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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I am sorry that the Bill will confirm the regions as "second-class citizens". I accept the fact that they will not have assemblies at present to which their RDAs will be accountable. But the Bill seems to confirm the position of the RDAs as even less accountable, as no duty of best value will be applied to them.

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Should the Government proceed--as I hope they will, particularly in those regions that are making progress towards elected assemblies--how can the duty of best value then be added to apply to RDAs should there be elected assemblies in the regions?

Lord Whitty: The Bill does nothing to change the status of the regional development agencies as they were taken through the House a few months ago. As my noble friend Lord Harris indicated, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is implying, some of this may well be unfinished business. However, for the moment the RDAs are non-departmental public bodies and have no other form of democratic accountability, except through the Secretary of State and to Parliament. That will remain the situation unless and until we create a form of accountability via regional assemblies on a more democratic basis than currently.

That may well be desirable in the long run. However, it is not the subject of the Bill and the form of accountability and best value which would apply to such regional authorities, were they to be established, would be a matter for subsequent legislation not currently in the programme.

All that is to play for at a much later stage. The London Development Agency, however, is part of the general structure for the Greater London Authority Bill, which will be with us shortly. It needs to be identified separately in the Bill as regards, for example, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Fire and Emergency Authority in London, which we have done. We believe that, despite the initial reaction to seeing those authorities and agencies listed separately, it is much clearer in terms of management responsibility in applying best value in practice.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: Am I right in thinking that as regards the relationship between RDAs and regional assemblies, if we have them, best value duties should await that legislation? I am not a particular fan of order-making powers, but it might be possible to provide for an order-making power for regional development agencies within the Bill, which would save some primary legislation. However, with regard to the GLA, oddly there is an order-making power in the Greater London Authority Bill for the best value duties. Have I analysed that correctly?

Lord Whitty: Not entirely. The Greater London Authority Bill will deal with the whole structure and financial control of local government within London, including all the separate agencies and their separate responsibilities. This Bill deals with applying best value throughout local authorities in England and Wales, including the GLA and its various manifestations. It is, therefore, sensible that best value in relation to local government is prescribed within the Bill.

The Government have a wider agenda. In our recent publication, Modernising Local Government, we have indicated that we would expect best value to apply throughout the public sector. There are already auditing and performance requirements for the RDAs as there are

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for other non-departmental public bodies, but their line of responsibility for delivering goes via the Secretary of State to Parliament, not via a local authority, and the Bill deals with local authorities.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply which went into the subject with very great care and in considerable detail. I accept that we still have this massive Bill to come before us and, to a certain extent, what we are discussing here today is peripheral.

Although the Minister's reply was helpful, I shall need to study it with some care before I am absolutely certain of that fact. If we have somewhat obscure lines of communication within the Greater London Authority, the Bill must take account of that. With the opportunity to study what the Minister has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Maddock: moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 20, at end insert--
("( ) an energy conservation authority, as defined in section 1(1)(a) of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 3 I shall speak also to the three amendments grouped with it. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that matters are included on the face of the Bill which are the responsibility of energy conservation authorities as defined under Section 1(1)(a) of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 and also that other public bodies concerned with the provision of and standards in housing--the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales--are also included. Having listened to the discussion on previous amendments, I suspect that the Minister will make some similar points about the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales as he has made in relation to regional development agencies. I await the Minister's reply.

Perhaps at this point I should declare an interest. I was the sponsor of the Bill which became the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 and also, through the Energy Saving Trust, I have chaired a committee ever since, which has distributed grants under the Home Energy Conservation Act.

With regard to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3, it may be helpful if I refer to the duties for local authorities set out in the Home Energy Conservation Act. I have explained Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, but amendments to Clause 15 seek to ensure that, for energy conservation authorities and for the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales, when the Secretary of State puts forward any orders to modify enactments and confer new powers, these bodies are included. If I now explain the duties under the Home Energy Conservation Act, it will be clear to Members of the Committee that this is very relevant.

Briefly, under the Home Energy Conservation Act, energy conservation authorities are required to consider all practical, cost effective and likely measures that will result in significant improvements in energy efficiency in residential accommodation. That is very important when we are talking about best value, because they have

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to ensure that they include an assessment for the cost of any of these measures. They also have to include statements of policy related to looking after people's circumstances--this concerns fuel poverty and those who find it difficult to pay their bills.

There are also other duties. Energy conservation bodies have to publish reports and send reports to the Secretary of State to say how they are progressing with the implementation of measures in their area and they have to have regard to any guidance by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State also has duties under the Bill. The one that is most relevant to our debate today is that he has to take such steps as he considers desirable in order to assist with, and to encourage others to assist with, measures set out in such a report of energy conservation issues. Everything in the Bill regarding best value is highly relevant.

The Government recently published a report of this fact, the conclusion and summary of which give a very good back-up argument to the amendments before us today. In the light of that report, they are very helpful amendments to the Government in carrying out what should happen after three years of the Act being in force.

In their conclusion, the Government confirm that the Home Energy Conservation Act is an important piece of legislation. In conjunction with other energy efficiency policies in the United Kingdom, it will bring about real financial savings, improvements in conditions and affordable warmth for all householders and the community as a whole.

The Government recognise that the potential for the Home Energy Conservation Act is wide-ranging and considerable. Further, they say that it should not be unduly expensive for authorities to take forward at a local level if tackled in an appropriate way through partnerships--again, that is very relevant to the Bill before us today. However--and this is another important point--it is unfortunate that evidence suggests that the potential has not yet been realised. That is why it is important that in this legislation the Government provide for the Home Energy Conservation Act to encourage authorities in some good work. Although enthusiasm and activity among many authorities has gone a long way, there is much more to be done. I believe that by having these amendments on the face of the Bill we could back that up.

The Government have said that they are committed to energy efficiency and to the Act. They have put a good deal of money into it in recent years and there are promises of more to back up the work of energy conservation authorities. I hope that the Minister will find these amendments helpful. If he cannot accept them today, perhaps when we reach the later stage of the Bill he can bring forward an acceptable amendment to back up what I believe was great commitment in the report published last month. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I fear that Amendment No. 3 and the other amendments grouped with it are based on a misunderstanding of how best value authorities have been defined, and how far the

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powers and duties of the best value regime extend. However, I hope to clarify the position in order to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock.

Amendment No. 3 seeks to extend the list of best value authorities set out in Clause 1 to include energy conservation authorities as defined in Section 1(1)(a) of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. This is not necessary because these energy conservation authorities have already been identified as best value authorities, albeit under another name. For the purposes of Section 1(1)(a) of the 1995 Act, an energy conservation authority is defined as "a local housing authority". That means a district council, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London or the Council of the Isles of Scilly. All these authorities are already identified as best value authorities in Clause 1.

It is important to recognise that the duty of best value will apply to all the functions of best value authorities. It will not override the existing statutory duties of those authorities. Rather, it will raise standards generally and will bring improvements to the way those duties are carried out.

Amendment No. 73 would consequently enable the Secretary of State to make orders under Clause 15 requiring any person to provide information to energy conservation authorities, where such authorities are best value authorities. The Bill gives the Secretary of State and, where appropriate, the National Assembly for Wales, wide powers to remove obstacles to the achievement of best value authorities. This is done by the Bill acting as a framework, through which these powers can be exercised. However, acceptance of Amendment No. 73 would give the Secretary of State powers to make orders laying burdens on third parties not subject to the duty of best value, to supply information to energy conservation authorities.

We can understand the noble Baroness's wish to ensure that energy conservation authorities receive all the information they need to fulfil their duties. However, Amendment No. 73 would lay duties on other parties and it would be inappropriate to include references to them in this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, may wish to note that I shall return to the subject of Housing for Wales in a moment, but implementing Amendment No. 4 would subject the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales to the provisions of Clause 3 (the general duty) and Clause 15 (power to modify enactments and confer new powers). Amendment No. 74 would enable the Secretary of State to make orders under Clause 15, conferring on the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales, powers to issue guidance advising registered social landlords about energy efficiency standards. Taken together, Amendments Nos. 4 and 74 would mean that the Secretary of State would be able to give the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales powers to issue guidance to registered social landlords.

While I can appreciate that the noble Baroness would want the duty of best value to be drawn as widely as possible, we must resist Amendment No. 4 because it goes beyond what we are seeking to achieve through the

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Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to apply the duty of best value to local authorities and other bodies within the local government finance system. This does not include the Housing Corporation or Housing for Wales.

I return to the issue of Housing for Wales and hope that Members of the Committee will forgive me for using the term as a kind of shorthand. It is necessary to point out that Housing for Wales no longer exists as an organisation. The functions transferred to the Secretary of State for Wales last November and will thus become the responsibility of the National Assembly from 1st July. The Housing Corporation is of course a non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is subject to the control disciplines common to all such bodies and its activities are scrutinised by the department, its auditors, the National Audit Office and by Parliament.

The corporation is committed to promoting best value for registered social landlords and issued challenging and comprehensive best value guidance to housing associations in February. This complements the work of the department in promoting best value in the local authority sector. Amendment No. 74 attempts to give the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales powers which will impinge on third parties; namely, registered social landlords. I can understand the noble Baroness's wish to ensure there is the widest possible dissemination of information about energy efficiency issues, especially to landlords. However, such persons are not subject to the duty of best value and I must stress again that it would be inappropriate to include references to them in the Bill.

I take this opportunity to assure your Lordships that the Government are committed to energy efficiency and recognise the extremely important role of local authorities in promoting energy efficiency to their communities. I apologise for the length of the explanation. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to accept my assurance and will withdraw the amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister said that challenging aims were issued. I am not sure whether she said, "by way of guidance"; I may have missed precisely the status of what was issued to housing associations earlier this year. Can she tell the Committee whether that is to make its way into legislation in any form? These amendments are an attempt to even up the situation between local authorities, in their capacity as housing authorities, and registered social landlords, who are increasingly taking over the responsibilities. The issues are not necessarily different, though I accept that the route to reaching them may be so.

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