§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ Clause 1 [Grants for improvements and repairs, &c.]:
Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 2, line 16, leave out ("these") and insert ("the above").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 1 follows the amendment which was introduced in Committee to deal with the vital issue of grants to assist mainly elderly persons on low income to have their homes improved by insulation and other means. The process by which that has been built up over the years has been regarded as very successful and has received continuing support from the Government. As explained in Committee, in the Finance Bill which preceded the latest Finance Bill the Government committed themselves to provide £100 million per annum for three years for the support of this important humanitarian and advantageous venture.
§ However, suddenly in the latest Finance Bill the Government decided to reduce the contribution by one-third, although the commitment had been made for three years. That will mean that approximately 200,000 houses, which would otherwise have been improved with beneficial effects for their occupants, will not now be improved. Furthermore, several thousand people who would have been employed in carrying out that work will no longer be so employed. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, queried the figure of 200,000 and I undertook that the NEA, which carries out such work, would write to him to explain how that figure had been arrived at. It has done so.
§ Now is the moment when the Government can think again about the matter. They achieved great acclaim when they decided to make £100 million available and 1420 committed themselves to continuing to do so for the ensuing two years. The sudden reduction in that has created doubts about the Government's ongoing support for this important venture. I hope that at this late stage in the Bill the Government will give an indication that they will think again. I beg to move.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, am I right in believing that he is speaking also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 15, which are material to the point that he is making, or is he abandoning the group that has been published?
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I am delighted to support my noble friend in moving the amendment, and in particular in speaking to Amendment No. 15. I urged him to take precedence in speaking because energy efficiency and home improvements are matters about which my noble friend speaks not only with knowledge and understanding but also from the heart.
I had thought of the Government as priding themselves in being a government of good housekeeping. I was astounded when I discovered the reduction in the budget, given that spending on home energy efficiency appears to be such a good measure of economy as well as producing beneficial effects for individual householders.
I support the amendment not only for its intrinsic worth but because it is typical of some of the points which have arisen in respect of the Bill. It is a Bill of many parts and much of it is concerned with home improvements and renovation. However, I fear that other parts are a screen for the reduction in spending on home improvements and renovation. I believe that the amendment is appropriate and that it is appropriate to press the Government on their proposals.
Perhaps with the leave of the House, I may apologise for having to leave the Chamber soon. I should be chairing a conference and I have left a jobsharer doing so. However, I felt that it was important to support my noble friend today and, despite what I said about the Bill, to wish it well.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, neither the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, nor the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, adverted to the contents of Amendment No. 15. There your Lordships will see a proposal to insert on page 80 at line 31 the words: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 the financial year 1997–98".Those are words sufficiently unusual to find on a Marshalled List that I tried to satisfy myself why they should be so. Your Lordships will be aware that this House has no power to raise taxes. Therefore, it is generally thought inappropriate for it to lay down what precise sums out of taxation shall be devoted to any particular project.
1421 More particularly, your Lordships will recall that before we conclude our proceedings this afternoon, we shall be blithely agreeing to the privilege amendment. I remind your Lordships what the amendment says because it has moved so often that nobody listens to the wording. It states:Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds, or vary the amount or incidence or otherwise alter any such charge in any manner, or affect the assessment, levying, administration or application of any money raised by any such charge".The effect of the amendment will be wholly to wipe out the effect of Amendment No. 15 as proposed. Of course, the privilege amendment is a formality and protects the privileges of the House of Commons. It is up to the other place whether or not it wipes out this amendment with that amendment. But it is worth reminding the House that it is not our function to quantify any vote in any budget. Therefore, while I accept that this is an appropriate occasion for the noble Lord and the noble Baroness to ventilate their feelings on a policy which they feel is not being sufficiently carried out, I hope that your Lordships will not go so far as to accept any of the amendments.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for moving this amendment and for speaking to Amendment No. 2. I share the doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in relation to Amendment No. 15; and from these Benches, I should not like to put a figure on any amendment moved by your Lordships. Nevertheless, the point is important and should be discussed, even at this late stage. The reason that it is discussed at this late stage is because the provision comes at a late stage of the Bill. Therefore, in our debates both in Committee and on Report, we have not given sufficient attention to the issues raised by what is proposed in Clause 138.
We should have the home energy efficiency scheme quite firmly in our minds. It provides insulation grants for the over-60s and people on benefits. It is worth pointing out that since the Government announced that eligibility for the elderly will be reduced as from last April, the number of applications has soared.
My honourable friend in another place, Ms. Ruddock, has tabled a number of Questions for Written Answer which have elicited a response from the Government which is perfectly clear; namely, that that is perceived to be a valuable initiative for those who are elderly and on benefit. The Government say that the scheme is intended to help 600,000 people this year; but, according to our information, more than 530,000 applications have already been received. There is still time for the Government to take a different view on this. I very much hope that they will do so before the matter is pursued in another place, which no doubt it will be, under the terms which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, quite rightly pointed out to your Lordships.
It is unfortunate that the way in which the clause is drafted spreads the grants for home energy efficiency wider than they were before while reducing 1422 in budgetary terms the quantum. That simply means that fewer people will benefit from what is the fundamental objective of the scheme; namely, to relieve the poorest households which are under-heated either because the combination of poor insulation and inadequate heating makes it impossible to achieve an acceptable standard or because householders switch off or turn down their heating to ensure that fuel bills remain affordable.
I am informed that research conducted by the Building Research Establishment confirms that 77 per cent. of the current HEES measures are taken up in improved comfort and 23 per cent. in fuel bill savings. That is a desirable objective of any government of whichever party.
Again, I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said. Indeed, he will find that my name is not attached to Amendment No. 15 because I do not believe in pre-judging any financial issue before it goes to another place. I think that is right and proper. But I believe that the principle is right. The Government should think again about the home energy efficiency scheme, which has after all proved extremely valuable. We should be sure that it is directed to those who are specifically in need. If it works—and the number of applications shows that it is working—it will result in substantial fuel bill savings which can only be good for the environment.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, in speaking to this group of amendments, I wish to raise two specific issues. The first is in relation to the privilege amendment and the constitutional issue which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned. My understanding is that the other place guards jealously, quite rightly, its sole powers to raise money for the public purse and effectively to levy taxation on the British people. No Member of your Lordships' House would quarrel with that power which should not be trammelled. It is only right that that should exist.
However, we must make a distinction between raising taxes and spending public money. In that situation, I make a distinction and say that we are talking about spending public money. That is quite a legitimate area of concern for your Lordships' House. If we did not have that ability, we should not be able to entertain, for example, any amendment to the Asylum and Immigration Bill which is before your Lordships' House which would require the repayment of child benefit to asylum seekers of the right age category.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord of the few words which I imagine he is about to agree to. The privilege amendment starts:Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge",and so on. The last few words are:or affect … the administration or application of any money raised by any such charge".1423 Therefore, it all falls within the same matter. It is one thing to make decisions about what should be done, but it is something else to say how much money should be spent doing it. It is the latter to which I object.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. I still believe that it is a grey area which may be worthy of consideration.
In fact, that leads me to the next point that I was going to make—that is, that on the one side, this group of amendments deals with the spending of a certain amount of public money in terms of home insulation grants for elderly and poor people. When we are considering that issue, we need to consider also the issue of cold weather payments. I have a direct question for the Government in relation to that. What length of time of cold weather payments would be required to show a positive advantage by passing this amendment? I ask that because, on the one hand, we are talking about spending a certain amount of public money to provide insulation for the homes of elderly people; while, on the other hand, if there are periods of cold weather, the Government are required to provide financial assistance to elderly and poor people who suffer the hardship of extra heating bills. Therefore, it is a contribution to the heating bills.
However, if those heating bills are effectively saved by the expenditure of the proposed £100 million of public money, it is possible that, over a period of time, that money will be saved by the Exchequer because of the reduction in cold weather payments that the Government have to make. I have not given the Minister notice that I would ask that question, but it would be most interesting to have an answer while debating this series of amendments.
My Lords, all sides of the House are united in their support of the home energy efficiency scheme. Our disagreements seem to centre on the quantum—that is, the amount of money that we should be giving to support the scheme. Indeed, that is very much the subject of Amendment No. 15.
We are committed to providing as much help as possible to the most vulnerable people in society—those who have the greatest difficulty in affording to keep warm enough and are least able to improve the energy standard of their homes. That is why the scheme is open only to people who are on low incomes, people who receive various disability allowances and people aged 60 or over.
I understand the desire to keep the value of grants paid under this successful and well-regarded scheme at their historic peak. It is always hard to have to reduce the allocation to any programme, though two factors were particularly relevant to the scheme. One is that last year's big increase was intended to offset the projected higher rate of VAT on fuel which did not, in the event, take place. The other is that the full rate of grant has now been restricted to the least well off.
We have changed the rules so that better-off older householders now pay a contribution towards the cost of the insulation work available. Looking ahead, most of the 1424 allocation will be spent on insulating the homes of the poorest families. I am sure that noble Lords welcome that substantial improvement to the focus of the scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, mentioned the figure of 530,000 grants having already been made this year. That is not a figure that we recognise; indeed, 310,000 is the figure that I have on the paperwork in front of me. However, I should be happy to be better informed shortly by the noble Lord. If there is a fundamental disagreement in the figures, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord on the matter. We have seen a surge of interest from better-off people—
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister and I hope that he will forgive me for doing so. However, I referred to over 530,000 applications rather than grants.
Yes, my Lords. As I said, 310,000 is the figure that I have. There may indeed be some confusion as to whether my figure has been calculated on exactly the same basis as that of the noble Lord. However, there has been a surge of interest from better-off people aged over 60 seeking to register before the rules changed. Fairness requires us to honour all applications received before the deadline under the old rules. Our managing agents are handling the situation extremely well. The backlog will be efficiently tackled and we will ensure that allocations are adjusted where appropriate to deal with localised anomalies. Before next winter waiting times should have returned to their normal commendable levels of about four weeks. Any change brings transitional effects and the home energy efficiency scheme is no exception.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested that we have not honoured a commitment to maintain the level of funding for three years. That is not the case. Statements made last year, when the allocation was increased, simply made it clear that the planning baseline for the public expenditure survey period was being changed.
There can never be any guarantee that the planned level of expenditure will not change. In fact the amount of money allocated to the home energy efficiency scheme has changed each year. Sometimes it has been possible to find more towards the year-end, so that actual expenditure exceeded the figure published in the public expenditure survey. It would be extraordinary to have funding commitments enshrined in primary legislation. Indeed, it would become quite impossible for any government to deal with changed circumstances or different priorities. Expenditure planning and decisions about individual programmes have to be separate from the powers which make them possible.
I very much appreciate the sentiments behind the amendments and the support which the noble Lord wishes to evidence for such a successful and thoroughly commendable scheme. However, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendments. If he does not, I urge the House to reject them. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, is about to rise to his feet. I must tell him that I do not have an answer to his question today. Nevertheless, I shall write to him on the matter.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the sympathetic way in which he has spoken about the home 1425 energy efficiency scheme and the great benefits over the years which it has brought to people on low incomes, especially the elderly. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred to the great increase in the demand for such services from people in that category as soon as it was known that the amount of funding would be reduced with effect from April. I must say that the information that I have confirms the figure mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. That is evidence of the great need for the scheme.
In the early years, the demand was very patchy because people did not know about the scheme; indeed, they did not know about the benefits that they could receive from it. As the Minister said, the scheme is now very successful. However, what worries me and my colleagues on this side of the House are the mixed messages which the changes in government policy have created. The commitment—and it was certainly regarded as such at the time—to make £100 million available for three years was regarded as a very welcome, humanitarian and energy-efficient measure. The fact that it was so quickly changed altered the signal and has confused people.
The way in which the amendment has been introduced, despite the quite proper reservation expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is, nonetheless, a way of bringing the matter home; in other words, a way to make it quite clear that the situation is most unfortunate. Having taken a very positive step, the Government have now confused the issue by the change which they so quickly made.
In my view this is one of the most important ways in which we can deal with the energy problem. People need assistance and they need to have stimulus. The mere fact of putting taxes on energy consumers in the domestic sector, as the argument about VAT demonstrated, is not the way to set about it. A combination of stimulus and assistance to those on low incomes seems to me to be absolutely the right way to proceed. Indeed, I thought that the Government had committed themselves to that path. The amendment was introduced today in order to bring them back to that positive, virtuous path. The issue is of such importance that I believe it necessary to ask the House for its opinion.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 20; Not-Contents, 114.1426
|Division No. 1|
|Addington, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Annan, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Brain, L||McNair, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Meston, L.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Ezra, L. [Teller.]||Sainsbury, L.|
|Grey, E.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly|
|Hamwee, B. [Teller.]||Thomson of Monifieth, L|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Wallace of Saltaire, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Addison, V.||Ingrow, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Liverpool, E.|
|Barber of Tewkesbury, L.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Bethell, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Blatch, B.||McConnell, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Mackay of Drumadoon, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Middleton, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Butterworth, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Munster, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Newall, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Carnock, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Chelmer, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Chesham, L. [Teller.]||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Rawlings, B.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Reay, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Romney, E.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Seccombe, B.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Elles, B.||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Elton, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Finsberg, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Teviot, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Halsbury, E.||Tugendhat, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Harmsworth, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Weatherill, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Howe, E.||Wilcox, B.|
|Ilnchester, E.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ [Amendment No.2 not moved.]
§ Clause 36 [Delayed payment of mandatory grant]:
Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 3:
Leave out Clause 36.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 4, which is consequential. At Report stage the Government indicated that Clause 36 was designed to 1427 assist local authorities with the management of their cash flows and finances. However, there is no evidence that local authorities have requested this provision to defer payments. My noble friend Lord Lucas advised the House that if local authorities had no wish for this 12 month deferral of payment, they had not told him. However, the Department of the Environment should be aware of the response to the initial consultation document as regards the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of District Councils. It is obvious from that response that they see major problems with Clause 36 and do not support it.
§ My noble friend felt that the proposals in this clause would not result in great inconvenience for contractors. Again, this is not the view of the local authority organisations, nor, I suspect, contractors—in particular, small builders. As many payments for disabled facilities grants are made to contractors in instalments, work is unlikely to start until the date the local authority has agreed for payment. Contractors will be reticent to start work early and wait for payment, as the Government suggest they may. Contractors are businesses with cash flows and financial management to consider. In reality, they are likely to wait until the money is there before doing the work. They may wish to re-estimate the costs because of the delay between the original estimate and the works commencing.
§ If works do not begin until 12 months after the date of application, it is possible that the disabled occupant's needs may have increased if the occupant has been living in inappropriate or possibly unsafe accommodation for such a long time. The Government wish to make clear in guidance the circumstances in which the deferment may be used. This, however, will be extremely difficult to specify. Decisions about financial management can be very complex and involve numerous factors. Trying to specify within guidance in which particular cash flow situations the deferment may be used could lead to disputes between disabled people and the local authority concerning interpretation of the guidance and the exact financial position. That is surely something to be avoided.
§ As stated by several participants in the debate at Committee and Report stages, the proposals would cause more than just inconvenience for disabled people. They would add to the already considerable wait for disabled facilities grants and could not only limit the independence of disabled people but also increase the costs of care and possibly vastly increase residential or hospital care costs for those awaiting adaptations before they return home.
Last Wednesday, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities combined with the ADC faxed a letter to the Department of the Environment, a copy of which I have here. I had asked that they should contact my noble friend directly; but unfortunately they have sent the fax to one of his officials. I have authority to quote from the letter. I shall not read it all but merely the relevant parts:
The Associations' response to the explanatory paper, 'The Future of Private Housing Renewal Programmes in England', was compiled on the basis of consultation with our member authorities … further discussions with the Associations' advisers and parliamentary debate of the Bill, have not caused us to change our position, and the Associations' view therefore remains as originally stated".
The associations again quote the original view which was in their submission. The letter continues:
The introduction of deferral of claims for payment of disabled facilities grant for a period of twelve months from the date of application might resolve some of the immediate difficulties, but it will cause other problems. On completion of the work, the contractor will quite rightly expect to be paid and any delays in payment will cause financial problems for contractors who may then not be prepared to carry out disabled facilities grant work. Alternatively, the hopes and expectations of the disabled person will have been raised with the approval of the grant for work, but the contractor may not be prepared to start until towards the end of the twelve month period and may then demand a premium or refuse to do the work if prices have risen.
Additionally, the proposal may result in a council committing itself to future expenditure it does not know it can meet as the resource position in future years will not be clear when a deferred payment is contemplated".
§ I hope that my noble friend will be able to see at least some merit in the amendment and will agree to it. If he cannot do so today, I hope that he will say that the relevant action will be taken on it in another place. It is quite obvious that the local authorities do not want the benefit of the clause that I seek to remove. I beg to move.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I support the amendment. I thought that others would intervene. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, on his persistence in pursuing the issue. I regret that on previous occasions when the amendment was moved I was already making for home; but today I wish to give it my warm if brief support. It seems that the balance of inconvenience is tilted strongly in favour of the local authority; "inconvenience" is a euphemism where the disabled person is concerned. As we have heard, the 12-month delay may cause real problems for the small builder. We are told that the local authorities do not want the 12-month limit so it seems daft and unnecessary. I hope that the Minister heard from the local authorities and that when the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, read out the fax from the AMA to his official was not the first time that he heard of it. I hope he will be able to accept the amendment or take it away, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, suggested, and that the Government will bring in an amendment in the other place.
The Minister has shown himself willing to listen and respond positively to many of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I am grateful for that and hope that he will do the same with this one for which noble Lords on all sides of the House have argued so consistently and so persuasively.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I support the amendment. I spoke at some length at previous stages of the Bill in support of the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, enunciated, so I need not speak at length today.
One question which comes to my mind is whether the Government envisage that the clause will be permissive or restrictive. Because of the difficulties local authorities had with the previous grant regime, one of the ways in which they sought to deal with it was to institute a 1429 system of waiting lists. That meant that mandatory grants were paid in order of the applicant's arrival on the waiting list and that was the mechanism by which grant payments were delayed. Does the Minister envisage that the operation of the clause will effectively mean that local authorities will be prevented from delaying payment beyond the 12-month period? Alternatively, is the clause permissive, enabling local authorities to set a payment date at some shorter period than 12 months?
The power that the Secretary of State is granting himself to institute some period other than 12 months fills us with concern and it might be worth while the Minister addressing the point in his remarks today. I seem to remember that he tried to address it before, but it will do no harm for him to repeat it. I warmly support the amendment.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My Lords, I must admit that I am often puzzled by the purport or intention of legislation but this provision totally baffled me. I should be glad to hear the Minister's explanation. It seems to me that Clause 23 is welcome and the Government are to be congratulated on putting it forward. However, at the same time they propose Clause 36 in a grudging way, using the phrase,Where the local housing authority are obliged to approve",then it may do something to draw the grant back and withhold it. That seems to take the motivation away from Clause 23. It also shows a wish to maximise the irritation and anxiety of recipients and local authorities, at the same time as minimising any savings that might have come from it. I am puzzled. I should not have thought that the Government could lose by acceding to the amendment. They would gain a great deal in terms of the welcome given by disabled people to the provisions.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I wish to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. As my noble friend Lord Murray said, it seems odd that the Government appear to accede to the requirement that there should be mandatory grants for disabled facilities, yet at the same time they are prepared to admit into the Bill a clause which gives them grants on terms of payment which may be extended not merely by 12 months but by,such other period as may be specified by order of the Secretary of State".In other words, so far as I understand it, the payment can be indefinitely postponed. Unless the Government can give us satisfaction, I hope that they will accept the noble Lord's amendment.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, having listened carefully to the views expressed, I share the opinions of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. On the one hand, the Government accept that special aid should be given to people who are disabled; later in the Bill that is clouded by uncertainty. The situation needs clarification.
My Lords, it was made clear both in Committee and at Report stage that we share the 1430 concerns of noble Lords about the use of Clause 36. I explained that mandatory grants restrict local authorities' ability to maintain control over their resources, and that our purpose in bringing forward Clause 36 was to strike a sensible balance between the needs of the disabled person and the requirement of a local authority to operate within an annual financial budget. I said that we envisaged that the provision would be used only in exceptional circumstances.
My noble friend has told the House that the local authority associations do not see a need for Clause 36 and that local authorities will not use the power set out in the clause. That is good news as it is our intention that the provision should not be widely used.
My noble friend maintains that if we are seeking to help local authorities, we are under a misconception because they do not want the help we are offering. However, it is the duty of Government to look beyond what some say they want today and consider what they might need tomorrow.
I have to say that I interpret the signals in a different way. When the department published its paper in June last year explaining the proposed changes to the private sector renewal regime, local authorities and interested parties had the opportunity to comment. We received 283 responses, the majority of which were from local authorities. Of those, only 72 expressed concern about the proposal to allow local authorities to defer payment of mandatory disabled facilities grants.
As noble Lords would expect, the majority of concern centred on the needs of the disabled person and not on the principle of a deferred payment. The joint response from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and Association of District Councils initially suggested that one option could be to extend the period in which a local authority has to approve a grant from six to 12 months. They were clearly conscious of the financial squeeze that they might be under. They preferred to give themselves a general permission to take 12 months to approve an application. We felt that certainty for the disabled person was preferable, that a tighter rein was preferable, and that is why Clause 36 is in the Bill rather than the more extensive proposals which were in the AMA's and the ADC's original response. Indeed, my noble friend did not read out part of the letter from the AMA. In referring to its review, it stated:Whilst it is therefore a representative view, it may not necessarily reflect the position of every individual local authority".We consider that the needs of the disabled person are paramount and believe that as a rule local authorities should approve grant at the earliest possible time, and certainly no later than six months after an application has been submitted. However, our responsibility is to all those who will be obliged to offer mandatory grants and not just to those who have expressed concern. While some local authorities, their representatives and other organisations may believe the provision to be misconceived, it is a matter of fact that, under the provisions for mandatory disabled facilities grant, a local authority may be obliged to pay a grant at a point in the year when to do so would cause considerable financial difficulty.
1431 We are not suggesting that local authorities should be silting up the future year's programmes with commitments. Instead what we are offering is a mechanism that may be used by a local authority if it is facing a particular resource problem, perhaps because of the constraints of the financial year. No one can honestly say that this situation will never arise. Surely it is better to have a system in place where local authorities can confirm that a grant will be available, but in a few months' time, rather than be put in a position where they have to resort to informal delaying tactics, as has been the case in the past.
If local authorities do not want to use the provision, they will not be obliged to do so. I can assure the House that the guidance from the department will discount any suggestion that the provision could be used as a deliberate delaying tactic. We will make clear that the provision is for use in exceptional circumstances and should be used only where a needs assessment of the applicant confirms that a delay would not be prejudicial to the applicant's long-term health.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen asked about the impact of delayed payment on builders. Our proposal deals with the payment of grant between the applicant and the local authority; that is one relationship. Another relationship is between the grant applicant and the builder. Nothing in Clause 36 suggests that the builder need undertake works in advance of the applicant's ability to pay. Any builder who has tendered for grant-assisted works will know that a guaranteed payment will be made by the local authority at some point so long as the work is done well. It is for the contractor to weigh up that benefit against the possible delay in either commencing the works or being paid, should he decide to commence the works before the agreed payment date specified by the local authority when it approved the grant.
Should a contractor demand a premium if he has to start work later and thereby incurs increased costs, a local authority will have the power to redetermine the grant amount when the works commence.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, asked whether local authorities will be able to operate waiting lists, as they do at present. Yes, there is obviously the ability for local authorities to operate waiting lists. But that is within the constraints of the time limits in the Bill: six months to determine an application; and 12 months maximum to pay. Within those limits there is a permissive power to operate waiting lists and we shall be giving guidance on that subject.
We have no intention of changing the 12-month limit. It is there to enable us to adapt the Bill to experience. But there is no short-term intention, and we have no feeling that 12 months is anything but the right period at present.
We consider that Clause 36 is a sensible provision which should be available to authorities as a last resort and which need not cause applicants to face unreasonable hardship. I understand my noble friend's concern, and I hope that he can understand why we 1432 cannot accept his amendments. I trust that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment, albeit with a slightly heavy heart.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, that seems to have been a far tougher response to this group of amendments than my noble friend gave on either of the two previous occasions. I find that somewhat surprising.
By leaving Clause 36 in the Bill, it gives me the impression that mandatory disabled facilities grants are being emasculated, which is not to be desired. My noble friend said that only 72 of the local authorities expressed concern at the provision. He will also have noted from the letter from which he, too, quoted that only a minority of the local authorities dealt with the matter in their submissions. Therefore, it does not mean that only 72 were concerned about the issue. Only 72 dealt with that specific matter.
My noble friend states that there is no need for the work to be undertaken by a builder before the applicant is able to pay; and that if there were a premium, or the costs of the work increased, the local authority could redetermine the amount of the grant. That in itself, I assume, could start the whole delaying process of 12 months all over again. I do not find that a satisfactory position. However, I have seen the size of the Government's majority on the recent Division. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, indicates that the Opposition did not vote, but there was a paucity of Members on the Benches of the official Opposition. I believe that this matter will be taken up again in another place. If I now call a Division and lose, my right honourable friends in another place will cite that as an excuse: that the House of Lords disagreed with the amendment.
So I feel that it would be wiser for me to withdraw the amendment and allow someone else in the other place to fight on another occasion. As my noble friend said, it is certainly with a heavy heart that I do so. But I believe that it is the wisest course at the moment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 37 [Payment of grants: conditions as to carrying out of the works]:
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ 5 p.m.
§ Clause 103 [Construction contracts]:
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 58, line 10, leave out from ("capacity") to end of line 11.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the course of the discussions at Report stage on Part II of the Bill, to which we have now moved, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that I would discover as the debate progressed things happening beneath the surface—as he put it—for which I would be grateful but which had not yet poked their heads above the surface in the form of amendments. I was grateful for that.
§ I had hoped that one or two of those things happening beneath the surface would have poked their noses just above the surface by the time of Third Reading. None 1433 of them has. That is why my amendments have been tabled. I speak generally at the moment. I shall come to the particular amendment, Amendment No. 5, as soon as I can.
§ I tabled a series of amendments, most but not all of which refer to undertakings or half-undertakings and to nods or winks that we received from the Minister in the course of the debate. He followed up those undertakings or semi-undertakings with letters in which he spoke about the Government's position and what their possible attitude to our activities was likely to be. My amendments asked the Government to put in the Official Report their views on these amendments—which were discussed at great length at Report stage and which we shall not discuss at great length again today—so that they will be on the public record.
§ Amendment No. 5 was discussed fully and I do not need to go into it in detail. It removes from Clause 103 the exemption for the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall from the provisions of the Bill. In the course of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was reasonably welcoming (Hansard, 22nd April at column 916), though he said that he could not be more helpful at that moment. But he welcomed the amendment, which was the same amendment that I have now tabled.
§ That amendment has been brought forward in order to ask him how far that welcome has gone. It has not gone so far as to bring out an amendment from the Government today. I wonder whether he will give an undertaking that the Government will bring forward an amendment when the Bill goes to another place. I beg to move.
My Lords, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who moved the same amendment on Report, this is a matter on which we shall reflect. I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that I can say no more about this particular matter at present.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I wonder whether I am grateful to the Minister. At least he did not say no—the noble Baroness rightly says that he did not say yes either—but on the other hand, he did not say "no, but maybe". I am a little disappointed. He said that he has to reflect and I agree with him. The waters in which we splash are deep and important.
However, the Minister has had a whole week to reflect about the matter and he will have another week before the Bill reaches Second Reading in another place. Will he perhaps be able to accelerate his reflection, so that he might come to some conclusion, if not before Second Reading in another place then at least before Third Reading. He nods his head and I am grateful for that. On that nod, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 104 [Meaning of "construction operations"]:
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 58, line 17, leave out from ("land") to end of line 22.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is not an amendment which we have discussed before and is one on which I merely ask for assurances or reassurance. It arises from the several quite lengthy and detailed debates that we had on the definition of "construction operations" at various stages of the Bill. The Government stuck to their last, although we had offered a variety of improvements or clarifications, and the definition remains more or less as it started out.
However, in the course of the debate at Report stage, the Minister described my proposals as "ingenious additions" to this Part of the Bill. I do not think that they were ingenious. They were straightforward, clear and simple—simple-minded even. The Government did not accept them. But in his reply the Minister made what I thought was a quite significant remark. He said:
The 'construction' in Clause 103(i)(b) [now Clause 104] is a generality, which is,
'works forming, or to form, part of the land".—[Official Report, 2214/96; col. 921.]
That is true. That is a generality. The Minister went on to say that the rest of that paragraph was "a selection of illustrations".
§ It struck me that, if that were true, what I had sought to do in my "ingenious" amendments had been to add to that number of illustrations—no more than that. As the Minister rightly said, there were many illustrations which could be included. The question struck me later in the debate—I mentioned it in passing: if those were no more than illustrations, why were they needed at all?
§ The Bill mentions "buildings or structures", which seems to me to be a perfectly adequate description of what construction means. I am fortified in my belief by the thought that in the Environment Bill which was passed more than a year ago, it was thought sufficient to refer in that Bill merely to "buildings and structures" without any illustrations of what buildings and structures might be. The draftsman of that Bill probably thought that most people would recognise a building or structure if it fell on them or even if it stood up on site, so that illustrations were not necessary.
§ The question then occurred to me that, if the illustrations could not be extended in the way I had suggested or, even further than that, in the manner in which the Minister hypothetically suggested, although he did not obviously want that, then why have them in at all? I believe that in this Bill the generality is a sufficient definition of those elements of construction to which the Bill should apply. I beg to move.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. I too was reading col. 921 of the Report stage of the Bill and my attention was drawn to the frequent use of the word "land". I began to ask myself what that word means in this context.
If one compares subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) of Clause 104, one sees that (a) refers to "buildings or structures" and (b) refers to "land". There are not as many definitions under (a), as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said, as there are under (b). 1435 Paragraphs (c), (d), (e) and (f) are really incidentals; that is, they are doing things to what has already been described.
Do we assume that anything that is not a building or a structure is land? The definition appears to include things that happen in the sea, so perhaps parts of the sea are "land" under this definition. It certainly includes tunnels and I suppose tunnels go through land as well as under the sea. Is "land" landscape? Is it land compared with water? Is it our "green and pleasant land" that is subject to any planning restrictions that may come along?
The word "land" should perhaps be changed. Some other generic term might avoid the need for providing six more lines of examples. After re-reading the provision many times I came to the conclusion that it is an odd use of the word "land" in connection with the construction industry.
My Lords, regarding the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the term,forming … part of the land",is a term of art and a well-established phrase. It is therefore something we feel comfortable in relying upon for what we are describing.
In relation to Amendment No. 6, the noble Lord, Lord Howie, is probably right; that is, we do not need to give examples. However, we find them helpful. They elucidate on the face of the Bill this rather obscure phrase,forming … part of the land".Someone coming fresh to reading the Bill will understand what we are talking about without having to resort to Hansard. We find it a helpful part of the Bill, even though it is not strictly necessary. We would like to keep it in the Bill. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, will withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, once again I am divided between pleasure at the fact that the Minister appears to agree that the part of the Bill I suggest should be left out is not necessary and dismay that he still does not accept the amendment.
When I tabled my ingenious additions to this part of the Bill, the Minister said that they were not necessary. There seems to be a philosophical difference between us. Those things that the Minister thinks are not necessary but are helpful he proposes should be kept in while those things that I think are not necessary but are helpful he considers should be left out. The reason may be that he took the paragraph from the income tax Act 1988 and does not want to tamper with it in case the Chancellor of the Exchequer becomes irritated, or something of that nature.
I raised this matter, not in the hope of persuading the Minister—though he clearly believes I am right—to remove the lines from the Bill; I hoped to impress upon him the dissatisfaction felt not only in this Chamber but throughout the industry with the definition as it stands in relation to construction contracts. I hope that by harping on unreasonably about this matter, even into the Third Reading of the Bill, we will keep the 1436 Government's mind open so that in another place they may turn their minds to the many arguments about definitions put before them and come up with a definition of "construction" acceptable not only to us or our colleagues in another place but to the industry as a whole. With those, I hope, not unduly churlish remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 58, line 43, leave out (", or construction of underground works,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I intend to be brief. We debated this matter at an earlier stage and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, were conclusive and incontrovertible. I felt that my remarks added, if not lustre, at least strength to the remarks of the noble Lord. The Minister undertook to think about the amendment, so perhaps he will disclose to us the results of his thinking. I beg to move.
My Lords, we listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. On Report I explained that our main problem lay in distinguishing between mining and civil engineering operations underground. I also pointed out that no one had been able to suggest how that might be done satisfactorily for the purposes of legislation. Nevertheless, I also said that the Government were not unsympathetic to the thrust of the amendment and that we were prepared to reflect upon it. We are still doing so. This is a difficult area and I am sure the noble Lord appreciates the need to get things right.
In the last few days we have undertaken to introduce a number of adjustments and all this requires a great deal of work. My officials have been hard pressed—not least by the energetic and tenacious way that the noble Lord has pressed his case. I hope at least that the Government have demonstrated an open mind and a readiness to look seriously at everything suggested in this House. However, that is as far as I can go in offering assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Howie. I hope that it is sufficient to enable him to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I believe I heard that reply not so long ago. It was virtually the same reply I received in relation to an earlier amendment when the Minister said that he and his hard pressed officials had been reflecting for a week and intended to reflect further. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, may agree with me that it would be a good idea to call us in and then we could reflect with them, or take over the reflections from them. We would do that without pay.
This is a serious matter. There is no difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, when he was chairman of the Coal Board, had no difficulty distinguishing between mining and civil engineering operations under his direction and dealt with them accordingly. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is a clever man and would be expected to see things more clearly than many others. But this is not a difficult matter and should be sorted 1437 out with a little further reflection. I hope that the Government can sort it out before we reach the stage of passing the Bill. With those thoughts, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 58, line 45, after ("plant") insert ("or").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 8 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, and I can be brief almost to the level of insignificance. We discussed this amendment in considerable detail and with tenacity at earlier stages of the Bill. The Minister led us to believe that he would at least reflect upon matters although he did not use that phrase. Perhaps he can tell us how the Government are getting on. Have they anything to tell us and, preferably, have they anything to tell us that we would like to hear? I beg to move.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the purpose of this clause is to assist the construction industry in its interpretation of what is to be included and what is to be excluded from construction operations and thereby of what is covered by the subsequent clauses in this part of the Bill. I have understood the Government's desire to recognise the difference between the process industry in its contracts and the building and civil engineering industry in its contracts. Like a number of noble Lords, I have always supported the Government in their desire to keep this distinction but I wish to achieve clarity for the interpretation of this part of the Bill by the industry.
At the Committee and Report stages my noble friend Lord Lucas recognised that there remains confusion as to the inclusion of the words "construction" and "steelwork", which is the subject of one of the amendments we are discussing in this group, in subsection (2)(c). I would hope that my noble friend could confirm that steps will be taken in another place to clear up this confusion for the sake of the industry. I do not believe that this is an exercise in semantics. It is an important concern to the industry which needs the improved climate in which to work, which the Bill seeks to achieve.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, I have been concerned about the definitions in subsection (2)(c). Because I was uncertain about the inclusions and exclusions, I moved an amendment at Report stage which I hoped would take the sting out of the argument by making all contracts, even within the excluded category, included unless both parties agreed that they should be excluded. The Government did not accept the amendment but I was pleased to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, at Report stage when we discussed Clause 104 in which he explained his views on the definition of "construction". If I have understood him correctly, it is certainly my view that the industry does not have quite so much to fear from these exclusions as we originally thought.
1438 At the risk of detaining the House for just a few minutes, I should like once and for all to clarify my interpretation of some simple definitions, perhaps as a kind of going away present for the Bill as it goes to another place, which possibly are sadly missing. "Process plant" is the equipment, pumps, vessels, motors, generators, coolers, heaters, pipes, cables and so on which enable the plant to operate. It is all manufactured or fabricated, mostly away from the site, and it is brought to the site for installation or assembly. It is my belief that these items are not constructed, which is where I have a problem with the clause, and they are certainly not constructed within the definitions of what I would call a construction-related Bill.
There are different types of process plant, which we have discussed to some extent ad nauseam—nuclear, water, sewage treatment, power stations, petrochemicals. But nearly all process plant is installed or erected on steel or concrete foundations or supports. It may be enclosed in steel or concrete framed buildings which may require earthworks and other foundation work to form a secure base on which the process plant can operate safely. It is important that, as such, steel foundations or framework is normally referred to as structural steelwork to differentiate it from the process plant, which, of course, may also have been manufactured in whole or in part out of steel.
Turning to the exclusions in the subsection and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, at Report stage, manufacture, fabrication, installation and assembly of process plant is excluded. That includes the person and the firm using the cranes to install pumps on foundations and so on. The construction of foundations, the manufacture and the installation of structural steelwork are, or definitely should be, included, and that is a matter that we shall be discussing soon. I mentioned at Report stage the strong pressure and comments from the steelwork manufacturers that they should be included. But they are the structural steelwork people rather than the manufacturers of process plant. I certainly believe that if the definition is correct they should be included. They are not process plant manufacturers.
I am not really expecting an answer from the Minister to this rather long definition, but I hope that it may help the Government, when they come to the next revision of the Bill in another place, to clear up the wording and, in particular, to remove what has become something of a bogey word—construction—from the process plant. Much of the industry would then be happier.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that these matters were discussed at considerable length both in Committee and on Report. I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon. I was hoping that we might have a government amendment in line 45 of page 58 to leave out the word "construction" in subsection (2)(c). I understood that the Government might have been prepared to do that. An amendment to that effect was moved at an earlier stage. As my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, that would clarify the position.
1439 I am interested in Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, but I and my advisers are particularly interested in Amendment No. 10. As I have emphasised to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, it is believed that water and effluent treatment are essentially construction operations and are not process engineering or process operations. Since the Report stage I have received confirmation that that was the original intention of the authors of the Latham Report. Therefore, I hope that when considering the matter the Government will bear that fact in mind.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, has made it quite clear that, with these amendments, he is pressing the Government to explain their intentions on process engineering work. At Report stage I said that we were looking again at the introduction of Clause 104 (2)(c) to make sure that the right line was drawn between process engineering and other types of construction activity. Although that process will not be complete until we are in a position to lay amendments in another place, I am now able to give the House some clear assurances. In view of the amount of time that your Lordships have spent on this in debate, I should like to spend a few moments explaining our intentions.
First, on steelwork, which is the subject of Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, the arguments of noble Lords opposite have not convinced us that all steelwork on a process engineering site should be subject to the provisions of the Bill. However, we believe it is possible to distinguish between steelwork which is directly and necessarily connected to plant and machinery—steelwork, which forms, if you like, an integral part of the machinery—and other steelwork on the same site. We intend to bring forward an amendment which places integral steelwork squarely within the process engineering exclusion, but which would leave the remainder subject to Part II. Steelwork in a factory roof, a canteen or a visitor centre—just to take a few examples—would then be covered by the main provisions of the Bill.
Secondly, we have been convinced by the argument behind an amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel; namely, that the word "construction" at the beginning of subsection (2)(c) is misleading. While we would not go quite so far as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who claimed that the term "construction" was never used in the putting together of plant and machinery—I certainly remember constructing plant and machinery out of Meccano—we certainly agree with him that it is unhelpful here. We shall bring forward an amendment as soon as possible to remove this source of confusion.
To reiterate and summarise our position, it is not, and never has been, our intention to exclude from the Bill all construction work on a process engineering site. We wish to exclude work only on plant, machinery and such steelwork as is necessarily connected to plant and machinery. Ordinary civil and building work would not be excluded.
Finally, I wish to deal with Amendment No. 10, which is identical to one put forward at Report stage by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. There can 1440 be no doubt that the treatment of water and effluent are processes, and that the water and sewerage industries are process industries. I have already pointed out at Report that they spend about £500 million a year on process plant and machinery. It is quite true, as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, has suggested, that a lower proportion of their capital expenditure is on plant than in some other process industries—some 18 per cent. in water and sewerage as opposed to 52 per cent. in nuclear reprocessing and 75 per cent. in petroleum refining. However, since it is only work on plant, machinery and connected steelwork that will be excluded from the Bill, I hope that your Lordships will accept that this will leave a great deal of water and sewerage work to be classified as normal construction operations. Some of the illustrations of reservoirs, tunnels and other operations of that type that we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, at previous stages of the Bill, are clearly within the construction ambit rather than the process ambit, and therefore come within Part II of the Bill. In view of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 8, and that he will not move Amendments Nos. 9 and 10.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may point out that he has mentioned the word "construction" and the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel previously, that it was misleading to have it in an exclusion clause for construction operations. I am very glad that the Government seem to have listened to that, albeit that they may be seeking to change the situation in a slightly different way.
Can the Minister also look at the word "demolition"? I hope that he will make a distinction. One speaks about "process plant" and a distinction between "installation" and "dismantling", which might be broadly considered to be process plant activity, and construction and demolition which can generally be expected to be within the construction industry regime. I am getting nods of assent from my noble friend Lord Berkeley, so I believe I am on the right track. Obviously, the Government cannot respond immediately, but I hope that they will bear this point in mind when they come to reconstituting this part of the Bill—as they appear to have promised that they will—in another place.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I am beginning to warm towards the Minister. I should have liked to have warmed towards him earlier and even to have warmed more warmly than I am now doing. He has listened to what we said. Not only has he listened, but he has heard it as well, and that is not always the case. I was particularly pleased when he made a distinction between structural steelwork, which is in the form of a building, and that which is an integral part of the process plant because I believe I can remember explaining that to the 1441 Minister at least twice at earlier stages of the Bill. From his comments, I believe the Minister realises that when we talk about structural steelwork on process sites, we are not talking only about the roofs of canteens and things of that sort, which he instanced, but also what may be quite major structural steelworks. That is clear from the latter part of what he said. With the warmest of regard, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 59, line 3, at end insert ("unless undertaken by the contractor or if not specific to the agreement").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am in something of a quandary here. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, pointed out to me that when I tabled an amendment as regards Page 59, line 3, I really meant line 6. I believe that I meant to refer to line 6; but, on further reflection, I probably meant both. I omitted to table two amendments which I should have done, but I believe that one is enough for our purposes. Therefore, I shall stick to the proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, that I really mean line 6 because he has told me that he agrees with me on that, as he often does.
§ It is a quite simple matter which relates to components. The illustration that I used at Report stage were the bearings in a dry dock on which the gates bear. The other illustration that we know of is precast railway sleepers, which are made off-site by a contractor or subcontractor and brought on-site by him, not as supplies, but as supply fixed. This is a matter in which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was very interested at an earlier part of the Bill: in fact, he was the first to identify this omission. We have discussed this matter quite adequately.
§ The Minister gave an undertaking that he would consider what we had said, and we have high hopes that he will come forward with some improvement on the amendment that we have suggested. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I confess to the House that I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Howie, to indicate to him that I thought that perhaps he might be mistaken as regards the line in the amendment. Therefore, I should like to speak to the amendment as though it related to line 6, and I beg leave of the House to do so.
At each stage of this Bill I have raised anxieties about that part of the industry which is involved with the manufacture of structural steelwork and other specialised components off-site. My noble friend Lord Lucas has agreed on previous occasions that he would like to see this sector of the industry—so much the modern method of construction as I have indicated before—brought within the ambit of this Bill. Therefore, I trust that when the Bill is considered in another place, 1442 suitable wording—I stress that—rather than sympathetic thoughts, can be found to cover the purport of this amendment.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, again, we are speaking about a grey area between that which is genuinely considered to be construction and that which is not considered to be so. That is one of the problems with the drafting of the Bill. In the Government's deliberations between now and the consideration of this Bill in another place, I wonder whether they might think in terms of a change in attitude to what the Bill seeks to do. As I understand it, it seeks to ensure that where there is a construction industry contract, there is a fall-back position that ensures everything does not get snarled up in procedural and contractual disputes about which we have heard so much during the consideration of this Bill, and as being a real problem for the construction industry as a whole.
I believe that there is general agreement that those aspects peripheral to the construction industry; for example, the making of nuts and bolts at one end or the determination of a complete contract—if I may put it that way—at the other where the person letting the contract is quite happy with the contractual arrangements required, and whether a fall-back position is needed.
We are looking at the area in the middle, which is neither covered by the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act; nor is the subject of what perhaps I may describe as political, rather than contractual, decisions. Rather than think of it as a process whereby those affected by the Bill would be excluded from the operation of its provisions, one should think of it as inclusive. If there is no other arrangement, the parties will effectively be covered by the Bill. It is a fall-back position.
I agree that the wording of the amendment—and where it should fall within the Bill—lacks a little clarity, as has been said by the previous two speakers, but I wonder whether it will be possible for the Government to agree that, failing all other situations, a contract would be considered to be a construction contract for the purposes of the Bill if no other regime applied. Such a provision would, I hope, include the grey areas and should not try to narrow the scope of the Bill. Unfortunately, I suspect that what will happen is that a large part of our industrial construction life will be left in a grey area of limbo and will not be covered by the Bill when I think that we would all agree that it should be covered by the Bill.
My Lords, I think that after the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, spoke to a similar amendment on Report, he agreed that the words "if not" would be better left out. That was something of a disappointment to my officials who had tied themselves in knots trying to find out what he meant. As the noble Lord, Lord Howie, has tabled an identical amendment, we have been able to avoid such detailed consideration now and have addressed ourselves solely to the spirit behind the amendment, which is whether or not "supply and fit" contracts should be brought within the Bill.
1443 This is a difficult area in which I do not think that it is possible to have perfection. In the end, we may well need the assistance of Henry VIII, as he is built into the Bill.
It is not the Government's intention, nor I believe is it the will of this House, that the provisions of the Bill should extend to those who simply manufacture or supply goods to the construction industry; nor indeed, is it the wish of the suppliers themselves. Nevertheless, we are keen to help those contractors who manufacture systems and components, and then fix them into place. We therefore propose to bring forward, as soon as possible, amendments to cover the whole of such "supply and fit" contracts. I cannot say more at this stage: these amendments will need to be most carefully drafted, and their consequences considered at length. However, I hope that I have made our intentions plain, and that they meet with the approval of your Lordships.
I turn to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. I do not immediately see the advantage of what has been proposed, but we shall consider what has been said. If anything comes of that, the noble Lord will doubtless see it when the Bill returns to your Lordships' House for consideration of Commons Amendments.
With those words, I hope that I have managed to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Howie, to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I think that the Government's intentions are clear to me and, as far as I can make out, they appear to be good intentions. With that thought, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 59, leave out lines 12 and 13.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to signwriting and painting. We discussed it fully at an earlier stage when the Minister agreed with the amendment that was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and gave an undertaking at col. 924 of the Official Report to bring forward a suitable amendment "as soon as possible". I welcome that comment, and ask merely whether "as soon as possible" is the same as "as soon as is reasonable". I beg to move.
My Lords, I am afraid that on this occasion I have nothing to add to what I said on Report. We are convinced of the case; we shall be bringing forward an amendment; we shall do that as soon as possible.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, in the face of those gracious words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.45 p.m.
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 59, line 17, leave out from ("operations") to end of line 22.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am not optimistic that the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench will react with the same graciousness to this amendment, although it does not relate to a big part of the Bill. Yet again I query the manner in which the Government have taken references to the professional work of architects, surveyors, consultants and others from income tax legislation and readjusted them to suit the Bill. Several of us in this House do not make distinctions between "architects or surveyors" on the one hand and,
consultants in building, engineering, interior or exterior decoration or in the laying-out of landscape",
on the other hand. We think that they are all professional practitioners in the same business; namely, the construction business. I am still not convinced that splitting those professionals in that way is correct. It was not done in the income tax legislation.
When the Minister kindly gave me a written explanation of why that has been done, he pointed out an error of mine. He said that I had used the last words in Clause 104(3)(b)(ii),
in relation to such operations",
as though they had come from income tax legislation, which they had not. That was an oversight on my part. The Minister indicated that agreeing to my proposed amendment would lead one to the conclusion that the words,
in relation to such operations",
referred only to "the laying-out of landscape". I am not sure that that is true. However, even if it were true, I should like to put another suggestion to the Minister—this is not a proposed provision because it is not put forward as an amendment. If he were to put the words,
in relation to such operations",
which occur now in the last line of that paragraph, after the word "work" in line 18, the provisions would read, "the professional work in relation to such operations of architects" etc., etc. That would overcome my objection to splitting those construction professionals into two separate groups. That is an artificial distinction which did not appear in the tax legislation and I do not believe that it is necessary here.
§ There is a tradition of animosity between architects and engineering consultants. It is a tradition of animosity which I have spent a huge amount of my life trying to heal. I believe that having such a distinction enshrined in legislation—for the first time, I think—would undo my good work in trying to heal that animosity. I beg to move.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Howie, in his amendment. Indeed, I would go slightly further. The noble Lord identified the distinction in the Bill between architects and surveyors on the one hand and consultants in building, engineering, etc., on the other hand. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord that that is a false and wrong distinction to be drawn between two groups of honourable professionals, if I may put it like that.
Although I support this amendment, I hope that the noble Lord agrees that, in leaving out distinctions between particular professionals, other ancillary 1445 professionals who are essential to construction operations will be included; for example, catering staff. I refer to the people who provide bacon butties and cups of tea on construction sites. I believe that they should be included in the provisions of the Bill.
Noble Lords will know that the provision of adequate catering facilities on a construction site can be the making or breaking of the whole operation. Although I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Howie, agrees with me, the main point is that a false distinction should not be drawn between the two main professional groups involved in a construction contract. With great pleasure, I support the amendment and hope that the Government agree with it.
My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, does not like the way in which the Bill is drafted in dividing the world of construction professionals into sheep and goats, the sheep being lame-brained, lame-footed, daft, woolly animals who just produce a low grade of fibre, and the goats being sagacious, energetic animals that produce cashmere. I am sorry that he objects to being numbered among the goats under that definition.
I was very attracted, not by the amendment that he tabled, but by the amendment that he mentioned in passing. He referred to bringing forward the words "in relation to such operations" immediately after the mention of professionals. That is certainly a matter that we will consider.
In case there is any doubt, it may be worth pointing out that the wording of Clause 104 as it stands covers the professional work of all consultants in building, civil work and construction generally. Anyone who has a professional input to the operations listed in Clause 104(1), except in so far as they are modified by subsection (2), will enjoy fair contract provisions. That will include such people as lighting consultants, who I believe were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, at the last stage. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that this is a most important function of subsection (3).
Although the Government do not agree with removing this provision, as the noble Lord suggests, their attention has been drawn to the question whether paragraph (a) is required. Dare I admit that this may be another hangover from the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988? We will take the opportunity, having been prompted by the noble Lord, to look most carefully at this paragraph but, bearing in mind the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, about the presence of catering staff on site, perhaps that is where they come into the Bill. We will look at it carefully. If we believe that paragraph (a) is no longer necessary, we shall table an amendment to delete it. We shall consider the suggestion made in passing by the noble Lord about bringing forward the generality, so making this an all-inclusive reference to professionals. However, as far as concerns this particular amendment, I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw it.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I did not fancy my amendment too much either. It seemed to go a bit 1446 far. It could perhaps have been justified. Noble Lords may have noticed that I made no attempt to justify it but spoke of something else. In these circumstances, that is a sound way of going about one's business. What may be termed my amendment that I mentioned in passing occurred to me only late in the day. I am pleased that the Minister thought that there was some merit in it. I was terrified when he started to remove paragraph (a). Once one begins to remove paragraphs from the Bill, who knows where it will end? He has been advised on several occasions to withdraw bits of it to which he has stuck. However, I am encouraged by what he has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 106 [Provisions applicable only to agreements in writing]:
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 60, line 14, after first ("in") insert ("adjudication or").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have nothing to say about this amendment, except that it has been discussed before. The Government looked at it with mild favour. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. We agreed to think further about it. Having done so, we have concluded that the noble Lord is right. It should he possible for an exchange of communications in adjudication proceedings to provide evidence of a written agreement. While we are clear on the intention of the amendment, the drafting will need to be considered very carefully. I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I am greatly heartened by the notion that I am right. I shall go to the Library to see whether or not they can discover any other occasions on which I have been described as right in the past 18 years while I have been in this Chamber. I am little worried that he is unsure about the drafting. There are only two words to consider. At the moment, I do not see how these words can be drafted in any other way, but no doubt it is possible. I will not irritate the noble Lord by carrying on. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 138 [Home energy efficiency schemes]:
§ [Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
§ 6 p.m.
§ Schedule 2 [Architects]:
Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 87, line 28, leave out ("seven") and insert ("eight").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I had rather hoped for some respite while Amendment No. 15 was discussed, but I have been refused that. Schedule 2 deals with the registration of architects. Whether they are sheep or goats I do not know, but I am very much on their side. I dealt with this at some length at Second Reading. I do not believe that everybody agreed with 1447 me. As the Bill stands, the body which looks after architects (ARCUK) is to have seven members elected by registered architects and eight others appointed by somebody or other. I propose to change it so that the elected members representing architects directly are in a majority of eight to seven instead of in a minority of seven to eight.
I am afraid that I have to wax philosophical for a moment or two. I remind the House of certain elements of a profession as opposed to any other form of economic activity. I begin by quoting the famous journalist on the Baltimore Sun, H.L. Mencken who published a number of books which he called Prejudices. In one of them he remarked:
It is, after all, a sound instinct which puts business below the professions, and burdens the businessman with a social inferiority that he can never quite shake off, even in America".
Mencken was giving the profession a moral stance or dimension which ordinary business did not have. I give another quotation to which I alluded at Second Reading. The quotation comes from the socialist philosopher R.H. Tawney. He was writing on this occasion as a philosopher rather than as a socialist. This is a matter that we have to think about carefully, because it is the essence of a profession as opposed to a public company or some other business organisation. He said:
A Profession may be defined most simply as a trade which is organised, incompletely, no doubt, but genuinely, for the performance of function. It is not simply a collection of individuals who get a living for themselves by the same kind of work. Nor is it merely a group which is organised exclusively for the economic protection of its members, though that is normally among its purposes. It is a body of men who carry on their work in accordance with rules designed to enforce certain standards both for the better protection of its members and for the better service of the public".
§ That is a definition which has not, perhaps, been carried out fully. I notice in passing that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has come into the Chamber. It would be convenient if he were to take his place, because I may refer to him in a moment or two. I give him due warning, but very gently.
§ The essence of this issue is that the profession governs itself. I cannot for the moment think of any profession in which the governing body—the disciplinary body, because that is what is the case here with ARCUK—is dominated by a group of people who are not members of the profession itself. I do not believe that it is true of any other profession. If I am mistaken, I hope someone will point that out. If I am wrong, I shall try to ignore it. This is the crux of the matter. I have no doubt that this is the best deal that the RIBA could get out of the Government in order to get ARCUK reinstated, because, at one time, when the Warren Report was published, the Government wished to abolish ARCUK altogether.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, that is more or less what I meant. There was substantial discussion. Eventually this compromise was reached. I believe that the compromise was mistaken, and I should like to reverse it for the following reason: if the majority is 1448 eight outsiders to seven insiders, there is one outsider who might sway the balance. If it so happened that the outsider appointed was me—that would be an excellent idea—the balancing factor would be a person who is sympathetic towards architects and the architectural profession.
On the other hand, it is conceivable that the eighth person (the balancing factor) might be the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who expressed at an earlier stage of the Bill what I can only describe as a rather unkind attitude towards architects. If he were the balancing factor instead of me, we would have a different kind of disciplinary organisation.
It is important to realise that despite the changes which have occurred in the economic field which have affected the economics of the professions, the professions differ from ordinary business because the professional ethic and professional ethos is different from the business ethic and business ethos. The distinction is one which should be preserved. I know that that sounds terribly old-fashioned in these modern get-up-and-go days, but I beg to move.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, perhaps I may make a quick point because I have not been taking part to any great extent in this part of the Bill, which deals with architects. If the board is to deal with the self-regulation of the profession for the benefit not merely of the profession but to ensure that the general public (the consumers) receive a high standard of service, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, will find, if he looks at any other self-regulating bodies, that they have in fact a majority of independent members, and that those self-regulating bodies have a majority of independent members on all of their committees, so that the professions, or in some instances the industries that they represent, do not put their own purposes and well-being before those of the consuming public.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I suspect that my knowledge and experience of these things must be different from those of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, because my understanding is that in most self regulating professional organisations—if I may describe them like that—there is a recognition of the need to involve the consumer who is not a member of the professional group. Those professional groups of which I have some slight knowledge maintain control of their own affairs. In the field of engineering, determination of who shall and who shall not be a chartered engineer—the definition of a professional engineer in this country effectively—is made by the Engineering Council. My understanding is that the majority, if not all, of the members of the Engineering Council are chartered engineers.
My knowledge of the medical profession suggests that the ruling council of the BMA (the BMC) is dominated by doctors. While the doctors may have non-medical people sitting with them, the judgment is effectively made by the doctors. I am wracking my brains to think of other professionals who would be professionals under the definition of my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, but I cannot think of any. I put 1449 my scant knowledge at the disposal of your Lordships' House. I believe that I have a different impression of things from the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.
My Lords, the aim of the reforms to the Architects Registration Council is to replace a large organisation, almost entirely representing the interests of architects, with a small and efficient board representing both the interests of architects and of the general public.
One of the main arguments put forward by architects in favour of keeping the protection of their title, is that they must not only satisfy the client, but also meet a higher obligation to the public at large. If it is in the public interest to protect the title "architect", then it is essential that the board which protects that title is also seen as a body which is there to protect the public. That echoes what my noble friend Lord Swinfen said.
The Bill provides that there should be eight lay members and seven architects on the board. I believe that a lay majority of one strikes the right balance between protecting the public and looking after the profession. It signals the importance of the board's public role, but it does not in any way diminish the importance of architects as a profession.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie, asked whether any other profession has a similar arrangement. I am not immediately aware of any, but I can think of several that would benefit from it.
I am also confident that most architects accept that we have got the balance right. The proposal for a lay majority was part of a package of reforms which was agreed to by both the Architects Registration Council and by the Royal Institute of British Architects. It also has the support of the unattached architects, those not affiliated to the RIBA. They are the equivalent of Cross-Benchers. A substantial majority of those who responded to our consultation paper also supported the proposal for a lay majority.
Lay members will have a majority of only one and there will be a balance between those representing public and consumer interests and those who represent users of architectural services. This could, of course, include clients and individuals from the construction industry but I am sure that your Lordships will accept that their numbers will be insufficient to have an undue influence on the board.
I should stress that the Bill provides that there will be consultation on the proposed nominated members and that government will consult those with an interest in the composition of the board.
The lay majority is, of course, a new departure as is the composition and working arrangements of the new board. We expect that the new arrangements will work well and will benefit both the profession and the public. Nevertheless, we accept that circumstances change over time. For this reason, the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to change by statutory instrument the provisions of Part I of Schedule 2 which includes the composition of the new board.
1450 I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and that, although we believe that on this occasion he is wrong, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I am not at all sure. I do not believe that the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was helpful. My noble friend Lord Monkswell mentioned the Engineering Council. As we are discussing the construction industry, perhaps I may point out that many of the component institutions in that council have their own councils of one kind or another. There are about 50 and not a single one has even one lay member. I believe that that is a mistake. The Institution of Civil Engineers, of which I am a member, has a council of about 45, which is rather a lot, all of whom are chartered engineers. The institution would not let a lay person through the door. I believe that that is a great mistake. I do not doubt that there should be lay members on all such bodies because there is a public interest element.
I object to the fact that the profession will have a council on which the majority consists of lay members who are not members of that profession. While they will have an interest in that profession it might often be odd or even amateur. Come to that, it might even be royal. I believe that that is a mistake.
I know that that situation came about because it was the best deal that the RIBA could achieve in rather dismal circumstances. I know that the Minister is correct in saying that he has been accepted by the official architecture profession. However, it has been questioned by many individual architects who feel aggrieved that their profession should be taken out of their hands in so far as they take a great interest in it.
I know that I shall not get anywhere with my proposal because my noble colleagues on the Front Bench do not agree with me. Nor does the Government Front Bench. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but I hope that at some stage the Secretary of State will come to realise that I am not wrong but right.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 17 not moved.]
§ An amendment (privilege) made.
§ 6.15 p.m.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
We shall send the Bill to another place with 156 amendments. I am pleased to point out that 62 of those were tabled in response to points and concerns raised in this House. In particular, 28 amendments were tabled in response to points from the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Howie of Troon. And that does not include some highly important changes which will not see the light of day until the Bill reaches another place or, indeed, until the draft scheme is published after Royal Assent.
Twenty-one amendments were tabled in response to points from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and she has a latent amendment or two as well. My noble friend 1451 Lord Swinfen prompted 20 amendments and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley, Lord Dubs and Lord Rix, appear in the list together with the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. Noble Lords, having been taught mental arithmetic at school, may recognise that my figures include an element of double counting. I had no wish to do down those noble Lords who took an equal part in debating other noble Lords' amendments.
Those 62 amendments were the important ones. The other 94 largely correct minor drafting weaknesses. This has been a well drafted Bill and there has been an effective Opposition and a responsive Government. That has been a great credit to this House.
The provisions in Part I of the Bill will give local authorities a greater degree of discretion in the management of their private sector renewal programmes. All who have spoken on Part I have made the point that local authorities ought to have considered and constructive policies for the improvement of private sector housing.
Local authorities are asked to consider their housing strategies annually when writing their housing investment programme submission. It is through this mechanism that we can ensure that local authorities are meeting their duties and obligations in terms of assessing the fitness of the housing stock in their area and taking action where it is found to be necessary.
In order to help local authorities the department will issue revised guidance to accompany the new legislation. A working group, including local authority officers, has been established to advise on the content and structure of the guidance.
It is my belief that the Bill will improve the range of tools available to local authorities and help in securing the improvements to unfit private sector housing that we are all seeking. The move to discretionary renovation grants, the retention of mandatory disabled facilities grant, the introduction of home repair assistance, the addition of a further option on fitness enforcement and increased flexibility in the operation of group repair schemes should all help in reaching local renewal objectives.
We have also sought to include provisions where experience has shown the current legislation to be deficient. These include the power for local authorities to impose conditions on grant recipients; to recover grant on breach of conditions; to extend the range of grants available to meet the costs of works to protect against fire; and to recover grant where an applicant is found not to have been entitled to help.
This House has improved Part I in several respects. First, while it was acknowledged that there was no problem with regard to those considered eligible for disabled facilities grant, it became clear that the House wished to see a less dated reference to disability within the Bill. I believe that we have been able to achieve that without introducing any conflict with other statutes governing the provision of assistance, in whatever form, to disabled people.
Secondly, we were persuaded to reflect on the operation of the prior qualifying period for grant assistance. We believe it is an important principle that 1452 grant assistance is not to be used for financial gain. The prior qualifying period seeks to ensure that grant goes to those who, through no fault of their own, are living in poor housing conditions. Those who have bought a new home which they know to be unfit should not normally do so with the expectation of grant.
However, on consideration we recognised that there were cases where a rigid prior qualifying rule might undermine a local authority's strategy for tackling empty properties or depressed areas. Amendments we brought forward either remove the prior qualifying period or give local authorities discretion to disapply the condition. We believe that that strikes the right balance in not restricting authorities' strategic objectives while making it clear to whom grant should be available.
We also announced our intention, once the Bill is out of the way and before the end of the year, to set in train a review of the housing fitness standard. This will ensure that important issues your Lordships raised about the requirements in the standard and its application are properly considered.
We have also spent many hours discussing Part II, which provides for fair contracts provisions in construction contracts. These originated from the review by Sir Michael Latham into procurement and contractual practices in the construction industry. His conclusion that the industry's productivity was being undermined by unnecessary disputes and poor contractual practices has been echoed frequently in this House. Following extensive consultations with the industry, the Government decided to focus on two key areas: dispute resolution and payment procedures.
Much of the debate in this House has concentrated on two main topics. The first of these has been how to define "construction". I am grateful to noble Lords for helping us to hone and clarify that definition. The debate has prompted the removal of certain exclusions, and we have undertaken to remove others.
We have also sought to clarify the way the process engineering industry is excluded from the terms of this legislation, an issue which we have discussed again today. Noble Lords have convinced us that there is still further work to do on this in another place.
The second major area of debate on Part II has concerned the right of a party to refer a dispute to the rapid dispute resolution procedure known as adjudication. The main issue here has been provided by our draft proposals for a fall-back adjudication scheme which would operate if contractual arrangements proved inadequate. These suggested that an adjudicator's decision under the scheme should normally be final, and several noble Lords felt this was more characteristic of arbitration.
We listened carefully to the views of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Berkeley and Lord Williams of Elvel. As a result, I announced at Report stage that, when we came to consult on the scheme for construction contracts following Royal Assent, we would advance a modified proposal. We intend to suggest that, under scheme arrangements, it should be possible to reopen disputes at practical completion of the contract, unless parties have 1453 agreed otherwise. We accept that this is more closely in tune with the way adjudication is currently practised in the industry. Nevertheless, I have also sought to remind noble Lords that our aim with legislation is to reduce the overall level of construction disputes, and to speed up the resolution of those which do occur—not simply to postpone the date of final resolution.
I now turn to Part III which would replace the Architects Registration Council of the United Kingdom—ARCUK—with a smaller and more efficient board which will be more responsive to the needs of the public at large. These reforms have the support of all the main branches of the profession. I am pleased that your Lordships also gave them your support in Second Reading and Committee.
The current registration arrangements have been in operation for over 60 years, so it is natural that there are some concerns about how the new arrangements will work. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, tabled a number of amendments which reflected these concerns. I believe I have been able to reassure him on two matters in particular. First, I agree with the minimalist approach implied by his proposed amendments. I reiterate that having abolished the Board of Architectural Education and Admissions Committee, we do not wish the new registration board to create new large and expensive committees in their place.
Secondly, I agree with the noble Lord that appointed members should be independent men and women who wish to perform a public service. Our proposals provide that they should represent a balance between the interests of those who use architectural services and those of the general public.
At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Williams, welcomed Part IV of the Bill, and in particular the provisions relating to relocation grants, more or less without reservation. We certainly hope that local housing authorities will make full use of these new powers once they become available next year.
The other main issue that emerged in debate on Part IV was concern for information, in the interests of public accountability, about the process for allocating grant under the single regeneration budget. As I have said, I believe that a great deal of information is available—we are certainly not trying to hide anything. But we shall keep the publication of information under review.
Noble Lords opposite tabled several amendments to the Bill's provisions for tidying up the arrangements for winding up the Commission for the New Towns, urban development corporations and housing action trusts, mainly with the aim of ensuring that local authorities are fully involved.
Our main concern in providing for the establishment of one or more residuary bodies is to ensure that we have arrangements that are flexible and cost-effective, with residual matters passing to those best able to deal with them. This certainly does not exclude local authorities. Indeed, we are actively encouraging the urban development corporations and the Commission for the New Towns to transfer matching packages of 1454 assets and liabilities to the relevant local authorities as part of their disengagement strategies, wherever this can be agreed on appropriate terms.
On housing action trusts, I can repeat the assurance that I gave the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, at Report stage that nothing we are doing affects the statutory right of secure tenants of a trust to return to being tenants of the local authority, if that is what they want. However, local authorities will not be the appropriate recipients for everything; nor are they likely to want to be saddled with some of the longer-term liabilities.
I conclude by thanking all those who have helped ensure that the Bill has been thoroughly considered during each stage of its passage through your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has led for the Opposition with his usual courtesy, eloquence and attention to detail and he has been most ably supported by the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Howie of Troon.
We have benefitted greatly from the considerable expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. I trust that he takes pleasure in the contribution that his hyperbole has made to the Bill's asymptotic approach to perfection. The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Monkswell, have also brought their engineering experience to bear, and though the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is a self-confessed novice in constructional matters, she had the able assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. She has suggested a number of amendments to test the drafting of the whole Bill, and in particular she has demonstrated that it is seventh time lucky when it comes to controlling Henry VIII.
I also thank my noble friends Lord Ullswater and Lord Elton for a number of valuable interventions borne of their own considerable acquaintance with the industry. To them and to all other Peers from all sides of the House who have contributed to the debates, I express my thanks for well-argued and constructive speeches. I include in that of course my noble friend Lord Swinfen, who has contributed so much to our debates on this Bill. I hope that he feels that we have been able to go a significant way to meet his concerns.
I end by saying what a privilege it has been for me to work on the Bill. I note that that is solely because my noble friend Lord Ferrers has been undergoing a period of reconstruction and steelwork from which he is recovering well.
Finally, I pay tribute to the officials from the departments involved with the Bill, to the officers and staff of the House and to the parliamentary counsel for the unstinting support that they have given. It is a much improved Bill that now goes to another place, where it will, I trust, receive a little further polishing to follow the vigorous sanding down that it has endured here. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, that the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Lucas.)
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, on Second Reading, I said to the House that this was a long and 1455 rather complicated Bill and that our proceedings would be equally long and rather complicated. And so they have turned out to be.
I said also on Second Reading that I regarded the Bill as something of a curate's egg: there were good bits, bad bits, and rotten bits. Nothing that has happened in our proceedings since that day has convinced me that this Bill is anything other than long and rather complicated and still is a curate's egg.
In our view, Part I does not address the fundamental problem which I expressed on Second Reading; namely, the state of disrepair of private housing in Britain. As I explained to your Lordships, some 1.5 million houses in private ownership in England alone are officially unfit. In seeking to dismantle the mandatory scheme for renovation of unfit private housing, Part I does not seem to us to go any way at all towards remedying that situation. In fact, we believe that it will make the situation worse. Therefore, in spite of some of the amendments which the Government accepted, Part I still remains a pretty poor and shoddy part of the Bill. The Government will no doubt have to justify that in another place.
I still regard Part II as in a formative stage. When it was drafted and presented to your Lordships, it was unsatisfactory. It did not take up all the provisions of the Latham Report. As one noble Lord pointed out, a certain amount seemed to have become lost in translation between Latham and the parliamentary draftsman.
The intent of Part II is good: the devil is in the detail. I understand that the Government have difficulty with it. However, the rumour is—and I hope that when he replies the Minister will say that that rumour is false—that the Government have in mind to drop Part II of the Bill altogether. I very much hope that the Government will persevere with that part because it is very important for the construction industry which, as I said on Second Reading, represents some 8 per cent. of gross domestic product in the United Kingdom and employs about 2.5 million workers.
Nevertheless, your Lordships have found a good deal of fault with the drafting of Part II of the Bill. In particular, I focus on what became of our discussions on the scheme for construction contracts. Despite what the Minister just said, I do not believe that the Government have fully understood the feeling in the industry generally that adjudication is not arbitration and that arbitration is not adjudication. If the Government can get that message into their head and reproduce that message in a future scheme, I hope that we will get a Part II which is rather more sensible than it is at present. I accept all the problems that the Government have had in defining what is in the construction industry and what is in the process industry. Indeed, they are most difficult problems to define in statute. Nevertheless, the Government have set their hand to this and I very much hope that they will pursue it in the light of discussions that have taken place on a non-partisan and, I hope, a helpful basis from all sides of the House.
I have no particular comment to make on Part III of the Bill other than to repeat what I said on Second Reading; namely, that the Government seem to have 1456 abandoned the whole concept of the Warne Report and reverted to something which they previously condemned. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, rightly said, I did welcome the relocation grants under Part IV; indeed, I do so again. I am sure that in another place there will be more exploration of how they will operate than there has been in your Lordships' House. That is simply because we did not really have very much time as we have been concentrating on other issues. However, that will be a matter of great interest to my honourable friends in the other place, especially those who come from the Birmingham area where the relocation grants were, I believe, an innovation of the Birmingham City Council.
Our debates on Part V always arose rather late in the process of business. Perhaps we have not done full justice to the matter of the disposal of the assets of urban development corporations, housing action trusts and new towns. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will no doubt say—and he would be right—that we have not done justice to the widening of the home energy efficiency scheme which we debated earlier today. There is still much to be done on the Bill. Your Lordships are a revising Chamber, but we had to revise a Bill which started its passage in this House. It will now be for another place to revise a Bill that we have revised. I am sure that Members of the other place will set their minds to the task in the same way as your Lordships have done.
My thanks are due, first, to my noble friend Lord Dubs for assisting me most ably on the Bill. I should also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. In that respect, I am glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the noble Earl is recovering from the reconstruction and construction work that he has undergone. I very much hope that he will be back among us before long having been fully restored to health. My thanks also go to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who, if I may say so, was rather landed with a Bill in the middle of its process when the noble Earl had to leave. However, he has conducted himself with the greatest courtesy and efficiency. We all value the noble Lord's side quips which liven up our debates from time to time.
I should also like to extend my thanks to my noble friends Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Berkeley and Lord Monkswell. It is always extremely useful, putting it at its lowest, as well as profitable for those of us on the Opposition Front Bench, who do not necessarily understand the full detail of the Bill under discussion, to have experts sitting behind us who can point out where we are wrong, and indeed where we are right. I am most grateful to my noble friends for their assistance.
The Bill will now go to another place. As always, we look forward to seeing the results of those deliberations. In our turn, we will await the major part of the housing legislation which is being debated at present in the other place. We look forward—or not, as the case may be—to that event. I cannot say that I wish the Bill entirely well. There are parts of it which I like and parts of it which I do not like. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, knows that only too well after all our discussions. 1457 Nevertheless, I believe that your Lordships have done a good job on the Bill. There are still gaps in it, but I believe that the Bill leaves this House in a better condition than it started its passage.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hamwee and myself I should like to say a few words at this final stage. As the Bill leaves this House I have two particular impressions. The first is the particular attention which the Government have paid throughout to the views expressed both from the Opposition Benches and, indeed, from their own Benches. It has been quite an exceptional case—and one which I hope will be followed in the future—of the Government really taking account of what has been said and trying to make the best use of it. The correspondence that has flowed from individuals has also been considerable. I believe that we have taken a big step forward in that respect. Indeed, it has been very much a joint effort to try to get the Bill into better shape.
We have also benefited enormously from the expertise of some noble Lords who have taken part in our debates. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Howie, from the Labour Benches, who has contributed with remarkable persistence. He always sits right at the back of the Chamber but, nevertheless, speaks with great knowledge and skill. We have also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who has only recently joined the House but who is also very skilled in such matters; and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, has joined in our debates with many wise words from time to time. From the Conservative side, I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, has been most helpful and objective in his interventions. We have gained a great deal from such expertise.
I shall not go through the substance of the Bill in detail, but, as regards Part I, I must say that I share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams; namely, that I hope we shall not lose sight of the fact that we have a quite unacceptable level of unfit housing in Britain. I do not believe that the measures proposed in the Bill will make a substantial difference to the situation. Therefore, I hope that in due course we shall really begin to grapple with the problem. I do not believe that we are doing anywhere near enough to deal with it.
Secondly, the House will not be surprised if I refer to Part V of the Bill and the home energy efficiency scheme which the Government supported and on which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made some positive comments today. But, unfortunately, the recent diminution in government support has, I believe, given quite the wrong signal. They were doing the right thing and, I hope that, before long, they will continue in that positive manner. I am just sorry that the amendment introduced today was, for technical and possibly other reasons, not accepted. However, I hope that the matter will be reconsidered in another place.
1458 Altogether I regard this as having been a very positive contribution to our debates. I look forward to the return of the Bill when it has been through what I hope will be similarly positive treatment in another place.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I had an involvement with the launch of the Latham Report as a Member of Her Majesty's Government at that time, and in my role as Minister responsible for construction. Noble Lords will therefore understand that I followed the subsequent progress of the measure with some interest. I think there was an acknowledgement of the need to legislate in some areas for fair conditions in construction contracts.
At Second Reading I welcomed what was in Part II of this long Bill and commented on what was not in the Bill, including the establishment of trust funds and compulsory latent defect insurance as recommended by Sir Michael Latham in his report. Whereas the discussions on that part of the Bill have evolved, some areas of confusion have been identified and I believe that the Government have listened carefully to our comments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I think they have listened to us to a significant extent. They have listened therefore to the comments of the industry, which we in the House have reflected. I, too, wish to compliment my noble friend Lord Lucas on the positive way in which he has handled the Bill in the absence of his, and my, noble friend Lord Ferrers. We have considered many government amendments. We have heard today of commitments to be implemented in another place. I welcome that and I thank my noble friend for it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Williams has said, the construction industry is an important industry and has come together to try to improve working arrangements. I very much welcome the Government's involvement in trying to assist the industry. I hope that when the scheme for construction contracts is sent out for consultation, the Government will listen carefully to the replies that they receive. I believe that this House has done its work diligently, good humouredly and properly. I look forward to the consideration of Commons amendments with great interest.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, at Second Reading I welcomed Part II of the Bill, which is the part with which I have been mainly concerned, although I impinged, albeit unsuccessfully, on Part III for a moment or two earlier today. I should say at this point that this is unquestionably my final contribution to the debate today. I have spoken often enough. I see heads nodding in agreement.
There are several defects in Part II. The main defect is that it deals with the Latham Report only in part. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said at one point, there are other parts of Latham which would contribute towards the anticipated 30 per cent. reduction in costs which that report forecasts. This Bill only touches a part of that. I look forward to a further construction Bill, perhaps not encumbered with housing and other matters, coming before us shortly to complete the Latham proposals.
1459 Noble Lords on both sides have tried to improve the Bill and we have persuaded the Government as regards a variety of measures. We have helped the Government to clarify their mind on various areas where they seemed to be confused, notably as regards the scheme. I think that the Government have at long last understood the difference between adjudication and arbitration, and when the scheme eventually appears that will be made clear. However, I remind the Government that I tabled an amendment to the Bill which would have made it clear in any case and would have shown the difference between the two terms on the face of the Bill. That was turned down of course, being a useful addition.
I remind the House that the Government helped us by publishing a draft scheme. Rather late in the day I realised that there were two schemes; that is, there was also a Scottish scheme. I suggested to the Government that a draft Scottish scheme might also be published as there are bound to be differences between the two owing to the different legal structures under which they will function. Apparently, this was not such a good idea. However, I hope that a draft Scottish scheme will be published reasonably soon so that it can be seen at least as early as the scheme which applies to England and Wales.
I have another proposal for the Government. When these two schemes are published in their final form after consultation—as eventually they will be—I suggest that they should be accompanied by an explanatory pamphlet for those who might be interested in such matters, as these people are likely to be contractors at the smaller end of the construction business. They may require more help in unravelling legal matters than the big contractors.
We had some difficulty as regards definitions. I am not sure that we have fully defined the construction industry. I am particularly unsure as to whether the distinction which we asked for has been fully made; namely, between the process industry as a whole and those parts of construction which relate to the process industry. I received a letter on this matter rather late in the day—I am sorry to say—from a business acquaintance of mine who is involved in subcontracting in the oil, gas and petro-chemical industry. The firm with which he is involved is a well established, large subcontractor. His firm has no complaints about the process industries in this contractual arrangement as regards the big operators. However, when the contractor—to whom the firm is a subcontractor—is one whose culture is in the construction industry and not in the process industry, that poses a problem. A contractor in the process industry would probably function by means of the acknowledged chemical engineering contract. However, where a main contractor is a civil engineering contractor, he is inclined to function within the culture of the construction industry which is less satisfactory. My friend is quite willing, as a subcontractor, to enter into subcontracts where the main contractor is a process contractor, such as Foster Wheeler, but is less willing when the main contractor—although in a process context—is a construction company in the usual sense. I draw 1460 attention to that point rather late in the day in the hope that such thoughts will be considered in another place when the Bill is further considered there.
I thank the Minister for what must have seemed to him a fairly daunting prospect when he embarked upon the Bill. He has acquitted himself extremely well. However, he had the most good natured opponents—or indeed allies—that he could have hoped for!I thank him for the manner in which he has dealt with the Bill. I send my best wishes to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I have known him, man and boy, for 30 years. I look forward to seeing him carry this Bill through. He has been unable to be with us, but I wish him well. I hope that when the Bill has been through another place it will return to us in a further improved condition and we may then set about improving it even further.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, I, too, am glad to hear that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is recovering from his illness. I hope he has not had to worry about whether it was a structural or a process plant defect, and whether it was demolition or construction!Whatever it was, I hope that he has been paid and that his subcontractors have been paid. We certainly wish him well.
This has been a most interesting experience for me. I am grateful for the understanding of the House to a new Member. For me Part II of the Bill is important. That is the Government's response to the demands of the construction industry for a simple, effective, cheap and, most importantly of all, non-legalistic procedure for the resolution of disputes.
The Bill tries to give the industry what it wants. Today I happened to see a story in the Daily Star which sums it up. A small contractor put down a new car park for his local Burger King in Northamptonshire and the article absolutely had to be headed "Burger Sting". After he had put it down, his client went into liquidation, so he was not paid. The client had a separate company which was the concessionaire for the operation, so the small contractor felt that his client was still around even though he had not been paid. He took the law into his own hands and dug up the car park. I do not say whether that is right or wrong but I hope that the Bill will provide such a contractor with comfort and enable him to be paid for what he did, presumably after he has put the beastly car park down again.
At the start we had a post-Latham feel-good factor, with the support of the whole construction industry, including lawyers. That was important, and when they said it would cost them too much money, we should have been careful. Somehow, in the process, during the first few weeks something succeeded in turning an almost universal feel-good factor into a universal feel-bad factor. As I mentioned at Report stage, there was universal condemnation from the industry, possibly excluding the process industry, I do not know what the Government did, but it was quite an achievement. Possibly it was connected with the scheme and, as we mentioned earlier, the difference between arbitration and adjudication.
1461 I have been heartened by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, today and at previous stages about the Bill's objectives. They are to speed up the resolution and reduce the costs of the dispute, as well as to speed up payment. I am sure that the Bill will be improved in another place and I wish it well. The industry needs the measure desperately but the Government must listen to the industry before the Bill becomes law. They must sort out the problem of how many schemes we have for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is equally important that the industry make its individual and collective voices known to the Government again and again. Both sides must stay with it. I sincerely hope that they do; if so, the construction industry will be the better for it.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I wish to say how much I appreciate the way in which my noble friend Lord Lucas has dealt with the anxieties that I have about the Bill. He has listened to them, discussed some of them with me between stages and copied correspondence to me that he has had with other Members of the House. Thus I and other noble Lords knew exactly where we were with the Government's thinking at any time.
As regards its effect on disabled people, the Bill has been improved as it has gone through the House. However, I am still concerned about the 12-month delay which may take place in the payment of mandatory disabled facilities grants. I hope the matter will be re-examined as the Bill goes through the other place.
I am pleased that my noble friend took on board what I said about the definition of the disabled person at Committee stage and came back with his own amendment on Report. There may need to be some further tinkering with it in the other place. I am sure that my noble friend, his officials and the Minister who will take the Bill through the other place will give it their consideration.
I am also grateful for my noble friend's offer to discuss Part M of the building regulations; I used the Bill as a vehicle once again to raise the matter in the House. I am grateful and look forward to the meeting we shall have in the not-too-distant future when I hope we can make progress.
I have one other point. If amendments are requested in the other place which are not necessarily to the Government's liking because they do not like the way in which they are drafted and their thinking is not yet finalised, I hope that the Government will accept those amendments. If they are not accepted in the other place, it will not give the Government or this House the opportunity of discussing them and throwing even greater light on them when the Bill returns here. I sometimes have the feeling that the Government resist amendments when they are not sure and neglect the opportunity to discuss them when Bills are returned to the House of origin. Further discussion could usefully be employed on this Bill because it is complicated.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I was glad to hear from the Minister that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is 1462 recovering from his travails. Together with everyone else in this House, I hope that he will grace these Benches as soon as possible. While he is a robust Member of the House, he has always treated me with courtesy, for which I am glad. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has also been courteous in his contributions during deliberations on the Bill. I am grateful not only for his responses at the Dispatch Box—however limited, because of his brief—but also for the letters which he and his colleagues have been kind enough to send me on different subjects between stages.
I also thank the Minister for the modification—I choose the word carefully—of the prior qualification period for home improvement grants. As the Bill proceeds to the next stages, I hope that the Government will go even further and take out any reference to prior qualification periods. When the other place considers Part I, I hope that it will recognise that the imperatives of that provision are to help poor people to modernise run-down homes and provide disabled facilities, as well as to encourage the investment of private funds in the housing market and the modernisation of housing units.
One of the difficulties with which we are faced in Part II is how the parliamentary draftsman responds to a technical subject. I offer that as an excuse for the Government not getting it quite right and not even getting it right at this stage. In its consideration of Part II, I hope that the other place will recognise the essence of the Bill. It is to seek to redress the imbalance of power which operates in the construction industry. The Bill should provide a fall-back position to protect the contractual relationship between a small power beset by a larger power. The relationship between a more powerful and a less powerful individual or company is not always the root of the problem in disputes on construction contracts. However, the problems and unfairness that can arise from the imbalance of power spills over into other areas where there may be a balance of power. I hope that the Government and the other place will recognise that and take the advice that this House offers freely that Part II should seek to provide a fall-back position to prevent the abuse of power.
During consideration of Part III, I was glad to support the architectural profession. That was not made easy for me, and I suspect for other Members of your Lordships' House on this side of the Chamber, by the knowledge that the leadership of that profession is currently engaged in an industrial dispute with its staff about recognition of their union rights. It puts one in a difficult situation. One seeks to defend the rights of a profession to have some protection in law. Yet the leadership of that profession does not appear to recognise the rights of ordinary members of their staff to belong to a recognised trade union and to have negotiating rights. I hope that when the leaders of the architectural profession read these debates, they will recognise that they do themselves an injustice by their relationship with their workers.
I do not normally speak at this stage of a Bill. However, my reason for speaking is that I remember that we are summoned to Parliament to provide our advice. We are an advisory Chamber. I sincerely hope that the other place will read the debates in this 1463 Chamber, consider the amendments, and will recognise that in the deliberations that we have had on the Bill we do not seek to usurp the powers of Members of another place, or to dominate or tell Members of the House of Commons what to do. We seek to provide them with advice. They can take it or leave it. But the objective of all our deliberations is to do what we are summoned to Parliament to do: to give our advice. I hope that Members of another place will listen to that advice.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, mine was essentially a walking-on part in the circumstances described when we reached Report stage. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, was generous enough to welcome my intervention and to go so far as to say—perhaps he went too far—that he wished that he had been able to put the issue,as concisely, correctly, totally and truthfully as [I] did".—[Official Report, 22/4/96; co1.997.]All I sought to do was to disentangle the adjudication process from the provisions of the quite outstandingly excellent new Arbitration Bill, shortly to become the new Arbitration Act 1996. The nature of the adjudication process requires a quick, enforceable, interim decision which operates until practical completion. If not then acceptable, arbitration or litigation can deal with the outstanding dispute. That is based upon the philosophy of pay now, argue later; and its simple purpose is to keep the contract running and the payments coming in.
What was clearly envisaged by the Government's scheme was a fast-track arbitration, using the provisions of the new Arbitration Act which would result in a decision binding for all time and arrived at with totally unrealistic speed. Under the provisions of the new Act, there would be limited rights to apply to the court and the applications would be made by those who realised that if they allowed the decision to go against them it would be final. The net result would be that instead of having a quick and cost-effective dispute, the opposite would be the case.
I ask your Lordships to bear this factor in mind, because a lawyer comes in constantly for a sneer with regard to his so-called absorption with costs. I was approached, and addressed your Lordships' House, at the instance of the specialist Bars, of the Bar and the solicitors, who stood to gain a great deal by the more protracted and hostile proceedings of an arbitration than they would from the quick adjudication process.
1464 I conclude my walking-off part by saying that I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the views which I and others expressed, and for undertaking to consult widely, and, if the consultation bore out the propositions that I and others submitted to him, to accept them.
My Lords, perhaps I may make a few points in answer to what has been said.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, as is usual, caused me considerable consternation when he said (I believe that I cite him correctly) that he hoped my noble friend Lord Ferrers would be returning to "these" Benches. I hope that my noble friend has not been reconstructed that much; I have not been told so. Nor have I been told anything about the possibility of dropping Part The noble Lord, Lord Williams, gave me considerable concern when he mentioned that possibility. I looked across at the Benches opposite; those Members looked rather concerned too. We know nothing of it within the confines of this House.
In our turn, I believe that we may have caused considerable consternation with our original draft of the draft scheme. It has been much improved in this House. When the draft scheme goes out for consultation after Royal Assent there will be a great deal of talking with the industry which will doubtless improve the scheme yet again before the issue returns to this House. However, I can assure the House that when the scheme is finally published it will be accompanied by a pamphlet and other literature which will enable the average builder to understand what is going on.
Many noble Lords have said kind things about me. To the extent that those are deserved, they are due entirely to a most helpful and kind House which has at no time tried to stamp on this new boy; and to an expert and helpful team of officials. As has been witnessed by several speakers in the House today, they have responded promptly, efficiently and at great length. Many times they have agreed with points raised by noble Lords opposite. I hope that it has given noble Lords as much pleasure to be associated with that as it has given me.
With those words, I hope that the House will now pass the Bill.
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.