.—(1) In section 1 of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 (which relates to the rights of a public sector to purchase the house which he occupies) after subsection (1) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(1A) Subject to subsection (1) above and to section 2(8) and 6 of this Act no person exercising (or seeking to exercise) a right to purchase under the said subsection (1) shall be obliged, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, to make any payment to or lodge any deposit with the landlord which he would not have been obliged to make or as the case may be lodge had he not exercised (or sought to exercise) the right to purchase:
Provided that this subsection shall not apply as regards the expenses of any court proceedings.
(2) In section 4 of the said Act of 1980—
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this we may discuss the following:
New clause 6—Sale of council houses in rural areas.
New clause 9—Exception to right to buy.
Amendment No. 76, in page 31, line 26, leave out clause 47.
48 Government amendments Nos. 77 and 78.
Amendment No. 79, in clause 47, page 31, line 35, leave out 'or exercise any discretion'.
Amendment No. 80, in clause 47, page 31, line 37 leave out'or, as the case may be, exercised'.Government amendments Nos. 81, 96, 113 and 116.
§ Mr. Stewart
At this stage in the debate I should like to speak to the Government amendments also. The need for new clause 1 and Government amendment No. 116 arises solely from the determination of a minority of Scottish local authorities—I stress that it is a minority—to find obstacles to put in the way of tenants who wish to exercise, or actively consider exercising, their right to buy their homes. In a nutshell, the combined effect of the new clause and Government amendment No. 116 is to obviate two methods of preventing or discouraging tenants from applying to exercise their right to buy.
First, it will prevent contracting-out of the right to buy. Section 1(1) of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act already prohibits the inclusion of contracting-out provisions in tenancy agreements to stop local authorities from refusing to allocate a house unless the tenant signs a lease that would debar him from exercising the right to buy when he had the three years' qualifying tenancy. Government amendment No. 116 simply extends this principle to stop authorities from threatening to do, or not do, something unless an existing tenant agrees to contract out of the right to buy.
We know of one authority that has given active consideration to refusing to modernise houses unless the tenant contracts out of the right to buy, and others may be doing so without the Government's being aware of it. There can be no justification for this. It is for the House to decide whether tenants of newly modernised houses should be penalised compared with other tenants, and the House decided when considering the legislation that there should be no such penalty.
Secondly, new clause 1 will prevent local authorities from charging tenants who decide to exercise their right to buy. Again, this practice is confined to a tiny minority of Scottish local authorities. It can take two forms—charging a tenant who wishes to submit an application form a deposit, which is not returned to him if he decides not to buy, and charging a tenant who puts in an application form, but eventually decides not to buy, a penalty charge.
The House will have noticed that both practices penalise the tenant who does not buy. One might have thought that the more doctrinaire Labour-controlled authorities would give such tenants a civic reception, but apparently they choose to punish them. It is not hard to see the reason for this. They hope to frighten their tenants in order to discourage them from exercising their rights under the Act.
The people whom they are most likely to succeed in frightening are those who would like to own their own homes but who are on the borderline between being able to afford to do so and not being able. In other words, they are precisely the people who will never stand a chance of being home owners except through our policy to help sitting tenants buy the houses in which they live—in many ways, the most important group of all.
It is not a crime to want to know whether one can afford to buy one's home or to know the conditions of sale, so 49 that one can judge whether one feels able to take on the responsibilities of home ownership. It is wrong that anyone should have to pay for such information. Tenants have a right to apply to buy their homes, and charging them to do so is like setting up a toll booth on a public right of way and charging people to walk where they are entitled to walk.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
The Minister must realise that that is exactly what the Government have required applicants for planning permission to do. Leaving that aside, is he saying that under the existing legislation, without the changes that he is now proposing, it is legal for district councils to take the actions that he has indicated? Is it not correct to say that if a local authority refuses to use the machinery under the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act it will be possible for the applicant to take the case to the Scottish Lands Tribunal and to get justice that way?
§ Mr. Stewart
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I am coming to the question of legality under the present legislation. The hon. Gentleman will know that it has always been the intention under the Act that charging should not be allowed. That was clearly the intention under the Act. There is nothing in the Act that permits charging. The hon. Gentleman asked whether local authorities can legally charge. One or two authorities have claimed, I think with dubious justification, that they can use their general powers in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.
Let me refer in particular to what has happened in Stirling district, which is one of the authorities in question. The reporter at the inquiry into sales in Stirling found that the council had a duty to go ahead and issue offers to sell to those tenants who refused to pay a deposit. Unfortunately, even that clear indication of the incompatibility of its action with the requirements of the Act has not inhibited Stirling from continuing to ask for a deposit without telling tenants that they have exactly the same rights whether they pay it or not. Naturally, most people pay when their local authority tells them there is a charge, because they are accustomed to expecting reasonable standards of integrity from their elected representatives.
§ Mr. Maxton
I am slightly confused. At one point the Minister referred to charges, and at another to deposits. What is the difference between them, or is he talking about the same thing? To my mind they are two different things.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am talking about a deposit that may subsequently be lost, and in effect that is a charge. Therefore, I am not talking about two separate things.
This trust, which is fully deserved by the great majority of councils, is betrayed when an authority does things that are at worst outside its powers and at best a conscious confidence trick to beguile people into paying something for nothing. I have no hesitation in recommending this second change as wholeheartedly as the first.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
The Minister is doing what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues keep doing, and that is to make serious allegations against the conduct of local authorities in Scotland. How many local authorities is he talking about? Will he list them?
§ Mr. Stewart
I cannot list the authorities, because we may not know which authorities are considering taking such action, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am making no allegation about the overwhelming majority of Scottish local authorities. We are talking about a tiny minority.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have already named Stirling and the other one that we know of is East Lothian, which also has charges of this sort.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I thank the Minister for giving way, as he named my constituency. I had a sneaking suspicion that he might mention East Lothian. Can he confirm what I know to be a fact, which is that no charge of the nature that he has described has ever been made by East Lothian district council?
§ Mr. Stewart
It does not have a great record in pushing the sales through, so the question has not arisen.
The other set of Government amendments relates to clause 47. They involve extensive changes to the drafting of clause 47, but introduce a single, straightforward provision of substance. That provision is contained in amendment No. 78. Its purpose is to give the Lands Tribunal for Scotland jurisdiction in cases where landlords serve an offer to sell on a tenant who has applied to buy his council house, but the tenant alleges that the offer has not been compiled in accordance with the requirements of the Act. The power of the tribunal in such cases will simply be to decide whether the offer to sell is defective in terms of the requirements of the Act, and if it finds that it is to order the landlord to serve an offer to sell that is not defective. The tribunal will not take the case over and serve the replacement offer to sell.
It was always the intention of the Act that the tribunal should be able to look behind the basic fact that a landlord has given the tenant a piece of paper, which is called an offer to sell, to see whether it is an offer to sell, constituted as the Act requires. However, in a recent case, the tribunal concluded that the Act as drafted did not give it that power, hence the necessity for these amendments.
I illustrate the need for the amendment by describing the particular case that gave rise to it. The tenant complained that the landlord had used its own valuer to value the house without obtaining his consent as the Act requires, whereas he wished the district valuer to carry out the valuation. The tribunal considered the case and concluded that the tenant was right to complain. However, having identified this injustice to the tenant, the tribunal came to the conclusion that it had no power to do anything about it. In its judgment it drew attention to the unsatisfactoriness of this state of affairs, and it is difficult to see how anyone could disagree with that. The amendment, if it had been in force, would have allowed the tribunal to take the obvious course of ordering the landlord to have the house revalued and to serve on the tenant a new, properly constituted offer to sell.
Another common example of the sort of case that has come to the tribunal, for which it has been unable to provide a remedy, is where the landlord refuses to include 51 a garage in the sale, although it has been let in conjunction with the house. The Act is clear on this matter. Property that the tenant has habitually had use of in conjunction with the house is part of the house for the purposes of the sale. This applies to garden grounds and garden sheds just as much as to garages. Clearly, if there is a dispute about whether the Act requires something to be sold with the house, there should be an easy means of settling the dispute. The amendments will allow the tribunal to provide exactly that.
The remainder of amendment No. 78 is a repetition of the previous provisions of subsection (1) of clause 47, with no change of substance.
Amendments Nos. 77 and 133 are purely consequential.
Amendment No. 81 is, in a sense, a technical provision. The House would probably like some explanation of it. Subsection (2) of clause 47 makes the changes in subsection (1) retrospective by a general provision that might, in practice, cause some confusion in individual cases. The amendment therefore substitutes a much more detailed provision.
The effect of the amendment is that the tribunal's new powers will not apply to any case that it has dealt with at the date when the new provisions take effect. In other words—and this is important—no case can be reopened as a result of these powers. In the case that caused concern, to which I have referred, I am glad to be able to assure the House that the tenant and the landlord came to an agreement themselves.
Amendment No. 96 is purely consequential on amendment No. 81.
These improvements and clarifications of the present provisions will be of considerable benefit. They clarify and confirm Parliament's intentions and represent our continuing determination to ensure that those of Scotland's tenants who wish to do so can exercise their right to buy and that no impediments should be put in their way.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
The scope of this package of proposals is wide-ranging and generous. Some have come from the Government and some from the Opposition. There is also a continuing and extremely spirited debate in Scotland about the worth of part 1 of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980, and whether the Government are doing irreparable damage to the fabric of public sector housing in Scotland. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) said at the conclusion of his remarks that the Government were proposing improvements and clarification. The hon. Gentleman has clarified one or two points. Whether he has improved the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act is much more of an open question. I hope that I shall suggest that in many ways the opposite has happened as a result of his efforts.
The Government have been tinkering—stopping little loopholes and buttressing restrictions here and there. They have done nothing to improve the general position that has resulted from the damaging effects of the tenants' rights Act as we are now experiencing it in Scotland.
In the new clauses and the amendments that stand in the name of the Opposition, we are proposing important reforms. There is no suggestion that we are looking in the Bill for a fundamental assault on the tenants' rights Act. 52 Although that is something that we should like to do, it would be out of place. A general local government and planning provision of this nature is not the measure to do that.
However, we can and hope to mitigate some of the more unfortunate consequences and to ensure that when the Bill reaches the statute book the result will be that the tenants' rights Act will be a slightly more palatable measure and will allow Scotland's local authorities a little more freedom and discretion to manage their housing stocks.
I do not wish to labour the point, but I wish to make it clear in the context of the debate that the many fears expressed over the past few years by local authorities are being amply justified in practice. The machinery in the Tenants' Rights Act has been divisive. It has heightened frustrations and tensions in housing. Anyone who represents an urban seat in Central Scotland, as I and many of my hon. Friends do, will know that there is a great deal of justified bitterness about the way in which the housing stock is being constantly raided. Those who are on housing waiting lists or in accommodation that is unsatisfactory in the simple physical sense, or in terms of amenity and convenience, and who are seeing the houses that they have waited so long for removed from the housing pool, have every right to complain. We have echoed their complaints persistently in debates for a long time.
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East said that many sins were being committed by housing authorities in Scotland. In particular, he mentioned at one point that, for example, active consideration has been given by certain people to taking out of modernisation programmes, houses that were thought to be the subject of inquiries as to purchase.
I should not advocate such a policy, but the sale of council houses distorts the judgment of local authorities in matters of this kind. At the end of the day, as they examine the management of their housing stock and the deployment of the ever-decreasing resources that the Government allow them, there is an understandable reluctance to spend money on housing that they know may be removed from the housing stock in the immediate future. I am not suggesting that that distortion is something that we could approve of or support. However, the Minister should face facts and accept that the housing stock is being affected and that the right of local authorities to manage their housing has been badly affected by the tenants' rights legislation.
The situation will get worse. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), who has been removed from our midst—I shall not say most cruelly—to other spheres of interest, constantly said that the best housing stock goes. Anyone who knows anything about housing in Scotland knows that the best stock, the highest amenity areas, the semi-detached houses, and the areas that are considered particularly desirable are where the sales are taking place. For Ministers to pretend otherwise shows either insensitive ignorance—perhaps that is perfectly believable of Conservative Members in Scotland—or, as I suspect, blatant brass neck. They must know from the advice given to them by their statisticians that the picture is very different from the one that they present.
I come now to the group of amendments. New clause 1 stands in the name of the Minister. Its purpose is to prevent the charging of a deposit by a local authority at the 53 start of the process that may lead to the sale of a council house. At one point, the Minister said that he could put the arguments in a nutshell. In my younger days there was a cliche in which people would have said that a nutshell was the best place for them.
There is no doubt that the change is a comparatively minor one, and it does not justify the indignation that the Minister expressed. He named, in particular, the East Lothian authority, as well as Stirling. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) made it clear that his information in that respect is incorrect. I do not defend the practice of taking deposits, although section 2(8) allows a £100 deposit to buy a fixed price contract for two years. In these days of inflation, that is a remarkable bargain, and one which I believe is difficult to defend on any rational basis. However, the deposit is not something that we would encourage.
Before the Minister waxes too indignant, he should consider many of the practices in the private sector in this respect. I agree with my hon. Friends that there was some confusion in what the Minister said about whether we were talking about a charge for the process which sets in train the sale, or whether it was a deposit against the price. From my experience of the private sector, there are many deposit sales in which large payments change hands as a percentage of the total price, and where the conveyancing is not completed until the total price has been paid, often with exorbitant interest charges over many years. So I am not clear whether the Minister's indignation should be confined to what I gather is an atypical practice in the public sector. There are many more important issues that we should be considering, and I suspect that the one that the Minister is talking about, if it is a deposit against the price, is comparatively unimportant.
I come to the new clauses standing in the names of myself and my hon. Friends. The first, on which we shall certainly wish to divide the House, is new clause 6, referring to the sale of council houses in rural areas. It is particularly important because, although we know that there have been a large number of applications in urban areas—incidentally, nothing like as many as Ministers claim—it is clear that it is a much larger problem for rural local authorities. For example, in September 1981, there were applications covering about 2.8 per cent. —applications, of course, are very different from sales—of council housing stock. The figures in rural areas show that the percentage of the stock that is threatened by forced sale is very much larger. In Skye and Lochalsh it was 12.8 per cent., in Orkney it was 12.1 per cent., in the Western Isles it was 9.9 per cent., and in Badenoch it was 9.4 per cent. When one considers that the percentage of the housing stock in the public sector in communities like that is much smaller than in urban or industrial Scotland, one realises how serious has been the raid on available public sector housing.
I am indebted to Shelter, which has done a survey on the matter, for some interesting information about the reactions of local authorities to this threat. The danger is that when the housing has been bought by the sitting tenant, and the new owner has tholed his assize in terms of the period during which the discount has to be paid back on sale, there is then an extremely saleable article which 54 may well change hands. not to provide housing accommodation for residents in that area, but to provide a holiday home for people coming into the area.
I quote a letter that was sent to Shelter by the Skye and Lochalsh district council. It said that ithas the smallest housing stock of any housing authority in Scotland, and any loss in the resources available is a matter of serious concern…In Plockton, sales have been concentrated in a single high-amenity scheme in a village which is already experiencing problems with a high proportion of holiday homes".I do not know Plockton very well, but I know that it is one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. If sales have been concentrated in a high-amenity scheme in Plockton, I imagine that they represent valuable assets on resale to burghers from Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Birmingham or elsewhere, who want to go there during holiday time. It is interesting that in the list of authorities that I mentioned earlier, the average selling price of a council house in Skye and Lochalsh is £7,585. If one bought a high-amenity house in that area for that price, clearly one is on a substantial killing if, in three or four years' time, one is prepared to alienate it from local use and sell it to a visitor.
I do not want to labour the point endlessly, but I may say that the same thing could be said of a number of other rural authorities, not only in the Highlands but in the Borders. Again, in the Shelter correspondence, I notice that Annandale and Esdale district council says:In some areas, the sale of one or two houses in some of our small stocks can represent a 50 per cent. reduction in the stock. If these houses are to be replaced, the unit costs will be very high, if not prohibitive.When one compares the average selling price of £7,500 that I mentioned—most of them are being sold at that price; the highest, I think, is in Badenoch, where it is just over £9,000—under the tenants' rights legislation, with the unit costs of building a new dwelling house in one of these outlying rural areas, one realises what an expensive loss to the housing stock the sale of one such house is. I am informed, for example, that in the Western Isles—the upper end, perhaps—the unit cost can be as high as £32,000. So there is a genuine problem in rural areas where housing is controlled by rural district councils. Of course we make a general attack on the whole principle of the Bill, but there is a specific problem in this connection which deserves our attention, and new clause 6 is an attempt to meet that problem.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Does the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) recollect that in the last Labour Government's lifetime it was the practice of the then Secretary of State to permit local authorities, in such areas as the hon. Gentleman has been describing, to sell houses freely if they so chose? They exercised that right extensively.
§ Mr. Dewar
Yes, I am aware of that. However, I do not think that it is true to say that that was done extensively. It may be that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has a little tunnel vision if he thinks that Caithness is Scotland. In fact, Scotland is something he flies over to get to Caithness. I am aware that the Secretary of State under the last Government made a provision for Caithness to sell a significant number oF houses. However, Caithness's wishes were atypical. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take the point that there is all the difference in the world between a local authority that wants to sell and a local authority that has been forced 55 to sell against the best interests of the whole community. That is the distinction that we must hold onto firmly. I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not defending the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 and standing up for the proposition that people should be able to buy in rural communities in the circumstances that I have outlined.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I was seeking to draw attention to the fact that the last Labour Government were prepared to accept the principle of local option in this matter. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman is developing a new argument that would deprive local authorities of the option that has been exercised not just in Caithness, as he knows quite well, but in many rural authorities.
§ Mr. Dewar
I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. I am certainly not trying in any way to deprive any local authority of a power. I am trying to protect authorities against the compulsory selling that takes place under the 1980 legislation. I would have thought—without being sarcastic, because I recognise that the Social Democrats, inevitably in their present state of flux, are making their policies as they go along—that we would have had their support at least on the essential condemnation of the tenants' rights act.
Let me turn to the purpose of new clause 6 because that may counter the confusion in the hon. Gentleman's mind. It is attempting to stiffen up the exception in section 4(6) of the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act for rural housing. There is the possibility there of a re-purchase of a house in a rural area, but it is a possibility that is so hedged around with equivocal conditions as to be almost worthless. Section 4(7) of the Act provides that:An order under subsection (6) above may be made where—Any condition can last only for a maximum period of 10 years. Although there may be the possibility of a pre-emption clause in favour of the district council, the Secretary of State's permission is so heavily qualified as, we would submit, to be almost useless.
- (a) within the said rural area more than one-third of the number of dwelling-houses of which the council concerned is the landlord…have been sold; and
- (b) the Secretary of State is satisfied that an unreasonable proportion of the houses sold have been resold and are not being used as the only or principal home of the owner.
New clause 6 attempts to provide—I do not see any objection to it in the argument of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland—thatthere will be no further disposal of the dwelling-house unlessWe are asking for the unqualified right to insist that if the house is being sold again, an offer at a fair market price should be made to the local authority first before it is sold, possibly into the private sector, and alienated from its proper use as a permanent home for people who live in that rural area.
- (a) the tenant…has offered to reconvey the dwelling-house to the landlord for a price to be determined by the district valuer as being the value of the dwelling-house at the time the offer is made; and
- (b) the landlord has refused the offer or has failed to accept it within one month".
I hope that I have made that clear. This is a highly defensible new clause. It is not only highly defensible on its own merits but it is buttressed by experience south of the border. No doubt the right hon. Member for Glasgow, 56 Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) with his limited experience, with many others, will remember that in section 19 of the Housing Act 1980 there is a much less complicated provision for a right of pre-emption than is allowed in the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. That provides that if a house is in a rural areathe conveyance or grant may contain a covenant limiting the freedom of the tenant and his successors in title to dispose of the dwelling-house in the manner specified below.That simply states that if it is in a specified rural area, in the original sale we can put in a covenant which stipulates that on any resale there must be an offer to the local authority that is making the original disposal.
New clause 6 attempts to provide Scotland with a similar protection to that which has been granted in the Housing Acts in England and to guard against a real danger, which, as I understand it, has been recognised by local authorities throughout the length and breadth of rural Scotland. I recognise that there are rural Labour authorities—East Lothian is one—which are expressing serious concern, doubt and anxiety, but a large number of such authorities are Conservative controlled. That gives them no special virtue in my eyes, but perhaps it will guard against the suggestion that I am putting forward a partisan, narrow or bigoted case, and that in some way I have been bent in my judgment by my general antipathy to the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act. I do not believe that this safeguard can be seen as a wrecking amendment in any way. There is a strong case, even for Conservatives, for new clause 6. We shall press it in due course to a Division.
Having spoken at some length on that, may I hurry on to one or two of the other provisions before the House. We believe that new clause 9 also has real and positive merit. Again, it will be our intention to divide the House on new clause 9. It attempts to deal with the vexed question of special housing for the old and disabled. The subject has been debated many times in the House and we return to it again and again because we feel particularly affronted about it. There is a long history of argument, and the House will remember—I do not intend to rehearse it in detail—that there was an announcement at a difficult stage of the English legislation that a concession was being made on housing for the disabled. The Secretary of State made a concession for Scotland at the same time. It was not made with good grace, but it was said to be an adequate concession which would put us on a par with what was being done by the Secretary of State for the Environment in England. As a result of that, we ultimately had the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Act 1980. The hon. Member for Pentlands, now the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs but then in charge of Scottish housing, made a great virtue of the fact that an important concession was being made. It may have been naive of me and some of my hon. Friends, but at the time we took that at its face value. We discovered later that the number of houses covered by the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Act 1980 was very small. They fell into the category of amenity housing which appears in the Scottish housing statistics. Those dated 31 March 1981, the latest available to me, show that in the whole of Scotland there were 4,126 houses potentially covered by that amending legislation. If one looks at the way in which it has been done, by some strange chance 966 were in Kirkcaldy, 1,264 were in Grampian, of which 1,206 were in Aberdeen city. Therefore, if one takes Kirkcaldy and Aberdeen city out 57 of the list almost no houses were protected in the rest of Scotland. The point is most eloquently made by the Glasgow city figures. In many ways, Glasgow has the most acute housing problem in Scotland, if only because of its scale and size. The number of houses that appear under the category of amenity housing under the Glasgow city is 28. It would be too strong to say that this amending legislation was based upon fraudulent promises and has turned out to be a total conspiracy by the Government. They tried and appeared to give a concession, but at the end of the day the concession proved to be entirely worthless.
It is very much on that basis that we promote new clause 9. It is an attempt to give what we regard as adequate protection for housing that has been specially adapted for the use of the disabled. As the House will see, the clause covers houses with featureswhich are substantially different from those of ordinary dwelling houses and which are designed to make it suitable for occupation by physically disabled persons; …where the dwelling house is one of a group of dwelling houses which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupancy 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.The intention is to try to make a limited exception—again we are not trying to wreck—that covers the spirit of the concession as we understood it originally to have been offered. We are trying to ensure that in all our constituencies where there are small groups of houses in which there has been heavy public investment to make them acceptable and suitable for the disabled, or where they have been closely linked to central facilities or social services, that they should be retained in the housing stock and should not be sold without at least the permission and willing co-operation of the local authority. They must remain available for future tenants who may have the special difficulties that require such housing.
That is a simple objective. It is met by new clause 9, and if the Minister had the good grace to accept the spirit in which the original amendment was offered, I do not see how he can be so churlish as to say now that he objects to new clause 9.
Amendment No. 76 also stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. It is a simple amendment to leave out clause 47. The reasons for it are self-evident. Clause 47 has now been revamped as a result of Government amendments. Therefore, we are in a complicated position. I am attempting to excise clause 47 as it stands, but if my amendment is carried—it is the only other amendment on which we intend to vote—we may excise the Government amendments as well. However, if we succeed on amendment No. 76, it may be that the Government amendments which refer to clause 47 will not be called. No doubt when we reach that point we shall have your expert guidance on that conundrum, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
However, whether it be the original clause 47 or the souped-up version that is now being offered to us by the Minister, they are both objectionable and must go.
It is not right that, although the Lands Tribunal may in terms of Government strategy be a necessary mechanism to ensure that the issue of offer and final conveyancing of an exchange of titles is completed, its mechanical function should be embellished by giving to the Lands Tribunal discretions which, up to now, have been exercised only by the local authority with its directly elected mandate. It is 58 dangerous to say that, for example, the Lands Tribunal can make concessions about the amount of discount or the years of service that should be taken into account in calculating the discount. It is wrong, not in any narrow prejudiced sense, to wish to remove any power from the Lands Tribunal in terms of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. It is wrong both in theory and in practice.
The other amendments that stand in my name may well be redundant because they are specific amendments that relate to clause 47 as it is presently drawn. However, they make a point that is very much in tune with what I have already said about the exercise of discretion. If we consider the new formulation that the Minister is promoting, in paragraph 3(i) it would be a matter of excising the words "exercise any discretion" in line 15 andgive, exercise or as the case may bein line 16. I hope that the Minister will consider whether it would be sensible to examine those possibilities if his new clause is carried.
Government amendment No. 81 is the only one to which I take no exception, because it limits and puts a clear boundary on the exercise of discretion and powers by the Lands Tribunal.
That has been a rapid Cook's tour through a complicated and complex series of amendments. do not intend to delay the House for much longer. All that I would say is that the two new clauses—that which deals with the right of pre-emption in rural areas and that which deals with the vexed question of housing specifically adapted for the disabled—would make a constructive contribution to the working of the tenants' rights Act and would improve it distinctly by striking out two self-evident anomalies.
I make no apology for saying, and I made it clear at the beginning, that these are minor improvements in the sense that they do not remove the evil of the 1980 Act as presently operated. I fear that the strains, stresses and difficulties to which I referred will become much greater as time goes on. For example, it is interesting to note that the new public expenditure projections up to 1984–85 suggest that in Scotland we shall see a reduction in housing expenditure of 14 per cent. in cash terms—a cut of £106 million—which will be catastrophic if we make allowances for inflation and try to estimate what that is likely to be in real terms. It comes on top of the most massive cuts during the past few years in housing support grants, which has seen the essential fabric of our housing stock deteriorate simply because local authorities do not have the resources to maintain decent and reliable services. A recent written answer to a question from me on Monday 19 April states that expenditure on housing in 1981–82 was £327 million, which will fall to £269 million in 1982–83.
We are facing a bleak and desperate period in terms of housing policy. Against that background, the pillaging of the housing stock and the selling of the best stock at knock-down prices, against the wishes of local authorities, will greatly compound the problems. I notice too that the sale of council houses will be a much larger part of the financing of the local authority housing effort under this Government than it should be. The net housing revenue allocation for 1982–83 for the city of Glasgow is £35 million, and to reach the total of £54 million the city must achieve a sale revenue of more than £18 million. It is extraordinary to note—the matter has already been raised and it may be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member 59 for Berwick and East Lothian—that the net allocation on the HRA block grant for East Lothian is £1.8 million from the Government, but the authority is expected to add a considerably larger sum, £2.7 million, to that from the sale of council houses. That is a totally unrealistic, dishonest and fraudulent way in which to calculate housing finance on the capital side.
The Government's achievement is a combination of misery and frustration. We have seen new building grind to a halt. We have seen the rewiring and modernisation schemes not just decimated but almost obliterated by the cuts that have been enforced by a Government who seem to see only one thing moving upwards—rents in Scotland.
We can do nothing about the general policy in the Bill, but we can at least make our protest and try, through our new clauses and amendments, to do something to save at least specified, particularly sensitive areas of the housing stock from the worst excesses of the Government's prejudice.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
We have to accept that, unfortunate though it may be, the original Bill was well drafted and the Government have largely succeeded in their goal of forcing local authorities to sell their housing stocks.
However, it is noticeable that in the two or three local government Bills following the Tenant's Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 there have been a number of amendments as the Government have rushed to plug some of the gaps in the original proposals. That is a comment on the ingenuity of certain local authorities, but there are some practices of local authorities of which one cannot approve. It is one thing to oppose the general sale of council houses, on the ground that it would impair the general distribution of housing available to tenants, but it is another to prevent individual tenants from exercising the rights given to them.
I was worried when the Minister suggested that some local authorities—I am not sure whether East Lothian is among them—have apparently sought to give wrong advice to their tenants about their rights and obligations. That would be particularly reprehensible. The House has sought over the years to encourage the diffusion of information to individuals, whether through citizens advice bureaux, Members' surgeries or in other ways, to make sure that individuals know their rights. It is wrong for any local authority, exercising power and trusteeship, to seek to give wrong information to the public and particularly to its tenants to whom it has a contractual obligation.
It was not clear from the Under-Secretary's comments whether there has been extensive abuse. It seems that the Government's amendments are intended to prevent wrong information from being imparted. If only one person has been mistakenly advised to give a deposit or has been put off from exercising his or her individual rights on the basis of erroneous information, that gives us cause for action.
If tenants have considerable rights under existing legislation, I am not sure that the amendments will necessarily prevent wrong information from being given. A charge or deposit may be rendered illegal and perhaps not even one particularly bold district council will seek to perpetuate that practice. If other wrong information is supplied to tenants, they will undoubtedly be put off.
60 New clause 1 deals with deposits and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) was right to point out that deposits are paid in instalment sales. In addition, it is accepted under the general law that, instead of entering a full contract, people can take out an option under which they pay a certain sum and go ahead with the purchase at a later date. The premium for the option is either deducted from the price or is regarded as an addition.
It is also possible that a premium will be returned to the purchaser. There are so many variations that it may be right for the Government to outlaw the practice in the sale of council houses. Such diverse variations could otherwise cause confusion.
It is also wrong for a local authority to put the frighteners on tenants over modernisation by saying that any work that is due to be done will automatically lead to an increase in the purchase price. If a tenant has been in the house for some time and living in inadequate conditions because modernisation has been delayed, it may be right for that work to be done, but I do not like the idea of an authority picking on individuals. The Government are right to prevent such practices.
An Opposition new clause deals with the sale of council houses in rural areas. Although the hon. Member for Garscadden did not say so, the formula that he has adopted for what we used to call pre-emption follows substantially what was contained in many conveyancing documents. The suggestion is not new. It provides for the original purchaser to sell back to the original seller and, generally, that is not the sort of proposal which one would smile on, because it inhibits a person's rights, but we must bear in mind that the purchaser of a council house has bought the property at a heavily discounted rate and has been given a substantial bargain, which puts him in a different situation from any other purchaser.
Secondly, and probably more important, the purchaser of a council house has acquired a property which may be of value to the community and particularly to those, whether young couples or others, who are on the housing list and may not otherwise be able to get a house.
When we discussed such matters, almost ad nauseam, on the Bill providing for the sale of council houses, it was generally agreed that in country and coastal areas there would be pressure on the councils to sell their properties as holiday homes. The first sale will be to an existing tenant, but I think that most hon. Members will agree that second home purchasing is wrong, especially if it leads to the deprivation of the rights of indigenous inhabitants. There would be no problem if there were a surfeit of houses, but in many rural areas there is a shortage of properties and many people are driven away from those communities because they cannot get a local authority house.
It could be argued that once a local authority had disposed of a property to a tenant there would be no need for it to be involved again, because it could acquire land, by compulsory purchase if necessary, and build new houses to cater for the tenanted sector. However, it is clear from the public expenditure White Paper that the money to do that will not be available to local authorities and there will consequently be great pressure on them.
I support new clauses 6 and 9. I shall not go into detail on new clause 9. It was self-evident during the discussions 61 on the original Bill that there was pressure on housing for the disabled and the elderly. Houses for the disabled have been converted and made suitable for disabled persons. Those houses in turn should be made available to other disabled people. With the inhibitions on finance, local authorities, although many of them may sacrifice other areas of expenditure to take care of the interests of disabled people, may find themselves in difficulty and slow down some of the conversion work.
The argument applies equally to houses for people of pensionable age. In my constituency there are many elderly people who do not need sheltered houses but who would be happy if they had a ground floor flat for the time being to which they could gain access without having to climb stairs. That sort of house, once having been purchased by an elderly tenant and resold, may not go to elderly people. It may go to anyone else who wishes to acquire that house because he or she likes a ground floor flat. If there is such a demand for housing for the elderly, any house that is fitted for the disabled or suitable for the elderly should be reserved in the housing bank for that purpose.
Therefore, I am wholly behind the Opposition in what they are seeking to do for the disabled and the elderly in exempting that classification of house from the list. I congratulate them on giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter once more. Perhaps we shall be outvoted by Conservative Members, as has happened previously.
§ Mr. Wilson
When it comes to Divisions, hon. Members tend to come out of the woodwork.
If the Government decide to oppose this valuable new clause, that exception will be reversed. Why should that be done? The Government should not be tied to every detail of the legislation that was introduced about two years ago. They should graciously accept the valuable and limited point made in the new clause.
My final point relates to amendments Nos. 76, 79 and 80. The hon. Member for Garscadden gracefully flitted over amendments Nos. 79 and 80 and rested his case mainly on amendment No. 76, which proposes to excise clause 47 from the Bill. That may be an estimable intention, but unfortunately those of us who were not on the Committee are not aware of the arguments that would make that necessary. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be wrong to give discretion to the Lands Tribunal. However, sometimes it is useful to give discretion to such a statutory body. It all depends on the nature of the discretion and the other rules that it is bound to keep. Therefore, before deciding whether I shall support amendment No. 76, I shall wish to hear not only the hon. Gentleman speak at greater length about that matter, but the Minister justify the changes that he is proposing to make.
I am glad that we have been able to start with the important subject of housing which concerns a great many people. In view of the Government's disastrous policy to reduce expenditure on housing when there is such great need, I ask them to reconsider some of the points that have been made, hearing in mind that I shall be glad to support them on the new clause to cure individual abuse. If they are willing to cure individual abuse, I hope that they will be willing to cure general abuse in certain categories.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
This is my maiden speech on the Bill. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the Scottish housing problem. I shall refer in particular to new clauses 6 and 9 and to amendment No. 76.
From the beginning the Opposition have opposed the Government's proposals to give tenants the right to purchase their houses regardless of local needs and of the wishes of the local authority. In a number of areas, specific hardship is caused. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, we knew what would happen in the areas with better amenities.
There is an opportunity for the Government to respond to real local needs. The first is in relation to rural housing. The problem that we are facing in rural areas stems partly from the lack of rural policy by both this and the previous Government. The problem has been heightened by the decrease in the number of people who live and work in the countryside.
During the last 15 years about 125,000 agricultural workers have left the land. That does not necessarily mean rural depopulation, because there are plenty of commuters coming in, but it means that those who worked on the land and contributed to the preservation of our rural life have left. A problem arises in the attempt to reverse agricultural policy and to develop a positive policy to encourage the rural economy in other ways.
In that situation the provision of local authority housing becomes paramount. The purchase and consequent sale of local authority housing will not be to people who are working on the land or in the rural economy, but to the commuter and the weekender. In other words, the process of depopulation will be sharpened, because people who work on the land will be forced out of rural areas. In addition, there is pressure on jobs and pressure because of a lack of housing. Such a policy is adding to the erosion of a healthy rural economy.
That erosion is not aided by the situation facing the rural worker. In England and Wales there has been the abolition of tied cottages and the local authorities have a duty to provide houses when they are also being compelled to sell houses, but that is not the case in Scotland. In a rural area in Scotland a worker in a tied cottage may lose his job. The local authority may wish to exercise its discretion and assist in giving him a house, but it is finding that its stock of houses is being denuded. Therefore, there is less of a case in rural areas for continuing the policy than there is in the cities. In rural areas, we are seeking to bring about a change in policy.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said that there was a case for a local option. He cited Caithness. In new clause 6 the local option exists, because if a local authority does not wish to purchase, it does not need to do so. When I look at that new clause, I am astonished at the moderation of my hon. Friends. It could have been, and needs to be, tougher. However, I recognise that my hon. Friends are relying on the goodwill of the Government, with their craven majority, and that the only way in which the new clause might be accepted is if that majority is dented and we gain support for this moderate proposal.
There is no justification for the local option unless there is a massive surplus of houses. But even if there is, it must be given the opportunity of being exempt, so that local authorities have the chance to purchase property hack. I plead with the Government to reverse their policy for rural 63 areas. The opportunity for a local option should be given. Rural areas are being depopulated. Craftsmen, tradesmen and farm workers are leaving and houses for them should be available.
The House has experienced the argument in new clause 9. We remember the promises that were given by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and the Government, but the number of amenity dwellings covered is small. Glasgow had only 28 and Grampian and Aberdeen had about one half of the 4,000 dwellings between them. In practice, therefore, the Government's concession to protect the disabled and the elderly by retaining the stock of amenity dwellings was a hollow promise.
In the area that I represent. Renfrew district council has no amenity dwellings that will be covered by the criteria laid down by the Government. Not one house will be protected and maintained by the local authority as a result of the Conservative proposal. The Minister represents that area also. He should know the problems there. He should know that not one house that is being let and is intended for the elderly or the disabled will be protected by the legislation.
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall gladly do so. The Minister must hear a responsibility for the area that he represents. It is shameful that he did not stand up immediately in the face of the craven majority behind him—the few of them who are present—and accept my proposal on the spot.
The disabled and elderly cannot easily rectify the problem that will be created by the sale of houses that are specially made for them. Their problem is different from that of young couples, who perhaps work—which would be a lucky event these days—and can probably save to purchase a house. In Renfrewshire, young couples must save to purchase their own houses, because the housing support grant has been savagely cut, as has the house building programme and the home improvements and repair scheme.
Young couples might be able to purchase a house, but the elderly and disabled, by definition, are unable to enter that market. They are wholly reliant on the provision of public housing. The houses that they need are now being sold off. That represents a reduction in the available housing stock. It is disgraceful. I hope that the Minister will answer the case. I do not want an answer that juggles the recent figures for Renfrew district council.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman from the other part of Renfrewshire for giving way. Will he explain why Renfrew district council underspent by £1 million its capital housing budget?
§ Mr. Buchan
That is exactly my point. It is a waste of time for the Minister to juggle with the figures. The answer is that not only do I not know, but Renfrew district council also apparently does not know. However, one thing is certain. The so-called underspend, which has not yet been properly analysed, was not an underspend of money, but a lack of borrowing. It was borrowing consent that the council had not used, so it does not add much to the 64 housing figures. That is one reason why I am glad that the Minister responded. I am pleased to have that matter out of the way.
I return to the point that I was making about grant concessions on amenity dwellings. None has been provided in my area. Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that local authorities do not necessarily build houses that are different and specially designed for the elderly. They also operate a letting policy of housing that is more suitable for the elderly.
Another local authority in my area, Inverclyde, has a 10-storey block of flats. It operates an intelligent policy of letting most of the flats to the elderly, and a smaller proportion to young couples. As a result, the young couples can help the elderly. The authority has thereby created a sense of community and independence. By no token can those properties be brought under a highly specialised category of housing. They are ordinary flats.
More consideration should be given to such housing. If the Government cannot find it in their hearts to provide a special housing support grant for more specialised housing, they can at least encourage an intelligent social and community policy of letting. They can enable local authorities to reserve housing that can be earmarked for that purpose.
One of the saddest aspects of the legislation is that we are depriving the disabled and the elderly, more sharply than other age groups, of housing. The rural areas, where special factors apply, are being singled out. The Government can give concessions on both of the points that I have made. Let us ensure that my suggestions are accepted and enable local authorities to exercise an option if they so choose. If local authorities do not feel that my suggestions go far enough, we should impose upon them a duty to prevent the sale of such properties.
Amendment No. 76 would do away with clause 47 and the right of the lands tribunals to intervene. If my memory serves me correctly, I reactivated the lands tribunals.
§ Mr. Buchan
No, it is not my fault. The lands tribunals were reactivated for a specific purpose. I was looking for a specific instrument to deal with the problem of feudal superiors exercising tyrannical power over tenants with regard to purchase and so on. The Tories then came along and turned the idea on its head. Instead of giving tenants the power and freedom, the Tories have used it to impose yet another tyranny on the tenants, and even on the local authorities to whom the original tenants could look for some protection. In spite of the technical problems for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that this matter can be pushed to a vote and carried.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
At the beginning of the debate, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) asked me to draw the attention of Mr. Speaker to strong representations from him and a number of other hon. Members about the fact that Mr. Speaker had not selected for debate new clause 5. I have made representations to Mr. Speaker on the hon. Gentleman's behalf, but Mr. Speaker has asked me to say that he regrets that he cannot change his selection.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Naturally, I am deeply disappointed, but I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the Clerk for making those representations.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), I am disappointed, although I fully accept the statement that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have made.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), I represent a largely rural constituency and I, too, wish to say something about the problems created by the sale of local authority houses in rural areas of Scotland. As we are debating what at Labour Party conference would be described as a substantial composite, consisting of no fewer than 12 new clauses and amendments, it may be helpful if I work through them in the order in which they appear on the amendment paper.
It is appropriate that the Report stage of the Bill should take place this week, when the people of Scotland go to the polls to elect their own regional councils whereas the proposals before us are entirely concerned with interference in the activities of local authorities. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland has done us the favour of actually showing his face in the debate.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I think that he is the third one along in the middle.
The Secretary of State has done nothing but interfere with the conduct of local affairs since he took office. Many of us wish that he would let the people of Scotland elect their local authorities and then let the authorities get on with their work.
I am heartily sick of explaining to Conservative Members that neither I nor, so far as I know, any other Opposition Member has any objection in principle to owner-occupation of houses. Indeed, it would be ridiculous and hypocritical for a Member such as me to object to people owning their own homes. My concern, however, is for the 2,000 people on housing waiting lists in my constituency, and for the much greater number of people on waiting lists elsewhere.
New clause 1 deals with the deposits or charges that may be imposed by local authorities. I believe that the Minister said that Stirling district council may be imposing the kind of charge that he has in mind. He also implied that East Lothian district council in my constituency imposes such charges. I understand from a member of that district council, however, that, although the council at an early stage reserved the right to impose such charges, it has not actually collected any money on this pretext.
In a sense, it is not wholly unreasonable that local authorities should seek some means of covering the administrative costs of operating the scheme. Just as estate agents in some circumstances ask people to pay the cost of obtaining particulars of properties that they wish to purchase, as it clearly costs the agents money to print material and to deal with the administrative work involved in advertising property for sale, and so on, local authorities also have to face additional costs as a result of having to operate this scheme.
The Minister has made it clear that he does not wish the authorities to recover the costs from the people buying the houses, but he has not favoured us with an explanation of how they are to recover the costs. Perhaps they are to recover them from the ratepayers, although I understood that the Minister liked to style himself the ratepayer's friend. Perhaps he will increase the rate support grant to cover these costs.
66 6.45 pm
Some curious suggestions have been made by people speaking on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland as to how the administrative work involved is to be carried out. The leader of the Conservative group on East Lothian council suggested that all the administrative work should be carried out by the Lands Tribunal, and that the district council should not do any of it. The Secretary of State's counsel at a public inquiry into the sale of council houses in East Lothian, Mr. Craig Henry, suggested that the purchasers should draw their own deed plans. That strikes me as a recipe for chaos, as there may be overlapping properties and the same piece of land or garden may be sold twice. The same learned counsel also suggested that the district valuer's valuation should be legally binding on the district council as the seller, and that even if there were a clerical error in it—the odd nought added on or left off—the district council should not have the right to query it. That is the kind of argument that has been advanced to try to get around the administrative problems that are bound to arise in property transactions of this kind.
New clause 6 is intended to safeguard housing in rural areas of Scotland. This is of great importance to me as I represent a mainly rural constituency. Clearly it is vital for small communities in rural areas that there should be a reasonable amount of housing available to let, so that the communities can remain alive. It is important that young people should be able to find houses even if they cannot afford to buy, so that communities do not suffer unnecessary social distortion, for instance, by large numbers of retired people coming in from urban areas,
It is certainly true—I shall adduce evidence for this later—that pressure is building up on the better quality housing in the better amenity areas throughout Scotland. It follows from that that the housing that will be left for letting to prospective council tenants in the future will be the poorer housing in the less attractive areas.
In constituencies such as mine there is also the problem of holiday houses. Clearly people cannot buy holiday houses directly from the local authority. In the past two or three years, however, some tenants in my constituency have bought their houses and then died or decided to move elsewhere and the houses have been resold. Naturally, the seller wishes to obtain the highest price that he can, so he sells to the highest bidder. It is no surprise to Opposition Members, nor, I suspect, to anyone else, that in attractive rural or seaside areas the highest bidder is not the young family struggling to buy their first house. I hear the Minister muttering. Does he wish to say something?
§ Mr. John Corrie (Bute and North Ayrshire)
Can the hon. Gentleman estimate how many agricultural cottages in his area have been made holiday cottages by farmers and estate people? Surely that is taking housing stock out of the agricultural areas he is talking about?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
That is a perfectly fair point. I have not the detailed information for which the hon. Gentleman asks, but he is right to point to the problem that is being created in some areas by the fact that former agricultural tied housing is being sold to the highest bidder. It is bad enough for a remote house, perhaps a farm 67 cottage, to be sold; it is 10 times worse for a house within a small village community to be lost to the local community in circumstances of this kind.
§ Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is even worse if it is a tied cottage from which there has been an enforced eviction and which is sold as a holiday cottage?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I was about to move on to the question of agricultural tied housing, because it is relevant. I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that what he has described has occurred. People have been evicted from agricultural tied housing on the pretext that the farmer requires the house for an incoming worker, but within months the house has been sold as a holiday house. I do not want to overstate my case. I am not saying that this is happening all over Scotland, but it has happened, it can happen, and it is an abuse.
As a number of hon. Members know, I have in the past attempted to amend the legislation concerning agricultural tied housing in Scotland to bring it into line with the improved legislation that applies in England and Wales. Indeed, my hon. Friends and I intend to do everything we can to press for that. Many of us feel that it will be not only beneficial from a housing point of view but useful for the agriculture industry.
At present, if a farmer requires accommodation for an incoming worker in Scotland and he has either the widow of a former worker or a retired worker living in a farm cottage, he cannot go through the civilised procedures available in England and Wales. He has to get a court order for the eviction of the farm worker and his family. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West suggested that there are not proper procedures for getting these people rehoused by local authorities, and of course there are not. Nevertheless, the local authority must house them, because when they have been evicted they are homeless and become eligible for housing under the housing of homeless persons legislation. So it is a pretty unsatisfactory state of affairs.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend is perfectly right and I never suggested anything to the contrary. I was talking about the existing process, which as he says is a gentler and more civilised process in England and Wales than that in Scotland. But the effect is the same—difficulty is imposed on a local authority whose stock is slowly being eroded.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
My hon. Friend is quite right. The impact of the process that this Government have set in motion is already reducing the housing stock, not dramatically but significantly, and is creating problems of the type he has described. Indeed, after my Ten-Minute Bill on this question had a Second Reading in rather curious circumstances—the Government Back Benchers who had appointed themselves as Whips forgot to shout "No" at the appropriate moment; I think one of the Members concerned is now a Government Whip, the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) —discussions took place between myself, representatives of CoSLA, representatives of the National Farmers Union in Scotland and representatives of Shelter and it became clear that everybody concerned with this problem, including the 68 farming industry and local authorities, was aware that the situation was being aggravated because a disproportionate number of houses were being lost in the rural areas.
This legislation has yet another effect on rural communities in Scotland. We are getting an increasingly aged population in some of our small villages, because when a house is sold to the highest bidder in the circumstances I have described on many occasions it is not a young couple who buy it; it is someone from one of the cities. Therefore, geriatric communities are being created quite unnecessarily in some of our small villages. It ought to be one of our objectives to keep a balanced population in all our communities throughout Scotland.
I cite as evidence of the fact that a problem is being created a paper which has been submitted to the housing committee of East Lothian district council. I have no reason to believe that the same factors outlined in this paper do not apply in all the other rural areas of Scotland. It reads:Applications to purchase have been received representing 3 per cent. of the total district council housing stock. However, within this figure there are substantial local variations. Applications within specific letting areas range from 0.8 per cent. in Wallyford and Whitecraig",which are former mining villages, to 6.8 per cent. in Longniddry, which is near the coast, 5.6 per cent. in Pencaitland, which is getting up towards the attractive area in the Lammermuir Hills, and 6 per cent. in Port Seton and Cockenzie, again on the coast. These also show disproportionate numbers of applications.
In the town of Musselburgh one letting area containing less than 30 per cent. of the town's public housing stock generated nearly two thirds of the applications for housing.
Noticeable preferences are also apparent in the size and type of house subject to purchase. On the north coast applications to purchase two-apartment houses represent only 0.8 per cent. of the total, although this size of house represents 10.3 per cent. of the public stock. Conversely, 43.2 per cent. of applications are from tenants of four-apartment houses, whereas this size of house represents only 31.3 per cent. of the stock. Indeed, in some areas tenants of a substantial proportion of the four-apartment stock have applied to purchase. For example, in Gullane, which is in the area of the Muirfield golf course, 13.3 per cent. of tenants in four-apartment houses wish to purchase, in Longniddry 10.5 per cent. and in North Berwick 9 per cent.
Those are relevant figures that show the sort of discrepancies in the way that the right-to-buy legislation is working.
The paper goes on to say:Over three-quarters of applicants are tenants of detached, semi-detached and end terrace houses whereas only 6.6 per cent. of applicants currently live in flatted accommodation, which comprises 28 per cent. of the stock.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) has found one. If he has, I sincerely hope it is not in East Lothian.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Would my hon. Friend advise the right hon. Gentleman to seek a short-term tenancy if he is looking for a house in Scotland?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has only a short-term tenancy of this Chamber, because he has already left. Anyway, far be it from me to offer that kind of advice to him.
The final paragraph of this paper is particularly relevant to new clause 6:Another noticeable feature is the situation in some of the smaller settlements within the District where a substantial proportion of the public stock is likely to be sold. In Humbie applications to purchase have been received from tenants of 3 of the remaining 4 council houses, in Stenton 4 from 16."——and I could go on to cite others. In one small community in Berwickshire—it is in my constituency—there were only four council houses. All of them have been sold. Anyone who wants to rent a house in that area may as well give up and go somewhere else.
New clause 9 concerns safeguards for the disabled and the elderly. Last year, or the year before, the Secretary of State for the Environment, under parliamentary pressure, made a concession. He said that certain safeguards would be enshrined in English legislation for the public ownership of specialist housing for the disabled and the elderly. He honoured his promise and undertaking. I wish I could say the same for the Secretary of State for Scotland. When the necessary amending legislation was brought before the House, it became clear that it had been drafted in such a way that most of the houses in Scotland were not safeguarded.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I suspect a combination of both. In view of the company that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) keeps nowadays, he should be more familiar with these things than I am. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I bear no malice towards him personally.
My concern about the problems of access to buildings generally for the disabled is well known. I make no apology for having raised the issue on numerous occasions in Committee and in the House. I have made numerous attempts to ensure that public buildings in Scotland are properly accessible to the disabled. What could be more important than for the disabled to have access to their own homes? Surely they should be able to pass through the door of their house without having to face enormous difficulties. We all have constituents who are suffering from various disabilities related to age—for example, arthritis and rheumatism—and many of them find it difficult to enter and leave their houses.
Over the years local authorities have gone to great lengths to try to build suitable housing to meet the requirements of the disabled and the elderly. However, houses that were intended to be used by those people are being sold to others because in Scotland we do not have the same safeguards as in England and Wales. The highest bidder is not normally an elderly or disabled person. He will be someone who wants a particular size of house in the neighbourhood where the sale takes place. The figures to which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) referred are just as alarming as the figures that we discovered when the Government introduced their pitifully inadequate amending legislation, 70 which in Scotland failed to fulfil the promise given to the House on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
It is ludicrous that only 4,126 houses throughout Scotland are protected by the amending legislation. Practically all of them are in Aberdeen and Kirkcaldy. Only a handful of them are in my constituency. This means that those who are disabled and/or elderly and who have difficulty in getting up and down steps will have to wait that much longer for suitable housing.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I must advise my hon. Friend that it will be a long night. The Government have tabled numerous amendments and new clauses. It is scandalous that we are to have only one day to discuss the Bill on Report. A tome of amendments and new clauses has been prepared by the Government. It appears that we are expected to plough through it and to give the amendments and new clauses proper and adequate scrutiny within one parliamentary day. Some time has already been lost, quite properly——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not be tempted by sedentary interruptions.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am surrounded by sedentary interrupters.
Amendments Nos. 78, 81 and 113 refer to the Lands Tribunal for Scotland. I fear that we are being asked to compound an error that has been built into the Bill in clause 47. Is the tribunal up to the job that the Government have in mind for it? I understand that it consists of one judge, two chartered surveyors and a lawyer. Presumably it has administrative staff. Counsel for the Secretary of State at the public inquiry into council housing in East Lothian suggested that the tribunal's valuations for the purpose of council house sales should be mandatory. If that suggestion is being advanced on the Government's behalf, it is doubly important that the tribunal should get its figures right. I wonder whether it is able to do so. Even a typing error may lose an authority many thousands of pounds.
The Conservative group in one of the local authorities in my constituency thinks that the tribunal should conduct all the council house sales itself without local authorities being involved in the conveyancing. That is a curious idea as well.
As I have said, I fear that the amendments will compound an error that has been built into clause 47. The clause should be done away with and, therefore, I support amendment No. 76. Is the tribunal an appropriate body to excercise the discretion which is envisaged? I understand that it is a judicial body. Surely it is inappropriate for such a body with such a staff to exercise commercial and social discretion of the sort required by the Bill.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) is bursting to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the interests of brevity and to illustrate my wish to make progress, I shall resume my seat.
§ Mr. Maxton
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) for rising during his speech. I did so because 71 I thought that he had finished. His latter remarks were extremely apposite. I hope that he did not think that I was seeking to curtail his remarks. That was not my intention.
§ Mr. Maxton
If my hon. Friend is upset, I doubly apologise to him. I am sure that he will forgive me as the night proceeds. I shall not be tempted further by my hon. Friend's sedentary interruptions.
It is appropriate that we should be debating part of the Tenants' Rights, Etc (Scotland) Act 1980 in the context of the Bill only two days before the regional elections in Scotland. That was the first of the Government's measures to take powers away from local authorities. The Bill is the latest legislation by which the Government are seeking to take powers away from Scottish local authorities. Therefore it is right that on the Government's third anniversary we should be examining the first Act as well as considering the Bill.
There has been an erosion of the power of local government and its ability to take decisions at local levels about the future of local services and areas. That has been the trend throughout the Government's term of office. The Government's constant claim throughout the past three years has been that the ratepayers of Scotland support them and that the ratepayers believe that the Government are right. My view—and so far the opinion polls bear me out—is that the elections on Thursday will show that the electors of Scotland, and in particular those in areas, such as Lothian which the Government have hit hardest, will prove the Government wrong and will give their wholehearted support to the present administration in the Lothian region.
On Friday night, I saw the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) squirming at the results of an opinion poll which, after what the Government believed was a popular measure, showed that support for the Conservative Party in the Lothian region was 23 per cent.
I come now to new clause 1 and to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg
Before my hon. Friend leaves his important point about the Lothian region and the elections in Scotland next Thursday, would he consider it appropriate to suggest to the Minister responsible for local government that if the election result confirms the poll to which he referred, the Minister should tender his resignation?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order I hope that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) will not be tempted to answer that. I do not see the elections mentioned in new clause 1.
§ Mr. Maxton
My hon. Friend makes a good point but I would not accept the Minister's resignation. More appropriately, perhaps, the Secretary of State might withdraw the order that he intends to make against Lothian region in terms of the rate and grants that he intends to give to Lothian region. That is a matter that he would have to consider.
I return to new clause 1. I found very odd the Minister's answer to a question that I put to him during his speech concerning the difference between charges and deposits. 72 It is the first time that I have heard a deposit described as a charge. A deposit is lost only if the option to purchase is not taken up. If the person who has paid a deposit goes ahead and purchases the property, the deposit is then deducted from the purchase price. I assume that that is what the Minister means by a deposit.
I hope that the Minister is listening and is not busy doing his correspondence. It can be called a charge only if a person who has decided to purchase is asked for a deposit and then decides, for whatever reason, that he is unable to continue. In the present circumstances that may be because he has been declared redundant and is no longer able to afford to continue with the purchase of a house. Only then can it be called a charge, because the person has lost the deposit.
I should have objections to local authorities imposing that type of deposit on tenants who are seeking to buy. I find it irresponsible of the Government to expect local government, on commercial grounds, to work towards the standards of private enterprise and private industry and then impose different standards on local authorities from those which apply to the private sector.
I shall give an example of the private building sector. About seven years ago I bought a new house. When I first intimated my intention to the sellers, I was asked to make a deposit of £100. Having made that deposit, I had to look for a mortgage to pay for the house, because, despite what some Conservative Members may think, I could not afford to buy a house out of my own bank balance. If a mortgage had been refused me, I should have lost my £100 deposit.
That is the normal practice within the private building sector. Therefore, why should the Government, who believe so strongly in the private sector and in the standards of private industry and private enterprise, object to a local authority imposing the same type of standards in order to discourage the frivolous person who might tie up local authority manpower in making searches?
Searches must be made to show that a person has the tenancy, and, therefore, the right to a rebate on the price. It is not only a matter of researching a tenancy in the particular district in which a person rents a house. In some cases the local authority may have to research the tenancy of people in other districts.
I give as an example a case on which we had long arguments in Committee. A person from a local authority in England is first given a council house tenancy in Scotland and then given permission to purchase his house. The discount that he receives is calculated not just on the period of tenancy in the district authority in Scotland, but on the basis of his tenancy in the other authority. Both tenancies must be researched. Carrying out such searches involves heavy costs for local authorities. Surely it is not inappropriate for the Government to impose the same standards in such cases as those imposed by the private sector.
If a house is to be sold and a search into the lease of the property has to be carried out by a lawyer or a surveyor, it is not the seller of the property but the purchaser who has to pick up the bill for lawyers' and surveyors' fees. If that is the case for the private sector, what are the Government doing by saying that a local authority cannot do the same thing in the sale of its property? It is illogical for the Government to have such 73 double standards for the public and private sectors, particularly when they say that local authorities must work in the same way as private enterprise.
It is often said that local government is inefficient because it does not have to be cost-effective in the same way as the private sector. The new clause would force local authorities to bear costs that no private seller would have to hear. Extra costs are being imposed on the landlord.
The Minister tells us that only two district councils are acting in that way. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian knows the East Lothian district council. He tells us that although the council has that rule it does not use it, so we are talking of only one district council. It is inappropriate for the Minister to take up the time of the House to impose extra burdens on local authorities for the sake of one erring district authority. The legislation is unnecessary.
Local authorities have had many financial burdens placed upon them by the Government, and they are now imposing further burdens on them. They are also taking away further rights from them. In the first instance the Minister could perhaps send a circular to local authorities saying that that is not the way to proceed. If the practice continues, further action could be taken.
New clause 6 relates to the problem of rural housing and the sale of council houses in rural authorities. The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) is now on the Front Bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The hon. Gentleman is in his honeymoon period. He will learn that that does not last for long. His hon. Friends will soon not say "Hear, hear" when his name is mentioned.
The hon. Gentleman was on the Back Benches in the Committee on the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill.
§ Mr. Maxton
Government Back Benchers tend to be quiet during debates on Scottish Bills, except when their constituency interests are involved. The hon. Gentleman was vocal about the sale of council houses in rural, and particularly holiday, areas. He will now presumably agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart).
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) will soon be on the Front Bench. With the exception of the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), who made a mistake, the quickest route to promotion is through being PPS to the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I have checked the Official Report of the Committee debate on this clause. The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) did not even hiccup or say "Hear, hear". My hon. Friend was being unduly flattering to him.
§ Mr. Maxton
I am talking about the debates two and a half years ago, and not the Committee on this Bill.
Many district councils are Conservative-controlled and have few council houses. Council houses are needed to keep the indigenous population in the area. They should not be sold to holidaymakers or commuters who do not take part in the local economy or social life. Many of them even purchase their goods and provisions outside the area.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire for mentioning his constituency, but I rent a holiday house on the Isle of Arran. In small villages in 74 holiday areas attractive council houses could be a bargain for people seeking holiday homes. In Blackwaterfoot there is a line of pensioners' houses. That links in with clause 9. They are 1 mile from the beach and from the golf course and tennis courts. They would be ideal for a couple as a holiday house. A sitting tenant could purchase a house which could later be sold by his successors to a holidaymaker.
In the area, three-bedroom houses sell for £30,000, which is beyond the reach of the normal worker. It is almost impossible for him to purchase a house. Most are seasonal workers, who earn good money in the summer and are unemployed in the winter. It is almost impossible for them to get mortgages. As the farm cottages disappear, perhaps to holidaymakers, local people are increasingly reliant for housing on the district council. If it cannot provide for them, they move to the cities and towns.
That may not yet be happening. Most people who have purchased their houses have not owned them for five years, so the discount has not worked through. After five years people who have bought at a large discount will have the opportunity to make a large profit. That is when the difficulties will start, particularly in rural areas.
New clause 9 touches on a matter that is very much a problem in Glasgow. The concession given for disabled peoples' housing will affect almost none of the housing in Glasgow. In essence, with the exception of a few specifically purpose-built sheltered houses, most of it is not covered by the Government's concession. The new clause will ensure that housing built specifically for the disabled and elderly will be used for that purpose.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) have at their surgeries, week in and week out, as I do, old people with serious ailments who are living in three-storey flats. Their families have moved away and the accommodation is too big for them. A variety of housing problems are brought to me and my right hon. and hon. Friends. Elderly people seek a transfer, not to a house that is designed for the physically handicapped in the sense that they are in wheelchairs or so ill as to need regular nursing or supervision, but to one in which they can feel more protected and among people of their own age group, and so on. Under existing legislation the stock of suitable housing will be eroded, because the right to purchase such houses remains on the statute book. Two-room housing suitable for elderly people can be sold off, and although I do not know how many have been sold, that can be done under this legislation.
I congratulate my hon. friends on tabling the new clause, which will at least allow local authorities to stop the sale of such property and give the elderly and disabled some sort of hope that eventually they will get the housing that they require. The new clause also gives back to local authorities what they should have above all else, which is the social right to decide priorities in one small but essential part of their housing stock. This is an area where they work closely with other local government agencies. The decision is not made by the local council alone. The social welfare department is also involved.
Most of my right hon. and hon. friends would like to see the responsibility for council house allocations and 75 sales returned to local authorities. If we cannot have that, at least let us have it for housing that is suitable for the disabled and the elderly.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I confine my remarks to new clause 9, dealing with special purpose houses for the handicapped and pensioners' houses.
Whatever else may be said about the sale of council houses, it cannot be right to take houses from the local authorities' pool to rehouse needy tenants. The case for retaining special houses for special needs is irrefutable. I am sure that every hon. Member is faced with people in his surgery who are desperate to get moved from three, four or five flatted accommodation, or a house that is far too big for their needs, into a house more suitably adapted for their needs. Because there is a tremendous shortage of such houses, it is difficult to move those people.
People visit me on a Saturday morning having gone through all the procedures of the local authority. They have seen the housing visitor, visited the housing office, seen the local councillor, written to the housing manager, asked to see the housing manager—more often than not he has refused to see them—and having exhausted every other avenue they come to see me under the mistaken impression that their Member of Parliament has the power to direct the local authority to rehouse them.
It is difficult to explain that the role of the local authority in the allocation of housing is paramount—to use a phrase on everyone's lips in a different context—and that no one can interfere with the way in which local authorities conduct their business. They find that difficult to accept. They seldom voice their feelings, but I feel that they are leaving with the impression "This fellow is a waste of damn time. He is not trying to help at all."
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston has returned from his perambulations abroad, at least for the moment. I shall leave his aside, because I am sure that it was meant as a joke, even though misplaced.
We all do our best to help our constituents. Some constituents have better cases than others. People with serious heart complaints may have been waiting for a long time for a house, but when there is a dispute between the local authority and the general practitioners about issuing medical certificates—a problem which I hope shortly will be resolved—it is extremely difficult for the local authority properly to allocate houses for special need. This leaves us in serious doubt about Government policy.
Even when the Government concede—which is not often—that a house sold by a local authority is a house out of the pool, they do not concede that it is a house taken out of the reach of the elderly or handicapped who are not financially able to purchase, even at discount prices. The aim has always been for the local authority to supply houses to those in greatest need. It is strange that the Government should be prepared to see houses with special features, or houses that can apply to people with special needs, made available to those with enough money to buy them. That disturbs the whole policy and priorities of the local authority house building programme.
In the Government's saner and more honest moments they may concede that argument, but their alibi is that the position is not serious because the local authority can 76 provide more houses. That is twisted logic, but let us take it at its face value. For every house suitable for special need that is sold, there is a requirement for the local authority to provide an equivalent house for those who are not able to buy. But local authorities have to build many more special purpose houses than they do now. I have the greatest sympathy for local authorities that are trying to establish a priority in their building programme. There are people who are homeless and people who are technically homeless in that they are living with their in-laws or in some sort of sub-letted accommodation. In addition, people are living in overcrowded accommodation, people whose health makes it necessary for them to be housed. Then there are the elderly. There are the middle aged who are living in houses which were big enough to satisfy the size of their family but when the children leave home the house becomes far too big and they need smaller accommodation.
People are living in houses that were built before the war and which have severe dampness problems. I shall not go too far into the question of defining dampness. The only criticism I make of local authority housing officials is that often the dampness complained of by tenants is thought by the officers to be condensation. However, there are families living in houses that badly need modernisation. The best way to modernise them would be to rehouse those tenants in accommodation of a more suitable size and make the newly renovated houses available to families that are large enough to suit their size. It is therefore difficult to determine priorities.
There can be no doubt that in terms of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act the Government are abusing their power. I recently received a letter from an organisation stating that in its view the Government ought to be more helpful to local authorities in order to provide special purpose housing especially for the physically handicapped. The Under-Secretary had hardly got as far as reading the pile of bumf in his second new job since he left the Back Benches when he was signing letters. He wrote to me saying that he had no sympathy with the problems of Aberdeen district council, because the way it could get money to provide more special purpose housing was to sell its quota of local authority houses. I defy the Under-Secretary to say where in statute there is power for the Government to fix a quota for a local authority to sell so many houses a year. There is no such power in statute.
Ten years ago I became a Member of this House with the rather innocent belief that Ministers had power to operate only if statute permitted them to do so. The principle enshrined in every book on constitutional law was that Ministers cannot act ultra vires except when it is laid down in statute. Yet this Government are saying on a purely arbitrary' basis that Aberdeen district council, Dundee district council, Edinburgh district council, Glasgow district council and so on must sell X number of houses and that if they do not they will hold back the money required to build special purpose houses or houses for the elderly or physically handicapped. That is an abuse of power, and it ought not to be tolerated.
The Government are simply saying that the only way in which sufficient housing can be provided for the elderly, and the only way in which local authorities can get the money to replace those houses taken out of the stock and sold to elderly or handicapped people, is to sell even more local authority houses.
77 Had the Government any concern whatever for the disabled, they would above all else make sure that the local authorities had sufficient finance to enable them to provide for their needs. Under the Government's own proposals, each authority must lay before the Secretary of State its housing plans for five years hence. Had the Government sufficient concern for the disabled, they would be making enough money available for local authorities to provide these special purpose houses.
The Government could at least do two things. First, they could say that when a house is sold they will provide sufficient money to replace it. That would be minimal, and it falls far short of what I should like to see. Alternatively, they could allow local authorities to specify a whole range of housing in different areas that would be available for special need.
We know that the Government have a fixation about local authorities. We know that they operate in the belief that on every occasion local authorities are trying to do the Government down and are trying to find a loophole in the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act.
§ Mr. Hughes
That does not wash, because the Government have sufficient safeguards in their hands. If a local authority which had previously provided only 1 per cent. of its housing stock for the elderly and the handicapped suddenly produced a range of housing that represented 50 per cent. of its housing stock, that would be clear evidence of abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, the way in which the Government are paranoid about local authorities is beyond belief. On every occasion they say that local authorities cannot be trusted. I believe that the opposite is the case. The local authorities can be trusted. It is absolutely scandalous that the Government should use administrative discretion to make capital allocations in the housing sector. They ought not to behave in that way.
If that were the only way in which the Government were bypassing their powers, we would have one target on which to focus. However, they are so obsessed with selling local authority houses that they do not care what happens to the priorities of local authorities. Local authorities must try to modernise a housing stock part of which was built pre-war and part of which was built immediately post-war. Quite apart from the fact that the standards of regulation then were nowhere near what they are now, the main priority at that time was to supply a number of units. In many respects, the standard had to wait. Therefore, at present many local authorities are busily trying to modernise old houses in which people have been living for 20, 30 or even 40 years.
Given the way in which the Government have steadily escalated rents, many of those people feel that they are entitled to a little bit more comfort. The Government are saying that even a newly modernised house can be sold. If a local authority decides that a row of houses requires modernisation, spends thousands of pounds on that modernisation and as soon as renovations are carried out the tenants say "I will exercise my right to buy", the Government are not even giving protection there.
It is quite wrong that local authorities should be forced into trying to extract a guarantee that if the houses are renovated the tenants will not exercise their right to buy. 78 In fact, the local authority has no right to exact such a promise from the tenant. As a result, some local authorities have said "We will move you out of this old house and put you in another house, perhaps slightly better but not completely modernised, but once your old house has been modernised you will not get back into it. We will put in a tenant who does not have an existing right to buy". That is causing all kinds of difficulties in the allocation of local authority housing.
I return to the specific point about special purpose housing. As I understand it, at present, unless a house is on an exclusion list—my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) earlier gave figures for the number of houses that had been excluded—[HON. MEMBERS: "They are all in Aberdeen."] That is possibly because under wise heads in the past the Aberdeen town council provided a fairly substantial programme of specially adapted houses. I shall not weary the House with the kind of housing that is provided, or with the far-sightedness of the local authority in trying to weld together the elderly, the disabled and those in sheltered housing. If I were to do that, some hon. Members might think that I was being slightly immodest.
Most local authorities in Scotland try to operate fairness in their allocation programme by having a points system to allow the allocation to be as fair as possible. As soon as a house is provided on the basis of points and some one moves in, that person can exercise the right to buy. As I understand it, they do not have to be in a special purpose house for a number of years to be able to exercise the right to buy. If they have been in another local authority house for sufficient time to meet the general conditions of qualifying to exercise the right to buy the day after moving in to the new specially adapted house, it is not excluded and they can exercise their right to buy. Local authorities should have some guarantee against that.
We are saying that people are entitled to a special purpose house because of need, but we are also saying that if they have enough money to buy it then they can do so and take the right away from someone less financially able to buy themselves.
That cannot be right. It cannot be a policy that suits the needs of disabled people. The problem is perhaps manageable if a local authority has carried out a large programme of specially adapted houses. However, often local authorities, especially when dealing with the elderly, produce houses that may be suitable for the elderly but may also be suitable for the young as well. They may be suitable for the handicapped and suitable for the unhandicapped as well.
I know with certainty that within my constituency sons and daughters are putting up the money for their elderly relatives to buy a special purpose house or a house that is particularly, because of its size, suitable for the elderly, for the sole purpose of investment. It is not the pensioner who is buying his or her existing house. The family is buying it so that they can inherit it when the old couple pass on.
§ Mr. Maxton
I have heard of worse cases than that. Property speculators purchase houses for old people on the understanding that they will get them when the old people die.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have not heard of that in my constituency. However, if my hon. Friend has specific 79 examples of that, they ought to be reported immediately to the Secretary of State. I do not know what recourse the Secretary of State has. He would probably approve of it.
§ Mr. Hughes
However, I suspect that there is nothing that the Secretary of State can do. If it is not a genuine purchase, under the law he would have a case to take to court.
Both the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart might like to know that in my constituency a property speculating company has made an offer to the Aberdeen district council to buy the whole housing stock. Fortunately, that property company does not have the brains of a donkey, because if it had it would never have approached the council. I believe that even the Tories on the Aberdeen district council would be opposed to this. Certainly the Labour-controlled council is implacably opposed to it.
Perhaps the Secretary of State would tell us what would happen if a property speculating company were to go to a Tory-controlled authority and offer to buy the whole housing stock. Would the authority be willing to sell? I assume that it would be permissible under the law. Either it was a particularly stupid property speculating company, which did not realise that it would not be allowed to buy in those circumstances, or it checked the small print in the law and found a loophole. It would be scandalous if a property speculating company were able to find a loophole in the law that would allow it to take a large number of houses for pensioners and the disabled out of the market. What a boon that would be to the property speculators, and what a disastrous result that would have for the elderly.
The people who have the know-how, the policies and the understanding of the local situation to determine the priorities in housing needs are the local authorities. That is not to say that I do not have my quarrels from time to time with local authorities or that from time to time on individual cases I do not have to write rather hard letters, even to the Aberdeen council, about individual allocation policies. However, very few councils have not done their best to provide for housing needs.
Some authorities have, by the prudent exercise of their finances and flexibility of housing use, provided houses that can be used either by a pensioner couple or by a childless young couple. It would be sad if, because those houses are available for a more general use than that of specially adapted housing for the elderly and pensioners, they were taken out of whatever limited exclusions the Government have in their legislation.
There is no doubt that the tenants' rights Act, as time goes by, will be seen to be working in almost every sense against the needs of those who are desperate for housing and do not have the wherewithal to buy their own. Even if the Government were to carry their convictions to the extent of providing a tenants' rights Act dealing with people who lived in private rented accommodation—there is no question of their going that far—I should still oppose them in selling local authority houses out of stock.
I hope that the Government will accept new clause 5. It will go as far as we can expect the Government to go. It will not answer the problems in our constituencies but it will be a big help and go part of the way. The Minister is in a new job that he was suddenly slung into 80 after three weeks in another job. He was not in his previous Department long enough to make a name for himself. This evening he can make the name that he sought to make for himself on the Back Benches, as someone of an independent mind in examining problems, and as someone who is not hidebound by dogma. He can show himself as someone who is able to act like that if he will accept the new clause.
§ Mr. Foulkes
The Secretary of State for Scotland is my Member of Parliament and star of the cartoon strip in the Sunday Standard, to which we all look forward eagerly, none more so than the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt. At the outset I shall say that I intend to be mercifully brief.
The tenants' rights legislation is born out of the doctrinaire attitude of Conservative Members and out of a misunderstanding of the situation, particularly in large urban authorities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and perhaps Dundee and Renfrew, including Paisley. It is creating monstrous problems in rural areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, and will create many more.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian and I are unusual among Scottish Members. Now that we have lost the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) to another tendency, we are the only two Labour Scottish Members who represent rural constituencies.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
My hon. Friend is being less than fair to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), and also to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan).
§ Mr. Foulkes
Inadvertently, I know not why, I had forgotten my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart). I travel through her constituency regularly as I drive up the A70, and I know that it is a rural area. My hon. Friends the Members for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) and West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) have rural areas, but basically they represent the broad central belt, which we never think of as rural.
§ Mr. Maxton
The large country estates of the Secretary of State for Scotland happen to be in the constituency of our hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan).
§ The Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to be brief. He should come back to new clause 1.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am being brief; it is the interventions that are long. So far, I have said very little.
I am concerned about the effects of the legislation on rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian gave a number of examples. I have great respect for the Minister who, even in his two weeks, has written me some helpful letters. He has written some unhelpful ones too, but he tries hard, as they used to say on the old school reports. I ask him seriously to consider the situation in holiday areas like Dunure Maidens—a place that the Secretary of State will know, because it is not far from his constituency—or Kirkmichael, or Straiton. They are delightful holiday areas where many people have private holiday cottages. People have grown up there, gone to school, gone to work in the few factories 81 that still exist there, and then grown old there. From my work with Age Concern I know that it is desirable to keep people in their own areas as they grow old, the environment to which they are accustomed.
What has happened and is happening increasingly is that the small and attractive local authority houses in those areas are being purchased and then sold to people who come from outwith the area. There is no longer the local authority stock of housing, for people to change from one type of house to another as they move through their life cycle in these country and seaside villages. The Bill represents a serious distortion of the way of life of these villages. Conservative Members do not understand that. I hope that they will give some thought to what is happening. It is possible that the new clause may not be the best way to deal with the matter, but I hope that the Government will find a way to consider the special needs of rural areas.
My second point concerns special houses for the elderly and disabled. I worked for six years with Age Concern in Scotland. One of the things that worried us was the development of special housing for the elderly—sheltered housing, amenity housing, adaptations to existing houses, taking two or three apartment houses and adapting them to make them suitable for the elderly and disabled, linking a group of flats or houses to an electronic alarm system so that they are linked to a warden in another house. They are not custom-built for the needs of the elderly.
The Secretary of State is usually a very affable person, except when dealing with local authorities. We see the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character. On many occasions I see him smiling and affable and agreeable, but when it comes to the letter of the law, and putting things into the necessary legal provisions, we see the Mr. Hyde—not the Dr. Jekyll that we see when we meet him. I ask for just a little of the Dr. Jekyll for the elderly and the disabled.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not limit houses for the disabled and elderly as narrowly as he has done, because that will create problems. Both in rural areas and in the cities, people like to live in the environment to which they have become accustomed. Many old people die prematurely because they are moved out of the area in which they have grown up and in which their friends live, and into an area to which they are not accustomed. As a result, they die well before their normal life span. It is therefore important to have sheltered housing, special housing, adapted housing and housing of every kind for elderly and disabled people in the community. That will not happen with the limited number of exemptions that the Secretary of State has proposed.
It is ironic that Aberdeen is one of the authorities with a higher number of exemptions. It is an accident of history. It creates a severe anomaly. In Age Concern we spoke of Aberdeen as an example to other authorities, in an endeavour to encourage them to provide purpose-built housing. Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire provided more special purpose-built sheltered housing than any other local authority. Other authorities are catching up. Other authorities, because they do not have Aberdeen's long tradition of providing purpose-built sheltered housing, did the best that they could by adapting existing houses, by linking them together, and thus providing a perfectly adequate and reasonable system of sheltered housing, amenity housing and other houses for old people. Those 82 are not exempt. That is one of the accidents of history that is highlighted by the way in which the Secretary of State has drawn this clause so tightly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) tugged on our heartstrings and those of the Minister to try to get him to concede something. If the Minister were to concede too quickly, he would not remain on the Front Bench for long. He would be back in his old position. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) is encouraging him to concede so that he can move in. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give this matter some serious consideration. He must concede that he has received several representations on this issue from non-political organisations concerned with the elderly. They are not opposing for the sake of opposition. They are concerned about the narrowness of this clause and the problems which it will create for old and disabled people in the future.
As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) so eloquently anticipated many of the good points that I would like to make. I would like to reiterate the innappropriateness of the Lands Tribunal for the job that the Secretary of State is setting it. My hon. Friend described its membership. It comprises a judge and a couple of quantity surveyors—there are plenty of those; grab two of them and put them on the Lands Tribunal. It also includes a lawyer—there are even more of those around looking for work. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) will confirm that. The Lands Tribunal is an ad hoc body, given the responsibility which should properly be that of an elected body. It is usurping the powers of the elected local authorities.
We have attacked the Government, and will be attacking them on amendment No. 1, for the way in which they are undermining the autonomy of local authorities. They are undermining local democracy. I look forward to taking part in that debate and making a somewhat longer speech than this brief intervention. The Lands Tribunal is an entirely inappropriate body. I suspect that the Secretary of State wanted some body to take on the responsibility of the local authorities that he considered to be defaulting and looked down the list of quangos that he has not done away with——
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Does my hon. Friend know which authority is used to implement the parallel part of the legislation covering council house sales in England? If he does not know, perhaps the Secretary of State can enlighten us.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I certainly do not know the English body. Perhaps the vast resources of the Conservative Party will come forward with the English body.
I am sure that when the Secretary of State looked down the list of quangos that have not suffered from the actions of the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) he came across the Lands Tribunal. Perhaps he thought that that would be an appropriate body because houses are built on land. However, it is entirely inappropriate that such a body should be dealing with matters which are properly the purview of the local elected council. They are the people who know the area, the local conditions and who understand the local people and demands. They can make decisions in the light of the local situation.
83 8.15 pm
I do not know whether my hon. Friends have noticed, as I have, that the fact that some people have bought their houses and others have not is becoming divisive within communities. It is like the one or two people who send their children to private schools.
Unfortunately, I cannot talk about new clause 5. When I arrived today I felt a bit like one of the tenants applying for a council house. I found that my name was not on the list, and I could not find out why. I can understand why the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Sir R. Fairgrieve) got on the list. He has a large number of points for being elderly and disabled. I could not understand why I was not on the list. However, I understand the problem of tenants. When some people are able to buy their houses and some, through no fault of their own, are not, society is divided. It has increasingly become the case that people in good and secure employment are able to buy their houses. People who are unemployed—there are an increasing number of those—have no prospect of doing so. People on rent and rate rebates—the poor in society—are being further stigmatised because of their inability to buy their houses. This Act that the Government have willed upon Scotland is becoming extremely divisive within society.
Now that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North is not with us, I can say without fear of contradiction that the Government have no mandate to introduce this legislation in Scotland. I heard one of the hon. Members who represents the Scottish National Party in this Chamber say that we are not using that argument. I hope that he will get it right. I am one of the people who constantly uses that argument. The Government have no mandate in Scotland for the Scottish legislation that they are bringing through. If we had a Scottish Assembly, as was proposed by the previous Government—many of the people who proposed it in the last Parliament are now having second thoughts—we would not have had the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act, the Education (Scotland) Act or many other Acts which are plaguing the Scottish people at the moment.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) says that he has used the Scottish mandate argument, and is using it today. Why is it that his party collectively refuses to use that argument?
§ Mr. Foulkes
It is not unknown for my party collectively not to use the same arguments as I do. I was in step on that issue for a long time, but I have been out of step on other issues—for example, the current problem concerning the Falkland Islands.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I allowed the hon. Gentleman to reply to the intervention, but we must return to clause 1.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am glad that you said that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall have another opportunity to reply to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson). He recently paid a visit to my constituency and did not tell me. That is another matter that I have to take up with him, but that would be out of order as well. The hon. Gentleman is now telling me that he did not know that he was in my constituency—so much for his geography.
If the Government were intent on improving housing in Scotland instead of spending the time as they have done 84 before on the tenants' rights Bill, they would have come forward with some positive legislation for Scotland. I do not know if it is the official policy of my party, but I would like to see some encouragement for imaginative tenant management schemes within local authorities. I would not object to the suggestion that local authorities should be encouraged to build houses for sale to satisfy the market rather than private developers and rather than selling off houses.
§ Mr. Maxton
The last Government set up a body called the tenant participatory service in Glasgow which is working in the field of tenant co-operation. It is under the constant worry that the Government will cut its funds completely. Its funds have already been reduced.
§ Mr. Foulkes
That is right. There are imaginative embryonic schemes. If we get nothing else out of this debate, I hope that the new Minister—a new broom sweeping clean—will assure us that he will give some impetus to tenant management schemes. I hope that we shall see some positive encouragement of the development of local authority housing because it needs improvement. I accept that not every local authority, whether Conservative or Labour-controlled, has an ideal tenant and housing allocation. Certainly house maintenance is not ideal.
Instead of positive encouragement from the Government we get negative suggestions and doctrinaire proposals. We must completely reject that, and I hope that as many hon. Members as possible will troop into the Lobby tonight in support of the amendments put forward so imaginatively by my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
We have had an interesting debate on a variety of topics in relation to the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) began by waxing wrathful and expressing the indignation of Scottish local authorities and Scottish people about the Act. All the evidence is that the tenants' rights legislation is extremely popular. Opinion polls suggest that even among Labour voters the overwhelming majority entirely agree with and support the concept of the sale of council houses to sitting tenants.
We had some indignation at the beginning of the debate and a call for imagination from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) at the end. I agree with that call. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when he was responsible for home affairs at the Scottish Office, visited an important new tenant management innovation in Glasgow. Whatever else one may say about Glasgow district, hon. Members would probably agree that it has been imaginative recently in its approach to some housing problems. We need imagination and we must get away from the blanket approach of the past.
§ Mr. Maxton
What the Minister is saying is correct and I am glad to see that he admits that, for co-operative tenancies, Glasgow is the best in Scotland. However, it is increasingly difficult to get tenants to agree to join co-operatives in Glasgow, especially if they are required to enter older housing. The money is not available to bring the properties up to the standards that the tenants wish to have before they will join a co-operative organisation.
§ Mr. Stewart
I shall say something about resources later, but the fact is that those schemes are going ahead. The homesteading scheme at Glenelg quadrant in Glasgow is another imaginative scheme.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and other hon. Members asked me what charges the Government are talking about in new clause 1. I referred to the charges, but perhaps I can repeat what I said. First, we are talking about charging a tenant who wishes to submit an application form a deposit which is not returned to him if he decides not to buy. Secondly, we are talking about imposing a penalty charge on a tenant who puts in an application form but eventually decides not to buy. I hope that that definition is clear. I was not sure whether Labour Members were generally in favour of those charges. It was clear from the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that he was not. However, this will affect only a small number of authorities, although other authorities might follow. The Government must deal with a potential problem as well as an actual one.
The analogy of the hon. Member for Cathcart with the private sector was not at all apt. In the sale of a council house to a sitting tenant the purchaser pays his own costs, as happens in the private sector. The point about a deposit in the private sector is that if someone then pulls out of the purchase the seller could, in principle, have sold the house to someone else. That does not apply to the sale of a local authority house to a sitting tenant.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East also asked me whether a tenant who is subject to those charges can go to the Lands Tribunal on appeal. He does not have that right of appeal. He could challenge the decision in the sheriff court, but that would be a difficult procedure for a tenant to undertake.
New clause 6 is one of the clauses to which the Opposition attach particular importance. I do not wish to labour the point about Renfrew district with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), but the Secretary of State sets gross capital allocations, and the money spent by Renfrew district in 1981–82 was below £1 million. I do not know the explanation for that, nor does the hon. Gentleman.
The issue was debated extensively when Parliament considered the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill 1980. The onus is now on the Opposition to prove that problems have arisen in practice with which existing legislation is inadequate to deal. We have received no representations that provide evidence of general problems either with sales in rural areas or with second homes. The figures quoted by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), which showed, not surprisingly, that percentage sales in different areas varied, do not in themselves suggest that there is a serious problem.
The Government's point is that there is no case for the exclusion of rural houses from the right to buy because, as in non-rural areas, sales do not alter the balance between the available housing stock and the number of people looking for houses. Council houses being sold would not normally be available for reletting to those on waiting lists for many years. The only possible problem is that of the second home, because the balance of supply and demand is altered only if former council houses are resold for use as second homes.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I apologise for interrupting the Minister, who is reading his brief very well. However, he is trying to skate round a serious point that both I and many of my hon. Friends have made, which is that once a house has been sold to a sitting tenant in an area where only small groups of council houses are available, it has to all intents and purposes been lost to the local community for all time, because those on low incomes cannot afford to buy. Therefore, young people especially will find it difficult to buy their first homes. I have given the Minister evidence from my constituency. I know that the Government have had representations, for example from the National Farmers Union of Scotland, so the Minister cannot deny that there have been representations about this real problem.
§ Mr. Stewart
I must point out to the hon. Gentleman the simple fact that the house is not lost to the housing stock in that area unless it becomes a second home.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have given way many times, and I now wish to continue.
The evidence is against the existence of a growing number of second homes in Scotland. Hon Members will know of the study completed in 1977, which suggested that there would be no net growth in the number of second homes in Scotland. Thus, special restrictions should be available to local authorities only where there is evidence of a ——
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Member has just made a monstrous statement about rural areas. The point is not just the question of the second home; there is also the question of the commuter and of the retired man. The effect is to cut down the amount of public housing for people who live and work within the rural community and within the rural economy. By definition, that is what is happening. We have areas where one person at work can make a significant difference to a small village. By the same token, the loss of one house can result in 10 per cent. of the total housing stock being sterilised. The hon. Gentleman really cannot get away with that.
§ Mr. Stewart
The house remains part of the housing stock for people who live in the area. It does not do so only if it is used as a second home. That is bound to be the case, and so the problem to which we have to address ourselves is that of second homes. That is dealt with the legislation. The Secretary of State can make a pre-emption order where more than one-third of the houses have been sold and an unreasonable proportion have been resold and are not being used as the only or principal home of the owner.
Those provisions were introduced on the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang), who has a close knowledge of the problems in rural areas. They represent a perfectly reasonable set of safeguards to deal with the potential second home problem. Hon. Members have produced no evidence to suggest that the safeguards are not adequate. We have received no evidence from any district council on this matter.
§ Mr. Dewar
There is a good deal of anxiety among district councils. From correspondence that I have heard of, through Shelter, for example, I know that, if asked, district councils will express their anxiety. The Minister says that the situation in Scotland is satisfactory, but can he explain why a completely different conclusion was reached by the Department of the Environment in England, where I should have thought the threats and the pressures would be considerably less than in, for example, rural Highland areas?
§ Mr. Stewart
That is because conditions in England are different. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that we in Scotland should reach identical conclusions just because of conditions in England. There is no right of pre-emption in England, although he suggested that there was. The restriction in England is on resale to people living in a specified area.
§ Mr. Stewart
No. I must move on. I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.
I come to new clause 9. The answer to the general point made by a number of hon. Members is that it is simply not true that the Opposition discovered that the amendment Act was not identical to the 1980 Act and that that came as a bolt out of the blue. The whole debate on the amendment Act concentrated on the differences in drafting.
§ Mr. Dewar
Surely the Under-Secretary accepts that although the Opposition rightly expressed anxiety about the drafting, the bolt from the blue, which was concealed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), was the fact that exemption would be confined to such a narrow category as that recorded as amenity housing in the Scottish housing statistics. On examination, that turned out to be a non-existent category in most centres of population. That was an exercise in deception by Ministers, and the Under-Secretary ought to face the sins of his predecessors.
§ Mr. Stewart
I repudiate the suggestion that there was any deception. I recall that the debates were extensive and concentrated on this area.
On new clause 9, the onus is on the Opposition to demonstrate that the operation of the right to buy has produced clear evidence that the Act is unsatisfactory. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire referred to the concern of organisations representing the elderly and I accept what he says, but we have received no representations from CoSLA on that point since the amendment Act came into effect. The evidence of the small number of applications to the Secretary of State under section 3A suggests that the large-scale sale of sub-amenity houses for the elderly is not a danger.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Does not the Under-Secretary realise that the reason why he is not getting representations from CoSLA is that the convention has so often made representations to which the Under-Secretary and his predecessors have paid no attention that it is getting fed up with wasting its time in making representations?
The voluntary organisations, perhaps because they have a little more enthusiasm, faith and hope, have continued 88 to make representations. Will the hon. Gentleman do something to give those organisations some encouragement for the faith and hope that they have shown in him?
§ Mr. Stewart
I assure the hon. Gentleman that CoSLA has not given up making representations to the Government. It rightly makes many representations on a wide range of issues. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument.
The legislation differs between Scotland and England and Wales, but we do not have to follow slavishly what is done in England and Wales. Scottish legislation should be tailored to Scottish circumstances. The existing Scottish provisions were thoroughly debated and a number of amendments were considered.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I never thought that I would hear the hon. Gentleman expressing Scottish nationalist sentiments. He suggests that because Scottish law is different, it must always be different. We are asking for an intelligent use of the law to suit Scottish circumstances. If the Scottish law provides less protection than the English law, we ought to put it right.
§ Mr. Stewart
I was not sounding like a Scottish nationalist. Just because something is done in England and Wales, it does not necessarily have to be done in the same way in Scotland. What we do in Scotland must be tailored, first, to Scottish legislation and, secondly, to Scottish circumstances, and that is what the Government did in the amendment Act.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman both in my opening remarks and in my reply.
Hon. Members are aware of the existing Scottish provisions, but it might be worth reminding the House of them. First, sheltered housing for the elderly and disabled is automatically excluded—a point which was not made by Opposition Members.
§ Mr. Stewart
I apologise. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire mentioned it. Sheltered housing for the elderly and disabled is defined as a property that is one of a group and has specially designed or adapted facilities, which must include a call system and a warden system. Secondly, amenity housing for the elderly is excluded from the right to buy, subject to the Secretary of State's verification of the facts. We are talking mainly about amenity housing for the elderly. Some houses for the elderly cannot be conveniently categorised. They are defined as specially designed or adapted and as having facilities that are substantially different from those of an ordinary house. Thirdly, there is pre-emption for non-sheltered housing for the disabled. That is the position under the amendment Act.
The broad argument for the Scottish provisions is that houses should be excluded from the right to buy only where the community's interest in retaining them is so exceptionally strong that it overrides the claim of the tenant to the same rights as other tenants. The Scottish categories of sheltered and amenity housing reflect well-understood categories that are not used in England. Those 89 distinctions are an appropriate basis for the policy that has been pursued in Scotland by successive Governments since 1975 towards special provision for the elderly. If it has been pursued in relation——
§ Mr. Stewart
I have already given way to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson).
If those distinctions are an appropriate basis for the policy pursued in Scotland by successive Governments since 1975 towards special provision for the elderly, it is reasonable to argue that they are also an appropriate basis for the policy on which houses need to be retained in public ownership. I shall give way to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire.
§ Mr. Foulkes
The Minister described the responsibility of balancing the needs of the community with the needs of the individual tenant. Is not the most appropriate body to make the decision about balancing the needs of the community and of the individual tenant the local authority in the area concerned?
§ Mr. Stewart
In relation to the provisions in the Act, it is up to Parliament to lay down the legislative framework.
The disabled should not be doubly disadvantaged by not having the right to buy that other tenants have. Scotland's larger public sector tips the balance of the argument between the tenant and the community in the tenant's favour. The tenant's claim for equity with all other tenants is stronger than the case for the elderly, because many disabled people are young, have families, and are in employment. In other words, it is only their disability that distinguishes them from ordinary tenants. It would be wrong to make them victims of a double disadvantage by discriminating against them over the right to buy. Scotland's larger public sector housing stock——
§ Mr. McKelvey
I am baffled by the Minister's logic. He has managed to stand the case on its head. If an adequate number of houses were provided for the disabled in Scotland, no one would have the objections that the Opposition are voicing. Grossly inadequate numbers of houses are available for the disabled. If those houses are sold and taken from the pool some other disabled person will be grossly disadvantaged. Those are the points that we are making.
§ Mr. Stewart
We are giving high priority in housing policy to special needs, including the needs of the disabled. The key point that I am making is about the rights of the disabled tenant. There is no good argument for giving the disabled tenant the double disadvantage of depriving him or her of the right to buy, which all other tenants have.
Scotland's larger public sector housing stock makes the sale of individual houses less significant to the community interest than is the case in England and Wales. That is the basic argument. That is why the balance of the argument is somewhat different in Scotland from that in England and 90 Wales. Secondly, the Opposition have not produced the decisive evidence that would be necessary to justify asking Parliament to change its mind.
The case for clause 47 is straightforward. If a tenant is driven to go to the Lands Tribunal by a landlord not carrying out its statutory duty, it is only just that the tenant should not be worse off than if the landlord had carried out its duty to consider using the discretions.
The hon. Member for Cathcart and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire questioned the validity of the Lands Tribunal and whether it is appropriate to the job. It does a quasi-judicial job. It is not a major administrative job, and the tribunal has exercised its functions effectively. One would expect the number of cases going to the Lands Tribunal to fall rather than increase as precedents are established.
If the tribunal is to act in the place of the landlord in those limited circumstances, it must have all the powers of the landlord. That was the intended effect of the legislation as drafted, but the tribunal has said that it does not have sufficient power to exercise discretion. The Government, therefore, are making the position clear through the amendments.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am grateful to the Minister for inviting me to take part. What discretions will be exercised? That has not been dealt with. That is why I was anxious to speak at the start of the debate.
There is a genuine distinction between a lands tribunal that is a quasi-judicial body being invited to take over the nuts and bolts of the conveyancing transaction and a lands tribunal being invited to exercise what is, in effect, a quasi-political discretion. The latter would normally be left to a directly elected body. It is hard to know what criteria it should apply. Perhaps the Minister will address himself to what advice he will give, as opposed to the type of discretion that he is about to define.
§ Mr. Stewart
The key point is that we are not discussing a general review power for the tribunal of the exercise by local authorities of the power of discretion. There may have been some misunderstanding about that in Committee. Secondly, when the tribunal is taking over the general landlord powers of a local authority, we argue that—it was the basis of the Bill—the tribunal should have the power of discretion that the landlord would have had.
The hon. Member for Garscadden asked me to describe the discretions. The first would be to allow joint purchasers who do not qualify as of right—for example, someone who has recently returned from service in the Armed Forces and has been resident for less than six months. A second discretion would be to allow for discount the time spent as the child of a tenant. The hon. Gentleman may have come across that problem. I have experienced it in Renfrewshire.
§ Mr. Dewar
That is exactly the kind of problem that the Lands Tribunal will face. If the local authority, a!; the directly elected political body, is given the right to exercise discretion by adding in a period of service as a tenant which would not normally be counted, thus significantly increasing the discount that may be given, to the disadvantage of the local authority, is it satisfactory that such discretion should be cheerfully passed over to an 91 administrative tribunal which is not open to pressures and arguments based on local realities and experience in the area concerned?
§ Mr. Stewart
This will apply only when the tenant is driven to the tribunal as a result of the landlord not carrying out his statutory duty in the first place. The key argument is that that failure on the part of the landlord should not deprive the tenant of the discretionary rights provided in the legislation. That was the intention. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not agree with me, but I hope that I have clarified the position.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
The Minister is being helpful, but perhaps he will answer this simple question. For my benefit and that of everyone else who is confused about what the Government are doing, will he explain which body exercises this discretion under the parallel legislation in England?
§ Mr. Stewart
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has been well publicised that the powers are ultimately—[HON. MEMBERS: "Here comes the answer."]—Yes, it is exactly what I was about to say. In England, the powers are ultimately the responsibility of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Stewart
There is no direct equivalent to the Lands Tribunal procedure.
It is important to emphasise that the tribunal will never be reviewing the landlord's exercise of his own discretion. It will exercise its powers only when the landlord has failed to issue an offer to sell and therefore has not given a decision on how he would have exercised his powers. We are therefore dealing with a very limited number of cases.
A number of passing references were made to housing policy generally, but it would not be appropriate for me to dwell at length on that. The hon. Member for Garscadden said that sales receipts for Glasgow and East Lothian were unrealistic. I should point out that both estimates of receipts have been agreed by the district councils themselves, so they do not regard the figures as unrealistic.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) asked what the legislative authority was. Section 94 of the 1973 Act gives the Secretary of State power to limit authorised capital allocations.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I was not seeking legislative authority for the Secretary of State to limit capital allocations. I am aware that he has statutory power to do that. What I challenge is his power to link capital allocation with his own arbitrary choice of a quota of houses that a local authority must sell in order to obtain capital allocations. There is no statutory basis for that, and well he knows it.
§ Mr. Stewart
It is not an arbitrary quota. It is an estimate, and it is in accordance with section 94, which does not limit how the Secretary of State exercises those 92 powers. The hon. Gentleman may or may not think that this is desirable, but I assure him that it is legal under the 1973 Act.
I do not believe that the Government amendments were seriously challenged by hon. Gentlemen. A number of hon. Members said that these were niggles and that we should be doing something different, but they did not seriously challenge the claim that these were desirable, and I do not think that the practices that they are designed to prevent have received any real support from the Opposition Benches.
The Opposition have laid emphasis on the clauses relating to rural areas and housing for the disabled and the elderly. The onus is very much on the Opposition to show why Parliament should change its mind on the present legislative provisions, which were debated very fully and very reasonably. I do not believe that the Opposition have met that essential need, and for these reasons we cannot accept the Opposition's new clauses.
§ Mr. Dewar
The Minister's argument that the onus of proof is on the Opposition may well be true, but the task is easily discharged, because both these new clauses strike at lamentably mistaken decisions taken by his Government when the original legislation was implemented. I found his reply disappointing. It was a bland, somewhat pedestrian defence of a misguided position and I thought that it was lamentably inadequate.
In order to avoid any doubt I say again that we do not intend to divide the House on new clause 1, but when we reach them in due order I shall invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote in favour of new clause 6, new clause 9 and amendment No. 76. These are matters on which we probably cannot look forward with confidence to tonight's vote, but on which we shall continue to campaign until we get much-needed reform.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.