HC Deb 28 February 1978 vol 945 cc367-72

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 16, line 47, at end insert—

'The Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1973 (c. 56)

9A. In section 27(7) (home loss payments), after paragraph (c) there shall be inserted the following sub-paragraph— (d) a dangerous building order under section 13 of the Building (Scotland) Act 1959;".'.

It deals with the rather complex position of compensation for those who suffer home loss because of dangerous buildings. I understand that the principle of the amendment is acceptable to the Government but that they regard the amendment as defective. On that basis I should be happy to move the amendment only briefly in order that the Minister might reply to it, and, if what I have said is the case, then to withdraw it.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

The amendment is defective in some respects. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for moving it, even though he forced a Division on the last amendment. For technical reasons we were not able to introduce our own amendment on Report, but we accept the principle and we shall be taking steps to ensure that that is done in another place. We accept the principle of providing for home loss when a building has to come down because it is dangerous. This is an omission in housing legislation at the moment, and its correction will be widely welcomed by many people, in particular in Glasgow and Edinburgh tenements.

With that assurance, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Cook

In view of the Ministers statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment by leave withdrawn.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I beg to move Amendment No. 20, in page 23, line 8, at end insert— '30A.—In section 22(1) (interpretation of II) for the definition of "supplementary benefit" there shall be substituted the following definition ""supplementary benefit" means benefit under Part I of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 except that it does not include benefit under section 3 (benefit to meet exceptional needs) of that Act;".'. It is purely a drafting amendment. This is a matter of interpretation of supplementary benefit, and there is no significance in it.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.— [Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]


Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I had prepared an excellent speech for the Third Reading debate, but since we are taking up valuable time that is to be devoted to other matters, I intend to say only that I beg to move the Third Reading.

9.49 p.m.

Mr. Younger

The Minister will agree that we have a considerably better Bill now than the one that came before us some weeks ago. He will agree that the Committee and Report stages have led to many constructive improvements to the Bill, and he will appreciate the value of that.

However, when all is said and done, the Opposition still have certain misgivings about the form of the new subsidy system. In spite of the changes to the Bill there is no doubt that the administration of housing subsidy in the future, as far a Parliament is concerned, will be done behind closed doors. There is no doubt that there has been a great deal of substance to complaints from both sides of the House that the ability of Members of Parliament to express the concern of their local authorities and constituents about the details of the housing support grant each year will be extremely limited.

There are two things that I should like to say about this which have been mentioned in Committee. I hope that the Minister will make it clear to his right hond. Friend the Leader of the House, in such a way that it could be borne in mind for the future, that we expect that Parliament will provide a decent opportunity every year for the housing support grant to be properly debated at a reasonable time of day. It will not be acceptable if the matter is slid in late at night, as is very often the case. We accept that this is not a matter that we could debate in Committe because it is a matter for the House.

It should be clearly on record that both sides of the House—certainly voices from both sides—have accepted the Bill only on the understanding that a real effort will be made to give the House a proper chance to discuss the subsidy system in detail each year as part of the housing support grant. If that is not done, the housing support grant in future will be fixed up behind closed doors in discussion between COSLA and the Government of the day, and very few people will be able to know or to influence what is happening. I hope that the Minister will take note of that and make certain that the Lord President—and his successors, if that is possible—are well apprised of this essential fact.

We now come to accept the Third Reading against the background of a day in which the Government have been seriously divided among themselves. On two occasions Labour Members have voted against each other on a vital part of the Bill. It is a day in which the Liberal Party has helped once more to prop up the Government and, surprisingly, voted so far as I can make out, in favour of damp houses. I am not sure whether that is what it was. It seems a strange way to proceed.

In debating the Bill we are in the shadow of the worst housing figures under this Labour Government that have been published in any year since the war. It is, therefore, with a certain amount of reservation and sadness that I suggest that we should give a Third Reading to the Bill, but only on the understanding that the misgivings expressed on both sides of the House will be met by regular Parliamentary debate of the subsidy system.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I rise to welcome the Bill and to congratulate the Minister who has piloted it through in his normal careful, good-humoured and fair-minded fashion. I did not have the opportunity of attending the Committee stage. Judging from the punch-up which took place between the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie). it was perhaps just as well. I am not sure who was champion or which one deserves the title of Goofy. Perhaps they might share it.

The decision to abolish the £39 limit, which occasioned the degree of division on the Government side, was the right one. It will enable anomalies and injustices which followed in the wake of reorganisation to be sorted out. It will also allow realistic account to be taken of changed financial circumstances, while the pattern of rent rebates will offer adequate safeguard for those who are in difficulty or who need protection.

I welcome also the decision to include capitalised repairs within the annual capital expenditure in allocations to individual local authorities. This will give local authorities the option of spending money either on modernisation or on new housing and should discourage indiscriminate new building or demolitions.

I still tend to doubt whether all that much money will be spent on insulation unless there is money allocated for it. I suppose that it is premative, when we are still waiting for the energy conservation programme, to talk about that. But it is our view that unless the Government produce more money specifically for insulation it is doubtful whether local authorities will be persuaded to engage in this.

Perhaps another doubt is about the increase in Government discretion which was highlighted effectively by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). But in the circumstances in which a change was necessary one could not proceed, as there had to be a new Act.

I feel that the Bill represents as reasonably balanced and acceptable a package as we can have. I do not fall for the Conservatives' suggestion that somehow or other they have much more feeling for housing than others.

The idea that Liberals would vote for damp houses is so ludicrous as not to require an answer.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Lambie

I shall be brief, because we have had a long debate in Committee and on Report. I said on Second Reading that this was a bad Bill based on bad principles, and in spite of the many amendments made in Committee and on Report it is still a bad Bill. It gives tremendous power to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and any future Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) said that the Conservatives had opposed the Bill and that they blamed the Liberals for sustaining the Government again. Anyone who was on the Committee or who attended today's debate will know that it was a sham fight. The only fight was that today on the subject of dampness in houses, a matter on which all hon. Members on both sides of the House are in agreement.

We have heard a great deal about the Lib-Lab alliance and how it is sustaining the Government. During the whole Committee stage and on Report there was not only a Lib-Lab alliance but a Lib-Lab-Nat-Con alliance. Everyone has supported the Bill, with the exception of one or two of my colleagues who are glad to be known as old-time Socialists and still think that the Government should be fair to tenants as well as to owner-occupiers.

We have had our fight in Committee and on Report. I have made my posi- tion clear, and I do not intend to divide the House on Third Reading.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Welsh

Initially I gave the Bill a cautious welcome, because I welcomed the simplification of the existing complex system of subsidies. But even after all this time the Bill has inbuilt difficulties, some of which the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) pointed out in his winding-up speech.

The Bill still gives too much power to the Secretary of State with regard to the negotiations with COSLA, in spite of the attempts at amendment. We are still given too little information about the final allocation of housing support grant, how it arises and its final distribution. Parliament, local authorities and the people have too little information. I regret that my amendment about a report to cover such matters was not accepted.

The Bill could still result in problems over distribution of the grant. Rural local authorities are extremely worried about how the final settlements will be made. I hope that the Government will take on board their worries about the transitional period and the final allocation.

I regret that my amendment about 100 per cent. Government funding of rent allowances and rebates was turned down in favour of the Government's 90 per cent. The amendment was logical and right. The Minister agreed with me that it was an inevitable step but said that the time was not right. I believe that the provision could have been introduced now at little extra cost.

My attempts to amend the Bill on a whole series of matters have been turned down. If not sceptical, I continue to feel a sense of disquiet. It remains to be seen how the Bill will operate in practice. My original welcome for a system which tried to simplify complex subsidies has been dampened as the consequences of the Government's plans have unfolded.

I hope that the Minister's reassurances on the points of doubt raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House will prove to be justified, but I harbour grave reservations about the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.