HC Deb 13 April 1964 vol 693 cc128-33

Amendments made: In page 82, line 3, leave out "fourteen" and insert "six".

In line 3, leave out from "which" to "any" line line 4 and insert: a copy of the relevant scheme is served in accordance with section 74(1) of this Act".

In line 6, leave out from beginning to "on" and insert "that scheme".—[Mr. Corfield.]

Amendment proposed: In Page 82, line 15, leave out from first "number".—[Mr. Corfield]

Mr. Cole

As I read the Bill as it will be amended by this and the following Amendment, it will state in subsection (1, c) of Clause 79 that the number of individuals or households as specified by the local authority in the scheme is unreasonably low". I know exactly what the Government are trying to do, but I wonder whether they have done it. The "limit fixed by the scheme" in the original paragraph (c) is an executive action.

Now, although it is extremely difficult to follow this, it is to state that the number of individuals or households as specified by the local authority in the scheme… Two different things are being mixed. One is the actual fact of the people who are or are not living in the house, and the other is the specification by the local authority that the number is too small. One is a physical fact and the other is an executive decision. This is all much more complicated and difficult than before.

One of the grounds of appeal under paragraph (c) was that the limit fixed by the local authority for the number of households in the house—in other words, those who paid rent—was too small and should be increased, and, presumably, there would be good ground for appeal. Now, we are to state that the number is to be specified by the local authority. But there is no question about a local authority specifying. Either the people are in the house or they are not.

I cannot understand why we are making the matter more complicated in trying to amend the Clause. I have spent some little time on this, and on this occasion, with great respect to my hon. Friend, I have brought in together both the Amendments which bear on the matter. I should be very glad to hear what the purpose is which he is trying to obtain by the change.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Millan

While I do not find the new wording quite as ambiguous as does the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole), I think that he is making a valid point, that the now wording really is not as satisfactory as the old. I know the reason why the Government are changing the wording here, because they have changed the wording in Clause 74(3,b). If the Government look at that paragraph they will see there is a reference to the highest number of individuals or house holds who are to be able to live in the house from time to time.

I would suggest that if they are to change the wording in Clause 79, they will have to change it rather more radically than they are by these two Amendments, which are ambiguous, I think, and should probably have to make a reference to the highest number of individuals or households which the local authority would consider reasonable. I hope, therefore, that I may support the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South, and that the Government may even withdraw the two Amendments, and have a look at them again, and put them right in another place. I do not think that the wording is quite right as they are amending it now.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: in page 82, line 16, after "house", insert: as specified by the local authority in the scheme".—[Mr. Corfield.]

Amendment proposed: In page 82, line 24, leave out from beginning to "if" in line 25 and insert: (2) Without prejudice to the right of appeal conferred by the foregoing subsection, either the local authority or any person having an estate or interest in the house may at any time apply to the county court for a review of the estimate of the surpluses on revenue account in the scheme. (3) On an appeal or an application under this section the court may, as it thinks fit, confirm or vary the scheme (but on an application under subsection (2) not so as to affect the provisions of the scheme relating to the works). (4).—[Mr. Corfield.]

Mr. Cole

I should like to raise a point of information. It is obviously a matter of commonsense that under the Bill as amended by the Standing Committee the court can confirm or not confirm a scheme. After all, that is what the court is there for, but what I do not understand is what now happens to the court's power to vary a scheme I can assure my hon. Friend that I have looked at the subsection and at this Amendment and the following Amendment, and that I think I can find my way around the subsection and the Amendments, but I can see nowhere how any suggestion about what happens to the power of the court to vary the scheme itself for capital works. Is it implicit in the power of the court to deny or to grant a scheme? In other words, are these words necessary? I am not cavilling, but just seeking information, and perhaps my hon. Friend could tell me.

Mr. Corfield

I am sorry, but we did discuss this earlier. My hon. Friend has shot this at me and I have not yet found the actual point in the Bill—

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

Oh. really!

Mr. Corfield

—but I will certainly make sure that it does what it was purported to do when my right hon. Friend introduced it. Having discussed it earlier, I have now lost the place, because I had moved on.

Mr. Bence

I have come into this debate to listen because I find the Bill very difficult indeed, and I have been wading through these Amendments, following the matter up, trying to follow all the arguments, because I want to understand the matter, because, naturally, I shall have to explain it to my constituents from time to time—and now I find we are informed by the Minister in charge of the Bill that he does not understand it himself. This is a serious situation.

Would I be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in moving that further consideration of the Bill be adjourned until someone comes on to the Tory Bench who knows something about it? It is a waste of time sitting here listening to the discussion on the Bill when the Minister in charge does not understand it. This is a shocking situation. In the 13 years I have been a Member of the House I have never before heard a Minister say he did not understand the Bill being discussed.

Mr. Corfield

I did not say that I did not understand it. What I said was that we had discussed a large number of Amendments together, and when my hon. Friend suddenly picked out one from the bunch I was not very quick in finding out exactly where it fitted into the whole story of the series of Amendments. Certainly, four Amendments were taken together, and probably more. It is very difficult to answer an odd case on one of the Amendments, particularly when it was not the major one.

If it would be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to reopen exactly what my right hon. Friend said when we started this series of Amendments—the first one was in Clause 74, page 76, line 30—I will do it, but I can only say what my right hon. Friend has already said.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member will be in order in referring back to an Amendment which was accepted and which was discussed with this one.

Mr. Cole

If, by leave of the House, may speak again, I would say that I have done my best within the limits of physical requirements over the last three hours to be in this Chamber, and I heard most of the debate on the 10 Amendments. The last thing I wanted to do was to ask my hon. Friend a question out of the blue. This is a very minor point, and I do not think it was discussed, because much more important matters were debated.

I merely ask—I shall be quite happy if my hon. Friend will send me a note afterwards—what happens about the powers of a court to vary a scheme? Are they unnecessary? Do they still exist? If they do exist, I cannot find them in the Bill. It may be that the whole thing is de minimis, in which case I am sorry that I raised it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

As I have said, it is in order on this Amendment to refer back by way of explanation of the Amendment now before the House.

Mr. Corfield

The Bill, as amended, retains general powers. This Amendment was originally taken with the Amendment in Clause 74, page 73, line 30, and with it an Amendment to Clause 75 and two Amendments to Clause 79.

The purpose of these Amendments, which ran together, was to meet the criticism of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) during the Committee stage. He complained about the capital debt due to the authority for works undertaken under a control order on the settled surplus basis. My right hon. Friend undertook to put into the Bill a power for the local authority to apply to the court for the settled surplus to be reduced. In the Bill originally there was a power the other way round. All the Amendments I have mentioned are designed for the same purpose, and one is consequential on the other. I am sorry that it was not clear originally to my hon. Friend, but it is rather difficult to explain one bit without going through the whole thing again.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 31, at end insert: (4) On an application under subsection (2) of this section the surpluses on revenue account as settled by the scheme may be varied for all or any periods, including past periods, and the county court shall take into consideration whether in the period since the control order came into force the actual balances mentioned in section 74(3)(c) of this Act have exceeded, or been less than, the surpluses on revenue account as settled by the scheme as for the time being in force, and shall also take into consideration whether there has been any change in circumstances such that the number of persons or households w ho should live in the house, or the net amount of the rents and other payments receivable by the local authority from persons occupying the house, ought to be greater or less than was originally estimated.—[Mr. Corfield.]