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Lord Lucas: This clause gives the Secretary of State the power to make orders containing different provisions for different cases, including provision for different housing activities and areas. For example, this may allow an order to specify different levels of discount to apply to different parts of the country when a tenant exercises a right to acquire under Clause 16, or different provisions for England and Wales. I do not believe that the Secretary of State has any thought of using these powers in a more dangerous way than that. But I am conscious that the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, perhaps run deeper than I can give comfort to by those brief illustrations. I will give thought to what he has said, and if I can say anything more helpful I will write to him.
Lord Williams of Elvel: I always enjoy receiving letters from the noble Lord. He stated that the Secretary of State could order different discounts in different places in England and Wales and not be responsible to anybody for such an order. If I have misunderstood what the noble Lord has said he will tell me. It seems to me to be very odd. We are invited to pass a clause which allows the Secretary of State to make an order which determines what price someone shall pay, what discount shall or shall not be paid and what premium shall or shall not be paid without any supervision or accountability whatever. Before he sits down to write his letter, I would be grateful if in this Committee he would be kind enough to say whether or not my interpretation of the clause is correct.
Lord Lucas: To the best of my understanding the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is right in his interpretation of the clause, within of course the usual constraints that in fact the Secretary of State is responsible to Parliament.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I do not want to be tiresome to my noble friend, but I thought I heard him say that he did not believe that the Secretary of State had any more dangerous intention than to do those trifling things. Such knowledge as one has of Secretaries of State and such fears as one has of Secretaries of State in the future, do not leave one all that happy with my noble friend's rather hopeful mixture of hope and thought that the Secretary of State does not intend anything particularly dangerous or menacing.
Lord Hylton: On previous housing Bills it has sometimes been proposed in amendments that the level of discounts should be varied from that set out on the face of the Bill. That has pretty well always been
Lord Monkswell: This is the first time the Minister has said that the responsible Minister might vary the rate of discount depending upon the particular area or circumstances in the country. Perhaps we may probe the Government a little further on that and ask what sort of criteria he might use in reaching the judgment that a discount should be higher or lower in a particular area.
Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps I may add to the list of questions. One generally debates "son of" rather than "father of", and despite Henry VII being a fairly well organised king, the points that have been made demonstrate how much there is in the clause. When the Minister responds, either this evening or on paper, could he deal with the slightly different wording of the different subsections? Subsection (3) provides for the Secretary of State to be able to make:
Lord Lucas: Perhaps I am now in a position to enlighten the Committee slightly more than I was before. It would appear that the order-making powers referred to in this clause are all subject to parliamentary procedures, at least negative, and that therefore all orders made under this clause will come before Parliament. What this clause does is merely to give flexibility in the design of those orders.
There is nothing in the Bill which specifies the rate of discount which should be given. That is not something which is already set down or is proposed to be set down in statute, it is something which is determined by order. What we are taking here is the power to make that a different rate in different parts of the country, and in other ways to give flexibility to the powers of the Bill to deal with particular problems which may arise on a geographical basis or between different types of landlords. However, as I have said, any proposals coming forward under this clause would find themselves before Parliament, under the negative procedure at least.
Lord Williams of Elvel: I am moderately grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. I look forward with even greater anticipation to receiving his letter on this matter, which I am sure will enlighten me much more than I am enlightened at the moment.
Lord Williams of Elvel: Clause 52 refers not only to the Secretary of State's determinations but also to determinations made by the corporation. In the rather general manner to which we have become used, it says that this is a determination by either the Secretary of State or by the corporation (the Housing Corporation or Housing for Wales) which:
I do not have to read through the whole clause for the benefit of the Committee because I am sure the Committee has read it. However it does again seem to me slightly odd that the corporation can make such determinations either of a general or, apparently, specific nature without any accountability to anyone. A general determination as defined in subsection (3) means a determination which is not particular. Obviously if it made a particular determination, it would fall under subsection (2), as I understand it.
I wonder whether the Minister can enlighten me as to what sort of determinations the corporation, leaving aside the Secretary of State because we dealt with the Secretary of State under Clause 51, is liable to make--that is, the Housing Corporation or Housing for Wales--and whether there will be any parliamentary scrutiny of any of those determinations.
Lord Lucas: Not having a ready list of the determinations in front of me, and not being able to read with sufficient speed to pick them out of the preceding parts of the Bill, I cannot give the noble Lord the exact collection of powers that he requires, but determinations are restricted to matters which we do not feel need to be brought before Parliament. Hence the corporation's power to make such determinations. The sort of matters which would be covered are grant conditions and rates, particular requirements for information to be provided by social landlords. The reason for the powers under this clause is to allow those to be varied so that different grant conditions and rates may apply, for instance, to housing designed for families, hostels, or housing designed for the disabled, according to the particular needs and requirements of those particular types of development or, when one is coming to information requirements, different information requirements, say, for a small, old, fairly static almshouse, as compared with a large and active social landlord.
Lord Lucas: Yes, Clause 52(4) requires the corporation to consult before making such determinations. Clearly, if the corporation determines that such and such information is to be required from a social landlord, there have to be some powers to back up its determination. They are in the Bill to ensure that
There is a wide range of grant rates for different types of development. We feel that is inappropriate for the Secretary of State to become involved in, let alone Parliament. We are getting down to the detail of the operation of the corporation. I do not see any sinister import in the clause. It seems to me to be a sensible provision for the flexible application of the corporation's powers which are granted elsewhere in the Bill. If the particular powers cause the noble Lord, Lord Williams, any concern, perhaps they should be addressed in the parts of the Bill which give the corporation those powers, rather than with this clause which merely gives the corporation power to use those powers flexibly and sensibly. I hope therefore that the Committee will allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.