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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we have had a wide measure of consensus in relation to the order under consideration this evening. It paves the way for a phased increase in the amount of activity at Stansted and a phased development.

I agree that we must aim for an equitable balance for development, and that has been the thrust of the contributions that we heard this evening. I welcome the

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contribution of my noble friend Lord Mountevans, who gave us a little more history about the airport, including the all-important charter market and the links with Scandanavia. My noble friend felt that his memory went back further than my brief. In the interests of those who occasionally assist in compiling the brief, I must say to him that my brief goes back to around 1940. However, we can discuss this at a later date.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned the negotiations on liberalisation with our American colleagues and also the proposed alliance between British Airways and American Airlines, about which we have heard so much in the press. The Government's position is that we were interested to hear of this; we have been kept broadly informed and we look forward to studying the matter in more depth. I agree with the noble Lord that there are major issues to be dealt with which deserve further consideration.

The noble Lord also asked me about the British Airports Authority. I cannot speak on its behalf; I can only make sure that the discussions in your Lordships' House are brought to its attention. With that, I commend the order to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.44 to 8.30 p.m.]

Housing Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 148.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 264ZC:


Page 91, line 32, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 264ZD, 264ZF and 264ZG. Although I know that that sounds like an alphabet soup, these are really all one consecutive amendment. They are part of a series of amendments which I had hoped to move if I had been here a little earlier in the day. They follow on from what I was unable to speak to, which is Clause 144(2). The question they raise is why the Secretary of State is taking the power to control all the principles under which housing allocation is carried out. I ask why he is doing this in a very real curiosity and I hope to get a few of the answers.

I am a little reminded, looking at the powers the Secretary of State is taking over the allocation of housing, of the description in 1066 and all that of Poyning's Law, which was that the Irish were to have a parliament but the English were to pass all the Acts in it. Similarly, it seems to be the policy of this clause that local authorities are to have a housing authority but the Secretary of State is to do all the allocation in it. If you have housing powers in local authorities it really does seem a little superfluous for the Secretary of State to take such complete control of them himself. It is, in the

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nice 17th century phrase, the Secretary of State keeping a dog and barking himself. I really do not understand why he is doing it.

Is it because the Secretary of State knows best? It seems a little improbable because he is not actually there in every local authority in England, Scotland and Wales. Or is it that the Secretary of State has an agenda and intends to impose that agenda on local authorities, whether they like it or not? And if he does have an agenda, will we by any chance be entitled to know what it is? That is an interesting question because people might wish to discuss it.

The clause also raises the question: should the principles of housing allocation be the same everywhere in the country? I do not think it is by any means self evident that they should. The Minister will recall the university amendment to Clause 9 of the asylum Bill to which he gave an extremely generous and welcome answer. That dealt with areas of the country where local authorities have let blocks of housing to universities because there is no great demand for the housing in those areas. The noble Lord, Lord Goold, mentioned the Gorbals in that context. So, clearly, demand is different in some places from others. Demand for housing in Islington or Brent is very different from demand for housing in a former pit village where there is now no employment to speak of. And if there are these differences, as I believe there are, is the Secretary of State really the best person to observe them, or might they just possibly be better observed by those who live with them every day and actually have to notice them as they go about their business? If a local authority perceives a particular pattern of housing need in its area and wants to respond to it, why does it have to ask the Secretary of State whether it is allowed to do anything about it?

In subsection (3) of Clause 148 the Secretary of State takes power by regulations to,


    "specify further descriptions of people to whom preference is to be given as mentioned in subsection (2)".
In fact, because he is taking a very detailed set of powers, he has to say to himself very correctly, "Maybe I have forgotten something", so the more detailed the power he takes, the more detailed also the power he has to take to vary it. This is an infinite regression. Great powers have little powers upon their backs to bite 'em, and little powers have lesser powers, and so on ad infinitum.

In subsection (3)(b) we have a Henry VIII clause, and those the House is well known not to view with very great favour. The Secretary of State takes the power to,


    "amend or repeal any part of subsection (2)".
In fact, once again, the more detailed the legislative power that is taken, the more detailed the proposals have to be to allow the Secretary of State to vary it. It is really a rather fusspotty style of legislation. It is the style of legislation of the housewife who can always see a speck of dirt where no one else can possibly see it. It creates a constant itch to change.

In subsection (4)--this is one of the provisions I am most curious about--the Secretary of State,

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    "may by regulations specify factors which a local housing authority shall not take into account in allocating housing accommodation".
Why not? If the authority thinks that is the need, why should it not respond to it? What sort of restrictions does the Secretary of State intend to impose under this regulation-making power? He must have something in his mind that he wanted to do with it or he would not have asked for it. Or is he just asking for it in case he should want to make a fuss in the future? We really must know, when we are approving powers of this kind, at least what it is presently intended to do with them. We should also consider what some future government might do with them.

I know the Minister does not like the argument of what future governments might do with regulations. But if we put these powers onto the statute book and leave them there, then someone--perhaps 20 or 30 years hence--will use them in ways which we might find absolutely outrageous. It would be perfectly possible, for example, in a country with less generous attitudes to the old than we have at present, for some future government to say that everyone over the age of 75 would not have any entitlement to local authority housing. And in this House of all places I think that that might be a little unpopular.

The Minister will of course say that no government will ever do that. I am not accepting that argument. For many years I told pupils that no government in this country would ever again introduce a poll tax and that they had learnt that it did not work. Since then the boundaries of what no British government will ever do have been moving so fast that I have been unable to keep up with them. Seven or eight times in a Session something is introduced which I thought no British government would ever do. Since I do not know where the boundaries are, I am not prepared to give any weight to that argument.

Subsection (5) simply states that,


    "the scheme shall be framed in accordance with such principles as the Secretary of State may prescribe by regulations".
It is the same point again, and I do not understand why it is being done. The words I wish to delete from subsection (6) under the last of the amendments are simply consequential. If I ever heard of a nanny state anywhere, I heard it in this clause. Why? I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: In proposing these amendments the noble Earl, Lord Russell, revisits a general issue of principle we have discussed on a number of occasions. I wish to look at it against the background of the three subsections which his amendments seek to delete from the Bill and explain how we envisage our use of them and the possible impact on local authorities. Before I come to that, the idea that somehow or other the Secretary of State is going to be involved in every single housing allocation in every part of the country is simply not true. Nor indeed is it true that allocation schemes should be the same everywhere in the country. However, the principles on which they are based should be the same. Against those principles it shall be for each local authority to decide on its scheme, on the criteria it uses and the level of need that it applies to each of the factors

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in Clause 148(2). Most local authorities operate what is called a points scheme; it will be for them to decide how points are allocated for different priorities. So this is not a device which the Secretary of State will use to control every housing allocation in the country.

Amendment No. 264ZC seeks to remove Clause 148(3). The subsection enables the Secretary of State to change any of the principles which local authorities must observe in determining how priority should be given in their allocation scheme. This is an important provision. It will enable us to add further categories to whom preference must be given and will also enable us to amend any part of the provisions for determining priority.

We believe that the principles in subsection (2) are appropriate and wide-ranging measures of housing need. However, our experience of past and present legislation, which contains a number of provisions dating back to 1935, shows that housing need can change. Conditions which were prevalent in 1935, such as the widespread lack of basic facilities, may no longer have the significance they once had.

Other factors, one of which was raised by the noble Earl, include, for example, old age and also family breakdown, a fairly new phenomenon. Not long ago it could reasonably be assumed that one family would occupy one house. Unfortunately, with divorce, a fairly significant number of families are now split and require two houses. In fact, it is one of the underlying causes of the pressure on the housing stock. These are indications of change.

There is the advent of community care where we like to see people looked after in the community and no longer placed in long-stay large hospitals, especially hospitals catering for mental illness and mental handicap. These are all factors which have changed quite dramatically over time. Who can tell what changes there will be in the next two or three decades?

We believe that the regulation-making power in subsection (3) will enable governments in the future to keep the legislation up-to-date as regards changing demographic and social conditions without the need for primary legislation. In recognition that the power in subsection (3) is wide ranging and that it would amend primary legislation, the regulations under the subsection are to be subject to the affirmative resolution of each House. I believe that this is a sensible provision and that we have taken adequate safeguards to prevent the power being used lightly.

Amendment No. 264ZD seeks to remove subsection (4) which specifies the factors which must be disregarded in allocating houses. This power will enable the Secretary of State to prevent authorities from taking account of factors which would discriminate unfairly against particular groups of applicants. We hear from time to time of cases where an authority discriminates against certain applicants, for example, by giving excessive priority to children of their own tenants or by refusing to give proper consideration to applications from single people. By having the powers in regulations the Secretary of State will be enabled to act quickly to

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prevent abuse of the new provisions, should that prove necessary. Regulations under this subsection will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

Amendment No. 264ZF would remove the Secretary of State's power to specify the principles governing the procedures to be followed in allocating housing. One use of this power, which was discussed in the January consultation paper and discussed in Committee earlier today, would be to restrict the involvement of elected local authority members in allocation decisions on individual cases. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales has indicated his concern that this practice is still prevalent in some local authorities in Wales. There has been support in some circles for similar provision to be made in England. Regulations under this subsection could disqualify members from involvement in certain decisions; for instance, those relating to housing in their own wards. These are likely to cover matters of detail.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal: Can the noble Lord give me any advice? Would some of the things he is saying have affected Westminster City Council? Would that council have been in the dock with the Government if these regulations had been in force then?


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