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Page 2, line 34, at end insert--
("(g) engaging in other activities for the promotion of the social and economic well-being of residents, provided that these shall be incidental to its purposes under subsection (2).").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. Clause 2 provides for what I may call the main objects of the registered social landlords and permissible additional objects and purposes. I seek to place on the face of the Bill, through this amendment, a permissible additional purpose. I readily concede that subsection (7) allows the Secretary of State to add to the list by way of an order. However, the objectives contained in the amendment are important enough to be on the face of the Bill.

The amendment's purpose is to extend the criteria to include wider urban regeneration, to ensure that the potential of a local housing company can be maximised. I appreciate that the terminology,

is wide. However, it is intentionally wide. Members of the Committee have frequently discussed the connections between housing, health, education, employment and so on. Many noble Lords have considerable expertise on the issues raised by care in the community. It is perhaps one of the faults of our administrative system that it is not always easy to cross disciplines. I hope that in the overarching view that the Committee is able to take of legislation, it is appropriate to suggest that an overarching provision should be included at this point.

Care in the community raises matters not just of housing in the sense of a roof over the head of the tenant but of the way in which that person's overall care is organised to enable him or her to live as fulfilled and

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independent a life as possible. That is wider than the simple provision of accommodation in its narrowest sense.

The matter was raised in another place and at that time the Minister said that, although he was willing to consider the point, he thought it was rather loose and wide. I am grateful to the Government for agreeing to consider it. I had hoped that since the stages of the Bill through another place, there would have been an opportunity to give further consideration to the issues raised. I think it important enough for the point to be on the face of the Bill. If that is not possible, then I should be interested in hearing the Minister's assurances about the issues. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in proposing this amendment, which is important. It was discussed at some length in another place. It has the purpose of widening the role of local housing companies, particularly in urban regeneration. It also has the effect of allowing local housing companies to act for the benefit and social well-being of their tenants outside the main purposes for which they were set up by a sponsor. Other objectives might be to encourage local employment, improve health and all sorts of other things which in our view local housing companies should do.

The Minister in another place thought that such an amendment was slightly woolly and should not be on the face of the Bill. My view is that it should be. It would determine what local housing companies are meant to do. It goes beyond the rather narrow definitions that the Government had in mind. For that reason, the Government ought to pay very great attention to the remarks of the noble Baroness, and I certainly support her.

Lord Monkswell: One of the matters that we need to appreciate is the effect of size and scale. To take the Committee back to the 1930s, when the estate of Wythenshawe--which is rather like a new town--was being built on the outskirts of Manchester, it was built by the city council on land that it had bought. It included not only housing, which was the main purpose of the estate--namely, to rehouse people who lived in slums in the inner-city--but also factories, schools, hospitals and even churches and public-houses. They were either wholly owned by the local authority or let to the organisations, with ownership of the land and property being retained by the local authority. It was a very large development to house some 50,000 or 60,000 souls.

I think we all appreciate that in a development of that size there is a need to include schools, hospitals, factories, shops and leisure and religious facilities. While we may not envisage the building of a new town for 50,000 or 60,000 people happening very often in modern Britain, looking at the other end of the scale we see that if the local housing company is building one or two houses, there is very little requirement for it to consider any of the other social and economic amenities that may be required. As the operation becomes larger, the scale of the activities becomes more enveloping; the number of people involved and the geographical area

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become larger. There will then be a need for housing associations to take on board the social and economic needs of the people that they will house. If they are not to be involved in that directive themselves, they need to have some regard for it in the developments they propose. It is very important that we include a measure such as this. I strongly support the amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas: Registered housing associations have traditionally had a range of additional permissible purposes beyond the specific provision of housing for rent. These allow them to use their expertise more widely for the benefit of tenants. The Bill contains a list of such purposes or objects.

We recognise that there is scope to go beyond the present provisions, but the limitations placed on these activities are an important part of regulation. The primary purpose of registered social landlords is to provide housing for rent. We do not want registered landlords undertaking activities which extend beyond the expertise and competence of the management committee. This could threaten the commercial viability of a landlord and put at risk tenants and public funding.

We have a lot of sympathy with the ideas behind the amendment and behind the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. It is obviously clearly important that we build not just houses, but communities, and that they should have in them all that is necessary to make for a full life for the people who live there. However, the experience and finance available to an individual housing association are limited.

Therefore, the noble Lord will see the provision in Clause 2(4)(a) that housing associations or social landlords may work,

    "either exclusively or together with other persons".
That is specifically to envisage the possibility that where what is required is more than plain and simple housing, and where, for instance, cinemas and shopping centres are required, the development should be done in conjunction with people who take the risk of those commercial activities and who are expert in providing and managing them. I believe Clause 2(4)(a) also covers the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about care in the community.

Clause 2 covers the list of objects and purposes as enshrined in the Housing Associations Act 1985. It allows additional purposes to be added if new activities are identified that would be appropriate. A commitment has already been given during earlier stages of the Bill to consider possible additional purposes for inclusion in the order that the Government propose to bring forward at commencement to cover the additional purposes that have been added since 1985 by secondary legislation--principally, that is a particular long and complicated scheme for Wales.

Such additional purposes might, for instance, include the provision of community alarm systems, not just for the tenants of housing associations, but more widely. We can see merit in activities like these. However, the wording of this amendment is very wide and could

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encompass a range of activities which, while providing benefits for tenants, could nevertheless expose landlords to considerable financial risk.

In earlier considerations of the Bill in another place an offer was made to consider any clearly defined proposals for inclusion in the order that will need to be brought forward at commencement. We feel that that is the way to proceed. We would be happy to consider whether a more clearly defined proposal could be made which we could take forward. If the noble Baroness is able to devise such a proposal, we shall be happy to discuss it with her or on Report. For now, I should be grateful if she would withdraw the amendment.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that there might be some sympathy within the Government for the noble Baroness's amendment. Is it really right that the noble Lord expresses sympathy and then asks the noble Baroness to produce an amendment with which the Government have sympathy? Would it not be proper for the Government to take the matter away and say, "Yes, we understand what the noble Baroness and the Committee say and we will bring back an amendment on Report"? Is that not the correct procedure?

Lord Lucas: If this were an initiative of the Government on which we had ideas that we wished to bring forward, then we would. From previous experience we are aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is quite capable of having ideas that appeal to us. We hope that that might be the case this time.

Baroness Hamwee: We know that the Government are bereft of ideas but I had not expected to hear it in quite such blunt terms. I wish to pursue one or two matters further. The Minister said that the activities which will be allowed under this additional object might expose a landlord to risk. First, this is a subsidiary activity. I am not suggesting that it should be the main activity. Does the Minister accept that house building is a very risky business indeed and that it is perhaps a little paternalistic to be reacting against, if I may use the shorthand, the social responsibilities encompassed in this quite wide-ranging but nevertheless subsidiary matter.

Secondly, perhaps I may ask about his comment on care in the community activities coming within subsection (4)(a). He mentioned an alarm system--a community alarm system. Alarm systems are very valuable. I quite take his point that it is desirable to use the technology that is installed to make such systems available perhaps beyond just a small group of houses and flats. The example was used by his honourable friend in another place. That example surely fits within subsection (4)(a), so I fail to understand why it is used as an example of what might be dealt with specifically under something like my new clause. Can he confirm that subsection (4) is about permissible additional purposes and objects and not mandatory ones? His opening comments seemed to suggest that we were seeking to impose this on landlords. I assure the Committee that that is not the case.

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Finally, I think in opening--I may have misheard the noble Lord--he referred to regulations which the Secretary of State might make under Clause 2(7) containing a condition or limiting criteria. If I understood that correctly, it worries me somewhat because it suggests that the regulation-making power might be rather wider than the words on the face of the Bill suggest. Can the Minister respond to any or all of those points?

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