mean that if the authority receives an application which falls into the particular category, it must be excluded. The authority cannot entertain it. But I believe that the Government's intention is that the local authority should not approve the application. If the word "approve" were used instead of "entertain", effectively the application could lie on the table until the criterion was met rather than having to be rejected and reinstated at some later date when the criterion is met.

I just throw that comment in, but I support my noble friend in arguing against the three-year rule, which I believe the Minister has accepted already and I thank him for it.

Baroness Hamwee: I was one of those who expressed concern about Clause 10 at Second Reading. I am glad to hear that the Government are considering

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amending it. I imagine that it may partly be in response to comments from local authorities about the administrative difficulties of assessing the three-year residence and knowing what evidence is to be required.

More importantly, I hope that the Government will take the amendment of the clause as an opportunity to put the provision more squarely on the basis of the grant being an incentive to improve housing stock. To have to wait for three years in what are by definition unsatisfactory conditions can be no incentive to moving on, improving stock, selling up and so on. I feel that it is important that grants should be made available to those who may not have a great deal of capital in order to buy and who perhaps can only buy housing that will need improvement. It is fundamental to the good working of the scheme that those people are encouraged.

Earl Ferrers: I understand the distress of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in having the wind taken out of his sails by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. If it is any comfort to him, he took the wind out of my sails too. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, can be an irritant--in the most delightful way--to both of us.

I explained, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that there are reasons for specifying a three-year period. However, many representations have been made to say that that would be too restricting, and we therefore propose to bring forward an amendment to Clause 28(2).

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asks when the amendment will be provided. I can only say at some time. The chances are that it will be before Report stage, but I cannot guarantee that. The noble Lord asks what the amendment will say. Of course I cannot tell him that. I do not know what will be in it. We will try to ensure that the points that are of concern are reflected in it. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, will understand that I cannot go further than that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that the provision should be an incentive to improve houses and that that should underline the sentiments of the amendment. I shall ensure that her comments are taken into account. The whole point of introducing an amendment is to do just that.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said that we should look at the first line of Clause 10. At his invitation, I did so. It says,

    "A local housing authority shall not entertain an application".
The noble Lord said that that really means that the local authority shall not approve an application. But that is not what it means. It means that the application will not be entertained; it will not even be considered unless paragraphs (a) and (b) are satisfied. Paragraph (a) states,

    "that the ownership or tenancy condition ... was met throughout the qualifying period".
Paragraph (b) states,

    "that the applicant lived in the dwelling as his only or main residence".

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If the applicants do not go through that hoop, the application is not even entertained or considered. It is not a question of approval.

Lord Williams of Elvel: The upshot of this debate is that the Government will bring forward amendments of a King Lear like nature; they know not what. We are no further forward in knowing what the Government are thinking because the Minister cannot tell us.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Williams, cannot get away with that. He knows perfectly well that he, his noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that three years is too long and asked why do we not table an amendment to say that we will reduce it. I said that we will but I cannot tell him what the wording will be because it has not yet been approved. Had the wording been approved the amendment would have been brought forward at Committee stage rather than at Report stage.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Of course I am not asking for the actual wording of the amendment. I would simply like the noble Earl, unlike King Lear, to say roughly what the amendment will seek to do. However, we have to wait, as we had to wait for the end of King Lear, for quite a long time. I am happy to wait for as long as the noble Earl wishes, as long as the amendment to Clause 8 comes before this Committee is resolved into the House and we go on to the Report stage of the Bill. If it is not here by then, we shall need to table our own amendment to Clause 8.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Prior qualifying period: the ownership or tenancy condition]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 6, line 31, at end insert--
("( ) The local housing authority may treat a person as continuing to meet the residence requirement in subsection (2)(a) or (b)(ii) for up to a year after he has, by reason of age or infirmity--
(a) gone to live with and be cared for by a member of his family, or
(b) gone to live in a hospital, hospice, sheltered housing, residential care home or similar institution.").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 24, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 46.

The main purpose of renovation grants is to help those who genuinely cannot afford the cost of essential repairs and improvements to remain living in their homes; or to meet the cost of repairs and improvements to rented accommodation where the consequent increase in rental income would not be sufficient to meet repayments on a loan taken out for that purpose. It is not intended to help speculative purchasers increase their profits on the sale of the property or to enable an applicant to move up market by buying an unfit property and then improving it with the benefit of a renovation grant. It is to prevent such use that we are introducing the prior residence or ownership qualification under Clause 10.

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Subsection (2) of Clause 11 allows the prior residence qualification to be treated as met if, immediately before his death, the family member from whom the applicant inherited the property met the requirements under Clause 10. Amendment No. 24 would allow the deceased owner to be treated as having met the requirements where, for a period of up to one year, he had had to leave his home to receive care in a hospital or residential home, for example, or from a member of his family.

We considered that it would be inappropriate to apply a prior year ownership qualification to all applications for HMO (house in multiple occupation) grants. It might discourage landlords who have recently acquired a house in multiple occupation in poor repair and in need of financial help to carry out repairs for the benefit of existing tenants or licensees, from carrying out works. That would penalise the occupants of the house in multiple occupation who would already be living in poor conditions.

Although the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to make an order applying the ownership condition to applications for HMO grant, we have no plans to use that power at present. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 [Renovation grants: purposes for which grant may be given]:

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 7, line 17, after ("adequate") insert (" , fuel efficient").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 25 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 38 and 47, which are similar amendments to subsequent clauses. It is my intention to probe the Government's intention in relation to this element of Clause 12.

We can all appreciate the enormous advantages to the health of young people particularly, but also of the elderly, with the advent of central heating. I remember that in my early days in the 1940s and 1950s our bedrooms were not heated at all. We had coal fires but they were never lit. Subsequently, during the winter months, if we were not off school due to illness, the chances were that we had runny noses with all sorts of nasties being apparent.

Nowadays most children live in centrally heated houses and the prevalence for them of winter colds and coughs is much less. The health of the nation benefits as a result. But we need to be aware that there are still young children in our society who go to school with runny noses during the winter months.

That is the background to my question for the Government. I readily accept that the words of the amendment may not ensure the end result that I seek. A number of criteria are involved. I hope the Government will agree that facilities for space heating in domestic residences should be cheap, accessible, easy to operate and efficient. It is really to probe the Government's view and understanding of the meaning of the word "adequate" that I tabled Amendment No. 25. I beg to move.

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5.30 p.m.

Lord Lucas: I was most moved to hear the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, speak of the deprivations of his childhood and the bedroom where the fire was ever unlit. I had not realised that he had been to Eton too!

These amendments seek to introduce the principle of energy efficiency into the purposes for which various grants may be approved. The amendments in the group would require that where space heating is provided with grant aid, it is fuel efficient. The Government are committed to the principle of energy efficiency and the guidance to local authorities on the present grant system makes clear that heating provided should be energy efficient. However, if we prescribe in the primary legislation for space heating provided with grant aid to be fuel efficient, there is a possibility that some local authorities will give undue weight to state-of-the-art energy efficiency measures rather than the main purpose of the grant regime which is helping those in unfit property. On the other hand, there is also a danger that these amendments would lead to a reticence on the part of some local authorities to exercise their discretion to provide space heating for fear of a requirement to go beyond what would be the norm. We would clearly not be serving the cause of energy efficiency well by following this route.

Committed as we are to the principles of energy efficiency under a changed grant system, we would clearly want energy efficient heating systems installed where local authorities assist in providing them and we will issue guidance to that effect. However, under the new system we want to give maximum freedom to local authorities to implement their local strategies. The current resource allocations for local authorities' housing investment programmes include a component for energy efficiency and we would expect the strategies under the new system to include a commitment to energy efficiency.

The primary aim of the grant system is to provide basic facilities and amenities to those who would not otherwise be able to afford them. Giving authorities the statutory power to provide adequate heating and thermal insulation meets this aim. Local authorities aided by the guidance we intend to issue may then attach their own importance to matters of fuel efficiency without their discretion being fettered by over-prescriptive legislative requirements. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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