HC Deb 05 November 1980 vol 991 cc1350-86 6.22 pm
Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 11, leave out from 'to' to end of line 16 and insert—

  1. '(a) a dwelling-house which is one of a group of dwelling houses which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age and a social service or special facilities are provided in close proximity to the group of dwelling houses for the only or main purpose of assisting those persons; or
  2. (b) a dwelling-house which is designed or specially adapted for occupation by persons of pensionable age and it is the 1351 practice of the landlord to let it only for occupation by such persons.'.

The Chairman

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

No. 2, in page 1, line 12, leave out from beginning to 'which' in line 13.

No. 4, in page 1, line 15, leave out from 'person' to end of line 16 and insert— 'and it is the practice of the landlord to let the dwelling-house for occupation by an elderly person'. No. 5, in page 1, line 15, leave out 'special'.

No. 6, in page 2, line 10, leave out 'facilities and'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 23, leave out 'facilities and'.

Mr. Steel

The broad sweep of the argument was covered on Second Reading. Having listened carefully, I am convinced that the wording of the Bill does not meet the undertaking given to the House of Commons by more than one Minister. My amendment and the others are directed to that.

The English Housing Bill was returned to this House with amendments from the other place, including an amendment to widen the exclusion of the right-to-buy clause to houses which had been specially adapted and designed for elderly people. The Government gave in on that amendment, and there was pressure from Scottish Members in various parts of the House to make sure that the Scottish Act was brought into line.

Much has been said about the handling of the Bill in the other place. My noble Friends Lord Thurso and Lord Mackie have complained to me about it, and I wish to substantiate what was said by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). The kindest thing that I can say is that it is clear that the Earl of Mansfield was not properly informed about the undertakings that had been given to Members of this House, otherwise he would not have said: we cannot just wave a copy of Hansard about and say that undertakings were given, vaguely, to bring Scotland into line with England, because they were not."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 October 1980; Vol. 414, c 502.] I contend that a specific undertaking was given, and not only that referred to by the Secretary of State for the Environment. In answer to a question from me, the Leader of the House said: On the Housing Bill, it is vital"— I ask learned Members to note the word "vital"— that Scotland and England should be treated equally in these matters."—(Official Report, 6 August 1980, Vol. 990, c. 528.] This House was given categorical undertakings that the amendments introduced into the English legislation in that area would be repeated in the Scottish legislation. One has to take account of the terminology of the legislation, so the amendments would not be repeated word for word. However, I ask whether the wording in the Bill matches in any way the wording in the English legislation. I contend that it does not, and that is why there are these amendments.

The Scottish Bill treats not only elderly people but the physically disabled considerably less fairly than the English legislation. The Bill contains the new exclusion clause, but it has been drawn as narrowly as possible to apply to as few houses as possible.

Mr. Henderson

I quibble with the right hon. Gentleman about the Scottish Bill treating elderly or disabled people less fairly. The principal Act originally gave elderly people the right to buy their houses. The legislation in the amendment Bill is to limit the right that they will have. They are being treated less fairly than other council house tenants.

Mr. Steel

We covered that argument on Second Reading. I am talking of the treatment of such houses in England and Scotland. The hon. Gentleman is arguing whether the selling of houses in principle is fair or unfair. We are now attempting to get the legislation right. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can assist us by keeping quiet.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman's noble Friends in another place tried to put down amendments maintaining that because there was no provision for the disabled the Government had not met their commitment. That has no basis in reality. The undertaking given was that the Scottish Act would contain provisions corresponding with changes that were made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in the last stages of the passage of the English legislation. That was not relevant to the disabled, but simply concerned the elderly. I do not dispute that there may be, in practice, different provisions for the disabled, but that has nothing to do with the undertaking given.

Mr. Steel

I concede that the difference that am speaking of is not covered by the legislation.

The exclusion clause has been drawn to apply to as few houses as possible. The house described in the Bill must have facilities that are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling house and must have been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly person with "special needs". In other words, the occupier would have to be extremely infirm and elderly. In the English Act houses designed or adapted for physically disabled persons were in the exclusion clause all along, and thus it could apply to young disabled people, such as those suffering from multiple sclerosis or accident victims.

From the start, the English Act was more generous in two respects; it recognised houses built for pensioners—as likely as not small houses in town centres—and houses adapted for the physically disabled, as well as sheltered housing.

6.30 pm

The Under-Secretary said that the parent Scottish Act refers to houses especially adapted for the physically disabled and the elderly. However, instead of excluding them from the right to buy, it imposes a pre-emption clause which means that when the time comes for the original owner to dispose of the house the local authority must be given first refusal. That might have been considered an adequate safeguard when the legislation was drafted, but in these days of strict cash limits on council spending who can be certain that local authorities will be able to afford to buy back those houses? That needs to be taken into account in considering the narrowness of the definition in the Bill.

At one time in the history of the legislation, lobby groups for the disabled and the elderly thought that those people should not be discriminated against by being denied the right to buy. But their tune changed significantly when it was realised that it was only a matter of time before the specially adapted or designed houses would pass out of councils' stock and future generations of disabled and elderly people would be denied those facilities.

My party is not against the principle of the sale of council houses to sitting tenants, as is the Labour Party, but we object to the reckless or wide sweep of the legislation, because it does not take account of the continuing social needs of a minority of the population.

It would be a paradox if, having laid upon local authorities a statutory obligation to provide for the special housing needs of the elderly, the House decided that when those properties had been built to discharge that duty they could be arbitrarily or compulsorily taken out of the stock by purchase. It would be a waste of money and would impair the ability of local authorities to carry out the duty that we have put upon them.

The undertaking to treat England and Scotland equally in these matters has not been met. The Housing Act 1980 outlined three categories of housing that are exempted from the right to buy—houses adapted or designed for the physically disabled, groups of dwelling houses designed for the elderly and provided with special facilities—sheltered housing—and houses designed simply for occupation by those of pensionable age.

The house in the Bill is not exactly any of those described in the Housing Act. It is what my noble Friend Lord Thurso called a shadowy amalgam of them all. In so being, it succeeds in being none of them.

Unless we take steps to improve the Bill it will be a form of enforced municipal asset stripping. The parent Act is compulsory purchase in reverse. It is a compulsory sale order which will affect all councils, and it is essential for us to try to broaden the definition in the Bill, as I attempt to do in the amendment, to make sure that the essential quality of housing stock for the elderly is not dramatically diminished over the next few years to the point where elderly people will find that there are no suitable houses for them.

Mr. Milian

We are taking a number of amendments in my name with amendment No. 1, which is acceptable to me. I accept everything that the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) said about the provisions in the Bill compared with those in the Housing Act 1980, but I shall restrict my remarks to the pledges given at the beginning of August.

The Minister has already tried—and no doubt he will try again—to obscure the issue by introducing a number of matters that are not directly relevant to the promises given in August and whether they are properly discharged in the Bill. I assume that the Minister will not try to deny that a pledge was given to treat Scotland in the same way as England and Wales had been treated and certainly no less favourably.

Until the controversy relating to the elderly arose, the provisions for the disabled and sheltered housing in English and Scottish legislation were different. There are different definitions, but that is irrelevant to the point that we are discussing.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles that the provisions in Scotland are generally less favourable than those in England and Wales, but that was the position before the question of the concession arose. I should like to see the changes for which the right hon. Gentleman argued, but I am not claiming that the Government made a pledge to change, for example, the definitions of the disabled or sheltered housing. The Minister said that there are proportionately fewer sheltered houses in Scotland than in England and Wales. That is interesting, but it has nothing to do with our argument. He did not go on to say that the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act, and the Housing Act before the concession, excluded sheltered housing in any case. In Scotland the definition of sheltered housing includes facilities such as a call system and the services of a warden. The definition of sheltered housing in England is that contained in paragraph (a) of amendment No. 1. That was in the English Bill before the concession was made. There was something in the English Bill about sheltered housing, in relation to both the elderly and the disabled. There was one definition in the Scottish Bill and a different definition in the English Bill. I think that the English Bill is more favourable, but I am not arguing that point now.

The Government gave a pledge that the new concession on the elderly would be the same in Scotland as in England and that the definition would be the same. The concession put in the Housing Act after various negotiations and rows and the trouble that the Government got into in another place excluded from the right to buy houses designed or specially adapted for occupation by persons of pensionable age and which it was the practice of the landlord to let for occupation only by such persons.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman add that the definition in the English statute does not go as wide as the Under-Secretary suggested and certainly does not cover any house occupied by an elderly person?

Mr. Millan

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. That was another red herring. The Under-Secretary was distributing red herrings on Second Reading and no doubt he will try to do so in Committee. That is why I am sticking to the point.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Millan

Perhaps the Minister will allow me to develop my argument. The questions of sheltered housing and the disabled are important. I wish that we could get amendments, but I am not dealing with them at the moment. I am dealing with the particular concession. The wording I have read from paragraph 5 of schedule 1 to the Housing Act 1980 was the wording inserted as a concession. It was the amendment moved and put into the English Bill at the last minute. It states

  1. "(a) that the dwelling-house is designed or specially adaped for occupation by persons of pensionable age; and
  2. (b) that it is the practice of the landlord to let it only for occupation by such persons."
I would have liked that to be a wider definition. In the proposed new section 3A in the Bill before us, there is a definition that is more restrictive because it contains further words. It says This section applies to a dwelling-house which has facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house. These words do not appear in the Housing Act 1980. They were not part of the wording of the concession that was made. The Bill before us adds: and which has been designed or adapted for occuption by an elderly person This follows, with slight changes, the English definition. It then goes on to say: whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house. That is another restriction. Admittedly, it leaves out the part of the English Act stating that it is the practice of the landlord to let it only for occupation by such persons. That is not a restriction that would worry the Opposition. That definition would meet the point for example of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). The kind of houses about which he and I are concerned are let for occupation only by elderly persons but are not covered by the concession in the Bill. What we have in the Bill are two further restrictions on the concession compared with the English Act. First, the houses must have facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house and, secondly, the elderly person must be one whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling house It does not require a great deal of perspicacity to see that this is a much more restrictive definition.

There was much argument during the Committee stage of the principal Act about these definitions and a considerable amount of confusion was caused. The English housing Act was drawn in ways so different from the Scottish legislation that it was very difficult at the end of the day to understand where each had got to. There is, however, no doubt in my mind that the definition in the Bill before us today is bound to be more restrictive than the definition that appears in the Housing Act 1980.

This is where the significance of the figures of 6,000 and 220,000 enter the argument. That is not a reference to existing sheltered housing. Those houses are excluded already in England, Scotland and Wales. I am talking of the numbers excluded by this Bill compared with the numbers excluded by what is meant to be the similar provision, namely, paragraph 5 of schedule 1 to the Housing Act 1980. This matter emerged only in the House of Lords debate. I am grateful to the Members of the other place who managed to extract the information. It is on that basis that we are told that the numbers in Scotland will be only 6,000 compared with 220,000 in England and Wales. It has nothing to do with the existing number of sheltered houses.

6.45 pm

There is no doubt that if this Bill contained exactly the same wording as the English Bill the figure of 6,000 would become considerably greater. We would then bring within the scope of legislation houses which, I understand, are clearly within the scope of the English legislation, designed or specially adapted for occupation by an elderly person

but which do not necessarily have facilities substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling house and which are not occupied by persons who have special needs for particular kinds of accommodation. In other words, the generality of old person's provision of housing in Scotland is a group of housing consisting of small houses which may have no special facilities, no call service and no wardens but which are neverthless designed for elderly persons and let only to elderly persons by the local council as part of its normal letting operation. That is the kind of house that the Opposition believe should be included in the Bill. That is the kind of house now included in the Housing Act 1980. It is because these definitions are so entirely—

Mr. Rifkindrose

Mr. Milian

The Minister will have a chance to answer in a minute. It is because there are these considerable differences in the definition that we claim that we should be put on all fours with England and Wales and that a promise has not been discharged.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the group of houses to which he referred and which he thinks will be covered in England but not in Scotland are to be found in paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the English Act and were already in the English Act before any concessions were made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. The houses included in paragraph 4 are precisely not the kind of houses to which I have referred. The houses included in paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the English Act are houses which are let for occupation by persons of pensionable age and a social service or special facilities are provided in close proximity to the group of dwelling-houses for the only or main purpose of assisting those persons. I am not talking about these houses. I am talking of small houses let to elderly persons in Scotland where no social services or special facilities are provided. The only factor that distinguishes these houses from other local authority houses is that they are houses of a size which are suitable for elderly persons and those which it is the practice of the local authority to let only to elderly persons. These houses are covered in paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 to the English Act.

These are the houses that were specifically included as a result of the concession. They are not included in the definition in the Bill before the House. If there is any doubt, and if he says that it does not make any difference to the result at the end of the day, the Minister should accept the amendments that appear on the Notice Paper. The Liberal amendment would repeat the words in the English Act. There could be no doubt about there being any difference between the English Act and the Bill.

Mr. Rifkindrose

Mr. Millan

The Minister will have a chance to reply to some of these points. His last intervention was completely erroneous. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to answer some of these points later. If there is any doubt, the Liberal amendment repeats word for word the wording in the English Act.

Mr. Rifkind

Not the concession.

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman says "Not the concession". I have dealt with that point, but I am coming to it on amendments in my name in a moment. If there is any doubt, the Liberal amendment, in repeating the words in the English Act, including paragraph 5—which was the concession—means that there could be no doubt, that the wording would be exactly the same.

The effect of the amendments that I have tabled is to produce in this Bill exactly the concession put into the English Act in paragraph 5 of Schedule 1. Amendment No. 2 would remove from the Bill, by leaving out from the beginning of line 12 to "which" in line 13, the restriction that is included in the words which has facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house". That restriction was not included in the concession that was put into the English Bill as a result of negotiations. Either that restriction has an effect, or it does not. If it does not have an effect and does not alter the sense of the provision, there is no reason why we should not eliminate it. If it has an effect, as I believe it does, it must be to restrict the number of houses in Scotland covered by the concession and therefore mean that Scotland is not being treated the same as England and Wales. The words should be taken out.

Amendment No. 4 seeks to take out the words which define the person who occupies the house as a person whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling house.

Many people living in old people's houses in Scotland have no particular special medical or social need. Their need is to occupy a house of a size suitable for their requirements. The words in the Scottish Bill do not appear in the English concession. Either they are meaningless and do not add to the provision—in which case they should be eliminated—or they have a meaning. That meaning can be only to restrict the concession. Therefore, Scotland is not put on all fours with England.

The amendment contains the words which appear in the English Act. They are and it is the practice of the landlord to let the dwelling house for occupation by an elderly person.

If such words were not included in the Act one could argue that any house that was occupied by an elderly person should be excluded. I should like that to happen. However, I accept that that was not the concession or promise made by the Government. Therefore, I am happy to include the words in the definition. That is the invariable practice in Scotland. We are talking about small houses which have been built especially for the elderly and are let only to the elderly. The houses do not necessarily have special facilities and the elderly people who live in them do not necessarily have special needs other than the need to occupy a suitably sized house.

The other amendments under discussion are consequential and bring the Scottish provision in line with the concession in the English Act. I am not worried about what was in the legislation before the concession was made. We were promised that when the concession was made for England and Wales the same concession would be made for Scotland.

On Report the Secretary of State said: I am glad to assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall ensure that the provisions are acceptable to him."—[Official Report, 7 August 1980; Vol. 990, c. 815.]

That provision is not acceptable to me; nor is it acceptable to hon. Members from other parties. It is not acceptable to Members of another place, including some members of the Conservative Party. Considerable dismay, disappointment and anger was expressed when it was discovered that the wording provides a less acceptable and a more restrictive concession for Scotland than that which is provided for England and Wales.

If the Bill is allowed to go through without the Government accepting the amendment, the Secretary of State will break the solemn word he gave in the House on 7 August. The Government will break all the promises made not only by the Secretary of State but by the Leader of the House and others that Scotland would not be treated less favourably than England and Wales. We have been treated less favourably. The Secretary of State has been guilty of a breach of faith in presenting the Bill in its present form. If he did that innocently, and if when the deficiencies were pointed out he had accepted the necessary amendments, I should have no complaint.

Unfortunately, Lord Mansfield steadfastly refused to make changes. Even at this late stage I hope that the Minister will make the necessary changes and discharge the promise made by his right hon. Friend and other senior Ministers.

Mr. Rifkind

Utterly and without qualification I repudiate the suggestion that the contents of the Bill do not conform with the undertakings given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was asked about these matters by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) he replied: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has authorised me to say, as regards the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill, that he will facilitate legislation to make a change along the lines that I have announced, at the earliest convenient moment."—[Official Report, 6 August 1980; Vol. 990, c. 562.] When the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) asked my right hon. Friend the following day about these matters, my right hon. Friend replied it is the Government's intention to produce the necessary Bill in the overspill period to give similar effect to the arrangements made yesterday in the English Housing Bill.—[Official Report, 7 August 1980; Vol 990, c. 815.] That is exactly what the Bill seeks to do.

Mr. David Steel

The Minister is forgetting a third quotation from the Leader of the House who, in answer to my question, said: On the Housing Bill, it is vital that Scotland and England be treated equally in these matters."—[Official Report, 6 August 1980; Vol 990, c. 528.]

Mr. Rifkind

Our contention is that that is exactly what the Bill provides.

The Liberal amendments include two provisions. Paragraph (a) deals specifically with houses which have social service or special facilities in close proximity to the group of dwelling-houses". Those words are taken directly from the Housing Act. That provision was in the Housing Act before any concession was made by the Secretary of State for the Environment. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any undertaking given in August. I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) nods his head. We can agree that paragraph (a) of the amendment has nothing whatever to do with the concession and the undertaking given by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Steel

I hope that that is not all that the Under-Secretary of State intends to say. My ambitions are greater than his. He is trying to make the Scottish Bill as good as the English legislation. I should like to take the opportunity to make it even better.

Mr. Rifkind

We spent several months doing that earlier in the year, although the right hon. Gentleman's view of whether we succeeded might be different from mine. The Bill deals with the undertaking given in August.

Paragraph (b) of the amendment deals with the undertaking given by the Secretary of State for the Environment. We contend that the Bill provides for a similar consequence. The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that he accepted that in fulfilling our undertaking it was not necessary for us to use exactly the same words. The right hon. Gentleman accepted that the Scottish Bill, for legal and procedural reasons, in many respects uses different drafting to achieve a similar effect. The fact that the wording is different from that in the English Bill does not by itself mean that the provision is different. We are interested not in whether the wording is the same but in whether a similar effect is achieved. I am glad that we are in agreement on that. The Government contend that the words have a similar effect.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton gave us his views, which were clearly critical of the Government's proposals. However, the examples that he gave are the sort that the provisions in the Bill are extending to cover. He was, in effect, describing amenity housing, a category of housing that he was responsible for introducing and which is a very desirable form of old person's housing in Scotland.

In other words, it is that sort of housing which, although it does not have a call system or a warden in occupation, has nevertheless been designed and adapted to cope with the problems of old folk. That is the category of housing that will be affected by the amendment. Surely it is significant that in Scotland and England the number of exclusions will be doubled, although I freely accept that in Scotland the numbers are far smaller.

7 pm

Mr. Gordon Wilson

The Minister said that the important thing was to look at the effect. If there are fewer of these houses in Scotland, it is equally true that Government funds will not be made available for adding to their number. Would it not be reasonable for the wording of the Act to increase the provision of housing, thus helping old people and improving the effect of which the hon. Gentleman has been speaking?

Mr. Rifkind

That may or may not be a good debating point, but it is not the undertaking that was given. The Government are being accused of not having honoured the undertaking that was given. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would have preferred us to have given a different undertaking or for us to have gone beyond the undertaking that we gave. Our concern, however, is for the undertaking that was given and whether we honoured it.

Mr. Dewar

I accept that we are interested in the consequences of the legislation. The Minister said that the number of exempted houses will be doubled both North and South of the border. That is not the relevant point. I am interested to know how many houses will be in the exempt category as a result of the amendment, and what will be caught in the same parallel exemption in England.

Mr. Rifkind

I thought that I had given the hon. Gentleman the figure. Some 6,000 to 7,000 houses will be excluded by these provisions which would not have been excluded otherwise.

Mr. Dewar

How many?

Mr. Rifkind

Both figures are being doubled. The number of houses already excluded in England is about 220,000, and they come under the sheltered housing category. Since that figure is being doubled the hon. Gentleman may now be aware of the figure he seeks.

Mr. Millan

The doubling of the figure is irrelevant. Will the Minister answer another question? If the definition in this Bill brings in an additional 6,000 houses, what would the figure be if we replaced that definition by the definition in the English Bill, as the amendments seek?

Mr. Rifkind

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would know that the Government's contention is that the consequences of the provisions are the same in each case. The answer to his question, therefore, is that the same 6,000 or 7,000 houses would be covered. The right hon. Gentleman may not accept that, but that is the Government's position.

Mr. Milian

If that is the position and the numbers are not affected, why does not the Minister simply accept the amendment?

Mr. Rifkind

There is a very simple reason which the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles accepts, which is that the drafting requirements of the Scottish Bill are in many respects different. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone else that Scottish Bills regularly require different legislative form to secure a similar effect. The right to buy is drafted in totally different ways in England and Scotland. Until now the right hon. Gentleman has never dreamt of suggesting that in order for two provisions to have a similar effect on both sides of the border they must be drafted in a similar way.

Mr. David Steel

The Minister must not put a false interpretation on my words. Of course I accept that there are occasions when the Scottish drafting must be different from the English. The English language, however, is the same north and south of the border. Surely the Under-Secretary accepts that there is a difference between the phrase "persons of pensionable age", which is the wording in the English Act, and the phrase elderly person whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house. That is surely a much narrower definition than simply "persons of pensionable age".

Mr. Rifkind

The question whether an elderly person means a person of pensionable age was raised by the Opposition spokesman in the other place, and that was the basis of the amendment that was accepted there. The right hon. Gentle- man correctly points out that our Bill refers specifically to the house being a house for occupation by an elderly person whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house. The parallel provision in the English Act is it is the practice of the landlord to let it only for occupation by such persons. The interesting aspect is that amendment No. 4, tabled by the right hon. Member for Craigton, which purports to introduce the English words, does not include the word "only".

Mr. Milian

That was an inadvertent omission. I intended the words to be the same.

Mr. Rifkind

I accept that that was an inadvertent omission. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles certainly includes the word "only" in his amendment. That has a similar effect, in that we are considering not just a house but one in which an elderly person is living, and not one that was simply designed or adapted for use by an elderly person although someone else may be living in it at that time.

The English Act uses restrictive terminology. It has to be a form of house that is rented only to an elderly person; and if, for example, that elderly person has died and is succeeded by someone else who is much younger and has become the tenant, that position would not be covered.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The Minister must be forgetting the debates that took place during proceedings on the English Bill on this very word, when Ministers were at pains to explain that so restrictive an interpretation should not be put on "only" as to deprive the effect of the Bill from those cases where, because of occasional change, a house has not been let in a particular case to an elderly person.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the specific interpretation that has been placed upon that provision, but the wording itself is very narrowly constructed, and it certainly has no less and no more restrictive effect than the wording used in the Scottish provision.

The point that I fall back on is that the housing that will now be excluded is primarily amenity housing or other houses that have been specially adapted or designed for the needs of the elderly. By "amenity housing" we mean housing with full house heating, grab rails and adjustments to power points and work-tops with various other adaptations made to meet the specific needs of elderly persons. That is an important category, which now comes within the terms of the provision.

That is why we maintain without qualification or apology that the effect of our provisions is similar to the effect of the English amendment, and I therefore regret that we cannot advise the House to accept the amendments.

Mr. Dewar

This is a convoluted and difficult argument. I did not serve on the Committee on the Bill, and I therefore come to it with some diffidence. I am tempted, however, to comment on the totally unsatisfactory position into which the Minister has manoeuvred himself. If he resents charges of bad faith for the Government's failure to implement pledges solemnly given, he has an easy way out of his dilemma, based upon his own arguments. We are now in the ludicrous situation where the Minister says that his drafting is the same in intent and effect as the English drafting, yet he lays himself open to charges of duplicity because he will not follow the logic of that argument and accept the amendments.

I accept that there are many occasions when there has to be a difference in drafting between Scottish and English statutes. It would be ludicrous to say otherwise. There is no virtue in being different. One should be different only if it is necessary.

If we are attempting to achieve the same objective, the presupposition is that we should do it in the same words because we use the same language. On occasions that may be impossible because, whatever the practical effect intended, the basis of the law will be theoretically different and will require a different form of legal language. The words may have to be specifically related back to earlier clauses and phrases. However, the Minister did not argue that case in any detail. He said that we need different I accept that the words that he has taken are those that appear in section 4(4) of the Act. But, as he has been careful to point out, that deals with a different business altogether. It deals with categories of sheltered and special housing that were included in the Bill before the argument began. I do not see that there is any necessity, in terms of a draftsman's skill or a lawyer's ability to interpret or comprehend, to repeat parrot-wise that form of words. There is no essential continuity or link that I can follow. I am clear that the Minister produced no substantial argument about why we are bound to that form of words in terms of legal interpretation and continuity.

The Minister said that the Government wanted to achieve the same effect as the English amendment. There seems to be a prima facie case for saying "Take the same form of words so that people can comprehend the matter in the same way north and south of the border." There has been no argument designed to show why that is impossible in relation to the legal niceties of drafting legislation. The Minister may think that I am being hypocritically solicitous about his reputation, but I am not. The amending legislation has been brought forward in almost world record time. It is unusual to have, in the same Session of Parliament, separate legislation to amend an Act that has only recently reached the statute book. Those unusual circumstances are being dictated by a pledge which, I accept, the Minister is anxious to honour. I accept that, at the beginning of this process, he intended to honour the pledge.

If there is confusion and difficulty, the simple way to deal with it is to accept the amendments. The Minister would then have a reputation for being a reasonable man, which is not necessarily a handicap in politics. That would mark him out from many of his colleagues in the public gaze. He has not produced a single substantial argument other than the bland phrase that it does not make drafting sense. Given that the effect is exactly the same as that which he is trying to achieve, he has not explained why the natural presumption that we should use the same words is displaced. If the Minister cannot adduce that argument he must accept that there will be dark suspicions, perhaps natural, both in the minds of Opposition parties and in the minds of many people in Scotland. They will see it as a short measure and an attempt to circumvent the pledges that were given. They will say that we can argue or dance on the head of a pin about the various forms of words but, as the Minister said, it is the consequences that matter. If we do not have the same form of words, people will look at the consequences and the enormous disparity—even allowing for every population formula that may be employed—that has resulted from the figures given by the Minister and will be left with the suspicion that we are in some way being cheated.

7.15 pm

I agree that sometimes it is difficult to interpret the figures because, as I understand the Minister's case—although I had some difficulty in following it—a disparity is caused by the bad record of Scottish local authorities in creating this sort of accommodation. I am not sure that the Minister has made that case. We have a much larger public sector in Scotland, which makes it even more difficult to comprehend the disparity. It leaves open the suspicion that in some way the formula itself, or perhaps the way in which it is interpreted by the Secretary of State and his colleagues, is not putting Scotland on an equal footing with England and Wales. If a concession is made it should be made graciously. It should be seen to be done in an adequate and fair manner. Clearly, that is not happening. In the absence of a substantial argument about the drafting amendments—or drafting imperatives—which rules out the use of the same phraseology as that used in the Act, we are entitled to continue to harbour our suspicions and to press the amendment.

Mr. Rifkind

As it is the Committee stage of the Bill, I think it would be helpful if I were to answer that specific point now. The hon. Gentleman asked why, if it is to have the same effect, we should adopt the wording in the English Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that when we came to drafting the amending Bill we did not start from scratch and ask in what way we could avoid accepting the under- taking given by my right hon. Friend. In this case we were able to use wording that already existed in a different context in the Act and that the House had approved.

The hon. Gentleman indicated that the provisions of section 4(4), which uses exactly the wording in the present Bill, applied to different houses. They do not apply to different houses in relation to the elderly. They apply to the same houses, but, instead of providing a right of refusal, they provide only for a right to insist on a pre-emption clause. The same houses are affected. The hon. Gentleman must take that point on board. If we had chosen to use different wording simply for the cosmetic purpose of showing that the effect would be exactly the same, unless we made a number of other amendments—

Mr. Milan

The Minister should have made other amendments.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman says that we should have made other amendments. If they had a practical purpose he would be right. If they are simply for a cosmetic purpose, to show that our wording is the same as the English wording, it is pointless. We would then have had to amend other parts of an Act that has been approved by the House. Section 4(4) of the Act gives the right of pre-emption for exactly the sort of houses that the Bill extends into a right of refusal. Unless we have two different sets of definitions in two different Bills—which would have caused confusion—it would have been necessary to make further amendments. I accept that we could have done that, but there was no point in doing so. We were satisfied that the wording of the Bill had the same consequences, and excluded from the right to buy the houses covered by the undertaking. It is on that basis that the wording was used.

Mr. Milian

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) used the word "cheating". The Government are cheating—it is as simple as that. There is absolutely no question that the wording in the Scottish Bill does not have the same effect as the wording in the English Bill. Discussion about the definition of amenity housing is irrelevant. There is no question of the concession in Scotland being confined to certain definitions of amenity housing. The wording in section 4(4) of the Act is completely irrelevant also. It is a simple proposition. A certain form of wording was included in the English Bill as a concession following defeats in another place and various negotiations. The Government said that they would, by amending legislation put an equivalent provision into the Scottish Bill. They have not done so. They have cheated. The effect of the Scottish concession is much less generous than the effect of the English concession.

If the wording were to be changed to make it the same as the English concession, the number of houses that would be excluded from the automatic right to buy would be considerably increased beyond the 6,000 covered by the Bill. The Minister knows that, but he will not give a straight answer. I asked him whether the numbers would be increased. He introduced irrelevancies about the definitions of amenity housing. This is a more restrictive definition, and the Government have cheated. Obviously, they will not change their minds now. Incidentally, if the Secretary of State had any respect for the House, and as he gave the pledge, he would have dealt with this matter himself instead of leaving it to the Under-Secretary who, sophistically speaking, is much more adept than the Secretary of State. However, the Secretary of State ought to explain why he has cheated on the solemn undertaking that he gave to the House.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

It is a matter of regret that it is only at this late stage that section 4 (4) has been introduced into the discussion, because it appears to have some relevance in legalistic terms. The Under-Secretary is normally quite reasonable, but what he says when he argues as a lawyer with two other lawyers is beyond me.

I want to make sure that I understood the Minister correctly. He said quite specifically that the Bill means that an additional 6,000 houses in Scotland will be exempt. I am concerned about the mechanics for local authorities to get around that. That is what disturbs me. A local authority can say "You can buy that house" because some authorities want to sell off as many houses as possible.

Mr. Rifkind

What we are talking about is exclusion from the right to buy. The hon. Gentleman is quite correct that if a local authority wishes to sell and a tenant wishes to buy, nothing in the Bill will prevent that from happening. Indeed, that applies to this Bill and to the English Act.

Mr. Brown

I do not want to get involved in the argument about the English Act. An undertaking was given which, as I understand it, had the effect of excluding more houses. If houses are excluded, the tenant has no right. The Minister has said that if the tenant wants to buy a house and the authority wants to sell, that should be allowed. That is not my idea of a concession. The houses already covered by the Bill are excluded from sale. I have the feeling that we are getting worked up about a concession which is not a concession, given that the tenant wants to buy and the authority wants to sell.

I should like to know where the 6,000 houses are located. How was that figure arrived at? Perhaps one of the reasons why the Bill is different is that the Minister suspects that every Labour-controlled authority in Scotland will abuse whatever concessions have been made. He has repeated that view time and again. I want the retention of these houses, particularly houses for the elderly. I am convinced that this is socially desirable, even in the context of the policy of selling other council houses. The Minister, in attempting to justify his case, has not made clear whether this is a concession.

Secondly, if a tenant wants to buy and a local authority wants to sell, this concession is meaningless.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is anxious to know where the houses are. Rather than go through the long list, I refer him to the Scottish housing statistics published by the Scottish Development Department for the third quarter of 1979. Page 35 gives a list of all the amenity housing, where it is and in which district it can be found.

Mr. David Steel

I should like to reply to the debate on amendment No. 1. I entirely accept that paragraph (a) is not related to the concession which the Government undertook to introduce. It is an attempt to improve the Bill while we are legislating. Therefore, I shall not pursue that argument further.

I am concerned that there is a danger that we shall end with an air of bad feeling and bad faith after the Government have gone to the effort of introducing a special Bill to meet the point that was raised. Having gone to that effort, they might have gone to the effort of getting it absolutely right so that they could satisfy hon. Members that it was correct. I do not believe that it is. Despite the Under-Secretary saying time and again "You must believe that black is white because I say it is", I am not convinced. Therefore, I want to make one last desperate attempt to persuade the Minister that he may be wrong.

I approach the matter in a different way, and think in particular of a group of four houses in my constituency which were built a few years ago in two semidetached groups as part of the housing scheme. They were modern houses which were built specifically by the local authority with the needs of the elderly in mind. However, they do not have the facilities which the Under-Secretary mentioned, such as grab rails and all the rest. They are ordinary houses that are rented to the elderly and designed for the elderly in order to supply the needs of a small town.

If one pictures those houses and looks at the definitions, I have no doubt at all that under the English Act those houses would be exempt from the right to purchase because they are dwelling houses designed for occupation … by persons of pensionable age

and it is the practice of the landlord to let them only for occupation by such persons. I am in no doubt that, were these four houses in England, they would be exempt from the right to purchase under the legislation approved by this House.

However, if we take the same group of houses and apply the wording which the Under-Secretary is inviting us to accept, they must be dwelling houses which have facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house".

I cannot say that the houses are substantially different. They are just smaller. They were designed to serve the community. In addition, they must have been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly person whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house".

Again I cannot say that the tenants are people whose special needs require accommodation of that kind. The houses happen to be economic, and they were designed to meet the needs of elderly people. However, they are not special

I am absolutely convinced that those houses are exempt under the English legislation but not under the Scottish legislation. That is the case which the Minister must answer. So far he has failed to do so. Unless he can provide an answer, I invite the Committee to vote for my amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The Committee divided: Ayes 107, Noes 135.

Division No. 488] AYES [7.30 pm
Adams, Allen Dalyell, Tam George, Bruce
Alton, David Davies, Ifor (Gower) Golding, John
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Grant, George (Morpeth)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Bradley, Tom Dempsey, James Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dewar, Donald Haynes, Frank
Brown, Hugh D. (Proven) Dixon, Donald Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Dormand, Jack Home Robertson, John
Buchan, Norman Dubs, Alfred Homewood, William
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Duffy, A. E. P. Hooley, Frank
Campbell, Ian Dunnett, Jack Johnson, James (Hull West)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)
Canavan, Dennis Eastham, Ken Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Carmichael, Nell Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Lamble, David
Carter-Jones, Lewis Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Lamborn, Harry
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Evans, John (Newton) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Ewing, Harry Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Foot, Rt Hon Michael Litherland, Robert
Cryer, Bob Foster, Derek Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunliffe, Lawrence Foulkes, George Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr. J. Dickson Parry, Robert Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
McCartney, Hugh Pavitt, Laurie Stoddart, David
McKelvey, William Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Thomas, Dafydd (Merloneth)
Maclennan, Robert Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
McTaggart, Robert Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) Robertson, George Tinn, James
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Maxton, John Rooker, J. W. Welsh, Michael
Maynard, Miss Joan Roper, John White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Millen, Rt Hon Bruce Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Rowlands, Ted Winnick, David
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Silverman, Julius Woolmer, Kenneth
Morton, George Skinner, Dennis
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Soley, Clive TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
O'Neill, Martin Spriggs, Leslie Mr. A. J. Beith and
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Steel, Rt Hon David Mr. David Penhaligon
Ancram, Michael Grist, Ian Neale, Gerrard
Arnold, Tom Grylls, Michael Needham, Richard
Aspinwall, Jack Gummer, John Selwyn Nelson, Anthony
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll) Neubert, Michael
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Newton, Tony
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Hannam, John Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Hastings, Stephen Parris, Matthew
Berry, Hon Anthony Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Pink, R. Bonner
Best, Keith Hawksley, Warren Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Biggs-Davison, John Heddle, John Proctor, K Harvey
Blackburn, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Rhodes James, Robert
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hooson, Tom Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Braine, Sir Bernard Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rifkind, Malcolm
Bright, Graham Hurd, Hon Douglas Roberts. Michael (Cardiff NW)
Brinton, Tim Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Kershaw, Anthony Rossl, Hugh
Brown, Michael (Grigg & Sc'thorpe) Knight, Mrs Jill Rost, Peter
Bruce-Gardyne, John Lamont, Norman Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Bryan, Sir Paul Lang, Ian St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Buck, Antony Lawrence, Ivan Skeet, T. H. H.
Budgen, Nick Lee, John Speed, Keith
Bulmer, Esmond Le Marchant, Spencer Spence, John
Burden, Sir Frederick Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Butcher, John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Loveridge, John Squire, Robin
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Macfarlane, Neil Stainton, Keith
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda MacKay, John (Argyll) Stanbrook, Ivor
Chapman, Sydney McQuarrie, Albert Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Clegg, Sir Walter Major, John Stradling Thomas, J.
Colvin, Michael Marland, Paul Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Cope, John Marlow, Tony Thompson, Donald
Corrie, John Mates, Michael Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Mather, Carol Wakeham, John
Dorrell, Stephen Mawby, Ray Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Dover, Denshore Mawhinney, Dr Brian Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Dykes, Hugh Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Ward, John
Fairgrieve, Russell Meyer, Sir Anthony Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Farr, John Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Wheeler, John
Fisher, Sir Nigel Mills, Iain (Meriden) Wickenden, Keith
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Mills, Peter (West Devon) Wolfson, Mark
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Moate, Roger Young, Sir George (Acton)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Moore, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Garel-Jones, Tristan Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Gow, Ian Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gower, Sir Raymond Murphy, Christopher Lord James-Douglas Hamilton and
Greenway, Harry Myles, David Mr. David Waddington
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouh N)

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 2, in page 1, line 12, leave out from beginning to "which" in line 13.—[Mr. Milian]

Question put, That the amendment be

The Committee divide: Ayes 105, Noes 134.

Division No. 489] AYES 7.38 pm
Adams, Allen Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Carmichael, Neil
Alton, David Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Carter-Jones, Lewis
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Buchan, Norman Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Beich, A. J. Campbell, Ian Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Bradley, Tom Campbell-Savours, Dale Cryer, Bob
Bray, Dr Jeremy Canavan, Dennis Cunliffe, Lawrence
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lamble, David Robertson, George
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Lamborn, Harry Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Dempsey, James Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Rooker, J. W.
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roper, John
Dixon, Donald Litherland, Robert Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Dormand, Jack Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rowlands, Ted
Duffy, A. E. P. Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Silverman, Julius
Dunnett, Jack Mabon, Rt Hon Dr. J. Dickson Skinner, Dennis
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth McCartney, Hugh Soley, Clive
Eastham, Ken McKelvey, William Spriggs, Leslie
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Maclennan, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) McTaggart, Robert Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Evans, John (Newton) Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Stoddart, David
Ewing, Harry Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mason, Rt Hon Roy Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Foster, Derek Maxton, John Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Foulkes, George Maynard, Miss Joan Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
George, Bruce Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Tinn, James
Golding, John Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Welsh, Michael
Grant, George (Morpeth) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wigley, Dafydd
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter O'Neill, Martin Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Haynes, Frank Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Winnick, David
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Parry, Robert Woolmer, Kenneth
Home Robertson, John Pavitt, Laurie
Homewood, William Penhaligon, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hooley, Frank Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Mr. Joseph Dean and
John, Brynmor Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Mr. George Morton
Johnson, James (Hull West) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Ancram, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouh N) Myles, David
Arnold, Tom Grist, Ian Neale, Gerrard
Aspinwall, Jack Grylls, Michael Needham, Richard
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Gummer, John Selwyn Nelson, Anthony
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll) Neubert, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Hannam, John Parris, Matthew
Berry, Hon Anthony Hastings, Stephen Pink, R. Bonner
Best, Keith Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Biggs-Davison, John Hawksley, Warren Proctor, K Harvey
Blackburn, John Heddle, John Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Rifkind, Malcolm
Braine, Sir Bernard Hooson, Tom Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Bright, Graham Howell, Ralph (Nods Norfolk) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Brinton, Tim Hurd, Hon Douglas Rossl, Hugh
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rost, Peter
Brown, Michael (Grigg & Sc'thorpe) Kershaw, Anthony Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Bruce-Gardyne, John Knight, Mrs Jill St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Bryan, Sir Paul Lamont, Norman Skeet, T. H. H.
Buck, Antony Lang, Ian Speed, Keith
Budgen, Nick Lawrence, Ivan Spence, John
Bulmer, Esmond Lee, John Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Burden, Sir Frederick Le Marchant, Spencer Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Butcher, John Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Squire, Robin
Cadbury, Jocelyn Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stainton, Keith
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Loveridge, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Macfarlane, Neil Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Chapman, Sydney MacKay, John (Argyll) Stradling Thomas, J.
Clegg, Sir Walter McQuarrie, Albert Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Colvin, Michael Major, John Thompson, Donald
Cope, John Marland, Paul Thorne, Nell (Ilford South)
Corrie, John Marlow, Tony Waddington, David
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Mates, Michael Wakeham, John
Dorrell, Stephen Mather, Carol Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Dover, Denshore Mawby, Ray Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Dykes, Hugh Mawhinney, Dr Brian Ward, John
Fairgrieve, Russell Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Farr, John Meyer, Sir Anthony Wheeler, John
Fisher, Sir Nigel Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Wickenden, Keith
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Mills, Iain (Meriden) Wolfson, Mark
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mills, Peter (West Devon) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Moate, Roger Younger, Rt Hon George
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Moore, John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gower, Sir Raymond Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Lord James-Douglas Hamilton and
Greenway, Harry Murphy, Christopher Mr. Tony Newton

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Milian

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 29 after "shall" insert unless it serves a notice of refusal under section 3 of this Act This is to some extent a probing amendment, but it seemed to me that there was perhaps a deficiency in the Bill as drafted.

Subsection (6) of proposed new section 3A provides that where the Secretary of State takes the view that a house is not excluded from the right to buy, the landlord shall serve on the tenant an offer to sell", but the landlord may have the right to refuse under section 3 of the original Act as well, as far as 1 can see. In other words, new section 3A does not completely supplant section 3 of the Act. It can be done either under section 3 of the Act or under the new section 3A that will appear if the Bill is passed. it seemed to me that these were exclusive; the one did not supplant the other. Therefore, the landlord may have a legitimate reason, even if he is turned down by the Secretary of State under this clause, to refuse on grounds already established in the principal Act. It may be that the wording, in some way which is not clear to me, covers that eventuality. But, on first reading, it did not seem to cover it. The purpose of the amendment is to make that clear.

Mr. Rifkind

I assure the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) that the amendment is unnecessary. At the bottom of page 1 of the Bill he will see that the new exclusion applies only: (2) Where an application to purchase a dwelling-house is served on a landlord and it appears to the landlord that—

  1. (a) the dwelling-house is one to which this section applies; and
  2. (b) the tenant would, apart from this section, have a right under section 1 of this Act to purchase the dwelling-house".
If the landlord believes that he would be entitled to refuse anyway, it would be a waste of time to use the procedures in the Bill. The Bill specifically provides that these procedures should be used only if, but for the Bill, there would be a right to buy. Therefore, the circumstance to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention would not come about for that reason. Even if that provision did not exist in those words, I am advised that it would be implicit in the terms of the Bill. If there were a statutory right on the part of the landlord to refuse the application, he could do that even on the existing wording.

Mr. Milan

Obviously I do not want to press the amendment. I find the second argument rather more convincing than the first, if there is an implicit right to do it. The first argument is not absolutely valid because the landlord, for not particularly good reasons perhaps, might act under the new clause 3A when he could equally well act under section 3, in which case, unless there is some power of refusal under the existing section 3, he would have excluded his right, as it were, to refuse under section 3. That might not be very sensible. If he has the right anyway under section 3, I dare say that he could use it; but if he acts under clause 3A he should not be denied the right to refuse under section 3 as well. As the Minister has said that that is covered, at least implicitly if not explicitly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. George Robertson

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 34, leave out 'one month' and insert ' six weeks '.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

With this we shall take amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 36, leave out 'one month' and insert 'six weeks'.

Mr. Robertson

The purpose of these amendments is to change the new additional time limits which have been built into the amending legislation when the Secretary of State refuses the local authority's application to exclude the appropriate house from the right to buy.

In the event of the Secretary of State refusing consent, the authority has possibly two months, assuming application is made immediately on receipt of the application on day one without any scrutiny by the authority, down to a minimum period of one month if delays in the processing of the application to the Secretary of State take place. The unexpired period is of negligible proportions. Therefore, it is conceivable that a local authority would have to process an application to buy a property within only one month when the time limit in section 2(2) is for a period of two months.

Clearly circumstances created by the authority may lead to a delay. On the other hand, delays could take place out-with the control of the authority. Delay could take place within the Secretary of State's department. Verification could be required and it might be necessary for further inquiries to be made over and above the information supplied in the application form. Such delays could be caused both within and without the control of the housing authority. Delays could take place in the Secretary of State's Department or involuntarily within the local authority.

It seems strange that, the Government having established and stuck to the period of two months—indeed, during the first year of operation of the Act local authorities have three months within which to process applications—local authorities, through no fault of their own, may be left with only one month from the date of the Secretary of State's final refusal to carry out the whole processing of a house sale.

The Opposition suggest that the period should be extended from one month to six weeks. That is clearly not ideal. We are trying to strike a compromise to allow local authorities a degree of flexibility, especially in circumstances where delays could be outwith their control.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I should like to pursue the point that I was making earlier because it relates to the time factor. The Under-Secretary of State referred me to the housing statistics. I presume that the definitions must be acceptable to the Secretary of State. In other words, they must be compiled not on the say so of the district authority. Therefore, about 6,000 houses are known and identified and there should not be any cause for delay in establishing that category of house.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) relates to some procedural or administrative difficulty which should not be concerned with the subject matter. I do not know whether I am right about that. To go back to what the Minister said earlier, if a tenant wants to buy and the local authority wants to sell, surely that is the end of the matter and the Secretary of ally designed houses. Given that these will be well-defined categories of houses, does the Minister see any difficulty in meeting State does not come into it. If the procedure is to be the same as for any other house—not a specially designed house—there is no problem. I agree 100 per cent with putting barriers on the sale of speci-the timeetable set out in the Bill?

Mr. Rifkind

In response to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), I should point out that the figures in the housing statistics are not the grand total of all the houses likely to be affected by this provision. The figures in the statistics relate to what are considered to be a specific category of amenity housing which local authorities have indicated in their housing returns to the Scottish Office are within their boundaries. In addition to these recognised amenity houses, individual houses or groups of houses, while not being amenity houses in the normal sense of the word, come within these provisions. Obviously we are dependent on the information given to us by local authorities regarding their housing stocks. The largest single group of houses covered by the Bill will be the amenity houses, of which there are approximately 6,000. There may be others of which we are not aware which take the total above that figure.

Mr. Brown

I do not know why I should be the one who always tries to help the Minister. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is a minimum of 6,000 houses but that it could be more—a number that we do not know?

8 pm

Mr. Rifkind

That is exactly right. Clearly, any house that comes into the category of amenity housing, as it is normally understood in Scotland, would come within the category. There are almost certainly other houses which, for example, although not originally designed for old folk, have been specially adapted for a particular tenant or for individual tenants, and which have not been included in the returns of housing authorities over the years. Having said that, however, it will not be a lengthy process to identify whether a particular house comes into the category.

We gave serious consideration to whether it would be reasonable to accept the amendment. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) will appreciate that, unlike the English Act, the Scottish Act lays down specific periods of time for dealing with specific matters involved in the process of applications. The figure of one month is a period that appears in certain other respects in the Act. I think that the time provided is reasonable, because here we are talking of section 2(2) of the parent Act. That provides for a period of three months in the first year and two months thereafter to give an offer to sell. The hon. Gentleman will see in the Bill, under subsection (6) on page 2 that the landlord shall serve on the tenant an otter to sell under section 2(2) of this Act—within the period mentioned in the said section 2(2)"— which is the three months or the two months, depending on whether it is the first year— 'or where the unexpired portion of that period is less than one month". In other words where more than two months has already expired from the date when the tenant made his application, there will be allowed a further month for that period to be completed.

Therefore, the house about which we are talking will be one which, perfectly obviously, will come within the category covered by the Bill. If it is obvious to the local authority that this might be a marginal case, clearly, in its own interests, it will have dealt with the other aspects of processing the application just in case the Secretary of State refuses it, in order to comply with the time scale.

Clearly, the question of four weeks or six weeks will not make much difference anyway, if there were any serious problem. Even that period is open to extension by negotiation with the tenant. All that this period which is laid down means is that if it has not been completed within that period the tenant, if he was dissatisfied, could go to the Lands Tribunal. If the local authority said to the tenant "We are having a bit of a problem. It may take us a few more days or a couple of weeks", clearly, if the tenant had no reason to believe that it was a deliberate delaying tactic, he would be happy to agree to that.

While I freely accept the motives behind the amendment, I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is unnecessary.

Mr. George Robertson

In discussing this matter in a rational and reasonable context, because we are talking about something of technical importance, one finds that it goes somewhat beyond a technical interpretation. We are dealing here, after the Bill leaves this House and Parliament, with people who will have to handle the mechanics in conveyancing offices and local authority departments. What worries me is that it is still possible for the Minister to impose an unreasonable timetable upon authorities.

We debated the time limits at enormous length in Committee. The Opposition's amendments, which would have extended the time limit available for local authorities to respond to applications, were ruthlessly voted down by the Government. They have made one concession to the arguments put forward, which applies only to the first year, to the extension during the year ending October 1981 to a period of three months from the date of application. Indeed, as the Minister says, that would mean a delay of two months being necessary before the provisions of paragraph (b) come into effect. But thereafter, after October of next year, clearly a local authority could be left with only one month in which to handle all the conveyancing and other aspects involved in the matter.

If we discount for a moment any possibility of deliberate delay being involved, there are likely to be marginal cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) has just raised indirectly the figures quoted by the Minister in the last but one group of amendments. It is freely asserted that it is only a minimum of 6,000 houses which will be affected, but clearly, above that figure, there will be marginal cases. It is possible that in order to satisfy themselves that a case is worth taking to the Secretary of State, inquiries may have to be made by local authorities. Very few other of the steps necessary to be taken by the local authority can be taken until the Secretary of State has decided one way or the other. The local authority can be put in the position of having to deal with the whole process in the one month left after the Secretary of State refuses to grant the permission.

Given the Minister's protestations about local authority manpower, I think that he would hardly expect local authorities, on the supposition that the case was going to be agreed or refused, to make contingency plans on either side in order to deal with individual applications. There may be a number of applications, even only a small number, but I believe that an unreasonable constraint is being put on local authorities.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that after the first year local authorities will have only two months from the date of application to make the offer to sell. As they can use the first month of that two-month period to decide whether there is a right to buy—not just in these cases but in any case—in practice they will have only about one month in some areas of policy to do the general processing of applications.

The other point that I wish to stress is that it is only after that period that the tenant has a right to go to the Lands Tribunal. If there is a genuine problem of delay, I have not the slightest doubt that the local authority will say to the tenant "It will take an extra couple of weeks". If the tenant knows that and has no reason to doubt the sincerity of that proposition, of course he will not waste time and trouble going to the Lands Tribunal if waiting only an extra week or an extra fortnight will solve the problem.

What we are concerned with, unfortunately—and some Labour Members have repeated this—is that Opposition Members have said that they will seek to use all the delaying powers that the Act provides to prevent houses being sold. We have to take that into account in laying down the tenants' rights. But if there is genuine good faith on the part of the local authority, it would be a very extraordinary tenant who would wish to spend a lot of time going to a tribunal unnecessarily.

Mr. Robertson

One would have thought that it would be an extraordinary Minister who would be closing loopholes which he did not believe existed. There seems to be a mutual feeling of distrust here. The Minister is saying "If we leave a loophole, people will exploit it." Who is to blame a tenant who says to a local authority "You may say that the Secretary of State for Scotland, a Conservative to boot, has held my application for a month, but I am not satisfied with that. I believe that you are delaying unnecessarily" and he then imposes upon the local authority that constraint? We may be talking here about the marginal case, but that can often be the case that creates serious problems for the local authority quite unnecessarily and unfairly.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

However, I can see that there is no possibility of persuading the Government this evening that any amendment to the Bill should be accepted, whatever its merits. In that spirit, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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