HL Deb 24 March 2003 vol 646 cc539-41

7.57 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 11th March be approved [15th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the order standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is the fourth order from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to be brought forward under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001.

The Deputy Prime Minister made it clear in his recent Sustainable Communities action plan that coordinated long-term action was needed on a range of fronts if we were to address the complex housing problems that we face. Tackling the problems of shortages of affordable housing means making best use of the existing stock as well as providing additional housing. One of the mechanisms for doing that is the cash incentive scheme. Under that scheme, grants are paid to existing council tenants to help them buy a house of their own, thereby freeing up housing for a household in need. That can provide considerably better value for money than new build.

The reform order will remove the current requirement for housing authorities in England to obtain consent from the Secretary of State to run a scheme. The change, which is a simple and non-contentious one—famous last words—will lead to a small reduction in administration for authorities and allow them to tailor schemes to suit local needs and make them more attractive to tenants. We expect that to provide a helpful boost to the scale of activity under the schemes.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister consulted all local authorities, tenants' groups and other bodies with an interest. The proposal received overwhelming support from the consultees who responded. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform concluded that the proposal to allow English local authorities to run cash incentive schemes without the Secretary of State's consent was appropriate within the meaning of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. It also considered that the order, as it now stands, is in a form satisfactory to be submitted to the House for affirmative resolution. I thank members of that committee for the time they spent scrutinising the proposal and for recommending the proposal to the House.

The Regulatory Reform Committee in another place considered that the proposal would remove a burden imposed on local housing authorities. The committee was satisfied that the proposal would not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom that he or she might reasonably expect to continue to exercise. It was also satisfied that the proposal took appropriate account of the likely costs and benefits which might result from its implementation. The order was approved unanimously by the committee in another place. I now commend it to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 11th March be approved [15th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee]. —(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I have nothing to say other than to ask one question. I believe that this is an enormously welcome move. Again, it will take some of the bureaucracy out of the system. However, can the Minister say whether the level of grants that can be given by local authorities will remain the same as they are at present under statute, or can a local authority now have discretion as to how much it gives under any circumstances, or is it still bound by the original rules?

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, from these Benches, we also welcome the order. Again, it gives freedom to local authorities to act without the all-powerful hand of the Secretary of State in an area which is very important, particularly now that the Government have placed great emphasis on local housing strategies. This issue is obviously an important part of that.

Again, the Government have made changes in accordance with the relevant committee recommendations in both Houses. Personally, I believe that this is a far better way of assisting people to enter home ownership than the right-to-buy system, because it means that the property they are renting remains as a social housing unit for renting. I am particularly in favour of that.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am grateful that the order has been welcomed. With regard to whether the level of grants will remain the same, new arrangements will provide authorities with the power to decide the level of grants to be offered. Therefore, there is an element of flexibility in that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.