Skip to main content

Housing and Regeneration Bill

Volume 703: debated on Monday 7 July 2008

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 10 [Restrictions on disposal of land]:

12: Clause 10, page 4, line 40, at end insert “either generally or in respect of a specific disposal”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment would add to the clause concerning restrictions on the disposal of land a reference to a general or a specific consent from the Secretary of State. In Grand Committee, we were told about the general consent which applies in the case of local authorities. The very helpful and long compendium letter which the Minister sent to interested Peers described this process. I will not read it out. However, I have requested that the Minister reads it into the record. If I were to do that, it would not carry quite the same weight. That is my reason for tabling this amendment. The points are important and should be on the record. I beg to move.

My Lords, my Amendment No. 13 is grouped with this amendment. It relates to a subject that we debated fairly thoroughly in Grand Committee. We got what I would call a reluctant no, but very often what a community could pay for a bit of land is considerably less than its value on the commercial market. That is a reality. We have to be sure that there is flexibility so that where there is a real gain to the community there is some way of dealing with that situation. We thought we ought to repeat this amendment at this stage to see if we can persuade the Minister that a slightly more positive attitude to it would be helpful.

My Lords, I hope the Minister can clarify a couple of points for me. The nature of urban regeneration is that a large proportion of time is spent assembling land for projects. Sometimes that can be just as tricky and complex with very small parcels of land as it is with much larger sites. My experience was that from time to time English Partnerships disposed of land at less than top whack for good reasons. Sometimes it was part of a land swap with a developer where it was advantageous to the public purse to dispose of a particular bit of land at less than best consideration because the swap was more valuable in the great scheme of things. Sometimes we were disposing of a community-related asset that was a legacy from the old new towns. Sometimes we were dealing with a ransom strip. I shall not go into huge detail, but there is a range of circumstances where it is important that the accounting officer of the organisation can make a judgment, particularly over small parcels of land or parcels of land that are part of a land swap. It is important that he retains the flexibility to do that within the general Secretary of State consent, which is how we have operated in the past.

Can the Minister reassure me that we are not overdoing this and that not every single, tiny parcel of land that might be part of a swap or be otherwise disposed of or brought into a project at less than best consideration now requires the Secretary of State’s consent? I understand that the powers delegated to the accounting officer of the organisation go up to £20 million only and everything above that goes to the department and on to the Treasury in the normal way. I would have thought that in the normal course of events the accounting officer could reach that judgment within an overall direction from the Secretary of State. I would be grateful for some clarification—if not this evening, in writing—because as a result of the amendments that have been accepted, we now have a sensible regime, but if we go any further we could end up unintentionally fettering the organisation in a practical way.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has invited me to put on the record our response, and I am happy to do that. We are committed to developing a general consent to make clear the circumstances under which the Homes and Communities Agency may sell land at less than best consideration without first obtaining the Secretary of State’s consent for that transaction. Officials are currently developing that, so it may be published for further discussion, but I am happy to do my best to set out here what it is likely to cover and again to state that I will share a draft with noble Lords when it is published for discussion in the near future.

As noble Lords will know, the extent to which the Homes and Communities Agency should be able to make decisions regarding the disposal of land at less than best consideration has been the subject of extensive debate during the passage of the Bill. It is our view that, in the majority of cases, the agency should be empowered to dispose of land in the manner that best enables it to pursue its objects. We accept that this may not always mean selling land for the highest price, but we also accept that there must be appropriate and adequate safeguards in place to protect the public purse. The Bill currently contains a provision at Clause 10 precluding the Homes and Communities Agency selling land at less than best consideration without permission from the Secretary of State, but it also contains a provision at Clause 50 empowering the Secretary of State to give consent in general or specific terms. These provisions mirror those that apply to English Partnerships.

As I have said, we intend to publish for discussion with stakeholders a document setting out the Secretary of State’s general consent to the Homes and Communities Agency for the disposal of land at less than best consideration. That document will set out the general circumstances in which we suggest that the Homes and Communities Agency could dispose of land at less than best consideration. For any disposal of land that did not meet the terms set out in the final version of that document—the general consent—the Homes and Communities Agency would have to obtain the Secretary of State’s specific consent. It will set out, at a high level, the circumstances in which the disposal of land for less than best consideration would not require the specific consent of the Secretary of State.

The draft consent will set out a series of tests that deal with the public benefit and seek to protect the public purse as follows: first, any disposal at less than best consideration must meet the objects of the agency which incorporate a public benefit test; secondly, undervalue land sales must meet the value-for-money tests set out in Managing Public Money and the Green Book, which, as noble Lords will know, are Treasury publications that explain how accounting officers can take account of wider benefits when judging whether they are achieving value for money; thirdly, the disposal must not constitute state aid under Article 87 of the treaty of the European Union. This requirement would require the agency to either dispose of the land under an open and unconditional bidding procedure or rely on an existing exemption or approval which incorporates a public interest test.

To provide further protection for the public purse, the draft also places a limit on the maximum size of the unrestricted value of any transaction that the agency may undertake in these circumstances without seeking permission from the Secretary of State. We are considering a limit of £40 million for sales conducted through competitive tender and a limit of £5 million for single-tender sales. These limits are thought likely to capture about 10 per cent of the Homes and Communities Agency’s land sales.

Drafting the consent in this general way inevitably raises comparisons with the general consent available to local authorities when they wish to dispose of land at less than best consideration. This is not a fair comparison. Local authorities are required to seek consent from the Secretary of State when the difference between the restricted and unrestricted value of land sales is greater than £2 million. This means that if local authorities wanted to sell land worth £4 million for £1 million, they would have to obtain the Secretary of State’s consent. The HCA would not have to do that. However, if a local authority wished to sell land valued at £42 million for £40 million, it would be able to do so under the terms of its general consent. The HCA would have to seek the Secretary of State’s specific consent.

The monetary values for the HCA are likely to be higher because it is expected frequently to be engaging in large-value land transactions and its staff will have extensive experience and expertise in this field. Also, we are leaning towards total transaction values for the HCA, whereby for local authorities the difference between the figure that they could have obtained for the land and the figure they accept would determine whether they had to obtain the Secretary of State’s specific consent. As for local authorities, cases that do not fall within the general consent will need to be referred to the Secretary of State for a specific decision.

In general terms, a monetary value that can be attached to a wider public benefit—for example, a right to repurchase land for the selling local authority—should be included within the assessment. If the value attached to such wider benefits when added to the monetary value received gives a total equivalent to the best consideration which can reasonably be obtained, then no consent is required. If, even after including the value attached to wider benefits, the total does not reflect the best consideration which can reasonably be obtained, the specific consent of the Secretary of State will be needed. This will also be the case when it is not possible accurately to allocate a value to a wider public benefit, which we accept will sometimes happen. In those circumstances, it is entirely appropriate for the Secretary of State to make an assessment in order to ensure the appropriate use of public funds. The debate in Committee at times seemed to equate a requirement to seek consent with a prohibition. That is clearly not the case; the requirement to seek consent is in fact a means of ensuring a proper assessment of the facts of a particular case.

I hope that noble Lords see that this renders their Amendment No. 13 unnecessary. The amendment seeks to place in the Bill an obligation on the Secretary of State, when considering whether to give consent to the HCA to dispose of land for less than best consideration, to take into account the benefit to the community when such a disposal takes place. Of course, she will, but she will also take into account the cost to the community of selling the land for a lower value than could reasonably have been obtained. I hope that noble Lords are satisfied and that Amendment No. 13 will not be moved. I trust that the noble Baroness is also satisfied by the response that I have given and that she will withdraw Amendment No. 12.

My noble friend Lady Ford asked a question, to which the response is simply as follows. The powers that we seek to put in the Bill are similar to those that were in legislation governing English Partnerships. I assume that for those powers the same arrangements will pertain in relation to disposals of the sort to which she referred.

A question arose about consulting on the limits. The answer is that we are consulting on the limits of £40 million and £5 million in a general-consent approach. I hope that that answers a point that has clearly disturbed noble Lords.

My Lords, I do not know and I do not think that I will know in the time that it takes to get a note from the Box to the Dispatch Box. However, if the noble Baroness will be satisfied with me giving her an answer outside the Chamber, I shall be more than happy to oblige.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a different question. Does he consider the record in Hansard to be publication? I should have thought that it might well be.

My Lords, perhaps I should speak very slowly as I am not sure that everything is winging its way quickly to the Minister. Of course, what I requested—the information that we had been circulated with—was put on to the record, so, to that extent, I am satisfied. He could not see the expression of the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, as he described some of the contents and, in particular, the limits. However, as he said, this is a draft that is being worked on for consultation and I think that he has already had a pretty hefty hint about some of the response to that consultation.

My Lords, I had gathered that the subject of limits had caused a frisson of excitement, and that is why we thought it was useful to add the point about consultation on the limits. I am sure that that was appreciated. At present, we do not have a worked-out timetable but we will consider it as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, I am glad that I asked for that point to be covered. The House and, more particularly, those outside have benefited from the very practical contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Ford. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Schedule 3 [Main powers in relation to land of the HCA]:

14: Schedule 3, page 166, line 27, leave out paragraph 27

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 13 [Power of Secretary of State to make designation orders]:

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

16: Clause 13, page 5, line 20, leave out from beginning to “it” in line 21

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 17 to 19 not moved.]

20: Clause 13, page 5, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) In deciding whether it is appropriate for the HCA to be the local planning authority as mentioned in subsection (1)(b), the Secretary of State must, in particular, be satisfied that making the designation order is likely to improve the effectiveness with which the functions of the local planning authority for the area or part are discharged.”

21: Clause 13, page 5, line 26, leave out subsections (3) and (4)

22: Clause 13, page 5, line 39, leave out “, consult” and insert “—

(a) publish—(i) a draft of the order, and(ii) the Secretary of State’s reasons for making the order, and(b) consult the persons mentioned in subsection (5A).(5A) The persons are”

23: Clause 13, page 6, line 2, leave out “and”

24: Clause 13, page 6, line 4, at end insert—

“(c) such persons which appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of local authorities as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and(d) persons who reside or carry on business in the proposed designated area.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 not moved.]

Clause 14 [The HCA as the local planning authority]:

27: Clause 14, page 6, line 33, leave out from “order” to “may” in line 34

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 28 to 33 not moved.]

34: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—

“HCA as local planning authority: local involvement

(1) Subsections (2) to (6) apply where a designation order provides for the HCA to be the local planning authority for the whole or any part of the designated area.

(2) The HCA must prepare and publish a statement of local involvement.

(3) The statement of local involvement is a statement of the HCA’s policy as to the extent to which it intends to involve persons mentioned in subsection (4) in relation to the exercise by the HCA of functions conferred on it by virtue of the designation order.

(4) The persons are—

(a) every local authority for the designated area or any part of the area in relation to which a function is to be exercised, and(b) persons appearing to the HCA to have special knowledge or experience of matters relevant to functions to be exercised in relation to the area or part.(5) The HCA must—

(a) keep the statement under review, and(b) publish any revision of it.(6) In deciding its policy about the extent of involvement of persons mentioned in subsection (4), the HCA must, in particular, have regard to—

(a) the benefits that it might receive from their knowledge and experience, and(b) the nature of the functions concerned.(7) Subsection (8) applies where—

(a) the HCA establishes a committee for the purpose of exercising functions conferred on the HCA by virtue of a designation order,(b) such a committee establishes a sub-committee for such a purpose, or(c) a new or replacement member is to be appointed to such a committee or sub-committee.(8) The HCA must—

(a) inform every local authority for the designated area or any part of the area in relation to which the functions are to be, or are being, exercised of—(i) the establishment of the committee or sub-committee concerned, or(ii) (as the case may be) the proposed appointment, and(b) invite the authority to suggest one or more candidates for membership of the committee or (as the case may be) sub-committee.(9) In this section “local authority” has the same meaning as in section 13.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 15 [Adoption of private streets]:

35: Clause 15, leave out Clause 15

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [Appeals against adoption of private streets]:

36: Clause 16, leave out Clause 16

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17 [Traffic regulation orders for private streets]:

37: Clause 17, leave out Clause 17

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 21 [Powers to connect private streets to highways]:

38: Clause 21, leave out Clause 21

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24 [Loans by the Secretary of State]:

39: Clause 24, page 12, line 32, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“( ) Loans under subsection (1) may be made on such terms and conditions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate (including provision for repayment with or without interest).”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 26 [Financial limits]:

40: Clause 26, page 13, line 33, after “23” insert “, and

(ii) sums borrowed by subsidiaries of the HCA (other than from the HCA)”

41: Clause 26, page 13, line 34, at end insert—

“(5) In this Part “subsidiary” has the meaning given by section 1159 of the Companies Act 2006 (c. 46).”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 28 [Directions as to surplus funds]:

42: Clause 28, page 14, line 2, after “HCA” insert “or any subsidiary of the HCA”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

43A: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—

“Duty to monitor and promote the re-use of brownfield land

The HCA shall promote the re-use and reclamation of brownfield land and will monitor its use and publish its findings.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I apologise for Amendment No. 43 having been tabled in error. This amendment is shorter than the one spoken to in Committee by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, who addressed mainly the back-garden issue, which is important, but did not cover the development and use of brownfield land. The amendment proposes an extra new clause, which would require the HCA to promote and monitor the reuse and reclamation of brownfield land and to publish its findings. The reason for tabling a shorter version of the amendment is to obtain from the Government positive—or even better—comments on the HCA’s promotion of the regeneration of brownfield sites.

The work of English Partnerships on the National Land Use Database and the national brownfield strategy has been important and should not be sidelined. One can see that the HCA will be under a great deal of pressure to deliver numbers and we are all aware that remediation, or simply reuse of land if work is not too extreme, is more complicated and perhaps more time-consuming. We are also aware of the pressures on greenfield sites and the great benefits of redeveloping brownfield, however it is defined; to my mind, it can include very small sites as well as bigger ones.

In Committee, the Minister said that regeneration would continue to be within the agency’s remit and that he did not want to tie up too much the specific managerial responsibilities regarding where the money and resources would be allocated. That had antennae twitching, with the concern that in a time of tight resources brownfield blight might take a rather low place in the order of priorities. Hence this amendment, which I hope that the Government can use as a basis for giving the right assurances, or even accept. I beg to move.

My Lords, perhaps I may put a penn’orth in on the amendment. Promoting the reuse and reclamation of brownfield land is absolutely fine; I have no difficulty with that. The puzzle that I have is: when does land go from being commercially developed to being derelict and to being “brownfield”? I can think of one site not so far from me where development started but was never completed. Is that or is it not brownfield?

When the brownfield site concept started, it was quite obvious what such a site was, because there was much virtually derelict land and there were a lot of completely unused sites about the place. Some of them were arguable—hospital sites in greenbelts and that sort of thing—but development tends to be progressive. Industrial and commercial sites in particular are vulnerable and can go out of use. Are they immediately brownfield sites just because they happen to be out of use? Someone may come along and find a use for the buildings anyway and we may not need to redevelop them. At what point do we make the distinction between an unused site and a brownfield site? We need to think about that a little.

My Lords, the noble Lord has put his finger on a very important point. I recall having a lot of conversations when the surplus National Health Service portfolio was transferred to English Partnerships about whether a multi-acre former mental hospital site was genuinely a brownfield site. If my memory serves me right—I think that this speaks to the noble Lord’s point about a partially developed site or a used site—we classified previously developed land or brownfield land as land on which rates or some residential charge had been paid, or which had plainly, over a period, been used for some commercial or other purpose that generated income and where the land had been productive. That is probably not an entirely satisfactory explanation, but it distinguishes between a partial development and something that was genuinely used for a long while.

Practitioners increasingly interchange the terms “brownfield land” and “previously developed land”. Brownfield has a connotation of post-industrial use—gasworks, or whatever. That is certainly the image conjured up in my mind, whereas previously developed land can have different connotations. We have had numerous Questions in the House, even in the short time that I have been here, about whether disused airfields, for example, are brownfield land, previously developed land or whatever.

I am not sure whether that helps the noble Lord on the classification of “brownfield land”, but, if my memory serves me right, it is land on which some kind of taxable charge or local charge has been made as a result of the land being used productively. I am not sure whether it takes us any further, but I think that that is the correct definition.

My Lords, I must confess that I have not revisited what the Minister said in Committee, although I well recall the debate to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred, about gardens. The subject is of such importance that the whole House should be grateful to the noble Baroness for having brought it back at Report, although my recollection—I am relying entirely on my memory—is that the Minister, in Committee, implied that the Domesday Book process was already being pursued. I hope that out of this short debate will come a clear picture from the Government of exactly what HCA will do in the brownfield area, because of its importance to the whole development process.

My Lords, the amendment takes us back to those long wistful days in Committee but, wistful though they may have been, I am not sure that I can move the argument on that much further. We said in Committee that we felt that the amendment confused the brownfield argument. I think that it does, although I appreciate that it has been moved with good intent.

Existing government policy is set out in planning policy statement 3. It provides that previously developed land—in particular, vacant and derelict sites and buildings—is the priority for housing development. I guess that we could all fairly readily agree to that. It also sets a national annual target that at least 60 per cent of housing should be provided on previously developed land. Again, we raised the threshold when we first came into government. It is perhaps worth adding, however, that this does not mean the development of brownfield land at any cost. Indeed, PPS 3 advises that there is no presumption that land that has been previously developed is necessarily suitable for housing development.

In some cases, a greenfield site near to transport, shops and jobs may make for a more sustainable community and be more sustainable in other ways than a brownfield site. As the past leader of an urban authority with a lot of green space hard up to the urban fringe, I can see some sense in that argument. Clearly, access by car to those areas where families are not close to local schools bears some fair consideration. The HCA will be as subject to the policy in PPS 3 as any other body is, so a statutory duty of the nature suggested in the amendment is unnecessary and could add inflexibility, which would not help us greatly. A blanket duty to promote previously developed land at any cost could be counterproductive and could inhibit the HCA in fulfilling some of its objectives.

The amendment also refers to monitoring the use of brownfield land and would place a requirement on the agency to publish its findings. This part of the amendment is also unnecessary, as English Partnerships already has responsibility for the National Land Use Database for previously developed land. This responsibility will pass to the agency as a matter of course. The continuing management and development of the database is probably the practical solution to the problem that the amendment seeks to wrestle with and find an answer to. The database aims to provide an inventory of the national stock of vacant and derelict land and buildings, as well as of land and buildings in use with planning consent or the potential for redevelopment.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked some pertinent questions about this issue. All I can usefully say is that brownfield definitions are set out in considerable detail in PPS 3. I am more than happy to add to the fascinating volume of correspondence that the Bill has already generated by responding to his queries about the various distinctions—queries that were well made. I hope that that answers the points that have been made and I trust that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I am never sure how much happiness comes into it. So I have confused the brownfield argument? Oh well. Of course we have PPS 3, but it is not a statutory duty. The hierarchy of duties and responsibilities is being mixed up quite a lot as we go on. PPS 3 does not have the status of a statutory duty and the Government can reissue it in a different form—I am not even talking about national policy statements. I hesitate to say that they can do so at whim, because Governments do not have whims, but they can simply get on and reissue it. The amendment seeks to get to the kernel of the issue. Moreover, PPS 3 does not extend to the second limb of my amendment about monitoring and publication. For that not to be necessary because the database for which English Partnerships has responsibility will pass on “as a matter of course” is my point, which is to make sure that it does. Whether or not I am happy, I at least see withdrawal facing me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 [Community services]:

44: Clause 33, page 15, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 25 and insert “facilitate activities and the provision of services which it considers appropriate for the creation, regeneration or development of communities or their continued wellbeing.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is to Clause 33, “Community services”, which caused more intrigue the more we discussed it in Grand Committee. The Government’s two amendments in this group are confined to anti-social behaviour, fear of anti-social behaviour and crime. My amendment is considerably wider because it seeks to approach the matter in a different way.

The Minister’s letter to Peers invited us to make suggestions for alternatives. Having been very critical of this clause in Grand Committee, I thought that it would be churlish not to have a go. In Grand Committee, the Minister said that,

“the list is both flexible enough to allow for the sort of innovation and social enterprise that the HCA would be very good at encouraging … and broad enough to be able to do the sorts of things that I suggested in terms of the environment, such as … design”.—[Official Report, 10/6/08; col. GC 159.]

It is not just a peculiar list. In particular, the direct provisions, such as employment and health services, of the HCA are not what I envisaged it would provide or would be within its immediate remit. These days, one would not expect local authorities, which I think are the comparator here, to provide these, although they may be expected to facilitate. My amendment possibly does not adequately deal with the technical provision on cremation or burial services generally, but otherwise it would cover the situation and would,

“facilitate activities and the provision of services which it considers appropriate for the creation, regeneration or development of communities or their continued wellbeing”.

Those last words are not original. The Minister will recognise them from elsewhere in the Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, it would be difficult to forget our debate on this clause. I also recall the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, participating. We had a quite substantial linguistic debate on ambiguity. I recall volunteering to assist the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who I should like to congratulate on the substitute text that she has found. I am not fussed about the ambiguities of social and religious services having been dispensed with in the revised text. Had I not been, in alphabetical and chronological order, in Canada and Cardiganshire since Grand Committee, I would have added my name to her amendment in terms of its responding to the invitation which the Government gave us.

I am not quite clear on whether, if one wishes to ask a question about the government amendments, one does so now before the Minister has spoken. Under the rubric, I am assuming that I do. I have a purely technical question on the government amendments. If Clause 33(1)(e) and (f) is left out, as is recommended under Amendment No. 45, we would proceed to Amendment No. 46, which adds another subsection. In the existing text, if paragraphs (e) and (f) disappear, paragraphs (g) and (h) would become paragraphs (e) and (f). Am I right to assume that technically that is regarded as happening automatically or does it require an amendment to achieve that objective?

My Lords, I hope that this is not going to sound churlish. We did issue an invitation to see whether the noble Baroness could improve on what we have set out in Clause 33. Having considered her suggestions carefully, we consider that the original formulation was better. Replacing a specific list with a general provision could leave room for doubt as to what the HCA can provide, and it is therefore important to have the capacities regarding the encouragement and development of new businesses, the provision of employment and of safe and attractive environments and so forth spelt out directly. They reflect the characteristics of what comprises regeneration in many areas, whether carried out under the New Deal for Communities or otherwise. It is important that there should be no doubt about the nature of the community services that the HCA will offer.

I appreciate that the noble Baroness has struggled with this, but I suggest that the clause is sound because, while it retains the specific elements that leave people in no doubt, they are balanced by the provision in paragraph (h) to “provide other community services”. That will cope with the breadth of what she is aiming to do in her amendment without losing the specific instruction, as it were, set out in the other paragraphs.

I hope that the noble Baroness is not too disappointed or maddened by this response, but perhaps there is some solace in the government amendments we are bringing forward in response to an important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. He said that things often sound bizarre if you turn the wording around, and that it is sometimes useful to see whether the wording makes sense when turned into a negative. He concluded, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that the wording of paragraphs (e) and (f) is flawed. While I do not think that anyone would disagree that the sentiment of the original wording of these two paragraphs is right, we have reflected on the point. It seems entirely sensible in terms of both the legislation and the English language to bring forward the amendments. They provide that the HCA “may assist in” preventing or reducing anti-social behaviour and crime and the,

“fear of anti-social behaviour and crime”.

That makes better sense than the previous incarnations by making it clear that the HCA will have a role to play in combating these problems, but of course the agency could not achieve those goals on its own. That goes to show how careful one has to be in drafting legislation.

As we considered in Grand Committee, as part of creating sustainable communities, it will be important to ensure that, whenever possible, anti-social behaviour and crime are positively designed out in the first instance. But it may also be necessary for the HCA to undertake activities of this nature in established communities, and thus contribute to sustainable development in what are living communities. I hope that we can agree that we have improved the clause, and I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that there is an automatic process that will swing into action when the amendment replaces the previous wording. It will happen as if by magic, and neither he nor I has to do anything about it. I hope that that will bring some comfort to him.

My Lords, I am neither saddened nor maddened; it would be impossible to go on if one were saddened or maddened by almost every point in this process, but I log it. I come back to my concern about what reads as the direct provision of not just services, but more. The clause states that the HCA “may”—when the Government say “may”, we are intended to understand it as “will”—“provide employment”. It will employ people, but I am sure that that is not what is intended. Of course I accept that employment is central to regeneration but I find it very hard to understand what the HCA will do that equates to “providing employment”. That is an extreme demand on it.

My Lords, I interpret that—I am thinking aloud—to mean the sort of work that was partly possible for English Partnerships but the HCA, because it has the function of developing communities, will be able to be much more interventionist. I imagine that in the course of a regeneration project, it will be able to invest its own money to build, for example, a training or skills centre—there may be a link to a local hostel—where it can offer employment for trainers or those who progressively move upwards through a qualification route. It would be able to do innovative things. It is difficult to be definitive at this point but I could find out from officials and talk to Sir Bob Kerslake about what, of an innovative nature, he envisages being able to do, and come back to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, I am grateful for that. Without wanting for a moment to inhibit regeneration, it is important to be clear about what the powers cover. I have had problems with the terminology in the clause before. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I were puzzled by the phrase “social services”; the letter that we received says,

“in this context, we mean the HCA is empowered to provide or facilitate the provision of services which contribute to the smooth running of a society such as education facilities or civic amenity sites”.

That is hugely broad stuff. At the Bill’s previous stage, I said that I could understand the building of health facilities or education facilities—I know that regeneration is much more than bricks and mortar—but that is a world away from the service provided in them. As of this moment, I am neither saddened nor maddened but determined; I may well table this amendment or something similar at the next stage to get this defined on the record so that we are very clear about the clause’s full meaning. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

45: Clause 33, page 15, line 16, leave out paragraphs (e) and (f)

46: Clause 33, page 15, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) The HCA may assist in—

(a) the prevention or reduction of anti-social behaviour or crime, or(b) the reduction of fear of anti-social behaviour or crime.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 34 [Duties in relation to low cost rental accommodation]:

47: Clause 34, page 15, line 29, at end insert “or regulated low cost home ownership accommodation”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 are, to put it in a rather illogical way, consequential on Amendment No. 90, which comes after them; but consequences can be written backwards. That is in effect what we are doing. The same consideration applies to Amendment No. 117.

We rather take the view that the definition of low-cost home ownership accommodation is inadequate because it misses out a small, narrow sector. I refer to accommodation that is in partial ownership that is made available to elderly people or vulnerable people, as defined by the regulator. Amendment No. 90 refers to,

“the coming into effect of section 277, by a landlord included on the register by virtue of that section”.

We thought that we ought to explore this a little further to ensure that these people were not left out. This seems to have collected a host of government amendments and I am sure that the Minister will tell me that wrapped up in those amendments is the answer to the conundrum of a consequential matter preceding that which makes it consequential. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will address the wider question that the amendment poses as well as the specific question raised by the noble Lord. However, I will not be able to untangle the conundrum and I am going to pretend that he has not asked the question.

Essentially, the amendments address the HCA’s powers to fund unregistered bodies for the provision of low-cost home ownership accommodation. This issue came up in Committee and I am happy to return to it and to offer the noble Lord the further assurances that he asked for. Government Amendments Nos. 49 to 52 respond to the concerns and I shall treat them as being all in the same group.

The noble Lord raised concerns in Grand Committee that the HCA’s powers to fund low-cost home ownership schemes could give unregistered profit-making providers a competitive advantage over registered providers, who would be subject to the regulator’s standards. The National Housing Federation was also concerned about this at the time. But that has never been our intention and the amendments I have tabled will, I hope, reassure the noble Lord and clarify the issue.

On the general background, noble Lords will know that we are not requiring the profit-making sector to register with the regulator unless it provides rented accommodation. When finding new low-cost rental accommodation, the HCA is required to ensure that the landlord is a relevant provider, either a registered provider of social housing or a local authority. The same is not true for low-cost home ownership, which can be provided by an unregistered provider. I explained in Grand Committee that there is a successful established practice in this field through the Housing Corporation’s grants to the non-RSL programme. In that programme, the Housing Corporation has replicated, through funding conditions, the key elements of the regulatory system for low-cost ownership, which has a much lighter touch than that for rented homes.

I was clear that this alternative route for unregistered providers does not mean lower standards or fewer controls—it is simply an alternative route for the delivery of similar standards—and I argued that it did not give unregistered providers a competitive advantage. However, I recognise that there are significant concerns within the RSL sector about this and I want to make it clear that it is most definitely not our intention to disadvantage registered providers. The concern among stakeholders which needed addressing was how we would ensure that the HCA’s conditions of funding were not significantly less burdensome than the regulator’s standards for low-cost home ownership. Using their words, how will we ensure that there is a level playing field?

The Bill already offers some protections. The HCA and the regulator have mutual duties to co-operate, and that is backed up by the Secretary of State’s powers to direct the HCA and to set objectives for the regulator to have regard to when setting standards. It is unlikely therefore that the regulator’s standards and the HCA’s funding conditions would be widely divergent. However, I am happy to give further assurance and the proposed amendments require that when awarding funding for the provision of low-cost home ownership the HCA must consult the regulator about the proposals. This should ensure that the two bodies work closely together and develop systems which will ensure comparable outcomes for purchasers, thereby providing the level playing field on which the National Housing Federation is very keen. I am assured by the NHF that these changes meet the points that it raised, so it has been a useful opportunity to revisit that debate.

We have to think slightly differently about elderly and vulnerable people. We agree that some schemes should be regulated, and those are the source of conditions and situations that we think need to be directed. We accept that there might be some schemes—for example, specialist schemes for elderly or disabled purchasers—where we might want purchasers to have a higher level of protection. In these cases, it could be a condition of HCA funding that the provider be registered with the regulator. We will ensure that that happens, where appropriate, through the Secretary of State’s power to direct. We will ensure that if we have cases where there are vulnerable people, the Secretary of State can exercise that power. We must remember that the HCA’s power to fund unregistered providers is simply that—a power. It is a flexibility that the HCA will use with care. I hope that will answer both the noble Lord’s broader question and his specific question about vulnerable people.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. It looked as though there was either a competitive gap or a gap. Now she has said that the Secretary of State will have power to direct so that when the Homes and Communities Agency is considering a problem in this field, it will consult the regulator. That assurance has been worth pushing for. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 48 not moved.]

49: Clause 34, page 16, line 13, at end insert—

“(8A) Subsection (8B) applies if the HCA is proposing to give financial assistance on condition that the recipient provides low cost home ownership accommodation.

(8B) The HCA must consult the Regulator of Social Housing about the proposals.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

50: Clause 34, page 16, line 15, after “accommodation” insert “or low cost home ownership accommodation”

51: Clause 34, page 16, line 16, after “accommodation” insert “or (as the case may be) low cost home ownership accommodation”

52: Clause 34, page 16, line 21, at end insert—

““low cost home ownership accommodation” has the meaning given by section 72”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 35 [Recovery etc. of social housing assistance]:

53: Clause 35, page 16, line 40, after “purposes” insert “of the recipient”

54: Clause 35, page 17, line 4, leave out “to the person” and insert “in respect of that grant”

55: Clause 35, page 17, line 5, leave out “interest” and insert “amounts”

56: Clause 35, page 17, line 6, leave out “is” and insert “are”

57: Clause 35, page 17, line 16, at end insert—

“( ) The HCA must notify the Regulator of Social Housing at least 14 days before exercising, in relation to a registered provider of social housing, any of the powers conferred by subsections (2) to (4).

( ) Events determined by the HCA under subsection (1), and principles determined by the HCA under subsection (8), must be determined on or before the time the HCA gives the social housing assistance concerned unless they are determined subsequently with the agreement of the recipient of the assistance.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 36 [Section 35: interest and successors in title]:

58: Clause 36, page 17, line 28, leave out “of an amount with interest” and insert “, in addition to the specified amount, of one or more of the following—

(a) interest on the specified amount,(b) an amount calculated by reference to any increase in the market value of any housing or other land acquired, constructed, converted, improved or repaired as a result of the grant, and(c) interest on the amount falling within paragraph (b).”

59: Clause 36, page 17, line 29, leave out “such direction” and insert “direction falling within subsection (1)(a) or (c)”

60: Clause 36, page 17, line 43, at end insert—

“(4A) Any direction falling within subsection (1)(b) must specify—

(a) the housing or other land concerned, and(b) the method of calculating the amount concerned.”

61: Clause 36, page 18, line 7, after “(c)” insert “or (4A)”

62: Clause 36, page 18, line 12, at end insert—

“( ) Principles determined by the HCA under subsection (7)(a), and determinations by the HCA under subsection (7)(b), must be determined on or before the time the HCA gives the social housing assistance concerned unless they are determined subsequently with the agreement of the recipient of the assistance.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 37 [Determinations under sections 35 and 36]:

63: Clause 37, page 18, line 34, at end insert “(subject to any provision as to the time by which such a determination must be made)”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

64: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—

“Duties in relation to care-leavers’ housing

(1) In exercising its functions under this Part, the HCA must have regard to the duty of local authorities to provide housing for young persons leaving care under section (Duty to provide housing for young persons leaving care).

(2) The HCA may, in co-operation with the relevant local authority, facilitate the provision of such housing.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am moving this amendment and Amendment No. 191 at the request of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who is unable to be with us this evening. He tabled an amendment on the same subject in Committee, but these two amendments are rather new.

I respect the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we should beware of management by legislation. We need to take care about that, but we also need to find ways of protecting the most vulnerable people in our society. I am aware that the Bill has a wide remit. Now that I am listening here today, what I have to say feels as if it is on the edge of that remit. Children leaving care are just one of a number of vulnerable groups of young people. The Minister has made clear her reluctance to single out that particular vulnerable group, and I understand an argument for that approach. I am also aware that she is committed to a light-touch approach with local authorities. I am nevertheless hopeful that she will recognise the importance of these amendments, which offer two routes to achieving strategically planned, appropriate housing for all care leavers.

It is perhaps worth noting the direct link between these amendments and government Amendment No. 46. It says that the HCA may assist in,

“the prevention or reduction of anti-social behaviour or crime”.

It seems very clear to me that the amendments would do more than almost anything I can think of in helping the HCA to achieve that objective. It is worth thinking about that, and I hope that the Minister will consider the relationship between these amendments and her own.

There is a strong rationale in favour of the Government taking a special responsibility for these care leavers. Quite simply, where parents have shown themselves unable to exercise their parental responsibilities, the state takes on responsibility for these children. That is entirely different from the state’s responsibility to other vulnerable young people. Parental responsibility does not, of course, come to an end when the child reaches 16, as anyone in this Chamber who is a parent knows all too well. Our responsibility seems to continue until our children are into their 20s, their 30s and, heaven forbid, even beyond.

I hope that Amendment No. 64 meets the Minister’s wish for a light-touch approach. It requires the HCA to,

“have regard to the duty of local authorities to provide housing for young persons leaving care”.

It enables the agency—it does not force it—in co-operation with the relevant local authority, to facilitate the provision of such housing in the context of its remit to invest in the provision of social housing.

Amendment No. 191 is a more direct approach to the problem. It places a duty on local housing authorities to plan, in conjunction with children’s services, for the provision of sufficient appropriate housing for young people leaving care in their area. It is very difficult to imagine that local authorities should not be doing just that, yet we know that many simply do not.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned to me informally that the needs of children leaving care are not just a matter of bricks and mortar, and of course they are not. That is why the amendments refer to appropriate housing. Most of that should be supported housing; we use “appropriate” to cover any eventuality or special need.

I hope that the Minister will agree that this is not asking anything unreasonable. She may take the view that the amendment would fly in the face of the soft-touch approach. I want to indicate a number of policy areas in which the Government have not taken such an approach, and for very good reasons. I urge the Minister to do what she needs to do to ensure the provision of sufficient appropriate housing for this group of young people—care leavers. I am sure that she will agree that the Government need a careful mix of clear policy direction on the one hand and a soft touch on the other.

The Minister will be aware of many areas where departments already direct local authorities to take much needed action. I do not dispute any of that. There is, for example, statutory guidance from various departments to deal with serious social ills. However, the DCSF and DCLG guidance on these matters is not yet on a statutory footing. Will the Minister bring this guidance into line with other similar guidance in giving it statutory force? I hope that she will consider this.

I point to a number of existing policies which, with minor amendments to guidance or regulations, would help to achieve the objectives of Amendments Nos. 64 and 191. For example, the Homelessness Act 2002 requires the local authority to develop a strategy for tackling homelessness. We should not require care leavers to become homeless before the requirements on local authorities kick in.

I strongly support the National Leaving Care Advisory Service in urging a small change to the guidance to transform the prospects of care leavers. The guidance should say, “This strategy must include a section on care leavers”. Will the Minister respond to that modest proposal, which would enable or encourage earlier intervention to prevent homelessness rather than wait for it?

Another example of a clear government policy directing local authorities in certain ways which could be tweaked is the Children Act. One might say that that has nothing to do with this department, but children's trusts are required to include health, education and social services organisations. Will the Minister consider proposing the additional words, “and housing authorities”? That is to say that the regulations should surely require children's trusts to include representatives from health, education, social services and housing authorities to make sure that the roof over the head of a child with support is considered by children's trusts. If they do not consider that bit, you can be quite sure that the education, health, employment and everything else will simply not happen.

I want to refer to one other helpful way to promote the objectives of our amendments—to provide sufficient appropriate housing for young people leaving care. I want to emphasise that all these proposals are complementary with these amendments. If we had it all we would be making a dramatic impact. If we had some of it, it would be very helpful. As noble Lords will know, successful joint working between children's services and housing authorities is greatly assisted by joint protocols at a local level. The recent joint guidance between the DCSF and the DCLG recommended that such protocols be in place. Would it not be reasonable to tweak the joint guidance to say that such protocols “shall” be put in place? Surely that is not unreasonable. I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on that.

I have taken noble Lords’ time to explain the purpose of Amendments Nos. 64 and 191 and to spell out other changes to guidance and regulations that could together radically improve the life chances of young people leaving care. I argue that they would radically improve the chances of success of government Amendment No. 46.

I remind noble Lords of one reason why this is so important. Ninety per cent of children in children's homes are as mentally unwell as young people and children entering tier 4 in-patient units, and I happen to know a thing or two about the state of health of those children. That is a truly terrible statistic. Those young people are generally looked after with no medication, not in a therapeutic environment and by unskilled people with maybe an NVQ level 1, and at the end of that experience those children are pitched out into housing, unregulated and unsupported. It is no wonder that many of them finish up in prison—hence the importance of government Amendment No. 46. In conclusion, while some local authorities do well and provide appropriate housing for many of their care leavers, the fact is that many simply do not. You can find good practice if you look for it, but it is surely the responsibility of all of us to deal with widespread failure. I hope that the Minister will respond in her usual positive way to Amendments Nos. 64 and 191. I beg to move.

My Lords, my name is down to support these amendments. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is not able to be with us this evening. I understand that he is not well and I hope that he is soon recovered.

It always seems amazing to me—but I have been very fortunate with my life—that on almost a day-to-day basis throughout the country children at the age of 16 or 17 are literally dumped on the street. I find it appalling that adults can do that, whether they are official carers, irresponsible parents or whatever. The fact is that it happens. For the individual concerned, that is a total tragedy. I know through work that my wife has done that some have been picked up and literally put together, arriving on somebody's door at 6 pm or 8 pm and saying, “Can you help, please?”.

It is not easy or straightforward. I know of one YMCA that runs a very successful daytime/evening operation, but it has a single-storey accommodation. There was eventually a proposal that it should try to redevelop and, if it could get enough commercial flats for sale into its site, possibly get a few units of accommodation. As the financial equation got worse and worse, the amount of residential accommodation that it had to sell became a greater proportion of the totality. In the end, it was undertaking a commercial housing development rather than the social development that it wished. I state that simply to illustrate how difficult these problems are for people who will help. This is of course outside the direct purview of local authorities. What is worse, because of the way in which the general housing market has gone, I suspect that such developments will now have come to a complete stop.

If these kids can be picked up and rescued—I say rescued but I mean given stability and the opportunity to start doing something worth while—it is remarkable how rapidly they will improve. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, this is a wonderful way of preventing young people falling into crime or prostitution. That is why I support these amendments. This is a very small but very significant sector; it is so small that it is not easy to keep an eye on, but we need to remember it. Anything that the Minister can do to help in this field will be very welcome.

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on behalf of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who brought me into the Grand Committee debate on the strength of my previous constituency in the Cities of London and Westminster. Homelessness there was so prevalent that clinics were set up by private charities to administer healthcare to the homeless. This went to the extent of having records of 12,000 homeless people, so that if a homeless person turned up in the accident and emergency department of a hospital in Liverpool, the staff there could communicate with a clinic in Soho to get the individual’s full medical records.

In Grand Committee I sympathised very strongly with what the noble Earl said. In addition to making references to those who had been in care, as the amendment had described, I also cited the case of a prison leaver and my correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to check whether the experience I observed as one of the final cases I had as a constituency MP was commonplace. He replied in correspondence that he was sure that it was. I shall not rehearse that argument. In echo and support of what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, I say that all constituents are equal, but some are more equal than others. I remember the case 15 years ago of somebody who had been homeless for a very long time and was desperate to have a home of his own. It took an immense length of time and some effort to secure such a home. I can remember his pleasure, gratitude and joy on moving into it. I remember his handwriting; he always signed his name simply with his initial. I can also remember the absolute tragedy that, within 10 days of moving into that home, he declared that he was unable to cope and would have to give up the home and go back to his previous experience. I mention that because of the noble Baroness’s reference to supported housing, in which young people are given a chance to make their way on their own without being left wholly to themselves.

I congratulate the noble Baroness on her extremely comprehensive and detailed argument on supported housing and how the Bill has just been amended. I am happy to lend her my support.

My Lords, we are all sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is unable to be in his place this evening. He has campaigned relentlessly on behalf of these vulnerable young people, certainly for as many years as I have been in this House. He would have been proud and pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, speak.

The noble Earl came to see me last week, and I had a long and helpful conversation with him and some of his expert advisors. He is in no doubt that I share his concern to ensure that care leavers can access appropriate accommodation. The example that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, has just given us was extremely powerful, in suggesting the vulnerability but also the difficulty that those who have not had a home find in adjusting to having one, and the responsibility that follows. I also share the noble Earl’s concern that local authorities should exercise their responsibilities to assist care leavers to secure suitable accommodation, which will give them the security that so many of them lack.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will know that I am deeply sympathetic to these amendments. She also knows that we are seeking the most effective ways of supporting young people. It is not perverse to say that putting a duty on local authorities is not appropriate for the Bill. That is not through hostility to finding a way forward, but my belief that the amendment would not necessarily achieve what the noble Baroness wants. It might also have perverse consequences for other vulnerable people within the range of local authority responsibilities.

I shall come back to the noble Baroness’s specific points at the end. It is important that we set out the context in which we have been working following the Care Matters White Paper. It gives me pleasure that, over the past five years, care leavers and children in care have been given the sort of priority in legislation and government support that they should have had many years ago. We have made it clear that we give young people in care genuine priority in services and support; so we should. Many of them simply do not recover from their traumatic experiences.

Among those initiatives, we have the Care Matters White Paper, which includes a range of commitments to improve the quality of care provided to looked-after children. Primarily, however, we have a vision of moving away from the idea of “leaving care” as a single, cliff-edge event in favour of supporting young people to make a gradual transition from their care placement so that they can take on those greater adult responsibilities that are so difficult for them, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, described.

Through the Children and Young Persons Bill we are introducing a requirement that children in foster placements or children’s homes who move to independent living only do so as a consequence of a review of their care plan. That way, they only move on from their final care placement when it is recognised by all those responsible for their care that they are ready to take that significant step and have been properly prepared to handle it.

As part of the Care Matters programme, funding has recently been allotted to contribute to the costs of building additional units of supported accommodation for care leavers. It has not been easy to achieve that. The strength of this commitment right across government is reflected in one of the few cross-government public service agreements, number 16, relating to adults at risk of social exclusion. The PSA focuses on four client groups that may be negotiating a difficult transition point, including care leavers.

The two national-level indicators in the PSA target for the care leavers group concern the proportion of former care leavers aged 19, who had left care aged 16 or over, who are in suitable accommodation, and the proportion of former care leavers aged 19, who had left care aged 16 or over, who are in employment, education or training. It is a big challenge to give this group effective priority and provide more support for them and an accommodation pathway. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness that we attach a very high priority to the needs of this vulnerable group.

However, if we placed a specific legislative duty on housing authorities to provide accommodation for young people leaving care, and placed their need for housing over and above the housing needs of other vulnerable groups, we would create additional problems. For example, we would be less able to support other young people who had been the subject of domestic violence and those with physical or learning disabilities who required specially adapted homes. Meeting the needs of vulnerable people across all sections of the community poses a very difficult challenge for local authorities; however, that is what they must do. It is not just a question of providing solely for vulnerable groups and care leavers.

The noble Baroness addressed the fundamental point that we have to increase the supply of homes available for these young people. That is part of the challenge of supplying affordable homes in a society where their price has spiralled beyond reach. The Homes and Communities Agency will work with local authorities to address the particular housing needs in their area. This means delivering new housing that addresses the needs of all vulnerable groups, which, of course, includes care leavers.

The noble Baroness asked me about putting guidance on a statutory basis, amending the Children Act and tackling homelessness in other legislation. I hope she will forgive me if I do not answer those points in detail. I want to read her comments because she referred to four or five very important ideas. I want to give a thoughtful response but it is essential that I do so in writing. I hope that she will take back to her noble friend not only the fact that a consensus was expressed around the House that this group is particularly important, but that across government we are trying to find the most effective way to provide for it. She is right to say that this measure would help us to achieve the goal expressed in government Amendment No. 46, to reduce crime and the fear of crime. There is no more telling statistic than the number of young people who have been in care who end up in prison. For that reason alone, we need to take vigorous action.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that thoughtful response. However, I want to put it on record that when we talk about Every Child Matters and so on we should remember that carers in children’s homes are still unskilled. They tend to have an NVQ1 and are completely unable to provide the therapeutic and medical support that these children need. They therefore leave care needing substantial further support. The Minister referred to the gradual transition of these children. There is a desperate need to adopt a strategic plan to provide this housing so that when young people suddenly need to leave a children’s home there is something for them. That is the point of these amendments. Of course, I understand that other vulnerable groups need housing, but the vast majority of people in those groups have family. That is a big difference. Care leavers comprise a very specific group. Having said that, I again thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 44 [Control of subsidiaries]:

65: Clause 44, page 21, line 5, leave out from second “HCA” to end of line 13 and insert “engages, without the consent of the Secretary of State, in an activity which the HCA would not be required or permitted to carry on.”

66: Clause 44, page 21, line 19, leave out subsection (5)

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 46 [Acting with, or for, other persons: general]:

67: Clause 46, page 22, line 4, leave out subsections (3) and (4)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

68: After Clause 46, insert the following new Clause—

“Local government involvement

(1) The HCA must from time to time consult such representatives of local government as the HCA considers appropriate about how the HCA pursues its objects.

(2) The HCA must from time to time publish a statement about how it proposes to comply with subsection (1).

(3) Before publishing a statement the HCA must consult such persons as it considers appropriate.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 53 [Property etc. transfers to the HCA and the Welsh Ministers]:

69: Clause 53, page 24, line 5, after “Towns,” insert—

“( ) a regional development agency (within the meaning of the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 (c. 45)),”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 56 [Validity of transactions]:

70: Clause 56, page 25, line 28, at end insert—

“(2A) A transaction between a person and a subsidiary of the HCA is not invalid merely because of a failure by the HCA to comply with section 44(1) or (4).”

71: Clause 56, page 25, line 29, after “HCA” insert “or a subsidiary of the HCA”

72: Clause 56, page 25, line 31, after “(1)” insert “or (2A)”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Amendments of enactments: Part 1]:

73: Schedule 8, page 191, line 28, at end insert—

“Leasehold Reform Act 1967 (c. 88)The Leasehold Reform Act 1967 is amended as follows.

In section 28(5)(b) (retention or resumption of land required for public purposes) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “new towns residuary body”.

(1) Section 29 (reservation of future right to develop) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (6)—

(a) in paragraph (a) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “new towns residuary body”, and(b) for “that Commission” substitute “that residuary body”.(3) In subsection (7) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “Welsh new towns residuary body”.

In section 30(7)(a) (reservation of right of pre-emption in new town or overspill area) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “new towns residuary body”.

In section 33 (Crown land) after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) For the purposes of this Part of this Act, an interest belonging to the Welsh new towns residuary body in a tenancy of land is to be treated as if it were not an interest belonging to the Crown.”In section 37(1) (interpretation of Part 1) after paragraph (b) insert—

“(ba) “new towns residuary body” means—(i) in relation to England, the Homes and Communities Agency so far as exercising functions in relation to anything transferred (or to be transferred) to it as mentioned in section 54(1)(a) to (d) of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008; and(ii) in relation to Wales, means the Welsh Ministers so far as exercising functions in relation to anything transferred (or to be transferred) to them as mentioned in section 36(1)(a)(i) to (iii) of the New Towns Act 1981 (and references to “the “Welsh new towns residuary body” shall be construed accordingly);”.(1) Schedule 4 (re-acquisition for development) is amended as follows.

(2) In the heading for Part 2 for “New Towns Commission” substitute “Welsh new towns residuary body”.

(3) In paragraph 4—

(a) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “Welsh new towns residuary body”,(b) for “the Commission, the Commission” substitute “that body, the body”, and(c) omit the words from “be authorised” to “Government to”.In paragraph 2(2)(c) of Schedule 4A (exclusion of certain shared ownership leases) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “new towns residuary body”.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 74 not moved.]

75: Schedule 8, page 196, line 10, at end insert—

“Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (c. 31) The Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 is amended as follows.

In section 21(3)(a) (tenant’s right to apply to tribunal for appointment of manager)—

(a) after “by” insert “—(i) ”, and(b) after “resident landlord,” insert “or(ii) the Welsh Ministers in their new towns residuary capacity,”.In section 29(7)(a) (conditions for making acquisition orders)—

(a) after “by” insert “—(i) ”, and(b) after “resident landlord,” insert “or(ii) the Welsh Ministers in their new towns residuary capacity,”.In section 58(1) (exempt landlords and resident landlords)—

(a) in paragraph (b) omit “the Commission for the New Towns or”, and(b) after paragraph (de) insert—“(df) the Homes and Communities Agency;”.In section 60 (general interpretation) after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) In this Act a reference to the Welsh Ministers in their new towns residuary capacity means the Welsh Ministers so far as exercising functions in relation to anything transferred (or to be transferred) to them as mentioned in section 36(1)(a)(i) to (iii) of the New Towns Act 1981.””

76: Schedule 8, page 199, line 33, at end insert—

“Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 (c. 12)In section 219(1) of the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 (disposals by Housing Corporation etc.)—

(a) in paragraph (a) before “disposes” insert “or the Homes and Communities Agency”,(b) in paragraph (d) at the end insert “or the Homes and Communities Agency”, and(c) in the words after paragraph (d)—(i) before “, relevant housing” insert “, the Homes and Communities Agency”, and(ii) before “or, as the case” insert “, the Homes and Communities Agency”.”

77: Schedule 8, page 202, line 8, leave out from “1(3)” to end of line 15 and insert “—

(a) after “and development corporations” insert “etc.”, and(b) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “Homes and Communities Agency.””

78: Schedule 8, page 202, line 17, leave out from first “the” to end of line 18 and insert “Homes and Communities Agency;”.”

79: Schedule 8, page 202, line 28, at end insert—

“(5B) Where such an order makes such provision, the Homes and Communities Agency is the local planning authority for the area and the purposes concerned in place of any authority who would otherwise be the local planning authority for that area and those purposes.”

Finance Act 2004 (c. 12)In section 59(1)(f) of the Finance Act 2004 (contractors) for “Commission for the New Towns” substitute “Homes and Communities Agency”.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 59 [Interpretation: Part 1]:

80: Clause 59, page 27, leave out line 43

81: Clause 59, page 28, leave out lines 7 and 8

82: Clause 59, page 28, line 11, at end insert—

“(2) References in this Part to powers of the HCA do not include references to powers contained in duties imposed on the HCA.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 60 [Index of defined expressions: Part 1]:

83: Clause 60, page 28, leave out line 34

84: Clause 60, page 29, line 13, at end insert—

“Powers of the HCA

Section 59(2)”

85: Clause 60, page 29, leave out line 14

86: Clause 60, page 29, line 20, at end insert—


Section 26(5)”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

87: After Clause 61, insert the following new Clause—

“Power to extend scope of Part 2

(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations providing for additional bodies to be included in the definition of English bodies.

(2) In making regulations, the Secretary of State shall aim to ensure that the effect of including additional bodies in the definition of English bodies is to extend the regulation of social housing in England in accordance with this Part to include other providers of social housing; and in particular, the regulations may extend the regulation of social housing to—

(a) a local housing authority within the meaning of section 1 of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68) (local housing authorities), and(b) a person controlled by a local housing authority.(3) In addition to the regulations under subsection (1), the Secretary of State may by order provide for consequential changes to this Part which the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient to permit or facilitate the regulation of social housing in England; and in particular, the order may modify or exclude the application of certain provisions of this Part to—

(a) a local housing authority within the meaning of section 1 of the Housing Act 1985, and(b) a person controlled by a local housing authority.(4) In making regulations or orders under this section, the Secretary of State shall aim to ensure that the effect is to create a single regulator for social housing in England; and in particular, the Secretary of State shall enable the regulator to regulate local housing authorities and persons controlled by a local housing authority using powers provided under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (c. 28).

(5) The regulations or order under this section shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament; and the regulations shall be made by statutory instrument.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this seems a rather late hour at which to move this amendment, but I will do my best to see us through it. It is a substantive amendment concerning the extension of the role of the Tenant Services Authority to cover council tenants as well as the housing association tenants currently within the scope of the legislation. This would bring in 100 arm’s-length management organisations (ALMOs) and their tenants and perhaps about 100 local authorities that continue to provide social housing and their tenants, who would be included within the remit of the Tenant Services Authority. This would achieve domain-wide regulation, as proposed by Professor Martin Cave, whom the Government asked to look into the regulation of social housing. He suggested a single regulator for the full domain. The Government subsequently asked Professor Ian Coles, another academic, to look at the details. His group, representing the different interests—consumers, providers, local government and central government—also concluded that a single regulator was required. There were no disagreements there. Indeed, the Government themselves are behind the idea that there should be one regulator for all social housing tenants.

The only question that remains is when this regulator’s work should cover all these tenants and how long it should remain just for tenants of housing associations. I have asked the different interest groups arguing for domain-wide regulation whether we need it now or whether it would be preferable to wait until we get the new legislation, which the Government are promising later, probably within the next two years. I also asked them whether it would be worth waiting until we have the White Paper on this, which is coming out in the very near future, before us or whether I should press forward with this amendment now.

The National Consumer Council and the Tenant Participation Advisory Service think that I should press forward with the amendment, because otherwise there will be no guarantees that this will ever come to pass. I have asked the provider groups about it. You might think that providers asking for a new set of regulations to apply to them would be turkeys voting for Christmas but, no, they are very much in favour of me pressing forward with this amendment. They include the chartered institute, the National Housing Federation, the National Federation of ALMOs—arm’s-length management organisations—and, most important, local authorities represented by the Local Government Association. They are adamant and insistent that I should bring the amendment to your Lordships’ House, because it is important to get on with this now. I am pleased that within the House I have the support of the opposition Benches and support from the Back Benches of the government party, including from the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, who has spoken in favour of the amendment. A body of opinion believes that this Bill is the right legislation for social housing and that this is the moment that we should go for a domain-wide regulator.

Another ingredient is that if we do not, as a certainty, extend the regulation to cover all social housing tenants, the new organisation that the Government are setting up, the Tenant Services Authority, will not know whether, in terms of its staffing, the membership of its board and its governance, it will ever actually be the regulator for all social housing tenants or whether it should confine itself—and continue to confine itself, whether it likes it or not—to housing associations. There will be difficulties if we give the authority an ambivalent task and say that we hope that future legislation will extend its role to cover all council tenants and tenants of ALMOs, but we cannot be absolutely sure how its board will be constituted and how, as a new agency, its staffing will be planned. Will it cover 2 million or 4 million tenants? We can hope for the best or we can have a bird in the hand through the legislative process now by ensuring that the regulations that will follow, which will require consideration, consultation and proper formulation, will take care of the detail later.

I am not asking for anything other than what all of us in this House and outside believe is exactly what is required. All that I am asking for is that we give the Secretary of State an enabling power to get on with this now and not wait for legislation that may or may not come down the line in a year or two. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment; I should have put it to the second amendment as well and my failure to do so was an oversight. I warmly support the noble Lord. At the previous stage of the Bill, I explained how important it was that the culture of the organisation should be such that local authority housing is not just an add-on in a year or two. The noble Lord explained and unpacked that in his description of how the agency will get going. I am grateful to him for that.

At one point, I suggested to the Minister informally that if the Government were concerned that we should wait for primary legislation, they could meet everyone’s concerns by providing that the regulation-making powers in the Bill should not come into effect until a certain period—we were led to expect that we would have primary legislation during that period. I accept that that might be a bit of drafting too far but, as I said earlier to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, things can be entirely benign and the Minister’s assurances can be taken absolutely in the way that she intends them to be taken but life moves on. Who knows what might preclude the primary legislation or knock it back a little? In any event, planning and working for the inclusion of the whole domain from the start is enormously important and will have a very different effect on the way in which the agency gets started. We all wish it well and I support the amendment.

My Lords, although I have some doubts about the powers of the regulatory procedures to deal with a matter of this complexity, if I may put it that way, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Best, when he suggests that a bird in the hand is worth two wherever. That is the situation that we are in. The future is unpredictable but tonight we have an opportunity to do something about this problem. We all agree that it would be a really progressive move, and we think that it should be planned for now because, if it is not done now, no one can say with any certainty when it will be done. The Government may have plans for future legislation but the future of a Government is never certain, least of all at present. I have not suggested who else might have the responsibility. I would venture prophecy if I were dared to do so but I shall not do so. We support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and look forward to it being a great success in due course.

My Lords, although the House is not full, I feel that I am in the grip of an irresistible force—cometh the hour; cometh the man. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has led this charge from the front and has done so admirably. I could cut to the chase very quickly and say that I agree to the amendment but I shall take a little longer to say why I have been persuaded that this is the right way forward.

There has been huge interest in this issue. In Committee, noble Lords talked about the importance of culture change, coherence, equity between tenants and sending the right signals, and all that has been absolutely consistent with what we in government understand. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, we have been completely committed to cross-domain regulation, and the only point of difference has been in relation to the process that we should adopt in getting there. The amendment involves taking enabling powers and introducing a necessarily wide-ranging Henry VIII clause. Noble Lords normally have serious concerns about such a power but it is clear to me that that is wanted across the House and that, under these circumstances, it is acceptable to take a power of that nature to secure a means of delivering what we all want, which is a system that works for all social tenants, no matter who their landlord happens to be.

I shall not dwell on the arguments. During Committee, I discussed the virtues of a full debate on the decision in the fourth-Session Bill that we will bring forward next year. I remain convinced that that will give us the opportunity for a better debate and that regulations are a second-best option in terms of scrutiny. It has become clear that because of the weight of support across the House we should give this serious thought. We have done so and are content that we should return to the matter on Third Reading. We will table our own amendment, which will provide for an enabling power. I hope that the very wide range of interests that the noble Lord, Lord Best, has been representing and the interests inside the House will meet that with favour.

I take this opportunity to clarify the approach that we will take in preparing the necessary provisions. We discussed the manner of consultation that would be appropriate to regulations of this nature. I know that from private discussions across the House, not least with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, there might have been an opportunity for a super-affirmative procedure, but it was not as simple as we wanted it to be. It is not a relatively straightforward matter. If we were to adopt those procedures for regulations of this type, it would be an extremely unusual step because the super-affirmative route is properly reserved for cases when there is a strong reason for the use of secondary as opposed to primary legislation. I know that some noble Lords will take the view that this is such a case.

To help to illustrate, it is not helpful to look at the few instances when such procedures have been modified. A modified form of the super-affirmative procedure applies to the Civil Contingency Act—emergency regulations, where regulations can be made only if it is necessary to do so in response to a major emergency. We are not aware of any case when the super-affirmative procedure has been used for a sector-specific power such as this Bill. I know that cross-domain is very important but I do not think that it equates to urgent matters of national security. I recognise, however, that having gone down this route of enabling legislation, we have to have robust consultation and scrutiny.

I am happy to place on the record, therefore, that we intend that there should be a full public consultation on draft regulations at the earliest possible opportunity. We need to get about the business of considering the Cole panel’s recommendations and working up the detail necessary to prepare regulations as soon as practicable. A full public consultation of 12 weeks will allow us to reflect on the views of stakeholders before we table regulations for debate in both Houses. I know that there is a high degree of consensus on what we need to achieve, but that does not mean it is always easy to translate that into regulations that work.

We are keen to engage interested parties in working up the necessary detail so that the draft on which we consult should not present any surprises. I should like those bodies represented on the Cole panel to be involved in the work leading up to publication of draft regulations. I think noble Lords would agree with that. Their continued input will be invaluable as there are some complex issues in bringing together two different systems of regulations.

I hope that we have resolved this important element of the Bill to the satisfaction of all noble Lords. It may be the last time I hear the expression, “A bird in the hand”. I would be pleased if that were the case. I do not share the anxieties of the noble Lord for the future or security of this Government, but we have reached a degree of consensus and I am very pleased to have achieved the outcome wanted by noble Lords across the House.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for their support, and for the support of all their colleagues for the amendment. Most of all, I thank the Minister who spent not just today, but days leading up to today, finding ways of accommodating the wishes of noble Lords. That culminates tonight in her promise to bring back an amendment that will satisfy us all on domain-wide regulation. I am deeply grateful and have the greatest possible pleasure in begging leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at 10.05 pm