HC Deb 23 March 1981 vol 1 cc680-7

`In the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980, after section 1 there shall be inserted the following section—

1A.—(1) Subject to subsection (2) below where, but for the fact that a landlord is not the heritable proprietor of land on which dwelling-houses have been let (or made available for letting) by it, one or more of its tenants would have a right to purchase under section 1 of this Act, the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide that the whole of the heritable proprietor's interest in the land shall vest in the landlord.

(2) An order under this section shall only be made where—

  1. (a) the heritable proprietor is a body mentioned in any of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (f) of section 10(2) of this Act; and
  2. 681
  3. (b) the Secretary of State is of the opinion, after consultation with the heritable proprietor and with the landlord that the order is necessary if the right to purchase is to come into being.

(3) An order under this section shall have the same effect as a declaration under section 278 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 (general vesting declarations) except that, in relation to such an order, the enactments mentioned in Schedule Al to this Act shall have effect subject to the modifications specified in that Schedule.

(4) Compensation under the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1963, as applied by subsection (3) above and Schedule A1 to this Act, shall be assessed by reference to values current on the date the order under this section comes into force.

(5) An order under this section shall have no effect until approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(6) An order under this section which would, apart from the provisions of this subsection, be treated for the purposes of the Standing Orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument shall proceed in that House as if it were not such an instrument.

(7) An order under this section may include such incidental, consequential or supplementary provisions as may appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of this Act.".'.—[Mr. Rifkind.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.45 pm
Mr. Rifkind

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

The new clause ensures that a tenant is not deprived of the right to buy under the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act because, although he is the tenant of an authority to whom the Act applies, his landlord leases the house or the land on which the house has been built from another authority to whom the Act applies. This is clearly consistent with the general policy of the right to buy. The existing provision in section 1(11) of the Act which removes the right to buy in cases where the landlord does not own the house is perfectly reasonable in most cases but not where the owner of the house is another public body whose own tenants have the right to buy under the Act.

The situation envisaged by the new clause has come to light in relation to houses built by the Scottish Special Housing Association on land leased from the district councils in Glasgow and Dundee. The number of tenants involved is 8,904 in Glasgow and 120 in Dundee. The SSHA has attempted to buy the land in question from Glasgow and Dundee in order to allow its tenants the right to buy but both district councils have refused to sell. Furthermore, there are indications that the present situation has led Glasgow to seek to deny future SSHA tenants the right to buy by insisting on leasing land for future building to the SSHA rather than selling it to the association, as had originally been envisaged.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Why is the new clause necessary? I thought the Minister had told hon. Members that the case put by Dundee and Glasgow would not stand up in court? Why are we having this legislation?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is confused. He is talking about the original definition of a heritable proprietor and whether a local authority, as a result of the reorganisation of local government, was a heritable proprietor for the purposes of the original Act. That matter is now history. It is not affected by this provision. We are dealing with a situation where the SSHA owns houses and rents them to tenants who have the right to buy from the SSHA but where, by a historical accident, the land on which the SSHA has built houses is leased from the two local authorities I have mentioned. We are in the anomalous position that, although both the SSHA and the local authorities are authorities whose tenants have the right to buy, the fact that the houses belong to one authority but are leased from the other means that they are not covered in the original legislation.

The mechanism provided by the new provision is that the Secretary of State would consult both the bodies concerned to establish the facts and to see whether the problem could be resolved without his intervention. If the authorities were unable to reach an agreed solution, the Secretary of State would make a vesting order transferring the interest in the land covered by the lease from the owner to the lessee. Any order which the Secretary of State proposed to make would be subject to stringent safeguards in the form of approval by both Houses of Parliament.

The vesting order procedure is the same as that already provided for in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972. The authority which owned the land would be compensated for the transfer of ownership under the terms of the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1963. The schedule associated with the new clause is purely consequential and simply inserts references to the new clause in existing legislation dealing with vesting orders and compensation.

I am sure the House will agree that it is right and proper that all tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association should have the rights that Parliament intended. I hope, on that basis, that the House will approve the new clause.

Mr. O'Neill

We come once again to the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act. The ink is barely dry on the Act, yet we had a series of amendments to it last year, and the Minister has discovered yet another anomaly. One must question the Department's competence in drafting the legislation and the speed with which it pushed it through last year, as it was unable to anticipate that 8,900 houses could not be sold.

We have no desire to assist the Minister in getting the clause through. We believe that the Act, which we opposed at every turn, was wrongheaded. When the leases in question were drawn up by Glasgow and Dundee, the work was done with a foresight for which those authorities now deserve credit. It is reasonable that the leases should have been drawn up in such a way that the authorities retained some control over the land.

Once again the Minister is trying to tidy up the mess that he left last year, when he pushed the Act through. The Opposition will give him no comfort. We want an end to the sale of council houses, which is irrelevant to the needs of tenants and would-be tenants. The economic position is such that far fewer people have the confidence to buy houses of any kind, as we see from the collapse in the private sector. The clause will do nothing to help those who are looking for houses to rent, and it does not assist Glasgow and Dundee district councils, which are taking what steps they can to satisfy the needs of the homeless in their cities.

We oppose the clause. We wonder how many more times the Under-Secretary will have to request further amendments, and how many other local authorities will have similar difficulties. So far only Dundee and Glasgow have encountered those difficulties, but many other authorities could find themselves in a similar position.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not true that it is not the local authorities that find themselves in difficulty? There is no problem for them. The problem is created for tenants who are denied the right to buy as a result of local authorities' unreasonably withholding a transfer of land.

Mr. O'Neill

Our point is that when the leases were drawn up the local authorities took account of the fact that they might wish to retain possession of the land. That right is now to be denied them by the new clause, simply because the Minister wishes to make sure that the houses in question can be sold. We remain opposed to the sale of council houses, and do not wish the clause to be part of the Bill. It will not help those who look to Labour councils for assistance when they seek cheap rented housing because they can afford no other accommodation.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

This is an important clause, and it would be a pity if it were dealt with more less on the nod. We shall vote against it.

The present Government, and the Scottish Office in particular, must have put through more legislation requiring the use of orders during their short period in office than any other Government that I can recall. Here we have a requirement for a resolution approved by both Houses of Parliament, and it can be a hybrid instrument. I do not pretend to understand the constitutional significance of that, but I believe that it is an unusual procedure that the Government propose.

Are the Government now taking power to tell local authorities—in this case Glasgow and Dundee—"Whether you like it or not, you must sell that land to the Scottish Special Housing Association"? Will the Secretary of State bring a compensation procedure into play? If that is what the Minister is saying the powers are for, it is most unfortunate, because he has given no evidence of need. I am not aware of 8,000 angry SSHA tenants in Glasgow demanding the right to buy.

I do not expect Glasgow or Dundee district council to go around shouting about the matter. They have discovered a loophole. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) pointed out that in Committee we were assured that there was no loophole. Is it true that masses of SSHA tenants are clamouring for the right to buy? Where has the Secretary of State received representations from?

The matter is most disturbing. The Minister knows my views. I have often said that no authority is entitled to break the law. The Government have got themselves into a mess without having thought the matter out. We raised the problem at the time, but they assured us that there was no flaw in the law.

Mr. Rifkind

It is precisely because the two local authorities in question have refused to act sensibly in this relatively minor matter that it is necessary to introduce the provisions before the House. There is considerable interest amoung SSHA tenants in Glasgow in buying their own homes, even though the SSHA has had to tell them that nothing can be done unless the law is changed. I understand that 352 have already applied to the association, and I have not the slightest doubt that, when it is known that any SSHA tenant will now be able to exercise his right to buy, that not insignificant number will be substantially greater.

The provisions are being put to the House only after 18 months of seeking to persuade Glasgow district council to agree to allow individual tenants of the SSHA to buy their homes. The first approaches were made in July 1979. There followed eight months' consideration by Glasgow, during which time no answer was given to the SSHA. The first response, in March 1980, was that no decision had been reached. In July 1980 the district council took the first steps towards discussing the matter with the SSHA. Eventually, in January this year, officials of the district council informed the association that Glasgow had decided not to sell. Therefore, it is far from true that the matter was rushed through or was not even being considered when the Act was passed.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Has the tenant no right of appeal against a local authority's decision to withhold the sale of land? I had understood that in certain circumstances there was a right of appeal. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the position.

Mr. Rifkind

I am happy to do so, because it makes clear the absurd position that the two district councils have put themselves in.

A local authority tenant has a right to buy and can appeal to the Lands Tribunal if that right is frustrated. An SSHA tenant has an identical right. The problem here is that, despite the fact that the owner of the land is an authority to which the Act applies, as is the landlord, because both have not agreed to the sale there is no procedure at present allowing that obscure problem to be solved. As far as we are aware, it applies only to Glasgow and Dundee, in respect of SSHA houses.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) suggested that a wide power was being taken. If he reads the clause he will see that this vesting power can apply only where both the owner of the land and the landlord are authorities to which the Act applies. If either is not, there is no way in which the new power will be available to the Secretary of State. That is right and proper because, after Parliament gave SSHA and local authority tenants the right to buy their homes, it would be nonsense if about 8,000 tenants in Glasgow and 100-odd in Dundee were deprived of that right because of a technicality of the kind that I have described. We hope even now that it will be unnecessary to use these powers. If a local authority is willing to allow the SSHA to sell a house to a tenant who wishes to buy, there will be no need for these provisions to be implemented.

7 pm

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I accept that we have lost the argument about the right to buy, although I do not accept the principles that guide the Government. I do not understand why only two authorities in Scotland have discovered the loophole. It is no secret that there is not a Labour authority in Scotland that wants to sell. Why are other authorities not being obstructed? Is there a financial reason or does it come down to ideology?

Mr. Rifkind

Glasgow and Dundee district councils are the only two authorities that happened to decide to retain the ownership of the land instead of selling it or giving it to the SSHA. Therefore, they are still technically the owners of the land. In other areas where the SSHA has houses it is the owner not only of the property but of the land on which the property is situated. Therefore, the local authority does not come into the picture in respect of an individual sale.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Should some tribute be paid to Glasgow and Dundee for adopting such a polsicy? It was not designed at the time to conflict with the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act.

Mr. Rifkind

It is a pure accident of history that the two authorities have retained ownership of the land. In respect of certain houses in Aberdeen a right of preemption was written into the deeds. However, that is not effective and it does not prevent the right to buy from being exercised. No doubt there are other conditions of various sorts in other local authority areas.

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

The House divided: Ayes 179, Noes 115.

Division No. 112] 7.01 pm
Alexander, Richard Hawksley, Warren
Ancram, Michael Hayhoe, Barney
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Henderson, Barry
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hill, James
Bendall, Vivian Hordern, Peter
Berry, Hon Anthony Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Best, Keith Hunt John(Ravensbourne)
Bevan, David Gilroy Hurd, Hon Douglas
Biggs-Davison, John Johnston, Russell(Inverness)
Blackburn, John Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Kaberry, Sir Donald
Boscawen, Hon Robert Kershaw, Anthony
Braine, Sir Bernard King, Rt Hon Tom
Bright, Graham Knight, Mrs Jill
Brinton, Tim Knox, David
Brooke, Hon Peter Lang, Ian
Brotherton, Michael Lawrence, Ivan
Budgen, Nick LeMarchant, Spencer
Burden, Sir Frederick Lester Jim (Beeston)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Lyell, Nicholas
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Macfarlane, Neil
Chapman, Sydney MacGregor, John
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) MacKay, John (Argyll)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Maclennan, Robert
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) McNair-Wilson, M.(N'bury)
Cockeram, Eric McQuarrie, Albert
Colvin, Michael Madel, David
Corrie, John Major, John
Cranborne, Viscount Marlow, Tony
Crawshaw, Richard Marten, Neil(Banbury)
Crouch, David Mather, Carol
Dickens, Geoffrey Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Dover, Denshore Mawby, Ray
Dunn, Robert(Dartford) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Dykes, Hugh Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fairgrieve, Russell Meyer, Sir Anthony
Faith, Mrs Sheila Miller, Hal(B'grove)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Mills, Iain(Meriden)
Fletcher, A.(Ed'nb'gh N) Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Moate, Roger
Fookes, Miss Janet Monro, Hector
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Morgan, Geraint
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mudd, David
Freud, Clement Murphy, Christopher
Garel-Jones, Tristan Myles, David
Goodhart, Philip Neale, Gerrard
Goodlad, Alastair Needham, Richard
Gorst, John Nelson, Anthony
Gow, Ian Neubert, Michael
Greenway, Harry Newton, Tony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Normanton, Tom
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)
Grist, Ian Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Grylls, Michael Parris, Matthew
Gummer, John Selwyn Pattie, Geoffrey
Hamilton, Michael(Salisbury) Percival, Sir Ian
Hannam, John Pollock, Alexander
Haselhurst, Alan Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hawkins, Paul Proctor, K. Harvey
Raison, Timothy Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Rathbone, Tim Temple-Morris, Peter
Renton. Tim Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Rhodes James, Robert Thompson, Donald
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Thornton, Malcolm
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Townend, John(Bridlington)
Rifkind, Malcolm Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Trippier, David
Roper, John Viggers, Peter
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Waddington, David
Rossi, Hugh Wainwright, R. (Colne V)
Rost, Peter Wakeham, John
Royle, Sir Anthony Walker, B.(Perth)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Scott, Nicholas Waller, Gary
Shepherd, Colin(Hereford) Ward, John
Skeet, T. H. H. Watson, John
Speller, Tony Wells, John(Maidstone)
Spence, John Wells, Bowen
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Wheeler, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wickenden, Keith
Sproat. Iain Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Squire, Robin Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Stainton, Keith Wolfson, Mark
Stanbrook, Ivor Young, Sir George (Acton)
Steel, Rt Hon David Younger, Rt Hon George
Steen, Anthony
Stevens, Martin Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire) Mr. John Cope.
Stradling Thomas, J.
Adams, Allen Haynes, Frank
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Ashton, Joe Home Robertson, John
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,) Hooley, Frank
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Howell, Rt Hon D.
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Janner, Hon Greville
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Callaghan, Jim(Midd't'n & P) John, Brynmor
Campbell, Ian Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Lambie, David
Canavan, Dennis Lamond, James
Carmichael, Neil Leadbitter, Ted
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lewis, Hon(Carlisle)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Litherland, Robert
Coleman, Donald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Cook, Robin F. McCartney, Hugh
Cowans, Harry McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cox, T.(W'dsw'th, Toot'g) McGuire, Michael(Ince)
Craigen, J. M. McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cryer, Bob McKelvey, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dalyell, Tam McNamara, Kevin
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) McTaggart, Robert
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McWilliam, John
Dempsey, James Marshall, D(G'gowS'ton)
Dewar, Donald Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Dixon, Donald Maxton, John
Dobson, Frank Maynard, Miss Joan
Dormand, Jack Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Douglas, Dick Mitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen)
Dubs, Alfred Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Duffy, A. E. P. Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Eadie, Alex Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Eastham, Ken O'Neill, Martin
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) Palmer, Arthur
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Fletcher, Ted(Darlington) Prescott, John
Ford, Ben Roberts, Albert(Normanton)
Foster, Derek Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Foulkes, George Roper, John
Grant, George(Morpeth) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Grant, John (Islington C) Rowlands, Ted
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Sever, John
Hardy, Peter Short, Mrs Renée
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Silverman, Julius White, Frank R.
Skinner, Dennis White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Snape, Peter Whitehead, Phillip
Spearing, Nigel Wigley, Dafydd
Stallard, A.W. Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Stoddart, David Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Stott, Roger Winnick, David
Strang, Gavin Woolmer, Kenneth
Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Tinn, James Tellers for the Noes:
Wainwright, E.(Dearne V) Mr. George Morton and
Weetch, Ken Mr. James Hamilton.
Welsh, Michael

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

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