§ 3.7 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
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 Sandford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1. [Housing improvement in development areas and intermediate areas]:
LORD JACQUES moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 11, after (" area ") insert (" or carried out in the designated area of a New Town which is partly within such a local government area ").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment is to avoid anomalies in the designated areas of New Towns. It can best be explained by way of example. In Lancashire, in and around the whole county borough of Warrington, a New Town is being built. The designated area has a population of 130,000. Of these, 70,000 are in the old county borough and 60,000 are in the surrounding countryside. The surrounding countryside is in one of two rural districts, the rural district of Runcorn and the rural district of Warrington. In the extreme West of both of these rural districts is the development area; so that in the West 807 both of these rural districts are in the development area, and as the Bill stands the whole of these rural districts will get the benefits of the additional grants. Therefore it follows that in the designated area of the New Town the centre or core of the County Borough of Warrington will not get the benefits of this Bill but the surrounding countryside will get the benefits.
§ Let us look at the effects. One of the objects of the scheme for a New Town is to redevelop and improve the whole county borough. The county borough is acting in the spirit and letter of Government policy. It has a special team on house improvements and it is estimated currently that in the county borough there are 5,000 houses which are worthy of improvement. But if the Bill goes into law as it stands, without this Amendment, the additional grants would be denied to the county borough but would go to the surrounding area. This, I suggest, is inconsistent with one of the objects of the scheme for the New Town. There are property owners and agents of property owners who have properties both inside and outside the county borough. They will tend to use such funds as are available outside the borough to get the additional grants, rather than inside the borough where there is the greatest need.
§ Furthermore, as in many boroughs of this size, those in the higher income group employed in the borough live outside the borough, while those who are lower paid and employed in the borough live inside the borough. Consequently, if the Bill is passed without this Amendment, the higher paid living outside the borough will get the benefit of the additional grants, while the lower paid living inside the borough will be denied those additional grants. For example, a managing director or a professional man living outside the borough could buy a country cottage and get the benefit of these grants, while a lower paid man living inside the borough would be denied the additional grants for his house inside the borough.
§ This is an anomaly. The effect of the Amendment is to make clear that where any part of the designated area of a New Town is within a local government area which receives the grant, then the whole 808 of the designated area shall be treated alike and shall receive the grant. I hope that the Minister will admit that the circumstances I have outlined show a gross anomaly, that this Amendment would avoid that anomaly, and accordingly that he will be able to accept the Amendment.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I think that in answer to this Amendment, and probably to all five Amendments which we are dealing with to-day, I shall need to stress particularly to the Committee the limited purpose and special purpose for which this Bill has been introduced. It is limited in two respects. It is limited in point of time to the two years beginning on June 23 this year. It is limited geographically to the assisted areas, the development areas and intermediate areas, with one relatively minor adjustment.
This is not the Bill in the Government's programme which is primarily intended to relieve the areas of greatest housing stress. That Bill is the one to be introduced early in the next Session, of which details are set out in the Government's White Paper, A Fair Deal for Housing. I say that at the beginning because I do not for a moment disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, about the importance of getting on with housing in Warrington, and Warrington New Town, or the value of what the team there is doing; but this is not the Bill which is intended to bear directly on that problem, which is recognised to be a very considerable one in Warrington and in many other places in the country which will not be affected by or benefit from this legislation.
This legislation has a purpose limited in time and space, as I have set out, and is designed to accelerate the rate of improvement grant in the assisted areas to match that which prevails in the rest of the country. I think that if that point is fully taken the anomalies, which I fully admit exist in a particularly sharp form in Warrington New Town, can be seen as justified.
To go into the matter in some detail, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques said, the Amendment would undoubtedly widen the scope of the Bill in a way we are seeking not to widen it (for the reasons I have given) by applying its provisions to the designated area of a 809 New Town if it happens to be within a local government area which itself is wholly within an assisted area. Its effect would be to bring in the County Borough of Warrington. We do not deny for a moment any of the housing problems of the County Borough of Warrington. If the County Borough of Warrington in the earlier and different legislation had been included in the Merseyside development area, of course this Amendment would not have been necessary because Warrington and its housing problems would have been embraced within the purpose of this Bill. But arguments on which areas should and which should not be classed as development or intermediate areas fall for discussion on regional development policy or development area policy and do not come within the scope of discussion in Committee on this Housing Bill.
As I say, we fully admit that anomalies are thereby created between the treatment accorded by this Bill to Warrington County Borough and its surrounding districts, but regrettable as they are unavoidable within the context of this Bill, an attempt to remedy them by Amendments to this Bill would lead to far greater and even more numerous anomalies. Development areas, as the Committee knows, are based on areas of local employment exchanges, not on local government areas. They do not by any means necessarily change their size with areas of borough and district councils which have responsibility for housing and area improvements. This applies particularly to local government districts, many of which are cut in two by the boundaries of development areas.
However, from the point of view of efficiency and uniform administration of improvement grants, which is a housing function, it is clearly desirable that the same rate of grant should apply throughout the whole area of a local authority which is concerned with that part of its area which lies in a development area. To that extent we have widened the provisions of the Bill, but I am sure that it would be wrong to go beyond that. That is why the provisions of the Bill extend to the whole of a local government area even if only part of it is within a development area, and in turn 810 it is the reason why some districts surrounding Warrington will enjoy the preferential treatment given by the Bill.
I hope that this serves to show why it is illogical to relate the provisions of this Bill to areas of local authorities for the purposes of the Housing Act 1969. It would not be appropriate to have a different criterion for this Bill which merely increases the amount of the financial assistance. I hope that that explanation—although I am sure it will not satisfy the feeling of the noble Lord that an anomaly has occurred here because undoubtedly it has—will serve to explain to him why we cannot seek to rectify that anomaly in this Bill for it would lead to greater anomalies.
§ LORD SHINWELL
Naturally I am not interested in this particular part of the country, but a New Town has been mentioned and I am a little curious to understand why; because in my old constituency there is a New Town. Is not the position that the housing arrangements of a New Town are quite different from those for which a local authority is responsible? The New Towns for housing purposes, so far as I understand, come within the ambit of the Commission responsible for their administration; they have special housing arrangements and special financial provisions. Is not that the reason why this anomaly exists?
§ LORD SANDFORD
That is not exactly the reason, but what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said certainly has a bearing on this matter. From Warrington's point of view there is an anomaly in that Skelmersdale will benefit from this Bill. That is because it is a New Town linked with the Merseyside development area, and there are provisions in the Industrial Development Act 1966 which create that link. This will, as it were, enable Skelmersdale, linked as it is with Merseyside which is a development area, to benefit from the provisions of the Bill; but that does not apply in the case of Warrington.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
Having represented Warrington as Member of Parliament for about seven years, I should like to ask why in this respect Warrington was excluded and not treated in the same way.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
The noble Lord said that Skelmersdale was included in the Merseyside area and therefore would not be excluded, as Warrington is. Why is this exception made?
§ LORD SANDFORD
I did not say that it was included but that it was linked. Every New Town has a particular function—for instance, Milton Keynes will be concerned with overspill from London and Skelmersdale was linked with Merseyside for the purpose of receiving overspill and transfer of population. Warrington was linked with Manchester, which is not a development area. That is the reason for the different treatment of the two towns.
§ LORD JACQUES
I was not arguing that Warrington should be part of a development area or intermediate area. I fully understand that it is for administrative convenience for the additional grant to be paid to local authority areas, but I still fail to see any reason why the Amendment could not be accepted, so that where the designated area is in part in a local authority area which receives grant, the whole of that designated area should not receive the grant. The cost to the Government would be negligible and it would get rid of anomalies which amount to an intolerable injustice.
§ LORD SANDFORD
Unfortunately, this could not be done in respect of Warrington without a considerable number of very similar cases having to be faced and the whole scope of the Bill would be enormously widened.
§ LORD JACQUES
I did not know that we had so many New Towns as to cause the scope of the Bill to be so enormously widened. If there are other cases like Warrington, then they should all be treated alike and get these grants.
§ LORD SANDFORD
The noble Lord argued originally that we had problems of housing shortages which ought to be dealt with and on that basis there would not be a case for extending the Bill in favour of New Towns, which were designed to relieve housing shortages elsewhere, but if there was an extension 812 to be based on the noble Lord's argument, we should have to think of a wider extension than just to the New Towns.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 12, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
(" (a) no work on the improvements has started before the relevant date, and ").
§ The noble Lord said: I regret that I was unable to be here on the Second Reading of the Bill, but the point underlying this Amendment was dealt with to some extent by the noble Lords, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale and Lord Airedale. I have been in correspondence and in conversation with my noble friend Lord Sandford for some weeks, so he will not be altogether surprised that I have put down an Amendment. Before he starts to answer in the same way as he answered the last Amendment, may I say that this Amendment does not widen the scope of the Bill. It certainly does not widen the scope so far as area is concerned and when it comes to wording, it does not widen that either.
§ The purpose of the Amendment is simple. According to the Bill it is on or after June 23, which is the relevant date, that an application must be made to get the new terms. The Amendment seeks to say that the relevant date shall apply, not to the date of application, but to the day on which the work starts on the improvement. I must declare a direct personal interest. I am in the unfortunate position of owning a number of rural cottages. I say"unfortunate position ", because, as any landlord knows, most of these cottages show a considerable loss. The way I have always worked matters is this. When a cottage falls in, as they do periodically, I have a look at the question of bringing it up to modern standards before re-letting. In most cases, with the grant, it is more or less a financial proposition, if one does not take too much account of the future, for they are practically all rent restricted and let at very low rents. Occasionally, it simply is not a financial proposition to modernise a cottage at all. I have one cottage that has been empty for several years and even the local authority surveyor agrees with me that it is not a 813 worthwhile proposition. It is just standing empty.
§ The cottage I want to use as an example for my argument is one that fell vacant last year. It is a good stone cottage and the exterior is perfectly sound, though I think it probably needs a damp course. It has very few modern amenities and in my view it is not fit to be let again until it is brought up to modern standards. At the beginning of this year we started the usual rigmarole. I had a long talk with the local authority so as to get an outline of what work was needed to bring it up to modern standards. Then I got tenders from various builders and when all that was ready I applied to the local authority for a grant. At the beginning of June, before the scheme was announced, the local authority offered a grant. They wanted a little extra work done before they finally agreed to my application and that was all right. My agent and I then went into the proposition in detail and came to the conclusion that it was not a financial proposition to do the modernisation of this cottage, taking into account the rent we should be likely to obtain and the amount of work that had to be done. So I gave orders that the work was not to be started and the cottage was not to be let but should remain empty, which I think was a sensible thing to do.
§ Shortly after that, this new scheme was announced, so I saw the local authority and asked whether it might be worth while going ahead on the new terms. They said that that seemed sensible but they did not quite know what attitude the Minister was going to take about it. They said that the sensible thing to do was to forget the old application and put in an entirely new one, if I was allowed to do that.
In view of the doubts in everyone's mind, I got in touch with my noble friend Lord Sandford, and after some weeks, because I gather that the Department had not made up its mind, I got a letter back from my noble friend, saying that I was perfectly entitled not to go ahead under the terms of the original application, but if I made a new application for the work specified (and I quote, if I may, with my noble friend's permission, one sentence from his letter):
It would appear to be finally determined by the authority so that the further applica-
tion in respect of subsidy for the same work could not be entertained.
§ That is the attitude of the Minister. I would ask my noble friend on what authority he says that. It certainly is not Parliamentary authority, because in this case I think the Parliamentary authority is the Bill and the Bill says nothing of the kind. All the Bill says is that on or after June 23 to get the new grant the application shall be made on or after that date. It does not mention anything about previous applications. I wonder, when it was drafted, if it was ever intended that it should have that effect.
A previous application for the same work might have been made ten years ago. Does that mean that housing of this kind cannot go ahead? It is an absurdity; and not only that, but the attitude of the Ministry is directly contrary to Government policy, as was laid down in the Second Reading, clearly and sensibly, by my noble friend. What he said was that the intention of the Bill was to encourage
people to bring forward new improvement work that might have been postponed, if indeed ever undertaken ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22/7/71, col. 1204.]
That is exactly the situation of the cottage about which I have been talking: it has certainly been postponed, and, under the old terms, may never be undertaken. I cannot understand why the Department are being so obstructive when Government policy is so clear.
§ I was in two minds whether to put down this Amendment. It is rather personal, and perhaps I had better say at this stage that it will make no difference to me financially which way it goes: one way I shall spend some money, and hope to get most of it back in due course; and the other way I shall not spend any money, and the cottage will not be let. The reason why I put the Amendment down was that I find that many local authorities are in exactly the same boat. They are saying that it is unfair as between one landlord and another; and furthermore, when they want these houses, many householders will not go ahead unless they get the higher grant, because they cannot afford it. That is the position.
§ Finally, I would say this to my noble friend. Presumably, what is going to happen is that the Department will circularise local authorities saying that they 815 must not entertain any new application when they have considered such an application at an earlier date. I imagine that is how it will work, because the Bill does not say anything else. If the Department, or the Government, agree to change their mind and say that previous applications do not matter provided all the other things are right, and the new application goes in on or after June 23, then all that has to happen is for them to tell the local authorities that that is the case, and this Amendment will be quite unnecessary. I ask my noble friend to think again, because I believe his Department are going directly contrary to Government policy. But—if he will forgive me for saying so—if it is Government policy, then I think it is extremely stupid. I beg to move.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in what he has said. As I understand it, the object of the Government in promoting this legislation is to give a shot in the arm to the development and intermediate areas and to speed up the improvement of what are appalling housing conditions in those areas, but it seems to me—and it will, I think, seem the same to most of your Lordships—that if this proposal is to help, the test must be whether or not work has been started, and not whether the application has been granted, which at present is the sole test. If I am right, that means that if the argument is still going on, which means that it is a marginal case—it may be, for example, that the house may have a damp course but no sanitation, on the lines that the noble Lord described—it will be eligible for the increased grant; but if the local authority had not objected or questioned the application and it was therefore more obviously a good case, it would not be eligible for the increased grant. That seems to me to be obviously absurd, and I submit to the Government that the test must be whether the work started on June 23, regardless of the date when the application had either been made or considered.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
On the previous Amendment we were discussing the possibility of extending the ambit of this 816 legislation in area and bringing in certain geographical areas that had been excluded. We are now talking about the possibility of extending it in point of time, and moving from the line which we have drawn with all due deliberation the date at which schemes were approved, and allowing it to run on to the date corresponding to the date on which the work began. My noble friend Lord Derwent mentioned, with perhaps a slight note of rebuke, that he had been kept waiting for the reply to his inquiry. The reason was not that we had not made up our minds, but that when legislation is introduced to Parliament it is important that Parliament should be able to express a mind on the legislation that is introduced before the Government go on to elaborate the details of their policy. It is for that reason that my noble friend did not have an immediate answer to bb letter and why the circulars to local authorities as to precisely how this will operate have not yet been completed or sent out. I am sure that all members of the Committee will agree that that is right: that Parliament has to set its seal on legislation before the policy is brought into operation and all the details for implementing it are worked out.
But what we are dealing with here is the question of whether, in the circumstances of that ritual and this legislation, and this way of accelerating the rate of housing improvement in certain specified areas within a limited time, it would be appropriate to use the same formula that was used in 1969. I would suggest to your Lordships that it is not appropriate. The object in 1969 was to prepare for the introduction of legislation in such a way as to prevent a flood of fresh applications coming in from all over the country when the 1969 Bill was enacted. For that purpose, the criterion was whether or not the work had begun on particular schemes for which improvement grants had been authorised. The object in this case is positively to create a flood of new applications covering a fairly short specified period in certain selected areas. We want positively to encourage a flood of fresh applications. It would be inappropriate, therefore, to use a formula which had been specifically designed to prevent one. That is the reason why we have on this occasion drawn the line at the point of approval. I fully admit that if my noble friend 817 has entered into discussions with his local authority with a view to having a particular house improved—and at that stage presumably thought that it was something worth proceeding with at the previous rate of grant—and has taken it to the point of accepting approval from the local authority for that scheme—
§ LORD DERWENT
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but what does he mean by"accepting "? I understand that accepting the proposal is starting the work, and if you have not started the work you have not accepted. You do not write and say:"I accept it ". They wait until you have done the work, then they come and look at it and pay the grant. They offer it; but you do not accept it.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I accept that correction. Having allowed this scheme to go forward to the point of approval it is then tantalising to have another scheme coming forward offering superior terms, but were we to accept my noble friend's Amendment and to allow all the schemes which had reached that point to be withdrawn and reconsidered we should be flying right in the face of the particular intention of this legislation. We should be asking the local authorities, at the precise moment when we wanted them to consider new applications which nobody had hitherto thought of and put forward because the sums did not work out right, to reconsider applications which had already been put in and approved, because the owners of the property thought that the terms were appropriate. It is for that reason, which again goes back to the specific purpose of this legislation in contradistinction to the legislation which was put forward in 1969, that I must ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment if my noble friend insists on pressing it. But I hope that with that explanation he will be disposed to withdraw it, though I can see why in his particular circumstances it would be very much better if the legislation were amended.
§ LORD DERWENT
Before my noble friend sits down, would he deal with the point which I raised? Why does not the Bill say this?
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
With permission, I think it is a little unfair to say that in the situation of 818 the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, this Amendment would clearly be preferable, because I think on grounds of principle that it is desirable and I can only feel that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and I did not make ourselves clear in our previous interventions. Certainly I myself did not rely on the 1969 precedent because I very much accepted what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said on Second Reading. But the point really is that if the local authority were still arguing about a case and saying,"We are not at all sure whether this is a proper case to allow a grant for improvement of property at June 23 ", that property will still be eligible for an increased grant. If, on the other hand, the application which had been put in by the owner of a property disclosed such a clearcut case that the local authority had said,"Yes, we will give a grant on this property ", but they will get it only at a reduced rate, compared with that which the Government are now proposing for the intermediate and development areas. I find it very difficult to defend that either on grounds of equity or indeed of logic. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will feel able to press this Amendment to a Division, in which case I shall ask my noble friends to support him in the Division Lobby.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ LORD FLETCHER
I hope that before the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, rises again he will reconsider this matter, because it seems to me that he has entirely failed to answer the very cogent points put by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and my noble friend Lord Greenwood. I have a certain amount of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in replying to the earlier debate, in which he said, quite correctly as I thought, that the Amendment was seeking to alter the scope of the Bill; and it seemed to me that he sought to resist this particular Amendment on the ground that it was extending the time limit of the Bill. With great respect, I do not think it is doing anything of the kind. The noble Lord said in the course of his speech that one of the objects of this Bill was to create a flood of new applications; in other words, to encourage applications, as distinct from some other legislation which had been aimed at discouraging applications.
819 The noble Lord then proceeded to say that words that had been inserted in another Act were not appropriate to this particular Bill. That in itself did not seem to me very convincing because, as I understand it, the position is this: certain applications have been made before this Bill becomes law; some of them have been granted and some have not. In so far as any of those applications have been granted and, to use the words of the Amendment,"work on the improvements has started ", then no question arises. Those who have made those applications and have had them accepted and have proceeded with the work, although they may feel the same kind of frustration or"tantalisement ", to use the noble Lord's own expression, have no redress.
There will be other applicants, as in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, whose applications have been accepted but who, on second thoughts, have not (no doubt for very good reasons) proceeded with the work. I do not know the statistics, but it seems to me that there cannot be very many of these cases. However, even if there are a measurable number, I fail to understand on what grounds of principle those applicants should now be debarred from the right to make a fresh application. I should have thought that without further examination they were entitled to make a fresh application.
It seemed to me that the noble Lord did not answer the constitutional point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, as to under what authority that letter had been written. May I say, in parenthesis, that as part, and part only, of that letter has been quoted I should like to ask that the whole text of the letter might be made available to Members of your Lordships' House in Hansard, so that we may all see exactly what has been said and what is the authority behind it. With the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, I find it difficult to understand what possible harm can be done by accepting this Amendment. I imagine that the noble Lord has been given some departmental brief which says that it is always a mistake to accept any Amendment; but that is not an argument which should weigh with your Lordships in this House if your Lordships are satisfied that on grounds of 820 common sense, reason and justice the Amendment is valuable and worth while. I would also think it consistent with the policy enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for this legislation to have encouraged a fresh application of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has in mind. Therefore, as I gather that this matter will be pressed to a Division I hope that the Government, rather than placing themselves in what seems to me an entirely false and untenable position, will accept the Amendment.
I am not a landlord, although I have had some slight experience in this particular field; but I detect behind the Government's attitude here the hand of the Treasury, because obviously they do not want to pay a higher grant for something when they can get away with a lower grant. This reveals to me a thing unknown: the extremely unbusinesslike way in which these matters are conducted, because for a local authority to promise a grant to a person and apparently have not the slightest idea of whether or not he goes ahead with the work seems to me grossly unbusinesslike. How on earth is the local authority to budget properly if it has a series of promises out and it never knows when it will be called upon to fulfil them? I suggest that my noble friend the Minister should take back this Amendment and should look at it, particularly from the angle of the administrative practice to be followed in the future, because if we are to have grants which go up and down we must have some clear-cut line by which people can either accept or refuse. They cannot shift from one to the other at will.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am grateful to noble Lords. I should like first to clear up some of the minor points. The noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, asked whether the letter to which my noble friend referred, could be published in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not believe that that would be possible without some further step. However, to the best of my recollection your Lordships have heard the greater part of the letter, and if my noble friend Lord Derwent feels that there are any other parts of it which bear on the matter perhaps he will mention them when he replies to the debate.
821 I should like your Lordships to bear in mind the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hawke. It is important, when we have legislation of this kind coming forward, that the Government should decide at what point a line is to be drawn when one scale of grants is giving way to another, and to stick firmly to that. That is what we propose to do. Once again I stress that the purpose of this legislation is to encourage fresh applications. This is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, may not have fully taken. We do not want at this particular juncture, and as a result of this legislation, to involve the local authorities in grappling with a large number of applications with which they have already dealt; we want them to deal with the new applications which, but for this legislation, would not have come forward. We do not want them to be grappling with old applications which came forward because the owners of the property concerned thought that the grants prevailing before June 23 were suitable for their purposes.
The view which the Government have taken, and which I must advise the Committee to support, is that the right place to draw the line for the purpose of bringing forward new applications which otherwise would not come forward was the point of approval. My noble friend asked what authority I had for writing to him in the terms that I used in the letter, and he pointed out that the terms were not in this legislation. My noble friend is perfectly right in that, but he is not right in supposing that we can now write to local authorities and give them directions which go beyond this legislation. All we can do, and all we intend to do, is remind them of the purpose for which it was introduced, and give it as our view that house improvement grants which have been approved under the previous legislation have been dealt with, and that they ought now to be concerning themselves with new applications coming forward under the new legislation. I do not think I can say anything more to explain why we have chosen to draw the line at the point of approval rather than at the point of the beginning of the work, which I agree was quite appropriate for the 1969 Act but is not appropriate for this more limited provision.
§ LORD DERWENT
I still do not understand what my noble friend is saying. He has said that he is not giving directions to the local authority. Presumably he holds the purse strings and if the Ministry write to the local authority in those terms then no local authority will give the grant. So it is a direction. If we pass this Amendment, and the Government alter their minds, the Amendment is unnecessary because they can write to the local authority and say,"In our view…" and it will be the other view. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, that a large part of the letter is a friendly chat, and I will read out one sentence which appears before the sentence already referred to. It reads:I am advised that there would appear to be no legal objection to a local authority allowing an application before June 23 to be withdrawn provided the original application had not been approved.The letter goes on to the point that I have already read out. An old application will count for the new scheme, provided that the local authority had been slow and had not approved the original application. If they had been quick off the mark and had given approval, then one cannot benefit. It becomes more Alice in Wonderland.
I do not want to divide the House on this Amendment because I am afraid that it may delay the Bill as we are at the end of the Session. We want this Bill in a great hurry. If the Government give way on this we need not have an Amendment at all. If your Lordships pass this Amendment, the Government can cut it out in Report stage and say that they have altered their minds and tell the local authorities accordingly. I am not going to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, because I believe that the policy of the Government is wrong. I was going to suggest that the Amendment might be negatived, but in view of the support that I have received from noble Lords opposite, for which I am very grateful, when the Question is put to the Committee I shall leave it to the Opposition to decide, and if they decide to have a Division I shall be with them. I feel that I ought to leave this decision to the Committee, in view of the late stage of the Session.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Unless the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has anything further to say, I do not think that time is a matter that we should take into consideration on what is an important part of this Bill. If the Committee were to support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that Her Majesty's Government, in the days that are still allotted to this Session, would be able to
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.5 p.m.
LORD AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 14, leave out (" completed ") and insert (" carried out ").
find ways and means for the Bill, as amended, to be reported, go back to another place and still receive the Royal Assent on time.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 62.823
|Airedale, L.||Foot, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Gaitskell, Bs.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Archibald, L.||Gardiner, L.||Peddie, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Garnsworthy, L.||Phillips, Bs.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Geddes of Epsom, L.||Plummer, Bs.|
|Beswick, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Reay, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Hacking, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Hanworth, V.||Rusholme, L.|
|Burntwood, L.||Henderson, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Camoys, L.||Hilton of Upton, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Champion, L.||Hood, V.||Slater, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Hoy, L.||Somers, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Jacques, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Crook, L.||lanner, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Leatherland, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lindgren, L.||Strang, L.|
|Derwent, L. [Teller.]||Listowel, E.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Diamond, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.||Swaythling, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Long, V.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.||McLeavy, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Energlyn, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Williamson, L.|
|Fletcher, L. [Teller.]||Moyle, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Auckland, L.||Ferrers, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Grenfell, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Gridley, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Barnby, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||St. Just, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Sandford, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hawke, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Ilford, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Ironside, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Carrington, L.||Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Colgrain, L.||Kilmany, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Latymer, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Lyell, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Malmesbury, E.||Thomas, L.|
|Digby, L.||Merrivale, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Milverton, L.||Willingdon, M.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Monck, V.||Windlesham, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wolverton, L.|
The noble Lord said: Perhaps we could discuss Amendments No. 3 and No. 5 together because the point is the same. At the outset I think I ought to deal with the possible answer from the Government to these Amendments: that the words concerned,"completed"and"carried out ", mean the same thing. The
two terms are used throughout the Bill, but in lines 41 and 42, on page 3, the expression is used:
works…carried out…and completed
and so I feel that the Government cannot seek to argue that"completed"and"carried out"mean the same thing.
§ The state of affairs which these Amendments are designed to deal with aroused a fair amount of concern in another place in Committee, where it was pointed out that there is a closing date two years hence by which time, according to the Bill, works must be completed for the increased grants to be payable, and doubts were raised about the justice of this hard and fast closing date in those cases where some small finishing touch has been left out so that it could be said that the work had not been completed. The example I would like to give is the case of a house which has been improved partly by the addition of two or three extra windows. The windows have had their primer paint on the inside and an undercoat of white paint on the outside, and the builder has planned to apply the final top coat of paint during June, 1973, before closing date (which I think is June 22, 1973). But supposing the first half of June, 1973, is like the first half of June was in 1971, last month, when your Lordships will remember the horses at Ascot ploughing through the mud. What is that builder expected to do? Does he have to go out between the showers and apply a top coat of paint to two or three windows on damp woodwork, knowing full well, as does the local authority surveyor, that that work is quite useless and unnecessary, in order to be able to say by June 22 that the work has been completed?
§ My submission is that, by substituting for the word"completed"the words"carried out ", the local authority would be able to say with a clear conscience in such a case, where 99.9 per cent. of the work had been carried out and some tiny finishing touch had not been applied through no fault of the developer or his builder, that the work had been carried out and that they could pay the increased grant they promised. They would be able to say that if Parliment had meant completed to the last final, finishing touch, Parliament would have said so, but since Parliament has only said in the Act 826 " carried out ", provided the work has been carried out 99.9 per cent. the local authority can feel satisfied and certify that the work has been carried out, and the increased grant that it attracts will be payable. I beg to move.
I am sure that the noble Lord's intention is absolutely correct, but I cannot see how his wording makes all that difference. It would require something much more elaborate to cover the case where a final little bit of work could not be completed for some reason—" substantially completed ", or some wording such as that. I cannot see how his suggested wording achieves what he wants.
§ LORD AIREDALE
I thought very carefully about this and I thought about the word"substantially ", but none of the wordings I could think of was open to no objection of any kind. If the noble Lord himself, the Government, or anybody else can think of wording which does not give the impression that the final finishing touch has to be completed, then I shall be pleased. I am not worried about the form of words, but I hope I have made plain the spirit of what I want to do.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
The noble Lord has made his intention quite plain, but the effect of the Amendment would be very different from what is intended by this particular legislation. The legislation is designed to bring forward a flood (that was the word I used just now) of new applications in these particular areas which would not otherwise have come forward and which would lead to a substantially increased amount of work being completed within the two years. That is the particular purpose of this special legislation. The effect of the noble Lord's Amendment would be to bring forward a lot of new work, but it would remove the incentive to get it done within the two-year period, because the effect would be for all the new work started to attract grant at the higher rate, whether or not it was finished two years from this summer—from June 23, 1971. That is very far from being the intention of this legislation. A whole lot of new work would start and it would then run on without any particular incentive to complete it. Because that is almost the reverse of the 827 incentive we have in mind, or is at least very far from it, I cannot recommend the Committee to agree to this Amendment.
Also, the Amendment would lead to very complex assessments as to which part of the work attracted which scale of grant, which would be extremely cumbersome from an administrative point of view. So I think there is nothing for it, the aim of the Bill having been accepted, but to make it apply to work which comes forward on the relevant date and is completed by the relevant date. Of course, local authorities will exercise their discretion in a reasonable way so that the whole of a particular piece of work which, but for son-le minor detail, is completed within the period does not disqualify the whole scheme from attracting grant at the increased rate. I hope that, with that explanation—again going back to the basic purpose of this legislation—the noble Lord will not feel disposed to press his Amendment.
Will the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, give guidance of some kind to local authorities that they may use discretion, because under the Bill they will not be able to excuse anybody whose work is not 100 per cent. completed? If the noble Lord in some letter of guidance says that a time limit had to be made but it is appreciated that weather will occasionally make 100 per cent. completion impossible, and that local authorities must use their discretion in administering the legislation, I am sure that that will meet the point.
§ LORD SANDFORD
Yes, of course. Guidance to local authorities based on this legislation will go out when Parliament has set its seal upon it. Obviously there would be occasions where it would be appropriate for local authorities to use that discretion.
§ LORD AIREDALE
Let us be quite clear about this. Am Ito understand that the Government have in mind to send out a Ministry circular to housing authorities saying that in the kind of case I have quoted—where the whole of the work has been completed except that, perhaps, a top coat of paint has not been applied to a few new windows on account of bad weather during the weeks immediately preceding the completion date—the 828 housing authority is not to take the view that the work has not been completed so far as grant is concerned but in such cases will pay the increased grant? Do I correctly undertsand that that is the kind of advice the Government have in mind to send out to local authorities by Ministry circular?
§ LORD SANDFORD
I do not think there is great difficulty about this. Local authorities can, and often do, already specify the time within which works must be completed, and no insuperable problem as to the definition of"completion"has arisen.
§ LORD AIREDALE
I have not had an answer to my question. However, I will not keep the Committee longer. One can think of other examples. Supposing that a special mixing tap with a special nozzle for a kitchen sink has been ordered for months, but because of a strike at the factory it has not been delivered. It would be absolutely monstrous to say that because it is not delivered by June 22, and in fact does not arrive until June 24, the developer loses the grant. If we can rest assured that a circular will be issued dealing with such points, then I have no further quarrel and am willing to seek leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I was seeking to show that I can go further than to give the noble Lord such an assurance, because the whole concept of applying a completion date to work for which a housing improvement grant has been given is already established. The idea of setting a time limit to a particular piece of work is already being operated by local authorities. So the problem about final coats of paint, mixing valves and so on, is something with which local authorities are already grappling successfully.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.18 p.m.
LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 1, line 16, leave out from (" If ") to (" by ") in line 19, and insert (" where after the relevant date, but within the period of two years beginnng with that date the Secretary of State finds it advisable to extend the provisions of this Act to any other local government area and he, ").
§ The noble Lord said: I am sure the Committee will agree that my one aim in life is to strengthen the hands of Her Majesty's Government, and I therefore move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Jacques and myself. My object is to strengthen the Secretary of State's hands, not by widening the Bill but by increasing the Secretary of State's discretion to widen the effect of the Bill. The Under-Secretary has fairly told us to-day that the Bill is limited in two respects, in point of time and also geographically. My noble friend Lord Jacques and I tabled this Amendment because we were not wholly satisfied by the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on Second Reading. We have been influenced by the fact that so experienced a body as the Housing Committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations have suggested an Amendment along these lines.
Our object is to seek to ensure that the Secretary of State is not limited to bringing in local government areas which are confined to development areas or intermediate areas specified after the relevant date. We want to give him much wider scope than he appears to be anxious to give himself at the present time. On the occasion of the Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said:
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State feels that he already has adequate powers to increase, as necessary, the various cash limits in the 1969 Act. He can do this generally throughout the country by means of a Statutory Instrument. He can do it selectively under his power to approve or determine higher limits for particular cases, or for particular classes of case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22/7/71; col. 1202.]
§ I am forced to the view that if the Secretary of State has the wide discretion that his noble friend then attributed to him there really is not much point in this Bill at all. The Secretary of State could have increased the amount of grant, and he could have extended the areas to which that grant is applicable. I would be the last Member of your Lordships' House to suggest that any measure promoted by the Government was just a gimmick. I am sure it is not just a gimmick. But if it is not, why was it not possible to do it by means of a Statutory Instrument, if indeed the Secretary of State has all the powers which the noble Lord claimed 830 on his behalf? What I want to ensure, and my noble friend Lord Jacques wants to ensure, is that the Secretary of State will, if he believes it to be necessary, extend the area of local authorities to whom the increased rate of grant will be applicable.
§ We are simply saying to the Secretary of State,"We believe that you will be much wiser, if you do not have this discretion at the moment, to give yourself this discretion in order to avoid the kind of anomalies which are almost bound to develop ". We hope the noble Lord will be able to accept this Amendment on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and avoid the Committee coming to a conclusion which might possibly delay the implementation of this Bill, which we all, without exception, wish to see expedited. I beg to move.
§ LORD JACQUES
I rise in support of the Amendment. This Bill is selective, that is to say it gives additional grants to some local authorities and not to others. It is inevitable that in this selective process there will be anomalies, and the extent of the anomalies will not yet be known. This Amendment will give the Secretary of State power to deal with those anomalies if and when they arise.
I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that when we were discussing Amendment No. 1 he admitted that the case which I quoted of the county borough of Warrington was an anomaly, but he opposed the Amendment because that Amendment would widen and bring in the designated areas of all the new towns. I would like to suggest to him that, by accepting this Amendment, an anomaly such as Warrington could be dealt with in isolation. It would be entirely a matter for the Minister to deal with as he thought fit. It need not bring in any other area. I hope the noble Lord will be able to accept this Amendment, and deal with the anomaly which I raised when I spoke on Amendment No. 1.
§ LORD SANDFORD
It is an unusual position to be resisting unfettered and untrammelled powers which have been offered to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by Her Majesty's Opposition, but there really are embarrassments in carrying powers which are too wide and too extensive for a Minister 831 to be able to operate effectively without any"say"from Parliament. If this were a Bill designed to give further encouragement generally to house and to area improvement I think the arguments of both noble Lords who have spoken in support of this Amendment would be entirely valid, although I think the reluctance of my right honourable friend to have powers and to be invited to use them as comprehensively as this would still remain. As it is, I think, like the other Amendments, they miss the particular point of this legislation with which we are dealing.
Any method of giving increased financial assistance selectively, as this Bill does, is bound to discriminate against the places which are left outside the scope of the scheme. The starting point of this Bill, as I explained at Second Reading, is that the annual rate of increase in the numbers of grants approved in the development and intermediate areas has been about half that in the rest of England and Wales. That is the specific and narrow point with which we are dealing, and it is only that point. For that reason the Government have deliberately chosen to inject this extra assistance into these particular areas for this limited period, so as to give them a chance to catch up with the rest of the country. The development areas and the other assisted areas already receive preferential treatment over the rest of the country in other economic measures.
During the course of this Bill through Parliament this narrow and limited concept has been generally accepted, although attempts have been made at several points to give it a wider term of reference. Any such attempt would, I submit, alter quite fundamentally the intention of this Bill. But that is not to say that the Government do not fully recognise that there are many other areas—to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and many others, have been drawing our attention—which will not be helped by the limited short-term assistance to be given by this Bill. That would be fair ground for criticism were it not that we already have in prospect another and much more comprehensive major piece of legislation, which is specifically designed to deal with other—in some senses even 832 more urgent—problems of housing and housing stress. It is because this other Bill is in prospect that we are seeking so firmly to restrict the concept of this Bill now before the Committee.
All these spheres of housing, and housing problems, and housing stress will benefit from the proposals in the White Paper Fair Deal for Housing, the aim of which is to give the greatest amount of help to the areas of greatest housing need, and these are the areas in which the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, are concerned with their Amendment. But because we have this other legislation in prospect I hope that they will feel able to withdraw this Amendment, with that explanation, and I hope therefore the Committee will not need to consider whether or not to vote on it. All the other problems of housing elsewhere in the country, whether it be slum clearance or building new houses or improving existing houses, will benefit from this further legislation which we shall introduce in the next Session of Parliament. Therefore I hope noble Lords will not press this Amendment, which would give my right honourable friend powers which at this stage he would much rather not have.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
The noble Lord is presupposing a measure of agreement with the Government's forthcoming legislation on housing which will not, I believe, then materialise. I know it will be accepted that I am the last Member of your Lordships' House to seek to force my help on a Government who do not need it, and therefore I shall not insist upon asking the Committee to divide in support of the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend and myself. But purely for the instruction of simple students of the Constitution, could the noble Lord before I withdraw the Amendment, explain why, if the Secretary of State has adequate powers at present to extend the amount of grant and the area of the country to which grant is available by Statutory Instrument, he has decided on this occasion to do so by means of a Bill and not by Statutory Instrument?
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am not sure. I would have to look at what I said and the precise context in which I said it. But 833 I am sure the Committee would agree that to apply a major increase right across the whole field of housing improvement grants to the whole of Scotland and a quarter of the local authorities of England and Wales would be a step which ought not to be taken without the sanction of Parliament.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
In view of the explanation which the noble Lord has given, whatever one may think about its adequacy, I am very happy to withdraw the Amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Jacques and myself; he and I will put our heads together between now and Report stage to see whether any action is necessary. I hope it will not be. If the noble Lord can think of a more convincing argument between now and then, I hope he will put me in possession of it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with an Amendment.