HL Deb 01 April 1996 vol 571 cc87-132

8.12 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 122 [Power of Secretary of State to give financial assistance for regeneration and development]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 218: Page 72, line 14, at end insert ("and to more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 218 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs and it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 220 and 224. We embark now on another part of this rather complicated Bill. Part IV deals with grants for regeneration, development and relocation. In Clause 122, certain activities are specified as being contributory to regeneration or development in the sense of the Bill. We believe that there is one primary activity which has been left out and which, indeed, should be the primary purpose of this part. Amendment No. 218 refers to, more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living". That is not an idle phrase. It is designed to ensure that any regeneration or development should not just simply do what is prescribed in subsection (2) of Clause 122 but should, as a primary purpose—that is why we wish to insert it in subsection (1)—introduce the notion of environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living.

Amendment No. 220, again in the name of my noble friend, is in a sense subsidiary to Amendment No. 218. It seeks to add to the objectives of subsection (2): preventing land from becoming derelict, contaminated, neglected or unsightly", and, perhaps more importantly, in paragraph (k), assisting the development of urban land as an alternative to rural land". In other words, urban land as at present conceived should be considered riot just as houses and roads but as part of the rural landscape. If we are regenerating an inner city, there should be some element of considering that land which is being regenerated as though it were rural land in the way in which the Committee normally understands that. It should not be simply thought of as urban land; in other words, building new houses where old houses existed.

Amendment No. 224, which is consequential, provides: Financial assistance under section 122 shall only be given following an assessment of the likely significant environmental effects of any assistance and the consideration of options and alternatives". I hope that the Committee will realise that in speaking to these amendments and in moving Amendment No. 218, I am placing at the top of the agenda for Part IV the whole question of sustainable development not just in the context of the regeneration of inner cities but in the context of ensuring that the regeneration of inner cities should contribute to the "ruralisation", if I can use that word, of what we are trying to regenerate. It should not just be a question of—I use the old-fashioned expression—slum clearance. It should have a much wider role than that and it should be environmentally sustainable. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

I support all three amendments. It is a particularly appropriate context in which to raise the issue of environmental sustainability. I appreciate that that term has overtones which could give rise to several hours of debate. I do not intend to try to analyse the word "sustainable". But I do not believe that environmental sustainability can be separated from economic or social sustainability. The three concepts go hand in hand and must do so if any of them is to be successful.

Therefore, in the context of the part of the Bill which deals with regeneration, it is appropriate and, I think, absolutely necessary to refer to environmental sustainability as a necessary criterion which is fundamental to any regeneration.

The wording of Amendment No. 218 is interesting. It refers to "patterns of development and living". Again, that is extremely appropriate in this context. After all, the object of regeneration is likely to be relatively large-scale or, at any rate, medium-scale. Therefore, it can certainly assist in changing patterns and is not simply a small discrete area of development.

I must say that I read paragraph (k) of Amendment No. 220 slightly differently. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was going to talk about the importance of regenerating brown-field sites and not spilling on to green-field sites. The notion of "green land", if I may use that term in its widest sense, that he mentioned as part of the urban landscape contributing to the urban framework is a most interesting and important one. Urban quality is essential for urban life.

I mentioned that, in my view, environmental and economic sustainability are inseparable. If our cities are to be economically successful as well as being pleasant places in which to live, they must indeed be pleasant places in order to attract people and inward investment. That is particularly true of the City of London. As regards Amendment No. 224, there is reference on the face of the Bill to the assessment of environmental "effects", so that should not need saying. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and his noble friend Lord Dubs are right to say that it does.

Lord Renton

Strangely enough, the issues raised by this group of amendments have a considerable bearing upon the protection of the countryside. I say that for the following reason. Many people are not satisfied with life in the towns because it is not made attractive enough for them. Therefore, they decide to move out into the countryside, which leads to development that is not always to be welcomed. The more attractive we can make the towns the smaller will be the threat to the countryside. Leaving aside the technicalities of the amendments, I believe that the general spirit behind them deserves consideration for the reason that I have given.

Earl Ferrers

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the careful way in which they have introduced and spoken to the amendments. We are now moving into a most sensitive area with the subject of sustainable development. My noble friend Lord Renton is entirely correct to say that the more we can develop our cities and improve them the better it will be for the countryside. Otherwise, we shall have to take fresh greenfield sites and leave unused relatively industrialised sites in towns. That would be a great pity. Indeed, that was one of the aspects considered in the rural White Paper.

I shall deal first with Amendments Nos. 218 and 220. Clause 122 provides that financial assistance can be given for regeneration and development. Amendment No. 218 would extend the purposes for which financial assistance may be given to include, more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living". Amendment No. 220 would extend the list of activities which can be supported to include the prevention of dereliction and the use of urban, rather than rural, land. They are most important matters.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who suggested that "sustainable development" was a curious expression. Indeed, one always has to stop and wonder exactly what it means. It really means that what we have to do is so conduct ourselves that we do not destroy the environment of the countryside for our children and their children when their time comes. However, that does not mean that we cannot have economic progress: that we must have, though it must be carefully dealt with.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he puts sustainable development at the top of the agenda and that that is much wider than slum clearance. I agree with him. But that is precisely what the Government are doing. I say that because sustainable development is a major concern of our regeneration policies. It is no coincidence that it is at the top of the list of wider strategies which bidders for the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund are advised to consider in the Government's published Bidding Guidance with which they have to comply when making a bid.

The admirable objectives set out in those two amendments are already covered by the Bill's provisions. Perhaps I may give Members of the Committee an example—the creation of an attractive environment would include action to prevent land becoming derelict. We have tried deliberately to propose broad categories of activities so as to ensure that we can accommodate a very wide range of regeneration and development activities. We would prefer not to go into increasing detail for the usual reason; namely, that if one does so there is always the risk that that will raise doubts as to whether other areas of work are or are not covered.

Amendment No. 224 indicates that the "environmental effects" of any assistance should be assessed before any funds are given to a project. Work to protect and improve the quality of the environment is one of the objectives of the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund. The Government take that into account in assessing bids. Bidders themselves are specifically asked to set out the costs and benefits to the environment of their bid.

In addition, where appropriate, particular development projects will require environmental assessment under the Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988. Under those regulations, environmental assessment is required before planning permission is granted for certain categories of development. For some categories, an assessment is required in every case. For other specified categories, assessment is required where the proposed development is likely to have significant effects on the environment. It is not, therefore, necessary to set up a specific mechanism for environmental assessment in relation to assistance under the clauses, because they are already provided for both in the regulations and in the bidding process which is undergone by bidders when they make their offers for work to be done. I understand the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has tabled the amendments. However, bearing in mind what I have said, I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that the matters to which they refer are already covered in regulations and in practice.

Baroness Hamwee

Before the noble Lord, Lord Williams, responds, will the Minister consider before the next stage the proposition of putting environmental objectives on the face of the Bill as part of what is already quite a long list? That would help to achieve the Government's stated objective of encouraging such work. In their response to the environment committee's report into the single regeneration budget, the Government published a table showing the percentage of bids addressing the SRB challenge fund objectives at each stage of the bidding process. The environment came pretty low on that list at the point when bids were submitted. It is a good deal higher as a percentage of the bids approved, but it still seems as if those who are making bids needs encouragement to address themselves to the area.

Lord Monkswell

There is one aspect that the Minister appears to have left out of his response when considering subsection (2)(c), which refers to, creating an attractive and safe environment", and which I believe he used in aid of his suggestion that we should reject the amendment. If one looks through all the matters to be included, there is no reference to energy or its use; or, indeed, to the need for our society to reduce energy consumption. That is something that would be encompassed within the additional words that my noble friend has suggested in his amendment; namely, and to more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living". That is one aspect.

The other difficulty concerns the way the Bill is written which does not seem to inhibit the development of greenfield sites. Clause 122(2)(a) refers to, securing that land and buildings are brought into effective use". Unless one takes account of, environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living", it may be considered that building a new factory or warehouse on a greenfield site amounts to effective use of that land. I refer to the building of warehouses just outside the Trafford Park industrial estate on what was effectively agricultural land—a greenfield site—rather than using the derelict industrial site of the Trafford Park industrial estate. There seems to be nothing in the Bill to suggest that developers should use brownfield sites rather than greenfield sites. I wonder whether the date of the noble Earl's letter to me is significant, as it was dated 1st April. In the letter he states that he attaches a copy of the draft proposals for the scheme of construction contracts. I must advise the noble Earl that no scheme was attached to the letter. I hope that the 1st April gremlins have not been getting at the noble Earl but I suspect that they may have.

8.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, seems to be a blighted person as regards my correspondence with him. I felt pleased when I wrote that letter because I thought that I was apologetic to the noble Lord when I should have been. I thought therefore that I had satisfied the difficulty in that I had given him a draft scheme. I am unbelievably appalled to find that that did not reach him either. The reason the noble Lord did not receive the draft scheme the first time was because my noble friend Lord Lucas wrote to everyone who had participated in the Second Reading as regards Part II of the Bill. That must have been about the only part of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, did not participate in. Therefore, we did not think he would be interested in receiving the draft scheme. However, the noble Lord may recall that there should have been a set of these publications in the Library and in the Printed Paper Office. Those went astray, as we discussed the other day, but they are in the Library now. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to attach himself to one and not let it go. I am sorry that my letter did not include the draft scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was concerned that energy use was not mentioned in the Bill. There is a limit to how much one can mention in statutes. One can make the mistake of including too much. Responsible energy use is very much part of sustainable development. Everyone is deeply conscious of that, in the same way they are deeply conscious of sustainable development. However, one cannot include every facet of sustainable development in legislation. The noble Lord referred to greenfield sites and said there was no inhibition as regards the use of such sites. However, I believe there are inhibitions. The planning policy guidance notes are detailed and specific, and they are being updated. It is important that there should be some forms of development, in a limited way, in the countryside because people have to work and conduct business there. They can only do that if one enables the countryside to share in manufacturing. However, that has to be carefully controlled. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell—as I agreed with my noble friend Lord Renton—that, where one can, one wants such development in the cities. One should not leave derelict areas in the cities while one is developing greenfield sites across the country. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Monkswell

I thank the noble Earl for giving way but he will appreciate that there are nine categories, or aspects, of development listed in the Bill. I suspect that these will be the categories that Her Majesty's Treasury will consider when making financial disbursements. It would seem sad if the Treasury was not to provide grant aid to developments which have as one of their features the reduction of energy consumption, bearing in mind the need, which I think the Western world appreciates, to reduce energy consumption in patterns of living and working.

Earl Ferrers

I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, need worry his head too much about that, because the whole purpose of sustainable development is to economise on energy and to make the best use of what resources we have. Just because that is not mentioned as one of the nine items in the Bill does not mean that anyone who tries to produce a scheme which includes measures which are conducive to energy saving will not have his scheme considered in the same way as others.

Lord Monkswell

The noble Earl suggests that sustainable development is important and is something that would meet the various criteria we are looking at. However, that is not stated in the Bill. Are the Government thinking that they will adopt—perhaps not in the wording that has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel—wording to suggest that sustainable development is important and would benefit the Bill if it was written into it?

Earl Ferrers

As I tried to explain when I replied to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, sustainable development is right at the top—as he put it—of his agenda, and indeed of the Government's agenda. We have published White Papers and documents on it. Sustainable development is an important matter. If one included it in a Bill, someone like the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, would then ask us to define sustainable development. Then we would become involved in a fearful rigmarole. I do not think that that is desirable. Everyone knows—within reason—what sustainable development means. The Government have explained what they intend to do. Various measures have been set out in guidance notes, in planning guidance policies, in regulations and so forth. Not everything has to be included in a Bill. I suggest to the Committee that it would be best not to include sustainable development in the Bill, as I believe we would get ourselves into more of a tangle than if we did not include it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether, if there were environmental objectives on the face of the Bill, that would not help. I shall certainly consider what the noble Baroness has said. However, I come back to the same argument. I believe that Bills and statutes concern what the law is and what the law states. We should try not to include too many explanatory details as to what the law is supposed to be doing. However, I shall certainly consider the point that the noble Baroness raised.

Lord Renton

I support what my noble friend Lord Ferrers said about sustainable development. It really would be absurd to try to define it, with all its ramifications. It is bound to vary from place to place according to circumstances. That is another reason why it cannot be written into a statute in detail.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble Earl, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, my noble friend Lord Monkswell and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for speaking on this issue. It is an important issue. I am perfectly happy to accept that the wording, sustainable patterns of development and living", may not be appropriate for a Bill. I am unconvinced by the government view that sustainable development is a vague expression. It has been defined in debate after debate and report after report. Indeed, it is at the head of the Government's agenda, so we are told.

As Amendment No. 218 implies, I should like to see some provision in subsection (1) of Clause 122. It is the primary subsection in the clause. It is the primary subsection in this part. I should like to see a provision which does not simply contribute to the regeneration or development of an area. I wish to see a contribution to, more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living". The words may not be appropriate but I should like to see some provision which sets the tone for Part IV as regards regeneration and development of an area. I should like to see wording which provides for, sustainable patterns of development and living". I can only repeat those words. I believe that if such a provision were in subsection (1), it would meet my concerns and, as I understand it, the Government's agenda.

As regards Amendments Nos. 220 and 224, subsection (2) goes into some detail. It refers to, creating an attractive and safe environment; preventing crime or reducing the fear of crime … providing employment for local people". Those are detailed matters. I accept that the wording of Amendment No. 220 may not he appropriate but I do not see why we should not have some provision there to respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about assisting the development of urban land as an alternative to rural land, to ensure that trees and grass grow in inner cities as a result of this programme, not necessarily that new buildings are produced.

I hope that the Government will further consider the matter before the next stage of the Bill. If they are serious about putting sustainable development, however defined, at the top of their agenda, this is the clause in which that provision should be put. I hope that the noble Earl will agree to consider the issue to see whether both our agendas can be met.

Earl Ferrers

Of course I shall consider the matter. I agree with the noble Lord that it is an important part of the Bill. It is important that we get it right. We have put in what we consider the most appropriate definitions.

Having said that, I would not die at the stake and say that this is the only possible form of wording. However, I am concerned that the provision should not be too diffuse and woolly. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I wonder what the courts would think of the words in Amendment No. 218, and to more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living". How would they be able to consider whether some action was an environmentally sustainable pattern of development and living? I do not quite know what that means although I have an idea.

We seek to put in provisions which can be easily understood. Subsection (2) provides for, contributing to, or encouraging, economic development". That is perfectly clear. It also provides for, creating an attractive and safe environment". That is clear. The subsection refers to, preventing crime or reducing the fear of crime". As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, that is clear. The noble Lord's wording—he was generous enough to say that it may not be the best—would be a woolly addition which would be difficult to interpret.

Of course I shall consider the matter, including Amendment No. 220 which refers to preventing land becoming derelict, contaminated, neglected or unsightly. I shall certainly consider all those points. I cannot give a guarantee that we shall necessarily find that those are the best words or the most suitable to be incorporated, but I shall certainly consider them.

Baroness Hamwee

Without going into the definitions, the environment and the environmentally sustainable concept are at the top of the Government's agenda. It is an objective in the challenge fund bidding. Will the Minister inform the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and myself how that objective is described to those who bid? Since the Government must have defined their objective in some way, we should be able to come together on wording which reflects the reality but also puts the provision on the face of the Bill.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

The noble Baroness is right. I am perfectly happy with the noble Earl's complaints about woolly wording or whatever it may be. Nevertheless, I believe that there should be some provision in subsection (1) which will help local authorities and others and which will be properly interpreted. The Government can put what interpretation they wish. I believe that environmentally sustainable development should be at the top of the agenda rather than in subsection (2). The Government have to think again. They are committed to the concept, as I understand. There is no difference of intention. We believe that the provision should be on the face of the Bill.

Earl Ferrers

There is nothing between us on what we seek to achieve. Where we disagree is as regards the force of the wording. This is a personal observation. I retain a deep apprehension about putting the words "sustainable development" in the Bill. Whenever I hear those words, or whenever I use them, I have to stop to consider what they mean. If the noble Lord drives his car in a certain way, is he driving it in an environmentally sustainable way or not? I believe that it would be terribly difficult to put such wording into a Bill which would then have to be operated on in a court of law. I believe guidance notes and planning guidance, which are more flexible and can be altered, to be a better way to put into action a concept at which we all aim without putting the provision into legislation. I shall certainly consider the matter.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble Earl. As he says, there is little between us. The difference is whether the provision is on the face of the Bill or in guidance notes. If it is in guidance notes, will the noble Earl be good enough to explain to the noble Baroness and myself how the Government interpret Clause 122 in the light of sustainable development and respond to the noble Baroness's question on how they expect local authorities to respond to the Government's sustainable development agenda in requesting financial assistance for regeneration and development? If he can do that, very kindly before Report stage, we shall have to look at his response and consider whether we come back to the issue on Report. I hope that I can rely on the noble Earl to produce a letter to us.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord can rely on me to produce a letter. I am a little worried about whether I shall be able to produce it before Report stage. I suspect that I shall. However, he will have observed that there is a period of relaxation which he will no doubt enjoy over the next week or so and, oddly enough, officials usually enjoy that period too. It may be a little difficult to produce the letter before Report stage, but I shall do my best.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble Earl. I had not realised that officials needed to enjoy a period of relaxation.

Earl Ferrers

They only do that after they have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Williams.

Lord Williams of Elvel

That is a fair point because they have plenty to think about after I have spoken. I hope that we may receive the reply before we come to Report stage because both the Liberal Democrat Benches and our Benches, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I believe, feel that there is an important issue in Clause 122. Unless anything else needs to be added, having had that assurance and in the light of the interval between now and Report stage and the rest that I hope everyone will enjoy, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 219: Page 72, line 21, after ("housing") insert (", including wheelchair accessible housing,").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that proper consideration is given to the provision of wheelchair accessible housing when an area is undergoing regeneration or development. The single regeneration budget is one of the major contributors to the regeneration of urban areas. The Committee will be aware that there is currently a shortfall of around 325,000 dwellings nationwide, suitable for people who use wheelchairs.

When an area is being redeveloped, the opportunity should be taken to provide more wheelchair accessible homes. Properly designed wheelchair accommodation decreases dependence and reduces the cost of care. It also reduces the limitations on family life. The effect is that the wheelchair user will have a greater opportunity to be economically and socially active, contributing to the community rather than taking from it.

I appreciate that it will not always be appropriate to include wheelchair accessible accommodation in each development. However, it is in my view essential that proper consideration be given to the inclusion of this type of home in all schemes covered by the clause. I hope that my noble friend can confirm in his reply that the matter will be given proper consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

I support the amendment. I remind my noble friend how splendidly the Government behaved on the question of making, for example, taxis and other public service vehicles accessible for users of wheelchairs. If it can be done for people in a mobile condition, I should have thought it would be even easier and better for it to be done where people live in a static condition. The matter is important and I hope that the Government will be sympathetic about it.

There may be another way of achieving it apart from the one used in the amendment. However, the amendment raises the issue and it might be a suitable way of dealing with the problem.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, who put the case fairly. Whether the proposal should go on the face of the Bill is a matter which we can discuss, but the thought and the concept are right. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Hamwee

I wish to put on record the support of these Benches for the thought, although I share the doubts as to how best it could be expressed. The thought is important and it is right to raise it now.

Lord Lucas

We sympathise with the amendment but believe it to be unnecessary. Clause 122 provides the Secretary of State with a discretionary power to give financial assistance to persons who incur expenditure in connection with activities which contribute to the regeneration or development of an area.

The clause lists nine examples of activities which are considered to be eligible for support. These include the provision or improvement of housing, to encourage people to live or work in the area or to benefit existing residents. Notably, it also includes activities which benefit local people who have special needs due to disability, in paragraph (i) of subsection (2). The needs of disabled people, including those dependent on wheelchairs, are thus already specifically mentioned in the clause and in a general reference which relates to all the activities listed, rather than just housing. I hope that that will satisfy my noble friend.

Lord Swinfen

I think it probably will, particularly if the Government agree to an amendment that I have put down later on in the Bill concerning building regulations. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 220 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 221: Page 72, line 34, at end insert— ("() Any financial assistance given under this section shall further any national, regional or strategic planning guidance given by the Secretary of State and any development plan prepared under Part II of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I also speak to Amendments Nos. 222 and 223 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

As the Committee will be aware, development plans are required from local authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It seems to us to be important that those development plans, when they are approved by the appropriate authorities and the Secretary of State, shall have some status which governs regeneration budgets. The amendment that I propose would ensure that: any financial assistance given under this section shall further [development plans or] any national, regional or strategic planning guidance given by the Secretary of State". I hope that the amendment is almost uncontroversial, but I ask a further question of the Minister. As I understand it, the current funding for economic regeneration projects such as City Challenge is only payable to statutory bodies. Clause 122 would, it appears, allow the Secretary of State to make payments to any such body, although our amendment would restrict it to being within the development plan. But if the Secretary of State were to make payments to a non-statutory body, the question arises: how would accountability of the spending of public money be ensured? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that question. I have said enough to introduce Amendment No. 221 and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 222 and 223. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My Amendment No. 222 is not very different in its aim from Amendment No. 221. I had in mind that with a system where central government, both in Whitehall and through its regional officers, runs the regeneration budget, it is appropriate that we should remind ourselves that we have quite rightly a plan-led system. Local authorities create, by no means lightly or quickly, their own development plans. With a system in place for strategic plans, the regeneration which is assisted under those arrangements should fall within the strategies and objectives of the plans. Perhaps more controversially, I do not believe that we should allow the Government's regional officers to set a strategy almost by default.

Amendment No. 223 is about transparency and accountability, requiring an annual report from the Secretary of State on the financial assistance given. The reason that I make that suggestion is twofold. First, the system run through the urban regeneration agency, a quango, and through the use of the government's regional officers makes it necessary to ensure that accountability is properly in place and that the decisions can be considered in a proper fashion as well as understood.

The single regeneration budget has brought together a series of programmes of government expenditure which were previously administered separately, each with its own criteria and objectives. I have heard concern expressed that the establishment of a single budget will have the effect of hiding changes which are made to the allocation of funds for different types of activities. That perhaps takes us back to our debate a few minutes ago.

Previously, there was clear, separate accountability—perhaps that is putting it a little high. There was at least a mechanism for understanding the amount spent on, for instance, housing renovation under the Estate Action programme and services to ethnic minorities. In the case of the former urban programme, the Government made public decisions on the planned division of funding between environmental, economic and social objectives.

Given that there are changes in bringing together those programmes, only after the successful bids have been analysed will one understand what has taken place. I am told that there seems to have been a reduction in the funding previously available to TECs for labour market schemes. I have already mentioned housing renovation. Due to the confusion over Section 11 funding, there has been a significant cut in the funding allocated for services to ethnic minorities. I am told that there has been a net loss of about £7¼ million in London alone as a result of a first round of challenge fund bidding.

I have recently seen a report on a study by the Chartered Institute of Housing. I understand that the study indicates that, in its view, competition for single regeneration budget cash has acted as a form of rationing for housing schemes. The report said that new or improved housing has lost out to job creation, training and crime prevention in four regions. It comments that it had a low political priority and was even viewed with hostility. I quote from Inside Housing. The report says that some partnerships said that they had been warned off housing projects by government regional officers. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to comment on that and give us some assurances.

Clearly, there are concerns about the transparency and the accountability of the way in which the budget is run. For that reason I tabled the amendment.

9 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that her Amendment No. 222 was not significantly different from Amendment No. 221 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I believe that she is right. She said that previously it was much easier to see where money went because it was allocated to various separate plans and it was ring-fenced—a certain amount of money was given for a specific project.

One of the drawbacks of that system was the very reason that the money was ring-fenced. It was decided some time ago that we should move to a single regeneration budget which puts all that money together, as the noble Baroness knows only too well, and allows people to bid for it. We have found that we have had better value for money that way. I do not want to go into the justification for the single regeneration budget here, but the fact is that that is what happens now and it has proved very successful.

The amendments of both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord reflect points which have been raised before. The Environment Committee in another place considered those areas when it made its first report on the operation of the single regeneration budget challenge fund. The points were also covered when the Government responded to that report.

The amendments would require financial assistance for regeneration and development to relate to planning guidance issued by the Secretary of State and to development plans.

We agree that bids for support under the single regeneration budget challenge fund should take full account of the Secretary of State for the Environment's planning policy guidance, local authority development plans, and other regional strategies such as single programming documents prepared in relation to European structural funds. The bidding guidance for Rounds 1 and 2 drew specific attention to this; and it has been reaffirmed in the guidance for Round 3, which was published on Friday, and which the noble Lord will be glad to know is in the Library. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, will be able to find his copy in the Library and that nothing disastrous happens to his copy. If he does not have an annotated copy, one will be there in the Library for him if he wishes to find it.

However, we do not think it is necessary to specify this or other detailed aspects of the arrangements in legislation. That would make the arrangements especially rigid. For example, it is also important that bids should, where appropriate, take account of national strategies relating to sustainable development, and regional or local strategies relating to housing or health. Those national and other strategies are clearly set out in the bidding guidance issued to local authorities and others, and are reflected in the criteria relating to bid assessment by government offices for the regions.

The noble Lord was concerned about accountability. In fact, there is no change in the powers of accountability. Payments may already be made to any person under Section 27 of the Housing and Planning Act 1986, which this legislation replaces and the grant offer letter includes conditions which ensure proper accountability by various methods, such as the clawback of grant.

I turn to Amendment No. 223 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. That amendment requires annual reports of actual and planned financial assistance towards each of the activities listed in the clause. The whole purpose of the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund is to attract and support a group of activities for the regeneration and development of areas. Any one successful bid may involve a range of different projects combining to offer a total approach to local problems. What the public money is buying therefore consists of several of the statutory activities listed under Clause 122(2). It would therefore be impossible to provide the information sought by the noble Baroness without the imposition of a considerable bureaucratic burden on individual partnerships who, rightly, seek to give priority to making their projects work on the ground. It would have the detrimental effect of encouraging people to think in terms of separate activities rather than of the project as a whole.

As bidders put their own money into the various projects, it will be necessary, as a start, to extract that money from the whole in order to arrive at the public money expended. Then, in turn, the public money would have to be separately allocated in the accounts between the various functions. It would be a considerable bureaucratic exercise.

We are keen to establish precisely what achievements are realised by projects, and partnerships are therefore required to report regularly on the outputs of their projects; for example, on the jobs created, the people who have been trained and the homes that have been improved. They also provide overall details of expenditure.

The noble Baroness was concerned about housing obtaining its fair share of resources under Round 2 of the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund. There were 172 successful bids planned to construct or refurbish 91,000 dwellings, which is a 26 per cent. increase on Round 1. The noble Baroness was concerned also about Section 11 not receiving its fair share of resources. We are moving away from secular interests towards identifying the wider benefits which ethnic minority communities, voluntary groups and local communities more widely are deriving from the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund.

Therefore, while I understand the reasons behind which the noble Baroness tabled her amendment, it would be considerably bureaucratic and would not work. As I tried to explain, while I understand why the other two amendments were tabled, the Bill is better without being so amended.

Baroness Hamwee

The Minister's answer seems to indicate, quite rightly, that the Government assess the various matters to which I referred in Amendment No. 223. I accept that the wording may not be very good and I am not seeking to add to the bureaucracy. I am seeking to ensure that the information as regards the assessments which the Government must make of how the various objectives are being met in comparison to one another is made reasonably available to the public. We have received a lot of information as a result of the environment committee of another place considering the budget and the Government responding to it. I doubt whether the Government want to go through that level of exercise on an annual basis.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am still not entirely clear, even after what the noble Earl said, about the accountability question. As I read the Bill—I can only go on the Bill because, if it is enacted, that is what the law of the land will be regardless of what happened before—under Clause 122 the Secretary of State will be entitled, with the consent of the Treasury, to give financial assistance to any person in respect of this, that and thus. Clause 124 states that, Financial assistance under section 122 may be given on such terms as the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, considers appropriate". It therefore seems to follow that the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, may well say that any person could include any person—to put it shortly—and that, if the Secretary of State and the Treasury so decide, any person who wishes to engage in respect of the expenditure, may well receive financial assistance under Clause 122. Therefore, Clause 122, in my reading, allows the Secretary of State to make payments to any body which satisfies the criteria under Clauses 122 and 124 even though it is not a statutory body. I still do not understand how, if the Secretary of State were to make payments to a body which was non-statutory, the accountability as regards the spending of that public money would be achieved. Before I go on with the amendment I hope that the noble Earl can clarify the matter for me.

9.15 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

I am always only too happy to try to clarify the position for the noble Lord, Lord Williams. We are talking about the single regeneration budget which can be given to various projects. Whereas before, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, certain amounts of money were given for specific items, now it is all put into one pool called the single regeneration budget and people bid for projects. When they bid, they say what they will do.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he was quite surprised that the local authority might not be involved and that the Bill as drafted could allow any person to be given funds. That is perfectly true. It could he a person; it could be a company; it could be a non-statutory body. They would come up with a plan and say, "I think we could do this. We could develop this piece of land. This would be our cost. If we had a certain amount of government funding from the single regeneration budget we would be able to do this project". It need not be a statutory body. It could be a person. It could be a company. The whole point is that whether they received the money would depend on the type of bid which they made. That is why the provision is drawn in this way.

The noble Lord then asked how a record would he kept and what is the accountability. The answer is that the accountability comes by virtue of, for instance, the recent report we gave to the Select Committee on the Environment and also in departmental annual reports. The noble Lord was concerned about Clause 122 allowing payments to non-statutory bodies. As I explained, it is the same as giving a grant to anyone. You have to say what you are giving the grant for. The output is then monitored and the reports are audited. That allows payments to be made to the voluntary sector as it does to local authorities or anyone else who can come with a project which is worthy of support and which on the whole is considered of all the bids put forward to be the most likely to give good value for money. As the noble Lord will realise only too well, when government funds are given towards projects, they are not just given and forgotten; they are monitored, reports have to be made and information is published at the end of the year in various departmental reports.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Reports may be made and various departmental reports may be issued but I simply do not understand that concept. I must stress that point. Now we know that the purpose of the Bill is to allow private bodies of one form or another—as the noble Earl said, companies, individuals, whoever it may be, and not local authorities—which come up with a scheme to regenerate the centre of Bristol, the centre of Llandrindod Wells or wherever it may be and which perform under these criteria to get the money. The noble Earl went on to say that the money will be monitored and that departmental reports will be made.

I do not think that is satisfactory. I find it very odd that public money can be disbursed to private individuals or private companies which conform to the criteria and have projects to do this, that and thus and yet there is no accountability other than, as the noble Earl said, annual reports from one department or another. I find it an extraordinary concept. I hope very much that the noble Earl will be able to reassure me that that is not really what the Government mean.

Lord Elton

We seem to have moved away from Amendment No. 221 and to have moved on, if I understood the noble Lord, Lord Williams, correctly, to Amendment No. 223. Amendment No. 221 has the effect of limiting the expenditure under the clause to items subject to planning guidance under Part II of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

I merely rise, while information is being collected, to point out that there appear to be two, or possibly three, items in subsection (2) which could not be the subject of planning policy guidance of any sort and which do not fall within that Act. Therefore, the effect of this amendment, whatever it is on accountability, would be to narrow the deployment of funds. The amendment would be unfortunate in that respect.

Earl Ferrers

I want to try to help the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, a little more. He said that money can be obtained and given to any single person, and that sort of thing. He makes it sound as though that is wrong. It has been going on for quite some time. Someone may want to complete a building project. The building company says that it will cost so much and if it gets a grant, it will be able to build so many houses. They may be homes for old people or others. The company will put forward a bid. It will say how much money it is able to contribute and it will approach the Government or seek a contribution from the single regeneration budget. When the budget is worked out, one has to discern whether the bid would be better for that area than any other bid. If it is, then the correct forms of application and so forth have to be filled in. The money is carefully "monitored", to use that awful word yet again. The money is put into the project and the results are seen. One knows how many houses have been built and how many people are housed. That is the kind of way in which the project is managed and looked after. That is a wholly commendable way.

Lord Williams of Elvel

This comes back to my Amendment No. 221. The point about these schemes is that they are a partnership between local authorities and other sources of finance. That seems very desirable. I have no particular problem with that although I have about the single regeneration budget, but I shall leave that aside.

I have a problem with the Bill, as drafted. I may be quite wrong and I am open to correction, but a purely private sector consortium, regardless of any local authority, development plan or strategic planning guidance and the rest of it, can say "I have a project to regenerate or develop 'an area'", in the words of the Bill. Provided that the purely private sector organisation conforms to the criteria of Clause 122, as approved under Clause 124, it will be in receipt of public money. That is quite different. I emphasise again what has happened as regards City Challenge and even the SRB. I simply want to know if that is the Government's intention. If it is, please let us know and we shall take it up at a later stage. This is quite different to what has happened before.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord asks whether it is possible for someone to come forward with an idea and say that they are going to develop something without any guidance or planning permission. Of course, that is not so. Any project that is brought forward is subject to all the planning rules and applications that are necessary. Nobody would introduce a scheme which did not have planning permission. It would be a matter of prudent management to decide at what point one applies for planning permission. Presumably, if one has a project, one does not produce it without having checked whether it will be likely to get planning permission. So it is perfectly possible for a firm or business to say, "This is a project for building houses" or whatever, and that might be done in concert with, or for, a local authority and the local authority may not be involved. However, it would be able to do that by making a bid and those who assess that bid will do so against a whole host of different bids for the region. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked whether it is possible for a private body to have public funds. The answer is yes it is when it is doing something for an area and for which it is making a bid and where that bid is deemed to be the best bid for the improvement of that area.

Baroness Hamwee

At the risk of detaining the Committee for just another minute, perhaps I may put one point on the record. I should like to thank a voluntary organisation in London—voluntary in the sense that it is funded in part by the Corporation of the City of London but collects funds from other sources also—called Vision for London. In reporting on the successes and failures of bids in London, that organisation has produced the most accessible and one of the most helpful reports that I have ever seen. I mention that because I do not think that this is the right way to run the country or the scheme. Reporting on such schemes and allowing successful and, more importantly, unsuccessful bidders to understand what is going on is important.

Lord Williams of Elvel

We have come to the end of this particular argument. In the polite words, I shall read the Minister's words in Hansard and return to this at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 222 and 223 not moved.]

Clause 122 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 224 not moved.]

Clause 123 [Regeneration and development: forms of assistance]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 225: Page 72, line 40, after ("guarantees,") insert— ("() borrowing approvals to local authorities, () the raising of any capping limit to enable local authorities to meet revenue expenditure associated with financial assistance given under section 122,").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 225 is grouped with Amendment No. 226 which stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. It may be convenient if we discuss the two amendments together. Concentrating briefly on Amendment No. 226, it is intended to make it entirely clear that local authorities have the power to do things for which the Secretary of State is enabling the funding to be provided—I apologise to the Committee for the cumbersome language that I have just used. It is important that all potential partners are assured that those activities are intra vires in order to allow partnerships with the private sector to take place; otherwise the private sector will be frightened off, as we have seen recently.

Amendment No. 225 has been tabled to seek assurances that the assistance that is given may include the lifting of controls on expenditure by local authorities to the extent required to enable them to play their part in partnerships for regeneration. I have mentioned specifically borrowing approvals and the raising of capping limits. I have included borrowing approvals because local authorities need permission to borrow money. I have included the raising of any capping limit because capital expenditure has revenue consequences and if revenue cannot be spent because of a capping limit, the debt cannot be repaid and that will constrain regeneration activity which involves capital expenditure. Those matters are important and need to be addressed although perhaps not in the way that I have dealt with them. However, I am afraid that I was unable to resist the opportunity of highlighting the way in which local authorities may be forced to contribute to the partnerships in a less complete way than many of them would like. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I speak to Amendment No. 226. It is grouped with Amendment No. 225 to which the noble Baroness has spoken. The noble Baroness has correctly pointed out that there is some difficulty about the vires of local authorities to become involved in the regeneration and development of their areas. The purpose of Amendment No. 226 is to put this beyond doubt. The Committee will be aware of the recent case of Allerdale District Council v. Credit Suisse which has raised the question whether local authorities have the power to support particular forms of regeneration not specified by statute. That uncertainty has discouraged the private sector from participating with local authorities. In Allerdale District Council v. Credit Suisse the High Court ruled that a guarantee given by the district council to the developer of a recreational facility was ultra vires. As a result, the contract was made unenforceable and void.

It is clear that the companies involved took legal advice. They were advised that they should not collaborate with local authorities—this advice has been given by lawyers since—where there was uncertainty or doubt as to whether those authorities had specific powers to undertake the activities concerned. This is anomalous in view of the increasing pressure on local authorities to act in partnership with the private sector, which we support. The Committee will generally acknowledge that the ultimate aim is to secure more regeneration work undertaken on a partnership basis. There is doubt about the vires of local authorities as a result of this decision and other cases. The amendment is designed to clarify the position so that local authorities and companies, private individuals and institutions can feel comfortable about co-operating in regeneration matters.

Earl Ferrers

I deal first with Amendment No. 225 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. This would extend the list of possible forms of assistance to include credit approvals to enable local authorities to borrow to fund capital projects. It would also raise capping limits to help authorities meet revenue costs.

Assistance under the single regeneration budget challenge fund is available to a range of bodies including, but not limited to, local authorities, and for both capital and revenue projects. We decided to offer a form of support that provided the maximum flexibility and was of benefit to everyone. Therefore, at present we provide assistance in the form of grants. The single regeneration budget was formed by a combination of 20 existing programmes that offered support by both grant and credit approvals. We moved to a grant-only regime having first consulted the local authority associations to ensure a simple, flexible system that could be used to fund capital or revenue projects by the range of bodies already supported under the single regeneration budget, and by the broad-based partnerships which submitted bids under the single regeneration budget challenge fund.

We believe that it would be a retrograde and unnecessary step to return to credit approvals. Most partnerships would continue to need grant to support revenue projects, or to support capital projects by private sector partners. So projects would receive. a combination of grant and credit approvals. That does not mean that the Government's funding will be any bigger. All it means is that it would come via two routes. That would create greater bureaucracy within individual partnerships and in offices for the regions.

Decisions on capping limits are taken by the Secretary of State each year in the context of the demands on local authorities, and the interests of the national economy. Adjustments to capping limits do not generally reflect the consequences of individual decisions of various local authorities on their spending priorities, such as that resulting from an authority's successful bid for assistance under the single regeneration budget challenge fund. It would be inappropriate to use primary legislation to dictate the factors which should be taken into account.

I turn now to Amendment No. 226 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. This would seem to provide that, once the Secretary of State has given financial assistance towards an activity falling within Clauses 122 to 125, that general function would become a function of local authorities generally.

District councils and unitary authorities already have a widely drawn economic development power under Section 33 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. This broad power, and other specific provisions which exist in separate legislation, allow local authorities to undertake a broad range of regeneration activities, and are sufficient to allow them to participate fully in work related to the single regeneration budget.

These clauses relate to the Secretary of State's powers to give support. He can support local authorities which spend under their proper powers. If there were any doubt about those powers, that would be a separate question. For those reasons, it would not be appropriate to include the two amendments in the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will agree to that.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Has the Minister—I am sure that he has—considered the case of Allerdale District Council v.Credit Suisse? It is an important landmark case as to whether local authorities have the vires to make a contract, whether they have the vires to enforce that contract, and whether the other parties to the contract have the vires to enforce that on the local authority within the context of the present law? I am advised that at the moment that is not the case without clarification. That is the point of the amendment. Local authorities should, as we all agree, be entitled to enter into proper partnerships with the private sector to encourage regeneration. I hope that the Minister has considered this case carefully and can give us a proper response before I sit down.

Earl Ferrers

I would not give a proper response before the noble Lord sat down, I should wait for him to sit down. Now that he has sat down, I shall give him the response. It would have been discourteous to have us both on our feet at the same time. I should prefer to give a considered answer later about a specific case. It would be inappropriate to discuss an individual case upon which there has been a legal judgment. If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord about the matter. In general, the case to which he referred (Allerdale District Council v. Credit Suisse) concerned a local authority's guarantee powers, whereas the clause that we are debating relates to the Secretary of State's power to give assistance. It concerns guarantees and not regeneration. That is as far as I can go at the moment but I will consider the noble Lord's points and write to him.

Baroness Hamwee

Amendment No. 226 refers to local authority powers as they are affected by the exercise of the Secretary of State's powers. As regards Amendment No. 225, the Minister said that it would be retrograde. It is sad that allowing local authorities to play their part as I have suggested is regarded as a retrograde step. It is perhaps a little odd too in these days when the use of private finance is encouraged. It also tends to suppress the community leadership role of local authorities, which is a role that I should like to see supported. The hour is late and I shall not pursue the point now. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 226 not moved.]

Clause 123 agreed to.

Clause 124 [Regeneration and development: terms on which assistance is given]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 227: Page 73, line 3, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("(1) The Secretary of State shall consult local authorities and relevant interests regarding the regeneration and development of the regions and publish regional strategies for regeneration and development, in which he shall have regard to the views expressed in such consultation. (1A) Financial assistance under section 122 shall have regard to the strategies published in accordance with subsection (1) above and may be given on such terms as the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, considers appropriate. (1B) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements for the reimbursement of the costs of preparing applications for funding under this section. (1C) The Secretary of State shall determine—

  1. (a) those applications which are eligible under subsection (1B) above for reimbursement; and
  2. (b) the level of such reimbursement.
(1D) The Secretary of State shall give reasons in writing to applicants for financial assistance under section 122 for the success or failure of their application on the same date as he publishes his decisions on the allocation of such financial assistance.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 227 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 228. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will speak to her Amendment No. 229. The purpose of the amendment is to provide what I would call a strategic background against which to judge bids for support from the single regeneration budget and other funding sources. Perhaps I ought to declare a minor interest in that I am President of the Federation of Economic Development Authorities. It is purely an honorary position but the economic development authorities—district councils which have economic development departments—are involved in bids for the SRB.

Judging from my experience of the Federation of Economic Development Authorities and other bodies, there is a difficulty about the transparency of decisions regarding the allocation of funds for regeneration and development. The purpose of the amendment is to improve that transparency and to encourage collaboration between central government, local authorities and others in developing some kind of strategic framework for the future development of United Kingdom regions.

There is anxiety among local authorities and others preparing SRB bids that the process of deciding which bids should be accepted and which should be refused is not transparent. Amendment No. 227 achieves three aims. First, it requires the Secretary of State to consult local authorities and other relevant bodies about the future regeneration and development of their region and to have regard to their views when deciding on the priorities or criteria to be used in deciding between different SRB bids. Currently there appears to be something of a policy vacuum within regional offices where decisions on individual SRB applications are taken. I am afraid that that gives rise to some suspicion, however unworthy, that decisions are taken on political grounds rather than on grounds of a contribution to a particular area. A strategy, if put in place, would provide an indication to bidders of the types of project which should be brought forward for further local regeneration.

Secondly, it appears that the government regional offices vary very markedly in the extent to which they provide to those submitting SRB bids feedback as to why the bids were successful or unsuccessful. Indeed, when consulted—and I am advised by the federation of which I am president—government regional offices vary widely in the advice which they are prepared to give to local authorities in putting forward a bid. Some regional offices are very forthcoming and others not so forthcoming. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to give reasons in writing, which is reasonable, to bidders as to the success or failure of specific bids.

That feedback is particularly important because it will encourage bidders in future rounds to improve their submissions; to improve the way in which they present their case; and will improve their chances of success. That would be seen as at least a minimum level of courtesy following the expenditure of large amounts of time and money in preparing the bids. One local authority I know spent over £1 million of its council taxpayers' money in preparing a bid. That is a great deal of money. As it happened, the bid was successful. But many bids which have cost a great deal of council taxpayers' money as well as public money have been unsuccessful. Feedback will also provide proof that all bids have been considered carefully.

Thirdly, because the costs of preparing SRB bids are high, this amendment gives the Secretary of State discretion to reimburse some or all of the costs incurred in making bids which are commendable although unsuccessful. That happens frequently. Local authorities are told, "It was a very good bid, quite right, but unfortunately you were unsuccessful". This amendment would ensure that what are known in the trade—if I may use the expression—as near misses are not disadvantaged by the bidding process since costs of bids can be considerable.

I very much hope that the Government will take seriously these two amendments because there is a genuine problem in relation to the costs of SRB bids and the strategy which lies behind the single regeneration budget itself. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My name is down to Amendments Nos. 227 and 228, and Amendment No. 229, which is in my name, has a very similar aim to the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has just spoken.

The fact that the implementation of the budget is not consistent across the country is not necessarily bad because, after all, there are different needs and different priorities in different places. But what is worrying is that it is not possible to understand the basis for decisions, as the noble Lord has said.

The effect of the SRB so far has given rise to concern that funds have been allocated on a basis less closely related to the needs of different areas than has been the case in the past, as well as the basis for the allocation of funding between areas having become less explicit. I understand that the Association of London Government has assessed the degree of relationship between the SRB and the Government's own index of local conditions and, further, that the effect of the SRB so far has been to reduce the degree of fit between resource allocation and need. Indeed, I believe that some areas of high need have been missed out.

As I said, patchiness is not necessarily wrong but it seems in this case that perhaps it is. The effect of the proposed clause is to suggest that, rather than being reliant on a bidding system the Government might decide in advance how much an area should receive, so that the basis of allocation of funding would become more explicit. I was surprised to learn that it is only in London that there is real evidence of competition for resources, and that in most other regions the number of bids submitted does not greatly exceed the number that are funded. It seems, therefore, that there is perhaps not the competitive process that was originally envisaged. Again, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It may be the natural result of key partners in an area working together to submit a joint bid under the leadership of the local authority. However, in London it seems that particular bids each year are especially favoured by the regional office. Major established partnerships—one can think of Park Royal, Stratford and the South Bank—bid each year, and are likely to be funded each year. I question whether that approach is an appropriate one. As I have said on previous occasions, I have my doubts—indeed, more than doubts—about the benefits of competition. If it is to be the same projects which are to receive the lion's share of resources, that negates the objective of a competitive system. I support this group of amendments.

Earl Ferrers

These are meaty amendments, if I may so express it. I refer to the first two amendments in the group, Amendments Nos. 227 and 228, which stand in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The amendments return to concerns which have been expressed in the past, primarily by local authorities, about the operation of the single regeneration budget challenge fund. The Environment Committee in another place considered these areas in its first report on the operation of the single regeneration budget, and most of these points have been covered in the Government's response to that report.

We welcome the committee's general conclusion that the single regeneration budget challenge fund has already demonstrated its potential to achieve excellent value for taxpayers' money; and that it does not think the Government should make major changes to the programme's operation. The Environment Committee felt that the Government were on the right course. That is encouraging. Amendments Nos. 227 and 228 cover several points. First, Amendment No. 227 would require the Secretary of State to consult local authorities and other relevant interests, and publish regional strategies for regeneration and development. There is a regular dialogue between government offices and key local players to discuss regeneration issues and priorities. That is a prime function of government offices. However, we do not believe that it would be practicable to try to incorporate the existing diverse arrangements into a formal exercise, nor that it is necessary to publish the results. The Environment Committee concluded that regional regeneration strategies—if we were to have them—would add a layer of bureaucracy, and risk making the bidding process for the single regeneration budget challenge fund unnecessarily cumbersome and restrictive. We therefore would not wish to adopt that course.

Secondly, the amendment would require financial assistance under Clause 122 to have regard to published regional strategies.

As I said earlier in relation to Amendments Nos. 221 and 222, we agree that bids for support under the single regeneration budget challenge fund should take full account of the planning policy guidance of the Secretary of State for the Environment and local authority development plans, as well as other regional strategies such as single programming documents prepared in relation to European structural funds. The bidding guidance for rounds one and two drew specific attention to this; and it has been reaffirmed in the guidance for round three.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to make arrangements to reimburse bodies for the costs of preparing applications for funding, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred.

The Select Committee agreed with Ministers that resources invested in bids for the single regeneration budget challenge fund were not necessarily wasted. Most losing partnerships have stayed together, and have looked for other funding or have put in new bids. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that if they were to be reimbursed it would encourage the bidder to continue to bid. I dare say it may. But the fact is that there would be no extra money available. Therefore that which was paid out to the losing bidders would not be available to other constructive bids. Although there is clearly an expense and a drawback in losing a bid, nevertheless it has been shown that those who bid tend to stay together and are successful in later bidding.

Partnerships not successful in round two will be able to bid again for round three funding. Government offices will give advice to them, and other bidders, to assist in drawing up bids. The bidding guidance for the challenge fund deliberately stresses that bids for support should not be presented in a glossy or elaborate form. They should include the minimum information necessary to enable a bid to be assessed, and translated into action if it is successful.

Finally, the amendment would also require the Secretary of State to write to applicants, giving them reasons for the success or failure of their bids for funding, on the same date as the decisions are announced. In fact, that is what happens. Government offices wrote to all partnerships who were unsuccessful under the first two single regeneration budget challenge fund bidding rounds. They offered such partnerships a meeting to discuss why their bid failed, how it might be strengthened in subsequent rounds, and what alternative sources of funding might be available. Most of the partnerships took up the offer of a meeting, and many were subsequently successful in round two or are bidding again in round three. For those reasons I do not think that the first amendments are desirable.

Amendment No. 229 stands in the name of Lady Hamwee alone. She has lost the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on this amendment. I do not know why; perhaps he did not approve of it. The amendment would enable financial assistance to be given to local authorities on the basis of annual regeneration plans. Our view is that local authorities have important roles to play both as members of local partnerships and with other interested parties in helping to bring together bidders. The bidding guidance we have just issued for round three of the single regeneration budget challenge fund reflects our wish to see local authorities playing this central role. But we are looking for real local partnerships, which fully involve other parts of the community; and we agree with the Select Committee's recommendation that we should not give local authorities a formal strategic role in relation to the bidding stage of the single regeneration budget challenge fund process.

Overall, we believe that the present arrangements for the operation of the single regeneration budget challenge fund are adequate, although we will certainly keep them under review and see how they can be improved as time goes by. This reflects the Select Committee's advice against making major changes to the programme. We do not think it would be helpful to specify certain aspects of the arrangements in legislation, as this might limit the continuing process of improvement.

The simple and short answer to all three amendments is that the single regeneration budget challenge fund is working quite well. The Environment Committee said it thought it was working well and advised against making too many alterations. I suggest to the Committee that it would be inadvisable, after that advice, to change what we are doing by primary legislation. That is why it would be best not to accept the amendments as part of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble Earl. It is the first time that I have heard a Select Committee of another place being prayed in aid by the Government. Normally, Select Committees of another place are critical of governments. Nevertheless, if the Government rely on that evidence, we note it. In future cases where Select Committees of another place are critical of the Government, no doubt the Government will also rely on their opinion on other matters.

The Government must pay attention to the problem. Whatever the Select Committee of another place says, there is substantial disaffection in local authorities about the SRB on the lines that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I have mentioned. I believe that it is not such a bad system, others take a different view and think that it is terrible. It is not such a bad system, bar the fact that it does not encourage assistance to go where it is needed, it goes where there is reasonable presentation. That is my experience and that of others.

I do not wish to press the amendment at this hour of the night, but the Government would be sensible to pay serious attention to the points made this evening. In the light of the noble Earl's response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 228 not moved.]

Clause 124 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 229 not moved.]

Clause 125 agreed to.

Clause 126 [Resolution by local housing authority to pay relocation grants]:

10 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 230: Page 73, line 36, leave out ("are") and insert ("will be").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 230, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 231, 232 and 250. We are now dealing with relocation grants. The purpose of Amendments Nos. 230 and 231 is to allow a local housing authority to seek confirmation from the Secretary of State that contributions towards relocation grants will be payable by him in respect of a specific proposed clearance area before passing a resolution to pay such grants.

The Bill introduces relocation grants which may be used by local housing authorities to assist people who lose their homes as a result of clearance activity. As I understand it, the grants will supplement existing compensation provisions to enable people affected by clearance to purchase a replacement dwelling and can be paid after a clearance area has been made. The decision to make relocation grants available must be made before making the clearance area. That is the ground on which the amendments are based.

Local housing authorities will be required by Clause 126 to do a number of things before deciding. Clause 134 merely says that the Secretary of State may make contributions towards relocation grants paid. In the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill, it is suggested that relocation grants will be financed from public expenditure released by the change from mandatory to discretionary renovation grants. That comes as something of a surprise because it is contrary to the suggestion made in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. Savings will not, in our view, be made by the change from mandatory to discretionary renovation grants. As we have argued over Part I time and time again, the same number of unfit houses will remain to be dealt with the day after the change is made as the day before the change was made.

So there can be no changes as a result of a change in the scheme from mandatory to discretionary provision. Furthermore, local housing authorities are likely to have to divert more of their limited resources to fund mandatory disabled facilities grants after the change. There can be no extra money for relocation grants. My amendment is designed to seek confirmation that the Secretary of State will pay whatever is necessary in respect of proposed clearance areas before local housing authorities pass a resolution to pay those grants.

I turn to Amendment No. 250, which is designed to ensure that subsidy is made available for relocation grant in the same way that renovation grants at present receive subsidy. The Secretary of State already has powers to make contributions towards the cost of renovation and disabled facilities grants, currently at the rate of 60 per cent. of expenditure. As we know, those powers are repeated in Part I of the Bill.

It is important for all grants to be dealt with in a similar way in order to ensure a proper balance between the different options for renewal. That is particularly important in relation to the balance of action between repair and replacement, which is what we are talking about when discussing relocation grants. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My amendment No. 232 is grouped with these amendments. I can understand that there may be a knee-jerk reaction to the notion that capital receipts may be released to be used for the purposes that I suggest. However, I do not feel that those purposes are so very wide.

The amendment refers to Section 290 of the Housing Act 1985. That section refers to local authorities' acquisition of land after they have declared an area to be a clearance area. Under Section 289(2): The local housing authority shall declare an area to be a clearance area if they are satisfied … that the houses in the area are unfit for human habitation or are by reason of their bad arrangement"— the reference is to the arrangement of streets— dangerous or injurious to the health of the inhabitants … and that the other buildings … in the area are [similarly] dangerous or injurious to … health". Further, it states that the most satisfactory way of dealing with the matter is the demolition of buildings in the area.

That is not a decision which is taken every day of the week by every local housing authority up and down the country. The amendment proposes that capital receipts received from the disposal of land previously subject to that type of action can be used by the local housing authority toward further investment. I use the term "investment" quite deliberately—not random, profligate spending.

I am well aware that restrictions on the spending of capital receipts are intended to reduce the local authorities' debt but they have the effect of reducing the local authorities' capital bases and, I suggest, their power. One of the reasons underlying the controls on the use of capital receipts is a wish to reduce local authorities' capital bases. But it also means that local authorities are restricted in their ability to invest; and coupled with other restrictions on capital expenditure, as I said earlier this evening, their hands are very much tied.

This is not therefore an extensive amendment. I do not believe that it will have huge implications. However, it could be extremely important and useful in the limited number of places where such actions are taken.

Lord Lucas

These amendments are all about the resources which will be available to local authorities to enable them to give relocation grants. Amendments Nos. 230 and 231 concern the resources condition in Clause 126(3), the purpose of which is to ensure that authorities do not commit themselves to future expenditure on relocation grants recklessly. In our view, it requires each authority to be generally satisfied, on the basis of its current level of resources, that it would be able to meet the sort of expenditure that such a commitment would imply.

The wording follows that in Section 289 of the Housing Act 1985 which requires authorities to be satisfied that their resources are adequate before declaring a clearance area. Although this, like the decision to pay relocation grants, implies a long-term commitment of resources, the wording seems to be generally understood and has not caused any problems.

In relation to the specific questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, the point is that if authorities have discretion they can allocate resources according to their own priorities. They will therefore be able to pay relocation grants if they wish from within the overall level of their resources.

Amendments Nos. 230 and 231 are unacceptable because they would require local housing authorities to be satisfied about the future availability of resources and for the Secretary of State to give them cast-iron guarantees on that. No government can give any such assurance because public spending decisions have to be taken afresh each year taking account of the amount the country can reasonably afford to pay. The Secretary of-State could therefore not give the absolute confirmation about resources which Amendment No. 231 appears to require. Authorities would therefore be unable to satisfy themselves on this and so would never be able to exercise their power to give grants. I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord intends.

I can, however, assure the noble Lord that it is certainly our intention to pay contributions towards the cost of relocation grants for the foreseeable future. We would expect to do so at the same rate as for slum clearance subsidy; that is to say, 60 per cent. Amendment No. 250 seeks to relate the amount paid to the level of contributions towards the cost of renovation grants under Part I, but we see no merit in that. Nor is it clear to us that a requirement on the Secretary of State to have regard to that level would establish a clear link in any event.

Amendment No. 232 seeks to enable local authorities to fund the provision of relocation grants using capital receipts from their slum clearance activities. If we wished to do that, we could do so under our existing powers in Section 59 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. However, allowing authorities to use receipts which they would otherwise have to set aside to meet credit liabilities would, if unchecked, add to public expenditure. Furthermore, such a change might also affect different authorities in different ways. Some authorities may not have sufficient receipts to meet the demand for relocation grants at the time the demand arose.

In conclusion, we believe that funding for relocation grants should be met from within the overall level of resources allocated for private sector renewal, with a 60 per cent. Exchequer subsidy as already mentioned. I hope that, on the basis of those explanations, the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble Lord for the 60 per cent. reassurance. That is important. On other matters I have serious doubts about whether the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum is right and that there will be funds available from Part I in order to pay for relocation grants. Nevertheless, in the light of the noble Lord's explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 231 not moved.]

Clause 126 agreed to.

Clause 127 [Relocation grants: applications and payments]:

[Amendment No. 232 not moved.]

Clause 127 agreed to.

Clause 128 [Relocation grants: qualifying persons and qualifying dwellings]:

10.15 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McColl of Dulwich)

In calling Amendment No. 233, I should point out that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 234.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 233: Page 74, line 35, leave out from ("be,") to end of line 36 and insert ("acquired by the local housing authority under section 290 of the Housing Act 1985 or section 154 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990;").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 235 to 239 and to make reference to Amendment No. 234 which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams.

Amendments Nos. 233 and 235 to 239 are to make clear that relocation grants may be payable whether properties in clearance areas or surrounding lands are acquired compulsorily or by agreement. As currently worded, Clause 128(1)(a) provides that a person is a qualifying person for the purposes of eligibility for relocation grant if among other things he has an interest in a dwelling in the clearance area which has been, or is to be, compulsorily acquired. The definition of "compulsory acquisition" in subsection (6) of Clause 128 was intended to encompass all acquisitions, whether compulsory or by agreement, under Section 290 of the Housing Act 1985 or Section 154 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. However, we feel that the provisions are open to misinterpretation and that it would be best to clarify the situation. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will see that we have succeeded in incorporating the intent of Amendment No. 234.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble Lord. He is quite right. He has subsumed my Amendment No. 234, which I shall not be moving.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 234 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 235 to 239: Page 75, line 10, leave out from ("be,") to end of line 11 and insert ("acquired by the local housing authority under section 290 of the Housing Act 1985 or section 154 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990."). Page 75, line 13, leave out ("a compulsory") and insert ("an"). Page 75, line 22, leave out ("compulsorily"). Page 75, line 23, leave out ("a compulsory") and insert ("an"). Page 75, leave out lines 27 to 30.

The noble Lord said: I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 233. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to. Clause 28, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 129 [Relocation grants: amount]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 240: Page 75, line 33, leave out ("and (3)") and insert ("to (3A)").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 241 to 249, 251, 264 and 266.

Amendments Nos. 240 to 247 are to clarify the rules for determining the maximum amount of relocation grant which may be paid and to bring the rules for applying the means test more closely into line with those which apply for renovation grants. In particular, those who are displaced by clearance activity will be required to put the compensation they receive for the loss of their old home towards the cost of buying their new one.

Amendments Nos. 248 and 249 make minor changes to the rules governing the repayment of grant when one of the grant conditions is breached. Amendment No. 248 has the effect that the grant will not have to be repaid where the property is passed on under a will or intestacy to someone who lived with the deceased person throughout the 12 months ending with the date of his death. Indeed, that was our intention in drafting the Bill but Amendment No. 248 as originally drafted required an impossibility, which was that the new tenant should have lived with the deceased after his death.

Amendment No. 249 is to deter someone who wishes to move out of his home within five years of the purchase from escaping his obligation to repay grant by first selling the property to a member of his family. In these cases the grant repayment condition will become binding on the new owner and the same will apply if a person passes on his property under a will or intestacy.

Amendment No. 251 clarifies the definition of "owner" for the purpose of the relocation grant provisions by explaining the meaning of "net annual value", which is used in that definition. Amendment No. 264 ensures that only those provisions in Clauses 122 to 124 of Part IV of the Bill will extend to Scotland. Clause 125 has no relevance to Scotland. I understand that any decision whether to introduce relocation grants north of the Border will be taken when Ministers there come to reform the improvement and repairs grant system, at which time they will also review associated statutory powers.

Finally, we intend to bring the provisions of the relocation grants into force on 1st April next year. Amendment No. 266, when read with Clause 144(3), will enable us to apply for that day by order of the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

I was listening to my noble friend and I became slightly confused. I believe he said that if the grant is payable on the old home, it should be used in conjunction with the new home. That is fine when a home is bought and owned the second time around. What happens if it is a rented home?

Lord Lucas

Then no grant is payable. The grant is payable solely for the purpose of enabling someone to buy a new home.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 241 to 247: Page 75, line 37, leave out from ("exceed") to end of line 39 and insert ("the difference between—

  1. (a) the cost of acquiring the qualifying dwelling to which the application relates; and
  2. (b) such part as may be prescribed of the amount which has been, or is to be, paid by the authority in respect of the acquisition of the applicant's interest in the original dwelling.
(3A) If the financial resources of the applicant exceed the applicable amount, the amount of any grant which may be paid shall, in accordance with regulations, be reduced from what it would otherwise have been."). Page 75, line 40, after third ("the") insert ("qualifying"). Page 76, line I, leave out from beginning to ("for") in line 2 and insert ("Provision may be made by regulations—(a)") Page 76, line 4, at end insert— ("(b) for the determination of the applicable amount referred to in subsection (3A), and (c) as to circumstances in which the financial resources of an applicant are to be assumed (by reason of his receiving a prescribed benefit or otherwise) not to exceed the applicable amount."). Page 76, line 5, leave out ("under subsection (5)"). Page 76, line 13, leave out ("under that subsection"). Page 76, line 15, at end insert— ("() In this section— the original dwelling" has the same meaning as in section 128; regulations" means regulations made by the Secretary of State with the consent of the Treasury.").

The noble Lord said: I have spoken to these amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 129, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 130 [Relocation grants: condition for repayment on disposal]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 248: Page 76, line 45, leave out ("disposal") and insert ("deceased's death").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 130, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 131 [Relocation grants: conditions as to owner-occupation]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 249: Page 77, line 25, leave out subsection (6) and insert— ("(6) Subsections (5) and (6) of section 130 apply for the purposes of this section as they apply for the purposes of that section.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 131, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 132 and 133, agreed to.

Clause 134 [Relocation grants: contributions by the Secretary of State]:

[Amendment No. 250 not moved.]

Clause 134 agreed to.

Clause 135 [Minor definitions relating to relocations grants]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 251: Page 79, line 20, at end insert— ("() For the purposes of the definition of "owner" in subsection (1), the net annual value of a dwelling means the rent at which the dwelling might reasonably be expected to be let from year to year if the tenant undertook to pay all usual tenant's rates and taxes and to bear the cost of repair and insurance and the other expenses, if any, necessary to maintain the dwelling in a state to command that rent. () Any dispute arising as to the net annual value of a dwelling shall be referred in writing for decision by the district valuer. In this subsection "district valuer" has the same meaning as in the-Housing Act 1985.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 240. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 135, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 136 [Home energy efficiency schemes]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 252: Page 79, line 45, at end insert— ("(3) Grants under this section shall be available to▀×

  1. (a) any applicant in receipt of income support, family credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit, disability working allowance or disability living allowance, or
  2. (b) any applicant over 60 years of age.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 253 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. We embark here on home energy efficiency schemes, which were introduced in 1991. The purpose of my Amendment No. 252 is to abolish the introduction of means-tested criteria for applicants for home energy efficiency schemes grants who are over 50 years of age. I do not believe that I need enlarge on the object of this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, may well argue that the introduction of a form of means-testing for pensioners will compensate for the reduction in HEES funding by allowing a reduced sum of money to go further, but experience suggests that that is not the case. The requirement to pay 75 per cent. of the cost of works for those not on means-tested benefits will be a significant deterrent to take-up. Measures adopted by regional electricity companies have offered a range of support for energy efficiency measures. It has been shown that grants of less than 75 per cent. are not successful, with very little take-up below that level. I beg to move.

Lord Ezra

The issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, are of considerable importance. There was a commitment in the previous Finance Bill for the home energy efficiency schemes to be funded to a total of £100 million for three years. That commitment was repeated by Ministers throughout last year and as recently as last May. The result of that commitment was that an increased number of homes, particularly of elderly people on small incomes, were insulated and, as a result, much energy saving was achieved. There was a gearing up of the staff required to carry out that work.

The results of the measures now intended—that is, the reduction of £31 million in the £100 million originally vouchsafed and the means-testing of people of pensionable age—will have serious repercussions. I turn first to the case of people of pensionable age who will be means-tested. Very many people of pensionable age who do not receive income support (which is the test), in fact do not claim it although entitled to it. The DSS has estimated that about one-third of pensioners do not claim who could do so. Quite apart from those who could claim technically, a large number of pensioners live just beyond the level at which they could claim but they cannot afford to pay the extra amount. They will thus be deprived of the insulation benefit.

As a result of the cut-back, some 200,000 fewer homes will be insulated. There will be a loss of 1,000 jobs in small businesses. Some £12 million which would otherwise have been expended on insulating materials will not be so expended. That will not only mean greater disadvantage in environmental terms, but will have a serious impact on health. A sobering statistic is that excess winter deaths in Britain in recent years have increased to something like 55,000. That is vastly in excess of excess winter deaths in any other western European country. In Denmark, which is at the other extreme, there are very few more deaths in winter than in summer, because of attention to good housing conditions. There is very little doubt that those extra deaths are of elderly people living in cold and damp conditions.

Therefore, I believe that the measures that the Government now propose to cut that vital expenditure, to subject pensioners to means-testing and to widen the scope of the use of the reduced availability of funds so that even less will be expended on insulation, will have serious adverse effects—serious from the economic, environmental, health and social points of view. Therefore, in the light of the difficult situation created by the clause, I very much hope that the Government will think again.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, in his amendment, Amendment No. 252, wants to ensure that any future domestic energy efficiency grant schemes will be confined to the same groups of people as are eligible for the existing home energy efficiency scheme. The present power allows grants to be paid only as prescribed by regulations, which may make provision for, among other things, the types of dwellings to be included, details of the work that may be done and the categories of people who may be eligible for grants. This is quite deliberately intended to give maximum flexibility within the overall purpose of improving the thermal efficiency of dwellings, reducing or preventing waste of energy and giving people advice about energy use.

I understand the desire of the noble Lord to put into primary legislation the social aims of the present scheme, but Amendment No.252 will have the effect of restricting unnecessarily the flexibility which the present power provides. It is a flexibility which Clause 136 will extend, which several noble Lords and others have welcomed. I think that what is suggested is a retrograde step. We could not reflect any future changes to the social security benefits structure without the lengthy procedure of a new Bill to amend the Act. I do not believe that Amendment No.252 will do any more to help the elderly, poor and disabled than is already being done through the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme. We are committed to continuing to help those vulnerable groups. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will accept that point of view.

As regards Amendment No. 253, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said that we had given an undertaking in the sum of £100 million for three years. I knew that this would come up. I remind the noble Lord—as I have before at Question Time—that the undertaking was to go up to £100 million for that year and to increase the base line to £100 million for the next two or three years. As a result of that, the noble Lord suggests that the Government have been disingenuous. Although those are not his words, that is the inference to be drawn from his comment.

The noble Lord knows only too well that all government departments operate on base lines. They must all proceed over the next two years not on undertakings but on base lines. The base lines inevitably have to be altered from time to time. Every year in the terrible Public Expenditure Survey round the Government, like any other business, have to decide, where cuts can be made if cuts have to be made. The fact was that it was necessary this year to make cuts. It was not an undertaking last year that for the next two years that money would be available, only that the base line would have that money available.

I understand the desire to maintain the grants paid under a very successful scheme. But it would be quite impossible to suggest that a figure should be written into a Bill. It would be extraordinary to have a funding commitment and power dealing with a grant scheme in a Bill. One can hardly envisage the effect of having every expenditure commitment enshrined in primary legislation. Of course, that is not the noble Lord's intention, but if this amendment is accepted the commitment will be enshrined in legislation. I suggest that that would be wholly wrong.

The noble Lord is concerned about the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme. I remind him that householders may be eligible for one or more benefits: income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit, family credit or disability working allowance. All householders age over 60 are eligible for grant, but from 1st April the grant is limited to 25 per cent. if claimants do not qualify on any of the grounds that I have just mentioned. We are targeting the money available to those who are most inconvenienced in the community, and those householders who are 60 and over and do not qualify for other grants because they happen to be better off do not get 100 per cent. grant but still get a 25 per cent. grant. That is a reasonable way in which to deal with the matter. People who took advantage of the grant have benefited from it. We are targeting the grant on those most in need of it.

Lord Ezra

I do not follow what the Minister said about the £100 million. I have many quotes about it from Ministers. I shall relate just one which is at variance with what we have just been told. Mr. Robert Jones, a Minister in the Department of the Environment, in a Written Answer in another place on 22nd May, said: During 1995–96, some £100 million will be made available for grants, and a similar sum has been set aside for each of the next two years",—[Official Report, Commons, 22/5/95; col. 386.] I do not see that that can mean anything but a firm commitment by government at that time for £100 million to be made available for 1995–96 and that further similar sums were set aside for the succeeding two years.

It does not seem to me that that accords with what the Minister was saying. If the Government have changed their mind, as they evidently have, that is an unfortunate fact, and that is what I am arguing against. As to the impact, it will mean—whatever way it is looked at—that 200,000 homes which would otherwise have been insulated will not now be insulated; and a number of deaths from damp and cold conditions which would otherwise have been prevented will not now be prevented.

The Government were moving in the right direction. I believe that at the time the Prime Minister was very much in favour. I have no evidence for that, but I was told he was. Having taken a step which brought so much extra comfort to the elderly and people on low incomes, it is unfortunate that the Government have now taken part of it away without notice, without consideration of previous commitments and without thought of the enormous amount of good it was doing and will no longer do. We should return to the matter if the Minister is not prepared to give any assurances at this stage.

Earl Ferrers

I must try to explain the position, because I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is labouring under a misapprehension, although not deliberately. It is true that £100 million was allocated for 1995–96, and that a similar sum was—to use his expression—set aside for the following two years. When one sets something aside, one puts it in the baseline. No government will normally ever undertake to have a certain expenditure guaranteed for following years, because governments do not operate in that way. They operate from the baseline. That was increased, and that was as it should have been.

It was only when considerations had to be made in a stringent public expenditure survey that it was decided to make the cuts here. We said that those people who were, as the noble Lord said, elderly and on low incomes would be the ones to benefit from the grant. Those older people, who are not the poorest and who do not have these other grants, do not receive 100 per cent. grant; they receive 25 per cent. Before this happened, and when the grant was 100 per cent. all noble Lords who had the pleasure of being over 60 were eligible to have the grant. With a limited amount of funding, it seems wrong to give that grant to people who could themselves afford to pay.

Let us remember also that when the grant is paid, it is not one lump sum; it is given, for instance, for loft insulation, tank or pipe lagging, or draught proofing. They are separate items. If the whole work is carried out one receives £15-worth of energy efficiency advice too. All the work comes to £315 per house. I understand that it is rare that a household qualifies for all the grants available under the scheme.

I do not want the Committee to get the matter out of perspective. Those people in the poorest parts, those who are least well off, will still have the grants available to them. Those who are more than 60 years old but who are not the poorest people will still have the scheme available to them but at a 25 per cent. grant. I do not believe that we have been wholly disingenuous.

I do not know where the noble Lord found his figures. about how many house will no longer have the work done. I do not understand how he can work that out. I can tell him that the scheme has been a considerable success. More than one and three-quarter million grants have been paid since it began in 1991 and research shows that households receiving grants can on average save about £39 a year if they maintain their heating patterns. The grant scheme has been a success and we have tried to aim it at those people who need it.

Baroness Hamwee

Perhaps I may make a comment now rather than detaining the Committee on the Question of whether Clause 136 shall stand part of the Bill. The Minister has told us what a considerable success the scheme has been. The amendments in the group have been tabled in order to maintain that success and that is the reason for my concern about the clause. It may seem inconsistent to support energy conservation and the home energy efficiency scheme while at the same time opposing the clause. However, I believe that it is the Government who are inconsistent in seeking to extend the scheme while reducing the means.

I believe that the focus of the scheme should remain on heating and insulation improvements rather than extending it to energy efficient appliances and lighting. I say that given the limited budget, about which we have heard, and the urgent needs of the client group to which my noble friend Lord Ezra referred.

Lord Williams of Elvel

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, put their fingers on the point: there will be less money for a good scheme and it will be spread more thinly across the population. We should like it to be concentrated or for it to have more resources, if that is possible. However, the Government's approach seems to me to be wrong.

Nevertheless, having listened to what the noble Earl explained at considerable length, at this time of night it is right to bring the debate to a conclusion and to see whether we shall return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ezra had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 253: Page 79, line 45, at end insert— ("(3) The Secretary of State shall ensure that the resources available to fund grants under section 15 of the Social Security Act 1990 are at least equal to £100 million annually until the end of financial year 1997–98.").

The noble Lord said: It is not my intention to move the amendment at this stage. However, I wish to make it clear that I shall return to the matter at the next stage. I also wish to give the noble Earl an assurance that he will receive a letter which will explain precisely how 200,000 homes will not be insulated as a result of the measures which the Government are now taking to reduce the commitment which they firmly made a year ago.

[Amendment No. 253 not moved.]

Clause 136 agreed to.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 254: After Clause 136, insert the following new clause— HOME EFFICIENCY SCHEMES (" .—(1) Section 3(4) of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (reports by Secretary of State) is amended as follows. (2) After "section 2" there is inserted— (aa) include his assessment of the contribution that has been made, and could have been made by home energy efficiency schemes, towards the achievement of a significant improvement in the energy efficiency of residential accommodation, as defined by guidance from him under section 4(2) of this Act.".").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment adds to the requirements of the reporting under the Home Energy Conservation Act. At about this time of night last Thursday, my noble friend Lord Rodgers was referring to 30,000 disappointed architects. Perhaps this is the point at which to refer to a potential 200,000 disappointed home owners.

The amendment seeks to require that the contribution of the home energy efficiency scheme to the improvement of energy efficiency in residential accommodation is considered at the same time as the Secretary of State gives his report summarising the progress made by local authorities on implementing the measures contained in home energy conservation reports required by the Act to which I have referred.

The Act requires the Secretary of State from time to time to prepare that report. The home energy efficiency scheme can make a significant contribution towards helping to meet the target energy efficiency improvements under the Home Energy Conservation Act. The Department of the Environment estimates that some 20 per cent. of heat is lost in the average house through the roof and 15 per cent. through draughts through doors and windows. Moreover, there are very considerable reductions in CO2 emissions to be achieved by dealing with these matters.

I believe that the home energy efficiency scheme should be considered as an integral part of the strategic approach to home energy conservation which the Home Energy Conservation Act envisages. This amendment would assist in achieving that end. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Baroness is quite right to suggest that it is important to identify the contribution of programmes such as the home energy efficiency scheme to the achievement of significant improvements in energy efficiency. Guidance in the form of a recent Department of the Environment circular indicates that "significant" will be interpreted as 30 per cent. I would certainly expect that any report from my right honourable friend would identify the progress made by authorities in encouraging the take up of grant and the contribution that will make towards the overall target. I must confess to some confusion over the reference to "could have been made". I think that it would be undesirable for my right honourable friend's reports under the Home Energy Conservation Act to speculate on the hypothetical, or indeed appear negative by considering contributions that could have been made.

There is also concern that the amendment requires my right honourable friend to give undue prominence to the contribution of home energy efficiency schemes in his report to Parliament. However, I hope that what I have said will reassure the noble Baroness that those reports will certainly cover the important contribution which our home energy efficiency scheme can make to strategies to improve the energy efficiency of our residential accommodation.

Baroness Hamwee

What the Minister has said has helped me with the drafting of my amendment for the next stage of the Bill when perhaps we shall spend a little longer on these important topics to which I fear we are not really devoting as much attention as some of us would like to see, given the late hour. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 255: After Clause 136, insert the following new clause— PROVISIONS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE IN CONSTRUCTION OF NEW DWELLINGS (" . The Secretary of State shall exercise his powers under section 1 of the Building Act 1985 to introduce an extension to Part M of the Building Regulations 1991 in order to ensure that in the construction of new dwellings reasonable provision shall be made for disabled people to gain access to and to use the entrance storey of the dwelling including sanitary conveniences.").

The noble Lord said: In 1985, the Government introduced Part M of the Building Regulations for public and commercial buildings. Those specified minimum standards of access for disabled people.

In January of last year, the Department of the Environment produced a consultation paper proposing that Part M be extended to include new residential dwellings. The proposal was for the introduction of two new requirements. The first was Regulation M5 which stated that: Reasonable provision shall be made for disabled people to gain access to and to use the entrance storey of the dwelling". Regulation M6 stated that: Reasonable provision shall be made for sanitary conveniences on the entrance storey of the dwelling which allow access and use by disabled people". The stated objective of the new requirements was to allow occupiers to be able to invite disabled people to visit them in their own homes without undue hazard or inconvenience, and to be able to cope better with reducing mobility and to stay put longer in their own homes. I understand that the Government consulted 185 organisations directly but that they received over 1,000 responses, and that the principal opposition to the extension of these regulations came from private developers in the form of the House Builders Federation and its members.

The principle of extending these regulations was supported by a large number of disability and housing organisations, including the National Federation of Housing Associations. I understand that the consultation period finished in April last year. That being the case, it is now almost a year since the consultation ended. The Government have in my view, and in the view of a number of other people, had considerable time to analyse the responses. There is concern that this matter is on permanent hold.

Extending Part M to residential dwellings would bring all new homes in line with those built by housing associations as well as being consistent with the Government's own regulations for commercial and public buildings. I understand that the design by housing associations is a requirement of the Housing Corporation, a Government funded body. All new non-domestic buildings and extensions must provide access and facilities for disabled people. Those are mandatory requirements.

Since 1993, performance standards for accessibility apply to all new housing built for rent by housing associations in England and Wales. The extension of Part M to housing would create more convenient and flexible housing for parents with children, pregnant women, people with temporary injury, older people, people with a chronic medical condition, and disabled people. The basic structural criteria that allow easy access and adaptation are: parking, where provided, to be suitable for use by disabled people; avoidance of steps and steep ramps in entrance paths, and in entrance doorways; sufficient door widths and circulation space to allow easy passage for disabled people; electrical switches and sockets and mains controls sited within easy reach; and a WC at entrance level. Staircases should be suitable for the future installation of a stairlift. In blocks of flats the communal areas and lifts should be large and suitable for use by disabled people.

One in four households includes at least one person with a disability according to the OPCS 1991 national census. A high proportion of people with long-term limiting illness have mobility limitations. Arthritis Care estimates that 8 million people have some form of arthritis. I understand that some 300,000 people each year suffer a heart attack. Conditions affecting the mobility of younger people include asthma in one in 10 children, Aids, and disability caused by accidental injury.

The changing age profile of the UK population means there will be 600,000 more people over 80 in 2010. In 1992 over 15 per cent. of borrowers for new dwellings were 45 years-old or over. In 1995 the Halifax Building Society, in an experimental marketing initiative in its Brighton estate agents, found a huge demand for housing with accessible features, but no houses coming onto the market which were accessible.

A cornerstone of government policy is care in the community. The strain on the public purse of adapting existing, unsuitable housing currently runs at more than £80 million per annum. An unknown and far larger sum must be spent by private individuals. Can we really afford to continue to build unsuitable housing?

Accessible housing does not mean unattractive housing. It is not about concrete ramps and handrails. Those only become necessary when typical private sector housing must be adapted. The cost of implementing Part M is very small in relation to total development costs. Developers would have a competitive advantage in relation to existing housing. stock. In the long term there would be a reduction in the need for adaptations and other community care facilities.

The new Housing Bill—it is a government Bill currently going through another place—places a much greater emphasis on provision of housing by the private sector. It therefore becomes even more important that new housing is accessible. The Government have themselves proposed extending the building regulations to include improved access for disabled people to domestic dwellings.

While the Government delay, the changes which are urgently needed to ensure that the country's future housing stock meets future needs are not being made. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas

My noble friend Lord Swinfen makes a strong case. We launched a White Paper in January 1995. We undertook to consult widely. We were astonished at the number of responses we received. As my noble friend says, there were over a thousand, many of them full and complex comments on the range of specific measures proposed. Assessment of those responses has been a long and complex task which still continues. Once that task has been completed, recommendations will be made to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on the measures to be introduced.

Until that time comes, I am afraid that my noble friend Lord Swinfen will have to wait. We have powers under the Building Act 1984 to make the necessary changes should they be agreed, and when the time comes that is obviously a course of action we shall consider. However, at the moment I urge my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Swinfen

I am encouraged that there seems to be some progress, although remarkably little. It is now a year since the representations were in. I have a feeling that the private building industry may be putting pressure on my noble friend's department in this respect, but I could well be wrong. Can my noble friend give any indication of when there will be any movement?

Lord Lucas

No.

Lord Swinfen

I find that response very unsatisfactory. However, I shall not follow the matter up at this hour of the night. I reserve the right to come back to it either at Report stage or later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 137 [Urban development corporations: pre-dissolution transfers]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 256: Page 80, line 4, after ("section") insert ("and by prior agreement with the relevant statutory body").

The noble Baroness said: In the interests of energy efficiency I shall be brief. Under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 a UDC's assets can be disposed of in three ways, one of which is the transfer to a local authority statutory undertaker, or other body, by agreement. The Bill proposes a fourth method: transfer by order to a statutory body.

Some assets are unencumbered by liabilities. Many assets are encumbered by liabilities. I seek merely to ensure that a basic safeguard included in the 1980 Act is included in this Bill by providing for the agreement of the transferee in order to enable that transferee to avoid liabilities being dumped on it. It is a fundamental provision of contract law in this country that you cannot assign a liability. It is not the case everywhere else. I believe that the old arrangement requiring agreement is a good provision to follow. I do not think that the Government should allow themselves to be seen as able to arrange the disposal of liabilities, even if that is not the intention as I dare say we may be told. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs

First, I apologise to the Committee for having been unavoidably absent for the earlier part of the evening. I support Amendment No. 256 and it might save time if I said a brief word about Amendments Nos. 257 to 260. I wish to speak to them all together because the point I want to make encompasses all the amendments. It concerns what happens when powers are handed back or when the UDCs, HATs and new town corporations are wound up and decisions must be taken as to what is to happen to their assets.

My argument, as embodied in the various amendments, is that the assets should be transferred to local authorities rather than being sold off. It is a fundamental point and there are a number of reasons which I wish to mention in support of it. First, in the case of UDCs and HATs, many of the assets originally came from local authorities and it is only right that they should revert to the local authorities from which they came. Secondly, local authorities, with their planning and other powers, are the most appropriate bodies to take an overall view of what part the resources from UDCs, HATs and new towns should play in the local area.

Thirdly, local authorities have a breadth of experience going back over the years in terms of planning estates, the law and so on. That could be mobilised to solve the problems of the former UDC areas, HATs and the new towns. It would ensure proper continuity in the various areas. Fourthly, if there are any liabilities arising from the various bodies, then local authorities are best fitted to take over and finance the liabilities in an appropriate way. Fifthly, and perhaps most important, local authorities are directly accountable to their electorates. They are permanent bodies and therefore would avoid the uncertainty that would arise from an attempt to sell off the assets to whomever it might be, which would stop the sense of continuity and lead to more uncertainty in the local areas. Local authorities can take a broad view of the concerns of their areas rather than a purely financial view as to what will earn the most money.

For all those reasons, I feel that the amendments are sensible. The disposal of assets simply for short-term financial gain is not the way forward and I hope that we shall see local authorities as being the obvious successor bodies to UDCs, HATs and new town development corporations.

11 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

Let me say at the outset that the Government have no intention of, as the noble Baroness put it, dumping the residual responsibilities arising from the winding up of local development corporations on to a body which is reluctant to accept them, as we realise that it is most unlikely that it would then apply itself seriously to completing the tasks which it had inherited. Once an organisation has accepted the role of residuary body or a new body has been set up for that purpose, it would defeat the whole object of the exercise if it were then able to pick and choose the things which it was prepared to take on and leave those which it did not want to accept.

The urban development corporations are currently disengaging from as many of their assets and liabilities as possible, either through sales on the open market or, in the case of physical liabilities, by means of transfers on mutually acceptable terms to local authorities or other public bodies. We therefore do not anticipate that there will be enormous amounts of work remaining to be done after wind up. But there will inevitably be some issues remaining and many of them will be complex, if not totally intractable, requiring the application of specialist skills and knowledge to their resolution.

The main reason for setting up a residuary body is to provide a safety net to catch everything which the urban development corporations have been unable to clear up before wind up and which would otherwise have to be administered directly by the Secretary of State. If that body were then able to refuse to take on certain functions, he would be no better off than at present, while the advantages in terms of economies of scale and the development of appropriate expertise of having all such matters dealt with by a single body would be lost.

I hope that that has been able to satisfy the noble Baroness and has been able to remove some of her anxieties.

Baroness Hamwee

The comments of the noble Earl deserve some thought, which I shall give them after tonight.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 257 and 258 not moved.]

Clause 137 agreed to.

Clause 138 [Housing action trusts: orders for dissolution]:

[Amendment No. 259 not moved.]

Clause 138 agreed to.

Clause 139 [The Commission for the New Towns: orders for dissolution]:

[Amendment No. 260 not moved.]

Clause 139 agreed to.

Clause 140 [Orders, regulations and directions]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 261 and 262: Page 82, line 11, after ("provisions") insert ("and savings"). Page 82, line 14, after ("for") insert ("orders under section 144(3) or").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendments Nos. 261 and 262 with Amendment No. 78. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 140, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 141 agreed to.

Clause 142 [Extent]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 263: Page 82, line 21, at end insert ("except sections 104 and 109").

The noble Lord said: This amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. The point is a very simple one. My noble friend put the argument when we debated Clauses 104 and 109; namely, that it would not be appropriate for this clause to refer to Scotland. That is the intended aim of the amendment. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

The amendment seeks to apply in Scotland the provisions in Part II to all contracts not just those which are in writing. If a contract is so informal that there is absolutely no written agreement constituting it, I do not see that there is any need to impose a framework of conditions on the parties involved. I also believe, so far as possible, that we should seek to ensure that the coverage of provisions is the same both north and south of the Border.

Lord Dubs

It is too late to take issue with that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 264: Page 82, leave out line 23 and insert ("sections 122 to 124 (financial assistance for regeneration and development), and").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 240. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 265 not moved.]

Clause 142, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 143 agreed to.

Clause 144 [Commencement]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 266: Page 83, leave out line 11 and insert ("sections 122 to 125 (financial assistance for regeneration and development),").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 240. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 267 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 268 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 269: Page 83, line 21, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 78. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 144, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause and schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at eleven minutes past eleven o'clock.