Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Lucas: My noble friend Lord Swinfen makes a strong case. We launched a White Paper in January 1995. We undertook to consult widely. We were astonished at the number of responses we received. As my noble friend says, there were over a thousand, many of them full and complex comments on the range of specific measures proposed. Assessment of those responses has been a long and complex task which still continues. Once that task has been completed, recommendations will be made to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on the measures to be introduced.

Until that time comes, I am afraid that my noble friend Lord Swinfen will have to wait. We have powers under the Building Act 1984 to make the necessary changes should they be agreed, and when the time comes that is obviously a course of action we shall consider. However, at the moment I urge my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Swinfen: I am encouraged that there seems to be some progress, although remarkably little. It is now a year since the representations were in. I have a feeling that the private building industry may be putting pressure on my noble friend's department in this respect, but I could well be wrong. Can my noble friend give any indication of when there will be any movement?

Lord Lucas: No.

Lord Swinfen: I find that response very unsatisfactory. However, I shall not follow the matter up at this hour of the night. I reserve the right to come back to it either at Report stage or later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 137 [Urban development corporations: pre-dissolution transfers]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 256:


Page 80, line 4, after ("section") insert ("and by prior agreement with the relevant statutory body").

The noble Baroness said: In the interests of energy efficiency I shall be brief. Under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 a UDC's assets can be disposed of in three ways, one of which is the transfer to a local authority statutory undertaker, or other body, by agreement. The Bill proposes a fourth method: transfer by order to a statutory body.

Some assets are unencumbered by liabilities. Many assets are encumbered by liabilities. I seek merely to ensure that a basic safeguard included in the 1980 Act is included in this Bill by providing for the agreement of the transferee in order to enable that transferee to avoid

1 Apr 1996 : Column 129

liabilities being dumped on it. It is a fundamental provision of contract law in this country that you cannot assign a liability. It is not the case everywhere else. I believe that the old arrangement requiring agreement is a good provision to follow. I do not think that the Government should allow themselves to be seen as able to arrange the disposal of liabilities, even if that is not the intention as I dare say we may be told. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: First, I apologise to the Committee for having been unavoidably absent for the earlier part of the evening. I support Amendment No. 256 and it might save time if I said a brief word about Amendments Nos. 257 to 260. I wish to speak to them all together because the point I want to make encompasses all the amendments. It concerns what happens when powers are handed back or when the UDCs, HATs and new town corporations are wound up and decisions must be taken as to what is to happen to their assets.

My argument, as embodied in the various amendments, is that the assets should be transferred to local authorities rather than being sold off. It is a fundamental point and there are a number of reasons which I wish to mention in support of it. First, in the case of UDCs and HATs, many of the assets originally came from local authorities and it is only right that they should revert to the local authorities from which they came. Secondly, local authorities, with their planning and other powers, are the most appropriate bodies to take an overall view of what part the resources from UDCs, HATs and new towns should play in the local area.

Thirdly, local authorities have a breadth of experience going back over the years in terms of planning estates, the law and so on. That could be mobilised to solve the problems of the former UDC areas, HATs and the new towns. It would ensure proper continuity in the various areas. Fourthly, if there are any liabilities arising from the various bodies, then local authorities are best fitted to take over and finance the liabilities in an appropriate way. Fifthly, and perhaps most important, local authorities are directly accountable to their electorates. They are permanent bodies and therefore would avoid the uncertainty that would arise from an attempt to sell off the assets to whomever it might be, which would stop the sense of continuity and lead to more uncertainty in the local areas. Local authorities can take a broad view of the concerns of their areas rather than a purely financial view as to what will earn the most money.

For all those reasons, I feel that the amendments are sensible. The disposal of assets simply for short-term financial gain is not the way forward and I hope that we shall see local authorities as being the obvious successor bodies to UDCs, HATs and new town development corporations.

11 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: Let me say at the outset that the Government have no intention of, as the noble Baroness put it, dumping the residual responsibilities arising from the winding up of local development corporations on to a body which is reluctant to accept them, as we realise that it is most unlikely that it would then apply itself

1 Apr 1996 : Column 130

seriously to completing the tasks which it had inherited. Once an organisation has accepted the role of residuary body or a new body has been set up for that purpose, it would defeat the whole object of the exercise if it were then able to pick and choose the things which it was prepared to take on and leave those which it did not want to accept.

The urban development corporations are currently disengaging from as many of their assets and liabilities as possible, either through sales on the open market or, in the case of physical liabilities, by means of transfers on mutually acceptable terms to local authorities or other public bodies. We therefore do not anticipate that there will be enormous amounts of work remaining to be done after wind up. But there will inevitably be some issues remaining and many of them will be complex, if not totally intractable, requiring the application of specialist skills and knowledge to their resolution.

The main reason for setting up a residuary body is to provide a safety net to catch everything which the urban development corporations have been unable to clear up before wind up and which would otherwise have to be administered directly by the Secretary of State. If that body were then able to refuse to take on certain functions, he would be no better off than at present, while the advantages in terms of economies of scale and the development of appropriate expertise of having all such matters dealt with by a single body would be lost.

I hope that that has been able to satisfy the noble Baroness and has been able to remove some of her anxieties.

Baroness Hamwee: The comments of the noble Earl deserve some thought, which I shall give them after tonight.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 257 and 258 not moved.]

Clause 137 agreed to.

Clause 138 [Housing action trusts: orders for dissolution]:

[Amendment No. 259 not moved.]

Clause 138 agreed to.

Clause 139 [The Commission for the New Towns: orders for dissolution]:

[Amendment No. 260 not moved.]

Clause 139 agreed to.

Clause 140 [Orders, regulations and directions]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 261 and 262:


Page 82, line 11, after ("provisions") insert ("and savings").
Page 82, line 14, after ("for") insert ("orders under section 144(3) or").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendments Nos. 261 and 262 with Amendment No. 78. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 140, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 141 agreed to.

Clause 142 [Extent]:

1 Apr 1996 : Column 131

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 263:


Page 82, line 21, at end insert ("except sections 104 and 109").

The noble Lord said: This amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. The point is a very simple one. My noble friend put the argument when we debated Clauses 104 and 109; namely, that it would not be appropriate for this clause to refer to Scotland. That is the intended aim of the amendment. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: The amendment seeks to apply in Scotland the provisions in Part II to all contracts not just those which are in writing. If a contract is so informal that there is absolutely no written agreement constituting it, I do not see that there is any need to impose a framework of conditions on the parties involved. I also believe, so far as possible, that we should seek to ensure that the coverage of provisions is the same both north and south of the Border.

Lord Dubs: It is too late to take issue with that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 264:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page