HC Deb 18 January 1984 vol 52 cc334-44

'(1) After section 3A of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following section—

3B. — (1) Where an application to purchase a dwelling-house is served on an islands council as landlord and—

  1. (a) the dwelling-house is—
    1. (i) held by the council for the purposes of its functions as education authority; and
    2. (ii) required for the accommodation of a person who is or will be employed by the council for those purposes;
  2. (b) the council is not likely to be able reasonably to provide other suitable accommodation for the person mentioned in paragraph (a)(ii) above; and
  3. (c) the tenant would, apart from this section, have a right under section 1 of this Act to purchase the dwelling-house,
the landlord may, within one month of service of the application to purchase or of the commencement of this section, whichever is the later, instead of serving an offer to sell on the tenant, make an application to the Secretary of State for authority to serve a notice of refusal on the tenant.

(2) An application to the Secretary of State under subsection (1) above shall contain sufficient information to enable him to ascertain whether the conditions mentioned in paragraph (a) and (b) of that subsection are fulfilled in relation to the dwelling-house.

(3) Where it appears to the Secretary of State that the conditions mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) above are fulfilled in relation to the dwelling-house referred to in an application to him under that subsection, he shall authorise the landlord to serve on the tenant a notice of refusal, which shall be served as soon as practicable after the said authority is given and in any event within one month thereafter.

(4) A notice of refusal served under subsection (3) above shall specify/

  1. (a) the information referred to in subsection (2) above; and
  2. (b) that service of the notice has been authorised by the Secretary of State.

(5) Where the Secretary of State refuses an application made to him under subsection (1) above, the landlord shall serve on the tenant an offer to sell under section 2(2) of this Act—

  1. (a) within the period mentioned in the said section 2(2); or
  2. (b) where that period has expired or the unexpired portion of it is less than one month, within one month of the Secretary of State's refusal.".

(2) In subsection (2) of section 2 of the 1980 Act, for the words "or 3A" there shall be substituted the words ", 3A or 3B". ',—[Mr. Ancram.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Ancram

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

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

Government new clause 12—Recovery of possession of dwelling-houses required for educational purposes

New clause 7—Sale of houses by island councils 'Where a person makes an application under section 2 of the 1980 Act to an Islands Council to purchase a dwellinghouse which is vested in that council in its capacity as educational authority, the council shall be entitled to refuse that application if it is reasonably of the opinion that the house will be required either immediately or at some future time for the accommodation of a person who is or is to be employed by the council in connection with its function as education authority.'.

Mr. Ancram

These new clauses deal with the problems faced by islands councils when they are required to sell teachers' houses in remote areas. I hope that they meet the undertakings that I gave in Committee. I trust that they will be supported by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

In Committee we discussed an amendment that was tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) that would have given islands councils discretion to refuse to sell houses that were required for educational purposes. Although I did not feel able to accept that amendment as it stood, I said that I would consider proposing an amendment enabling islands councils to refuse to sell some houses that were required for educational purposes, provided that they had my right hon. Friend's consent. That is the effect of new clause 10. The approach is similar to treatment, prescribed by the 1980 legislation, of houses that have been specially adapted for the needs of elderly people. That approach has proved a satisfactory means of guarding the interests of landlord and tenant when there are houses of a special category which it is important that councils should be able to retain if they are to be able to carry out their statutory duties.

The hon. Member for Maryhill also tabled an amendment intended to enable islands councils to apply to the sheriff court to recover possession of a teacher's house when the teacher's employment had ended. I said that I would consider it, but I also said that I had reservations about it, bearing in mind the fact that the tenancy was otherwise secure.

On careful reflection, I am prepared to accept the principle of the amendment which also has a precedent in the treatment of amenity housing for elderly people. If the islands councils do not have some means of recovering possession of such houses the amendment that would enable them to refuse to sell teachers' houses in certain circumstances would have little value as the teacher would be able to remain in the house as a secure tenant and, indeed, to hand it on for one succession. It would, therefore, be many years before the house became available and, in the meantime, the council would still find itself faced with the difficult problem of trying to find alternative accommodation for a new teacher. Those are important considerations.

New clause 12 provides, therefore, that the islands councils may apply to the sheriff court for recovery of possession of a teacher's house once his employment has ended but it contains several safeguards for the teacher, which I consider to be extremely important. In the first place, the islands council must make out the case for recovery to the court and it will need to satisfy the court that the house is held for educational purposes, required for the accommodation of another teacher and that the council cannot reasonably provide alternative accommodation for that teacher.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

The Minister keeps referring to teachers. Although in most cases it is teachers who will be affected, the provision refers to educational purposes. Does that include janitors' houses? What would happen to janitors when they retire, as they would require local authority housing far more than teachers?

Mr. Ancram

The provision includes janitors—their houses are included in those which are required for educational purposes. The hon. Gentleman's understanding is probably the same as mine. I am referring to teachers because it was in respect of teachers that this matter arose.

Their case illustrates what we are trying to achieve more simply than would be the case if we attempted to use a generic term that covered all possibilities. The island council must make out the case for recovery to the court, and it will need to satisfy the court that the house is held for educational purposes, is required for the accommodation of another teacher and the council cannot reasonably provide alternative accommodation for that teacher.

Under section 15(2) of the 1980 Act the court may order recovery only if it is satisfied that the council has made suitable alternative accommodation available for the "teacher" so there is no question of the teacher being left without a home.

Given those fairly strict safeguards to protect the interests of the teacher, it is appropriate to provide some mechanism for the islands councils to recover possession of these houses, if they are genuinely required for the employment of another teacher and it is impossible for the councils to make alternative provision. I emphasise that, although a council may in certain circumstances apply to the court to recover possession of a house, teachers who live in such houses will otherwise continue to enjoy full security of tenure and will have all rights under the tenants' charter.

In Committee it was appreciated on both sides that a particular problem related to the islands councils, and I hope that the House will feel that, in putting forward these new clauses, I have fulfilled my commitment made at that time to try to find a solution, not only to help the councils and relive their problems but to go some way towards safeguarding the interests of the tenants of those houses who in other circumstances would have security of tenure. I believe that the balance is about right, and I hope that these new clauses will find favour with the House.

Mr. Craigen

As the Under-Secretary of State has pointed out, these new clauses which were debated in Standing Committee were drafted by the Western Isles council. I believe that the Under-Secretary agrees that they struck a sympathetic chord across the parties. I am grateful for the way in which he has attempted to recognise the special factors applying to the islands and the fact that the island authorities are education and housing authorities, which places them in a unique position in relation to Scottish local government and the operation of this legislation.

The Educational Institute of Scotland has been in touch with me. It was on the horns of a dilemma as it represents teachers in posts and concerns itself with teachers who may be retiring or thinking of doing other things. I understand that the institute is broadly happy with the Government's proposals.

It was made clear in Committee that certainly the Western Isles council had operated in a fairly responsible fashion. Its main concern was to safeguard the position of the remoter islands where housing provision is a problem. There is anxiety about the bureaucracy that may be emanating from the Scottish Education Department, at New St. Andrew's House. It is important that the bureaucracy is not too heavy-handed. I do not know how much island-hopping the Under-Secretary manages to achieve in his role as the Minister responsible for housing in Scotland. I know that he went skiing this winter and returned with a broken leg, and I hope that he recovers soon. He will need to stand on his own feet because of the housing measures that are coming from New St. Andrew's House. I trust that in this matter there will be a lighter touch at the tiller in New St. Andrew's House.

It is important that the islands should be able to safeguard their position as education authorities. They have made it clear already that the right of teachers to buy houses will not be injured and alternative accommodation will be made available. The islands which are both education and housing authorities would make the position more realistic. I thank the Under-Secretary for doing his best to meet these problems.

4.45 pm
Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

Subsection (1)(b) of new clause 10 inserts: the council is not likely to be able reasonably to provide other suitable accommodation for the person mentioned in paragraph (a)(ii) above". The new clause makes provision for application to be made to the Secretary of State for Scotland for authority to refuse the application of the sitting tenant to purchase the house and for him to grant refusal.

We have talked about the islands, but we must bear in mind that there are rural areas on the mainland that are equally remote where houses are possessed by regional authorities for educational purposes. A headmaster who chooses to retire or who for some reason is removed from the house he occupies and who wants to purchase his house is unable to do so under the provisions of subsection (1)(a)(ii).

Mr. Maxton

The hon. Gentleman has this point wrong. A teacher is not entitled to purchase that house under existing legislation, and this legislation does not alter that position. People given accommodation for employment purposes are not entitled to purchase their house because of the provisions of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980.

Mr. McQuarrie

That may be so, but the purpose of tenants' rights is to give the individual the right to purchase the house that he occupies. There is no reason why a person occupying a regional authority house should not have the right to purchase that house.

What happens if the regional education authority refuses the right to buy to a person occupying a house on his retirement or when he leaves educational employment? What steps should be taken to approach the district council —the housing authority in that area—to enable that person to purchase a house? Such a person has given valuable service to the community as a teacher or head teacher in a rural area where there are a limited number of houses and it may not be possible for the region to provide another house. Can measures be enacted to ensure that such a person receives a house from the district authority?

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I welcome the Government's acceptance of these new clauses. The Western Isles and the Orkney and Shetland islands councils have faced a difficult problem. No doubt, the Under-Secretary is aware that those councils have accepted the principle of the Government's legislation on the purchase of housing. In towns such as Stornoway, Kirkwall and Lerwick, where teachers have no trouble in purchasing their houses, this practice has been widely carried out. The problem has been entirely in the remote islands. From my knowledge I can assure the House that there have been several cases when it was almost impossible to attract applications for teachers even when a house went with the position. If a house could not be offered this would be extremely damaging to education in the Western Isles and the Orkney and Shetland islands. I am grateful to the Government for their recognition of this anomaly, for accepting the new clauses as a way out of the problem and for the assistance of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) and both sides of the House.

Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)

I welcome the new clause and understand what my hon. Friend is hoping to achieve, but I am sad that the principle has not been extended to include all tenants of all regional councils.

I am at something of a loss to understand the logic of the Minister's position in being prepared to let teachers have the right to buy, unless the islands' council can demonstrate that it requires the accommodation for other education purposes, in an area where public sector housing is presumably in short supply, whereas in Central region or other regions in Scotland—for example, in Stirling where public sector housing is more readily available—tenants are to have no such rights. I am slightly disturbed that constituents, like the former teacher living in a house declared surplus by Central region about whom I have written to the Minister, are unable to enjoy the right to buy and to obtain a discount simply because of the ideological opposition of the Central regional council to council house sales. I do not see what basis of equity or what justification can allow a situation to continue where regional councils are able to sell such properties declared surplus to district councils at very substantial discounts. There are recorded examples well in excess of 50 per cent. where sitting tenants are living in those houses, yet the tenants are not allowed to enjoy any such discounts.

I am sure the House will be grateful to me if I do not rehearse the arguments for the new clause to be further extended to cover all tenants of regional councils. Indeed, the arguments were put in Committee very ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley). In Committee on the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 the then Shadow Secretary of State put the arguments very forcibly and, as always, was supported by his colleagues. He argued that if a right to buy were to exist at all it should be available equally to all tenants. I believe that that position is as valid today as it was then.

I ask my hon. Friend to take that argument on board, as I believe he promised to do in Committee, and even at this late hour to offer some hope to those tenants of regional councils outwith the islands, because the House is dealing not with private tenants in this amendment but with those who are suffering considerable hardship for no good reason. He has the support of many of us, and he has gone some considerable way to meet the islands' councils. I wish he would go a little further and meet the arguments that were put during the Committee stage.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

We are grateful to the Minister for the way he has approached the problem put to him by the islands' councils. I think it is in some contrast to the attitude the councils found in the Scottish Office when the principal legislation was going through in 1980. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for sparing the time to meet both me and the vice-convenor of Orkney islands council. I think he would agree that the vice-convenor of that council put forward very well the case for an amendment of this nature.

The anomaly has already been demonstrated that the islands authorities, being more than education and housing authorities, do not find themselves in the same position as for example, the Highland region. I think the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) was slightly confused on that point. The problem has not really existed in the towns. Orkney islands council has received applications and sold houses to teachers in Stromness and Kirkwall. The problem could well arise in the outlying islands. In Orkney the island of Rousay has a two-teacher school and two houses belonging to the local authority, which it built in its capacity as an education authority. One was the subject of an application to purchase and, should the purchaser retire, as might well be the case, and intend to stay in the island, it would pose great problems if the council had to house an incoming teacher.

It must, therefore, seem somewhat churlish if we did not welcome the new clause wholeheartedly. However, two specific points prompted my right hon. and hon. Friends to table an amendment. First, we see an attitude emanating from the Scottish Office that the Scottish Office knows best. I submit that, even though the Secretary of State in terms of subsection (2) of the new clause will require information to enable him to ascertain whether the conditions mentioned are fulfilled, none the less the local authority is the body best able to understand the local conditions and to make the appropriate judgment in such a situation.

From figures given recently in a parliamentary answer, all three islands authorities have not held back in selling local authority housing. They are all well above the Scottish average as a percentage of the public sector stock. Indeed, they would exercise such a responsibility and such a discretion reasonably and properly. It is a matter of regret that the Secretary of State has not been fit to give them that discretion.

The other practical fear expressed to me by councillors and officials in the islands is that the machinery adopted is such that if a teacher, no doubt very often one with long service with a local authority, makes an application to buy a house, the local authority will then be put in the position, as it were, of the "baddie" who will be going to the Secretary of State to stop him doing so. The fear was expressed that this might cause unnecessary ill-feeling in a very small community. The preferred situation in the outlying areas is that there be a general principle that, where it would be unlikely that a teacher would be given a house, if the situation was such that the council could agree to do so, the council could give a right and opportunity that would not otherwise have existed.

None the less we recognise that a significant concession has been made. We shall not press our amendment to the vote and we shall not oppose this important new clause that the Government seek to add.

Mr. Maxton

I welcome the new clause proposed by the Minister although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). What concerns me—and it is obvious from the two speeches the House has heard from the Government Benches—is that there has been opened in the armour a chink that the Government will try to exploit to extend even further the right to buy by local authorities. The Minister will obviously now face a campaign from his Back Benchers to extend this right to buy to regional authorities and, one assumes, to all other Government Departments—the Ministry of Defence, the prison service, and so on. I welcome any move that brings control of the sale of council housing back to the local authority, who, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, are the people who know best about it.

I was delighted when the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) said that all tenants should have the right to buy. He very quickly qualified that when some hon. Members asked about people in private tenancies. Some of us believe that if there is to be this right—and we do not think there should be—it should include all tenants in private properties either where those private properties have been built by public fund, as is the case for some private properties in my constituency, or where the landlord has received substantial grants from the local authority or from national authorities in order to restore those properties. If that is the case, any tenant ought to have—

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sorry that he wishes to make the question of council house sales to regional council tenants a difference between us. Does he not accept that his party argued very forcefully during the Committee stage of the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act for the very exploitation of the chink in the armour that he appears to be deploring?

Mr. Maxton

I was not a member of the Committee, but the Labour party certainly opposes the blanket sale of council houses by any authority.

5 pm

Mr. Hugh Brown

I do not wish to detain my hon. Friend as I know that he has to meet the CBI, but the story has been distorted, as those of us who were members of the Committee know. If the Government wish to dispose of council houses at bargain prices, why do they not apply the same principle to their own property, such as that owned by the prison service and the regional councils?

Mr. Maxton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. McQuarrie

Prison officers are allowed to purchase their houses. Ten officers at Peterhead prison in my constituency are now purchasing their houses and many more have applied to do so. The right to purchase therefore already exists.

Mr. Maxton

Yet again, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) is wrong. Certainly, where the houses are surplus to needs the Scottish Office is allowing prison officers to purchase them, but prison officers do not have the right to buy under the Act.

Mr. McQuarrie

Yes, they do.

Mr. Maxton

No, they do not. I see that the Minister is putting his hon. Friend right on that. I shall not pursue the matter as I am conscious of the time—my time—because the Scottish group of Labour members are meeting the CBI—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] proving that we are a very tolerant group and always take all views into account.

I am surprised that Conservative Members wish the right to buy to extend only to public housing and are not prepared to argue for its extension to private properties, especially those which have been the subject of substantial injections of public funds, in some cases far exceeding the original purchase price paid by the landlord. Surely tenants of such properties should have the same rights as others.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

As my hon. Friend the Minister is being assaulted by hon. Members from both sides, he has probably got this about right. My recollection is that the views of the islands councils received a sympathetic hearing from all members of the Committee and that my hon. Friend the Minister therefore committed himself to consider the matter further to see what could be done. Any sane, rational person must conclude that the Government new clauses go a long way towards meeting the councils' requests at that time. I therefore welcome the changes. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), who has now left to go to the CBI, was right to say that some of us wish everyone occupying housing built by the State in one way or another to have the right to buy whenever that is possible and practicable. Any extension is therefore most welcome to us and should be welcomed by everyone.

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) for his welcome for the new clause and his recognition that it is a genuine attempt to meet a problem. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has gone, as I wish to comment on his contribution. In this context, I should qualify the statement that I made when he intervened earlier. Although a janitor is indeed in the same position as a teacher in an island authority, many janitors live in tied houses and thus do not have the security of tenure which would give them the right to buy. Therefore, although my answer was correct in theory, the normal regulations regarding tied accommodation will in practice apply to many janitors.

I was most interested in some of the comments of the hon. Member for Cathcart. I hope that his hon. Friends will inform him of my replies, as I know that he has had to go to a meeting. In the new clauses, the right to buy is being restricted and qualified for the first time. Yet the hon. Gentleman seemed to regard that as a move in the opposite direction when he referred to the opening of a chink. Perhaps he will consider that point.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cathcart for informing the House that the Labour party opposes the blanket sale of council houses. That is the first policy statement that I have heard from the Labour Benches throughout the passage of the legislation. I live in hope that before today is out we shall hear something from the Front Bench spokesman about the Labour party's position as he was unduly, unnaturally and uncharacteristically reticent on the subject in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) was right to say that prison officers in his constituency were purchasing their council houses, but that is because the Government voluntarily offer prison officers the right to buy their houses on the same terms as those enjoyed by district council tenants. We have been encouraging regional authorities to operate a voluntary system of selling houses which are surplus to requirements on the same basis. The Government are setting an example in this respect, but I must make it clear to my hon. Friend that prison officers do not have the right to buy, for the same reason as applies in the case of regional councils. First, the Government and such councils are not housing authorities. Secondly, most of the houses owned by regional councils are required for operational purposes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sterling (Mr. Forsyth) also referred to this matter and I know that many hon. Members are concerned about it. It was unfortunate that my hon. Friend, who attended the Committee assiduously, could not be present to move his amendment, but I listened carefully to the points ably put on his behalf by his hon. Friend the member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley).

As I have said, most regional council houses are required for operational purposes. For example, they may be let in connection with employment by the concil or on a temporary basis pending development. If councils have houses surplus to requirements, however, we have always recommended and shall continue to recommend that they should be offered for sale to tenants on the same basis as under the right to buy.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

The Minister complains about Labour party policy, but will he clarify the Government's policy on the sale of council houses to speculators? He must be aware that Edinburgh council currently plans to sell off more than 100 houses to Messrs. Miller, Barratt and Wimpey. That is an insult to the 12,000 families on the council waiting list, which is bad enough, but because the developers have been guaranteed 90 per cent. improvement grants many genuine owner-occupiers are being denied similar grants. Do not the Government feel strongly about that? They are always intervening in local government. Will they intervene in this case?

Mr. Ancram

It is perhaps not surprising that the hon. Gentleman has succeeded in bringing in a matter which could not be further from the subject of the debate which relates to the interests of teachers on islands. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the subject that he raises is a matter for Edinburgh council, which owns the properties; I could not possibly comment on it in this debate.

As has rightly been said, there is a connection between the position on the islands and that of the regional councils. There has been a varied response from the regions to the application of a voluntary sales policy. Some have been more willing sellers than others and I appreciate that tenants find it difficult to understand why their chances of buying their homes are better in some areas than in others.

I should like to see the voluntary sales policy implemented more uniformly. I shall be asking the Department to approach the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in the near future to see whether we can achieve an improvement in this respect. I accept that a problem has arisen where a region sells houses to a district, since the operation of the 1980 Act's cost floor prevents tenants from buying at a discount. This is one problem which my hon. Friend has encountered. As I said in Committee, this can be solved simply by bringing forward an order under section 1(7) of the 1980 Act which would exempt cost floor provisions. In Committee I gave an undertaking, which I repeat, that we will give serious consideration to making such an order.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks on the point that arises when property is being sold to a district. I wish to press him further. The position of tenants under regional councils, which have decided for reasons best known to themselves not to sell at a discount even though the property is being declared surplus, is untenable. The purpose of bringing in the right-to-buy legislation was to get away from the position where some tenants could enjoy the right to buy because they had progressive local authorities, whereas others were doomed never to have the right to buy.

My constituents who have been caught in central region find it difficult to understand why it is possible, as my hon. Friend has correctly pointed out, to put a restriction on the islands councils which means that a teacher can buy unless the regional council can demonstrate to the Secretary of State that the property is required for other purposes. What danger would there be in applying that safeguard to all regional councils? The Scottish Office may urge councils to sell but at the end of the day councils controlled by a Labour majority will refuse to comply.

Mr Ancram

I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend is making. As I said, I am concerned because the voluntary policy has been operating less well in some areas. At this stage, I should like to take this up first with COSLA to see whether we can get a better system of voluntary sales. My hon. Friend will appreciate that it is always difficult to ascertain what houses are surplus to requirements, when they are surplus and whether they might be required again. The matter is not simple. That is why, if the system can be operated successfully on a voluntary basis, that is the best way. I shall give serious consideration to making the order to which I referred to cover the other matter.

It is important for my hon. Friend's constituents to realise the distinction between islands authorities and regional authorities. The island authority is at once the housing authority and the education authority. It is wearing those two hats simultaneously. That is the basic difference and one of the reasons why the difficulty arose. Therefore, there is a specific reason why the measure was required for the islands, although I shall bear in mind the points that my hon. Friend has made about regional tenants. I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied for the moment with what I have said.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) welcomed my acceptance of the amendments. I hope that he will appreciate that it was not so much a case of acceptance as of presentation, because these are Government amendments. They are a sincere Government attempt to recognise a problem that has existed in constituencies such as his. He made points about the difficulties faced by island authorities as education authorities. He will obviously appreciate that the rights of people who have been granted secure tenancies are also important. That is why we must get a balance, which I think is achieved by the two new clauses.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) referred to island-hopping. I feel fairly sensitive about the second word at this time; I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not mean it in that context. I assure him that I have visited a number of the islands, probably as many as he has, and I, too, am aware of the difficulties that they face.

5.15 pm

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) dealt with new clause 7. I understand that the authorities themselves might have felt that it would have been easier and simpler if the decision had been left to them, but the hon. Gentleman was wrong to suggest that this would create difficulties, because people would feel that the islands authorities were against them if the matter had to go to the Secretary of State. If the islands authority was taking the decision, it would be even nearer the front line. Therefore, the argument put forward by the hon. Gentleman did not hold much water.

More important, we went for this system rather than the one the hon. Gentleman suggested because of individual rights. I am not suggesting that any islands authority would act other than most fairly, but at the same time there could be an element of being judged in one's own cause. I am sure that as a lawyer he knows the theory why that is not satisfactory. There is an element of arbitration between two possibly conflicting points of view. In these circumstances, the fairest and best way to operate the system is by asking the Secretary of State to consider the matter and make the decision. That is what we have tried to achieve through the new clauses. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is the better way to approach the problem and that he will support the two new clauses.

Mr. McQuarrie

My hon. Friend has said that he will endeavour to get a voluntary agreement in consultation with COSLA in regard to regional authorities agreeing with district councils on giving a house to a person who is leaving the region. What will happen if a district council says to the region that it cannot house that person? A person who had faithfully served a regional council in a rural area and who was unable to obtain a house with the district council would be left out in the cold. Does my hon. Friend intend to take steps to try to ensure that the person who is unable to obtain a house from the district council because of its failure to get agreement with the regional council will at some time be able to purchase a house from the district council?

Mr. Ancram

Perhaps I may write to my hon. Friend on that point. There could be a difficulty. If a person occupies a house because of the occupation in which he indulges as an employee, when the employment ceases, the person may be in difficulty. This does not happen just to people who have been employed by a regional authority. I do not think that a specific course of action could be adopted. I sympathise with the difficulties which regional tenants have had in some areas.

I want to see the voluntary policy operating more successfully. There are steps which I can take to try to achieve this. If at the end of the day nothing is achieved, I will be prepared to consider the matter again. If regions sell houses to district authorities and thereby undercut, the right to buy provisions for tenants, the best way to deal with that is by an order. As I said, this is a matter to which I want to give serious consideration. I hope voluntarily to find a solution which will satisfy my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling and for Banff and Buchan.

I hope that the House will approve the new clauses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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