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Lord Dubs: My Lords, the Minister has gone a long way towards meeting the anxieties about the excessive rigidity of having a three-year qualifying period. That is good and I am pleased that the Minister has tabled the amendment. However, I am puzzled about one matter. Having given local authorities the power to dispense with the necessity to comply with a particular condition, Clause 10(2) remains. It provides that the qualifying period is three years, and although that can now be dispensed with it continues:


I believe that that is an unnecessary provision because, when the local authority can dispense with the period altogether, I can see no circumstances in which the Secretary of State would wish to have a period different from the three-year period. That provision may require tidying up but, in principle, I am happy with the Minister's comments about his amendment which meets the objectives of Amendment No. 11.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given to the government amendments. I cannot go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, would

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wish me to go. The three-year rule is part of the principle of the Bill; to establish residence and to avoid people who buy a house cheaply because it is in need of repair and then obtain money from the Government to make it more valuable. People buy a house at a price and on terms which reflect its condition. Some time is required before it is reasonable for the Government to step in and help with repairs. However, we all agree that additional flexibility is right. We prefer to keep it more simple than the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but I am not saying that either way is perfection. We have our preferred way and I am sure that in the circumstances the noble Baroness will be happy to let us have our way.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 9:


Page 5, line 38, at end insert--
("(2A) A local housing authority may dispense with compliance with either or both of the conditions in subsection (1), and may do so either generally or in relation to particular cases or descriptions of case.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee had given notice of her intention to move, as an amendment to Amendment No. 9, Amendment No. 10:


[As an amendment to amendment 9]Line 3, after ("subsection (1)") insert ("including by requiring a different qualifying period").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I feel that I should shake the complacency of the Minister but I might do that on Third Reading. I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 9 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

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

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 12:


Page 6, line 42, leave out from ("of") to ("as") in line 43 and insert--
("(i) going to live with and be cared for by a member of his family, or
(ii) going to live in a hospital, hospice, sheltered housing, residential care home or similar institution").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 44 and 168. During the Committee stage of the Bill, we extended the care institutions listed in Clause 11(3) from sheltered housing or a residential care home to include also a hospital, hospice or similar institution.

Amendment No. 12 would replicate that extended definition in Clause 11(4), and Amendments Nos. 44 and 168 would replicate it elsewhere in the Bill. Amendment No. 12 would also extend the coverage of Clause 11(4) to parallel that of subsections (2) and (3) to provide for the case where a disposal within a family is made as a result of the previous owner going to live with and be cared for by a member of his family.

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I hope that noble Lords will agree that the amendments are worthwhile. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lucas spoke also to Amendment No. 168. That is not on the Marshalled List and I wonder whether he meant to say that.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is in my note but not on the Marshalled List so perhaps we had better leave it out for the moment. My noble friend Lord Balfour has a terrible reputation for correcting Ministers' mistakes, and he has got me!

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 13:


Page 7, line 38, after ("provide") insert ("or extend").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to permit grants for the conversion of properties to be used to extend them. When debating the matter in Committee, the Minister said:


    "to enable a proper big extension to be grant-aided by this method would be wrong because the purpose of the grants is to renovate buildings which are in a bad state of repair ... Larger extensions would, on the whole, fall outside the proper purpose of renovation grants which are primarily to secure the repair of existing buildings and not to subsidise the provision of new ones".--[Official Report, 26/3/96; col. 1612.]

There may well be circumstances when it makes for the best use of a building to be able to extend it rather than simply to convert it into flats or whatever. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that grants will be available which will optimise the use of buildings by ensuring that where it is appropriate to extend them so that they can be more effectively subdivided, grants will be available for that purpose. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, this amendment would enable renovation grant to be given for extensions as well as for conversions. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, spoke most persuasively to a similar amendment tabled in his name during Committee. I replied that the purpose of a renovation grant was the improvement of a dwelling and it seemed to me that while this might cover smaller extensions to dwellings, larger extensions would, on the whole, fall outside the proper purpose of renovation grants.

I subsequently gave further thought to the question of conversions and extensions, and I wrote to the noble Lord on this important matter. I accept that there is some strength in the argument that grant should be available for internal re-arrangement where two or more properties are to be made into one larger property in order to meet the needs of a larger or extended family. Subsection (2) of Clause 12 as drafted enables grant to be given for this purpose.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said during Committee, government guidance suggests that a grant for conversion should not be given where it would result in a reduction in the number of dwellings. This advice stems from an earlier wish not to reduce the supply of affordable housing.

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As the noble Lord rightly implied during Committee, it is important that the grant system is relevant to the needs of the present day. Where a pressing local need could be met by extending into a neighbouring property, I see no grounds for this to be prevented. I shall ensure that we cover this in the revised guidance we shall issue to local housing authorities.

The noble Lord has some understandable anxieties about this issue and I hope that I have met them and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he explain to the House the limits on the use of the word "extend"? My understanding is that planning law was revised a few years ago. That enabled extensions to buildings, houses, to be constructed without planning permission up to a certain size. In that sense, that was a variation on what had applied before when, effectively, anything which was an extension to a house required planning permission.

It may be that there is a difference in interpretation between the Minister and the Opposition, if I may put it in that way, in terms of what they mean by "extension". It may be that the legal situation now, which will obviously be familiar to the Minister's advisers, enables an extension to be incorporated within this grant-giving power and that the old definition under the previous planning laws is no longer extant.

I am not sure whether I am making myself clear and whether the Minister understands what I am trying to say. But if the change in planning law which I believe occurred a few years ago allows the building of extensions without planning permission, that would satisfy a number of the concerns which a number of noble Lords on this side of the House have in relation to the wording of the Bill before us.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not sure that I do understand the noble Lord completely. I hope that when he reads Hansard he will find that in the earlier part of my remarks I have answered most of the concerns which he raised. If I find that I have not done so, I shall certainly write to him.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, in view of the fact that the Minister has said that he will issue guidance to local authorities to achieve at least some of the aims of the amendment and also to give me time to consider the detailed implications of what he said when I read it in Hansard, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 [Renovation grants: approval of application]:


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