HC Deb 30 June 1969 vol 786 cc166-9
Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 8, leave out lines 8 to 12.

This is in the nature of a probing Amendment. Under Clause 11 the local authority can make payments in respect of well-maintained houses in two circumstances, either when the house is occupied by the owner or when it is not occupied by the person liable to maintain it. Presumably in certain circumstances this will include the tenant. We then come to the last few lines which I propose to exclude. Who excluded under paragraphs (a) and (b) is to be included in the lines that I propose to delete? We did not discuss this point in Committee—

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on the Housing (Scotland) Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Dr. Dickson Mabon]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

On closer study, it appears to me that these lines are not necessary. Perhaps they have a purpose. I should like to hear what the Minister of State has to say about them.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said that this was a probing Amendment. It may be rare that a house is not occupied by the owner or by a person liable to maintain and repair it. Occasionally a house may be occupied by somebody who has not a title to it.

I wish briefly to refer to a case, of which the Minister has had short notice, which occurred in my constituency. A couple, Mr. and Mrs. Compton, were rehoused by the county council in a new house as a result of a redevelopment scheme. They had bought the house which they left about ten years before when it was, more or less, falling down. They had to strip everything in it and put in new walls and new floors and have it rewired. They paid £90 for it, but found that nobody could give them a good title because the title deeds had been burned years ago and there was never any possibility of the owner of the house turning up. They spent about £300 to £400 on the house while it was in their occupation, but, owing to a lack of title, it was not possible for the county council to make any payment to them on the basis of its being a well-maintained house, which undoubtedly it was.

I should think that a case like this comes within the proviso to the Clause and that there may be a few rare cases like it. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that this is the sort of case which he has in mind. Perhaps he could go even further and tell me whether there were similar provisions in the previous Act.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

If an individual makes a claim for compensation and the person inspecting the house takes the view that a substantial part of the responsibility for maintaining the house in good repair arises directly from the work under the storm damage compensation scheme, with which the Minister was personally connected, will it affect the eligibility to compensation of the individual concerned?

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) is "Yes". This should be taken into account and there is sufficient discretion in the Statute to make this assessment. However, the Clause is concerned only with the houses which are purchased compulsorily at site value because they have failed to meet the tolerable standard and, therefore, are unfit for human habitation.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) for giving me notice this morning that he would raise the matter which he has raised. However, it is very much a question of establishing title; it is not connected with the Clause. I am told that this could be done only by obtaining an extract of the title from the register of sasines. Once title is established, an owner would be entitled to full compensation. The hon. Gentleman has written to the Lord Advocate. I have not been able to trace the reply which may have gone to him, or which may be in preparation, through the Scottish Home and Health Department. I will look into the point and write to him.

Mr. Brewis

There is no possibility of tracing the owner through the sasines register. It has already been looked at. I do not, however, want to take up the time of the House further on this occasion.

Dr. Mabon

I know how patient the hon. Member is about these matters. I will look into this and find out whether the matter has to rest there or whether we can take it a stage further. I am sure that the House sympathises with the point of the case expressed tonight by the hon. Member.

As to the probing nature of the Amendment, if we were to make the Amendment a tenant who carried out work in the house on internal repairs, who replaced fireplaces and installed water-heating facilities and kitchen fitments—this do-it-yourself equipment is becoming more common and young couples living in many of these houses are to be commended for trying to make little palaces of nearly unfit houses—would be excluded altogether from well-maintained payments. It would prevent us from making such payments. I suggest to the hon. Member that that is not what he would like to do.

The proviso is in similar terms to Section 49 of the 1966 Act, which dealt with well-maintained payments in clearance areas, and which, as the hon. Member knows, the Bill repeals. Section 25 of the 1966 Act covers well-maintained payments for houses which are subject to closing or demolition orders, and it contains the same form of words.

In reply to the hon. Member for Cathcart, I would say that there is no question of a claim as such. The Secretary of State would decide in the light of the inspection and give a direction. The well-maintained payment might become, as I suggested at the beginning, part of the amount in relation to storm damage of the loan which the local authority recovers from the owner. If he gets relief because of hardship, he could hardly get payment as well.

I do not think I can say more in response to the probing Amendment. It may have clarified the position. I think we are all agreed that tenants should be included and not excluded.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As I said earlier, I support the principle of the Clause. We are glad that these payments are made for good maintenance. We want to see this extended to tenants also. We have no intention to exclude them.

The sole purpose of the Amendment was to obtain clarification. It has served a good purpose in making clear to people outside that tenants, as well as others, are included in the entitlement to payments when they have kept the house well maintained and in good condition.

Having had the Minister's explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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