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Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, that is more or less what I meant. There was substantial discussion. Eventually this compromise was reached. I believe that the compromise was mistaken, and I should like to reverse it for the following reason: if the majority is
On the other hand, it is conceivable that the eighth person (the balancing factor) might be the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who expressed at an earlier stage of the Bill what I can only describe as a rather unkind attitude towards architects. If he were the balancing factor instead of me, we would have a different kind of disciplinary organisation.
It is important to realise that despite the changes which have occurred in the economic field which have affected the economics of the professions, the professions differ from ordinary business because the professional ethic and professional ethos is different from the business ethic and business ethos. The distinction is one which should be preserved. I know that that sounds terribly old-fashioned in these modern get-up-and-go days, but I beg to move.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, perhaps I may make a quick point because I have not been taking part to any great extent in this part of the Bill, which deals with architects. If the board is to deal with the self-regulation of the profession for the benefit not merely of the profession but to ensure that the general public (the consumers) receive a high standard of service, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, will find, if he looks at any other self-regulating bodies, that they have in fact a majority of independent members, and that those self-regulating bodies have a majority of independent members on all of their committees, so that the professions, or in some instances the industries that they represent, do not put their own purposes and well-being before those of the consuming public.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I suspect that my knowledge and experience of these things must be different from those of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, because my understanding is that in most self regulating professional organisations--if I may describe them like that--there is a recognition of the need to involve the consumer who is not a member of the professional group. Those professional groups of which I have some slight knowledge maintain control of their own affairs. In the field of engineering, determination of who shall and who shall not be a chartered engineer--the definition of a professional engineer in this country effectively--is made by the Engineering Council. My understanding is that the majority, if not all, of the members of the Engineering Council are chartered engineers.
My knowledge of the medical profession suggests that the ruling council of the BMA (the BMC) is dominated by doctors. While the doctors may have non-medical people sitting with them, the judgment is effectively made by the doctors. I am wracking my brains to think of other professionals who would be professionals under the definition of my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, but I cannot think of any. I put
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the aim of the reforms to the Architects Registration Council is to replace a large organisation, almost entirely representing the interests of architects, with a small and efficient board representing both the interests of architects and of the general public.
One of the main arguments put forward by architects in favour of keeping the protection of their title, is that they must not only satisfy the client, but also meet a higher obligation to the public at large. If it is in the public interest to protect the title "architect", then it is essential that the board which protects that title is also seen as a body which is there to protect the public. That echoes what my noble friend Lord Swinfen said.
The Bill provides that there should be eight lay members and seven architects on the board. I believe that a lay majority of one strikes the right balance between protecting the public and looking after the profession. It signals the importance of the board's public role, but it does not in any way diminish the importance of architects as a profession.
I am also confident that most architects accept that we have got the balance right. The proposal for a lay majority was part of a package of reforms which was agreed to by both the Architects Registration Council and by the Royal Institute of British Architects. It also has the support of the unattached architects, those not affiliated to the RIBA. They are the equivalent of Cross-Benchers. A substantial majority of those who responded to our consultation paper also supported the proposal for a lay majority.
Lay members will have a majority of only one and there will be a balance between those representing public and consumer interests and those who represent users of architectural services. This could, of course, include clients and individuals from the construction industry but I am sure that your Lordships will accept that their numbers will be insufficient to have an undue influence on the board.
The lay majority is, of course, a new departure as is the composition and working arrangements of the new board. We expect that the new arrangements will work well and will benefit both the profession and the public. Nevertheless, we accept that circumstances change over time. For this reason, the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to change by statutory instrument the provisions of Part I of Schedule 2 which includes the composition of the new board.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I am not at all sure. I do not believe that the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was helpful. My noble friend Lord Monkswell mentioned the Engineering Council. As we are discussing the construction industry, perhaps I may point out that many of the component institutions in that council have their own councils of one kind or another. There are about 50 and not a single one has even one lay member. I believe that that is a mistake. The Institution of Civil Engineers, of which I am a member, has a council of about 45, which is rather a lot, all of whom are chartered engineers. The institution would not let a lay person through the door. I believe that that is a great mistake. I do not doubt that there should be lay members on all such bodies because there is a public interest element.
I object to the fact that the profession will have a council on which the majority consists of lay members who are not members of that profession. While they will have an interest in that profession it might often be odd or even amateur. Come to that, it might even be royal. I believe that that is a mistake.
I know that that situation came about because it was the best deal that the RIBA could achieve in rather dismal circumstances. I know that the Minister is correct in saying that he has been accepted by the official architecture profession. However, it has been questioned by many individual architects who feel aggrieved that their profession should be taken out of their hands in so far as they take a great interest in it.
I know that I shall not get anywhere with my proposal because my noble colleagues on the Front Bench do not agree with me. Nor does the Government Front Bench. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but I hope that at some stage the Secretary of State will come to realise that I am not wrong but right.
We shall send the Bill to another place with 156 amendments. I am pleased to point out that 62 of those were tabled in response to points and concerns raised in this House. In particular, 28 amendments were tabled in response to points from the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Howie of Troon. And that does not include some highly important changes which will not see the light of day until the Bill reaches another place or, indeed, until the draft scheme is published after Royal Assent.
Those 62 amendments were the important ones. The other 94 largely correct minor drafting weaknesses. This has been a well drafted Bill and there has been an effective Opposition and a responsive Government. That has been a great credit to this House.
The provisions in Part I of the Bill will give local authorities a greater degree of discretion in the management of their private sector renewal programmes. All who have spoken on Part I have made the point that local authorities ought to have considered and constructive policies for the improvement of private sector housing.
Local authorities are asked to consider their housing strategies annually when writing their housing investment programme submission. It is through this mechanism that we can ensure that local authorities are meeting their duties and obligations in terms of assessing the fitness of the housing stock in their area and taking action where it is found to be necessary.
In order to help local authorities the department will issue revised guidance to accompany the new legislation. A working group, including local authority officers, has been established to advise on the content and structure of the guidance.
It is my belief that the Bill will improve the range of tools available to local authorities and help in securing the improvements to unfit private sector housing that we are all seeking. The move to discretionary renovation grants, the retention of mandatory disabled facilities grant, the introduction of home repair assistance, the addition of a further option on fitness enforcement and increased flexibility in the operation of group repair schemes should all help in reaching local renewal objectives.
We have also sought to include provisions where experience has shown the current legislation to be deficient. These include the power for local authorities to impose conditions on grant recipients; to recover grant on breach of conditions; to extend the range of grants available to meet the costs of works to protect against fire; and to recover grant where an applicant is found not to have been entitled to help.
This House has improved Part I in several respects. First, while it was acknowledged that there was no problem with regard to those considered eligible for disabled facilities grant, it became clear that the House wished to see a less dated reference to disability within the Bill. I believe that we have been able to achieve that without introducing any conflict with other statutes governing the provision of assistance, in whatever form, to disabled people.
However, on consideration we recognised that there were cases where a rigid prior qualifying rule might undermine a local authority's strategy for tackling empty properties or depressed areas. Amendments we brought forward either remove the prior qualifying period or give local authorities discretion to disapply the condition. We believe that that strikes the right balance in not restricting authorities' strategic objectives while making it clear to whom grant should be available.
We also announced our intention, once the Bill is out of the way and before the end of the year, to set in train a review of the housing fitness standard. This will ensure that important issues your Lordships raised about the requirements in the standard and its application are properly considered.
We have also spent many hours discussing Part II, which provides for fair contracts provisions in construction contracts. These originated from the review by Sir Michael Latham into procurement and contractual practices in the construction industry. His conclusion that the industry's productivity was being undermined by unnecessary disputes and poor contractual practices has been echoed frequently in this House. Following extensive consultations with the industry, the Government decided to focus on two key areas: dispute resolution and payment procedures.
Much of the debate in this House has concentrated on two main topics. The first of these has been how to define "construction". I am grateful to noble Lords for helping us to hone and clarify that definition. The debate has prompted the removal of certain exclusions, and we have undertaken to remove others.
We have also sought to clarify the way the process engineering industry is excluded from the terms of this legislation, an issue which we have discussed again today. Noble Lords have convinced us that there is still further work to do on this in another place.
The second major area of debate on Part II has concerned the right of a party to refer a dispute to the rapid dispute resolution procedure known as adjudication. The main issue here has been provided by our draft proposals for a fall-back adjudication scheme which would operate if contractual arrangements proved inadequate. These suggested that an adjudicator's decision under the scheme should normally be final, and several noble Lords felt this was more characteristic of arbitration.
We listened carefully to the views of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Berkeley and Lord Williams of Elvel. As a result, I announced at Report stage that, when we came to consult on the scheme for construction contracts following Royal Assent, we would advance a modified proposal. We intend to suggest that, under scheme arrangements, it should be possible to reopen disputes at practical completion of the contract, unless parties have
I now turn to Part III which would replace the Architects Registration Council of the United Kingdom--ARCUK--with a smaller and more efficient board which will be more responsive to the needs of the public at large. These reforms have the support of all the main branches of the profession. I am pleased that your Lordships also gave them your support in Second Reading and Committee.
The current registration arrangements have been in operation for over 60 years, so it is natural that there are some concerns about how the new arrangements will work. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, tabled a number of amendments which reflected these concerns. I believe I have been able to reassure him on two matters in particular. First, I agree with the minimalist approach implied by his proposed amendments. I reiterate that having abolished the Board of Architectural Education and Admissions Committee, we do not wish the new registration board to create new large and expensive committees in their place.
Secondly, I agree with the noble Lord that appointed members should be independent men and women who wish to perform a public service. Our proposals provide that they should represent a balance between the interests of those who use architectural services and those of the general public.
At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Williams, welcomed Part IV of the Bill, and in particular the provisions relating to relocation grants, more or less without reservation. We certainly hope that local housing authorities will make full use of these new powers once they become available next year.
The other main issue that emerged in debate on Part IV was concern for information, in the interests of public accountability, about the process for allocating grant under the single regeneration budget. As I have said, I believe that a great deal of information is available--we are certainly not trying to hide anything. But we shall keep the publication of information under review.
Noble Lords opposite tabled several amendments to the Bill's provisions for tidying up the arrangements for winding up the Commission for the New Towns, urban development corporations and housing action trusts, mainly with the aim of ensuring that local authorities are fully involved.
Our main concern in providing for the establishment of one or more residuary bodies is to ensure that we have arrangements that are flexible and cost-effective, with residual matters passing to those best able to deal with them. This certainly does not exclude local authorities. Indeed, we are actively encouraging the urban development corporations and the Commission for the New Towns to transfer matching packages of
On housing action trusts, I can repeat the assurance that I gave the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, at Report stage that nothing we are doing affects the statutory right of secure tenants of a trust to return to being tenants of the local authority, if that is what they want. However, local authorities will not be the appropriate recipients for everything; nor are they likely to want to be saddled with some of the longer-term liabilities.
I conclude by thanking all those who have helped ensure that the Bill has been thoroughly considered during each stage of its passage through your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has led for the Opposition with his usual courtesy, eloquence and attention to detail and he has been most ably supported by the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Howie of Troon.
We have benefitted greatly from the considerable expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. I trust that he takes pleasure in the contribution that his hyperbole has made to the Bill's asymptotic approach to perfection. The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Monkswell, have also brought their engineering experience to bear, and though the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is a self-confessed novice in constructional matters, she had the able assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. She has suggested a number of amendments to test the drafting of the whole Bill, and in particular she has demonstrated that it is seventh time lucky when it comes to controlling Henry VIII.
I also thank my noble friends Lord Ullswater and Lord Elton for a number of valuable interventions borne of their own considerable acquaintance with the industry. To them and to all other Peers from all sides of the House who have contributed to the debates, I express my thanks for well-argued and constructive speeches. I include in that of course my noble friend Lord Swinfen, who has contributed so much to our debates on this Bill. I hope that he feels that we have been able to go a significant way to meet his concerns.
I end by saying what a privilege it has been for me to work on the Bill. I note that that is solely because my noble friend Lord Ferrers has been undergoing a period of reconstruction and steelwork from which he is recovering well.
Finally, I pay tribute to the officials from the departments involved with the Bill, to the officers and staff of the House and to the parliamentary counsel for the unstinting support that they have given. It is a much improved Bill that now goes to another place, where it will, I trust, receive a little further polishing to follow the vigorous sanding down that it has endured here. I commend the Bill to the House.
I said also on Second Reading that I regarded the Bill as something of a curate's egg: there were good bits, bad bits, and rotten bits. Nothing that has happened in our proceedings since that day has convinced me that this Bill is anything other than long and rather complicated and still is a curate's egg.
In our view, Part I does not address the fundamental problem which I expressed on Second Reading; namely, the state of disrepair of private housing in Britain. As I explained to your Lordships, some 1.5 million houses in private ownership in England alone are officially unfit. In seeking to dismantle the mandatory scheme for renovation of unfit private housing, Part I does not seem to us to go any way at all towards remedying that situation. In fact, we believe that it will make the situation worse. Therefore, in spite of some of the amendments which the Government accepted, Part I still remains a pretty poor and shoddy part of the Bill. The Government will no doubt have to justify that in another place.
I still regard Part II as in a formative stage. When it was drafted and presented to your Lordships, it was unsatisfactory. It did not take up all the provisions of the Latham Report. As one noble Lord pointed out, a certain amount seemed to have become lost in translation between Latham and the parliamentary draftsman.
The intent of Part II is good: the devil is in the detail. I understand that the Government have difficulty with it. However, the rumour is--and I hope that when he replies the Minister will say that that rumour is false--that the Government have in mind to drop Part II of the Bill altogether. I very much hope that the Government will persevere with that part because it is very important for the construction industry which, as I said on Second Reading, represents some 8 per cent. of gross domestic product in the United Kingdom and employs about 2.5 million workers.
Nevertheless, your Lordships have found a good deal of fault with the drafting of Part II of the Bill. In particular, I focus on what became of our discussions on the scheme for construction contracts. Despite what the Minister just said, I do not believe that the Government have fully understood the feeling in the industry generally that adjudication is not arbitration and that arbitration is not adjudication. If the Government can get that message into their head and reproduce that message in a future scheme, I hope that we will get a Part II which is rather more sensible than it is at present. I accept all the problems that the Government have had in defining what is in the construction industry and what is in the process industry. Indeed, they are most difficult problems to define in statute. Nevertheless, the Government have set their hand to this and I very much hope that they will pursue it in the light of discussions that have taken place on a non-partisan and, I hope, a helpful basis from all sides of the House.
Our debates on Part V always arose rather late in the process of business. Perhaps we have not done full justice to the matter of the disposal of the assets of urban development corporations, housing action trusts and new towns. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will no doubt say--and he would be right--that we have not done justice to the widening of the home energy efficiency scheme which we debated earlier today. There is still much to be done on the Bill. Your Lordships are a revising Chamber, but we had to revise a Bill which started its passage in this House. It will now be for another place to revise a Bill that we have revised. I am sure that Members of the other place will set their minds to the task in the same way as your Lordships have done.
My thanks are due, first, to my noble friend Lord Dubs for assisting me most ably on the Bill. I should also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. In that respect, I am glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the noble Earl is recovering from the reconstruction and construction work that he has undergone. I very much hope that he will be back among us before long having been fully restored to health. My thanks also go to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who, if I may say so, was rather landed with a Bill in the middle of its process when the noble Earl had to leave. However, he has conducted himself with the greatest courtesy and efficiency. We all value the noble Lord's side quips which liven up our debates from time to time.
I should also like to extend my thanks to my noble friends Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Berkeley and Lord Monkswell. It is always extremely useful, putting it at its lowest, as well as profitable for those of us on the Opposition Front Bench, who do not necessarily understand the full detail of the Bill under discussion, to have experts sitting behind us who can point out where we are wrong, and indeed where we are right. I am most grateful to my noble friends for their assistance.
The Bill will now go to another place. As always, we look forward to seeing the results of those deliberations. In our turn, we will await the major part of the housing legislation which is being debated at present in the other place. We look forward--or not, as the case may be--to that event. I cannot say that I wish the Bill entirely well. There are parts of it which I like and parts of it which I do not like. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, knows that only too well after all our discussions.
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