HL Deb 20 May 1993 vol 545 cc1926-64

7.39 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 206:

After Clause 111, insert the following new clause:

Right to information

(".After subsection (2) of section 104 of the 1985 Act (provision of information about tenancies) there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(3) A local authority which is the landlord under a secure tenancy shall supply the tenant, at least once in every relevant year, with a copy of such information relating to the provisions mentioned in subsection (1) (b) and (c) as was last published by it; and in this subsection 'relevant year' means any period of twelve months beginning with an anniversary of the date of such publication." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment will serve the very worthwhile purpose of ensuring that local authority secure tenants are regularly kept informed of their rights, particularly of their right to buy. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, can the Minister please tell us who expects to pay for this?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, if local authorities are obliged to provide the information, then it is up to them to pay for it. However, we should keep this in perspective. Local authorities contact their tenants regularly (and certainly annually), so it is not very difficult for them to include a notice under this clause.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 135 [Right to compensation for improvements]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 207:

Page 144, leave out lines 33 to 36 and insert:

("(4) Regulations under this section may provide that—

(a) any compensation payable shall be—

  1. (i) determined by the landlord in such manner and taking into account such matters as may be prescribed; or
  2. (ii) calculated in such manner and taking into account such matters as may be prescribed
and shall not exceed such amount, if any, as may be prescribed; and

(b) the landlord may set off against any compensation payable under this section any sums owed to it by the qualifying person or persons.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment makes changes to the scheme in Clause 135 under which secure tenants of specified landlords will have a right to receive compensation from their landlord, once their tenancy ends, for certain home improvements which they have made to their homes.

We consider that the amendment will significantly improve the operation of the scheme, and I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 208:

After Clause 135, insert the following new clause:

Right to information

(". After section 75 of the 1987 Act there shall be inserted the following section—

"Duty of local authority landlord to provide information about right to buy.

75A.—(1) A landlord which is one of those mentioned in section 61(2) (a) (i) or (ii) shall supply each of its secure tenants at least once every year with information about his right to purchase his house under this Part.

(2) The information supplied under subsection (1) shall be in such form as the landlord considers best suited to explain in simple terms and so far as it considers appropriate the right referred to in that subsection."").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has the same effect for Scotland as Amendment No. 206, which was moved so eloquently and at such length by my noble friend, has for England and Wales. I confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, that in Scotland similarly we expect the cost of this to be de minimis. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord care to tell us what costs he expects there to be?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, as I indicated, very small indeed because, as my noble friend has said, it is expected that such information will be included with other information that is sent out to tenants.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 113 [New rights with respect to such disposals]:

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 209:

Page 117, line 23, at end insert:

(" 'common parts', in relation to a building containing two or more flats, means any parts of the building which the tenants of the flats are entitled under the terms of their tenancies to use in common with each other;").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 209, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 210 and 211.

These amendments are technical and, in particular, clarify the way in which HATs may dispose of flats in blocks subject to secure tenancies where only a part of the block is owned by the HAT. They in no way affect the right of tenants to become tenants of the local authority. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Goschen moved Amendments Nos. 210 and 211:

Page 117, line 27, leave out ("each of the flats in which") and insert ("in the case of which each flat which is let on a secure tenancy").

Page 117, line 28, at end insert:

("(7) For the purposes of subsection (6) above, a building which contains—

  1. (a) one or more flats which are let, or available for letting, on secure tenancies by the housing action trust concerned, and
  2. (b) one or more flats which are not so let or so available, shall be treated as if it were two separate buildings, the one containing the flat or flats mentioned in paragraph (a) above and the other containing the flat or flats mentioned in paragraph (b) above and any common parts.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 114 [Provision of housing welfare services]:

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 212:

Page 117, line 44, at end insert:

("(4) The powers conferred by this section shall not be regarded as restricting those conferred by section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 (powers to incur expenditure for purposes not authorised by any other enactment) and accordingly the reference to any other enactment in subsection (1) (a) of that section shall not include a reference to this section.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 114 would give local housing authorities the power to provide welfare services for their own tenants. It has been welcomed for that. However, as it stands, it might inadvertently have the effect of preventing housing authorities from providing certain services for people in the private sector, perhaps most notably community alarm schemes. In the interests of those people who rely on such services we are pleased to remove any uncertainty over this. For these reasons, I commend the amendment to the House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 136 [Provision of housing welfare services]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 213:

Page 145, line 39, at end insert:

("(5) The powers conferred by this section shall not be regarded as restricting those conferred by section 83 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (power to incur expenditure for purposes not otherwise authorised) and accordingly the reference in subsection (1) of that section to any other enactment shall not include a reference to this section.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment to the Scottish provisions parallels the amendment which your Lordships have just made to the English provisions. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.45 p.m.

Clause 118 [Consultation with respect to management agreements]:

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

My Lords, we now come to Amendment No. 213—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, is it not Amendment No. 213A?

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, I beg your Lordships' pardon; I mean Amendment No. 213A.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 213A:

Page 119, line 29, at beginning insert:

("( ) Where a local authority propose to invite offers to enter into a management agreement, whether or not as a consequence of any order under Section 2(3) of the Local Government Act 1988 (`the 1988 Act'), the authority shall make such arrangements as they consider appropriate to enable the tenants of the houses to which the proposal relates

  1. (a) to be informed of the following details of the proposal, namely—
    1. (i) the terms of the agreement (including in particular the standards of service to be required under the agreement),
    2. (ii) the criteria on which the authority propose to rely in deciding from whom to invite officers, and
  2. (b) to make known to the authority within a specified period their views as to the proposal; and the authority shall, before making any invitation, consider any representations made to them in accordance with those arrangements.

(A1) Where, in consequence of an invitation by them, a local housing authority receive an offer or offers to enter into a management agreement, the authority shall make such arrangements as they consider appropriate to enable the tenants of the houses to which any offer relates—

  1. (a) to be informed of following matters, namely—
    1. (i) the identity of each person from whom an offer has been received, and
    2. (ii) such details of each offer as the authority consider appropriate, and
    3. (iii) the criteria on which the authority propose to rely in deciding among the offers, and
  2. (b) to make known to the authority within a specified period their views as to those matters; and the authority shall, before deciding among the offers, consider any representations made to them in accordance with those arrangements.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I appreciated that Amendment No. 213 had been moved and did not want to speak to the Scottish amendments.

A noble Lord

My Lords, why not?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, perhaps I shall tell the noble Lord privately afterwards. I recognise that the law of trespass in Scotland is rather different from the law of trespass in England.

In moving Amendment No. 213A, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 213B, which also stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. Although I should like to speak only briefly, I feel that I must do so because this is a very different amendment from Amendment No. 160B, which was moved by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel when he spelled out the reasons why tenants in both private and public sectors should be able to choose their managers. Nor do I want this evening—particularly at this late hour —to go into detail again as regards the hesitations and reservations of the local authorities and all the tenants' associations about compulsory competitive tendering. We spelled out some of those arguments at length in Committee and it may be that we shall return to them at a subsequent stage.

Turning to the amendments, what is missing from the Bill as currently drafted is any duty on the local authority to consult tenants during the process of inviting and choosing among managing agents, whether the process of compulsory competitive tendering is voluntary, as in the cases of Brent, Westminster, Wandsworth and Rutland, or is done as an extension of CCT to housing.

Both the Minister in another place and the Minister in this House at Committee stage made much of the point that tenants are involved in the consultation at every stage of the process. This amendment seeks to indicate that there are still considerable areas of concern, which vitally affect tenants, on which at the moment they will not be consulted. If the Minister means what he and his noble friends profess to mean —and I am sure that he does—then I am sure that the noble Lord will want to accept this amendment.

We are proposing, therefore, that we should extend the very welcome words of the Minister about consultation with tenants to the tendering process in rather greater detail so that we turn what would otherwise be empty words into something more realistic and more likely to be delivered. We are suggesting in the amendment that tenants should be involved in the tendering process at two main stages. The first is at the point at which local authorities are inviting contractors to tender. Authorities have fairly wide discretion as to which contractors they may invite to go on to the shortlist, so to speak, subject only to the provision that there must be at least three private contractors over and beyond the DSO. Surely, it would be right for tenants to be consulted on the proposed terms of the management agreement and on the criteria which determine which contractors shall make up the shortlist. Clearly, the criteria or the terms of reference of the management agreement crucially affect tenants' well-being, and the individual contractors themselves may or may not come with a track record above which the tenants may have concern. They may be foreign companies or companies with no connection with the area. As we know, they may be companies with a record of poor performance elsewhere. Surely the tenants have a right to be involved in drawing up that shortlist.

I turn now to the second point at which we think that tenants might reasonably be involved. Once the tenders are received, the tenants should have the right to be informed of the identity of the contractors—I think that we have already agreed that—and of the criteria to be employed by the selecting committee in determining who is selected. I hope that we have come some way from saying that the criteria should merely focus on who is the cheapest, whatever the quality of service offered. It is important for the tenants (who are going to pay the bill for all of this) that they should know precisely how quality offsets cheapness—in other words, that they can assess inputs versus outputs and not, as happens too often with CCT, be required merely to go for the cheapest on the grounds that anything else is anti-competitive behaviour.

Turning now to the associated amendment, Amendment No. 213B, Clause 118 as drafted means that the local authority need only "consider any representations" made by tenants in choosing the winning contract. The amendment would require local authorities fully to take tenants' views into account. It provides, in other words, that where the majority of tenants are opposed to the chosen contractor, the local authority should not proceed with that management agreement. I would expect such occasions to be fairly rare. The provisions are needed because, although a local authority may believe that the contractor is acceptable—given that it is offsetting quality against cost—at the end of the day the tenants will pay for it, and those to whom the management agreement belongs should be allowed the right to have the final say.

The Minister may say that the amendments are unnecessary as the management agreement is limited and strategic policy and so forth are in the hands of the local authorities, which are directly accessible to tenants. So tenants' existing rights are adequate and there is no need to maintain their right of veto which the Government have sought consistently to abolish but which your Lordships' House retained in the face of the Government's attempts to do so in 1985-86 and which it would be good if it could retain today.

If the Minister were to advance that argument tonight he would be confusing a service agreement with a management agreement. With a management agreement, I agree that there is little problem about tenant control of what is going on because tenants can require a local authority to alter the terms of a service agreement. We are talking about a management agreement rather than a service agreement. A management agreement allows the agent discretion when carrying out the services. Those services, as we explored in Committee, may be highly sensitive. They may include, for example, the collection of rent arrears. The way in which rent arrears are collected and pursued, especially when there is a suggestion of payment by results, can be sensitive. That is especially so when dealing with single parent families, unemployed families and the like, where welfare and debt counselling may be needed—something which hardheaded capitalist contractors will not necessarily want to provide.

After all, as the Minister accepted in Committee, housing management affects intimately the daily lives of not just the person at work but of all members of the household. Those same tenants—not the Minister, not me and not the local authority—are paying for those services. If the Minister meant what he said when he talked about consulting tenants, then tenants who pay should say. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving the amendments. Here we have two contrasting amendments. The first amendment would be largely positive in its effects but the second one, I am afraid to say, would be largely negative.

The first amendment increases the number of issues on which tenants must be consulted when an authority is proposing to enter into a management agreement. I am sympathetic to the intentions here. The authority must consult on the criteria upon which it will be relying in deciding from whom to invite tenders, and when it has received the tenders it must consult tenants on the identities of the tenderers, appropriate details of their bids and the criteria upon which the authority proposes to rely when deciding among the offers.

However, the amendment has some drawbacks. I believe that, if an authority is to consult on the criteria which it will use in deciding between tenderers, it should do so in advance, before the tenders are received. That would ensure that the criteria are objective and based upon the best interests of the housing service and are not merely a reaction to the tenders. The amendment also repeats, but does not replace, the requirements which are already in the Bill, which I believe could only cause confusion. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand therefore why we cannot accept the amendment. However, as I have said, we are sympathetic to these proposals in general and it was in order that tenant consultation could be extended to a wide range of questions such as this that we have included the regulation-making power in new Section 27A(1) (a) (iii). I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 213B brings up once again what is perhaps the most misunderstood element of the new Section 27A. That concerns the removal by the Bill of the requirement upon the Secretary of State to withhold his approval of a housing management delegation if it appears to him that a majority of tenants of the area to which the agreement relates do not wish it to proceed. I understand fully the concerns that many have expressed about this proposal, but many of those concerns were expressed before the Bill was published and the Government's proposals for enhanced tenant consultation requirements were made available.

We need to keep in mind the new environment in which housing management agreements are now being sought. We are now operating in an environment where full tenant consultation should be the norm; in an environment where tenants are increasingly involved and in many cases seeking to manage their homes. Local authorities are constantly looking for new ways to deliver services and looking to the private sector to help them with that. Those developments are all good for housing management and, above all, good for tenants, many of whom are now enjoying the benefits of improved and more cost-effective services.

The Government have always believed that full and effective consultation with tenants should be an integral part of the preparation for management agreements, but those consultation arrangements must be designed to fit the times in which they will be working. Thus the argument in favour of a tenants' veto was introduced at a time when delegations were voluntary and some form of balancing check was required to secure the best interests of tenants and the taxpayer.

Under the new regime, tenants will have rights to consultation on the terms of management agreements, including those resulting from CCT. Local authorities will have to consult tenants, in particular, on the standards of service proposed; that is, the specification for the delegation. The authority has to consider the tenants' representations before it can make any decisions on the terms; that is, before it can invite tenders. That is a much more valuable time to be consulted than provided for in the current legislation. The tenants will also be consulted on the monitoring of the contractor's ongoing performance. That is why we believe that it is right and safe to replace the tenants' veto. On that basis, I urge the noble Baroness not to move the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I note the Minister's reply which seemed to suggest that he had sympathy with the first amendment but does not think that it is necessary and objects to the second amendment altogether as being out of temper with the times. As I understand the Minister's reply to the first amendment, he is saying that local authorities consult tenants before they draw up a short list but may not consult them afterwards; that they may consult tenants before they choose the contractor but not afterwards. Why should not we have both? Following the Minister's line of argument, why should we not extend tenants' rights so that at the preliminary stage, when drawing up the specification for the terms of the agreement, they should be consulted and when drawing up the short list against which that is measured they should also be consulted?

The Minister has accepted that tenants are consulted before the local authority goes through to the contractor, but when there is a deemed contractor, that should also be put to council tenants. Will the Minister, with the leave of the House, explain why he is not willing to give those additional rights of consultation to tenants as he has already suggested that he is so much in favour of consulting them?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, earlier I was chastised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for asking him questions at Report stage. I should not want to go against his advice.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, if that reply came from anyone other than the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I would have thought that it was a duck-out or an opt-out because the notes had not come quickly enough from the Box. I am sure that that is not the case.

I move on to the second amendment, noting that the Minister is unable to answer the point, which is that tenants may have some rights of consultation but not others; and the Minister does not understand why they should have some and not others, but refuses, or fails, to respond. We note that for a later stage perhaps. In reply to the second amendment the Minister says that it is no longer necessary or appropriate and the time is not right—I am sorry that the notes have come from the Box so late—for tenants to have the right of veto over the final choice of contractor.

In Part I of the Bill, at point after point, and against the Minister's own Back-Benchers, noble Lords on this side of the House have supported the Government in extending to leaseholders the right to chose who should manage their property, to extend and to enfranchise. That is a full extension of rights. If one is affluent enough to be able to buy, one obtains an extension of rights. If one is not affluent enough to buy but remains as a renting tenant, one does not merely not obtain an extension of rights but one's existing rights—the right of veto to a change of manager —are taken away.

Do noble Lords opposite feel comfortable in extending the rights of those who are financially privileged while taking away virtually identical rights from those not financially privileged, who remain as council tenants, but who nonetheless have to pick up the management bill? That is what the Minister is saying. The whole of the Government's philosophy as set out in the Citizen's Charter has been to position individuals as rights-bearing citizens. That is what the amendment would do. If the Minister rejects it, he is saying that leaseholders have rights, landlords have rights, freeholders have rights, Churches have rights, housing associations have rights, everyone but tenants has rights. And why not? Because they rent; they are not affluent; they are not seeking to buy.

I cannot help feeling that that is part of the Government's continuing vendetta against council tenants. They are not adding to their rights. They are taking away one of the most important rights they currently possess, which is the right to determine who manages their estates. That comes very odd from a government who extend rights in the first part of the Bill but take away exactly those rights in the second part. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 213E not moved.]

8 p.m.

Clause 120 [Management agreements with tenant management organisations]:

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 214: Page 122, line 34, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these technical amendments to Clause 120 make specific provision for local authority participation in tenant management organisations and disapply Section 33 of the Local Government Act 1988 where the right-to-manage procedures of Clause 120 have been followed.

The provisions of Clause 120 underline the Government's firm commitment to encourage and facilitate tenant management in parallel with the extension of compulsory competitive tendering to housing management. Current tenant management practice evidences a healthy diversity. Many tenant management organisations opt to manage their estates entirely on their own with management boards or committees made up entirely of tenants. However, a minority of existing TMOs have invited council representatives to serve on their boards of management and other developing TMOs wish to do so.

Amendments Nos. 214 and 215 simply make specific provision for the continuance of the practice within the new right-to-manage framework, which Clause 120 will put into place. I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Goschen moved Amendments Nos. 215 to 218:

Page 122, line 37, at end insert ("and

(d) for enabling the authority, if invited to do so by the organisation concerned, to nominate one or more persons to be directors or other officers of any tenant management organisation with whom the authority have entered into, or propose to enter into, a management agreement.").

Page 123, line 13, leave out ("and").

Page 123, line 16, at end insert ("and

(iii) in the case of an organisation which is associated with the authority, the provisions of section 33 of the Local Government Act 1988 (restrictions on contracts with local authority companies).").

Page 123, line 20, at end insert:

("'associated' shall be construed in accordance with section 33 of the Local Government Act 1988;").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 124 [Levy on disposals]:

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 219: Page 129, line 19, leave out ("the levy") and insert ("any levy under this section").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 220. These are technical amendments. The first is purely a drafting amendment. The second allows the Secretary of State to recover more easily levy from any authority which does not follow the procedures set out in the disposals levy administration determinations. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 220:

Page 129, line 37, at end insert:

("( ) Any amounts by way of levy or interest which are not paid to the Secretary of State as required by the arrangements mentioned in subsection (5) shall be recoverable in a court of competent jurisdiction.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry) moved Amendment No. 221:

After Clause 142, insert the following new clause:

Defective dwellings: damages for landlord's failure to notify

(". After subsection (3) of section 299 of the 1987 Act (jurisdiction of sheriff) there shall be added the following subsections—

"(4) Where damages are awarded in proceedings commenced before 1st December 1994 which arise out of a failure on the part of the public sector authority to give a person acquiring a relevant interest in a dwelling notice in writing under section 291, the amount of damages for the purposes of this subsection shall be equal to the difference between—

  1. (a) the market value of the dwelling assessed as if it were not a defective dwelling and were available for sale on the open market with vacant possession; and
  2. (b) the market value of the dwelling assessed as a defective dwelling and as if available for sale on the open market with vacant possession.

(5) Subsection (4) applies in relation to proceedings which arise out of a failure by the authority before the coming into force of section (Defective dwellings: damages for landlord's failure to notify) of the Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 as it does to proceedings which arise out of a failure by the authority after that date." ").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the amendment introduces a clause which makes a small but significant change to legislation relating to defective houses in Scotland, in particular in relation to the level of damages awarded in actions against a local authority which fails to warn purchasers of a defect in a house. It arises out of a point well made on Report in another place by the honourable Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, Mr. Archie Kirkwood.

I shall be happy to expand on the matter but since the Scottish colleagues of the noble Lord opposite are absent I shall not do so unless the House wishes a full explanation. As the House wishes to hear a full explanation I am content to give that.

The housing defects legislation provides assistance to house owners who bought certain types of prefabricated reinforced concrete houses from local authorities before it was generally known that they had inherent structural defects. The legislation imposes a statutory duty on the local authorities to assist such purchases but that assistance is restricted to those who bought before 26th April 1984 or, in certain circumstances, in the 12 months thereafter.

From April 1984 local authorities should have been aware of the defects. In that situation they were under a duty under Section 291 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 to tell purchasers of any such defect in a house which they were buying. If the local authority failed to do so and the purchaser bought a defective house, the purchaser can sue the local authority for damages for the resulting loss.

Under the legislation as it stands there is however a problem. Noble Lords will recall that under the right-to-buy legislation tenants purchase their houses at a discount. Taking entirely notional figures a tenant may pay, for example, £10,000 for a house which will sell on the open market for £15,000. It follows therefore that if the purchaser buys a defect-free house for a price of £10,000 he will have a house worth £15,000. However, if the tenant purchaser buys his house for £10,000 but it turns out to be defective it might be worth only £2,000 on the market.

As the law stands, if the purchaser sues the local authority for failing to warn him of the defects he will receive as damages only the difference between the price that he paid —that is £10,000—and the value of the defective house —that is £2,000—which will be a measure of damages of £8,000. The point is that he will receive no compensation for the fact that if the house had not been defective it would have been worth £15,000.

The amendment corrects the position. The purchaser will be entitled to the difference between what would have been the market value of the house without the defects and its actual market value in the defective condition. As regards the example that I gave, with the amendment in place the purchaser will be entitled to the difference between the market value without a defect—that is £15,000—and the market value of the defective house—in the example that I gave it was £2,000—so he will be entitled to £13,000 as opposed to £8,000 to which he is entitled under the existing state of the law.

The purchaser is thus put into the position in which he would have been had he bought a sound house. That is right in principle and the amendment helps to remove what is perceived as a potential injustice. Your Lordships will notice that the provision applies even where a local authority's failure to warn occurred before the Bill comes into force as an Act. To that extent it is retrospective. But, having considered the matter, I believe that in all the circumstances it is a proper amendment to our law.

Your Lordships will also notice that the provision applies only to proceedings begun before 1st December 1994. That limitation was inserted to conform with the general pattern under the existing legislation in which the duty of local authorities to assist purchasers will cease on that date also. It seems correct that this special provision for purchasers—for that is what it is—should stop at the same time. Those affected should be in a position to bring any necessary proceedings by that date. In England and Wales the matter is dealt with satisfactorily in another way.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation of the amendment. The fact that none of my colleagues from Scotland is here does not mean that the Opposition Front Bench is vacant in any way any more than it means that if there is no Scottish Minister on the Government Front Bench the Government are vacant. Therefore, I should be grateful if we could deal on that basis.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I apologise for having been absent at the beginning of the explanation of the amendment. Has there been any consultation with CoSLA about the matter and if so what is its reaction? Experience in England is that dealing with such defects is highly complex, highly emotional and potentially extremely expensive. This is an extraordinarily difficult issue. I speak from experience of an authority in which we inherited housing stock which had been sold but which had considerable defects. Satisfying those who have bought property who feel that they are in a different position from tenants is a real problem, as is the question of paying for it.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention. There was no consultation but I should explain that the particular problem relates to a relatively small number of houses because, as your Lordships will appreciate, the point arises only where a local authority fails to inform the tenants of defects of which that local authority should have, at that time, been aware. In other words, it is at a stage when the defects were already well known. Therefore, the usual practice would have been for the local authorities to make known those defects to purchasers in accordance with their statutory duty. We are dealing with a small number of cases only, although they are cases in which there is a potential difficulty for the purchaser.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 143 [Other amendments of 1987 Act]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 222:

Page 149, line 16, leave out from ("to") to end of line 31 and insert ("any previous discount, or the aggregate of any previous discounts, received by the appropriate person on any previous purchase of a house by any of these persons from a landlord who is a person specified in subsection (11) of section 61 or prescribed in an order made under that subsection, reduced by any amount of such previous discount recovered by such a landlord.";

(c) in subsection (4)—

  1. (i) for paragraph (a) there shall be substituted—"(a) the "appropriate person" is whoever of—
    1. (i) the tenant; or
    2. (ii) the tenant's spouse if living with him at the date of service of the application to purchase; or
    3. (iii) a deceased spouse if living with the tenant at the time of death; or
    4. (iv) any joint tenant who is a joint purchaser of the house,
  2. (ii) at the end there shall be inserted—

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to correct a potentially unfair anomaly between the existing right-to-buy provisions in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 and the new provisions on deduction of previous discount in the Bill. It brings into line the list of persons whose public sector tenancies count for discount purposes and the list of persons whose previous discount is to be deducted. It uses one list, instead of two, for both purposes. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 144 [The Agency]:

8.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 222ZA: Page 149, line 43, leave out ("for the purpose of exercising") and insert ("which shall include persons with experience of local authorities and which shall exercise").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 224. At this point we move on to discuss the Urban Regeneration Agency. Scottish noble Lords opposite will no doubt wish to go home.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, that is a disgraceful slur upon my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate, who has been extremely helpful throughout the course of the Bill in explaining some complicated legal issues to the House.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I apologise. I meant no slur on the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, who has been assiduous in explaining all kinds of amendments to the House, as has the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. I see that both noble and learned Lords are going home, so I shall address myself to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde and the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, who remain on the Government Front Bench.

It is rather sad that we are dealing with the URA right at the end of a rather long and complicated Report stage. I believe that on Second Reading I foreshadowed that by saying that this Bill is three Bills in one. I should have preferred the URA to be the object of separate legislation because it is an extremely important issue. It is a pity that we are dealing with it at a late hour on the third day of our considerations on Report.

In moving the amendment I wish to emphasise that it is our view that something more than ministerial assurances are necessary if we are to be satisfied that the URA should, could and must work together with local authorities. We have received assurances that there is nothing to that effect on the face of the Bill. I turn now to Amendment No. 222ZA. We have absolutely no assurances that the members of the agency will have any experience of local authority activity. Indeed, as I said on Second Reading, it looks to us as though there will be a chairman who is widely respected for all kinds of reasons—namely, the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Worcester—and five other people who will be chosen by the noble Lord, Lord Walker, and the Secretary of State and who will probably be Tory businessmen.

That does not satisfy us. We must make sure in some way or other that local authorities are properly represented on the agency. That is the thrust of the two amendments to which I am speaking.

The first amendment is quite simple. It says that the agency: shall include persons with experience of local authorities". That is a very gentle amendment. Amendment No. 224 is slightly fiercer and demands that: not less than two shall at the time of their appointment to be an elected member of a local authority in England". For those of us who value local democracy, it is sad that the Government seem from time to time to be proud to say that they are prepared to override local democracy and create agencies—quangos as we used to call them and, indeed, we call them that again—which will take development planning powers—which my noble friend Lady Hollis will speak to in a few moments—but whose members have no experience of local authority planning, local needs and what are the procedures and essential characteristics of the environment with which they will have to deal.

I hope that even at this late stage the Government will have some second or perhaps third thoughts on the issue because we believe that it is not enough to have ministerial assurances that the URA will work with local authorities. We have those assurances but as the Minister knows full well, ministerial assurances in this House or in another place are not worth anything when it comes to the courts. When it comes to the courts, what matters is what is on the face of the Bill. Therefore, it seems to us important that these provisions should be written on the face of the Bill because we distrust—and I say this with due consideration of my words—the attitude of the present Government towards local authorities. If the URA is to work at all, we believe that it should work in the concept of City Challenge, in the sense of being with local authorities rather than being able to override them. A condition of that would be that members of the agency should be at least in part representative of the local authority interest. In that spirit, I beg to move the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I cannot let the moment pass without putting on record, as I am sure your Lordships will expect me to, my wholehearted support for both the amendments. We heard a great deal about partnership during the last stage of the Bill. That partnership can only be a partnership when those involved recognise one another as equals. The amendment is necessary because of the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, which I share—and it is a concern based on the evidence of the past few years—that central government, unhappily, does not regard local government either as its equal or, in any genuine sense of the word, as its partner.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the amendment and also to the noble Baroness for lending her support. I should like to start by saying a little about the relationship that the agency will develop with local authorities. It is a matter of some puzzlement to me that I have to spell that out. At every stage of the Bill Ministers have made clear that the agency will work in close partnership with local authorities. But at times noble Lords opposite seem to have chosen not to hear. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that it was not worth anything and that he distrusted the Government's intention.

Our original consultation paper last July said that the agency would: Work closely with local authorities, the voluntary sector and other bodies involved in urban renewal". My honourable friend the Minister of State for Inner Cities said in another place: The URA will work in conjunction with local authorities and, in most cases, will work in agreement with them because that will make the URA's job easier". Further, the Bill itself at Clause 146 gives the agency the power to, act with other persons, whether in partnership or otherwise". On Second Reading I made more references to co-operation and a spirit of partnership than the rest of the House put together. In Committee I made clear that the agency will work closely with local authorities. I do so again today. I assure the House that the Secretary of State's guidance to the agency will say that it should develop particularly close links with local authorities, always operating within the planning framework and involving local people as much as possible.

If that is not enough for the noble Lord, then I am sorry. I read his first amendment, Amendment No. 222ZA, with some interest. I wonder whether those persons with experience of local authorities would include my noble friend Lord Walker, who sometime ago was Secretary of State for the Department of Environment and, therefore, has a great deal of experience with local authorities.

It is important not to be too prescriptive. We do not believe in quotas. The agency will need to draw on a wide range of skills, including surveyors, architects, developers, financiers, industrialists, environmentalists and those with experience of the voluntary sector. Rigid rules about the composition of the board could make it impossible to bring together the right mix of skills by making it large and unwieldy.

We will not succumb to tokenism of any kind. We intend to pick board members for what they can offer, not for whom they represent. The amendments place more emphasis on the background of a board member than on the contribution that he or she can make. That is not the way to achieve an active, imaginative board. I hope that noble Lords opposite will come with the Government on that and agree with us.

I hope that what I have said about the relationship between the agency and local authorities will persuade the noble Lord that the amendments are unnecessary and that they should, therefore, be withdrawn. It is a matter of some sadness to me that noble Lords opposite should wish to put so much faith in local authorities all the time.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am most disappointed with the Minister's response. It was not very long ago that, in response to my noble friend Lady Hollis, he said: This agency is a partnership. It is about working with local authorities, the private sector, voluntary organisations"— I should point out to the House that I am actually quoting the Minister's words; indeed, he went on to say— and anyone else who cares to have an interest in the land in question".—[Official Report, 19/4/93; col. 1277.] Can the Minister really be surprised that we are distrustful? Whatever his boss says and whatever he or the noble Lord, Lord Walker, (who introduced the 1974 Act which we are all now trying to undo) says, we feel that there should be proper representation of local authorities on the agency. They must work in partnership. It should not simply be people who are picked by the Secretary of State; in other words, just jobs for the boys. That is what will happen unless the Government accept the amendment. If, as I understand from the Minister, the Government do not propose to accept it, I shall have to take the opinion of the House.

8.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 222ZA) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 12; Not-Contents, 47.

Division No. 2
Airedale, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B. [Teller.]
Attlee, E. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Blease, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Russell, E.
[Teller.] Seear, B.
Gregson, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Hamwee, B.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Howe, E.
Long, V.
Arran, E. Lucas, L.
Astor, V. Lyell, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Belstead, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Blatch, B. Monk Bretton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Morris, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Moyne, L.
Cadman, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Caithness, E. Norric, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Carnock, L. Reay, L.
Coleraine, L. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Cranborne, V. St. Davids, V.
Cumberlege, B. Shrewsbury, E.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Soulsby of Swaffhani Prior, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Stewartby, L.
Glenarthur, L. Strathclyde, L.
Goschen, V. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Hayhoe, L. [Teller.]
Henley, L. Swinton, E.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Trumpington, B.
HoImPatrick, L. Vivian, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.32 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 222A: Page 149, line 44, after ("functions") insert ("(not being functions of a planning authority)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, continuing to fight the good fight on behalf of local authorities, we turn to the amendments dealing with planning powers, and in particular the power on the part of the Secretary of State to make a designation order entitling the Urban Regeneration Agency to exercise planning powers.

I said a moment ago that there had been a great deal of discussion at all stages of this Bill about partnership between those who are concerned with the different functions of regeneration. At the previous stage of the Bill we talked a good deal about what regeneration involves. It involves not just land but the use of all resources, in particular human resources. The powers we are discussing are precisely directed at land.

The Minister has explained that normally the agency would have no planning powers. In a discussion on this subject—I think it was in response to an amendment of mine—the Minister said: There may be cases, however, where the more direct involvement of the agency—on the lines of an urban development corporation—is appropriate … In extreme circumstances co-operation— by that I think he was referring to co-operation on the part of the local authority— may not be forthcoming… but we have a duty to guard against the possibility".

By "we" the Minister meant the Government. The Minister objected to the amendment he was discussing as he believed it would mean that a local authority could veto designation, no matter how badly it was needed. He continued: A short-sighted local authority should not be able to deprive local communities of the agency's help".—[Official Report, 19/4/93; col. 1346.]

One can in some cases draw an analogy between urban development corporations and the Urban Regeneration Agency. Too many urban development corporations do not carry the confidence of residents in their areas. On the previous occasion when we debated this matter, noble Lords mentioned the London Docklands Development Corporation. I must accept that there were references to successful urban development corporations but, by and large, in those cases a large number of their members were also members of the corresponding local authorities.

I accept that the designation orders are a long stop to achieve what the Government want over the head of local authorities more or less by definition. The Urban Regeneration Agency is not democratically accountable. As I have said before, the agency has a huge democratic deficit in terms of exercising planning powers. I do not believe the provisions in the Bill are necessary. The Secretary of State has the power to call in applications if there is concern in Whitehall, Marsham Street or in this building that a local authority may not have dealt appropriately with a particular planning application.

If the Urban Regeneration Agency's designation powers are to be used as a fast track to achieving planning decisions against the wishes of the local planning authority—the latter authority is part of a local authority and is accountable to and in close touch with its electors—on the basis that the end, which is regeneration, justifies the means of achieving it, I believe such means must call into doubt the end. I do not believe that regeneration that is achieved through the use of such powers, over the head of the local community, is valid.

I realise I am painting an extreme picture but, in the circumstances I have described, it is hollow to refer to partnership. Local communities must be at the heart of regeneration; otherwise it will not be true regeneration. I should put it on the record that I am speaking also to Amendments Nos. 233B to 233E. All these amendments deal with planning powers. I believe the broad point I have made covers them all. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I wish to support Amendment No. 222A and to speak also to Amendments Nos. 233B to 233E, which have been so persuasively spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

In Committee this amendment was explored and it was then emphasised that over the years there had been a succession of urban initiatives which had achieved varying degrees of success. Some of those initiatives have been mentioned by the noble Baroness tonight. They range from urban programmes to UDCs, task forces, enterprise zones, estate action schemes and City Challenge. Several themes recur through the initiatives. Those themes have been bedded down in some of the latest UDCs and initiatives. The first of them is that regeneration works only if it is initiated in response to, and is responsive to, local need. That means partnership—with the local authority, local groups and other statutory agencies.

If the regeneration agency, whether it be a UDC or a task force, resists that partnership, if it is top down, if it parachutes in and then deserts, its activities and initiatives will almost certainly collapse with its withdrawal and the exercise will remain in the long term a costly and irrelevant failure. Those initiatives succeed only when they are firmly rooted. Otherwise they are dependent on the artifice of the agency that is created. If they are not so rooted they will not survive. They will only be rooted if they have the active support and partnership of the local community. That is the key lesson which we should, on all sides of the House, have learnt in respect of urban initiatives over the past 20 years. Otherwise, one is wasting one's time and wasting one's money.

I turn to the new initiative of the urban regeneration agency. Opposition Members have consistently pressed two amendments, at Committee stage and now again on Report. The first was that moved recently by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. The amendment proposed that the membership of the urban regeneration agency should include a substantial local authority voice. That would not constitute a majority, but there should be a substantial local presence. The second was the amendment just moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, providing that the URA should not be able to exclude itself from local planning by virtue of a designation order. Those amendments are linked by precisely that question of partnership.

At Committee stage the Minister made much of partnership. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel quoted the Minister's phrase that the essence of the URA is partnership. The Minister then proceeds to reject all the amendments that would ensure it. It remains words on a page rather than action embodied in an agency.

Indeed, in response to the previous amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel, the Minister said (I paraphrase because I cannot remember his exact words and I hope that I do him no injustice) how sad it was that we on this side of the House should always be speaking up for local government and pressing its claims and that we should feel it necessary to speak on its behalf. He used words to that effect against us while talking about the need for partnership with local authorities. How does he combine those two? How can he, on the one hand, talk of partnership and then, when we remind him that partnership involves co-operation between two partners, feel that it is sad that we should need to remind him of that. The evidence is all around us in the fact that the Minister rejects our amendments.

One can achieve partnership in one of two ways. One can achieve it by co-ordinating a membership of experience on an urban regeneration agency. The Minister made much of the fact that he wants active and energetic people on the URA and not people who are selected on the basis of what they have done in the past. The point about local authority membership is precisely the experience on which those members can draw and the local connectedness to which they can refer which might make the objectives of the URA deliverable. If one does it that way, as with the new UDC in Plymouth, one ensures that the possible conflict of objectives is worked out within the URA because of the nature of membership.

Alternatively, if one rejects that approach, as the Minister has just done, then one has to do it the other way. If one does not achieve co-operation through membership one has to achieve co-operation through planning. That is the objective of our second set of amendments under which decisions made by the URA must remain harmonious with local needs as assessed by democratically elected local people.

If the Government have rejected the first option relating to the membership of the URA, it is even more important that they do not reject the second option of not allowing the URA to opt out of the planning system at planning control level. We believe that designation—the right to become one's own local planning authority—is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, neither desirable nor necessary. It is not necessary. The Scottish and Welsh development agencies, which are highly regarded and do not possess such powers, have shown that they are not essential.

If the URA should be at odds with the local authority in ways which cannot be resolved by discussion, then it has, as the noble Baroness said, the right to petition the Secretary of State to call in the plans and, above all, the right of appeal, as all major developers have. No doubt it also has access to a fast track. After all, it will be appealing to the person who appointed it—the Secretary of State. There would normally be a presumption in its favour by the Secretary of State in handling any such appeal, particularly if based on proper grounds.

That brings me to our second concern, namely that proper grounds are of the essence. The planning system ensures that decisions are made on proper public grounds. They are based on plans which have gone out for local consultation, have been formerly approved by the Secretary of State, are consistent with county structure plans and regional planning guidance and which, if there is a new major development, have been aired at a public inquiry. In other words, that is a form of planning which not only comes up from local people but is determined and scrutinised in public in a transparent manner.

The URA, as set up by the Government, will be top down. It will parachute into local communities and will inevitably be regarded by local people with some degree of suspicion, and rightly so. How much more important, therefore, that that suspicion should be allayed by the URA being seen to be operating in partnership with the local community by falling fully within the framework of local planning decisions which have been democratically arrived at and publicly approved.

At Committee stage we pressed the Minister to say when designation might occur. The Minister cheerfully said that he thought that local authorities were obstructive, unhelpful and unco-operative. We need occasionally to remind the Minister that it is part of the job of planning authorities to be obstructive and to obstruct those proposals which need to be obstructed in the public interest. Any developer refused permission by the local authority to build a large housing estate in the green belt could rightly accuse the local authority of being obstructive. But does anyone suggest that it should not be?

The Minister will no doubt say, and rightly, that the URA will conform with the local development plan. But the URA proposals we teased out at Committee stage can nonetheless have major implications for roads and traffic, housing, open space, densities, trees, and the like. URAs giving themselves planning permission, which is what this will mean, would essentially drive coaches and horses through local development plans.

If there is dispute—and dispute within the planning context may be healthy rather than destructive—then it should be resolved by open debate; in other words, by appeal, and not by one party—the URA—having the privilege of designation and therefore the right to opt out of planning control by becoming its own local planning authority. That is wrong and makes a mockery of the Government's own measure of 18 months ago, the Planning and Compensation Act. To that extent I fully support the amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, noble Lords opposite have assumed that the provisions in Clauses 156 and 157 will only be used against the wishes of local authorities. However, as I explained in Committee, and as the noble Baroness reminded us, they may well be used to cement a partnership between the agency and one or more local authorities. That might be because they want the agency to take over responsibility for a particularly difficult site which would benefit from its special skills.

In other cases, a local authority with a severely derelict site close to its boundary may be unable to reach agreement with a neighbouring authority on access and servicing. The agency can help in such cases by seeking designation of the area in order to help the authority to develop the site properly. The noble Baroness offered no answer to those situations, which were raised in Committee, as she rightly pointed out.

The examples of the Birmingham and Plymouth UDCs, which I quoted in Committee, are relevant. The power to set up a UDC is very similar to the power to designate an area where the URA would have development control powers. Why should local authorities in future not have the opportunity to seek help from the URA through designation in the same way as Birmingham and Plymouth have sought a UDC?

The amendments cast aside a carefully structured system, leaving nothing in its place to allow the agency to take over responsibility for development control on severely derelict sites in urgent need of its help. They amend the basic constitution of the agency to prevent it taking on any of the functions of a planning authority. They delete altogether the designation provisions in Clauses 156 and 157.

Amendments Nos. 233D and 233E recognise the value of the highway powers that can be made available within designated areas and try to preserve them within areas specially designated by the Secretary of State. But those powers would lose much of their purpose if removed from the context of designation.

Designation is not only an important guarantee that the agency will be able to act on sites which would otherwise have remained derelict. It is also a mechanism for promoting co-operation and for building on the new spirit of partnership which I mentioned at length in Committee and which we have discussed again today.

It is no good noble Lords opposite getting into a lather about local authorities. We both seek to support local authorities. The difference is that noble Lords opposite insist that local authorities must play a part, whereas we accept that in virtually all circumstances they will play a part where that is appropriate. The amendments remove the carefully structured mechanism altogether. Therefore, I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am unpersuaded by the Minister. He states that the powers will allow the Urban Regeneration Agency to take over responsibility for a difficult site, or to deal with the problem where the site is on a local authority boundary. But are not those just the problems which our current planning system is designed to deal with? The Minister states that we should learn from Birmingham and Plymouth UDCs. As I understand it, those UDCs have large numbers of local authority members, with local authority members as vice-chairmen.

There is an enormous amount of ground between us. The Minister states that there is not. It is difficult to know what more to say because there is so much ground between us. Perhaps I should accept that for today the argument is put on the back burner. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 222B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 223:

Page 149, line 44, at end insert:

("( ) The Agency shall exercise its functions in accordance with Schedule (Public information and co-operation with local authorities, etc.) below.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel may be tired of the arguments on local authorities, but I rise to address the same theme again. It is the democratic deficit in the Bill.

I cannot understand how the Minister can constantly say that he is in favour of consultation and yet is unwilling to provide for it on the face of the Bill. He also makes great play of the fact that he has promised that there will be consultation and that we should believe his word and trust him. But he must know that he will not necessarily be in post in one, two, or five years, and however much we may be willing to believe him, and know that he is an honest fellow, his words will only appear in Hansard. People will not, in a year's time, refer to Hansard to see what he said, even if he is still in post. Therefore, the fact that we may believe him does not mean that anyone will abide by his suggestion that consultations will occur with local authorities.

The Minister appears to be in favour of consultation with tenants and local authorities. I cannot understand why that should not appear on the face of the Bill. The provision need not be in the form that we suggest, but surely there is no harm in providing that the Urban Regeneration Agency shall consult local authorities.

I turn specifically to Amendments Nos. 223 and 225. Amendment No. 223 paves the way for the schedule that we suggest should provide for various consultations. There are three main thrusts to the schedule. Paragraphs 1 to 3 ensure that the Urban Regeneration Agency consults local authorities and other public bodies in order to take into account the needs of local communities. It is local people who know the needs of their local community and not some urban regeneration agency which will, of necessity, be remote and have other knowledge, experience and objectives.

Paragraphs 4 and 5 ensure that the Secretary of State consults local authorities and other concerned persons. That surely would lead to better coordination, coherence and a strategic approach to regeneration of an area. Without that, one will have dislocation and people pulling against each other, being at odds and pursuing different objectives.

Paragraphs 6 and 7 ensure that the agency informs the local community both of its past actions over the past year and its future intended activities. That again is surely basic to acceptability within a community or an organisation. Let us consider the business managers about whom the Government are so keen. I have considerable experience of management and of seeking to have plans accepted. Unless people know what one plans to do, one does not have plans accepted; people will not carry them out; one does not carry people with one and they are not energised. I cannot understand why the Minister opposes the simple concepts which will make the Urban Regeneration Agency work so much more efficiently and effectively.

We have referred to other places such as the London Docklands. That is surely an example where imposed solutions did not work. The local community was extremely bitter and resentful of what was done to them. Past exhortations that the agency should consult the local authority are not sufficient. The provision needs to be on the face of the Bill. I shall be grateful if the Minister will explain why consultation is not deemed sufficiently important in relation to the Urban Regeneration Agency for the provision to be on the face of the Bill. It need not be in the form that we suggest, but surely it should be laid down somewhere in the Bill that the Urban Regeneration Agency should at the very least consult local authorities, even if the provision is in those broad terms.

Amendment No. 226 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 223 and 225. It is a further attempt to introduce some sense of democracy, accountability and openness into the Urban Regeneration Agency. When the Secretary of State extends, restricts, or varies the powers of the Urban Regeneration Agency it requires the Secretary of State at least to cause a statutory instrument to be laid before both Houses of Parliament so that it can be subject to amendment if he has exercised his powers either arbitrarily or excessively. That procedure does not take up time. Normally most such instruments pass without objection. But it is a safeguard to the democratic process, so that people may object if the Urban Regeneration Agency is allowed to take to itself further draconian powers. The amendment is a small attempt to restrain the power of the Executive and to subject it to parliamentary scrutiny. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining her amendment so eloquently. I understand the intention, but I have to tell the noble Baroness that I cannot support her new schedule. It does not strike the right balance between the need to inform and the need for action. It would prevent the agency from taking any action, however trivial, without first engaging in formal consultation.

I grant that consultation, formal or informal, is appropriate in some cases, but this provision goes too far.

The new schedule also requires the Secretary of State to consult on and publish any guidance issued to the agency. Let me say first of all that we must keep the status of the guidance in perspective. The agency's statutory objectives are clearly set out in the Bill. It is being set up as a statutory body accountable to the Secretary of State and through him to Parliament to achieve those objectives. The power for the Secretary of State to give guidance to which the agency must have regard is necessary to ensure that he can be properly accountable to Parliament for its policy. But the guidance must be consistent with the objects that Parliament has agreed.

I explained in Committee that this guidance will not be a single document. It will be subject to revision and will need to be supplemented from time to time, often because urgent decisions are required. Some will be subject to commercial confidentiality. It would not be appropriate to launch a formal consultation exercise on all working documents of this kind.

Amendment No. 226 would require any directions issued by the Secretary of State to be made by regulation. I hope that this power will never be used but it is an important reserve power which ensures that the agency is fully accountable to the Secretary of State at all times. He is in turn accountable to Parliament for the actions of the agency and for the manner in which it spends the public resources devoted to it. It is part of the existing system of accountability and does not need to be picked out for separate parliamentary scrutiny, as this amendment attempts.

A power to give directions on a case-by-case basis is fundamentally incompatible with a requirement that directions be contained in a statutory instrument subject to parliamentary procedure. That, I suggest, is why I have been unable to find any precedents for what is proposed in the amendment.

I hope that what I have said will persuade the noble Baroness that we have the matter well in hand and that she can withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I am of course disappointed by the Minister's response. I had hoped to see a smidgen of movement on the Government's side, but we are banging against a brick wall tonight. Although his claim for accountability of Ministers is far too broad and we know that it is often difficult to lay accountability at people's doors, we have already explored that theme at some length this evening and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 16 [Constitution of the Agency]: [Amendment No. 224 not moved.]

Schedule 17 [Finances of the Agency]:

9 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury moved Amendment No. 224A:

Page 235, line 15, at end insert:

("Financial limits

6A.—(l) The aggregate amount at any time of borrowed sums shall not exceed £200 million or such greater sum not exceeding £300 million as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument specify.

(2) In sub-paragraph (1) "borrowed sums" means sums borrowed by the Agency under paragraph 4 minus repayments made or treated as made in respect of those sums.

(3) No order shall be made under sub-paragraph (1) unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by resolution of the House of Commons.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment concerns the URA's borrowing limits. Schedule 17 includes a power for the agency to borrow, although the consent of the Secretary of State and the Treasury is required in every case. I appreciate that, like any private sector developer, the agency may sometimes need to borrow to meet urgent needs or to cover short-term gaps in its cash flow. I understand that Schedule 17 gives the Secretary of State control over such borrowing. However, I find it strange that the Bill does not place a ceiling on the agency's ability to borrow in this way. There are many precedents for such a borrowing limit in other legislation. The case for a limit is that Parliament should approve the total amount of liabilities that the agency enters into at the taxpayers' expense. It needs to approve grant in aid through the normal estimates procedure, but at present the Bill does not require Parliament to approve or even to be aware of any borrowing limit.

My amendment, which introduces a limit of £200 million extensible to £300 million by order of another place, is based upon the urban development corporation model. It is unexceptional and well precedented and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing this matter to the attention of the House. He is right to point out that there is no overall control on the totality of URA borrowing. The concept of such an overall limit is precedented in other similar legislation relating to urban development corporations.

I do not wish to give the House any less control over the agency than over these similar bodies. I congratulate my noble friend for spotting this omission and I am therefore pleased to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

Clause 153 [Guidance and directions by Secretary of State]:

Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 225A:

Page 156, line 44, at end insert:

("(1A) The guidance given by the Secretary of State to the Agency under subsection (1) above shall be issued in draft for public consultation and shall include the following matters—

  1. (a) the Agency's primary environmental duty and its contribution to the achievement of environmentally sustainable development;
  2. (b) the need for the Agency to undertake an assessment of the environmental impact of its activities and to consult the public when setting its priorities;
  3. (c) the need for the Agency to have regard to and complement the objectives of local authority development plans and the land use planning policies issued by the Secretary of State, including when considering the end-use of a reclamation site;
  4. (d) targets for the reclamation of derelict land and guidance on the preparation of inventories of such land in conjunction with local authorities;
  5. (e) the role of the Agency in assisting local authorities meet the requirement under sections 12, 31 and 36 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as amended by the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 to include policies on the improvement of the physical environment in development plans;
  6. (f) the need for environmental criteria to be applied to any activities funded by the Agency;
and any other matter which the Secretary of State thinks fit.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, although Amendment No. 225A is a probing amendment, I wanted to give the House an opportunity to discuss the guidance which will be issued by the Secretary of State to the URA, because it became clear during the Committee stages of the Bill that the Government's guidance will be crucial to the agency's success. At the moment, we know very little about its content or even its timetable. I hope that my noble friend will be able to enlighten us a little this evening about the Government's intentions.

My amendment raises a number of important issues. First, it suggests that the Government's guidance should be issued in draft for public consultation. My noble friend indicated to me by letter only yesterday that the Government intend to issue some of the guidance in draft, but that they do not intend to undertake widespread consultation. However, I hope that in the course of time my noble friend will reconsider that decision. I believe that the guidance should be treated in the same way as the Government's planning guidance to local authorities and that the views of interested parties should be actively sought. For example, last year, the Government issued draft planning guidance for public consultation and amended the final guidance to include the objective of environmentally sustainable development for the planning system.

Speaking of that, my amendment stresses an approach to regeneration which seeks to achieve environmentally sustainable development. That would be consistent with the Government's stated objectives following the Earth Summit at Rio last year.

That approach may not necessarily be the quickest or the most economically attractive. It will require a long-term approach, assisted by strategic environmental assessment and, indeed, the greening of some derelict areas instead of their development with offices or houses. It will also require a close working relationship with local authorities over their development plans.

I am a little concerned that the agency will adopt too crude a measure of success. It should not just concern itself with the rate of derelict land reclamation, because that would ignore the importance of securing the most appropriate end use for sites. For example, the development of offices would have a very different impact from the development of a wildlife park. It would also ignore the important contribution of reclamation in achieving wider land use and planning objectives, such as the reduction of house building on greenfield sites.

Finally, I am keen for the agency to work towards targets set by the Secretary of State. Those would provide a useful focus for its work. Noble Lords may remember that during the Committee stage of the Bill, I drew attention to the fact that we are creating derelict land almost as quickly as we are reclaiming it. As a suggestion, therefore, we could set two targets for the end of the decade. One would be to reduce the overall area of derelict land and the other would be to reclaim derelict land at twice the rate at which it is formed.

Those are all important matters and they relate to the practical way in which the agency will operate. I look forward to hearing the views of other noble Lords and also my noble friend's response. I beg to move.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I support the probing amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and I hope that the Government will issue guidance in the near future. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the timetable will be for it.

It is essential that the Urban Regeneration Agency works within a long-term strategic framework of environmental concerns, otherwise it could be driven by short-term and developmental, financial or commercial needs. It may ignore the wider aspects of the environment which will inevitably be with a locality for far longer. If the objectives which it pursues are too short-term, it may build up further dereliction for the not-too-distant future.

It is therefore essential that all development takes place within a strategy, a long-term concern in which environmental sustainability is one of the primary aspects of what the agency sets out to do.

We had a long discussion last time about the guidance that the Secretary of State might give the agency. In view of this evening's discussion, perhaps it may be possible that the guidance could include something about consultation with local authorities. Even if it is not on the face of the Bill, it might, if it were at least in the guidance, provide an enduring reference point for those concerned with the activities of the Urban Regeneration Agency. I do not think, despite the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, that I have anything further to say to his detailed introduction of the amendment.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Norrie is quite right when he says that we are returning to matters that are very important. I hope that my noble friend agrees that the undertakings I have given here today already satisfy the main purposes of the amendment. I do not, however, agree with its attempt to rewrite some of the contents of the guidance and statute.

Several of the points mentioned in the amendment will be key features of the core guidance. It will, for instance, stress the importance of carrying out environmental assessments of major projects. The guidance will also require the agency to develop particularly close links with local authorities, always operating within the planning framework and involving local people as much as possible.

I can tell noble Lords that we propose to make a draft of the central core of our guidance available in a single document. It will cover the whole range of the agency's work without being prescriptive. It will leave the agency free to establish its own priorities within its statutory objectives and the strategic goal set by the Secretary of State. Performance against targets will be measured by a clear set of performance indicators. Beyond that there will be three key themes running through the core guidance.

First, it will repeat the assurances given in this House and in another place that the agency will be required to operate whenever possible through partnerships and to develop particularly close links with the local authorities. I hope that that is the "smidgen" that the noble Baroness opposite was looking for. Secondly, the guidance will specify that the agency must always operate within the planning framework and should involve local people as much as possible in its activities. Finally, it should always be aware of the environmental implications of its activities and should carry out environmental assessments of major projects. The core guidance would be published in draft before the agency is established. At that stage comments will be welcomed. On that basis, I hope that that gives my noble friend most of what he seeks and that therefore he will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could be expand a little on the timetable for the core guidance? He said that it would be published before the agency was set up (as I understand it) and that he would welcome comments on it, or welcome a debate on it. Is he implying that it will come before this House in some form or other for debate?

Lord Strathclyde

No, my Lords. I would certainly not want to give the impression that the Government expected to have another debate in this House on the guidance or the framework of the agency. Of course, if the noble Lord wants to use his own party's time to have a debate, then he will be able to do that. I wanted to make sure that there would be a public debate (in terms of the consultation) and people would be able to write in with their thoughts and ideas on the consultation process.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, again before the noble Lord sits down, could I remind him that my party has no time? The House of Lords has time. He has gone into great detail about the core guidance. Could he perhaps, while waiting for information, tell the House whether the information that he has given us will be published in some form—perhaps as an outline memorandum—in time for Third Reading?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, since we shall debate Third Reading on Tuesday—and I speak with the leave of the House—I think it would be virtually impossible for me to provide that necessary guidance before then. The point. is that we intend to establish the new agency before the end of the year, and of course we shall publish the guidance well before then.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response. It is good to hear that there will be an opportunity to comment on some of the core guidance, which I hope will be widely circulated. I am also sure that there will be a number of other issues which will be flagged up, perhaps by local authorities and environmental groups. At that stage I hope that my noble friend will consider them very carefully. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 226 not moved.]

Schedule 19 [The Agency: land]:

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 227: Page 241, line 31, leave out ("notwithstanding") and insert ("and").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, Amendments Nos. 227 and 228, which amend Schedule 19 —which is in some ways one of the most disturbing aspects of this part of the Bill—would attempt to make the Urban Regeneration Agency subject to other relevant legislation in addition to the laws relating to planning when acquiring common land, open spaces or fuel or field garden allotments. It would also allow actions against the Urban Regeneration Agency if it was in breach of other legislation relating to such common land and so on.

It is important to build those additional safeguards into the Bill because many of those areas are subject to ancient laws, rights and regulations which are not covered by current planning regulations. Therefore it is important to restrain to some extent the powers of the Urban Regeneration Agency.

Common land is a public amenity that has been progressively eroded in this country since the land enclosure Acts from the 17th century onwards. Curiously enough, the Urban Regeneration Agency would appear to be a kind of mirror image of the private landlords who enclosed the land and deprived the people of their common rights. It is a mirror image in the sense that it is a public body rather than a private landlord. Nowadays we deplore many of the actions of those landlords and what they did when enclosing common land. It is sad to think that the Urban Regeneration Agency might fall into a similar degree of public displeasure through its actions. These amendments attempt to some extent to restrain what it can do in relation to very precious open parts of city landscapes.

Urban commons and open spaces are of great value to people who live in cities for recreation, exercise, aesthetic pleasure, urban farms and as green lungs which reduce air pollution. It is therefore extremely important that some restraints are placed on the Urban Regeneration Agency to prevent it from developing them. It can often be very tempting and much easier to develop such unbuilt-on and derelict sites. Easy commercial advantage and short term gains can be made rather than the Urban Regeneration Agency tackling areas of serious dereliction and decay in our city centres. This amendment is therefore intended as some slight brake on the possible activities of the Urban Regeneration Agency. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I entirely agree with much of what the noble Baroness said. But, as I explained in Committee, the provisions of this Bill enabling the agency to acquire and work on commons, open spaces and fuel and field garden allotments, which in the interests of brevity I shall refer to as "special category land", are well precedented. Similar provisions apply also to local authorities, statutory undertakers, new towns, UDCs and HATs. I would expect the URA to undertake major work on special category land very rarely. But such land cannot be excluded completely. First of all, it may be derelict or contaminated and work may need to be done on it. Secondly, the agency may need on occasion to acquire such land in order, for example, to provide access to other sites. The crossing of a roadside verge which has been registered as common land is an example.

If the agency acquires special category land by compulsory purchase it would have to provide equally advantageous land in exchange, unless the areas involved were very small. The CPO would transfer all of the trusts, rights and incidents of the original land to the piece offered in exchange.

The provisions of Clause 148 and Schedule 19 are closely linked, and I think it would be clearest if I discuss them together. Clause 148(1) enables the agency to acquire land, including special category land, by compulsory purchase if need be. If it were to purchase such land compulsorily then Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 would apply. Subject to limited exceptions relating to road widening or drainage, or to very small areas, and unless the CPO were to go through special parliamentary procedure, the agency would have to provide land in exchange. Exchange land should be not less in area and is equally advantageous to both the public and to those with rights over the land to be acquired. So Clause 148(3) ensures that the agency has the power to acquire land for exchange. The compulsory purchase order would transfer the original rights and incidents to the exchange land, leaving the land acquired for the purposes of the agency free from those restrictions.

Having said that, I hope that I have made clear the need for the provisions in paragraph 7 in Schedule 19. There is nothing new or exceptional about them. I can understand very clearly the concerns of the noble Baroness. I ask her to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I am grateful for the sympathetic response from the Minister. He says at least that he understands some of my concerns. Obviously he feels that there are sufficient safeguards built into the Bill. I feel that there are insufficient safeguards in it. We shall not agree about that. In the circumstances I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 228 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 228A:

Page 242, line 7, at end insert:

("(1A) An order made under this paragraph shall contain a plan on a scale of not less than 1:10,000 showing the right of way to be extinguished and any right of way to be created.

(1B) The Secretary of State shall not make an order made under this paragraph extinguishing a right of way unless he is satisfied that a reasonably convenient alternative public right of way is available, or will be provided before the right of way is extinguished; and the Secretary of State shall have power to include in the order such provision as he considers necessary for the creation by the Agency of such an alternative public right of way.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 228A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 229A-229E and 233A, with which are grouped Amendments Nos. 229 and 230–233.

Despite its name, the Urban Regeneration Agency may own and work on land anywhere; it is not confined to urban areas. I have had my attention drawn to a number of points and have been asked to put forward the amendments by the Ramblers' Association. I know that the Minister shares my interest in walking—we walked about 2.5 yards together down the Thames path in January when we launched the London Walking Forum. I hope therefore that the amendments may find sympathy with him.

The Ramblers' Association is concerned to see that people living in urban areas have easy access to enjoyable walks and, of course, urban paths often have a functional purpose in allowing for short cuts avoiding traffic noise and traffic fumes.

The powers contained in paragraphs 9 and 10 of Schedule 19 are essentially the same as the powers applying in new towns, areas of UDCs and housing action trusts. I am told by the Ramblers' Association that its experience of the provision arises principally from the use of the powers in new towns, which it has found to be unsatisfactory and unfair to users of rights of way for two reasons. First, the provisions do not lay down any tests requiring the Secretary of State to be satisfied that the extinguishment is necessary to enable the applicant body to carry out its functions; all that is required is that the land over which the right of way runs is being held by that body. That gives members of the public little scope for arguing the merits of the case for retaining the right of way and no opportunity at all of challenging the Secretary of State's decision in the courts.

Secondly, the power is a power to extinguish only. There is no scope within the provisions for the Secretary of State to order that new rights of way be created as replacements for those which are extinguished. I understand that attempts by the Ramblers' Association to seek replacement paths have not been successful. The Secretary of State has not been willing to place an applicant body under an obligation to dedicate new rights of way at all or by any given date even when there has been a promise of replacement. It may often be the case that the land concerned is sold off to a third party and the promised replacement access cannot be provided.

Amendment No. 228A seeks, first, to require an order to be in a form prescribed by regulations and to contain a plan showing the affected rights of way. In the Bill the form of the order is left to the Secretary of State's discretion and there is no requirement for a plan to be included. The second change sought by the amendment is to impose on the Secretary of State a requirement to be satisfied that there will still be a reasonably convenient right of way available to the public after the order has been made. The amendment seeks to give him power to require the agency to provide an alternative.

Amendment No. 229A is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 229B, which requires that the draft order and plan be open to public inspection and be available for purchase. That is in line with other legislation. It also requires the agency to provide for public inspection a statement of its reasons for wanting to extinguish the right of way.

Amendment No. 229C seeks to oblige the Secretary of State to send to all local authorities concerned not just the notice but also a copy of the draft order and the agency's statement of reasons. Amendment No. 229D is a paver for Amendment No. 229E, which requires, first, that the notice, the order and statement of reasons must be served on persons prescribed by regulation. That is found in other legislation. It was first introduced in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to avoid local authorities having to advertise orders in the London Gazette.

Finally, Amendment No. 233A seeks to fill what seems to be a gap in the schedule, in that there is no requirement to tell anyone of the Secretary of State's decision on the draft order. The amendment requires similar publicity to be given to the decision to that given in the first instance to the proposal to make the order.

I hope that what is a fairly long series of amendments which perhaps look a little complicated on paper will be seen as clear and straightforward in their intention. I hope, too, that the Minister will be consulting the bodies in membership of the Rights of Way Review Committee, which is chaired by his honourable friend the Member for Tiverton, on the guidance that he proposes to give to the Urban Regeneration Agency on rights of way matters. There is clearly a great deal of detail on which the experience of bodies dealing with these issues would be very valuable. I beg to move.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I rise to speak to the other amendments within this group. I also support those proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but I am addressing specifically Amendments Nos. 229 and 230 to 233. These are further attempts to amend Schedule 19 so as to reduce some of the arbitrary powers either of the Urban Regeneration Agency or the Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 229 and 233 seek to establish that there is a public inquiry before a right of way is extinguished. I should like to make a further statement about why rights of way are so important. It is not just a matter of access, exercise, and exploration but partly because of the very nature of large new developments with an urban area. They can far too easily become an island of modern development cut off from the surrounding houses and other more long-standing parts of the townscape. This alienation certainly occurred in the Isle of Dogs. I apologise for returning again to the London docklands development but it is one of the major examples that we have.

One of the things that the local community felt most bitter about were the walls that went up around these grand new buildings and the fact that access which they had long enjoyed to river frontages—I do not think that they had established rights of way but there was certainly public access to walks along the river—was suddenly cut in half by these large new developments. This embitterment and alienation can so easily occur where people have been used to travelling through a part of their local neighbourhood and suddenly find that they can no longer do so because a strange development has suddenly been put down in the middle of their familiar surroundings.

This is perhaps another part of the plea we have been making about the importance of carrying the local community—the need for partnership, motivation, acceptance, consultation and working with the grain rather than against it. That is another important reason for not extinguishing the rights of way in too arbitrary a fashion. What may appear as a trivial closure to a developer may in fact be a serious disruption to the life of the community and to local people. It is for that reason that we are suggesting that there should be a public inquiry—some of the amendments suggest that—before a right of way is extinguished. The other amendments seek to restrain the Secretary of State's powers. With the Act as currently drafted he has the arbitrary power to ignore objections, which seems a strange thing to write into an Act, but that is currently there. The amendments seek to remove that arbitrary part of his decision making from him. The amendments are in support of established rights of way.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, introduced her amendments and described the day that we spent together walking by the Thames, opening the London Walking Forum. That is perhaps a measure of the Government's commitment to rights of way and to extending them throughout the country and particularly in London. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, will be delighted to know that in the development of West India Docks in London's Docklands the LDDC took down the old dock walls and opened up to local people an area which had been closed to them for generations.

Amendments Nos. 229 to 233 would require a public inquiry to be held before the Secretary of State can make an order extinguishing a right of way. An inquiry would have to be held no matter how small or unused the right of way and no matter how thorough the alternative provision made by the agency. It would have to be held even if there were no objectors.

We expect extinguishment without a suitable alternative to be exceptional. If, however, the Secretary of State is quite content that he is in full possession of all of the facts and that any alternative is fully adequate, and perhaps even an improvement, then he should be able to extinguish the old right of way without an inquiry. It would not be necessary to hold an inquiry in every case.

The remainder of the amendments in this group would extend the Secretary of State's order-making power to allow him to order a right of way to be diverted as well as extinguished. They would also allow him to order extinguishment only if a suitable alternative were available or were to be created. These provisions, which are similar to those applying to local planning and highway authorities, were designed for bodies responsible for large networks of public paths. They are not appropriate for a development body such as the agency which is working on isolated sites and has no long-term ownership or management role.

The present provisions ensure that rights of way will not be extinguished unless the interests of the users have been properly taken into account and the agency has good reason for seeking an order. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, it is only right for the Ramblers Association, which I freely admit has constructed these amendments, to have the opportunity to consider them and I shall not pre-empt what it has to say. However, lest the House has the impression that the Minister and I spend our time on party walks, it is only right to say that, after a swift photocall, we returned to this building for a glass of wine.

The London Walking Forum was an initiative of the Countryside Commission, the Sports Council and other bodies, including in particular the London Planning Advisory Committee, which I chair and which represents the London local authorities. The initiative came from the grass roots, if I may put it that way. We were delighted to have the Minister's endorsement, but the source of the initiative should be recognised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 229 to 233A not moved.]

Clause 156 [Power to make designation orders]:

[Amendment No. 233B not moved.]

Clause 157 [Agency as local planning authority]:

[Amendment No. 233C not moved.]

Clause 158 [Adoption of private streets]:

[Amendment No. 233D not moved.]

Clause 159 [Traffic regulation orders for private streets]:

[Amendment No. 233E not moved.]

Schedule 20 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

The Earl of Shrewsbury moved Amendment No. 233F:

Page 252, line 52, at end insert:

("Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (c. 13)

2A.—(1) In Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (departments etc. subject to investigation), after the entry "Urban development corporations." there shall be inserted the following entry—

"Urban Regeneration Agency."

(2) After Note 10 of that Schedule there shall be inserted the following Note—

"11. In the case of the Urban Regeneration Agency no investigation under this Act shall be conducted in respect of any action in connection with functions in relation to town and country planning." ").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments No. 233G and 236D.

Many of the provisions in the Bill are, not surprisingly, similar to those setting up other sponsored bodies. I have particularly in mind the urban development corporations, new town corporations and housing action trusts. However, I have observed that there is an important safeguard which applies to all those bodies which does not apply to the Urban Regeneration Agency. All are subject to the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—the Ombudsman—or the Local Commissioner for Administration—the Local Government Ombudsman. Indeed, UDCs are subject to both.

I recognise that the agency will be responsible to Parliament through the Secretary of State who will report on, and answer for, its activities, but this does not seem to be sufficient reason for omitting it from the scrutiny of the ombudsman, particularly in view of the precedents. I have followed the urban development corporation model in tabling these amendments. They would enable the ombudsman to investigate complaints of maladministration against the agency unless the complaint concerned planning matters in a designated area. In that case, the local government ombudsman would be able to investigate. I hope that no such cases will arise, but I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will agree that the amendments are both beneficial and well precedented. I hope that he will be able to accept them. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl for these amendments. However, I have difficulty with the drafting of Amendment No. 233F. Subsection (2) states: In the case of the Urban Regeneration Agency … in respect of any action in connection with functions in relation to I wonder whether the noble Earl would be kind enough to withdraw his amendment and reconsider its drafting.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury has done a service to the House in tabling these amendments and in explaining them so well. It is indeed the case that new town corporations, UDCs and HATs are subject to the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration or, where more appropriate, the Commissioner for Local Administration. On that basis, although the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has spotted a potential error, I am happy with the drafting and happy to accept the amendment. If, however, on reflection we find that there is a drafting error, we can always amend the provisions on Third Reading.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Shrewsbury moved Amendment No. 233G:

Page 254, line 11, at end insert:

("Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7)

4B.—(1) In subsection (1) of section 25 of the Local Government Act 1974 (authorities subject to investigation), after paragraph (be) there shall be inserted the following paragraph—

"(bf) the Urban Regeneration Agency;".

(2) In subsection (7) of section 26 of that Act (matters subject to investigation) after paragraph (b) there shall be inserted the following paragraph—

"(ba) where the complaint relates to the Urban Regeneration Agency, any designated area within the meaning of Part III of the Housing and Urban Development Act 1993;".

(3) In Schedule 5 to that Act (matters not subject to investigation) after paragraph 7 there shall be inserted the following paragraph—

"8. Action taken by the Urban Regeneration Agency which is not action in connection with functions in relation to town and country planning." ").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Goschen moved Amendments Nos. 234 to 236:

Page 254, line 24, at end insert:

("National Heritage Act 1983 (c. 47)

. After subsection (2A) of section 33 of the National Heritage Act 1983 (general functions of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) there shall be inserted the following subsection—

"(2B) In relation to England, the Commission may make, or join in the making of, applications under section (Applications by certain public bodies)(1) of the Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, and may exercise, or participate in the exercise of, any rights or powers conferred by a scheme approved on any such application.".").

Page 258, line 1, at end insert:

(" .—(1) In subsection (1) of section 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (general duty as respects conservation areas in exercise of planning functions), after the words "powers under" there shall be inserted the words "or by virtue of".

(2) In subsection (2) of that section there shall be added at the end "and section (Applications by certain public bodies) of the Housing and Urban Development Act 1993".").

Page 258, line 2, leave out ("the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990") and insert ("that Act").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, these amendments have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 21 [Repeals]:

Lord Monk Bretton moved Amendment No. 236A:

Page 258, line 47, column 3, at end insert ("Section 124(3)."). The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Monk Bretton moved Amendment No. 236B: Page 260, line 45, column 3, at end insert ("Section 164.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, again, this amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 174 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 236C: Page 168, line 13 after ("the") insert ("Leasehold Reform,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 236C would add the words "Leashold Reform" at the beginning of the Short Title of the Bill. In moving that amendment, I am speaking also to Amendment No. 236CA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which, by way of alternative, would add "Leasehold" after the word "Housing" in the Short Title.

I moved this amendment in Committee and, after it had received wide support from all sides of the Chamber, my noble friend Lord Goschen said that he would like to take it away and think again about it. I had the impression when he rose to speak that he was disposed to advise rejection. He said that the general principle on Short Titles is that they should be just that, as short as possible.

If the addition of one word would make the Short Title short enough, I should be pleased to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, but I prefer my amendment. My noble friend went on to say that the purpose of the Short Title is to provide a short form of reference to the Bill in other Acts and elsewhere, rather than to describe the contents of the Bill. To add "leasehold reform" to the beginning of the Short Title could not be properly described as adding to the description of the contents of the Bill. It largely describes the Bill itself.

It may still be the will of most noble Lords present that the label on the bottle should describe what is in it, although there may be many of my noble friends who would prefer not just that the Bill had a Short Title and a Long Title but a government health warning. I hope that I shall now hear from my noble friend that his considerations have led him to advise acceptance of the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, my amendment is grouped with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. Like him, I prefer his amendment to mine. I tabled my amendment so as to respond to the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, to which the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, has referred. Legislation is often difficult to follow. If we can guide readers to the right statute, that may be doing them a service. In these days of computers if the Bill's title contains a word which obviously refers to the contents of the Bill, then when the user inputs the relevant term one might hope that, gremlins permitting, the output will be correct. I am happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, when we discussed the Short Title of the Bill in Committee, I explained, as my noble friend Lord Coleraine reiterated, that the purpose of a Short Title is to be just that: as short as possible, so that it can be easily referred to in other Acts and subordinate legislation and by people who are seeking to use its provisions. "Housing" was chosen as the shortest term to cover the provisions of Parts I and II.

We have been given two alternative suggestions, both of which would make the title longer and rather more cumbersome. It is, however, the clear will of your Lordships to reflect the most substantial part of the Bill in its title. I do have sympathy with that desire. We prefer, as it would seem do your Lordships, the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Coleraine, which better reflects the structure of the Bill and is rather neater. I am pleased to accept that amendment, therefore, and would ask the noble Baroness not to move her amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 236CA not moved.]

The Earl of Shrewsbury moved Amendment No. 236D: Page 168, line 38, after ("section") insert ("paragraph 2A of Schedule 20").

On Question, amendment agreed to. In the Title:

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 237: Line 2, leave out ("extend the right to enfranchisement or') and insert ("make further provision with respect to enfranchisement by").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 237A not moved.]

Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 238: Line 6, leave out ("Part III") and insert ("Parts III and IV").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, on behalf of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.