§ Amendments made:
In page 19, line 25, at end insert
(or such other period as may be prescribed)".
In line 30, leave out "of twelve months" and insert:
beginning from the said date".—[Mr. Corfield.]
§ Mr. Corfield
I beg to move, in page 19, line 43, to leave out "afford" and to insert "make arrangements for affording".
This Amendment goes with the next Amendment in line 45 at the end to insert:provided by the local authority".Both Amendments are designed to meet a criticism by my hon. Friend the 1323 Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that the obligation here put on the local authority was not clearly stated. Consequently we have substituted the words: "make arrangements for affording" instead of the word "afford" to make it clear. These are somewhat stronger words. They are important Amendments. The second one makes clear that the alternative accommodation is provided by the local authority.
§ Mr. Millan
This is a more important Amendment and is a good deal more than a drafting Amendment. I do not feel disposed to accept it. Taken together, these Amendments, particularly the second one, place a definite obligation on a local authority to provide suitable alternative accommodation for a tenant who has resisted an improvement notice. Some of us feel that in this part of the Bill we are leaning over backwards to be fair to a tenant who is objecting to an improvement notice. Obviously there is a balance of rights to be taken into account.
There is the desire of the local authority, on the one hand, to get the houses improved. On the other hand, there is the protection which is to be offered to a tenant that the improvement will not be done without his consent. These suspended improvement notices will come into effect only after 10 years, which may now be altered to five years. The rubric in my copy of the Bill says 10 years, but it is five years in the body of the Bill and the rubric appears to be wrong. Whether it is five or 10 years, there will be considerable delay before the actual operation of an improvement notice.
If a tenant has been able to delay the operation of an improvement notice for a considerable time, it is rather unfair that the local authority at the end of the day should have a definite obligation placed on it to provide suitable alternative accommodation. While being as fair as one can be to the tenant, if he feels so strongly about the improvement that he will not give his consent, there should be some obligation on him either to stop his opposition or to find another house for himself. We must not be too tender towards the tenant in those circumstances. There will be an attempt being made to improve his house. One 1324 must make every possible attempt to protect the tenant, but it seems wrong to place a definite obligation on the local authority to provide suitable alternative accommodation.
This gives a recalcitrant tenant a considerable interest in holding out as long as possible and getting a council house in the end. It may be important for a local authority to get a particular house among a number of houses but the one tenant is standing out in his opposition. He may be holding out for very good reasons, but they may be very bad reasons. I do not like the present wording of the Bill, but there is at least an element of ambiguity which would be removed and a definite obligation would be placed on the local authority. We would be leaving the local authority open to blackmail. I hope we shall resist the Amendment.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
In view of the powerful argument adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan), we ought to have a further comment from the Government on this Amendment. I remember from discussions in Committee that there is a balance of argument here. If the Government want this Amendment to be accepted, they must make a reply to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Corfield
The only reason why I did not rise at once was that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, beat me to it and I could not be on my feet at the same time.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) has put forward an argument with which many of us will have sympathy, but I certainly do not have sympathy for his suggestion that there is merit in having ambiguity in a Bill. The real trouble and difficulty, which was well brought out in another context by the hon. Member for Central, Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) in discussing the problem of tenements in Scotland, is that most of these tenants who are likely to be refusing up to the last moment to give consent for one reason or another—old age, infirmity and so on—will be afraid to face an increase in rent. If therefore the local authority thinks it right after five years to serve the notice—it is not mandatory but discretionary at this stage—it may well be 1325 that in some cases those people should be regarded as potential local authority tenants.
I do not deny for a moment the point of view of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton, that amongst these tenants there may well be some who are refusing for quite different reasons, simply to be obstructive. However, I should have thought that they would be very much in the minority. It would be extremely difficult to write into the Bill a categorisation of tenants where this should apply and where it should not. It is right that, when the tenant is someone who is afraid of the increase in rent which will arise because of the improvements—this will cover the great mass of tenants—and the local authority still thinks it should proceed, it should regard that person as a local authority tenant.
§ Mr. Millan
If it is so right to give these considerable protections to tenants under this Clause, why is it also right under Clause 22 to give no protection to tenants in tenements in Scotland who have no rights whatsoever, neither to appeal against the notice, nor to get alternative accommodation, nor anything else?
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Gentleman will know that there is an Amendment to the Scottish part—I think it is Clause 27—which increases the rights of tenants in tenement buildings in Scotland.
§ Mr. Manuel
I well remember the speech I made. I was referring at that time to the immediate improvement notice, not to the suspended improvement notice.
§ Mr. Ross
Would the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell me what this means? If the Amendment is made, the Clause will now read at the end:it shall be the duty of the local authority to make arrangements for affording to the tenant a reasonable opportunity of taking up suitable alternative accommodation provided by the local authority.Exactly what does this mean?
§ Mr. Corfield
If the hon. Gentleman would explain to me where he has difficulties, I will try to explain. It is as plain as a pikestaff to me.
§ Mr. Ross
We are in a difficulty in that we are not in Committee. If we are to insert words such as "provided by the local authority", I should have thought that it would be sufficient to say—it shall be the duty of the local authority to provide, if required, alternative accommodation.It does not say that.
§ Mr. Ross
There is a long winded bit about—a reasonable opportunity of taking up suitable alternative accommodation provided by the local au hority.I agree with the criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). This obligation is laid upon the local authority in a very disguised form. This is the kind of obligation which has obviously grown from the acceptance of ideas in Committee. I do not know whether the Committee realised the import of what was being laid upon local authorities It is right that the local authority can get out of this at the end of the day by not proceeding with the final improvement notice, but it would be at the cost of not proceeding with a plan it had already set out on. Was it the Government's intention to lay this strict responsibility upon the local authority to provide accommodation in cases like this?
It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to argue that this will apply only in certain cases. He should remember the housing situation in Scotland, where at Present people must wait ten years for a house. Many people will see in this a way of getting a house earlier than they otherwise would, merely by refusing the improvement. The same thing may well apply in some parts of England.
§ Mr. Willis
I must intervene at this point, because I recall the lengthy discussion we had on this subject in Standing Committee. I want to prevent the House placing hindrances in the way of improvement work being done. Whenever it is said that a local authority must provide accommodation it is made less easy for the authority to proceed with improvement works. We all know how difficult it is for local authorities to provide accommodation for people in the category we are discussing.
1327 I should have thought that the words in the Clause were specific and adequate enough to cover the situation the Minister has in mind without the inclusion of the Amendment. The words in the Bill leave a certain amount of elbow room for local authorities to do the job. We should prevent cluttering up the Statute. Suffice to say that local authorities should provide suitable alternative accommodation.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I agree that the Amendment will limit the activities of local authorities. It will mean that the alternative accommodation must be local authority accommodation. I recall that in Committee the Minister saw the wisdom of the arguments adduced by my hon. Friends and agreed that in some instances it might be possible for local authorities to make arrangements for people to be alternatively accommodated in other dwellings owned by the landlord, in housing association property or elsewhere and—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am not clear whether the hon. Member is intervening, whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) had given way or had completed his speech or whether the hon. Member is making his own speech.
§ Mr. Corfield
I would not wish to press on the House something which goes against an undertaking which I or my right hon. Friend gave, and if hon. Members feel that my right hon. Friend said in Committee something that is not consistent with the Amendment I will look at the Amendment again. I am sure that most hon. Members would wish to afford the tenant the opportunity of being rehoused, but it is not an easy matter when one bears in mind the fact that the landlord will probably not have another house or, if he has, that it is probably in the same improve- 1328 ment area, so that the same conditions apply. Thus, to put in an obligation to afford the opportunity merely to consider rehousing would leave the tenant in some doubt about his rights and what the situation will be when the improvement notice is served. I will certainly look at it again, particularly in the light of what the hon. Member has just said, but I cannot promise that I shall go a long way from the principle of what is here. I will certainly see whether it can be tidied up.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I have refreshed my memory of what the Minister said. As has just been said, the right hon. Gentleman was drawing our attention in Committee to the fact that we were talking about something that would happen several years after the Bill had been passed. He said:It may be that the local authority will secure alternative accommodation by an indirect or triangular or even quadrilateral method. It may be that at this time there will be housing societies available; it may be that the local authority, the tenants and the landlord will enter into some sort of arrangement by which the tenant moves into a housing association dwelling, the local authority helps the housing association by accepting somebody from them, and so all are satisfied.I particularly draw attention to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:It is only to provide this discretion to the local authority that lines 30 to 32 are couched in this form. I think that hon. Members would agree that it is sensible to give the local authority some such discretion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E. 28th January, 1964; c. 470–1.]The right hon. Gentleman added that, in view of the criticisms made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), he would look again at the matter. I cannot help feeling that, having looked at it again, he has found a worse answer and that his original argument about local authority discretion was sound.
Could not the Joint Parliamentary Secretary screw up his courage and even in the absence of the Minister withdraw the Amendment? After all, if it seems overwhelmingly to the Government later on that they must have it back again, there is another place. I have been a junior Minister and I admit that I never ventured in the absence of my chief who was my right hon. Friend the Member 1329 for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to make alterations in Bills of which he might or might not approve. This is an added reason for my now making this suggestion, because I shall be interested to hear what happens when a junior Minister does that.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.