HC Deb 10 June 1980 vol 986 cc343-79

'.—(1) Notwithstanding section 4 of this Act, where a dwelling-house purchased by exercise of a right under Part I of this Act is situated in an area legislated by order of the Secretary of State as a rural area, the landlord may impose a limitation on the freedom of the purchaser to dispose of the dwelling-house m the manner specified below. (2) The limitation is, subject to subsection (4), that, until such time (if any) as may be notified in writing to the landlord there will be no disposal without the written consent of the landlord ; but that consent shall not be withheld if the disposal is to a person satisfying the condition stated in subsection (3) below. (3) The condition is that the person to whom the disposal is made (or, if it is made to more than one person, at least one of them) has, throughout the period of three years immediately preceding the application for consent, either—

  1. (a) had his place of work, in the rural area ; or
  2. (b) had his only or principal home in such an area.
(4) If the Secretary of State consents, the limitation specified in subsection (2) above may be replaced by the following limitation, that is to say, that until the end of the period of ten years beginning with the purchase of the dwelling-house there will be no disposal unless—
  1. (a) the purchaser has offered to reconvey the dwelling-house to the landlord for a consideration equal to the amount agreed between the parties or determined by the district valuer as being the amount which is to be taken as the value of the dwelling-house at the time the offer is made (subject to the recovery or discount on early re-sale under section 6 of this Act) ; and
  2. (b) the landlord has refused the offer or has failed to accept it within one month after it was made.
(5) Nothing in this section shall prevent a court from making an order transferring the dwelling-house or part thereof to the spouse of the purchaser, or a successor from inheriting the title to the dwelling-house.'.— [Mr. Cook.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Cook

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments :

No. 66, in clause 4, page 9, leave out lines 10 to 30.

Government amendment No. 68, page 9, line 15, after ' instrument ', insert ' subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament'

No. 9, in page 9, line 16, leave out subsection (7)

No. 69, in page 9, line 17, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 70, in page 9, line 17, leave out ' one-third ' and

No. 71, in page 9, line 21, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 72, in page 9, line 24, at end insert :

' or the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is an unsatisfied local demand for houses.

255, in page 9, line 24, at end insert : ' and

  1. (c) the housing authority is satisfied that further sales will unduly disturb the balance of housing set out in the housing plan submitted to the Secretary of State (subject to the Secretary of State's considering such a submission to be reasonable) '

Mr. Cook

I hope that the House will not think me discourteous if I have to leave the Chamber during the course of this debate. Both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) are in the embarrassing position that we are also members of the Finance Bill Committee. I am speaking with one eye trained on the television Annunciator in the Chamber, so that I can see from the position from which I am speaking what is happening in that Committee.

It is fortunate that we are having an opportunity to debate the position of council house sales in rural areas at an early stage of our deliberations on Report. Unfortunately, when we considered the matter in Committee, we had time only for a rather cramped and confined debate. That may help to explain why, at the end of the day, we arrived at an amendment that is, frankly, pointless and meaningless in the effect that it will have in protecting the needs of those in rural areas who are seeking a house to rent rather than a house to own.

Looking at the text of the amendment that the Committee, perhaps ill-advisedly, accepted late at night, I find it difficult to see it as anything other than an exercise in whimsy. It turns on three separate tests. Local authorities in rural areas will be able to apply a pre-emption right to the future sale of council houses if, first, one-third of their council houses have already been sold. The clause is activated only at a point when a dangerous reduction has already been achieved in the level of council houses within their areas.

Secondly, not only are the local authorities required to lose one-third of their housing stock, but there must be evidence that an unreasonable number of those houses have become second homes. There is no definition in the Bill, or any indication during the course of the debate, of what the Minister regards as an unreasonable proportion. Would it be one-half of the one-third that have been sold, one-quarter, or 10 per cent.? We do not know. The ignorance under which we labour is worrying. The pre-emption rights do not automatically come into action if those two tests are met. They come into action only if, having considered those two criteria, the Secretary of State graciously assents to a petition from the local authority to the effect that it may have a pre-emption right.

I regard that solution as profoundly unsatisfactory, especially because it turns on the threat to local housing from the second home market. There is a danger that houses sold under the Bill will become second homes. Some hon. Members may have seen the circular issued by Shelter, in which it quotes a letter from the Western Isles which refers to 10 timber chalet houses on the Island of Vatersay, and states : Immediately adjacent to perhaps one of the most beautiful and sheltered beaches in the whole country. Such houses would naturally represent a real attraction to anybody seeking a second home in Scotland. I do not think that the House should lightly disregard the real concern of the Western Isles council that those houses might become second homes.

It is not sufficient to say to the Western Isles council "After you have sold one-third of your housing stock, and after half of the houses sold have become second homes, we will consider giving you a pre-emption right". Although that threat exists, the fact remains that possibly, during the course of the debate on the rural areas, undue weight was attached to the threat of council houses disappearing into second homes. One of the ironies of the debate in Committee was that the very hon. Members who urged us to accept the amendment said that the threat from second homes had been exaggerated. I observe that the hon. Members who participated in that debate are unable to join us tonight. I am sure that we shall have a full debate on the issue——

Mr. Rifkind

I should point out that the hon. Members to whom the hon. Gentleman is referring are serving on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, and are unable to be here at this time.

Mr. Cook

I am tempted to suggest that we should welcome an adjournment of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill Committee in order that those hon. Members could attend this debate.

Mr. Rifkind

The Government were willing to adjourn the Committee, but the Opposition requested that the Committee sit this afternoon.

Mr. Cook

I am afraid that we have had a glimpse into the internal workings of the Opposition, which are clearly getting a little rusty.

I had better return to my speech. As I was saying, Conservative Members, who unfortunately are unable to be with us, for the reasons given by the Minister, explained that they regarded the threat from second homes as exaggerated, yet in the Bill they have created a protection for the rural areas that is triggered off only if there is a substantial demand for second homes. In other words, on their own definition that not many council houses will become second homes, these subsections will remain dead for the life of this statute, which I hope will not be too long.

Moreover, there is some force in their argument. I believe that the threat to the rural area housing stock from the effects of the Bill rests on two other arguments. It rests first, on the argument about the balance of the housing stock between houses available for letting and those available for owner-occupation. It is a delicate and sensitive task in any housing stock to strike a balance between the two. But in a rural area, where there will be only a few houses in any one settlement, the sale of the few council houses in a village can wholly alter the balance and transform such a village into an entirely owner-occupied community, which will not leave available for letting houses for those young families who want to go on living and working in the community, but who cannot afford to buy a house in it.

That is particularly marked, as such council houses as there are in the rural areas are frequently concentrated in the borough areas. Until local government reform in 1974 there was a reticence on the part of the landward areas to build council houses. In Orkney, not one council house was built outside the boroughs until 1974. Even to this day, half of all the council houses in the Western Isles are in Stornoway. Plainly, a small number of sales from the very small stock of council houses outside those boroughs will drastically reduce the number of houses available for letting.

One can only remind the Minister of the report that has been submitted to him by his officials. It is a study of five rural areas, in which they say : Many people are not able to command incomes sufficient to meet their basic housing needs in the private sector and reliance on the local authority as a major force in adequate housing provision will continue and probably increase The tragedy is that at the very time when officials in the SDD conclude that reliance on the local authority will probably increase, we are passing a Bill that provides no protection against a reduction in the stock of local authority housing, on which greater reliance is expected to be placed in future years.

The other reason why we should worry about the effects of this legislation on the rural areas relates to the threat not from the purchase of houses to be used as second homes, but from what I believe to be a real threat that council houses in rural areas adjacent to our central belt will be acquired by commuters. Not every rural area is north of the Highland fault line or safely tucked away on an island from which one cannot commute to Glasgow or Edinburgh. A large number of rural areas are within ready motoring or railway distance of those two main centres. Over the last two decades we have seen the spread of commuters to owner-occupied estates in many of those rural areas. What we now face is the real danger that those commuters will appear on the council estates, taking over some of the most attractive council houses in some of the most attractive villages.

I automatically think of East Lothian, and I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) with us. The East Lothian district council has properly recorded its anxiety that it may lose every house in Gifford, which would be an attractive investment for any tenant who wished to buy his council house. There is no doubt that any tenant acquiring a house in Gifford would find a lucrative market among the commuters who are already spreading around that corner of the county.

5.15 pm

Two weeks ago I took a train to Newcastle, where I addressed a meeting. During the journey the train drew up at Drem village. I looked out of the window and noticed that immediately adjacent to the village there are four council houses, with extensive gardens. They are immediately adjacent to a station to which there are frequent commuter trains. If one were seeking a speculative sale a few years hence, I cannot think of a better investment for a commuter seeking a house in the country with easy access to the city. I believe that there will be a real threat to houses in the rural areas if they are removed from the local housing stock for use in that way.

The Bill will not provide a shred of protection to East Lothian district council if that threat materialises, because it will be unable to say that those houses are being used as second homes. Those houses will remain in use as principal homes. Therefore, the mechanisms providing for their protection will not come into play. It is appropriate, therefore, to look afresh at the deliberations in Committee, and at the result of those deliberations, to see how we can improve them in order to provide greater strength and protection to the rural areas.

Some of my hon. Friends have tabled amendments, to which they will no doubt speak, in which they seek to amend the amendment that was carried in Committee. In my perhaps rather more extremist fashion I have proposed a total deletion of what was accepted in Committee and the substitution of another new clause. However, my new clause is not the product of fanatics beavering away in the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party or any other place from where a bold Socialist programme may emerge. My new clause was drafted in the Department of the Environment and was promoted by the Minister for Housing and Construction during proceedings on the Housing Bill. As this is a new clause that was promoted by him in that legislation, one can take it that there is no division of principle between my modest new clause and the Government's. Indeed, were there a major issue of principle, I presume that a Minister would not have promoted a parallel new clause in the parallel Housing Bill for England and Wales.

My new clause provides a pre-emption right to local authorities in designating rural areas. For those hon. Members who have been following the text as printed by the compositor, I should perhaps clarify that it should refer to rural areas "designated" by the Secretary of State, and not "legislated", Draconian though the Government may be, they have not as yet given the Secretary of State powers to legislate without reference to Parliament.

I believe that there will be a wide degree of support among the rural areas for my new clause. After all, it is worth recalling that there has been a wide degree of anxiety among the rural authorities over the provisions of the Bill and the lack of protection to them. When we met in Committee we had available the results of a circular sent by Shelter to the rural district councils, which received 10 respondents, only one of which indicated that it was not opposed to the Bill. Nine of them indicated that they were strongly opposed to the way in which the Bill would affect their areas.

I challenge the Minister to say whether any rural district council or islands council has withdrawn its reservations about the Bill in the light of the protection that was provided in Committee. I am not aware of any local authority that has reviewed and dropped its anxities about the effect of the Bill on its area as a result of the feeble protection that the Committee saw fit to confer.

There is a certain irony in the Opposition seeking to protect the rural areas. It is predominantly Conservative Members who represent the areas that will be worst affected by their failure to protect those areas from the consequences of this legislation. I hope that the Minister will not let that irony stand in the way of his looking seriously and favourably at the new clause. After all, the Government have run into some difficulty in the upper House over their policy in regard to rural areas. As we are about to send the Bill on its way to the House of Lords, I should not want the Minister to lose any sleep or his appetite over anxiety that the Duke of Norfolk might lead a rebellion on council house sales in the rural areas of Scotland.

That is not something that I would wish on the Minister, but I warn him that unless he accepts one of the amendments and strengthens the provisions to protect the rural areas he will fail to carry out his party's manifesto commitment that the circumstances of the rural areas would be taken into account. He will also be laying in store for himself and his Government a real degree of anger and outrage when young couples discover that there is no way in which they can rent a house without moving into the cities of Scotland.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I strongly support the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). He was correct in his arguments. Even if at the end of the day the Under-Secretary of State cannot accept this new clause, I hope that he will undertake to reconsider the effectiveness of what the Government have accepted in the Bill. I believe that the provision that they have made in response to the representations from the rural areas will not work. Therefore, there is no point in passing legislation that will prove ineffective, even for the purpose that the Government have sought to implement.

If we turn from the theory of the legislation to its practice on the ground, the Government are saying that they may be able to agree to local authorities putting some restriction on sales if they have already sold one-third of their stock. Before we can protect the rural areas—the villages and the valleys—in the Ettrick and Lauderdale district in my constituency from being denuded of their council stock, one-third of the houses in Galashiels will have to be sold. But that will not happen. The most attractive houses are in the valleys and in the rural areas, and they will be swallowed up first. With the passage of time, the present tenants, having exercised their rights to buy, may then sell their houses to other tenants coming into the area, whether as holiday homes or second homes.

There is a housing scheme in my home village, Ettrick Bridge, consisting of four houses. That is a drop in the bucket compared with the total housing stock of the district council. I have no objection to those houses being sold to sitting tenants if they wish to exercise their right to buy, so long as the local authority has a right to repurchase on disposal.

In the rural areas—I do not think this is understood by hon. Members representing urban areas—there is a real problem for people who have lived all their lives in tied cottages on farms. When they retire, they have to move, or when they pass on and their widows are left with tied cottages, their widows have to move. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central said, in the old days, before the reform of local government, there were enormous difficulties in the rural areas because of the low level of housing stock, and often the housing authorities in the towns were insufficiently flexible in taking people on to their waiting lists. There was a gulf between the landward area and the burgh. Fortunately, that problem is no longer with us. But there is now the new problem of people who have lived all their lives in the countryside and who suddenly find that, when they wish to retire and to move into a local authority house, they have to move into the burgh way of life because there is no housing stock left in the rural areas. That is a serious social problem, and I do not think that this legislation, which no doubt has honourable intentions, and the amendments that were accepted in Committee, meet the problem in any way.

Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central, I agree that the danger is not entirely from the second home threat—although it is a real threat. There is also a threat from the growing strength of the commuter lobby. At Tweeddale, for example, there are some attractive areas within travelling distance of the city of Edinburgh where, if houses were sold on the open market, they would go to people who would make them their primary homes, but eventually the local community and local authority would be deprived of housing stock. I have received strong representations on the matter from local authorities in my constituency, and I hope that the Government will consider it sympathetically.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) has also drawn my attention to the fact that the cutback in expenditure by the Government is already having a deleterious effect on the housing stock and the house building programme in rural areas. For example, Skye and Lochalsh was planning to build 65 new houses this year, but as a result of the cuts it will be able to build only 10. In Badenock and Strathspey, the housing plan indicated a need to build 300 more council houses in the next five years. The Government cuts have reduced that number to 32. As a result of other Government policy there is already real difficulty in the rural areas in expanding the housing programmes. If, on top of that, they find that their existing housing stock is eroded because of this legislation there will be even more difficulty.

In addition to this new clause, I have tabled amendment No. 255, which seeks to tackle the matter in a wider manner. It allows exemption from the provisions of the Bill where the housing authority is satisfied that further sales will unduly disturb the balance of housing set out in the housing plan submitted to the Secretary of State (subject to the Secretary of State's considering such a submission to be reasonable). That goes wider than merely having an effect on rural areas.

The right of the individual to purchase his council house is difficult to lay down from the centre. What may be good for Glasgow may not be good for Ettrick Valley, and vice versa. That is why there should be a wider, more flexible measure in the Bill. Whether or not the Minister accepts the new clause, or my amendment, it is essential that when the Bill goes to the other place there is more satisfactory provision to protect the interest of rural housing stock.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh Central, (Mr. Cook) for the way in which he moved the new clause and for his kind references to my constituency, where the provisions of the Bill are likely to cause severe problems and create acute pressures on the limited housing stock that is at present available to let.

I spoke on this matter on Second Reading. I was not fortunate enough to be a member of the Committee, although my hon. Friends who spent 70 hours discussing the Bill in Committee may not agree that "fortunate" is the right word. On Second Reading I emphasised the need for sufficient houses to be available at reasonable rents throughout Scotland, particularly in rural Scotland, where there are not nearly enough council houses available—as the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) pointed out. I said then that the Government should not sell houses under such circumstances, and I cited my experience as a district councillor representing a rural ward in Berwick district.

During my brief tenure of office as a district councillor there were three council houses in the village of Burnmouth—an attractive fishing village—standing empty. They were pre-war houses that were in need of modernisation. The district council was not prepared to spend the money on modernising them, and it claimed that it could not find tenants for them. In due course, they were sold off. Having had a good deal of money spent on them, they are now being used as holiday homes. That is very nice for the people who have them, but it is a bit galling for those of my constituents in that part of Berwickshire who are living in overcrowded accommodation and who would dearly like to have had the opportunity to rent those houses.

5.30 pm

In another little village in my ward, the district council sold a house to a sitting tenant. I have no quarrel with that. Why should a sitting tenant not buy his house? What was unfortunate was that the council decided not to apply any pre-emption clause in the circumstances. A couple of years later the chap who owned the house decided to sell it, because he wanted to move elsewhere. It was sold on the open market because the district council did not use its option to buy it back. It is now standing partially occupied. That is in a village in which there are only 12 council houses. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central has already indicated the far-reaching effects that the loss of a very small proportion of the available housing stock in an area such as that can have on the amount of housing that is available to let.

This is one of the most important areas of the Bill. I was a little surprised that of the 70-odd hours of debate in Committee, it appears that only half an hour was spent on this issue. The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang), which was accepted by the Government, was not even debated. The amendment was to allow district and island councils to impose 10-year pre-emption conditions on houses in areas where one-third of the council houses had already been sold and where, in the view of the Secretary of State, an unreasonable proportion of those sold had become second homes.

We have been over that issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central and the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles are quite right to indicate that if the clause is applied as it stands it is simply a question of the Secretary of State's having the option of shutting the stable door long after far too many council houses have been disposed of. As it stands, the Bill is not helpful. It is worse than useless.

The key concern over sales of council houses in rural areas is not necessarily the problem of second homes, it is the severe lack of council housing in rural Scotland. According to the Scottish Office report "Housing in Rural Scotland"—which is not officially published ; it fell off the back of a lorry, I understand, but the Minister was kind enough to let me have a copy some months ago—in urban Scotland 58 per cent. of householders live in council housing, as compared with 38 per cent. in rural Scotland. The same report identified the need for more council houses in rural areas. I quote : Many people are not able to command incomes sufficient to meet their basic housing needs in the private sector and reliance on the local authority as a major force in adequate housing provision will continue and probably increase. There are 15,000 families on Scotland's rural housing waiting lists whom local authorities classify as homeless, overcrowded or living in substandard accommodation. That figure does not take account of the large number of workers in tied accommodation, both in the public sector and on farms, who regularly need to be rehoused because of their inherent insecurity, which I think most of us on the Opposition Benches deplore.

When, under the previous Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) was piloting through the House legislation that abolished agricultural tied housing in England, local authorities, farmers and farm workers stated that they felt that the abolition of tied housing in Scotland was not necessary. Perhaps it would be useful to give the Minister fair warning that many people—not only Opposition Members and members of the Labour Party but the NFU and Mr. Henry Crawford, the secretary of the agriculture and forestry section of the Transport and General Workers Union in Scotland—are having second thoughts about this question, precisely because of the effect that the Bill will have on the availability of rented homes in rural areas of Scotland. All sorts of interests in the agriculture industry are now aware that the fact that there is likely to be a loss of a large number of council houses in rural Scotland will lead to a new campaign for the abolition of tied housing in Scotland, as has been done in England.

There is no doubt that the sale of council houses to sitting tenants in rural areas is in direct conflict with the acknowledged need for an expanding public areas is in direct conflict with the ackmajority of Scotland's rural local authorities, of all parties. The Minister ought to take that point on board.

The Government should be prepared to rethink the type of safeguards that need to be applied in rural areas. At the very least, they should consider accepting an amendment such as that which is before the House, which is based on what the Secretary of State for the Environment has already accepted for England. It is clear that this is a reasonable amendment, and that it ought to be accepted. Many housing authorities, and pressure groups such as Shelter, have indicated their concern about the effect of council house sales and this part of the Bill. That applies not only to Labour authorities. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles has already cited the fact that Ettrick and Lauderdale district council is very unhappy about what the Government are doing. Ettrick and Lauderdale overlaps into my constituency, incidentally. Also, East Lothian district council has made it abundantly clear that rather than perform the Minister's role as a cut-price estate agent, it will do everything within the law to avoid selling any of its housing stock, whether it be in rural areas or elsewhere, because of its overriding responsibility to act as a housing authority.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

A moment or two ago I heard the hon. Member say that if someone wanted to buy his house he ought to be allowed to do so. What he is now saying appears to be in contradiction to that.

Mr. Home Robertson

No, that was not the point that I was making. I accept the sale of council houses where there is sufficient housing stock available to let. Where that is not so, it is unreasonable and irresponsible to be flogging them off. What is more, there is ample evidence that the point of view that I have just stated is accepted by the people of Scotland. The Minister will recall the district council elections only last month. In the East Lothian district the Labour majority was increased, in spite of the fact that there was a strident Conservative campaign to bribe tenants with offers of the sale of their council houses to them on the cheap.

It is clear that tenants are not fooled by these bogus deals that are being offered. They are not fooled by an offer that could lead only to longer housing lists, particularly in rural Scotland. I sincerely hope that the Minister and the House will accept the new clause.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I rise to support the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and the new clause. I think that most members of the Standing Committee on the Bill left it with considerable reservations about the effects of the Government's proposals in relation to rural housing. There was a great deal of opposition to the sale of council houses in urban areas, but it was recognised in Committee that a fair number of the local authorities in rural areas also had profound reservations about the effects of the Government's intention to go ahead with the sale of houses in areas in which there had been a shortage of houses for letting.

The point has been readily made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central that in rural areas there is an entirely different pattern of housing tenure from that of urban areas. It would be difficult to find a fixed pattern in the rural areas of Scotland. We know only that the housing pattern is considerably different. The Government's arrangements provide very little control over sales. As a result, even fewer houses will be available to those who cannot afford to buy their own homes. If people cannot find houses, they may be forced to leave the district.

We must consider the problem of rural depopulation. Young people who do not have any capital and who wish to set up house in the locality will find that they cannot do so. They may be driven out. That factor has not been stressed sufficiently. My right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has been detained in the Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. However, he specifically wished me to refer to the Western Isles district council's opposition to the proposal. My right hon. Friend strongly supports that opposition. If there is no change in the Bill, it will lead to a shortage of houses and to rural depopulation. Age levels in rural areas will rise. There may be insufficient local authority housing for key workers and for incoming workers. One could spell out a variety of situations.

The Government do not see any difficulty about holiday homes or second homes. Dr. W. M. Mclntyre, of Edinburgh, sent me a copy of a letter dated 22 January 1980. It was sent by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The Under-Secretary of State referred to the findings of the Darlington amenity research trust. Apparently, the trust reported on second homes in Scotland in 1977. The report showed that there had been no overall growth in the number of holiday homes since 1973. We do not have any information about the pattern of holiday homes between 1977 and 1980. However, more and more commuters are moving out of cities and into rural areas. They have an effect on housing stocks. Such commuters can probably get a high price for their homes in city centres. They can command access to houses in rural areas. As a result, house prices in rural areas have increased and local people—particularly the young, who have been unable to get a council house but who wish to leave home—find that they are deprived of access to the market.

I should like to quote the last sentence of the answer from the Scottish Office. It refers to council houses. The Under-Secretary wrote : If more are needed, it will be for the housing authority to make provision by allocating capital to new building programmes. I admit that that letter was written a few months ago, before the Government's latest changes in housing finance. As every hon. Member will know, the amount of money available for new housing in Scotland has been slashed to the bone. As a result, no funds will be available for the provision of new houses to meet the shortage that the Government have admitted might result from the sale of existing housing stock.

5.45 pm

We appreciate that we cannot browbeat the Government, but the other place may be able to do that when they consider the Bill. The Government should bear in mind that local authorities, those who live in rural areas, and those who have studied the effects of the proposed changes are worried. The Government should consider some of the amendments that have been suggested this afternoon. I cannot speak with any authority about rural areas, as I do not represent one. However, I understand that the high cost and shortage of public transport, the closures of garages by the big petroleum companies and the restrictions on shopping mean that rural commuities are under considerable pressure. The sale of council houses may have a domino effect. A chain reaction may occur with serious consequences for local communities.

I support the new clause and the amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). However, I believe that the Government should also consider amendments Nos. 69 and 72, which stand in my name. They relate to the amendment that the Government accepted in Committee. At the time, I felt that that amendment was almost cosmetic, because it sought to deal with the considerable criticism that had come from local authorities. It tried to disarm that criticism. However, it had no effect on the Government's basic intention to dispose of houses in rural areas. If the Government have accepted the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) they must accept that there is worry and concern about the impact of sales.

Perhaps I could suggest a further step. If the Government accept amendment No. 69, and if paragraph (a) is deleted—it lays down a restriction on the right to control sales through pre-emption to the standard of one-third of the dwelling houses sold—an artificial barrier will be removed. The figure of one-third is unnecessary and rigid. There is no reason why one-third should be the standard.

Amendment No. 72 would give the Secretary of State some discretion in relation to the arguments and reasons propounded by local authorities. There may be an unsatisfied demand for local council houses. It might be thought that pre-emption rights should apply earlier than the Government have proposed. If the Government accept amendment No. 72, the paragraph will read An order under subsection (6) above should be made when … the Secretary of State is satisfied that an unreasonable proportion of the houses sold have been resold, and are not being used as the only or principal home of the owner, or the Secretary of State is satisfied there is an unsatisfied local demand for houses. Where there is an unsatisfied local demand, it is essential that the local authority should have the right to apply for an order allowing it to build the right of pre-emption into the sales. That would allow local authorities to claw back houses to deal with local needs. The Government are depriving them of the opportunity to build alternative housing stocks and to replace those sold.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I would not argue with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) on the general issue, but I wonder what he means by the phrase "unsatisfied local demand". It is somewhat vague. One could easily have a situation in which there was no problem in the burghs but there was in the landward areas.

Mr. Wilson

That is a reasonable point. It would be covered by the terms in which the amendment is phrased. That would lead effectively to the right of the Secretary of State to use his judgment in the light of the arguments put forward. He would have to satisfy himself that there was an unsatisfied local demand. The Secretary of State would judge the meaning of the word "local", and there should be no difficulty in reaching such a judgment, especially as lawyers and parliamentarians are so fond of that word. The amendment would allow the Secretary of State the opportunity to consider the question. At present he is deprived of that opportunity.

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I am very pleased to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson). I am grateful for his support and only wish that he had been present on the night that we debated this matter in Committee. Then he would have been able to vote along the lines that he has just argued.

The new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) would meet many of the misgivings expressed in Committee, when the Government accepted only a figleaf amendment. I use the expression "figleaf", because it covered very little. On the other hand, the nature of the so-called revolt was such that there was precious little to cover in the first place.

If we reached the stage at which one-third of the housing was sold it would be too late to act. Hon. Members have pointed out that the house letting systems, the queueing systems and the waiting lists of local authorities vary across the country. It is quite possible that in some very small hamlets there would be a gross distortion of the ownership of the housing stock in a short time. In that case the legislation might well be far too insensitive.

It is fair to say that we need a greater assurance about "unreasonableness" in relation to second homes. I do not have a constituency interest in second homes, but I have among my constituents an ever-increasing number who seek to buy houses in relatively remote but very attractive and centrally-located parts of central Scotland. I refer to villages such as Standburn and Limerig which are fairly accessible to the motorways running through central Scotland. In the county of Clackmannan there are villages such as Forest Mill, in which there are only about 20 houses. In that case all the houses but one are owned by the local authority. The people who live in these places usually work in the villages or on the farms around them. Therefore, these problems are not peculiar to the nether reaches of the country. All of us with constituencies outside the urban areas can claim to have them. We can all realistically point to parts of our constituencies where these problems could arise.

The real difficulty is that the members of the work force in these areas do not receive particularly high wages. Therefore, the opportunities for young people with families to purchase houses outside the public sector are very limited. It is certainly fair to say that the quality of housing available outside the public sector, which such people could afford to buy, would be of such a nature that it would not be an economic proposition. I refer particularly to ruined cottages, which would need considerable work and renovation. Most young people with whom I am concerned have neither the time nor the money to buy such properties and bring them up to a tolerable standard.

We have seen the Scottish Development Department's report, which claims that there is a greater and increasing reliance on public sector housing in rural areas. In this instance it appears that the Department of the Environment has accepted the Scottish Development Department's report, although the Under-Secretary has chosen to ignore it for the ideological, doctrinaire reasons which were the hallmark of the manner in which he pushed through the Bill in the Standing Committee upstairs. I hope that the milder, more moderate counsel of the Secretary of State will secure a change of heart in the Government. However, I despair of that, because I know that at present the Scottish Office is just a puppet of the Whitehall machine and we can expect precious little in that respect.

The proposition that was put forward by the Department of the Environment for England and Wales would, in this instance, be acceptable in Scotland. I am not prepared to extend tins argument to other parts of the legislation, but in this case the Department seems to have got it right. I am surprised about that, because it seems to have got everything else wrong. However, in this case it has shown a greater appreciation of the needs of rural areas. I hope that by accepting the new clause we can go some way towards allaying the fears of those who live in rural areas.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I wish to make only one brief point to supplement the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). He referred to the problem caused by the cuts in the House building programme and the way in which this will exacerbate the difficulties in rural areas. This will not occur only in purely rural areas, or in areas where the majority of local authority housing stock has been built by the local authority. For example, in Inverness, which has a very long housing waiting list—to which I have drawn attention previously—the effect of the Government's cutback is that the Scottish special housing programme, which had planned about 305 houses in the burgh, is likely to be cut in half. That is an example of pressure of demand but it will be even more difficult to meet, particularly if stock is being sold off in an unrestrained and uncontrolled fashion.

The problem in Scotland is that the availability of local authority housing stock is uneven. It is not the same in the North and East as it is in the West. Therefore, it does not respond readily to an across-the-board treatment. The Government should earnestly consider some way of making allowances for the rural problem, which has been well emphasised tonight, and equally, for the problem faced by quite large burghs which lack the necessary stock to meet the demand that clearly exists.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Due to another commitment, I was unable to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) move the new clause, and I hesitate to participate in the debate. However, this is an important matter, and one of the areas in which the Government are most vulnerable in this legislation.

6 pm

There is considerable opposition among Government supporters to the effects that the Bill will have on rural housing. The attitude taken by Scottish Ministers should be compared with the attitude of English Ministers in regard to rural housing. There is an overwhelming case for reversing the Government's approach to disposing of council houses in rural areas. That is why the Government are vulnerable.

I shall confine myself to one issue—the position of farm workers and their families in rural areas. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) drew attention to the important difference between English and Scottish farm workers. The previous Labour Government introduced the Rent (Agriculture) Act, which gave English and Weish farm workers and their families security of tenure. That legislation put a specific obligation on housing authorities in England and Wales to provide alternative accommodation for ex-farm workers, where a case could be made that the farmer required the house for an incoming worker. It eliminated the legislative right of a farmer to get rid of a farm worker in a tied cottage on the grounds of agricultural need.

The only basis on which a farm worker can be asked to leave a tied cottage in England and Wales is that the local authority has provided suitable alternative housing. There is agreement that the Labour Party will implement that policy in Scotland, and I do not doubt that the next Labour Government will do just that. There is a strong case for the provision of council housing in England and Wales for farm workers who move to alternative employment, who are unable to work on the farm or who retire.

In England and Wales a farm worker can refuse to move from his tenanted cottage. That is not so in Scotland. In Scotland, a fanner can still evict a farm worker and his family on the basis of agricultural need. A farm worker is still dependent on the good will of his employer, a position which is intolerable. Pressure can be put on a farm worker in a tied agricultural cottage. The need for alternative council housing in Scotland is therefore much greater than in England and Wales. The Government's policy is outrageous and damaging.

I support the new clause. My hon. Friend will be the first to admit that it will not eliminate the dangers in the Bill for farm workers and their families. The only way to do that would be to eliminate council house sales in rural areas and to build more council houses in villages. However, diminishing the rate of loss of council houses in rural areas will at least help to mitigate the damage.

We should not forget that we are discussing workers who serve their country well and who, under successive Governments have been underpaid for decades. Their aspirations to move to a council house in a village or rural area, especially when they retire, will now be shattered. Some of these rural council houses are among the most desirable housing and are likely to be snapped up quickly. It is callous for Scottish Ministers to pursue this policy, which is more extreme than that in England and Wales, and more extreme than even that advocated by Right-wingers such as the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I hope that the Government will show some concern for the plight of the farm worker who is about to retire, who wants to move to alternative housing, or who simply wants no longer to live in a tied agricultural cottage.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

The debate has been interesting and wide-ranging. It has not been joined by Conservative Members representing rural Scottish constituencies, who are not all tied up with the Finance Bill or the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. Even if they were, provision could have been made for them.

Mr. Henderson

The reason is simple. We believe that the Government's concessions to rural areas are adequate to meet any problems that may exist. Many of the issues raised by Labour Members are not relevant to the real problems.

Mr. Robertson

In Committee, when the hon. Gentleman occasionally rose, ostensibly to support the Minister, he usually provided a diversion. It would have been preferable to have a response to the points raised in the debate instead of a glib expression of support for the Government.

Genuine concern has been expressed by district councils in Scotland about how this feeble protection will work. It is only a short time since the election, when the Conservative Party managed, sometimes only narrowly, to regain certain rural constituencies from the nationalist foe. The Government are now blatantly ignoring the genuine concern expressed by locally elected representatives.

We have raised simple and practical points about the operation of this part of the Bill, but it is unlikely that we shall have much satisfaction from the Minister. We have heard nothing from Conservative Members who represent rural areas to suggest that they are satisfied with the Government's solutions.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) said, there is a clear and unequivocal manifesto commitment by the Conservatives to look after the interests of rural areas. The manifesto stated that We shall therefore give council and new town tenants the legal right to buy their homes, while recognising the special circumstances of rural areas and sheltered housing for the elderly. That commitment has been carried forward in the Housing Bill, now in another place. However feeble the protection, it has at least been afforded. Even that feeble solution brooks no comparison with that foisted on us in Committee a few weeks ago. Hon. Members have pointed out the serious defects in that proposed solution.

Why was the one-third figure chosen as the limit beyond which a crisis is to be assumed to have developed? By the time one-third of the houses have been sold the crisis clearly will have arrived. A council taking its case to St. Andrew's House will simply be locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. There has been no genuine defence of the one-third figure. It was plucked out of the air to give some credence to or technical justification for the Government's proposed solution.

The definition of a second home creates a real problem. The fail-safe device relates only to houses sold as second homes. It ignores the problem identied by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Roberston) and the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) of a growing influx of commuters who could seriously affect the balance in rural communities. That will cause difficulties in the social mix and affect the genuine needs of local people for houses for rent.

A blanket solution is to be applied throughout Scotland, irrespective of the urban/rural mix in some district and island authorities. The practicalities have not been examined seriously. Amendment No. 9 would delete clause 4(7) and remove the absurd Government restrictions on applications that the island and district councils might make. Under the amendment the Secretary of State will be able to make a decision without the contraints in that part of the Bill. That will give flexibility to district councils which might be in a better position to judge whether a crisis has developed. It will give flexibility to the Secretary of State to judge whether a council's anxiety is valid. Clause 4(7) is full of holes, and will cause enormous problems to the Secretary of State and local councils. It would be a gesture to local democracy if the Government accepted the amendment

In opposition, the Conservative Party believes in local government and local decisions. How many times did we hear speeches from the Opposition Front Bench in the last Parliament on the Education Bill and after the Education Bill when members of the Tory Party proclaimed their faith in local democracy? They insisted that local communities should be able to decide, irrespective of national circumstances, on their own education systems. Now we are talking about the Government tightening controls on local authorities. Clause 4(7) is yet another illustration of the way in which the Government are trying to ham-string local authorities.

Our anxiety is not only about the resale of council houses for second homes, although, of course, that is a serious problem for a number of communities. The prospect of holiday homes becoming the rule rather than the exception in rural areas is causing widespread anxiety. Our concern is for the basic housing needs of people who live in rural communities. Government statistics contained in the document on housing in rural Scotland show that in the urban areas 58 per cent. of housing stock is in the public sector and that in the rural areas only 38 per cent is provided by the public sector. People on low incomes who are starting out in life must turn to the public sector for their first homes. Any move that reduces such housing stock in rural areas is likely to exacerbate the problems.

6.15 pm

This is not a political debate, in spite of the silence from the Government Benches, the unanimity of view on the Opposition Benches and the apparent neglect of the rural areas by most Conservative Members. Local authorities have one voice. Almost all local authorities in the rural areas of Scotland have a genuine and deep anxiety about the sale of council houses. Even before the gains by the Labour Party in May, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, in its submission to hon. Members, stated : Considerable concern has been expressed by authorities about the probable effects of a right to purchase our houses in rural areas. The National Farmers Union, which is not within the orbit of a revolutionary movement, in one of its toughest statements, said of the English Housing Bill : The potential of the Housing Bill's sale proposals to reduce the public rented stock in such areas over a relatively short period of time could, the Union considers, result in the exacerbation of already difficult circumstances. The NFU sees serious problems, even with the feeble protection that the Secretary of State for the Environment has included in the English Housing Bill. How much more valid is that criticism in Scotland, where the protection is even more defective and feeble! Rural communities in Scotland have genuine worries about the impact of the Bill and its sale provisions. The Government are demonstrating irresponsible blindness to the problems.

Far from helping to solve the chronic housing shortage in many rural areas in Scotland the Bill will denude even further the rented housing stock. It shows the contempt of the Government for the genuine democratic voice of Scotland's local areas. The Government's range of amendments strengthen their proposals.

Mr. Rifkind I have listened carefully to the speeches that have been made. I fully acknowledge the seriousness with which the topic is regarded. The Government do not seek to suggest that the sale of council houses in rural areas is not important. It is as important as the sale of council houses elsewhere. We see no reason to apologise for the proposition that it is right that council tenants who happen to live in rural areas should have the same basic statutory rights as council tenants in urban areas. I am glad to see that the Liberal Bench at least agrees with that proposition. It would be wrong if a new fundamental right that was being given to council tenants in Scotland—the right to buy their home—and presented as a general right for the people of Scotland, was available only to those who happened to live in urban areas. There would have been strong protests if rural areas had been exempted from a basic fundamental right that a tenants' rights Bill provides.

Opposition Members have indicated surprise that provisions contained in the Housing Bill for England and Wales do not exist in the Scottish Bill. There are many differences between the two Bills. Labour Members would have been the first to criticise if we had sought to follow slavishly a Bill for England and Wales and had not sought to take account of circumstances in Scotland. Second homes are a serious problem, at least in certain parts of England and Wales. That is not a proposition that can be put forward with any confidence today. Nor was any evidence produced in Committee on this matter. There has been reference to the report of the Dartington amenity research trust, which was published two or three years ago. There is no evidence to suggest that circumstances have changed materially since the report was published.

Mr. John Home Robertson

That report referred specifically to holiday homes rather than to second homes. There is a difference.

Mr. Rifkind

If there is a distinction, it is a distinction without a difference. The report looked at the whole question of second homes in Scotland.

Mr. Home Robertson

The hon. Gentleman should read it.

Mr. Rifkind

I have read it. It concludes that there has been no significant increase over the years in the number of second homes in Scotland. Whatever distinction the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) wishes to make, any explosion in the number of holiday or second homes would come within the category of second homes and would be reflected in the statistics.

The inquiry and the report—the basic evidence available—indicated no significant increase over the last few years in the number of second homes in Scotland. It was pointed out that about 50 per cent. of the second homes that exist are not houses or cottages, but caravans or other forms of mobile accommodation. Even the global figures available are misleading in this debate.

The report pointed out that the overwhelming number of people who seek second homes or purchase them are not interested in modern council houses that exist in many rural areas in Scotland. They are concerned with the rundown cottage that can be bought relatively cheaply and perhaps improved with basic amenities to provide the limited requirements of a second home, a weekend cottage and an establishment that will be used for only a relatively short time. The last thing that the vast majority of people interested in holiday and second homes want is a block of council houses in a small village in rural areas. That was the evidence on which the Dartington amenity research trust—not a Government or a political body—reached its conclusions.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

What other studies have been carried out since the trust reported in 1977? Have the Government taken account of the drift of commuters out of the cities into rural areas surrounding cities? We are talking not about second homes but about the purchase of primary houses for occupation that may deprive local residents of the opportunity of living in the area where they were born and brought up.

Mr. Rifkind

When people move to an area, the mere fact that they commute to work should not exclude them from having the same rights as other local people in that area. Many of those who commute have always lived in the area but have started commuting because of the non-availability of work.

One of the most interesting conclusions of the research trust document was that 18 per cent. of second homes in Scotland are owned by council tenants. That is not a fact that one would have automatically guessed, but that was the conclusion reached as a result of the study. Some of the assumptions made about the ability of council tenants in Scotland to make provision for themselves should be considered in that light.

I agree that over half of the second homes in Scotland are caravans and mobile homes. The Government are entitled to take that fact into account when considering whether any specific legislative provision is required.

Comments, not particularly favourable, have been made by Opposition Members about the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) and accepted in Committee. It has been suggested that the amendment does not go far enough. The Opposition have also criticised the fact that the amendment will not apply immediately, but only if there seemed to be a significant problem. I make no apology. There is no evidence to suggest that there will be a significant problem, but the Government considered it reasonable to say that if, as matters develop, they were shown to be wrong, there should be provision in the legislation to respond to that need.

The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) was wrong in his reading of the amendment that was agreed in Committee. He suggested in his amendment that to enable particularly secluded rural areas to be protected there would have to be the sale of one-third of the council houses in the area of the district council concerned. If he looks at the provision in the clause he will see that that is not the case. Clause 4 (6) states : Subsection (4) above shall not apply to dwelling-houses in an area which is designated a rural area by the islands or district council within whose area it is situated There is no requirement that an area designated as a rural area has to cover the whole area of the district council. In the example that the right hon. Gentleman gave, it is unlikely that Galashiels could be considered part of a rural area, given the size of that small town. It will be at the discretion of a district or islands council to designate what it believes to be a rural area. If one-third of the council houses are sold within that rural area and it is seen that a substantial proportion are ending up as second homes, the Secretary of State will be able to impose restrictions under this provision. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It would have been unfair and unrealistic to expect one-third of the total council house stock in Ettrick, Lauderdale, or any other district, to be sold. That is not what the amendment said, nor is that what is contained in the Bill.

Mr. David Steel

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting my impression on that point. Why does he tie his caveat to the going of these houses for holiday homes? I do not understand. In my example of four houses in my village, if two go, it means that two are left for the entire community, whether or not the other two have gone for holiday homes.

Mr. Rifkind

It is wrong to talk about two homes going as if they disappear and are not available for the local community. They would not be available to the local community if they were bought as second homes. That is why the amendment that was accepted deals with the problem. We are talking about houses that are sold to the sitting tenant. A person who has bought the house and is living in it, especially in a rural area, is unlikely to sell that house if there is no other house available in the same area. It is not like the situation in a city, where a person may sell a house and there are 1,001 other houses to purchase. Within a small community, unless the individual has chosen to leave that community and that rural area, which is rarer in those areas than it would be in a suburb, he will dispose of the house only if other accommodation is available.

The problem that was put by the local authorities and by others, although without any real evidence, was that of second homes and the belief that houses, once bought, would be sold to outsiders and would not be available. It was therefore right to have an amendment to deal with the matter. The right hon. Gentleman's amendment seeks to link the matter with housing plans. Housing plans and whether the objectives of a plan are endangered are subjective matters. It would be possible for those who sought to frustrate the whole purpose of the Bill in rural areas to seek to use the housing plan, sometimes genuinely, but in other cases in a way that would not be acceptable.

Government amendment No. 68 is included in this group of amendments. If the Secretary of State uses his discretion under the clause, it is right that Parliament should have the opportunity to consider the matter. The amendment proposes that any order should be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

The Government were willing to accept that there are genuine fears, although no significant evidence has been presented in support of those fears. It is because we recognised the fears that we were prepared to accept the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway. If those fears are seen to be justified, not in the whole area of a district council, but in a particular rural area that it has designated, it will be possible to take preventive action. That seems to be a reasonable compromise. The objective evidence of the Dartington amenity research trust does not suggest that second homes or problems relating to them are of great significance in Scotland. We should acknowledge that.

I accept that Opposition Members have been expressing fears about what they believe may happen, but we have to act on the available evidence. The clause deals with the situation that will arise if the Government's view of the evidence turns out to be incorrect. That is a reasonable way to deal with the matter.

6.30 pm
Mr. David Steel

Will the Under-Secretary deal with the point that I raised about retired people in tied cottages wishing to remain in the rural areas? They are not likely to be able to get mortgages and will be dependent on the availability of some rented housing stock in rural areas. Whether that stock goes for holiday homes, to local people or to outsiders, when it is reduced to a tiny proportion the local authority may be unable to meet the housing demands of retired people in tied cottages.

Mr. Rifkind

There is no question of selling houses on the open market.

Mr. Steel

What about afterwards?

Mr. Rifkind

Afterwards is a very long time. The evidence available is that the vast majority of those who have exercised their right to buy council houses are in their forties and early fifties, and not in their seventies or eighties, with only a few years to live in those homes. In both rural and urban areas, we are talking in the vast majority of cases of houses being sold to sitting tenants who have every intention of continuing to live in the house for many years, as do their spouses and children.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that, particularly in rural areas, when a tenant dies his wife has an automatic right to become a successor tenant, and often a son or daughter has a right thereafter. In many cases it is years after the original tenant has died before the house is, even in theory, available for those on the waiting list for council accommodation.

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman has made great play of the fact that in the past those acquiring council houses have been in their forties or fifties. Does he not appreciate that one of the consequences of the substantial concessions in the Bill, which we believe will mean that viable public assets will be sold at knockdown prices, will be that young people will encourage their parents, and sometimes help them financially, to acquire their houses, with a view to making a financial killing in a few years' time?

Mr. Rifkind

I have heard that claim made before, but I have not seen any evidence in support of it. If anyone other than the tenant wishes to be a joint purchaser, the Bill provides that, whether in an urban or a rural area, he will have to have lived in the house for at least six months. The hon. Gentleman is making a speculative case on which no evidence was presented in Committee, and none has become available since then.

Mr. Cook

When I moved the new clause, I referred to the irony of the fact that protection for the rural areas was being provided by Labour Members when most of the areas, concerned are represented by Conservative Members.

It is extraordinary that we can have had a one and a half hour debate without one Conservative Member being prepared to make a speech from the Back Benches on a night when the House is on a three-line Whip. There has not even been a Conservative Back Bench speech to defend the paltry amendment that Conservative Members pressed on their Front Bench in Committee.

We can only assume that the silence of hon. Members who are unwilling to come to the Chamber to defend the protection that they inserted into the Bill in Committee speaks volumes for their embarrassment about the meagre, mugatory nature of the protection provided for the rural areas.

In default of any support from his colleagues, the Minister made a brave attempt at defending an untenable position. I repeat the question that I asked at the outset. Has a single district council in a rural area withdrawn its reservations about the Bill since the amendment was carried in Committee? Has a single council in a rural area heaved a sigh of relief and said "At last we are protected. We need not worry."? Of course, none has. The overwhelming preponderance of councils in rural areas remain as anxious about the effect of the Bill on them as they were before the amendment was carried.

The Under-Secretary made great play of the second home argument and referred to the Dartington amenity research trust report. I remind him that although the trust said that it believed that the demand for second homes had stabilised over recent years, it added a rider.

Mr. William Hamilton (Central Fife)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to appeal to hon. Members who are beyond the Bar, and therefore beyond your control, to go outside if they wish to talk while the debate is going on. That would enable hon. Members to hear what is being said.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

I could hear quite well what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) was saying.

Mr. Hamilton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is not a joke. I am in the Chamber to listen to the debate. If other hon. Members are not prepared to listen they should get out.

Mr. Cook

I see from the annunciators that I ought to be in the Finance Bill Committee, but we shall have to concede that the Government are about to win a Division in that Committee.

I am grateful for your assurance that you can hear me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That encourages me to go back to the point that I was making. The Dartington report said that the demand for second homes in Scotland had stabilised, but it added the rider that if economic growth were resumed it would expect that the demand for second homes would grow again. I presume that we can discount the pcsibility of economic growth under the present Government. The Minister clearly does not expect that there will be a resumed demand for second homes.

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing surprising about the fact that 18 per cent. of second homes in Scotland are owned by council tenants. They make up 55 per cent. of the population in Scotland and if there is anything striking about the statistics, it is the difference between the two figures.

The essential point about the debate is that, when the Government constantly emphasise that there is not a substantial threat from second homes they demolish the amendment, carried in Committee, that is supposed to provide protection for rural areas, because that protection will come into play only if there is a material threat from second homes. If the demand for second homes does not materialise, there is no protection under the amendment carried in Committee.

Mr. Rifkind indicated assent.

Mr. Cook

I am glad that the Under-Secretary agrees. He is confirming that the alleged protection is a dead letter. It will do nothing to protect the special circumstances of rural areas, which the Conservative Party said in its manifesto that it would protect. Having heard the

Minister's reply, I am moved to wonder what the Tory Party thought were the special circumstances of rural areas when it put that commitment in its manifesto. It seems from the Minister's reply that there are no special circumstances. Under the Bill, rural areas are to be treated in the same way as urban areas.

There are special circumstances. Already, there are fewer houses available for letting in rural areas than there are in the cities. The Minister says that when the houses are sold they will not disappear and he argues that they will remain with the same family for two or three decades. I am again struck by the contrast between the Government's argument that we must sell council houses in order to encourage mobility and their fixed faith that the person who buys a council house will stay rooted to the spot for 20 or 30 years.

In regard to the Under-Secretary's reply to the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), however long "afterwards" may be, the fact remains that in future access to these houses will be by purchase rather than by renting. Those young families who are unable to purchase houses in rural areas will have their choice substantially reduced by the effect of this Bill which fails to provide any protection to rural areas.

There are indeed special circumstances in the rural areas. They are recognised by virtually every council representative in the Scottish rural areas who has pressed for protection. I believe that those special circumstances should be recognised by the House and I urge the House to support the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :—

The House divided : Ayes 219. Noes 262.

Division No. 350] AYES [6.40 pm
Abse, Leo Beith, A. J Cant, R. B.
Adams, Allen Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Carter-Jones, Lewis
Allaun, Frank Bidwell, Sydney Cartwright, John
Alton, David Booth, Rt Hon Albert Clark, Or David (South Shields)
Anderson, Donald Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bradley, Tom Cohen, Stanley
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Bray, Dr Jeremy Coleman, Donald
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Ashton, Joe Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Conian, Bernard
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Buchan, Norman Cook, Robin F.
Bagler, Gordon A. T. Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Cowans, Harry
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Campbell, Ian Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Campbell-Savours, Dale Crowther, J. S.
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Janner, Hon Greville Robertson, Georg
Cunningham, George (lslington S) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Robinson, Petar (Belfast East)
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven) John, Brynmor Rodgers, Rt Hon Wllliam
Dalyell, Tam Johnson, James (Hull West) Rooker, J. W.
Davidson, Arthur Johnson, Walter (Derby South) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Rowlands, Ted
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ryman, John
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sandelson, Neville
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sever, John
Dewar, Donald Kerr, Russell Sheerman, Barry
Dixon, Donald Kilroy-Sllk, Robert Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Dobson, Frank Lamble, David Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Dormand, Jack Lamborn, Harry Short, Mrs Renée
Douglas, Dick Lamond, James Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Douglas-Man", Bruce Leadbitter, Ted Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwlch)
Dubs, Alfred Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Silverman, Julius
Duffy, A. E. P. Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Skinner, Dennis
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Lofthouse, Geoffrey Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Dunnett, Jack Lyon, Alexander (York) Snape, Peter
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Soley, Clive
Eastham, Ken Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Spearing, Nigel
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) McCartney, Hugh Sprlggs, Leslie
English, Michael McDonald, Dr Oonagh Steel, Rt Hon David
Evans, loan (Aberdare) McKay, Allen (Penistone) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Evans, John (Newton) McKelvey, William Stott, Roger
Ewing, Harry Maclennan, Robert Strang, Gavin
Field, Frank Magee, Bryan Straw, Jack
Fitch, Alan Marks, Kenneth Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Flannery, Martin Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Maxton, John Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Forrester, John Maynard, Miss Joan Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Foster, Derek Meacher, Michael Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Foulkea, George Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Tilley, John
Fraser, John (Lambeth. Norwood) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Torney, Tom
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
George, Bruce Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, ltchen) Watkins, David
Ginsburg, David Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Weetch, Ken
Graham, Ted Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Wellbeloved, James
Grant, George (Morpeth) Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Weish, Michael
Grant, John (Islington C) Newens, Stanley White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) O'Halloran, Michael Whitehead, Phillip
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) O'Neill, Martin Whitlock, William
Hardy, Peter Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wigley, Dafydd
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Palmer, Arthur Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Haynes, Frank Park, George Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Parker, John Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Pavitt, Laurie Winnick, David
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhalt) Pendry, Tom Woodall, Alec
Home Robertson, John Penhaligon, David Woolmer, Kenneth
Homewood, William Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hooley, Frank Prescott, John Young, David (Bolton East)
Horam, John Radice, Giles
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm N) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) TELLERS FOR THE AYES :
Howells, Geraint Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Mr. James Tinn and
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North) Mr. George Morion.
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)
Adley, Robert Boscawen, Hon Robert Cadbury, Jocelyn
Aitken, Jonathan Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Alexander, Richard Bowden, Andrew Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Tom Boyson, Dr Rhodes Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)
Aspinwall, Jack Braine, Sir Bernard Chalker, Mrs. Lynda
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Bright, Graham Channon, Paul
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Brinton, Tim Chapman, Sydney
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Brittan, Leon Churchill, W. S.
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)
Banks, Robert Brooke, Hon Peter Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)
Bell, Sir Ronald Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Bendall, Vivian Browne, John (Winchester) Colvin, Michael
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Bruce-Gardyna, John Cormack, Patrick
Beat, Keith Bryan, Sir Paul Corrie, John
Bevan, David Gilroy Buck, Antony Costain, A. P.
Biffen, Rt Hon John Budgen, Nick Cranborne, Viscount
Biggs-Davison, John Bulmer, Esmond Critchley, Julian
Blackburn, John Burden, F. A. Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Body, Richard Butcher, John Dickens, Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Butler, Hon Adam Dorrell, Stephen
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Langford-Holt, Sir John Rees-Davies, W. R.
Dover, Denshore Latham, Michael Renton, Tim
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lawrence, Ivan Rhodes James, Robert
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lawson, Nigel Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lee, John Ridsdale, Julian
Edward", Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rifkind, Malcolm
Eggar, Timothy Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Emery, Peter Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Falrbairn, Nicholas Loveridge, John Rossi, Hugh
Fairgrleve, Russell Lyell, Nicholas Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Faith, Mrs Sheila McCrindie, Robert St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Farr, John Macfarlane, Neil Scott, Nicholas
Fenner, Mrs Peggy MacGregor, John Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Finsberg, Geoffrey MacKay, John (Argyll) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hllls)
Fookes, Miss Janet McQuarrie, Albert Silvester, Fred
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Madel, David Sims, Roger
Fox, Marcus Major, John Skeet, T. H. H.
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Marland, Paul Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Marlow, Tony Speller, Tony
Fry, Peter Marten, Neil (Banbury) Spence, John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mates, Michael Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Glyn, Dr Alan Mather, Carol Stanley, John
Goodhew, Victor Maude, Rt Hon Angus Steen, Anthony
Gow, lan Mawby, Ray Stevens, Martin
Gower, Sir Raymond Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stewart, lan (Hitchin)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Gray, Hamish Mayhew, Patrick Stokes, John
Greenway, Harry Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Meyer, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Peter
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Grist, lan Mills, lain (Meriden) Tebbit, Norman
Grylls, Michael Miscampbeil, Norman Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Gummer, John Selwyn Moate", Roger Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Monro, Hector Thompson, Donald
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Montgomery, Fergus Thornton, Malcolm
Hampson, Dr Keith Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Hannam, John Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Trippier, David
Haselhurst, Alan Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Trotter, Neville
Hastings, Stephen Mudd, David van Straubenzee, W. R.
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Murphy, Christopher Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Hawkins, Paul Myles, David Viggers, Peter
Hayhoe, Barney Neale, Gerrard Waddington, David
Heddle, John Needham, Richard Wakeham, John
Henderson, Barry Nelson, Anthony Waldegrave, Hon William
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Neubert, Michael Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Newton, Tony Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Nott, Rt Hon John Waller, Gary
Hooson, Tom Onslow, Cranley Walters, Dennis
Hordern, Peter Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Ward, John
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Parris, Matthew Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Patten, Christopher (Bath) Wheeler, John
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Patten, John (Oxford) Whitney, Raymond
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Pattie, Geoffrey Wickenden, Keith
Jenkln, Rt Hon Patrick Pawsey, James Wiggin, Jerry
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Pink, R. Bonner Wilkinson, John
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Pollock, Alexander Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Kaberry, Sir Donald Porter, George Winterton, Nicholas
Kershaw, Anthony Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wolfson, Mark
Kimball, Marcus Price, David (Eastleigh) Young, Sir George (Acton)
King, Rt Hon Tom Prior, Rt Hon James Younger, Rt Hon George
Kitson, Sir Timothy Proctor, K. Harvey
Knight, Mrs Jill Pym, Rt Hon Francis TELLERS FOR THE NOES :
Knox, David Raison, Timothy Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Lamont, Norman Rathbone, Tim Mr. Anthony Berry.
Lang, lan Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)

Question accordingly negatived.

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