§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move, in page 9, line 10, at the end, to insert:and tenants for additional dwellings provided by means of the works shall be selected in consultation with the local authority from their housing lists.This is a slight variation of an Amendment discussed at some length in the Committee. I will not cover the arguments again, but, briefly, when we are granting public money for the purpose of making available additional housing accommodation, we should try to fill that additional accommodation from the housing lists of the local authority. The objections taken to this in the Grand Committee were that the local authority should not be in a position to dictate to the owner as to who the tenants should be. It was suggested that it would be preferable if the tenant was selected as the result of consultation. The Lord Advocate said that that was a very good idea, and I rather gathered that it was an idea which might meet with approval, even on the other side of the Committee. The Lord Advocate further said that he would look into the matter.
We feel that where public money and materials, which are hard come by, are 596 being spent out of a limited supply, for this purpose, nobody should be able to jump the housing lists. I do not want to deal with all the arguments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it would be, I suggest, a source of considerable discontent if those on the housing lists for, say, over two, or even three years, saw somebody getting a house when that somebody had only been on the lists for a very short period; or even, not on the lists at all. That seems to us to be quite wrong. If there were an abundance of material there might be some justification for this, but in present circumstances there would appear to be no justification at all.
I beg to second the Amendment.
We place a great deal of importance on this Amendment. Since the Committee stage of the Bill I have spoken to quite a number of members of local authorities, and I have found that they are very much in agreement with it. They are asked to pay out 25 per cent. of what is the cost of these new works, and they are actually getting very little in return. They are providing new additional accommodation in their area. When we consider the problem which local authorities with long housing lists have to face, as well as the ratepayers in poor housing conditions, who have, nevertheless, through their rates, to subscribe to that 25 per cent. grant, surely it is reasonable to suggest that the local authorities should have some say, in consultation with the landlord, as to who is going to get this additional accommodation.
I wish it were not necessary to put down this Amendment, and that all private property owners would recognise the difficulties of the local authorities in this matter and consult with them in filling a vacant house. Everyone will agree that the local authorities are carefully watched by the people who need houses, and their allocation of this additional new accommodation is very fair. Because of that point I do not think the Secretary of State will go very far wrong in accepting this Amendment; if he did he would be meeting some of the desires of the ratepayers and the local authorities.
§ The Lord Advocate
I do not think that at this late hour we would like to go 597 into too great detail on the merits of this particular matter, but apart from the merits the Amendment is not acceptable for quite a number of technical reasons. It provides that the tenants for additional new dwellings will be selected from the local authority housing lists in consultation with the local authorities. That means that the owner of the property who wanted to use his own money to the extent of 50 per cent. of the improvement grant would have to take a tenant from the housing lists after consultation with the local authority.
The owner may have a range of choice among the people on the lists. He might want to make certain alterations in the property and create new dwellings. He might perhaps want to convert two houses into one, or alternatively, three houses into two. He might want to put in as tenants of the new accommodation the former tenants of the property, or his son or daughter. If those previous tenants or his son or daughter were not on the housing lists of the local authority, he could not put them into that particular dwelling.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend construe the word "additional" as meaning "new," because we do not accept that all new dwellings are additional dwellings?
§ The Lord Advocate
My hon. Friend will appreciate that if one house were converted into two that would constitute two additional dwellings, because the original dwelling had ceased to exist altogether. For the purposes of the Bill they would be two new additional dwellings because the original dwelling had disappeared. Accordingly, this could not be regarded just as one additional dwelling to the original dwelling because each of the two new ones will be an additional one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is not a legal quibble. I have to keep the House right with regard to what we put into our Statutes. If my hon. Friends take the line that when one house is reconstructed and turned into two that makes only one additional dwelling I am entitled to pose the question: which of the two houses of the additional dwellings is the one to which this Amendment would apply?
§ Mr. Willis
The answer, taking the case the Lord Advocate has given, is the one not required by the tenant who is not already in possession of the house.
§ The Lord Advocate
It does not say so in the Amendment. That is a quite arbitrary decision made by my hon. Friend. For that reason alone, the Amendment is not acceptable. When we were discussing this matter upstairs, I promised to look at it, but my hon. Friend did not quote all I said, and I would not expect him to do so. What I said was:A provision that there should be consultation with the local authority may be only a pious hope, and I am not in favour of putting into Statutes merely pious hopes …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 26th May, 1949; c. 310.]It is possible to impose a duty on the owner to consult with the local authority, but he need not carry it out. That is not the way to do it. It is not proper to put into a Statute something which cannot be properly effective, which can only be an expression of hope. We may circularise local authorities and point out that public money is being contributed towards the improvement of these dwellings, and that it is desirable that owners should consult with the local authority with a view to taking any new tenants from the local authority's housing lists.
That can be done administratively, and in response to such action you might get a very good return from local authorities. But the proposal to put something that need not be done, except merely by form, into the Statute, is something of which we cannot approve. For these reasons this Amendment would be quite impracticable. It would probably result in people not taking advantage of the provisions of the Bill when they otherwise might do so merely because they could not be sure that the people for whose purpose they would be prepared to spend part of their own money would not be beneficiaries under their action.
§ Mr. Willis
In view of what the Lord Advocate has said, that while it is not possible to incorporate this Amendment in the Bill in a satisfactory manner but that it is the intention to try to carry out the intention of the Amendment by administrative means. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
I would like to put this to the Lord Advocate. He has indicated that he is going to circularise local authorities. It seems it would 599 be dangerous if he left local authorities with the idea that they should only give grants to private persons for conversion of houses with a view to the provision of additional accommodation, if agreement has already been reached as to how these houses are to be allocated at the end.
One reason, apart from any others, why that would be inadvisable is that this conversion might take a considerable time; it would mean therefore that somebody who would otherwise be entitled earlier to a house would be held up until this conversion is completed, and might have the exactly opposite effect to what the Lord Advocate had in mind. But apart from that disadvantage, it seems to be undesirable in general that where the owner of the house is having to pay 50 per cent., and the local authority is only paying 12½ per cent. of the total cost at the most, the local authority should have anything like an over-riding say in who the tenant should be and should exercise their powers in regard to a grant being given in the first place. I hope the Lord Advocate will reassure us that this is not the intention of the circular he will put out and that it will not be allowed to have that effect.
I was rather concerned to hear the final words of the Lord Advocate on this subject, because he started off by giving very good reasons why this Amendment should not be accepted and then, having done that, conceded what the Amendment asks. The local authority is the party which will decide whether a grant be given or not, and when the instruction of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke goes out to local authorities I can well visualise them saying, "We shall not give a grant in your case unless you take a new tenant from our housing list."
In a great many cases where conversion takes place it will occur in houses now occupied, which the owner finds he can divide up while leaving himself with sufficient accommodation. He will, in many cases, provide in the original house accommodation for a son or daughter or friend, but he will probably object to having a stranger put into that house. I want the Bill to succeed so far as possible, but we shall not make available the additional accommodation which 600 we all desire if we give instructions such as those indicated by the Lord Advocate. I beseech him to think again on this point because he put all the arguments against the Amendment and then, apparently, conceded the whole case.
§ The Lord Advocate
I never said that any instructions would be given to the local authorities in this matter. I said the Secretary of State could send a circular to the local authorities asking them to consider asking people who are getting benefits under the Bill, to have regard to the housing lists of local authorities when they were making a selection of new tenants.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman now says that a circular could be sent; previously he said "may be sent." What exactly does he mean?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I hope it will not be couched in too direct a form. There are cases of persons, meritorious in every way, who happen to be outside the limits of a certain burgh or who happen to be coming into a certain burgh and who, for the reason of being outside the burgh, cannot be inscribed upon the lists of the housing authority. It may very easily be that an owner wishes to make an improvement to find accommodation for such a person, and it would be obviously unjust and undesirable from every point of view if this rigidity of housing was perpetuated by reason of too narrow an interpretation by the local authority of a circular issued, with the best will in the world, by the right hon. Gentleman. I trust that he will bear that sort of case in his mind when he comes to draft the circular to be sent out.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I beg to move, in page 9, line 28, to leave out paragraph (d).
This implements a promise given to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay), who raised the question of the owner having to certify in connection with what now appears in the Bill as paragraph (d). The proposal now is to keep this paragraph out of the subsection which requires certification by the owner, and to bring it in later by a 601 subsequent Amendment in order that it will not be required to be certified by the owner.
§ Mr. Maclay
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for fulfilling the undertaking given on the Committee stage. The original thought came from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) whose penetrating brain went to the point of this matter. It may have been his penetration or my eloquence which influenced the right hon. Gentleman, but we are grateful to him.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In page 9, line 38, at end, insert:
(e) all reasonable steps shall be taken to secure the maintenance of the dwelling so as to be in all respects fit for human habitation."—[Mr. Woodburn.]
I beg to move, in page 10, line 1, to leave out from "dwelling" to the third "the," in line 2.
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if this Amendment is taken in conjunction with the two following Amendments in page 11, lines 4 and 23. We are dealing with the conditions which have to be observed in respect of dwellings which have been improved with the help of a grant. In line 1, on page 10, it states that in the event of a voluntary alienation the loan is to be repaid. We do not see why this should apply. A sale would come under the term "voluntary alienation": a transfer to relatives for love, affection, or—
For favour, love and affection. Surely a house is transferred with all the obligations which it carries; therefore, there should be an obligation to fulfil the conditions in which the loan has been made. I have looked in vain for a similar provision in the English Bill: why it should be here I do not know. We look for an explanation, and, if possible, for the acceptance of this Amendment so that it will put the matter on all fours with the English Bill.
§ Mr. Woodburn
We regard the words proposed to be deleted as an essential part of the Bill. It is true it does not appear in this form in the English Bill, but that is no reason why there should not be something original in the Scottish Bill. This applies especially to Scottish conditions. It is quite true that there may be a case of this change of houses which the hon. and gallant Member described, but if people are on such friendly terms as that they will come to an arrangement without necessarily selling the house and having a cash transaction.
I should like to call attention to what was in my mind when I considered this matter. I think it is essential to safeguard against this point. The hon. and gallant Gentleman and I both know that there are great blocks of tenements of as many as four houses with up to four flats in each house—16 flats with one entrance. If one flat becomes empty it is quite possible to work a shuttlecock system and have a grant for the repair of each; as it is repaired and Government money spent on it the person will be able to sell the house and "cash in" immediately by realising the Government grant.
I think we must avoid a scandal of that kind. We have had quite sufficient of the shops' business to sicken us for a long time. When these types of racket start it is not always the people in the area who buy the houses; people may come in from outside. I am satisfied that unless we have this Clause as it stands there is an opportunity for people to work that system and collect the money on the spot—money which the Government gives in form of a grant. That would be an extremely bad system, and would bring the Bill into disrepute. While this is not so likely to happen in rows of houses in England, there is an especial danger in our big towns. If, in our previous discussions, the hon. and gallant Member had produced some better way of preventing this occurring I should have been prepared to consider it. We gave a lot of thought to this, however, and we thought it was an essential part of a Scottish Bill which provided for grants of public money, to ensure that there was no abuse of the kind suggested.
With the permission of the House, I should like to say that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think he has put up a case which I cannot controvert. I had overlooked the matter of the tenements to which he referred. Accordingly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.