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The Lord Bishop of Bristol: I thank the Minister for his response. While I accept his explanation about market value, I still do not believe that he has answered the issue about replacement within a community, the availability of land and the possibility of rebuilding. That is one of the major concerns that we have.

I thank those Members of the Committee who have supported me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 64:


Page 11, line 16, at end insert--
("( ) A registered social landlord may with the approval of the Corporation decline to sell a property which is part of a group of properties with special facilities or support which enables them to cater for vulnerable tenants, and where the sale of individual dwellings might jeopardise the economic viability of the development if--
(a) the dwelling is one of a number located in a block designated as a special need scheme, or
(b) the dwelling is isolated but identifiable as part of a number of dispersed properties which have been together designated as a special need scheme, and where the provision of the support facilities cannot practicably be transferred to another dwelling.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 80. They are similar.

This amendment seeks to exclude special needs dwellings from the right-to-buy provisions. I believe that in another place the Government expressed sympathy for that approach, understanding that without it, the viability of well-established supported housing

6 Jun 1996 : Column 1471

schemes might be jeopardised. Of course, if the Government are proposing to bring forward their own amendments, I shall be more than happy to withdraw my amendment.

The principle is to exclude homes which are part of special needs schemes where the special supported facilities cannot easily be transferred to other homes. The amendments propose regulation and monitoring by the Housing Corporation to ensure that the exclusion is not abused. The Housing Corporation could, of course, lay down guidelines about the sort of properties which would be covered by the exemption.

It may be that the Minister will suggest that Clause 17 brings in the provisions of Part V of the Housing Act 1985 and that, therefore, this amendment is unnecessary. If that is so, perhaps to pre-empt that I should say that that provision is not sufficient. Since the introduction of the right-to-buy scheme in 1980, special needs housing has become very much more diverse and far more integrated into general needs housing. It requires different definitions from those contained in the original right-to-buy legislation. It is important to exclude self-contained supported housing in the community where lost dwellings would mean loss of revenue and would threaten the viability of a particular scheme. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I support this amendment. It was discussed at some length in another place and I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments. I very much hope that the Government have taken on board the arguments which were put forward in another place. They expressed some sympathy and I hope that that sympathy will be translated into some action in this Chamber.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I can go further than merely expressing sympathy. I fully support the purposes behind these amendments. We have already confirmed that we intend to exclude certain supported housing schemes for special needs accommodation from the purchase grant scheme through the regulations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, predicted I would say, amending Part V of the Housing Act 1985. We are currently working on the draft wording for that exclusion and we shall be consulting on the regulations in due course.

We believe that neither of these amendments is necessary to achieve the result which we all agree is desirable. It is a difficult drafting problem to define precisely the kind of properties we wish to exclude, as the noble Baroness pointed out when she said that there had been considerable changes to the arrangements which were made. We are agreed that a dwelling in a block that is designated for vulnerable tenants, and which has special facilities and perhaps a resident warden, should be kept out of the scheme. But, generally, we should not wish to deny the right to acquire to tenants just because they need additional support. There is no reason why, for example, an ex-offender who is now working should not be able to buy his home if the support that he has been receiving could equally well be provided to someone with similar

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needs living in another property. Therefore, it perhaps should not be just property-related, as is the sheltered home for the elderly or physically or mentally handicapped.

The current wording of subsection (2) of Clause 17 allows the amending regulations to make other exceptions to the new right to acquire in addition to those already provided for under the traditional right-to-buy. We shall use that power to exclude further special needs dwellings, such as, for example, groups of houses for women who have suffered domestic violence. Part V of the 1985 Act already excludes certain properties for people with mental or physical disabilities and for the elderly.

Before the regulations are finalised, we shall consult widely with housing associations and others to ensure that the new exclusion is both workable and fair. With those assurances, and the suggestion to the noble Baroness that it would be quite difficult to devise on the face of the Bill the kind of all-encompassing exclusions that I am sure she wishes--and, indeed, we certainly wish to see many exclusions in this regard--I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: Clearly it would be churlish not to withdraw the amendment in the light of that assurance. However, can the Minister tell us exactly when "due course" will be? I understand the point that he made regarding the fact that the definitions are difficult; but the very fact that they are so might suggest that it would be better for us to deal with them on the face of the Bill rather than leaving them to regulation, in which case noble Lords would have less input into the final outcome. Can the Minister give us an idea of what he thinks the timetable may be for the consultation and the proposals?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I normally hear such argument about secondary legislation from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is the noble Baroness's friend. However, in this case, I am sure that the noble Baroness appreciates the complexities of the necessary instruments which we will have to bring forward in order to cover all the exclusions that we want. I am afraid that I cannot tell her what kind of timetable we envisage, but clearly this is one of the things that we want to deal with as soon as we possibly can. To a certain extent it depends on the responses to consultation and how many difficulties are encountered, and, thereafter, how long the whole process takes. Before the legislation can be enacted and the procedure introduced, the necessary negative resolution will need to be placed before both Chambers. As I said, I cannot give the noble Baroness a timetable, but if one is being considered in the back of our minds, I shall write to her on the matter.

Lord Williams of Elvel: The Minister used the words, "before the legislation is enacted". Does he mean before the Bill leaves this Chamber?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am sorry; I must be clear on the matter. Clearly, before the provisions can be brought into effect so that the tenant can have the right-to-buy, the negative resolution in respect of the

6 Jun 1996 : Column 1473

exclusions will have to be approved. Indeed, we cannot have the right-to-buy being exercised before the nature of the exemptions is known.

Baroness Hamwee: I am glad that I have learned something from my noble friend Lord Russell. As I said, it would be inappropriate to pursue the matter at this late hour. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 67:


Page 11, line 16, at end insert--
("( ) The right conferred by this section shall not arise where the dwelling is provided in pursuance of the affordable housing policy in a local authority's local plan and is subject to a planning obligation under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the above amendment I shall, for the convenience of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 68, 74 and 76. The proposed amendment would exclude homes from the purchase grant scheme if they had been built specifically to meet local need for affordable housing as required in the local authority's local plan. Such plans are controlled by what are known as Section 106 agreements. I am sure that the Minister is familiar with those agreements and that I shall not have to elaborate at this time of night on what they are because, when informal conversations took place, I mentioned that we would be moving proposals to this effect.

The Government acknowledge the need for affordable housing and Ministers require each local authority to prepare a local development plan--so we are on common ground there. That plan must convey the local authority's plans and objectives for development in the area. Government planning guidance PPG3, issued in 1992, states that,


    "a community's need for affordable housing is a material planning consideration which may be taken into account in formulating development plan policies".
Affordable housing is defined as both subsidised housing and low cost market housing.

Therefore it is in line with local authority development plans under the Town and Country Planning Act to build affordable homes. It seems to us that it is appropriate that the Bill should not cover Section 106 housing. This matter was debated in another place and I am sure the Government will have plenty of arguments against it. But it seems to me if the Government do not accept the amendment that I am proposing, they are cutting right across the planning procedure under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the guidance they have given to local authorities. I beg to move.


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