HL Deb 15 July 1969 vol 304 cc126-40

2.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Definition of house meeting tolerable standard]:

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?


There is one point about I wish to ask the Government and which I hope will not take very long. It concerns Clause 2 and Clause 41. I thought perhaps it might be better to dispose of it as early as possible on Clause 2. A short time ago the Association of Local Government Officials in Scotland sent a memorandum on the Bill to Members of another place, which unfortunately did not arrive until after the other place had concluded their consideration of this Bill. There is one point in it which I should like for a moment to bring to the attention of your Lordships' which concerns the question of whether or to what extent satisfactory natural daylight should be made a condition of receiving a standard grant under the Bill. As your Lordships know, the standard grants have been in operation for some time, but the conditions for them were defined in the Act of 1968, and Section 41 of that Act is changed by Clause 41 of this Bill, which does so by insisting on the tolerable standard which is defined in Clause 2 which we are on now. It is represented that Clause 41 of this Bill may be imposing too high a standard of day-lighting for a standard grant because the proposed amendment to Section 41 of the 1968 Act requires a dwelling to meet the tolerable standard, and the tolerable standard demands satisfactory provision for natural lighting.

As a matter of common sense, I do not think there ought really to be any difficulty about this. I do not know whether "satisfactory provision for natural lighting" means satisfactory in the opinion of the local authorities in relation to the condition of the house or whether it depends on some rigid standard of measurement of the size of windows in relation to the floor space, which is often demanded by some local authorities; and I must confess that I am not sure whether the Department of Health prescribes any such general standard or whether it is left to the local authorities. But the ponit which is made by these officials is one I quite understand, that there are cases of good houses which may not come up to the required standard of window space owing to some architectural necessity or some aesthetic necessity although the rooms in fact may be perfectly lit.

I remember some time ago, when I was in the other place, there was in my constituency an old seventeenth century or early eighteenth century weaver's house in Kilbarchan which was a good house. It was still in excellent condition. Not only was it a beautiful historic object but the rooms were much larger than the rooms of most modern houses, but the house was dry and comfortable and in good condition. But in the main living room, which used to be the old weaver's room and was then used as a living room, there were a number of small, very beautiful windows which lit the room perfectly well but which, when added up, did not fulfil the standard measurement in relation to the floor space and the county council had accordingly condemned this house. A lot of people protested about it and in the end the house was saved from condemnation.

I quote that as an example to your Lordships of how some technical point of this kind might prevent a grant from being given enabling a house to be improved which as a matter of common sense clearly ought to be improved. I do not think we could amend the Bill because it would be difficult to do so without giving the impression that we were trying to encourage bad lighting. The 1968 Act did not mention this, but if an Act mentions "satisfactory standard natural lighting" and you propose to leave out "satisfactory natural lighting" you give the impression that you do not want the house to be well lit, which would cause misunderstanding. I should like to ask whether anything can be done by the Department to make it easier for the local authorities, not always in the case of rural houses in particular or houses which are not in a private area, to judge these cases by common sense and not by some rigid measurement in a case of this kind, and particularly, whether it is a matter purely for the local authorities—in which case it is not a matter we should concern ourselves about—or whether there is anything that the Department can do to make our views clear on this point to the local authorities.


I think I can reassure the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on this position. The tolerable standard simply says that the house must have satisfactory natural lighting. This is no more severe than the provision in the existing unfitness standard which also applies to improvement grants. I may say that the representations from the North-East Boroughs Technical Officers' Association, to which the noble Earl has referred, have come to Scottish Ministers also. However, I only saw them myself for the first time this morning. But the burden of what I am saying in reply to the noble Lord will be conveyed to these officers from the Secretary of State in due course. In any case it is up to the local authorities to interpret what is satisfactory natural lighting. We do not lay down any rigid standard. There is nothing in the Statute, for instance, requiring them to arrange daylight standards like those in the building regulations which apply to new buildings. Fixed standards can be laid down for new buildings and there is no difficulty in complying with them. Obviously, it is an entirely different thing dealing with existing buildings. We are aware that some local authorities apply high standards, but we discourage them from setting their standards too high, as in doing so they might inhibit what would otherwise be a desirable improvement. This is the position which we are seeking to maintain. I think that in the end we generally achieve the same satisfactory result as the noble Earl achieved in the case to which he referred all these years ago.


I thank the noble Lord for his explanation, which I think is satisfactory.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Local authority may control occupation of houses in housing treatment area]:

2.32 p.m.


The noble lord said: This Amendment corrects a drafting error. Subsection (4), as at present drafted, refers to the service of a notice under subsection (1) of the clause. The power to serve the notice is in fact contained in subsection (2) and the reference to subsection (1) is an error. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Right to and amount of payments]:

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 2: Page 13, line 9, leave out ("or closing order under section 15") and insert ("under section 15 or a closing order under section 15 or 18").

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 2, I should like to point out that numbers 7 and 8 in the first Schedule are consequential. These Amendments make clear that the payments for which Clause 18 provides are available in the case of houses vacated following closing orders made under both Section 15 and Section 18 of the 1966 Act. Clause 18 and Schedule 1 (which is a transitional provision), as at present drafted, restrict the payments to cases where a closing order has been made under Section 15, which is the normal case. Under Section 18 of the 1966 Act, however, a closing order is to be made instead of a demolition order in the case of a house which is in a listed building or a building subject to any preservation order under the Planning Acts. No restriction within the category of closing orders was intended and the Amendments make it clear that Clause 18 covers closing orders under Section 18. This means that the higher payments which are available to owner occupiers will be available in both sets of cases, as was the original intention, and we are correcting the omission. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 19 to 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Power of local authority to secure repair of house in state of serious disrepair]:

THE EARL OF DUNDEE moved Amendment No. 3: Page 16, line 39, at end insert ("which is occupied by a person other than the owner or a member of his family",)

The noble Earl said: This clause empowers a local authority to serve a notice on the person having control of a house, requiring him. within such reasonable time, not being less than 21 days, as may be specified in the notice, to execute the works specified in the notice.

if the house is in a state of serious disrepair. The Amendment in my name, and in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Atholl, who wishes to apologise for not being here owing to business in Edinburgh, would insert after "house" the words which is occupied by a person other than the owner or a member of his family". We do not want to encourage anybody deliberately to live in a house which is in a state of disrepair, but it seems to me that if a person owns a house, whether he himself has built it or not, if it is in a state of disrepair, and if he likes living in it and it does nobody else any harm, and if it is not having any adverse consequences on neighbouring houses, then the local authority should not have the right to force him to put it into a state of good repair against his own wishes. After all, a man ought to be free to do and live as he likes, provided he is not injuring or inconveniencing some other member of the community.

It is perfectly reasonable, where there is a tenant, to require the person who is in control of a house or the owner to carry out necessary repairs, but it seems to me that it is not in accordance with human liberty that a local authority should be given power to deprive a man who wants to live in any kind of dwelling of the right to go on living there. It may be bad for his health, but we do not by law give a local authority or anybody else a legal power to stop a man from smoking cigarettes, though they may be likely to give him lung cancer. Though it may be right to try to persuade a man to put his house in a better state of repair in his own interests, I do not think it is right to make a law which can compel him to do so, providing of course that his bad house is not inflicting any damage upon any other member of the community. I beg to move.


The noble Earl, in putting forward this Amendment, qualified its desirability by a number of conditions, such as that a house should not affect other people or injure other people's interests. I can well see the point he has in mind, of a single cottage in a country area which may not come up to standard but which, unless it becomes an actual slum, when the local authority would have to take action, would not affect anybody but the people who live in it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of cases which this Clause is intended to deal with are not in that category. The sort of circumstances which will arise in a hundred cases for every one of the isolated rural cottage affect houses in tenements in Glasgow or other urban areas, so many of which have come into individual ownership. It is largely because of the way in which this problem emerged in Glasgow after the storm damage in the winter of last year that this provision has been put in the Bill.

If the Amendment were accepted, it would exclude a substantial number of houses without regard to their condition from the scope of the Part II powers. It might frequently be essential for local authorities to deal with such houses because, if repairs are not done, they might become uninhabitable or cause damage to other houses. This is particularly true of houses in tenements, in which the main problems occurred after the 1968 storm and in which problems of disrepair are likely to be most serious. Landlords have for many years been selling off individual houses in these blocks as they become vacant and owner occupation is now widespread. If a local authority are to ensure repairs are carried out on the roof of a tenement, they must be in a position to serve notice on the owners of all the houses in the block, whether they are let or owner-occupied, because the responsibility for the repairs is normally shared between all the owners. If the Amendment were accepted it would make this impossible. In some cases during the aftermath of the storm the people who were most anxious that the local authorities should exercise these powers were the owner-occupiers who could not get their own houses made satisfactory unless the burden was shared, and was compelled to be shared, by everybody in the tenement.

It may be argued, as the noble Earl, I think, implied, that the provisions of Part II involve undue interference with the rights of private property. I would submit that there are two answers to this. In the first place, it may well be. as I have indicated, in the interests of the owner that the local authority can ensure quick and co-ordinated action by a multiplicity of owners. Secondly, the individual owner is protected by a right of appeal to the sheriff, and he can establish either that his house was not in a state of serious disrepair, or that the works being required of him were more than were needed to bring it up to a reasonable standard of repair, having regard to its age, character and location. In that sort of case, which I am quite certain is what the noble Earl has in mind, obviously the owner-occupier is the only one affected, and it is only his house that is affected, and he will obviously have a much better case for having the authority not to proceed against him, in the first instance, or alternatively of succeeding on an appeal to the sheriff if the local authority did act.

Local authorities already have powers to require work on houses—on unfit houses under Section 11 of the Housing (Scotland) Acts 1966 (which is being repealed), on houses in dangerous buildings under the Building (Scotland) Act 1959, and on houses subject to nuisances under the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1897, as well as certain powers under local Acts. In none of these cases has it been necessary to distinguish between houses in owner occupation and houses that are let.

Finally, I should like to say that none of the representations made following the publication of the White Paper, The Older Houses in Scotlanda Plan for Action, nor on the terms of the Bill itself, have suggested any need for a distinction of this kind. I hope that I have satisfied the noble Earl. I think that the greater part of his fears can be removed satisfactorily within the provisions of the Bill, and that the powers conferred are necessary to prevent a situation arising again such as followed the storm damage of 1968, where the powers were so inadequate that the local authority used them only in the last resort when it was quite clear that public opinion would be very much on their side even if they were over-stressing their powers.


I certainly do not want to make it more difficult for the local authority to require a man to repair his house if it is in disrepair and is inflicting damage or injury upon his neighbours. Therefore, I will not press this Amendment. It appears from what the noble Lord has said that in a great number of cases it would have the effect of their doing it to some eccentric recluse who chose to live in a bad house and was doing no harm to anybody. I thought that it would be most unjust if he were compelled to make it into a good house, if it was his own house. I do not know whether the sheriff would give him the necessary redress, but I expect that if a case of this kind were to occur there would probably be a considerable outcry in the Press, and maybe the pressure of public opinion would force the local authority not to act as a martinet in the case of individuals of this kind. But I quite see that the Amendment as I have put it down would have the effect of preventing desirable progress in areas where there are contiguous houses together, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 agreed to. Clauses 25 to 49 agreed to.

Clause 50 [Appeal in certain cases of effect of qualification certificate]:

2.46 p.m.

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 4: Page 30, line 8, leave out from ("to") to end of line 9 and insert ("any change in the state of the dwelling between the date of the issue or refusal of the certificate and the date of the hearing,")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment fulfils an undertaking given by my honourable friend the Minister of State during the Report stage of the Bill in the other place, that the Government would look again at the drafting of subsection (3) of Clause 50. The Amendment makes it clear that when the sheriff hears the appeal he will take into account any change in the state of the dwelling since the date of the issue or refusal of the certificate. It may be clear, for example, from a consideration of the facts as they are put to the sheriff at the appeal that the local authority were quite in order in refusing the certificate because at that time the dwelling did not meet the qualifying conditions. It may be, however, that in the interim the landlord has carried out works to the dwelling so that it may now meet the qualifying conditions. If so, the sheriff ought to be able to take this into account, and the Amendment would make it clear that the only new evidence that would require to be led would relate to the change in the circumstances.

Similarly, if the appeal is against the issue of the certificate by the local authority and defects have since become evident such that the dwelling no longer meets the qualifying conditions, then again the sheriff ought to be able to take this into account, and again the Amendment makes clear that new evidence led need only relate to the change. It seems reasonable that the sheriff should be in a position to take into account the existing state of the property, and act on existing facts rather than perhaps on the facts as they were some weeks or months previously. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 51 to 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 [Supplemental]:

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 32, line 44, at end insert— ("(2) The power of the Court of Session under section 17 (1) as read with section 18 of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act 1920 to make an act of sederunt and give directions for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of that Act shall extend to sections 50 and 55 of this Act.")

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 5 is to enable the Court of Session to make an Act of Sederunt governing the procedure in sheriff courts in cases under Clauses 50 and 55 of the Bill. It would be desirable, for example, to secure that on an appeal against the local authority's decision, both the landlord and the tenant could be made parties to the appeal. Section 17 (1) also enables proceedings to be conducted in private and this clause would be desirable in relation to applications under Clause 55, since the means of the tenant would be one of the matters under discussion. I might say that we have ascertained that the Lord President has no objection to the Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 56, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 57 to 64 agreed to.

2.51 p.m.

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 6: After Clause 64, insert the following new clause:

Amendment of meaning of "financial year" for purposes of s. 2(2) and (3) of Act of 1968.

. At the end of section 2 of the Act of 1968 (aggregate cost contributions) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (6) For the purposes of the construction of subsections (2) and (3) of this section after 31st March 1969, "financial year" means a period of twelve months beginning on 1st April, and in any order made under this section which comes into operation after 31st March 1969, "financial year" shall be construed accordingly.".

The noble Lord said: This is a rather important Amendment which the Government are introducing to meet representations which have been made by the Scottish local authority associations. It is an Amendment of the procedure for the calculation and application of the representative rate of interest on which Government housing subsidy under Section 2 of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1968 is based. The aggregate cost subsidy payable under that Section is broadly the difference between the loan charges at 4 per cent. on the approved cost of building the houses and the loan charges at a rate specified by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State as being representative of borrowing by recipient authorities in the financial year preceding the year in which the houses are completed.

The financial year for the purposes of Section 2 of the 1968 Act is the local authority financial year, normally the year beginning on May 16. There are one or two authorities which have a date a little later on in May. A practical difficulty arises from the fact that statistics relating to local authority borrowing—which are used for determining the representative rate of interest applied to houses completed in the following year—are collected on the basis of calendar quarters. This has meant that there has been a gap of six weeks between the end of the financial year, March 31, for which borrowing statistics were available for the calculation of the representative rate of interest, and the beginning of the financial year in which are completed the houses attracting subsidy calculated on the basis of that representative rate of interest.

The Amendment closes that procedural gap by making the financial year for the purposes of Section 2(2) and (3) of the 1968 Act—that is, for the calculation and application of the representative rate of interest—the financial year ending on March 31. The intention of Parliament in the 1968 Act was that local authorities in Scotland (like those in England) should get in respect of houses completed in one year subsidy based on a rate of interest representative of borrowing in the immediately preceding year. This has been going on for some years, and although we have worked on the basis of the year to March 31, the local authorities did not take great exception to it on the basis that on the "swings and roundabouts" principle they would gain. Because of the rather steep rise in interest rates during the past year, the position is that the representative rate of interest for the financial year 1969–70 is 7.94 per cent., which is 1.16 per cent. higher than the rate for houses completed in the financial year 1968–69. The local authorities were therefore concerned that houses completed in the last six weeks of their financial year would in fact get grant at the lower rate of interest applicable to the previous year.

As a result of this Amendment, they are agreeable to our making it March 31, because the houses in their financial year will attract for the period between March 31 and May 15 interest at the higher rate, and they are working on the basis that they want "the bird in the hand" because the increase in the rate has been so steep. Whether they will be so enthusiastic when it works the other way, if it should work the other way and there is a steep fall, I do not know; but they are within their rights in asking that this should be done, and that they should have the benefit immediately, taking the risk that at some time in the future they will have a corresponding loss to make it up. This has been done very hurriedly, and consultations with the local authorities have in some cases not rested on the ordinary channels of leisurely communication, but I can say that the local authorities are satisfied that it provides a complete solution to the problem to which they directed our attention. I beg to move.


I am very glad to hear that the Government are making at least this small seasonal mitigation of the intolerable burden of interest rates which are doing so much to hamper and retard economic growth in Scotland and also, I am afraid, to squeeze out the smaller men, leaving only large combines who can afford to carry on with these interest rates. I have argued (often to your Lordships (although it would not be in order to do so on a Committee stage of this Bill) that the Scottish economy does not need these deflationary measures which high bank rate is designed to further, and we could get on without them. At least I welcome this small step of mitigation by altering the seasonal incidences of these rates of interest.


I will not follow the noble Earl into the highways and byways of higher economics. I will say that local authorities in Scotland, whether large or small, will benefit in the same way from this measure. We are not distinguishing, at any rate in this case, between big and small.

On Question, Amendment agreed to. Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Transitional Provisions for Purposes of Sections 18 to 21]:

3.0 p.m.

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 7:


This is consequential upon Amendment No. 2 already accepted by your Lordships. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 40, line 11, leave out from ("demolition order") to ("originally") in line 12 and insert ("under section 15 or closing order under section 15 or 18 of the principal Act as those sections were")—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 8:


This also follows on Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 40, line 14, leave out ("the said section 18") and insert ("section 18 of this Act")—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules 2 to 5 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Minor and consequential amendments]:


This amends the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1969 in the light of the provisions of the Bill. It removes the reference in Section 37 of the Planning Act to compulsory purchase orders under Part III of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966 (in clearance areas) and substitutes a reference to compulsory purchase orders under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act 1947 as applied by Clause 7 of the Bill in housing treatment areas. This is a formality. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 60, line 49, at end insert—


47. In section 37 (compensation for compulsory purchase of land in clearance areas and of historic buildings)—

  1. (a) in paragraph (b) for the words 'Part III of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966' there shall be substituted the words 'the said section 1 as applied by section 7 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1969;'
  2. (b) for the words 'Part III of the said Act of 1966' there shall be substituted the words 'section 10 (2) and (3) of the said Act of 1969.'")—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Enactments repealed]:

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 61, line 6, at end insert— ("14 Geo. 6. c. 34. The Housing (Scotland) Act 1950. In section 125, the proviso.")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment closes a small gap in the arrangements for controlling the rents of improved houses. It ensures that if a landlord improves a controlled house with grant but does not apply for a qualification certificate (which would enable the tenancy to be converted to rent regulation) he will be able to increase the rent by no more than 12½ per cent. of his expenditure.

The proviso to Section 125 of the 1950 Act removed the Rent Acts limit from the rent of a controlled house improved with grant and replaced it by the rent limit fixed under the grant conditions; that rent limit thereafter became the new standard rent under the Rent Acts. Under Clause 43, the grant conditions will no longer contain a rent limit because in the normal case the fair rent machinery will apply to the improved house.

There could be cases, however, where an improvement grant was given for works which did not bring a controlled house up to the full standard for conversion, for example, a W.C. or a hot water supply could be installed in a house which could not be supplied with a bathroom because of the space available. In these circumstances, we must ensure that the house remains subject to rent control and the Amendment ensures this. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.


As a result of the Amendment No. 6 to which your Lordships agreed it is necessary to amend the Title of the Bill, and this is the purpose of Amendment No. 11 which I now beg to move.

Amendment moved— In the Title, line 20, after ("1966;") insert ("to amend the meaning of 'financial year' for the purposes of subsections (2) and (3) of section 2 of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1968;").—(Lord Hughes)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendments.