HC Deb 11 June 1980 vol 986 cc701-8
Mr. Rifkind

I beg to move amendment No. 233, in page 25, line 13, after ' (1) ' insert : 'In considering whether an applicant for local authority housing is entitled to be admitted to a housing list, an islands or district council shall take no account of the age of the applicant provided that he is over the age of 18 years.


Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments :

No. 237, in page 25, line 13, after ' (1) ' insert : 'In considering an application for admission to a housing list and'. Government amendment No. 122.

No. 250, in page 25, line 15, at end add— '(1A) In considering an application for admission to a housing list and in the allocation of local authority housing except in relation to those houses suitable for the needs of elderly persons, no account shall be taken of the age of any applicant over the age of 18.'. No. 263, in page 25, line 15, at end insert— 'or the income of the applicant and his family.'.

Mr. Rifkind

This amendment, together with amendment No. 122, would prohibit a local authority from refusing to admit applicants over the age of 18 to its housing list solely on the ground of their age, and from discriminating against them in the allocation of housing on the basis of their age. That point was raised in Committee and the Government undertook to look at it sympathetically. These amendments reflect the fact that the Government are honouring that undertaking.

Opposition amendment No. 263 seeks, equally, to prevent exclusion based on the level of income of the applicant. On consideration, the Government feel that that is a perfectly reasonable proposal and I intend to recommend that the House accepts amendment No. 263.

Mr. Millan

We welcome amendment No. 233. It means that amendment No. 250 is redundant since it also deals with admission to a housing list not being restricted by age.

I am not completely happy about amendment No. 122, which might prohibit a local authority from taking account of the age of the applicant. In the allocation of housing for the elderly the age of the applicant is a valid consideration.

Mr. Rifkind

I think that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that in the case of the elderly we are not so much concerned with the age of the person as with the physical and other circumstances arising out of his age. I think that, for that reason, a distinction can be drawn.

Mr. Millan

I appreciate the point. It may well be that in practical terms a local authority will take account of factors other than age. Neverthless, there are local authorities which, for perfectly legitimate reasons, set aside particular houses which they do not allocate to anyone, regardless of circumstances, below a certain age. That may be reasonable. In the case of someone in similar circumstances who requires particular accommodation, an authority may, perhaps, use sheltered housing. It might do that rather than use houses designed exclusively for tenants over a certain age. I am worried about amendment No. 122 because it might prohibit a local authority from taking age into account.

Mr. Rifkind

The Government share the objectives of the right hon. Gentleman in this matter and I am prepared to look at the drafting of the amendment to see whether it might create the type of problem referred to. If we feel that the drafting needs to be improved there will be an opportunity to do that.

Mr. Millan

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that. He knows that I have always been unhappy about the drafting of clause 25. The clause was substantially changed and improved in Committee. We shall shortly discuss an amendment which picks up a point that I made in Committee. The Minister took the view that the amendment that I then moved was not only unnecessary but undesirable. Yet he is moving that amendment later tonight.

We should approach the drafting of the clause with a certain amount of caution and modesty. If we prohibit local authorities from doing undesirable things under this clause there will be no dispute between us. At the same time, we do not wish to draft the clause in such a way that authorities will not be able reasonably to exercise discretion and judgment in particular areas.

I am grateful to the Minister for his willingness to look at the matter. I am also grateful to him for saying that he is prepared to accept amendment No 263. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) will be particularly interested in that because he knows of a local authority—and no doubt he will tell the House about it—which keeps people off the list if their income is above a certain level. There may be other authorities that do the same. I think that is highly undesirable.

9.45 pm

Amendment No. 237 is really rather more than a drafting amendment. The clause jumps about from admission to a list and allocation, and back to admission again.

The amendment seeks to insert in the subsection the words In considering an application for admission to a housing list and

regarding allocation on the ground of residence. The amendment is required to complement the subsection to achieve what the Government have in mind. Therefore, I should be grateful for the Minister's comments on that amendment.

I notice that Government amendment No. 233 repeats the wording of my amendment No. 237. That encourages me to believe that my amendment would add clarity to the Bill.

I repeat that even when we have gone through the Bill on Report this clause will have to be looked at carefully in the other place, because it could still be difficult to get it absolutely right.

Mr. Cook

I thank the Minister for indicating that he is willing to accept amendment No. 263, which stands in my name. I hope that I shall not discourage him from accepting it if I tell him that it is the result of that meeting on Sunday which he has maligned on several occasions this evening. It was a constructive, positive meeting, with a sensible outcome, because we produced a conclusion that even the Minister was able to share with us.

Last night we debated what I think we began to refer to as the Dundee new clause. This is the Bearsden-Milngavie amendment. It arises out of the practice at Bearsden and Milngavie of striking off the waiting list any applicant whose income reaches £6,000 or whose income jointly with his wife's exceeds £6,500. In these days, for any couple, both of whom are working at the start of their life together without children, £6,500 is not a high joint income. That has had the effect of keeping off the waiting list people who have aspired to be on it. It has also had the curious effect that some who have got on to the waiting list have subsequently found that they ceased to be eligible because their joint income had risen above £6,500.

I do not think that the Secretary of State would wish to condone the oppression of local people in this way. Therefore, I am glad that he and the Under-Secretary of State feel able to accept the amendment. In any event, it is objectionable in principle to apply an income test to people who wish to become council tenants. The more we encourage the income mix on our council estates the more likely we are to get a better balanced community. I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment. I hope that what I have said will not put him off agreeing to it.

Mr. Dempsey

If I understand the Under-Secretary of State correctly, when the Bill becomes an Act local housing authorities will be required to accept applications from persons aged 18 and over.

There are circumstances in which persons under 18 years of age are allocated the tenancy of a council house. For example, when a parent has died, a young person of 16 or 17 years of age may be given the tenancy, and arrangements are made to ensure that the rent will be paid. My purpose is to ask the Minister whether this provision will preclude that type of arrangement from continuing.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I thank the Minister for accepting amendment No. 263. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) said, this was the positive outcome of the meeting in Glasgow. I am also happy to advise the Minister that, due to an enormous Labour gain in Milngavie and Bearsden, where the representation was increased by 100 per cent.—in other words, from one to two—I am now represented by a first-class Labour council.

On the negative side, as well as complimenting the Minister it enables him to recover some of his reforming image, which has been badly dented during the passage of the Bill. I am surprised that we did not spot the problem. It is not in keeping with the spirit of the tenants' charter to provide for disqualification on the grounds of income. We are indebted to a Labour councillor for identifying Milngavie and Bearsden as one of the recalcitrant authorities. I hope that the Department has identified one or two other authorities in Scotland that may be following that practice.

Mr. Rifkind

The provision will not prevent the continuation of the existing discretionary powers of local authorities. While I am always impressed by the conclusions recommended by Labour cabals on the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill, I must say that although the Conservative authority in Milngavie and Bearsden is one of the authorities which have indulged in that practice, there are two other authorities which have also indulged, one being the independent authority in Orkney and the other the Labour-controlled authority in Midlothian. There is no party bias in these matters. Perhaps that makes it easier for the Government to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Rifkind

I beg to move amendment No. 121, in page 25, line 15, leave out ' any ' and insert ' its'.

As the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said, the amendment covers an amendment that he put forward in Committee but withdrew after the Government undertook to consider the drafting of the clause to see whether it needed improvement. We have considered the clause and have concluded that there was considerable substance in the points that the right hon. Gentleman made. It is our common desire not to prevent local authorities from exercising preference within their areas. We accept that the change provided for in the amendment would achieve the objective sought by the right hon. Gentleman. I commend it to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made : No. 122, in page 25, line 15, after ' area ', insert 'nor of the age of the applicant provided that he is over the age of 18 years.'.—[Mr. Rifkind.]

No. 263, in page 25, line 15, at end insert 'or the income of the applicant and his family.'.—[Mr. Cook.]

Mr. Rifkind

I beg to move amendment No. 123, in page 25, line 26, leave out ' council's area ' and insert 'area of the local authority,'. It is purely a drafting amendment, and has no policy implications.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Millan

I beg to move amendment No. 238, in page 25, line 29, leave out ' give ' and insert ' determine'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 239, in page 25, line 29, after ' priority ' insert 'in the allocation of housing'.

Mr. Millan

I find the whole of subsection (3) difficult to understand. The wording has no meaning. The subsection begins : Where a local authority has rules which give priority to applicants on its housing list". I find that quite meaningless. Give priority over whom? What does that mean? The amendments would clarify the position by saying : Where a local authority has rules which determine priority in the allocation of housing to applicants on its housing list". Presumably, that is the meaning of the subsection. I hope that the Minister will accept my wording. The subsection relates the rules regarding those who live outside the local authority area to those in the area who wish for transfers, but not to those in the area who have not been allocated a council house. On the basis of my constituency experience I do not understand how subsection (3) will operate in practice, even with the improved wording of the amendments.

In Glasgow, the determining factor for transfers from a less desirable area to a more desirable area is largely related to the length of tenancy, other things being equal, in the less desirable area. I do not understand how one can equate that with an application from someone outside the area. I do not object in principle to anything that the Government are trying to do. They are trying to make the subsection effective. There is no point in allowing someone to get on to a housing list if he is given such a low priority that he will never get a house.

However, in practical terms, I do not see how subsection (3) would work, even with the clarification contained in the amendment, in the circumstances in my constituency. I hope that there will be further discussions with COSLA before the Bill becomes law. If the convention says that the provision is workable, we shall have to accept it, but I am worried about some of the wording.

Mr. Rifkind

COSLA has made representations about certain parts of the clause, but I am not aware that it has expressed any concern about subsection (3). If it submits points of substance we shall be happy to consider them, because it is our intention that the clause should work in the manner intended. The general objective is clear. We are discussing the procedure.

Amendment No. 238 would adversely affect the drafting, because by substituting "determine" for "give", it implies that a local authority's allocation rules are the final arbiter of priority. In fact, they are more often a guide which provides a basis for officials or councillors to make the final decision. It is essentially a question of drafting, but we feel that the wording suggested by the right hon. Gentleman would imply that the rules are always conclusive, when, in many authorities, they are not necessarily so, but merely imply the sort of priority that the authority would wish to provide.

The proposal in amendment No. 239 is redundant. Although we accept the right hon. Gentleman's objective, it is difficult to see how the present wording could mean anything other than a list for the allocation of housing. However, we shall consider the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman. They are essentially drafting matters and if, on reflection, it seems that a drafting change is required, we shall be happy to look at it.

Mr. Millan

I shall not press the amendments, because the Under-Secretary has said that he will consider the matter. What he said about giving and determining priority demonstrates the point that I was making about the difficulty of getting the wording in the Bill right.

In Glasgow, the rules determine priority and do not give guidance that is subject to the individual judgment of officials or councillors. The rules are strictly interpreted—in my view they are interpreted too rigidly—to determine priority and not to give guidance or to allow scope to officials or councillors. If we are to make the subsection effective, we must try to get the wording to bite.

However, as the Minister has said that he will look at the matter again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made : No. 124, in page 25, line 33, leave out 'who' and insert ' whose'.—[Mr. Rifkind.]

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