HC Deb 10 June 1980 vol 986 cc469-87

Where prior to this Act a landlord has invited a public sector tenant to purchase the dwelling house of which he is tenant and where the tenant has made a formal application to purchase the dwelling house and paid any fees or expenses solicited by the landlord and where the landlord has unilaterally revoked the intended sale before a contract has been entered into, the landlord shall repay to the tenant any fees or expenses outlaid by the tenant to the landlord and shall indemnify the tenant against any reasonable loan, survey and legal expenses incurred by the tenant in relation to the revoked purchase.'.—[Mr. Gordon Wilson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

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

The clause raises an issue of principle for tenants who have been caught and driven under by the political steamroller or involved in personal loss for reasons for which they are not at fault.

I shall read the clause because it sets out a sequence of events that has taken place. I suggest that the terms of the clause will almost meet with agreement on that ground alone. It states : Where prior to this Act a landlord has invited a public sector tenant to purchase the dwelling house of which he is tenant and where the tenant has made a formal application to purchase the dwelling house and paid any fees or expenses solicited by the landlord and where the landlord has unilaterally revoked the intended sale before a contract has been entered into, the landlord shall repay to the tenant any fees or expenses outlaid by the tenant to the landlord and shall indemnify the tenant against any reasonable loan, survey and legal expenses incurred by the tenant in relation to the revoked purchase. The background to the clause is that prior to the recent local elections certain local authorities approached their tenants and offered to sell houses which were occupied by the tenants to the tenants. On the strength of that they issued application forms to the tenants who came forward. In some instances they invited tenants to pay deposits to indicate a serious interest. In other instances they were invited to pay loan fees or survey fees where a valuation was required. Where a contract or missive of purchase was entered into, that was the end of the matter. There was a legal contract that could be enforceable.

After the local elections there was a change of policy in at least one local authority. I am content to argue the issue as much in general terms as in the particular. However, the Dundee district council revoked the intended sales by a political decision. No one can doubt that as the elected local authority it was entitled to do so. However, I question whether it was correct in taking the action that it did.

A corporate entity such as a local authority is a continuing body, a corporation, although it may change hands in political terms. If that body has encouraged people to enter into intended sales of houses under a previous management, it should not apply its change of policy to those who have been caught up with the previous administration. The events in Dundee, which were repeated in other areas, and the change of policy became retrospective.

There could be argument whether the original policy should have been maintained for those tenants who entered into, or who intended to enter into, agreements with the local authority. That is an irrelevant consideration, for two reasons. First, one or more of the tenants in Dundee sought legal advice whether there might be some way in which they could enforce their rights in the courts. One such tenant may be taking a case to court. Secondly, if the Bill becomes law, as appears to be the case, and if there are no flaws in it, the same tenants may apply to the local authority to purchase then-houses under clause 1. If they do that, the same tenants will be forced to pay certain expenses twice.

I assume—I think that it is correct—that Dundee district council will agree, in the particular case that I mentioned, to refund the deposit that was accepted. Perhaps it will be able to refund some of the survey fees and other charges that it collected. However, the tenants, even though they may get back some of the money that they laid out to the local authority, will still have to pay their own surveyors, or, if they went to a building society, the building society loan fees and their solicitors for any work that has been done. It is unfair that tenants should have to do that twice if they pursue their rights under this measure a second time round.

It may be that the form of redress open to tenants in the case that I mentioned is to take the local authority to the Local Authority Commissioner, or Ombudsman, on the grounds of maladministration. That will not deal in any way with the money that they have paid out, which was solicited from them by the local authority for a transaction into which they individually entered in good faith. That is the main point. They entered into that agreement, and intended to go through with the purchase, in good faith. On the strength of the invitation that they received from a responsible local authority or authorities, they laid out their funds.

My new clause seeks to do two things, in the circumstances described. First it seeks to cause the local authority concerned to repay to the tenant any sums that he may have paid to the local authority. So far so good. I cannot see any legal reason why the local authority might not be able to do that. That would be within its authority.

11.15 pm

Secondly, the clause—this is where the legislation would be necessary—seeks to cause the local authority to indemnify the tenant against any reasonable loan, survey and legal expenses that that tenant has had to pay because of the original invitation to take part in the transaction and the subsequent unilateral decision of the local authority to revoke the arrangement.

The clause is necessary because it may well be outside the powers of local authorities to indemnify the tenant for these expenses. There is a moral case—certainly a strong case—that whatever else may happen in relation to the battle between the local authority and the Government, the tenants themselves, as individuals, do not suffer.

It has been accepted for many years that individuals who are affected by local authority decisions should receive compensation if they suffer material financial loss. I can take the examples of compensation for compulsory purchase or, indeed, disturbance payments paid to tenants when they have to move from a block that is taken down, or payments that are sometimes made as dislocation expenses for tenants who move from a house, to cover removal expenses for decanting when modernisation work takes place, or the grants that are made available for double glazing windows because of airport noise, where the public good, requiring aircraft movements, causes disturbance to tenants whose premises are, unfortunately, located near airports, or again, where planning decisions are taken, or are held up, and a claim arises for blight. In those circumstances, the owner is indemnified against decisions taken by the local authority. I think that a strong case for compensation has been established.

I commend the attitude of the district secretary of the Labour Party in Dundee, Mr. George Galloway. At a recent meeting at which this matter was discussed, he pledged—allegedly speaking on behalf of the Labour Party—that the administration would reimburse people who stood to lose money. That was subsequently overturned by elected councillors in Dundee, who objected to a party official taking a decision on their behalf. Nevertheless, Mr. Galloway's attitude was correct. I never thought that I would support Mr. Galloway in that direction but his sentiments towards equity were better balanced than those of the district council.

This is a question of fairness to prevent injustice to individual tenants who, regardless of their political views, have been affected by a change of policy, legitimate or otherwise, by the local authority. I think that the House should stand on the side of the individuals concerned and agree to indemnify them against the loss that they have sustained.

Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) dressed up the new clause as being of general application to Scotland, but he was talking about and dealing with Dundee district council.

Constituents of mine in the Dundee district council area have similarly been caught. Having been invited by the previous Tory-controlled Dundee district council to make applications, and having done so, they find that what they set out to do has been taken away from them. This is not a technical point. Within my constituency I have two examples of single-parent families who have also been caught.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Dundee, East on this matter. The Scottish National Party is now about to reap the whirlwind of its own political ambivalence on the sale of council houses. From my political standpoint, it seems both unfair and disgraceful that the new Labour administration within Dundee should have adopted this attitude, but it is not surprising that it should have taken this line. Both before the district council election and in Committee here the Scottish Labour Party has repeatedly expressed its outright opposition to the sale of council houses. The Scottish National Party has sought to sit on the fence on this issue. It must face the fact that democratically elected local government has the right to make the decision on what is or is not to be sold. Alternatively, the SNP takes the line taken by this Government that it is the statutory right of tenants in Scotland to purchase their council houses. I unashamedly support that view.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order. This new clause relates to indemnity. We have already had a long debate on council house sales.

Mr. Fraser

My argument is that what is being presented, although dressed up in terms of indemnity, is a complaint about the Labour-controlled Dundee district council. I submit that it is not surprising that Dundee district council should have taken this decision. The inevitable consequence of the stand taken by the SNP is this new clause. Whatever political differences I may have with the hon. Member for Dundee, East—I recognise that he is a lawyer of some ability—he must know that the clause is unworkable nonsense. If he were to explain to the House exactly what he meant, in the law of Scotland, by the unilateral revocation of an intended sale, I would be fascinated to know. It is a consequence of the fact that he will not make up his mind that he now finds it necessary to put forward the new clause. He and his party must make up their minds. Do they support the Government on the issue of council nouses or do they support the Opposition? If they make up their minds on that matter the new clause will be unnecessary.

Mr. Ernie Ross

I do not wish to argue the pros and cons of the legality of the matter, being a mere humble proletarian and in no way a member of the legal fraternity. I agree with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser). It is quite clear that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is engaged in a piece of political tomfoolery with the new clause. When Labour councillors in Dundee were in opposition they opposed the Labour Government's proposal that council houses might be sold. They made it clear that they would not——

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

The Labour Government did not suggest that we should sell council houses. I wish that some of my hon. Friends would stop repeating a myth.

Mr. Ross

There are one or two district councils that might disagree with my hon. Friend. I do not wish to debate that issue tonight.

Mr. Brown

I wish that my hon. Friend would listen. Will he give me one instance where we suggested to a housing authority that it should sell a single council house?

Mr. Ross

We shall continue that debate later. The Dundee Labour group had many disagreements with the previous Labour Government about their housing policy, and I have no doubt that there will be further arguments in the future until the policy is correct.

The hon. Member for South Angus is correct. The Labour group in Dundee made it clear that they would not sell council houses. It was the main plank of their election campaign. They are morally bound not to sell council houses. Although they may have some feeling for those who mistakenly took up the option under the previous Conservative administration in Dundee, they do not believe that they have any responsibility towards them. They made it clear that they were likely to be the new administration, and that they would not continue with any sales. It is important to consider the position in Dundee. Although the hon. Member for Dundee, East pretends that the provision covers all local authorities, quite clearly it is aimed at the Dundee district council.

The Labour Party in Dundee has agreed to accept its commitment, as far as it is legally bound to, up to the limit. That involves about 61 houses. It intends to stop sales of houses where the district has simply exchanged prices with the tenant. In the Dundee district there are 40,000 council houses, 5,000 of them in low letting and low demand areas, such as Scarne, Beechwood, Kirkton and Mid Craigie. Those houses will not draw inquiries for sales.

There have been 500 inquiries from council house tenants who evinced a desire to own their homes. Of those 500 inquiries, 80 per cent. were for terraced or semi-detached homes, in what can only be described as the best areas of Dundee. For example, 20 per cent. of the inquiries related to the four in a block, which those who know Dundee will realise are similar to——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The new clause deals with whether indemnity should be given to people who have entered into a legal commitment and incurred expenses. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go through the whole of the policy. We are at present dealing with a very small point.

Mr. Ross

I shall try not to stray too far, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, it is important to give some background——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We have had a long debate on the sale of council houses. This new clause deals with indemnity for anyone who has paid out money and is not able to purchase the house afterwards. Can the hon. Gentleman direct himself to that matter? If not, I shall have to call someone else.

Mr. Ross

I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to cross swords with you. However, I do not think——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not thinking ot crossing swords with me.

Mr. Ross

I do not think that any hon. Gentleman is in any doubt that we are talking about Dundee district council. I am trying to give hon. Members who may wish to participate in the debate, or divide the House, an indication whether they should support the new clause. Therefore, it is important to give some indication whether or not the new clause is worth supporting.

So far as I am concerned, this attempt at retrospective legislation is a piece of t political tomfoolery, which in itself seeks to support the decision taken by a previous local council on the casting vote of the Lord Provost. I believe that Dundee introduced an ill-advised and badly I drawn-up scheme, which goes much further than what is contained in the Bill. For example, the Government scheme suggests that there should be a 33 per cent., loan to those who wish to buy their houses. The Dundee scheme, which we did not accept, gave a 50 per cent. loan to those who wished to buy their houses. It suggested that someone who entered, a house yesterday could buy it, yet that provision is not contained in the Bill. We also disagreed with many other aspects of the Dundee scheme.

Perhaps more important are the points raised by the hon. Member for South Angus. It is not good enough for the hon. Member for Dundee, East simply to try to hide behind this attempt to safeguard some of his constituents. Clearly, he must put on record whether or not he agrees that council houses in Dundee should be sold.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I thought that I had made the point quite clear. We are not discussing whether the houses should be sold. We are discussing whether to give indemnity to people. If the hon. Gentleman cannot come to that point, I shall call another hon. Member.

Mr. Ross

I do not believe that there is a need for the new clause. Those people for whom the hon. Member for Dundee, East seeks to claim indemnity knew quite well that they were liable to suffer some loss, if they are suffering any loss at all, following the May elections. We in Dundee believe that they should have the basic sums of money returned—that is, the money that they put down initially which allowed them to make application to buy the houses. If they wished to go further they were required to pay another £10 for legal expenses to see whether or not they could be given a council mortgage.

We agree that those moneys should be returned, but we do not see any other responsibility in relation to those people. We made our policy quite clear, and I do not see the need for the new clause as it stands.

11.30 pm
Mr. Bill Walker

I declare a constituency interest, in that Dundee district council forms part of my constituency.

There are two reasons why new clause 25 appears on the Amendment Paper. The first is the ambivalent attitude of the Scottish National Party. The second—which should be condemned even more strongly—is the cavalier and callous attitude and action of the Labour administration in Dundee.

This new clause, which is intended to indemnify those individuals who were unfortunate enough to be caught up between one administration and another, is not something that we should brush aside as being of no consequence. The only crime that council house tenants have committed is their honourable desire to purchase the homes in which they live. That is what we should be considering this evening.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I had no intention of participating in this debate, but I found some aspects of it extraordinary. It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) should calmly suggest that it is proper that a person should lose money because an administration changes political hue and that we should take no responsibility for that. It is an extraordinary view.

I failed to understand the speech of the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser). I normally listen with great care, attention and respect to the hon. Gentleman. Whether or not the SNP is in favour of selling council houses has nothing to do with the new clause. The clause is concerned with securing indemnity for persons who have——

Mr. Peter Fraser

My point was that, under the law of Scotland, if there is a contract a legal remedy will be available to the tenant. As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said, those tenants who have been caught have already taken the legal opinion of a Queen's counsel. One way or another they will succeed.

I asked what was meant by the unilateral revocation of an intended sale. If a person goes into a local estate agent and asks him to advise him whether it would be a good idea for him to buy his council house, will he receive his bus fare, the sum of £5, or whatever? It is nonsense, and the hon. Member for Dundee, East knows that it is nonsense. He is a competent lawyer, and he knows that under the law of Scotland it is absurd to attempt to introduce this category in terms of breach of contract. Like the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), I think the new clause is a matter of political tomfoolery.

Mr. Johnston

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that extended intervention. If he is saying that it is his view that the new clause is legally redundant and that the protection of the law already exists, I would be prepared to abide by the view expressed by the Minister. I would also give him the opportunity to intervene and explain the phrase that has been attacked——

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) for giving me the opportunity to intervene—an opportunity mat was not afforded by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser), who refused to accept an intervention.

If a person has a legal remedy, and if there is a legal contract, that situation is provided for. Here, we are dealing with people who submit applications and pay money to the local authority where the price may have been agreed but where there is no formal contract in writing that is needed for the purchase of heritage. In those circumstances, it is not simply a question of going to an estate agent. This is where there are direct relationships between the tenant who wanted to purchase and the local authority that offered to sell.

Mr. Johnston

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. It appears that a number of hon. Members want to intervene. They are helping my understanding of the matter.

Mr. Cook

Perhaps we may nudge forward the hon. Gentleman's understanding a little further. I should like to take up his point about redundancy. I understand that the new clause itself is redundant right down to the second from last line, where we find the words "shall indemnify", because the fees paid are not in question. I understand that the district council has agreed to repay those fees. That is what the House was told. The only part that is in question is the indemnification in the last two or three lines.

I should not like the hon. Gentleman to be under the impression that that is legally redundant. I understand that the clause seeks to create an explicit protection for people who have shown an interest in purchasing a local authority house—a protection that does not exist anywhere in the private sector. People put their houses up for sale and from time to time change their minds and withdraw the offer of sale, but they are under no obligation to refund survey costs undertaken by people who thought that they might buy. Why should a local authority be under a stricter obligation than any private individual putting his house up for sale?

Mr. Johnston

I approach the matter from a very simple point of view—the possibility of injustice to a number of people who approached a public authority on an assurance by the authority that certain property would be available. If the result is that those people spend money in good faith, with a view to purchasing it, that is different from their entering the private property market, where one knows that one may or may not be fortunate ; one is to some extent taking a chance. But one does not expect that a public authority, having given public assurances, will completely renege on them if its political complexion changes.

That is the essentially simple point that I think the lion. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is seeking to make. It should not be clouded by political flim-flammery.

Mr. Younger

I well understand the great concern of my hon. Friends the Members for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) and for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who tabled the clause. I understand their concern, because they have constituents who are affected. I shall briefly try to make clear what is the problem and what my reaction to the clause is.

We are concerned with an attempt by the hon. Gentleman to obtain an indemnity for a local authority tenant who in good faith started the process of trying to buy his own home under the scheme introduced by Dundee district council, and was effecting such a purchase when the council's political control changed following the May elections. We are not discussing the principle of whether council houses should or should not be sold ; we are addressing ourselves to a narrow point.

I understand that where the sale has reached the point at which any form of legal bargain has been struck, that is a matter for the courts. Such a person can take action in the courts if he wishes. If the courts find that the deal must still go through, that is a matter for them, and not for the House or for me. The people affected may decide to act in that way.

However, the hon. Member for Dundee, East, the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) and other hon. Members are concerned about those who may have been in the process but not reached the point where any legal bargain had been struck, but had, in good faith, incurred some costs. Those costs could be a deposit—I understand that that has been involved—or in respect of a survey, and so on, all entered into in good faith with a local authority by ordinary people in ordinary homes trying to exercise a right that they thought that the public authority was giving to them.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) will perhaps note that such people are not normally necessarily aware of the full implications of such matters as May elections. Indeed, many of them, alas, do not even vote in them. Therefore, I think that to expect that all such people involved had a clear close knowledge of what was liable to happen, let alone being able to make a value judgment as to who was likely to win the election, is a bit hard. I shall return to that matter shortly. As far as the principle of the matter is concerned, therefore, that is what we are discussing.

It has been suggested that we should now legislate in retrospect to compel the local authority to pay such an indemnity to these people for something that was done before the date of any legislation of this sort, which I suggest the House should pass. I am very sorry to say that I do not see that it is open to the House to legislate retrospectively in a matter such as this, however much we may feel inclined to favour the cause of these unfortunate tenants. I do not think that we could retrospectively legislate to compel the local authority to indemnify them in arrears when there was no such law at the time that the actions were taken. The principle concerning retrospective legislation is a longstanding one which has always worried the House very much.

The question of what is incurred in the way of costs would, I think, be rather difficult to define, particularly if it were done in arrears. That is another difficulty.

I am not in any way criticising this district council's views now. after the change of control, about selling council houses, because at present there is no law that compels councils to sell council houses. They are perfectly entitled not to do so, just as their predecessors were entitled to decide to draw up a scheme to sell council houses, and did so, very properly—and, of course, I agreed with them. However, if a responsible elected authority decides to use small local people, tenants in their houses, to work off political spite on them, to the effect of possibly causing them considerable financial difficulty, I think that that is the most disgusting piece——

Mr. Ernie Ross rose——

Mr. Younger

I am sorry to have to speak in this way, but I think that that is the most disgusting piece of callous insensitivity that I have heard of any public authority. Opposition Members are all very honourable men, in every respect, but to belong to a party that condones that sort of activity is derjlorable. I hope that they will tell the Dundee Labour Party that it is deplorable. I do not ask anyone to say anything publicly, but I hope that behind the scenes they will tell the Dundee Labour Party that to act in this way towards their ordinary constituents and tenants is quite deplorable and should not be condoned by anyone in a civilised country. I hope that it will not be accepted.

Mr. David Steel

I do not want in any way to minimise the right hon. Gentleman's condemnation, but it is not enough just to condemn what is happening. We should be able to do something about the unfortunate people who are caught in this trap, A few sentences ago the right hon. Gentleman was talking about retrospective legislation. Does not the difficulty arise because in this case the previous authority was acting with regard to prospective legislation? The Bill was not an Act. Many authorities were preparing schemes based on this Bill. Therefore, I think that it is quite fair that we should take that into account in the Bill.

Mr. Younger

I am sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman's point. If he could find a way for me to help the unfortunate tenants of Dundee district council I should do so. However, I do not think that he is correct. The previous district council did not anticipate legislation per se. It drew up a scheme, as it was entitled to do. I accept that it did so on advice. The right hon. Gentleman's idea is ingenious, but I do not think that it will work.

11.45 pm
Mr. Cook

I note the right hon. Gentleman's vigour and determination. However, it is not clear what the Secretary of State expects the Dundee district council to do. When the Labour Party came to power in that area it was committed to halting sales. As the right lion. Gentleman pointed out, it was entitled to do so. It decided not to go ahead with sales for which there were no binding legal contract. What does the right hon. Gentleman suggest the council should do about those referred to in the last few lines of the provision? As local authorities are creatures of statute, and have no binding contract or legal obligation towards those affected, Dundee district council would be unable to make an ex gratia payment—even if it wished to do so—to cover the expenses. It is difficult to understand what the right hon. Gentleman is so angry about.

Mr. Younger

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me an opportunity to spell out the reasons. I hope that he will not mind if I speak frankly. It is incredible that anyone should adopt a bureaucratic attitude to such a situation. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that Dundee district council would find it beyond its powers to honour——

Mr. Cook

Ask it.

Mr. Younger

Dundee district council is as free as its predecessor was to draw up a scheme for the sale of council houses on the terms that it chooses. The hon. Gentleman has asked a direct question. In all decency, if I were a member—that is a thought—of the Dundee Labour Party, I would say that when we came to power we pledged that we would not sell council houses. I would say that we were humane and decent people, and that we knew that about 180 people were trying to exercise the right to buy their houses in good faith, and had spent money. I would point out that although we were members of the Dundee Labour Party we would let those sales go ahead because they had been undertaken in good faith. Most people—with the exception of some members of the Dundee Labour Party—would give me great credit if I were to say that.

I appeal to Dundee district council not to reverse its policy. It should realise that the money and family affairs of ordinary people are more important than political principles. For once, the members of the Dundee Labour Party should act as decent people as well as local politicians.

Mr. Ernie Ross

The Secretary of State spoke about the spite of the local Labour group. We have been unable to discuss the scheme under which people were encouraged to buy assets that did not belong to them. If we had had a chance to discuss that scheme, people might have understood. The previous local authority clearly did not have the support of the people of Dundee. As I suggested earlier, it sought to introduce a scheme that went further than the Bill. The district Labour Party is not a spiteful group of people. It wished to ensure that those who had entered into contracts did not lose money. [Interruption.]

Mr. Cook

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister will accept that we are trying to find a solution to an important problem.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

Then why are we wasting time?

Mr. Cook

It was the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) who provoked me into raising the point of order. If he wishes to save time, he should do the House the courtesy of——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I save time by intervening? The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) was making a speech. I did not intervene, because hon. Members who were present when the hon. Gentleman made his speech are aware that I prevented his bringing out one or two points that he wished to deal with. I do not wish to be discourteous or unfair to the hon. Gentleman. He is seeking to deal with a point that the Secretary of State made, and I hope that the House will allow him a little latitude.

Mr. Ernie Ross

We did not intend to be spiteful. As the right hon. Gentleman said, a difficulty arises in determining who has incurred what expenses. The Labour Party made it clear that the system would be stopped immediately we came to office. It did all in its power to prevent people even entering into agreements or putting down deposits. It went out of its way to make the position clear. It will honour contracts that have been legally undertaken.

Mr. Younger

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, in opposition the Labour Party has no right to expect people to do anything. When the Labour Party is not in power, it does not have power over people. Labour Members must realise that.

The hon. Gentleman still does not quite have the point, which has nothing to do with the principle of selling houses or the scheme. It is a matter of human decency. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will privately take back to his friends in Dundee district this message. They may by all means follow their political creed and wishes. That is the right of us all. However, if they must take it out on someone, let them take it out on me, or on the Tories, but not on their own tenants, who are innocent people.

I say to the hon. Member for Dundee, East that I am sorry, but I do not believe that the scheme would work as a means of indemnifying those involved. I wish that it could. If I could find a way, I should be only too glad to help, but I am afraid that I must ask the House to reject the new clause.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

This is a serious debate. I had intended to make a joke about the new centre party between South Angus and Dundee, West, but I shall not.

We are dealing with human rights and a small number of people. We are not dealing with what the Secretary of State said about the sales going through. Those who in good faith were invited to take part in the transaction, which was revoked, have expended money, not only to the local authority but to professional advisers, building societies, and so on, and they should not be any worse off. The matter comes down to the rights of individuals and human rights. The Secretary of State was right to speak out, but he, too, has his obligations.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the House is wary of retrospection. As I recall the rule, the House is reluctant to legislate retrospectively to the detriment

of individuals, but it has frequently legislated for their benefit, such as on pneumoconiosis and pension schemes. There is no barrier.

Individuals will be defrauded of their resources. They have entered into an arrangement with a public body. People should be able to rely on the good faith and integrity of local authorities. They are continuing bodies, regardless of who is in control at the time.

I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider the matter, but in the circumstances I must press my new clause.

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

The House divided : Ayes 8, Noes 178.

Division No. 353] AYES [11.54 pm
Beith, A. J. Penhaligon, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Howells, Geraint Steel, Rt Hon David Mr. Gordon Wilson and
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Wainwright, Richard (Coins Valley) Mr. Donald Stewart.
Meyer, Sir Anthony Walker, Bill (Perth & Perthshire)
Adley, Robert Eggar, Timothy MacKay, John (Argyll)
Alexander, Richard Elliott, Sir William McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
Aspinwall, Jack Falrbairn, Nicholas McQuarrie, Albert
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Faith, Mrs Sheila Major, John
Banks, Robert Fenner, Mrs Peggy Marland, Paul
Bell, Sir Ronald Fisher, Sir Nigel Marlow, Tony
Bendall, Vivian Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Marten, Neil (Banbury)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Mates, Michael
Best, Keith Fox, Marcus Mather, Carol
Bevan, David Gilroy Garel-Jones, Tristan Maude, Rt Hon Angus
Bitten, Rt Hon John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Blackburn, John Goodhew, Victor Mayhew, Patrick
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gow, Ian Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gower, Sir Raymond Mills, lain (Meriden)
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Miscampbell, Norman
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Greenway, Harry Moate, Roger
Bright, Graham Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Monro, Hector
Brittan, Leon Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Montgomery, Fergus
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Grist, Ian Morrison, Hon Peter (city of Chester)
Brooke, Hon Peter Gummer, John Selwyn Mudd, David
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Murphy, Christopher
Browne, John (Winchester) Hampson, Dr Keith Needham, Richard
Bruce-Gardyne, John Haseihurst, Alan Nelsor, Anthony
Buck, Antony Hastings, Stephen Neubert, Michael
Budgen, Nick Hawkins, Paul Newton, Tony
Butcher, John Hawksley, Warren Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Cadbury, Jocelyn Heddle, John Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Henderson, Barry Parkinson, Cecil
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Parris, Mathew
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Chapman, Sydney Hooson, Tom Pattle, Geoffrey
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Pawsey, James
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Hunt, David (Wirral) Pink, R. Bonner
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pollock, Alexander
Colvin, Michael Kurd, Hon Douglas Proctor, K. Harvey
Cope, John Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Corrie, John Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Costain, A. P. Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Cranborne, Viscount Knox, David Rhodes James, Robert
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Lament, Norman Ridsdale, Julian
Dickens, Geoffrey Lang, Ian Rifkind, Malcolm
Dorrell, Stephen Lawrence, Ivan Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Law[...]n, Nigel Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Dover, Denshore Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rossi, Hugh
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lyell, Nicholas Shelton, William (Streatham)
Durant, Tony Macfarlane, Nell Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) MacGregor, John Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Sims, Roger Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath) Wheeler, John
Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton) Trippier, David Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Speed, Keith van Straubenzee, W. R. Whitney, Raymond
Speller, Tony Vaughan, Dr Gerard Wickenden, Keith
Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire) Viggers, Peter Winterton, Nicholas
Steen, Anthony Waddington, David Wolfson, Mark
Stevens, Martin Wakeham, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Waldegrave, Hon William Younger, Rt Hon George
Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Stradling Thomas, J. Waller, Gary TELLERS FOR THE NOES;
Taylor, Teddy (Southend East) Ward, John Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Temple-Morris, Peter Wells, John (Maidstone) Mr. Anthony Berry.
Thompson, Donald Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration of the Bill adjourned.—[Mr. Younger.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered this day.