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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the concerns that we expressed. Amendment No. 40 meets many of them, which we appreciate. I have slight reservations about the Minister's comments on amendments to Clause 46. I accept that they may well be covered in common law but nevertheless certain things in Clause 46 could be put into the Bill rather than left to the common law procedures. That said, the Government have gone as far as I can expect in this instance and no doubt the matter will be raised in another place when the Bill goes there. I shall not move my Amendments Nos. 41 and 42.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 46 [Repayment where applicant not entitled to grant]:

[Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.]

Clause 48 [Condition for repayment on disposal: renovation grants]:

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 44:


Page 29, line 2, leave out from ("in") to ("as") in line 3 and insert ("a hospital, hospice, sheltered housing, residential care home or similar institution").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this with Amendment No. 12. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

Clause 49 [Clause for repayment on disposal: common parts grants]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 45:


Page 29, line 36, leave out ("with the consent of") and insert ("where they deem it reasonable, and provided they report their action and reasons to").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dubs. I apologise for breaking the grouping, but it was a matter of moving from one amendment to another rather quickly. Therefore I wish at the same time as speaking to Amendment No. 45 to speak to Amendment No. 43, which I did not move, and Amendment No. 46. The purpose is to remove the necessity for the Secretary of State to consent to a local authority using its discretion under this section to waive grant repayment, subject to the local authority reporting its action to the Secretary of State.

Noble Lords will be aware that a similar amendment was discussed at Committee stage to remove the Secretary of State's consent altogether. In response, it appeared that the Government wished to adjust their view on two grounds--first, the need for nationally consistent criteria and, secondly, the need in order to consider changes to Clause 57, for the Secretary of State to keep himself informed, or to be kept informed, about the case of such discretion.

We are not entirely happy about that. Nationally consistent criteria are not appropriate, in our view, in decisions on whether to waive grant repayment which are made in the light of specific local knowledge. This is not something that can be nationally determined. The most frequent circumstances in which local authorities waive repayment are when a property is sold and there is not enough equity in the property to allow the repayment of grant as well as outstanding mortgage costs. In those cases, many councils--and I give the example of Bradford--would waive repayment, particularly where the cost of grant was not equal to any subsequent increase in the value of properties. I hope it goes without saying that in the city areas that is a problem. It is therefore, in our view, unreasonable for the Secretary of State to try to impose national criteria which apply across the board on what local authorities should do. We believe that that should be left to local authorities.

The second issue is how the Secretary of State should be kept informed. We believe that local authorities should report on how they use their discretion to waive repayment. The Secretary of State can then consider whether changes to Clause 57 are necessary in the light of the reports from local authorities.

I apologise for not having moved Amendment No. 43, but it and Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 basically cover the same problem. I should be grateful if the noble Lord

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could respond when he has received advice from the proper quarters on the points that I have made. I beg to move.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I spoke at some length on this subject at Committee stage and do not plan to go through all arguments that I raised then. I hope that the Government will treat the amendments sympathetically. I wish to make one point to reinforce the arguments of my noble friend Lord Williams.

Depending on the situation of the local authority, that authority may take a decision that it will be good policy in the locality to waive repayment of grants. There are two reasons for that: first, there may be a history of instability of employment in the area. The council knows that the chances of someone being made redundant or falling into unemployment are quite high. There is also the consequent chance of people from the area finding work elsewhere and moving house. Secondly, we need to recognise the community benefit that accrues from modernisation and improvement of derelict private housing. We may think in terms of the crime and vandalism which can quite often become endemic where a whole area is run down. That lays costs on the local authority and the local community in dealing with the problems.

The local authority can get a policy going, with an interesting archetypal public-private initiative involving public and private finance, to regenerate an area through the deployment of home improvement grants. If the local authority does that, people may put investment into their houses and use home improvements grants in the knowledge that they will not be penalised if, through force of circumstances, they have to move out of the area. That will provide tremendous benefit to the local community which will outweigh the expenditure of the grant money which in other areas would be clawed back. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to the amendments.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is a condition of grant that where there is a disposal of the property, other than in certain specified circumstances, during the condition period, grant should be repaid. Clauses 48, 49 and 50 each contain a provision allowing a determination to be made not to demand repayment--or to demand a lesser amount.

The amendments would transfer the power to make such a determination to the local authority, without a requirement for the Secretary of State's consent. The authority would, instead, notify the Secretary of State of its action and of the reasons for making the determination.

We believe it is right that, except in certain circumstances over which the grant applicant has little or no control, the recipient of a grant should be asked to repay the grant if the purposes for which he received it no longer apply. The Secretary of State has a duty to safeguard the public purse in making sure that resources allocated are used for the purpose intended.

We have sought to exclude the most commonly occurring circumstances in which it would be unreasonable to demand grant repayment in Clause 57,

18 Apr 1996 : Column 870

which sets out the categories of disposal exempt from the repayment condition. We have also provided, in Clause 48(5), for the local authority to use its discretion not to demand repayment where the disposal is made necessary by age or infirmity.

We accept that there could be other circumstances not covered by these provisions where it would be unreasonable to demand repayment or to demand the full amount, and that the local authority will wish to make a case for a waiver of a demand.

If the principle of repayment is to be applied fairly, it is desirable that, as far as possible, there should be parity of treatment between grant applicants, regardless of where they live or where their property is situated. We believe that the Secretary of State is best placed to ensure such parity of treatment.

It will be for the local authority to decide that a case for a waiver should be made, but if each case is referred to the Secretary of State for consent, he will be able to ensure that the same criteria are applied in reaching a decision, for the whole country.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, would require notification to the Secretary of State of the action taken by authorities and of the reasons for their action. However, while that would keep him informed of the circumstances arising in which action is likely to be required, there would appear to be, in practice, little that the Secretary of State could do if he were unhappy with the local authority's actions.

For the reasons given, I believe there to be a need for the Secretary of State to retain overall control of the use of grant resources and that, as part of that control, he should have the final say in whether or not a demand for repayment of grant on breach of the disposal condition should be made. That is not only for reasons of Treasury but for reasons of fairness.

I appreciate that my reply may not entirely satisfy the noble Lord. However, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply as far as it goes. He is right in saying that it does not entirely satisfy the concerns I have raised, and indeed am advised should be raised. However, as he quite rightly said, this is a late stage in the Bill's passage in this House. It still has to go to another place and this matter will certainly be discussed there. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 [Condition for repayment on disposal: HMO grants]:

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Clause 51 [Condition as to owner-occupation: renovation grants]:


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