§ 3.3 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD DRUMALBYN)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
§ Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I think it is right to draw the attention of your Lordships' House to the OFFICIAL REPORT of yesterday. When I moved Amendment No. 51, considered with it were Amendments Nos. 52 and 53, and I said to the 235 noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that if I received certain assurances I did not intend to press my Amendment. In the event I did receive the necessary assurances but, as the OFFICIAL REPORT Will show, I did not withdraw the Amendment and it is in fact recorded in Hansard as having been agreed to. There may be a misunderstanding if the Hansard report is read by interested parties. I think I should say it was not my intention to press that Amendment: it would have been my intention to withdraw it. I do not quite know what has happened, but I am advised by the Clerks that in their Report—which is the primary one—it is reported as having been negatived. Therefore, I wonder whether directions could be given for the weekly edition and the bound volume of Hansard to be corrected so that there is no misunderstanding with regard to this Amendment.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his statement. What he says confirms my recollection, although there was a tiny bit of confusion at the time and nobody can be blamed for the error, I think.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Clause 32 [Appeal to county court]:
§ 3.6 p.m.
LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 61:
Page 37, line 15, after ("court") insert ("and be entitled to legal aid").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends and myself I beg to move this Amendment, which is the same as that moved on the sixth sitting of the Committee. I make no apology for raising it again. When I tabled it I hoped that the interval since we last discussed the matter would have been sufficient to allow the Government time for further thought and that they would have appreciated the wisdom of including these words in the Bill. This would make clear beyond question that there would be entitlement to legal aid without recourse to any further form of means-testing.
We are dealing with Part III of the Bill, which is, of course, concerned with the conversion of controlled tenancies to regulated tenancies in the private sector. The effect of it is that where the local authority is satisfied, following applica-
tion by the landlord, that the dwelling-house is—
… provided with all the standard amenities for the exclusive use of its occupants, that it is in good repair, having regard to its age, character and locality, and disregarding internal decorative repair, and that it is in all other respects fit for human habitation "—
then following such certification the tenancy ceases to be controlled and becomes a regulated tenancy.
Earlier clauses in this Part of the Bill set out the procedure for securing a certificate of qualification and deal with the situation where some amenities are lacking but a proposal has been made by the landlord to make good the deficiency. The landlord may then apply for a certificate of fair rent if he gets the qualification certificate or if one is to be issued. Clause 32 deals with the position where the landlord is refused a qualification certificate. Subsection (1) reads as follows:
Within twenty-eight days of the service on him under Section 28(5) of this Act of a notice of refusal to grant a qualification certificate, or such longer period as the county court may allow, the applicant for a qualification certificate may appeal to the county court on the ground that the certificate ought to be issued; and on such an appeal the court may confirm the refusal, or order the local authority to issue the certificate.
Clause 28 provides for the tenant to be informed of the application and details the steps the tenant may take if he considers that the dwelling does not satisfy the qualifying conditions. If nevertheless the certificate is issued, the tenant has the right of appeal to the county court, as set out in subsection (2) of Clause 32, as follows:
Within twenty-eight days of the service on him under Section 28(6) of this Act of a copy of a qualification certificate, or such longer period as the county court may allow, the tenant may appeal to the county court on either or both of the following grounds, that is to say—(a) that the certificate ought not to have been issued; (b) that the certificate is invalid by reason of a failure to comply with any requirement of this Part of this Act or of some informality, defect or error.
§ The purpose of my Amendment is to ensure that where a tenant is obliged to go to the county court to protect his position within the framework of this Bill, he should be entitled to legal aid as of right. He has not chosen the position in which he finds himself. When we discussed the matter in Committee a number of your Lordships spoke of immense 237 disquiet, and the voting on that occasion indicated, I thought, a lively concern that the Amendment should improve the Bill. It seems to me fitting that we should look at the position again now that we are at the Report stage, and that there should be an opportunity for a more helpful attitude to be shown to those who have not sought to have their standard of living affected but for whom a possible change in the law will affect their financial position as tenants.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was very patient in Committee; he said three times that legal aid is already available. I am satisfied that the Bill is seen by everyone, as the noble Lord clearly put it at the Committee stage, as an intricate, difficult and complex Bill. The people who are liable to be adversely affected by it will include many—as the noble Lord was ready to recognise—who are elderly, poor and needy—one might say large numbers of this type of person. They may be entitled to rent allowances, but as much as anyone else they are entitled to such protection as this Bill can offer in the transfer from controlled to regulated tenancies and to higher and profit-making rents that they will be called upon to pay. The houses they occupy must conform to the standards laid down in Clause 27; it is in the public interest that they should do so. It is therefore imperative that the tenants of the houses for which these profitable rents are to be charged should be assured from the Bill, and their position made absolutely clear, that they are entitled to legal aid if and when recourse to the county court becomes necessary.
§ It has been claimed that legal aid is available on normal grounds and, if I may again quote the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on exactly the same grounds as it is always available—that is to say, by the determination of the means of the party concerned which is a matter to be settled by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said that whether there were grounds for starting proceedings at all was a matter to be settled by the legal aid committees up and down the country. The tenants involved have not asked to be placed in the position in which they find themselves. They are already going to have to fill in forms and many of them are ill-equipped to do so. They are unaccustomed to form filling; they are un- 238 accustomed to taking matters to court; they are unaccustomed to making statements and preparing cases. Why not put into the Bill a provision to ensure that when under the Bill an appeal involves the county court there will be legal aid available without question?
§ It may be asked, as it was asked in Committee, "What about the landlord?" In the main we are dealing with a rather different class when we think about the landlord. There will be a few landlords, but, relatively speaking, not many who may find difficulty, and in those cases they will have normal access to legal aid. In those cases that may well be appropriate. The landlord stands to gain as a result of this Bill whereas the tenant in the particular matters with which we are now concerned does not. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was good enough to tell the Committee of the intention to issue explanatory documents, leaflets, circulars and pamphlets. He gave the assurance that it would be made clear to the parties concerned that legal aid was available to them. I had no doubt then, and I have no doubt now, that he not only meant what he said, but that he was being utterly sincere on June 19 when he said that the spirit behind my Amendment was accepted by the Government. To ensure that justice is done, not merely that access to it is available, something more than acceptance in spirit is required. Nothing is lost but much can be gained by putting firmly in the Bill a special provision that when an appeal goes to court the tenant will be entitled to legal aid. I beg to move.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, in this part of the Bill we are concerned with tenancies which are going from controlled to regulated tenancies and this particular clause deals with the matter of the qualification certificate which will be given when a house has been brought up to the standard to allow it to become a regulated tenancy. We are concerned with the tenant's grounds for appeal against the issue of such a certificate, when the tenant thinks the certificate ought not to have been issued at all because the conditions which have been laid down to bring the house up to standard have not been fulfilled, and, therefore, the house ought not to become 239 a regulated tenancy. A great many certificates have been issued by local authorities who have shown that they are well able to carry out their part of this, and can see that the house satisfies the conditions before the certificate is issued.
The history of this matter is that in 1971 there were 12 appeals under the compensation section in Part III of the Housing Act 1969, Section 49. In every case the issue of the qualification certificate was confirmed by the county court. The results of these appeals do not suggest that there are particular circumstances under which the provisions relating to legal aid should be any different in these cases than in any of the other types of action heard by the county courts. Like many other noble Lords I have read again the debate that we had at the Committee stage. My impression was that what concerned noble Lords was not the grounds for legal aid, but whether or not enough publicity was being given to the right to legal aid which tenants have. On listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gains-worthy, it seemed to me that he was suggesting that any tenant, regardless of his means, should be entitled to legal aid if this Amendment were put into the Bill. It would be impossible to accept this because if this is so it amounts to a proposal for a complete change in the legal aid scheme and this would be quite outside a Bill of this nature.
The point at Committee stage which very much concerned noble Lords on both sides of the House was whether or not tenants would know of their rights to legal aid if they wished to object to the county court on the issue of a certificate. This is an important point, which was certainly made by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, when he was talking about tenants who were old and did not understand form filling and found it difficult—a point with which we all have considerable sympathy.
I understand that it is the intention that there shall be simplified booklets and pamphlets readily available to explain to tenants their rights and, in particular, it will be ensured that the model qualification certificate contained in the guidance to all local authorities, will have a note drawing the attention of the tenant not only to his appeal rights, but also 240 to the availability of legal aid. This is something which the existing model qualification certificate does not do and it seems that it will make a great improvement because such a certificate will go to the tenant and he will therefore see, when he is agreeing to this, that he has the right to legal aid. I hope that this will meet the point about the need for publicity. In conclusion may I say that it is not really fair to say that tenants do not stand to gain anything by this? One of the great advantages of this Bill is to bring in rent allowances for tenants of private property.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I have here a letter passed to me from the Association of Municipal Corporations which bears on this Amendment which I support. I shall refer to two sentences from it. The first concerns the question of an appeal by a tenant against a decision of the rent scrutiny boards. It says that previously they had not been able to say anything about this because of the way in which the Bill was drafted. They then go on:However, at this morning's meeting the majority of the committee were strongly of the opinion that a tenant should have a right of appeal and that the procedure should be designed in such a way as to allow for this.
§ LORD PARGITER
My Lords, I am rather disappointed at the reply of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on this matter. Your Lordships are concerned in general probably more than most other places that there should be fair play. This is not a question of the knowledge about the procedure to get legal aid. We are talking about people who would find it difficult in any case and to issue explanatory leaflets and things of that kind is not the answer. The tenant would not know how to fill up the form for legal aid; it is a long procedure to get sorted out. The tenant is at a disadvantage. The landlord could afford to send a solicitor into court; probably he would not be concerned because he will have an agent. There will be a solicitor there. The tenant who might be poor and elderly would in many cases be up against a skilled lawyer. The tenant would not stand a chance in spite of anything which the judge might do to help. It seems to be purely elementary justice that the tenant who is making the appeal to the court should be in no worse position than the landlord. From that point 241 of view and because in the majority of cases tenants will not be able to afford the cost of a lawyer they should have legal aid as of right. The cost would not be so extortionate that it could not be done nor would it have any bearing on the legal aid system as a whole. The system badly needs overhauling. Because of that there is no reason why we should not do elementary justice in this case.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I want to support what my noble friends on this side of the House have been saying but at the same time I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is obviously moving in the right direction and is concerned in the same way as we are. We are not concerned particularly with the poverty of the individual who might otherwise not be entitled to legal aid but with the working of the Bill. The noble Baroness rightly said that the difficulty is going to be that a high proportion of these tenants will be incapable of understanding the complicated provisions. If there were an examination in your Lordships' House I wonder how many of your Lordships would get 100 per cent. on every provision in this Bill. It might conceivably only be 99 per cent. in one or two cases and certainly in mine.
My Lords, I doubt if anything that can be devised by way of a circular would get over the natural inhibitions of an old lady or any tenant one cares to imagine about reading through masses of forms and then being told that he or she can go and make application to some curious committee which will inquire into his or her means. If a tenant gets through all those hurdles then he may be able to be advised as to whether he can do anything about a letter which he has had from the landlord and which affects the roof over his head. We have to improve on the present situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, made such suggestions as the Government think are possible at the moment about going beyond what is normal practice. The Government are bringing in an abnormal Bill with abnormal provisions and we have to adopt some abnormal practice.
My Lords, I am the last person who would wish to run the Government into a lot of expense but what a tenant will want is some human being to whom he or she can go to find out what this means. The tenant will want to know 242 whether he should do anything about it or forget it. All that is necessary in the first stage is one short interview with, for example, the Citizens' Advice Bureau. That would be some help although it would be inadequate because this is a more technical field than is suitable for the Citizens' Advice Bureau. It may be that the noble Baroness will consider in any event that the form ought to include a reference to the fact that if a tenant is in difficulty he can go to the Citizens' Advice Bureau. The office is generally in the town hall. The local authority would know where it was and it would be easy for the local authority to tell the tenant where to go.
My Lords, I am moving beyond that. The minimum which every tenant in difficulty should have is the knowledge that he or she can have one interview free with a solicitor. That would not run any Government into a great deal of expense. After one interview the solicitor could say that the tenant had no case or that he had a good case. If he thought the tenant had not a case he could explain the position and tell him to forget it. In those circumstances the tenant would take his advice. Alternatively the solicitor might say, "I think you have got a good case and if you can afford it you can go to your own solicitor. If not then there is machinery to help you and I will put you in touch with the machinery as it is worth while for you to pursue the matter." I should have thought that was a reasonable request to make. It is not a major extension of our machinery for providing legal aid.
I do not think I can agree with what the noble Baroness said about us attempting to upset the whole procedure of legal aid. We are not; we are trying to do what she is trying to do—provide some method whereby the natural inevitable complexities of moving forward in this rent field, which is complex to every one of us, can be done with some understanding on the part of the individual tenant affected. We are concentrating on the tenant because in most cases the landlord will be aware of all the difficulties. He will be well established; he may have an agent to act for him or if it is a big company there would be an internal solicitor to look after the matter.
I realise that what I am suggesting is not covered by the wording of the 243 Amendment but I hope that the noble Baroness will say that in addition to what is in the Bill she will give thought to making some provision along those lines. There is still time for us to do it on the Third Reading if the noble Baroness will say that it can be done. It is a practical suggestion. It is minimum justice having regard to the fact that it is the Government who want this movement to take place. From the point of view of the Treasury it would be inexpensive to allow for one interview only free.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, could the noble Lord help me? I understand the proposal is that there should be inserted in the Bill words to the effect that legal aid will be available. I have listened for a long time to noble Lords opposite arguing this case. All of them have made the point that most of these people will not understand what the words in the Bill mean. I cannot see how the inclusion of these words would convey to the unfortunate people that they have rights to do this, that or the next thing. I should have thought that when a tenant finds himself up against a case of this nature he will go to one of his neighbours or to his representative on the local council or district council to find out what it means. Merely to put these words into the Bill seems to be utterly useless and no help to anyone.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, perhaps I may speak again, by leave. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, may I just say that in fact at this moment we are not speaking about an appeal against the rent scrutiny board, which is something that we shall come to in Part V of the Bill, so perhaps I may leave that until later.
There are two points involved here. There is the very real point that has been made by some noble Lords, that in fact we ought to make legal aid available to any tenant regardless of the number of interviews. I think the way in which the point was put by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was that there should be one free interview with a solicitor, but I am advised that this would in effect alter the grounds on which legal aid is available and is not something that we could write into a Housing Finance Bill. I think we 244 are all agreed upon the need to get the widest possible publicity for the rights of a tenant in this case, and particularly to help people who may well be very worried about the circumstances in which they find themselves. Anyone who, like myself, has been in local government and has frequently met elderly people in their own homes, knows how worried and how frightened they can get when confronted by authority in any form.
The question before the House is whether or not writing this particular Amendment into the Bill would help in that situation. I really do not see that it would. I think the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, is saying that what these people want is an interview, and it seems to me that really what would happen is as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has just said, that they would probably take their worry to the first person they saw, who might well be somebody engaged in Meals-on-Wheels, or somebody from the Red Cross or from the social services department. Alternatively, if they did not do that they might take their worry to the housing department at the town hall, or possibly to a housing advice centre. In my own authority we had an information centre, quite apart from the Citizens' Advice Bureau. It seems to me that it would be perfectly easy for each local authority to decide for itself how it would distribute the literature and get the message across to people who need help. This provision, which I mentioned when I spoke originally, seems to me to be very important because if the moral qualification includes this note about a tenant's right to legal aid, I think this must help everybody who, either as tenant or landlord, has anything to do with the qualification certificate. It is very important—as I am sure we should all agree—that there should be the maximum publicity to help everybody, and all ideas that may help towards this end should be welcomed. But I think it would be impossible to write into the Bill an Amendment which would alter the principal grounds for legal aid. What we must agree on is the need for the widest publicity for those who need help.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the reply given by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but apparently she has overlooked the fact 245 that, as has been pointed out, this Bill is a somewhat hefty document to understand, and it would not be against the general principle of legal aid if any Act contained a provision that a person at least should be in a position to go to a lawyer and ask what it is all about. It is all very well speaking about voluntary organisations. Many parties, of course, have legal advice in their offices; but the truth of the matter is that a person, on receiving notice or a document of that sort, should be able to go to a lawyer merely for the purpose of having the matter explained to him so that he may know whether he should proceed or not.
Incidentally, if, in the first instance, the lawyer, having been consulted, says that the person concerned is not legally entitled to be assisted or has no chance of being successful in the appeal, then one saves the time of the courts and of lawyers and the matter is disposed of in that way. I do not think it is fair to wait until a means test has been imposed on an individual who applies for legal aid before that person is in a position to get some kind of legal advice from a solicitor or whoever it may be in another part of the country. He should be entitled to go to that person. That is not really breaking away from the normal principle because after all legal aid depends upon the means of individuals. Those of us who are in practice know what a long time it takes before the question of legal aid is considered and it is granted. This would be a simple method. I am speaking about the suggestion which was put forward and which does not go quite as far as the Amendment itself, that an individual should have the right, so far as first advice is concerned, at least to go to a lawyer and to be advised accordingly.
It is all very well to talk about documents. We know that publications are distributed. The man in the street studies those documents carefully and if he is capable of understanding what they are about he gets his advice in a clear form. I admit that quite frankly is the case in many of the publications issued in respect of Acts. But I am concerned about the individual who cannot really follow. He may receive a document. If he knew that he could go to a lawyer with that document and say, "What is all this about? My circumstances are" 246 —so and so, and then ask the lawyer whether or not he stood a chance, that lawyer would then advise him and, if necessary, an application could be made for legal aid. The lawyer would be in a position to say, first, that the person had a case (which a lawyer has to do anyhow in the matter of legal aid) and then the inquiry as to means could be dealt with at a later stage in respect of the appeal itself.
I appeal to the Government to give this point further consideration. It is not much to ask. All that is being asked for is one single interview, which should cost very little. It is not fair to the kind of person that we have in mind that he should be placed in a position where he cannot get that advice. Therefore I hope that the noble Baroness will reconsider the point that was made by my noble friend Lord Diamond in respect of at least that one piece of important procedure; namely, to find out whether a person has a case or not.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, will somebody please explain matters to me because I am still a little fogged as to what the Amendment actually does? As I read the Amendment it says that anyone—anyone at all—is entitled to free legal aid; it does not matter what his income is or anything else. Therefore it is no good talking about one interview. There may be many interviews, but no matter how rich a man is, he will be entitled to free legal aid. If I am right in that thinking it most certainly alters all the rules in regard to legal aid at the present time. If I am wrong, no doubt somebody will correct me; but I think I am right.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I think I can answer the noble Lord's question, because in subsection (2) there is mention of the issue of a qualification certificate under Clause 28(6), following which the tenant may appeal to the county court, and in that event—and in that event only—the tenant would be entitled under the Amendment to free legal aid. This leads me to a criticism which I have to make of the Amendment, which is that it does not deal with the situation of a tenant who is in receipt of a certificate of provisional approval under Clause 29(3). The local authority have power to examine an application and agree to 247 works being carried out for the issue of a qualification certificate, and they may issue a provisional certificate in the meanwhile, notice of which must be served on the tenant. I cannot see what rights the tenant has in these circumstances if he can appeal only to the county court. When he has received notice under Clause 28(6) he has no remedy at all if the landlord has undertaken to carry out certain works which are necessary for the award of a qualification certificate and has been issued with a provisional certificate saying that he can be granted a full one when those works have been carried out. What will happen in that event?
Is the noble Baroness really suggesting that the British Red Cross Society and the Meals-on-Wheels Service are capable of interpreting this Part of the Bill on behalf of tenants? I yield to none in my admiration of both services—they do an extremely valuable job—but to think that they can give legal advice on a matter such as this is going a bit far. I am sure that the noble Baroness spoke without thinking. I cannot imagine that she had consulted either the Red Cross Society or the Meals-on-Wheels Service. Nor can I imagine that they would wish to be burdened with the task of explaining this provision to the tenants they visit. Indeed, I am sure that they would decline the honour which the noble Baroness is proffering them. In my view only lawyers can assist tenants in this matter because only they are capable of understanding the Bill. I cannot feel that the noble Baroness will be able to answer many of the points that have been put to her on this issue, however much she shuffles with her papers, and if she is frequently stumped by our questions when she is supposed to know what the Bill is about and explain it to us, imagine the plight of ordinary tenants or members of the Red Cross Society and Meals-on-Wheels Service who she feels will be capable of giving such information to tenants.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, I rise simply to say a word in support of the noble Baroness who, I am certain, did not want it to be thought that the British Red Cross Society or the Meals-on-Wheels Service would in all cases answer tenants' questions on this matter. The officers of those services will 248 in the first instance refer people to the local citizens' advice bureau, where their problems can best be aired for the first time. At that stage it will be seen whether or not legal advice is necessary, and if it is, then the tenant concerned will be referred to the nearest suitable lawyer and be given aid under the £25 scheme. I see no problem here. The £25 scheme is designed to cover this sort of case. It is simply a question of getting people to go to the right place for information.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, referred to the Citizens' Advice Bureaux service, may I ask her to say how many C.A.B. offices there are in this country?
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I appreciated the manner in which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, addressed herself to the Amendment, but I will return to that after assuring the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that his question has already been answered. If he wanted an assurance that the Amendment was justified, then in my view everything that has been said in this debate has justified it. I doubt whether there is more than one person in your Lordships' House who is not a little disquieted about the position. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, for the question which he asked and to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for at any rate partially answering it. I began to wonder whether I had painted an incomplete picture of the background to the Amendment. When moving it I was anxious not to transgress on your Lordships' time. Perhaps I should have gone deeper into the background which prompted the tabling of the Amendment and I trust that after this discussion the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is satisfied that there is more to the Amendment than might appear from a superficial reading of it.
I was interested in the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley. I understand that there are 249 about 400 citizens advice bureaux in this country. I suppose that the conclusion to be drawn from that is that many people must travel considerable distances to receive advice from one of these offices. I agree with the noble Baroness that there are not enough of them and I trust that she will agree that this afternoon we must acknowledge the inadequacy of the C.A.B. service throughout the country TO give the sort of advice which people affected by the Bill must receive. There are times when some of the suggestions adduced in your Lordships' House serve to illustrate that some of us may be a little out of touch with the life which is led by masses of our fellow citizens. We should not get some of these suggestions if we were rather more conscious of the environmental conditions in which people live. I say that because we are here dealing with a provision which will affect a class of person who is entitled to a great deal of understanding and sympathy.
I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for helping to explain the background to the Amendment. I was obliged for the additional clarity which she brought to bear on the subject, but, despite everything she said and everything that has been said from the two Front Benches, I beg leave to doubt whether your Lordships generally are happy about even our ability to answer the questions which those affected by this Part of the Bill may desire to ask. This is why we on this side are particularly concerned about this matter. The noble Baroness spoke from experience of local government and I was grateful for her extremely sympathetic remarks. A number of noble Lords who have had experience of local government will appreciate that as laymen it is often difficult to give advice on, for example, whether legal action should be taken. After all, a person recommending someone to take such a course is taking on a considerable responsibility.
I must say that it has been my practice—and I think I have been fortunate in that I have usually had some friendly solicitors—to say to a person, "Go and tell Mr. West or Mr. Smith that I have sent you and that so far as you are concerned there is no commitment at this stage because I have sent you. Because I have an understanding with him he will 250 not charge you, but after you have received his advice a decision has to be taken as to whether legal proceedings will follow." I am sure that the noble Baroness has been as timid as I have been in saying, "Yes, you have a case to take to court". I have been timid because I burnt my fingers many years ago. I gave some firm advice and found myself putting my hand in my pocket to pay for the legal proceedings. It is a lesson that is well taken early in one's life in local government.
The noble Baroness said that there has been some experience in this field which does not justify over-concern. I am interpreting her fairly liberally, but I think fairly. The job that is being undertaken under the terms of this Bill is on an unprecedented scale. We are going to affect more people than have ever been so affected previously, and it is not enough to say that allowances will take care of the matter and they are going to benefit from it. A great many of them would not need to consider applying for allowances if their rents were not going to be increased under the Bill. I realise that anyone is entitled to apply for legal aid and I appreciate the point put to me: does my Amendment mean that anybody affected by this clause would be entitled to legal aid? That was certainly my intention and I want to make that abundantly clear.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for saying that, because I have been struggling to know what the Opposition wanted. Did they want to tell people? Because if that is their object, undoubtedly it fails and they have said so themselves. But if it is to get free legal aid, one understands the position more clearly than before, and I thank the noble Lord for having said so.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention, but I want to make it clear. When I tabled my Amendment I understood and intended that it would do that. I make no apology for doing it. Why? Because no tenant chooses to find himself in the position in which this Bill will place him. If legal aid does not cover him, then he has to put his hand in his pocket because of a situation that has been created under this Bill. Since the 251 whole purpose of this Bill—putting rebates and allowances on one side—is to bring about higher rents, I see no reason why one should not have concern. That was my thinking.
Of course I am impressed by what my noble friend Lord Diamond had to say about this, and I am hoping that we may have a further statement before we are placed in the position where we have to decide what our attitude is to be on this Amendment. In the meantime, may I say that I am very grateful to my noble friends Lady Gaitskell, Lord Pargiter, Lord Janner and Lord Diamond. Enough has been said to show that this is not some odd quirk on my part but that there is very genuine concern. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, speaks with all his legal experience behind him, and the House would do well to pay attention to what he has had to say.
My Lords, I do not know whether I have taken up every point that has been raised by way of criticism of the Amendment, but may I add this—and I say it in all humility? I am aware (and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, criticised them) of my shortcomings when it comes to drafting Amendments. I am aware of the fact that I stand in need of a great deal of help if any Amendment that I move is going to satisfy all the requirements. But, having said that, may I point out that there are enough stages of this Bill to be completed to provide ample opportunity, if the Government accept something of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Diamond, supported by others, to put the matter right?
I appreciate what the noble Baroness meant when she said that printed on the qualification certificate would be information as to the possibility of legal aid if the individual was entitled to qualify. Again, the fact that this concession has been made fully justifies this debate and the discussion that we have had in Committee. Everybody is saying that what is needed is publicity and that the more publicity we can get the better. I modestly think, therefore, that this debate this afternoon will have helped in that direction. If the noble Baroness, or whoever is to reply, if there is to be further reply, 252 cannot satisfy us that there will be real deep consideration given to providing for at least one interview with a solicitor, then, in order to secure the fullest publicity and to make clear to people outside this House as well as those inside it how strongly we feel on this matter, I shall have no alternative but to press my Amendment to a vote.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, we have discussed this matter at considerable length and I do not want to take up a great deal more time of the House. But I would say to that that what the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, is asking for is not what is contained in the Amendment before us. May I stress again that legal aid is available, as it has always been available? We are not talking about the Bill in general but about circumstances where a tenant is not satisfied with the decision of the local authority that the qualifying conditions to bring a house from a controlled to a regulated tenancy have been satisfied.
May I answer the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, by saying that it never occurred to me that someone bringing round meals-on-wheels would know the answer to this point? But it had occurred to me, and I have no doubt that it had occurred to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that when one has to talk and explain things to elderly people one finds that they talk most easily to the person they know best. All I meant was that the person who visits the house regularly could best tell the people where they could get advice. It is a highly technical matter and they would require, if they really felt these conditions had not been met, advice from someone, probably from the town hall.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her whether she is prepared to give further consideration to the conclusion which stems from the argument she has just put to us; namely, that the sort of person we are considering is likely to go to some friend or other who would be very helpful, but inadequate to give the precise advice and whose best aid would be to put the inquirer in touch with a solicitor? Would not the noble Baroness be willing to give further consideration to a suggestion that a solicitor should be made available for one session of advice only, 253 free, to those who might need it, in relation to this particular clause only?
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to give that assurance, and I should have thought that the points about legal aid had been very well met by the most helpful intervention of my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley. It seems to me that if somebody requires legal aid he can go to
§ a solicitor, as now, and if he qualifies for aid he will get it. I am afraid that I am not in a position to go further than that to-day.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 61) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 63 Not-Contents, 110.255
|Addison, V.||Faringdon, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Fiske, L.||Royle, L.|
|Archibald, L.||Gaitskell, Bs.||Rusholme, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.]||Sainsbury, L.|
|Arran, E.||Geddes of Epsom, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Arwyn, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Samuel, V.|
|Avebury, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Segal, L.|
|Bacon, Bs.||Hale, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Henderson, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Birk, Bs.||Hoy, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hughes, L.||Simon, V.|
|Brockway, L.||Jacques, L.||Southwark, Bp.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Janner, L.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Byers, L.||McLeavy, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Champion, L.||Maelor, L.||Wade, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Moyle, L.||Walston, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Nunburnholme, L.||Watkins, L.|
|Crook, L.||Ogmore, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Pargiter, L.||White, Bs.|
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.||Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]||Wootton of Abinger, Bs.|
|Energlyn, L.||Popplewell, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Daventry, V.||Ilford, L.|
|Albemarle, L.||Davidson, V.||Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal)|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||de Clifford, L.||Kemsley, V.|
|Allerton, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]||Killearn, L.|
|Amory, V.||Derwent, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Drumalbyn, L.||Kindersley, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Dundee, E.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Balerno, L.||Eccles, V.||Launderdale E.|
|Balfour, E.||Effingham, E.||Long, V.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Elgin and Kincardine, E.||Lothian. M,,|
|Barnby, L.||Elles, Bs.||MacAndrew, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Mansfield, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Mar, E.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Essex, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Blackford, L.||Ferrers, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Ferrier, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Forester, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Fortescue, E.||Montague of Beaulieu, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L, [Teller.]|
|Camoys, L.||Gage, V.|
|Cawley, L.||Gisborough, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Goschen, V.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Coleraine, L.||Gowrie, E.||Oakshott, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Greenway, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Colyton, L.||Grenfell, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Cork and Orrerey, E.||Gridley, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Rennell, L.,|
|Cowley, E.||Hailes, L.||Ruthven of Freeland Ly|
|Craigavon, V.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||St. Helens, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Cranbrook, E||Hankey, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Hood, V.||Sandys, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Hylton-Foster, Bs.||Selkirk, E.|
|Sempill, Ly.||Strange, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Somers, L.||Strathclyde, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Stamp, L.||Templemore, L.||Willingdon, M.|
|Stonehaven, V.||Tweedsmuir, L.||Young, Bs.|
|Strang, L.||Vernon, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 34 [Supplemental]:
§ 4.8 p.m.
LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 62:
Page 39, line 26, at end insert—
(" (6) This Part of this Act shall come into force at the expiration of a period of one month beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 62, and it may be convenient to take with this Amendment Nos. 69, 72, 80, 135 and 147, which all have the same effect in different connections; No. 75, which is a different point, and No. 136. These Amendments all have the effect that, with the exceptions of Parts III and IV and a minor provision in Schedule 8, the Bill will come into force two weeks, instead of one month, from the Royal Assent. The Bill (Clause 63) requires certain housing authorities to increase the rents of their qualifying Housing Revenue Account dwellings in the first rental period beginning on or after October 1, 1972. It also requires all housing authorities to introduce a rebate scheme not later than October 1, 1972. The period between the Royal Assent and the coming into force is to be reduced from four weeks to two weeks in order to give the authorities concerned more time to make preparations necessary to enable them to comply with the duties imposed on them by the Bill; in particular most authorities are already required by law to give weekly or monthly tenants four weeks' notice of rent increases. That is the Amendment which has necessitated the other Amendments because the other Amendments, except Amendment No. 75, relating to Parts III and IV retain the one month's gap between Royal Assent and the coming into force of the Bill. In so far as these Parts relate to the law governing the position between private landlords and private tenants it is right that the full month's landlord/tenant legislation should be allowed for the parties to be able to obtain advice or literature governing their position.256
§ Amendments 62 and 147 bring Part III into force one month after Royal Assent. As regards Part IV, the main programme for converting controlled tenancies to rent regulation as laid down in the Bill itself, the 1965 freezing provisions come to an end and the new provisions for rent agreements come into force on January 1, 1973. For the rest a period of one month between Royal Assent and operation is laid down by Amendment 69 in relation to the ending of the services revenue apportionment provisions, which exempts service charges being increased. By Amendment No. 72, in relation to local authority applications to the rent officer, and by Amendment No. 80, in relation to Clause 47 provisions on succession rights, the one month period is retained. Amendment No. 75 is a rather different point; it refers to the cancellation of registration provisions in Clause 41 and it brings them into force on January 1, 1973. The reason for this is that we have taken the opportunity with these other Amendments to bring the commencement of this provision into line with the commencement of rent agreement provisions with which Clause 41 is logically linked. Amendment No. 135 is proposed because local authorities have already been informed that they will have one month from the date of the passing of the Act in which to submit their applications for subsidy under the Housing Subsidies Act of 1967. My Lords, those are the various clauses to which these Amendments apply. As I have said, apart from one they have been necessitated by the key Amendment, which is Clause 108, page 115, line 2, and Amendment No. 136 which reduces the interval between the passing of the Act and its coming into operation from four weeks to two weeks. I beg to move.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, one had the impression when one read the first Amendment to which the noble Lord spoke that the House was being invited to take hold of a gnat, but it appears from what he said that we are being asked to swallow a camel. He has asked us to take in an awful lot in one stride and I shall be surprised if there 257 are not a number of questions from my colleagues before discussion on this Amendment is finished. Why does the Government want to rush this Bill so much? Why does it now want to speed things up? I know we were told in curious language yesterday that it is the Government's intention to enact a Bill and then to implement it. It is not appreciated outside this House—I think it is not appreciated by the House Committee of the A.M.C. at their meeting yesterday—but if it was correctly reported in the Press the position is that the Government would do well to drop the Bill entirely.
What a burden is being placed on local government! First of all let me reiterate how utterly undesirable it was, and is, that the Government should have called on local authorities to introduce a 50p increase last April, months before the Bill could be dealt with and put on the Statute Book. It was quite outrageous that local authorities should have been pressurised into this position, the consequence of which we had something of a glimpse yesterday when we were discussing the question of entitlement to ask for permission not to raise rents by the figures the Government had indicated in their earlier communications to the local authorities.
What about the ability of local government to cope? I have before me a statement presented by a housing manager to his local authority. That authority has 3,000 occupied dwellings, and it imposed a 50p increase in April. On June 26 of this year the number of applications for rebates, as well as inquiries, received and with which they were able to deal totalled 800 out of 3,000. This authority is very worried about the building up of pressures on the departments, yet all the Government have in mind at this stage is to accelerate. The noble Lord was asking us to interpret a very great deal from what he said. The number of Amendments to which he spoke was nobody's business; it was impossible to follow them from the Marshalled List as they trundled from him. My Lords, one is bound at this stage to say that it would appear that this Amendment cannot commend itself to the noble Lords on these Benches and we would need a lot more information than we have been given as to why we 258 are being asked to swallow so much so quickly.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, sits down may I say that this Amendment makes no change at all; it reserves the position of one month's interval between the passing of the Act and the coming into operation of the provision.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he feels sure we are dealing with these Amendments in the most expeditious way? I am always entirely at his service in the grouping of Amendments so that the theme is easily understood and is consistent, in that the same point is being dealt with in different clauses, but I must say I was completely unable to digest everything he said. I am dealing only with the procedural point at the moment. He will understand that on this side of the House noble Lords have to cope as best they can on their own limited resources. Therefore, although I have tried to find the meaning of some parts of the Bill for which I have been responsible, I have not attempted to go into it in the same detail with the other parts for which my noble friends are responsible. It seemed to me that the noble Lord was dealing with Amendments which jumped into the various responsibilities of my colleagues as well as of myself. So I do not know whether that is the most convenient way of dealing with the matter. Moreover, it was perfectly clear from what the noble Lord said that there was anything but a consistent theme running through.
The first question I want to ask him is: does he really think that this is the most expeditious way of dealing with the matter, I being at one with him in wanting to deal with it in the most expeditious way? The second question I should like to ask the noble Lord is: why is he making this change in the Bill from a month to a fortnight? No doubt the Government gave it careful thought before putting down a period of a month, but he is now suggesting a period of a fortnight. I may not have understood everything he said on first contact, and I do not understand why the Government have changed their position. The third question I want to ask him is: what is 259 usual in these circumstances? I should have thought that local authorities would need at least a period of a month in order to look at a Bill in its final form. This Bill is certainly not yet in its final form—anything but—and one does not know what will happen to Amendments which are passed in this place and which then have to go through the hoops in another place. We are certainly hoping that we shall have at least one Amendment on Third Reading.
Whenever I had to deal with a Finance Bill and people asked me to explain it before it reached its final stage, I used to tell them that they were wasting their time reading a Finance Bill before it became a Finance Act. So I have no doubt that many local authorities are taking the view that the time to read this Bill is when it is an Act. But under the noble Lord's proposals they will have precisely one fortnight in which to attempt to digest the whole of it. If there were a longer time, they could say to any inquirer, "I note your inquiry, but there is no need for us to respond immediately because this provision does not have to be implemented yet". But under the noble Lord's proposals, almost immediately the Statute is available to be read in its final form the local authorities will have to give finite answers to inquirers in respect of an Act which is already in force. I should have thought that gave people an intolerably limited flexibility. What I am asking the noble Lord is: what is normality in these circumstances?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if I replied now, if the noble Lord will permit me. Of course I am in the hands of the House in regard to what we discuss. I am grateful to the noble Lord for asking me whether I think this is the most expeditious way of dealing with these matters. Naturally, I considered that matter and I thought it was. It may be that I went too fast or tried to be too detailed in my initial explanation. But so that noble Lords may make up their minds, may I simply say that there is the major change—which we could debate later if the noble Lord wished to have more time for reflection—from a month to a fortnight—
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
It is Amendment No. 136. The Amendment is to Clause 108, page 116, line 2, and it changes from a month to two weeks the period between which—
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, then will the noble Lord be agreeable to excluding that one Amendment from present considerations, so that we can listen carefully to everything which he now says, read the report of it in Hansard and, if necessary, come back to the subject on that Amendment which will come very late in our proceedings and, obviously, will be reached to-morrow and not to-day.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, if that is what the noble Lord would prefer, I am entirely in the hands of the House. I thought it might be better to raise the point at the earliest possible moment, and at a time when there were perhaps more noble Lords in the House than at another time. But if the noble Lord would prefer to do it that way—
§ LORD DIAMOND
I am sorry, my Lords, but I have not made myself clear. I am asking the noble Lord whether he will be good enough to deal with the matter in full, as he would want to do, but to leave out Amendment No. 136. Technically, there will then be an Amendment left until to-morrow, dealing with the same issue, and we could come back to it after considering and reading what the noble Lord has had to say. If he will be good enough to exclude Amendment No. 136 from that long list of Amendments which he suggested we should discuss together, it might be convenient to discuss the others.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
Technically, my Lords, what the noble Lord is asking me to do is to refer to that Amendment without speaking to it at the present time, and I will certainly do that. I have now explained the bare outline of what Amendment No. 136 does. It merely changes the interval from a month to two weeks. Before I explain the reasons for that, may I say that, with the exception of Amendment No. 75, which it might be better to take when we come to it because it is an entirely separate point—we have merely taken the opportunity of changing the coming into operation—all the other Amendments preserve the 261 present period of one month, because that is the normal time in landlord and tenant legislation. I do not think I need say more than that.
With regard to the other period there is a balance of advantage and disadvantage. There is the time by which, according to the Bill, certain things have to be done. The reason for the interval of one month is to give time for printing and circulation, for the consideration of the Bill and for it to be put into operation. What I said in my opening remarks was that the two main questions involved are: first, the rent increases which must be made on October 1; and, secondly, the putting into operation of the rent rebates. I do not think I need say more in explanation. The period of one month was chosen in order to ensure that a local authority would have the longest possible time after the Bill came into operation before it actually had to deal with these matters on October 1. But we thought it quite possible to get the physical business of printing, distribution and even consideration completed within a fortnight. Those are the considerations on which we based our decision. I hope I have made that clear, and I am sorry that I did not do so in the first place.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has made the position clear and it was convenient for him to give us that information at this stage. But I must say that I am concerned not so much with the interval between the Bill being passed and coming into effect creating the greatest difficulties for local authorities, as with the fact that the Minister has yet to reply to so many of them about what fair rents of a somewhat lesser amount than the full £1 a week they will be entitled to charge. That will be the critical element in serving the notices on the tenants, rather than the details about when the Act comes into force. It would be convenient if we could hear a little more about that aspect, because the noble Lord was not very informative yesterday when we touched it.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I think he said that some of them would get their answers next week. But can the noble Lord be quite certain, following the 262 announcement over the weekend in relation to Birmingham, Newcastle and Hammersmith, that more authorities will not apply? I asked this question yesterday. Perhaps the noble Lord was not in the Chamber at the time, but when we were discussing the 90p, for example, in relation to Hammersmith, I put it, I think to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that other authorities in Greater London, when they saw this figure, would naturally compare the average levels of their rents with those being charged in Greater London as a whole, and would see whether they could establish a case in a similar way to Hammersmith. I put it that if they had not already done this the Minister still has to receive those applications, and he cannot know that it will be possible for him to give a reply within the space of the two days that remain in this week.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said that it was not quite as simple as taking the arithmetic for the Hammersmith case, where the average rents were 90p higher than those in the Greater London area as a whole, and simply informing any other local authority whose rents were that amount higher that they could have a reduction on the fair rent level equivalent to that already agreed with Hammersmith. He said that it was a more complicated matter and that various other factors had to be taken into account, which he did not specify. So, unless the noble Lord can assure us that he has reliable information to the effect that none of the local authorities which has not yet applied under what is now Section 62(4) is going to make use of this subsection, then he cannot guarantee that all the authorities which may benefit from it are going to have the necessary decision from the Government before the end of the week.
Let us look at the timescale which the noble Lord has imposed on the local authorities as a result of this fortnight. I must say that how he can arrive at the conclusion that he is assisting local authorities by giving them more time, when in fact he has reduced the period between the Act being passed and its coming into operation from one month to two weeks, at the moment escapes me, and I should like to have that further elucidated. Because, as I see the situation, the rent increases have to come into force 263 on October 1; and if you count back four weeks from that date (because as the noble Lord explained, in the case of a fortnightly or a weekly tenancy four weeks' notice has to be given of any increase) it brings you to September 3, which happens to be a Sunday. So you work backwards to the previous Friday, presumably, and say that the notices have got to be in the hands of the tenants by Friday, September 1. I hope that the noble Lord has followed me this far.
So the Bill must be passed, at the very latest, two weeks before that; that is to say, August 18—for I am sure that the noble Lord is not really expecting local authorities to do the sort of work that he has described, the printing and the distribution of notices to the tenants, on the same day as the Act comes into force. Being a reasonable man, he will allow a certain interval of time in which the director of housing or the housing manager can request tenders from the stationers who are going to supply these notices; evaluate the tenders and accept the lowest of them; place the orders with the contractors, receive the documentation and engage additional labour, presumably, so that these notices can be put into envelopes; then arrange them in polling districts, or whatever rent collectors use as their areas of operation, and then give out the parcels to the rent collectors so that they can be distributed. Or perhaps the noble Lord envisages their being put in the post, in which case one would need to allow, I suggest, at least another three days; unless he is going to suggest that the local authority should spend the ratepayers' money on putting 3p stamps on these notices to the tenants, in which case perhaps the time would be reduced to two days.
I think the noble Lord will see what I am driving at. We are now at July 12; we have another day on Report stage to-morrow, and then, as I understand it, we take the Third Reading next week. Another place will need, I suggest, a fortnight in which to digest the large number of Amendments which have been tabled by the Government and agreed by the Government—I believe there were twenty-one at the last count—so that they can give proper study to them and decide whether they agree with them. So let 264 us say that we have Third Reading next Wednesday, the 19th. That means that another place will not start to consider our Amendments until August 2. I think the noble Lord can see that he is asking for a very tight schedule to be observed in both Houses in order that he can rush the Bill through by August 18, and even then that would leave no time whatsoever for the various processes I have described. If he would explain to me how it is going to assist the local authorities, as he suggested, by shortening the period from four weeks to two weeks, I should be extremely grateful, but at the moment I just cannot see it.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, if, by leave of the House, I may reply to the noble Lord, he has, if I may say so, spoken with all the skill and experience of a Chief Whip. All the factors that he has mentioned have of course been very carefully taken into account and considered. I would agree, of course, that it is a tight schedule—and we know the reasons why it is a tight schedule when we see the volumes that came from another place. But, my Lords, the Department is satisfied that it can be done. It will depend to some extent, of course, as the noble Lord says, on another place, but they in any case will have to consider this Amendment, so I think we can safely leave that matter to them—if this Amendment is now passed, I mean.
So far as the four weeks and the two weeks are concerned, the point I was trying to make is this. When the Bill was originally drafted it was drafted on the basis of the normal landlord-tenant interval like the 1965 Act, the 1967 Act and 1968 Act. I think the same period was laid down in all of them—one month. It was not that a month was required for the bringing into operation of those parts of the Act that referred to the setting up of rent rebates and the increase of rents by local authorities. It was not that it was required for that: it was all taken into one piece. But we looked at it from a point of view of how much actual time was required for the printing and the distribution of the Act, and what would be a reasonable time—admittedly a minimum reasonable time—for the consideration by the local authorities, bearing in mind the very close way in which, of course, they have been following the Bill and the legislation.
265 The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, is of course quite right. In the normal way he was, I am sure, absolutely correct and very wise and prudent in advising people not to count on anything in the Finance Bill until it was actually passed. I suppose the same might be said of this Bill, although it has now reached a fairly advanced stage—we have had a great many days on it. But it has been very closely followed; and I think it might even be true to say that the local authorities are more familiar with this Bill—and I am casting no aspersions anywhere—than many of your Lordships. Some are very familiar with it; others perhaps not so much so. So I do not think this is an impossible task. It is a necessary task, obviously, if we are going to be able to maintain the dates in the Bill; and therefore I would ask your Lordships to consider it very carefully and, I hope, to support it.
§ LORD DIAMOND
I think that technically what I did last time was to ask questions before the noble Lord sat down, but if I did not do that then perhaps I may have the leave of the House to say a word or two. First of all, I want to thank the noble Lord for the explanation he has given and for his willingness to treat the Amendments in the following satisfactory way. The following way, as I understand it, is this: we are not including in the Amendments which are discussed at the same time Amendment No. 75 or Amendment No. 136.
§ LORD DIAMOND
Those are not included, so we are not exhausting our right to have discussion on those two Amendments. What we are doing is dealing with a group of Amendments which the noble Lord says—and I quite accept it if he says it—maintains the normal situation; that is to say, maintains the position of one month. In those circumstances, I cannot see that we can do other than accept what the noble Lord is saying, while at the same time reiterating the remonstrations that we have made many times, and which the local authorities continue to make, about the speed with which the whole of this business is being done. I do not say that the Amendments will add a great deal on the question of pressure; they merely highlight the impossible task put on the local auth- 266 orities. The noble Lord knows that far from the local authorities being up to date with this Bill and following every detail and working it out in relation to their own responsibilities so as to give it the fastest implementation possible, the majority of the municipal corporations are still hoping that the Government will withdraw the Bill. That is the present position.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I wonder whether I might follow up what my noble friend has said on the subject of this very tight programme by asking the noble Lord (if he can still answer it) one question. Am I wrong in thinking that yesterday, when we were discussing the question of fair lease tenancies, the noble Lord indicated that the Government would favourably consider not moving the Third Reading of the Bill until after a certain Statement had been made in another place? The noble Lord shakes his head. Have I misunderstood the position?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, to correct the noble Viscount's impression, I think there was a certain overlaying on what he thought I said from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who rather invited me to do that. But this was not what I myself said.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, my thinking during this debate has followed very closely that of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. My experience is in local government; I know what local government can do and what it cannot do. The noble Lord covered practically all the points that I should have wanted to make, but he left out an important one. It is that all this work and all this legislation has to be performed during August. Most of the councils do not meet during August when large sections of their staff are on annual leave. This means (since I take it that no housing officer dare implement all these increases without consulting his council) that these councils will have to be recalled from their summer holidays for special meetings. This will make the Act a little less popular than it already is. I think that the Government have admitted that in considering all this carefully, they had not given proper consideration to the position of the local authorities. In my I experience, local authorities can do 267 wonders. They can also, with perfect propriety, delay and go slower than the slowest snail one could contemplate. I think that if they try, they can do even better in this way than Government Departments.
It seems to me that the Government are in danger of calling forth this sort of mood by putting yet another burden on them and by disrupting and dislocating the whole of the summer leave programme, both for the officers and for the members of the local councils, throughout the length and breadth of the country. It was most unfortunate and most inconsiderate of the Government not to have foreseen this situation when they originally set down the timetable of this unfortunate piece of legislation.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, the point that I should like to make in answer to that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, is that the sooner after the Royal Assent the Bill is enacted, the sooner the local authorities will be able to act with certainty in the knowledge that what they thought was going to be enforced is in fact enforced. This is the sensible thing to do in the circumstances. I agree that it is unfortunate that the Bill receives the Royal Assent and comes into force during the holiday period. If we could have had it enacted and implemented sooner, that would have been better. But I do not think this alters the case.
§ Clause 35 [Conversion of controlled tenancies: general decontrol]:
§ 4.46 p.m.
LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 63:
Page 39, line 32, after ("tenancy") insert ("if the conditions contained in subsection (2A) of this section are satisfied").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 63. Your Lordships will appreciate that this is a paving Amendment for Amendment No. 64 to which, with permission, I will speak now. It seeks to insert a new subsection (2A) to Clause 35 in the terms set out in the Marshalled List. This clause is the first in Part IV of the Bill and deals with the conversion of controlled tenancies and general decontrol. Few will question that the change involved will create a situa- 268 tion where there may be new strains introduced into the relationship between landlord and tenant. It produces at the same time a situation in which the ownership of the type of property we are now considering might be reviewed. The letter dated June 13 this year, addressed to local housing authorities by the Deputy Secretary at the Department of the Environment lends, I submit, an added reason for so doing this afternoon.
§ The principle of home ownership secures support from many quarters and here is an opportunity to extend its application. Whatever else the Government may do they are, through this Bill, likely to influence more people to seek to purchase their own homes than has been the case before—and we all know what will be the appalling consequences in terms of price rises. There has been an increase of well over 30 per cent. in the first quarter of this year, as compared with the first quarter of last year, in the price of houses for sale. One of the main criticisms of this Bill is its inflationary effect. We can anticipate the effects of rent increases; but to attempt to calculate the effects on house prices defies assessment. Here in this Amendment there is a way in which home ownership can be encouraged without the resulting pressure on the general housing market.
§ I tabled a somewhat similar Amendment in Committee, but the one before the House to-day (No. 64) has one considerable difference. Instead of the proposal embodied in the Amendment moved in Committee, that the house be offered to the tenant in the first instance at 10 times the gross rateable value, this Amendment would mean offering it at a price not exceeding the valuation as determined by the district valuer, less 20 per cent.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, for clarification as to his intention in this matter, what he understands by "the valuation"? What valuation would he expect to apply? Would it be the valuation as a protected tenancy or the valuation in the open market?
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I think that the district valuer could be relied upon to value as he now values properties bought by local authorities. I 269 think one must face that. I was coming to that and I hoped to make that position clear; but I take it that the suggestion made in Committee that the selling price should be ten times the gross rateable value was considered by a number of noble Lords to be an unreasonably low figure. And it was because of what was said that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, commented on it, and a number of other noble Lords have spoken to me about it. I take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn: I have no wish to flinch from it. It will be appreciated that it is the district valuer's valuation, less 20 per cent. In other words, I am hoping that we shall be approaching this in something of the spirit of the Departmental letter to which I referred.
Secondly, I hope that the change in its terms will make the Amendment more acceptable on this occasion. I have tried to incorporate something of the spirit of the letter of June 13 and particularly of the Circular 54/70, as mentioned therein. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will be able from that explanation to satisfy himself as to the intention. I take the view that what is sauce for the public goose is surely sauce for the public gander; and indeed much more so, because when it comes to ownership of rented living accommodation, and particularly the class of property we have in mind, local authorities may be relied on, and they have the resources, to keep their houses in good condition. And if pressure is to be exerted to bring rented accommodation into home ownership, it is to the private sector that we should do well to look.
I hope that the price level set out in the Amendment will commend itself as being fair to landlords and tenants. If so, the Amendment has obvious advantages. It would relieve owners of what many have complained about as being a burden. It would give an added interest to the tenant in the maintenance and improvement of property. It would avoid the strains that occur in the relationship between the two. It would lessen the danger of harassment when someone seeks to coerce tenants into moving so that an empty property may be sold on the open—and indeed the open-ended—market. It would largely remove the element of exploitation of this section 270 of the market and would leave the tenant, as the new owner, in secure possession.
If the tenant chooses not to accept the option, the offer goes to the local authority, who, as has been remarked, may be trusted to act as a responsible landlord. There is a large and growing body of opinion which believes that rented properties should be municipally owned. I recall that the question has been raised whether local authority associations have requested this. I mentioned a short time ago, during an earlier discussion, that the Association of Municipal Corporations are very disturbed about the whole position. Recently I was at a conference attended by many representatives of the local housing authorities. At that conference there was a considerable demand for the municipalisation of rented properties. That is my reply to the question about whether the local authority associations have had anything to say. If I have judged the temper of that conference correctly, I do not think it will he long before local authorities will be asking for this move.
I hope that to-day the Government will be more ready to see virtue in this Amendment than they were during the Committee stage. When we last discussed the matter the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said it was in the interests of the mobility of labour that houses should remain in tenancy. I think that here we are dealing with a section of the community who tend to be fairly static; but if they move, their houses are more often offered for sale than for re-letting and I should have thought that was appreciated by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. I thought it a strange comment when I heard the noble Lord say, that having regard to the views of his right honourable friend towards the public sector. If we wish to ensure that these houses are available for letting to help meet problems arising in connection with the mobility of labour, we are more likely to achieve that if they are publicly owned. But if the houses are to be privately owned they are best owned by the people living in them.
One way to defeat rocketing house prices is to see that local authorities have many more houses to let. I believe that to be the answer to the whole problem—massive house-building programmes to ensure that a sufficient number of houses 271 are built. That is a challenge to Parties on both sides of the House. No one has begun to meet this problem satisfactorily. The way to bring down house prices is to have more houses to let. Not only have we to address our minds to halting the rocketing rises in prices that are taking place to-day, but there will come a time when we shall have to address our minds to bringing down house prices to a reasonable figure. What is happening at present in the market for houses is destroying every pound that we have in our pockets.
The principle which this Amendment seeks to serve will, I hope, be acceptable to the Government. Any defects there may be in the Amendment—and I recognise that there may well be defects—can be remedied at subsequent stages in the progress of the Bill. I hope that the Amendment will have a great deal more support than was apparent on the last occasion, even to the point of its acceptance to-day by the Government. But from the change made in it noble Lords will recognise that it is a considerable Amendment and goes a long way to meeting the criticisms, made in Committee and in conversation, about the position of landlords, who deserve some consideration.
THE EARL OF BALFOUR
My Lords, I have several points to raise on this Amendment. First, the district valuer does not have anything to do with the sale of private property to private persons. At present most district valuers have enough work to keep them going for at least two years, so that this Amendment would involve a two-year delay Secondly, I do not think that private landlords should be compelled to sell to a local authority. Thirdly, a local authority should not be compelled to buy any tenanted house. In Scotland many of the tenanted houses were built in the early part of the century, and bringing them up to full modern standards could very well involve local authorities in expense amounting to about £1,200 per house, and they might not wish to take on such expense. Fourthly, the Secretary of State could hold a landlord on tenterhooks for years under subsection (2B) in Amendment No. 64. Fifthly, the district valuer would value the property at its tenanted value or at vacant 272 possession value, which would be a vast difference and far too wide a variation. Lastly, if the private property were bought by the local authority the tenant would lose security of tenure.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I acknowledge straight away that the noble Lord's proposition is an improvement on the one he put forward on the last occasion as one of the conditions under which progress towards fair rents should be made. It seems an odd way of setting about providing more houses for letting, to impose a requirement that, before one can make progress towards fair rents, houses must first he offered to sitting tenants and then to the local authority. I will deal first with the option of the local authority. I find it difficult to see any justification for this. The noble Lord will not expect me to agree with the demand for municipalisation of rented properties. I would not consider that a justification in any way. If a local authority were to acquire houses there would still be progress towards fair rents in just the same way as if they remained in private ownership. Therefore this is plainly just an attempt to get houses out of the hands of landlords.
May I turn now to the tenant's option to acquire property by way of purchase? The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, asked whether the valuation would be put on a protected basis or on a full market basis with vacant possession. The answer to that question is crucial, for there is a world of difference. On principle we would not be prepared to accept an open market, vacant possession basis because we do not think it would be right to compel the landlord to offer the house to the tenant. There is nothing whatever to prevent him from doing so; we simply do not think it would be right to impose a duty on him. Perhaps it is not quite right to call it a duty, because of course he has the very unattractive option of leaving the house under rent control, which is the very thing the Bill is intended to remove; it really amounts to compulsion.
The noble Lord talks about sauce for the public goose and sauce for the private gander. Here again, everything depends 273 on the value which, under the Amendment, the district valuer would put on the house, and the basis of the valuation. Local authorities will offer houses to sitting tenants at full market value, less 20 per cent., with vacant possession. The noble Lord referred also to the removal of exploitation in this sector. I would point out that houses will merely proceed from control to regulation. They will be subject to the registration of fair rents, so that there can be no element of exploitation. The tenants will have all their rights and will retain security of tenure. We all know that landlords have been restricted to such low rents that many of them have not been able to afford maintenance, so houses have deteriorated over a period. Now there is the prospect of progression towards fair rents, given that the houses are improved to a suitable standard. To suggest just at this moment that they should be offered, not merely at the depressed rate with their security of tenure, but at a discount of 20 per cent., seems to be nothing less than vindictive. As I understood him, that is what the noble Lord had in mind, and I think it is a most extraordinary proposal.
I hope the noble Lord will not press his Amendment because I think it would put him in a position of patently impossing injustice. I am sure he would not want to incur that kind of reputation. Among other things one has to bear in mind the fact that the better-off tenants would be the ones in a position to take advantage of the noble Lord's clause if it were passed; the poorer ones would not be able to purchase. Many better-off tenants might purchase at depressed values and sell very soon at open market values with vacant possession. Surely the noble Lord cannot intend such results. I hope that, in all the circumstances, he will not pursue the Amendment. It is a specious appeal. He has compared this with the selling of local authority houses, but there is no compulsion on local authorities to sell. There is no adverse effect if they do not sell, whereas in this case the landlord has the choice of selling at a depressed value or of remaining under control. That seems grossly unfair. The new clause is totally at variance with the purposes of the Bill, and I am afraid I cannot accept it.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I am not a bit surprised at the attitude which the noble Lord has shown. If he is inclined to get a little hot under the collar about this he would do well to calm down. Having said that there is no compulsion on local authorities, he had better read the remarks of his right honourable friend in another place in regard to local authorities which did not conform with the letter of June 13. That letter is a very clear indication of compulsion.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, there was a threat of it to come. There was nothing in the letter to indicate compulsion at this stage; but it is the remarks, not the letter, to which I refer. The noble Lord talked about injustice. All noble Lords, on this side regard the whole Bill as unjust. So far as local authority housing is concerned, the Government are transforming a public service into a profit-making enterprise. A great deal more consideration is being given to landlords than to local authorities, who, with ratepayers, will have to pay the whole cost of the scheme of allowances. The noble Lord knows that. So far as noble Lords on this side of the House are concerned, we have never hidden the fact that we are concerned with the position of tenants. We have understood that on the other side of the House there is a desire to increase home ownership. In my Amendment I have tried to be understanding and not ungenerous towards the claims of the landlords. It would seem fitting, at a time when houses are coming out of decontrol, that tenants should be given an opportunity to purchase them. The Government think that this is a good thing so far as publicly-owned houses are concerned. Why the difference? It is because the Government are more concerned with profit-making than with housing as a social service.
I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee, and I have no wish to press this matter unduly. However, I think I speak for my colleagues on this side when I say that we are not impressed by Lord Drumalbyn's argument. We shall have on record our feeling that, so far as property for letting is concerned, the local authority is the best landlord; and that if property is going to be privately owned, 275 then it is best owned by the person who lives in it. The problems and difficulties mentioned by the noble Lord are not difficult to overcome. If the Government applied a little thought to them they could find answers, instead of giving reasons why they are not prepared to accept the spirit of this Amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 37 [Conversion of controlled tenancies: general provisions]:
§ 5.12 p.m.
LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 65:
Page 43, line 29, leave out subsection (9).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment relates to a Part of the Bill which deals with certificates of disrepair. When we dealt with this subject in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said that he thought that certificates of disrepair could be issued without hardship, but that he would consider the matter further. I accordingly put down this Amendment in order to hear what further thoughts the noble Lord and the Government have had. Since that time I have had a full letter from the noble Lord for which I am grateful, explaining the whole of the procedure. Nevertheless, I move this Amendment because I am sure that the noble Lord would want to put on record and explain to your Lordships some of the matters that he was good enough to write to me about. I beg to move.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord has invited me to embark on a very long disquisition: I wrote to him not a letter, but almost a treatise on this subject. I had hoped that it was self-explanatory. However, the effect of this particular subsection and the point the noble Lord is making are of some interest and are worth going into. The Amendment would mean that the local authority which had not disposed of an application for a certificate Of disrepair or of an application for the cancellation of such a certificate by the date when the tenancy was converted from control to regulation would still be able to decide the application after the date of conversion. I think this is the point the noble Lord had in 276 mind in moving the Amendment. Under the Bill as it stands, the local authority must dispose of outstanding applications by that date or it will be too late.
I should, I think, say a few words on that point. Local authorities will not receive any applications for a certificate of disrepair or for cancellation of such a certificate after a date six months before the due date of conversion. Noble Lords will know that there is a series of due dates for conversion at six monthly intervals. Local authorities will then have ample time to dispose of all outstanding applications by the date of conversion. We do not think there is any doubt that six months will give them ample time, and there is no reason to think that any such application would still be outstanding after six months. Certainly the guidance circular which the Department propose to issue to local authorities after Royal Assent will stress the need to make quite sure that all applications have been dealt with by the date of conversion.
I think the point to seize upon straight away here is that the six months runs before each conversion. It is not six months full stop, but six months before each conversion. The effect of this Amendment—I think this is important, and I would stress it to the noble Lord—might be to leave authorities with the impression that it would not matter if they failed to clear all their outstanding applications by the date of conversion. This would be unfortunate, because it would lead to many of the complications and effects that I outlined to the noble Lord in my letter. The Government attach weight to the need to have by the date of conversion a firm and final figure for the controlled rent, so that the parties after that can properly understand how the rent is to progress to a regulated fair rent without having to take intoaccount the potential complications of possible further changes in the controlled rent, which is the floor from which the progression starts. As authorities are being given a fairly generous time limit to deal with these applications, the Government consider that the right course is to assume that the authorities will clear them all in time.
I think it is only right to add that, as the number of certificates of disrepair has been declining very rapidly—in fact, it had declined to less than one-twelfth 277 of what it was in the 11 years between 1958 and 1969—it is fairly safe to assume that this sort of case would rarely arise; but if it did, it would give rise to a number of complications. The only difficult date involved, I think, is the first date of conversion; that is, the first block of controlled houses that come into regulation. There could be one or two—it would be idle to deny it—that overspill the period allowed. On the other hand, with the precautions that we are taking to make certain that the local authorities are imbued with the necessity for clearing them all off within six months, I hope that this is not likely to arise. It is just possible, as I say, because of the foreshortening a little of the period before the first batch arises, that there might be one or two. But the interests of simplicity mean that we ought to accept that possibility rather than to risk all the complications that would be involved if we withdrew the provision altogether.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. It is obviously right that I should have asked him to explain these matters, because I can see from the faces of your Lordships that you are all now fully seized of the details of this matter. In fact, what we are dealing with are the complications encountered in a transitional period, when you move from one complicated situation to another which is even more complicated.
The noble Lord was good enough to send me a book explaining all this and I was foolish enough to read it. But I am grateful to the noble Lord for having sent it to me because I understand it; and because I understand it I am able to say that, at least so far as I am able to understand it, the complications of avoiding rough justice would be too great. I accept that. There are times when, in the interests of intelligibility and administrative capability, you have to put up with a certain amount of rough justice. As the noble Lord has said, these cases are very much on the wane, and I accept his forecast that there will be very few of them involved: that is to say, the extent of the rough justice would be small. I should have preferred the rough justice to have been a little less perfectly balanced than is provided for in the Bill. I should have 278 liked the landlord to have had his full share of the rough justice and the tenant to have had rather less than his share of it, because I think we have to attune justice to those whose needs are greatest. But I recognise that this is a difficult matter and I recognise, in particular, that I am quite incapable of suggesting a better way, and one which would he administratively possible and might involve less injustice. So all I would say to the noble Lord is that I am grateful to him for that explanation and I hope that your Lordships, having been persuaded by everything that the noble Lord has said, will permit me to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 38 [Phasing of rent increases towards registered rent]:
§ 5.23 p.m.
LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 66:
Page 43, line 47, at end insert—
(" (3) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the phased rent increases provided for in subsections (1) and (2) above are inappropriate having regard to the general inflationary pressures, he may direct that all or any of those provisions shall not apply, or shall apply subject to such modifications as are specified in this direction.").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment, which is to insert
Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the phased rent increases provided for in subsections (1) and (2) above"—
these are the rent increases towards a registered rent provided for in Clause 38—
are inappropriate having regard to the general inflationary pressures, he may direct that all or any of those provisions shall not apply, or shall apply subject to such modifications as are specified in the direction.
§ What we are doing here is suggesting that the Government should have the necessary foresight to equip themselves at the present moment with the powers needed to deal with the difficult situation which is clearly developing. We are not requiring the Government to do anything: we are inviting the Government to empower themselves to act if the need arises. The situation under this Bill is that rent increases are phased normally—and I am bound to say "normally", because we have now a large number where abnormality will apply—in such a way as, without question, to stimulate 279 wage demands which will give an enormous further twist to the inflationary spiral. We have been over this ground many times, and I therefore need to do no more than remind your Lordships shortly of the arithmetic: average rent, £2 or a little more—£2.40—over the country; increase as from October 1 where no increase has already taken place, £1 per week. So here we have, with average rents of a little over £2, a phased increase of £1. That is an enormous increase. It is an increase which is bound to be felt and recognised, because these are mostly weekly payments. The net result will undoubtedly be, as I said, to give an enormous twist to the inflationary spiral.
§ We have done what we can with regard to public authority tenants and we are now in the area of private landlord tenants. There are, of course, fewer of them: I think there are 1.1 million—the noble Lord will know whether I am right—as opposed to about 5 million public authority tenants. But that is a sufficient number to take fully into account, and I have no need to remind your Lordships of the state of the economy, of the state of the pound and of the regularly repeated statements made by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Employment and most of the Cabinet, that our present difficulties have been caused by inflated wage demands. I am not saying that that is the cause: I am saying that that is what is said every weekend, and even oftener, by the most authoritative members of Her Majesty's Government. It is difficult to understand why, but at the same time the Government are pressing on with a Bill which will inevitably increase those same inflationary pressures. Nobody can deny that when these increased rents have to be faced, the immediate and automatic response will be an increase in wages to keep in step with the increase in rent; and of course wages are subject to tax. This rent is what one pays out of one's taxed income, as we all know; so the increase in wages has to be such a figure as, after deducting tax, will leave the sum in question.
§ Again, this point has been made many times, and I think it was last made by 280 the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. What we are saying here is that we do not understand why the Government, through the mouths of the Prime Minister and the most senior Ministers, keep on saying that the danger we face is coming from inflationary wage pressures and at the same time press on with this Bill. There are to be meetings this week with the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. to see what measures can be devised to overcome inflation. The Government are engaged upon it as problem No. 1 which is facing the country—and this is in a situation where the signs of inflation are to be seen in the lack of confidence shown by other countries in our economy, expressed by the flight from the pound; that is a measure of the lack of confidence which other countries have in our ability to curtain the future rate of inflation. I repeat, my Lords, I cannot see why the Government should be bringing forth these statements all the time and at the same moment be pressing on with a Bill which will inevitably increase that inflationary pressure. That is a comment on the double-thinking of the Government, which I leave with your Lordships.
§ I am not asking the Government to alter this Bill, because I should have no chance of succeeding in that. We are now at the Report stage engaged on the task of improving the Bill, and that is all we can seek to do. We have done this, I am glad to say, in many ways and the Government have accepted a large number of Amendments. If the Government think that the position of the economy, the condition of the pound and the state of foreign confidence is such that wage demands need to be considered, then they should take powers to do whatever may have to be done—if agreement is reached with the main parties concerned, employers and employees—to achieve their main objective.
§ Supposing some agreement is reached, the Government would want to act in order to see that all the elements in the agreement were capable of being put into effect. It is most likely that one of the elements in any such agreement would be the holding down of prices, wage increases and rents. It is inconceivable that there could be a holding down of wage increases at the same time as an increase in rents. The Government know full well that what they are seeking to 281 do is directly opposed to what the Bill is insisting on them doing. This is a ridiculous situation, but we have to deal with it as we find it. The best way of dealing with it is to invite the Government to give themselves the necessary powers to deal with the situation quickly, should it arise; the necessary powers are the powers which alter the phasing of these rents so that if it were a condition of reaching some kind of understanding, of assisting in reducing the rate of inflation, it could be effected. The phasing of the rents at the moment is excessive. The Amendment proposes that the Government should have the power to reduce the inflationary pressures and give effect to whatever arrangement may be necessary in order to complete a bargain of some kind or other which is the Government's main preoccupation at this moment.
My Amendment says:
Where the Secretary of State is satisfied …
It does not arise unless he is satisfied. It does not say, "where the Opposition is satisfied", and it does not even say "where Parliament is satisfied". It says:
Where the Secretary of State is satisfied "—
that is to say, the Government—
that the phased rent increases provided for … are inappropriate having regard to the general inflationary pressures, he may …
It does not say, "he shall"; it does not require him to do anything, it says:
… he may direct that all or any of those provisions shall not apply …".
He has powers under this Bill to issue all sorts of directions—they increase as the Bill makes progress. He has powers to alter the provisions of the Bill in relation to local authorities, like Birmingham and other large authorities. There will be many others to follow. He has powers to make a variety of adjustments. I am suggesting that he should have the most essential power of all, the power to alter the phasing of rent increases. The Amendment says:
… he may direct that all or any of those provisions shall not apply"—
those are the provisions of the rent increases towards registered rent—
or shall apply subject to such modifications as are specified in the direction.
§ The wording of the Amendment may be inadequate and faulty in many 282 respects, but the meaning is clear: it is giving the Government the power they need in our present economic circumstances to delay, postpone or rephase the increases proposed in this Bill which are undoubtedly and admittedly highly inflationary. It is giving the discretion entirely to the Government and enabling the Government to act in full or in part, or in whatever way they want to act. The only condition imposed is in regard to general inflationary pressures. If, therefore, local authorities say, "We should like the Government to make a direction", notwithstanding that the inflationary pressures are no longer there, the Government would not be pressed by such an argument. It is the Government's own discretion; it is the Government's main problem that we are dealing with. I beg to move.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, the Amendment the noble Lord has moved is, I am sure, intended to be helpful. I venture to guess that it is based to some extent on past experience. The Prices and Incomes Act came into force on enactment in 1968; but that was not surprising. The following year we had the Rent (Control of Increases) Act. It is possible to exaggerate and overestimate the effects that this Bill may have so far as inflation is concerned. There is a surprising measure of support for the principle of ending the injustice of rent control—not least, I am told, from the Trades Union Congress. Fair rents plus rent allowances represent a much more equitable method of fixing rents and will lead to a general betterment of that part of the housing stock. In this clause we are dealing with the phasing towards that.
The noble Lord is asking us to take a regulating power over that phasing, but there are dangers in doing this. It is obviously desirable that we should reach the position of fair rents in a foreseeable time. It is desirable to lay down exactly the way in which we should reach those limits. The question whether there should be a power to retard the limit is one that can be put in a different way. Would it be right simply to retard the progress towards fair rents without at the same time retarding the advance of other prices? If the answer is, "No", as I think it ought to be, then the right solution is not to take a power here but to seek the power, as has been done in 283 the past, to cover the wider field. I recognise that on the last occasion, because of lack of experience, this did not happen in regard to rents. If we were to suggest that the progress towards fair rents could be retarded in this way, there would be a constant pressure of itself, no matter how small the degree of inflation was, in order to slow that up. This is not the right way to go about it, and in this Bill we are doing our best to make everybody know exactly where he stands. We think it would be a pity to undermine that position.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord takes that point of view. I am sorry that none of your Lordships on the other side of the House has risen to support what I have been saying. We are concerned here with a cross-Party issue of how best to provide for a reduction in the rate of inflation. I can do no more than put the arguments to the Government—I think they are far more important than the arguments of the noble Lord about the Government's being too weak to resist pressures from other quarters. I will not seek to divide your Lordships' House. It is not a Party issue; it is a national issue. I do not share the view of the Government. They will find that they are wrong, and I shall not say, "I told you so". I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 6 [Restriction on Rent Increases]:
§ 5.39 p.m.
EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 67:
Page 151, line 42, at end insert—
(" .—(1) Cases B and D in the Table in this Schedule, together with Case H, apply if the registration is after the expiration of a period of one month beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.
(2) The remaining Cases in the said Table apply only if the registration is after the end of the year 1972.")
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment and it may be for the convenience of the House if we deal with Amendments Nos. 68 and 137A at the same time.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I should be grateful if the noble Lord would limit his request and deal only 284 with Amendments Nos. 67 and 68. Amendment 137A is a long way ahead and perhaps we could deal with that when we come to that part of the Marshalled List. I am sure that it will not take any longer.
My Lords, I am happy to do that if that is for the convenience of your Lordships. Amendments Nos. 67 and 68 are designed to make it clear that Cases B and D in the Table in paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 apply to decontrolled registrations before January 1, 1973, as well as after that date. The first increment for decontrol phasing is in general a one-fifth step for registrations before November, 1972, and a one-third step for registrations in 1973 or after. There are special transitional arrangements for registrations in November and December, 1972.
Where there has been a 12½ per cent. increase, following improvements to a controlled dwelling begun after December 31, 1971, this is normally to count as the first increment; thus the tenant will not be liable to pay another increment until a full year has elapsed since the 12½ per cent. increase. This is the effect of Cases B to D in the Table in the Schedule. It is intended that these special Cases should apply for registrations on any date after Part IV comes into force. These two Amendments are designed to ensure that Cases B and D do in fact apply on relevant registrations before January 1, 1973, as well as after. I beg to move Amendment No. 67.
Page 151, line 45, leave out from ("1972") to end of line 6 on page 152 and insert ("and shall not apply where Case B or Case D of the Table in this Schedule applies.
(2) On a registration before 1st January, 1973 which is the first registration after the tenancy becomes a regulated tenancy by virtue of Part III of this Act, the said Schedule 3 shall apply as if the tenancy became a tenancy by virtue of Part III of the Housing Act 1969; and then paragraph 4 of that Schedule (the previous limit) shall have effect as if a notice of increase authorised by section 37(3) of this Act were included among the notices of increase there referred to.").—(Earl Ferrers.)
Page 153, line 4, leave out from ("the") to end of line and insert ("expiration of a period of one month beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.").—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ Clause 39 [Application to rent officer by local authority]:
§ 5.43 p.m.
EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 70:
Page 44, line 9, leave out ("for the dwelling-house") and insert ("or the highest rent, payable for the dwelling-house under any lease or agreement").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I wish also to speak, if I may, to Amendment No. 71. Where a local authority applies to the rent officer in respect of a tenancy, Clause 39 requires the rent officer to register a fair rent if the existing rent exceeds a fair rent. These Amendments make it clear that, where the agreement provides for a succession of two or more rents, the rent officer is to register a fair rent if the highest of these exceeds a fair rent; and that where a new rent agreement has been entered into, the rent officer is to take account of it even if it has not yet taken effect. I beg to move.
Page 44, line 14, at end insert ("and whether or not the lease or agreement has taken effect").—(Earl Ferrers.)
Page 45, line 3, at end insert—
(" ( ) This section shall come into force at the expiration of a period of one month beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.").—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ Clause 41 [Cancellation of registration of rent]:
EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 73:
Page 46, line 24, after second ("landlord") insert (" or of any works of maintenance or repair carried out by the landlord or a superior landlord").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the effect of this Amendment is that, if the landlord and tenant apply for cancellation of a registration on the basis of a rent agreement under which the rent can be varied to take account of the cost of maintenance or repairs, the rent officer shall not cancel the registration unless he is satisfied that the terms of the agreement governing the variation are reasonable.
§ Clause 41(6) already contains this safeguard for agreed rents which are variable in accordance with the cost of providing services. Fixed-term tenancies are, however, sometimes drawn with provisions for the payment of sums varying with the cost of maintenance and repair. It is not desired that a rent officer should cancel a registration in such cases unless he is satisfied that the terms governing the variable sums are reasonable. I beg to move.
EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 74:
Page 46, line 26, at end insert—
(" ( ) The cancellation shall not take effect until the date when the agreement takes effect; and if the cancellation is registered before that date, the date on which it is to take effect shall be noted on the register.")
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment is to make sure that where there is a time-gap between the cancellation of a registration and the coming into force of the new rent agreement the registration does not cease to have effect until the new rent agreement comes into force. I beg to move.
EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 75:
Page 46, line 39, at end insert—
(" ( ) No application shall be made under the said section 48A before 1st January 1973.")
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment also was taken with Amendment No. 62. I beg to move.287
§ Clause 43 [Protection for tenant with security of tenure]:
EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 76:
Page 47, line 35, after ("and") insert ("was made").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the effect of this Amendment is to make it clear that a rent agreement which accompanies an application for cancellation of registration under Clause 41 does not have to conform to the requirements of Clause 43. Without this Amendment there might be some doubt on this point. The requirements of Clause 43 are designed for the case where landlord and tenant are proposing to agree a new rent without going to the rent officer, in order to guard against the danger that a tenant ignorant of his rights and his permanent security might be prevailed on to agree an excessive rent. In cancellation proceedings, however, the rent officer has to satisfy himself that the agreed rent does not exceed a fair rent, and it is not appropriate to impose the Clause 43 requirements. I beg to move.
§ 5.49 p.m.
LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 77:
Page 47, line 4:3, after ("writing") insert ("signed by the landlord and the tenant")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be convenient to take Amendment No. 78 along with this one. At the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, asked that some kind of form should be devised which could be given to the tenant and which would include the statement set out in Clause 43(3)(b), that if the tenant declines to enter into a rent agreement his security of tenure will not be affected, and if he agrees he can still apply to the rent officer for registration at any later stage. The effect of these Amendments is not quite the same as the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, was asking for, but we think they will have much the same effect and in some respects are to be preferred. We certainly agree that it is of paramount importance that these items of information should be drawn to the tenant's notice and to the extent that this safeguard can be improved we should do so.
§ The idea of a prescribed form, although attractive on the face of it, has some 288 disadvantages and may not, after all, be the best way of effecting such an improvement. There is no doubt that the first piece of information to be got over to the tenant is that his security of tenure is not affected if he declines to enter into a rent agreement. Clearly, if this information were to be in a prescribed form instead of in the agreement itself the prescribed form would have to be served on the tenant before the agreement was made. In this way there would be at least a short gap between the service of the prescribed form and the making of the agreement, and it is perhaps not altogether unusual that in that sort of gap the terms of the agreement themselves may be modified. Indeed, one of the main purposes of the prescribed form would be to give the tenant the opportunity of having second thoughts, and this would mean that a second prescribed form might have to be served on the tenant if the tenant had second thoughts or if the agreement was modified in any way.
§ I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, is in his place. Whether or not one would still need to insist upon the agreement being a written one if a prescribed form were required, the fact would remain that many agreements would in practice be written ones, possibly prepared by the landlord's agent or legal advisers. In these cases, quite apart from any other documents passing between him and the landlord, the tenant would have one written rent agreement and one or more prescribed forms, all dealing With the same agreement. Experience shows that ancillary documents tend to get lost or destroyed as time goes on and it is quite possible that in the end the tenant would have only the agreement itself. This has two implications. First, it may make it more difficult to know, after some time has elapsed, whether the prescribed form was served or not. Secondly, the tenant can apply to the rent officer at any time after the agreement is made, and this not only needs to be drawn to the notice of the tenant at the time of the agreement but should also become apparent again if the tenant later feels any doubts about what he has agreed to and refers to the agreement. If the prescribed form or forms are liable to be thrown away, the agreement by itself does not give the answer to these points.289
§ We thought about this and we considered that the best way to protect the tenant is to require the information mentioned in Clause 43(3)(b) to be in the written agreement itself, and to provide that it must be included at the very beginning of the document containing the agreement, and not in small print. This means that an agreement contained in a series of documents, with the required information buried in one of them—as sometimes happens—will not satisfy the Clause 43 requirements. There will have to be a single or a principal document, and the required information must be included at the beginning of it. So if the agreement is a long one it cannot be buried, but will be the first thing that the tenant reads. Even if he does not read the whole of it he will have to sign his name at the bottom of it and at least he will know what his rights are. The information will not be missed if the tenant gets tired half way through. The agreement will also have to be signed by both parties.
§ My Lords, we have done our best to meet the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and I hope that we have succeeded in satisfying him. While a prescribed form would be a good method of achieving what we want in a large number of cases, there are nevertheless some situations where it might not be as good a safeguard for the tenant as one could wish, and I commend the alternative arrangements to the House as being both simpler and at least as effective. I beg to move.
§ LORD STOW HILL
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord very sincerely for what he has done to meet the points that I ventured to raise. May I apologise to him at the outset for not being present when he began his speech, but he had been so kind as to give me some indication of his thinking on this matter at an earlier stage and therefore I think I am fully seized of the reasons which actuated him to formulate the Amendment in the form in which it appears on the Marshalled List. May I say that it completely satisfies me, taken together with the next Amendment.
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, on reflection, that there are serious difficulties about the prescribed form, and if I may say so he is perfectly right in submitting to this House that the best form 290 of protection for the tenant is that which will be provided if this Amendment and the following Amendment are accepted. There would be one solid document which can be consulted and that document will itself contain the information which should be brought to notice. I am most grateful to the noble Lord; he has entirely met the point that I ventured to raise and I am greatly indebted to him.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, I should also like to welcome these Amendments. It is most important that the right of tenants should be clearly set out in a prominent place, and if approved these Amendments will do a lot to redress the unequal bargaining power between tenants and landlord, particularly in view of the housing shortage.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, where would this notice appear? Would it be possible for it to appear in a rent book, or something of that sort?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, we are here speaking about the rent agreement, so it would actually appear in the document itself which would have to be signed by both parties, and no doubt each would receive a copy of it.
Page 48, line 8, at end insert (" and
(c) the statement mentioned in paragraph (b) above is set out at the head of the document containing the agreement.").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ Clause 45 [Protection of tenant with security of tenure where grant-aided improvement is carried out]:
EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 79:
Page 50, line 8, leave out from ("if") to first ("the") in line 9 and insert ("a rent were to be registered following improvements for which a grant was payable.").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment is simply to improve the wording of the extra information to be given to the tenant in a rent agreement which follows grant-aided improvement works. It does not change the meaning, but it brings out more clearly that, if a 291 rent were registered, the increase would be phased. I beg to move.
§ Clause 47 [Statutory tenants by succession]:
Page 51, line 34, at end insert—
(" ( ) This section shall come into force at the expiration of a period of one month beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ Clause 50 [Principles for the determination of fair rent]:
§ 5.58 p.m.
LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 80A:
Page 52, line 34, leave out second ("and").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have made rapid progress and your Lordships will have observed that every Amendment that was moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was accepted without demur. It is not to be assumed that we were intimidated by the size of the noble Earl.
So far as this Amendment is concerned perhaps we might consider with it Amendment No. 80B, which refers to the general level of wages in the locality. We have now moved with exemplary rapidity on to Part V of the Bill, which deals with the question of fair rents for housing authority dwellings, and in particular Clause 50 sets out the principles for the determination of fair rents. Subsection (1) says:
In determining a fair rent for a dwelling under this Part of this Act, regard shall be had, subject to the following provisions of this section, to all the circumstances (other than personal circumstances) and in particular to the age, character and locality of the dwelling and to its state of repair.
Amendment No. 80B seeks to add to those categories
and to the general level of wages in the locality.
It is necessary to add those words, because subsection (2) which immediately follows says:
For the purposes of the determination it shall be assumed that the number of persons seeking to become tenants of similar dwellings in the locality on the terms … of the tenancy is not substantially greater than the number of such dwellings in the locality which are available for letting on such terms …
In short, subsection (2) assumes a free market under which buyers equal sellers.
When we look at subsection (1) we must ask in what circumstances there would be an equal number of would-be tenants and would-be landlords, these being local authority or housing authority landlords. The answer, of course, is that one would have an equation in the market when the rents were such that the tenants could afford them out of the wages, salaries or other incomes they earn or receive. Thus, if one is assuming a free market and no scarcity—that is, the market is equally balanced between buyers and sellers, or to be more precise between would-be tenants and would-be landlords—one is thereby assuming that there are tenants with wages of a level sufficient to enable them to pay the rents which are being demanded. That being the situation, one must look more closely at the wording of subsection (1) which says:
In determining a fair rent for a dwelling under this Part of this Act, regard shall be had … to all the circumstances (other than personal circumstances) …
One must therefore bear in mind the circumstances generally, other than personal ones; and the provision goes on to say that one must in particular have regard to
… the age, character and locality of the dwelling and to its state of repair.
I have already explained why implicit in that are the wage levels of those who will be offering to become tenants, but the clause excludes personal circumstances, so that one cannot have regard to the personal circumstances of each tenant; one can have regard only to the general level of wages in the locality. This is of course a very relevant consideration indeed in the assumptions which are implicit in subsection (2) because, as I have explained, if nobody had wages of a sufficient size with which to offer to pay the rents being demanded, the houses would not be let and the stipulated equality would not exist. Subsection (2) says that
… it shall be assumed that the number of persons seeking to become tenants … is not
substantially greater than the number of such dwellings in the locality which are available for letting …
In other words, one is to have more or less a balance. I am first of all explaining the theory, and I hope I have satisfied your Lordships that it would be necessary to have regard not to an individual man's wages but to the general level of wages in the locality, the locality being the area under consideration for which fair rents are being determined.
§ Having dealt with the theory, let us now come to the practice. Happily, we are in the situation of the Bill being in a sense in practice because, for example, Birmingham has written to ask what its rents would be and has said, in effect, "We think that on the various criteria which should be taken into account, the rents should be a certain figure." To that the Government have replied, in effect, "We think that on those criteria it should be a slightly different figure, though we certainly agree that the figure should be less than the one in the Bill and we will make a direction when we are empowered to do so to put our view into effect." We know that the figure will be less than £1. Offhand, I cannot remember the precise sum—
§ LORD DIAMOND
I am indebted to my noble and younger friend Lord Avebury who is obviously able to retain such facts in his mind for longer than I. Birmingham made the point in their letter to the Government that in the circumstances of the Bill one must have regard to the level of wages, precisely for the reasons that I put to your Lordships. They said that that was one of the criteria which they had to take into account. In their reply the Government said—I am relying on my recollection only—that they placed less importance on that criterion than Birmingham did, but that they did not by any means exclude it. In other words, they adopted it but thought it was not as important as Birmingham did. This is a fine point; but the basic issue is that if one is to have a market one must have buyers and sellers, and if the market is to be broadly in balance then one must have buyers with money in their pockets able to offer to meet the prices at which the sellers are prepared to sell. The buyers—in this case 294 the would-be tenants—can have that money in their pockets only if the general level of wages in the locality is sufficient, and that is the only factor which will determine the level of rents that they can afford. In these circumstances it is necessary, in theory as well as in practice, to make provision for this to be done in the Bill. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, although the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, sounds reasonable enough, one must consider the position of tenants who do not earn their wages in the locality in question. For example, a tenant might travel 30 or 40 miles outside the locality to his job. Apart from that consideration, which seemed to represent a weakness in the noble Lord's argument, his remarks appeared to be logical.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, the trouble in which we find ourselves is caused by the generality and vagueness of the phrase "all the circumstances" in subsection (1). However, the same thing applied to the Rent Act 1965 which was introduced by the Labour Government. I recall moving an Amendment in Standing Committee on that Bill with the aim of including a reference to the rateable value of the dwelling. The answer given by the then Minister, Mr. Crossman, was that rent officers would take rateable values into account in appropriate circumstances because the ability to do so was included in the phrase "all the circumstances". He argued, in other words, that that phrase would provide the yardstick by which they would operate and he said that it would be undesirable to write a reference to rateable values in the Bill because they varied considerably from one part of the country to another in relation to the fair rents to be arrived at under that legislation. He argued that if one specifically laid an obligation on rent officers to look at that one factor, they would obviously decide that Parliament attached special importance to it and that it should outweigh other considerations which might be of equal validity.
That was his argument. I am not saying that it was a good one, because I still consider that to have written in the rateable values would not have had this effect; it would not have constrained the 295 rent officers in the way he described, and it would certainly have been a valuable indication to tenants of the sort of rents which they were likely to be charged when the registration procedure took effect. Equally, to-day it is necessary to try to spell out what is meant by this phrase "all the circumstances" in the light of the representations which, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has said, were made by the Birmingham City Council, and no doubt by other authorities which have submitted proposals to the Department and which are still under consideration. The memorandum which I saw compiled by the Director of Housing in Birmingham for the guidance of the committee there, certainly made reference to the general levels of wages. In answer to the noble Lord opposite, I am not sure whether this was in the City of Birmingham itself or in the whole of the Midland region. I agree with him that logically one ought to take into account the fact that some workers who live within the boundaries of the city would go to other places to earn their living, and so one should take a broader look perhaps throughout the whole of the Midland region to decide what the criteria should be.
I am assuming that the Government have tacitly accepted at least part of the Birmingham argument in that the figure is (as I hope I have remembered it correctly) 65p rather than £1. That was not the full reduction for which Birmingham was asking; but it seems to imply that the Government saw some force in the arguments of the Birmingham Director of Housing that that particular factor should be taken into account, as well as the others that he mentioned, in spite of the fact that in the end the suggestions he made were to the effect that only the gross rateable value and an amenity factor which varied according to the district of the city should be the determining variables in arriving at the fair rent. In other words, you took for a particular class of dwelling (say a two-bedroom semi-detached house) the gross rateable values operating throughout the city and then applied a factor to that and a further factor which varied according to the area of the city in which that dwelling was located. So that although the memorandum made reference to the survey which 296 had been undertaken by the Director of Housing on average wage and salary levels in the area, it did not seem to enter into his final arithmetic. Therefore it is important that the Government should clarify this matter and say whether they believe that earnings should be part of the considerations included in the phrase "all the circumstances".
My Lords, while on this point may I ask the noble Lord to reply to another question, which I know is not strictly relevant to this Amendment but this is probably the last chance we shall have of raising it. My noble friend moved an Amendment in Committee regarding the relationship between private and local authority-owned houses. This is of very great importance, because as my noble friend Lord Tanlaw explained, the financial considerations governing rents in the local authority sector are wholly different from those which affect private landlords. A council can borrow over sixty years and it pays a favourable rate of interest either through the Public Works Loan Board or through its own borrowing powers. It does not have to earn a profit. It has economies of scale in management that very few private landlords can achieve. Therefore, taking two identical dwellings, one owned by a local authority and the other owned by a private landlord, if you are to take into account all the circumstances in determining their rents, obviously the council house ought to attract a lower rent than the one in the private sector. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has followed my argument and that he will agree that that is the case. When he comes to reply on this one—and I am agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that we should try and attach as great a precision to the phrase "all the circumstances" as we can possibly do at this late stage in the Bill—I hope we will feel able to go a bit further and define the other factors which should be taken into account besides the general level of salaries and wages.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, an interesting thing about this Part V of the Bill is brought out by the fact that we are here said to be dealing with fair rents for housing authority dwellings, and following up the discussions that have been put forward by my noble friend 297 and by the noble Lord below the gangway, Lord Avebury, I can visualise great difficulty in interpreting Clause 50 because of the difficulty of understanding, in the end, the logic of all the circumstances other than personal circumstances. I believe that this clause (and I am subject to correction) reverses the entire system of council house letting throughout the whole history of council house letting since about 1921. One of the purposes of establishing good council houses—and Dickens himself brought this point forward many years ago in his novels—was to give them to people whose personal circumstances were such that they could not always afford a private dwelling. Consequently, one of the first things a housing authority took into account when a young married couple beginning in life applied for a house was to look at their income. It was not regarded as one of the old vicious means tests that I remember in the 'thirties in South Wales. I believe that far from this Bill providing a fair rent for housing authority dwellings and dwellers, this phrase, if it is followed logically, eliminates the possibility of supplying in certain circumstances to somebody in a lower income group a house that would meet his income. It does not matter where he works, whether he works inside or outside the locality; no personal circumstances are to be taken into account.
There is another anomaly that can crop up. What happens if a local police force where police houses are supplied is short of houses, and the local authority are asked to supply those houses? Special circumstances are definitely taken into account there. Is the policeman who is just beginning his service to pay a completely different rent from that paid for a police house, which will be tied to an inspector of police because of the knowledge that he has brought into the district? Again, when new towns are established we try to draw people towards them and try to encourage entrepreneurs and captains of industry to bring their industries to various areas. Certain types of workers may be wanted for new factories and we know that it is not always the skilled men who come in right at the beginning. A lot of manual labour is needed. We may be putting a brake upon the unskilled labour which is coming into new towns to establish the 298 base for a sound enterprise which may ultimately grow. I believe, therefore, that this clause should certainly be looked at again.
Lastly, some new towns are on the edge of farming areas—and we have never solved the problem of the tied house in farming. Agricultural wages throughout Britain and for many countries throughout the world, as we know, have not reached the level of industrial wages. I think they should, because the productivity of British agriculture is greater than the productivity of British industry over the last twenty years as a result of the encouragement of agriculture by all Governments since the last war. Nevertheless the agricultural wage had not reached that level, and consequently tied houses for agricultural workers in rural areas are sometimes particularly needed. A local rural authority would have difficulty in finding houses at a rent commensurate with the wage level of the agricultural worker. Without being too doctrinal, or being in any way too critical, I think there is a real case, presented by both noble Lords who have already spoken on this side of the House, that should be listened to.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, it is certainly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has said, that we are in the course of making major fundamental changes in the whole of rented housing, and we are taking personal circumstances into account to an extent that has never been contemplated before. For the first time in the history of the country we are taking the personal circumstances of tenants in private rented housing into account, and providing for them a comprehensive national rent allowance scheme which none of them have ever had before. At the same time we are introducing for the benefit of council tenants a rent rebate scheme which only a number of them have had before and which is more generous than almost any rebate scheme in existence. That is the extent to which we are taking personal circumstances into account in this Bill.
But at this point in the assessment of fair rent—which is not always the rent which will be paid; certainly not the 299 rent that will be paid by tenants entitled to rent rebates—we are doing as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, indicated: we are arriving at an assessment of the rental value of the dwellings concerned in a balanced market. That is precisely what the noble Lord's right honourable friend Mr. Crossman was doing when he introduced the concept of fair rents in his Housing Bill, and what is now included in the relevant subsections of this clause which embodies precisely the same principles as he advocated at that time. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, does not agree with what Mr. Crossman said in the Standing Committee when introducing these principles, but we do agree. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, in the private sector fair rents have now been satisfactorily determined in the case of 300,000 private dwellings without an express requirement to have regard to the wage levels of the respective tenants. Mr. Crossman explained that as well as anybody can, at the time it was introduced, and I do not have anything to add. But again, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said, what we are concerned with is a balanced market, a free market. We are trying to assess the values that would apply with the scarcity factor discounted; and it is this approach which secures comparability between the two sectors, with which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was concerned.
To get back now to the main point which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, asked us to consider, we believe that to introduce in the public sector an express requirement to consider general wage levels would he inconsistent with the operation of fair rents in the private sector, and it would introduce an unjustifiable difference between the criteria for determining a fair rent in the two sectors. One dimension of the fairness we are trying to secure is fairness between tenants in the two sectors. To the extent that the level of wages affects the price paid for rented housing, that level will already be reflected in the level of fair rents already registered. The influence of wages on rents in a particular area is best taken into account by considering private rents already registered or in payment in that area, rather than seeking to relate it directly to council rents. Such 300 an approach, I suggest, is more objective because it is based on what is actually happening in the place in question. Any attempt to relate wage levels directly to rents cannot give anything more than an extremely rough idea of what level of rents is likely to be appropriate. Everyone would agree that if the average earnings in a particular place are £30 a week a fair rent of £15 a week is ruled out as being far too high. But there would be very wide differences of opinion as to what lower rent was in fact reasonable, and what percentage of the average income in an area should be devoted to rent in any given set of circumstances.
The second point is that in practice it would be extremely difficult to establish with any degree of accuracy what the general levels of wages or earnings for any local authority area actually would be. Presumably it is earnings with which we would be concerned, not basic wages. The available statistics extend only to the national average, and regional averages for the gross weekly earnings of full-time male manual workers. The non-manual workers, office workers, are excluded from these statistics, and the balance between office workers and manual workers in any area varies a good deal.
Birmingham was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The correspondence with Birmingham about the indications as to what the first step of progress towards fair rents should be there, leading to an indication that 65p might be appropriate, confirms what I have been saying. In making their estimate of fair rents for their Housing Revenue Account dwellings, Birmingham discovered that the general level of earnings in their area is a factor which is of only marginal significance. They regarded it as a test of what the ceiling for fair rents might be, but they found, after making calculations in other ways, that that test produced fair rents considerably higher than they considered to be reasonable on other grounds. So whereas I fully take the point that the noble Lord made, that this is a relevant factor and it can be applied in a test of some sort and may have value, any express mention of it here would introduce anomalies and difficulties of the kind which his right 301 honourable friend Mr. Crossman mentioned in Standing Committee when originally introducing the idea of fair rents. I hope with that explanation, and with the more recent confirmation that after all the studies Birmingham made they found that this criterion was not particularly useful and only had a marginal effect on their calculations, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, the noble Lord has no confidence in the ability of local authorities to know what is best for their tenants; that is the view of the Government; it is the reason we have this Bill which is telling local authorities what they have to do. I would have thought, having regard to the very considerable variations in wage levels in different parts of the country, that Amendment No. 80B was one that ought to he accepted, and that local authorities ought to be trusted to assess the position accurately. Of course, there will always be a few people who are better off than others. I wonder whether the Government have made inquiries of local authorities as to what their experience has been in the take-up of rent rebates from those authorities who have introduced the 50p increase from April and are operating a rent rebate scheme.
I have before me a report from a housing manager, and I made reference to it earlier. There is real concern here expressed about the number of people who have not made application for rent rebate, and this is a very serious matter. The scale, as I mentioned before, is 800 out of a total of 3,000. May I read one or two comments the housing manager made to his committee?—perhaps the noble Lord would have patience; at times he exhibits an attitude which causes noble Lords on this side of the House to think he may not be interested, that what we have to say does not matter, that he knows it all, and that what he says has to go, regardless. That is an attitude he manages to get over and it would help the Government in their management of business if the noble Lord could show himself a little more anxious to listen carefully to points put by this side of the House. If I do not put them too well I ask to be excused. But I want to return to my point about wages—
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
Perhaps I might intervene to point out to the noble Lord opposite that my noble friend was replying to a query I had put to him—it was not intended as a discourtesy to the noble Lord.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I think the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, knows what caused me to make those remarks; I think he knows precisely and exactly. I have tremendous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in that he always listens with great patience even though at times it must cause him some annoyance to hear arguments repeated again and again. But I will return to the point I was making as regards wage levels. I was referring to the fact that the local authority to which I had referred had only 800 applicants for rent rebates out of a total of 3,000. That is the point I was making. We are talking now about wage levels, so I now hope the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, understands why I said what I did.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I understood the noble Lord to say that there were 800 people who had not made application. I apologise if I am wrong, but that is what I understood him to say.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, no; I said only 800 out of a total of 3,000 had made application. I now want to read one or two comments. A careful investigation has been made and a major contributing factor appears to be the reluctance of occupiers to disclose details of their financial circumstances. It would appear there are a number of occupiers who would qualify for rebate but who will not apply for the above reasons. A survey has been made of existing applications in the case of employees of one firm who are on weekly wages and who qualify for rebate; of 50 such employees occupying council dwellings only two had made applications. In a similar case only two applications had been made, and in a third case 14 had applied out of 54.
I am trying to point out that these local authorities know the tenants' wage levels are low and the authorities know their people, and they know there is an unwillingness to fill this kind of form—so far as I can see, Kalamazoo is written on this form and I believe that is what it ought to be called: the Kalamazoo 303 form. There is an unwillingness amongst people to disclose all details of their incomes; some people are ashamed of poverty, some do not take kindly to the idea that they are going to be assessed as to their degree of poverty. I am saying this because much has been made of the fact that during the Committee and Report stages we have been showing overmuch concern about rent allowances and rebates taking care of the difficulty. I do not think that experience to date warrants anyone in assuming this. We know there has been a failure to take up family incomes supplement, and none of us knows to any great extent the size of the failure to take up other means tested benefits.
Frankly, the Government are creating this difficulty because they are determined to make housing a profit-making enterprise. All that is said about allowances and rebates cannot wipe that out. That is a fact, and that is the purpose of this Bill. Where people are earning reasonably good wages they are going to have to pay profit-making rents. If I speak with some little heat it is because I feel that many of the people I have grown up with are going to suffer in a way that nobody has a right to call upon them to do. My noble friend Lord Diamond referred to this a moment or two ago. In this inflationary situation this Bill is an act of provocation; it is going to create demands for increased wages. If the noble Lords on the other side of the House support this Bill going through in this form they will not be justified in criticising trade unions demanding wage increases in order to meet increased demands made on them.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I want first of all to say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his comments relating to the Amendment. My noble friend has dealt with the comments the noble Lord made before coming to the Amendment, and I am grateful to my noble friend for having dealt with them so clearly and so well. Not only am I grateful for what he said in relation to the Amendment but I agree with practically everything he said. He said that the general wage level is a relevant factor, and I agree with that. He said that wage levels could only give 304 one a rough idea, and I agree with that. He said that the figures available were available only for manual workers, and therefore one could only draw broad conclusions about the high and low wage areas; I agree. He said that so far as the Birmingham situation was concerned, Birmingham attached only marginal significance to this as an element in total consideration. I agree with that. So we are all agreed that the words which appear in the Amendment which follows—"and to the general level of wages in the locality"—are a relevant factor. But those words are not mentioned among the relevant factors in subsection (1). So the only difference between us is: should this factor be added to the other factors which are there, or should it not? That is the only issue which remains. Subsection (1) says:and in particular to the age, character and locality of the dwelling and to its state of repair.The Amendment would propose to add:and to the general level of wages in the locality",which we are all agreed is a relevant factor.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said the main reason for not wishing to include these words is that their non-inclusion is hallowed by a most admirable and excellent precedent—in other words, what the Labour Government did. It could be a good precedent and I am delighted that the noble Lord turns for guidance and stimulation to what the Labour Government did. He will know that it had nothing whatever to do with the case. What the Labour Government did was to provide for rents in the private sector, where there is a market, and what the noble Lord and the Government are trying to do is to provide for fair rents in the public sector as if there were a market. But there is not a market, and therefore it has to be assumed, as the Bill says it has to be assumed. So, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, what Mr. Crossman said or did not say on a totally different issue is, of course, interesting and valuable, and I am sure it was extremely well expressed. I am sure it would be an ideal precedent for the Government for any case which remotely bore on it, but this one does not. The noble Lord will not mind my saying that I do not regard his argument 305 as sufficient to exclude from the Bill the words which we all agree are a relevant factor; namely, "the general level of wages". The noble Lord gave no other reason for their exclusion.
But I should like to add one further positive reason, which I think is a very persuasive one. As your Lordships will have noticed, the Bill states "(other than personal circumstances)". If the Bill is left as it is drafted at the moment, I should think the only possible interpretation of it is that personal wages must be excluded from the consideration. If you exclude them and say nothing about including general levels of wages in the consideration, then the conclusion will automatically be that the intention of Parliament was that the general level of wages should not be considered as a
§ relevant factor. But the wish of the Government is that it should be; and the noble Lord has just said so. The Government have accepted that it is a marginal factor, if no higher than that, in Birmingham. As the Bill would be misleading if these words were not added, and as there is no reason whatsoever for excluding these words, and as we are all agreed on the substance of the matter—namely, that this is a relevant factor and should be mentioned as such—I hope that the noble Lord will be good enough to change his mind and accept the Amendment.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 80A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 80.305
|Addison, V.||Hale, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Hall, V.||Shepherd, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Henderson, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hoy, L.||Simon, V.|
|Brockway, L.||Hughes, L.||Snow, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Jacques, L.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Burntwood, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Champion, L.||Maelor, L.||Wade, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]||Watkins, L.|
|Crook, L.||Platt, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Popplewell, L.||White, Bs.|
|Diamond, L.||Rea, L.||Willis, L.|
|Gaitskell, Bs.||St. Davids, V.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.]||Seear, Bs.||Wootton of Abinger, Bs.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Segal, L.||Wynne Jones, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]||Kemsley, V.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Derwent, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Amory, V.||Drumalbyn, L.||Kindersley, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Dundee, E.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Ebbisham, L.||Lothian, M.|
|Balerno, L.||Elgin and Kincardine, E.||Luke, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Elles, Bs.||Macleod of Borve, Bs.|
|Belstead, L.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Mansfield, E.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Essex, E.||Masham of Ilton, Bs.|
|Bethell, L.||Ferrers, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Gage, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Gisborough, L.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Goschen, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Gowrie, E.||Oakshott, L.|
|Clinton, L.||Greenway, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Hailes, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hailsbam of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Hanworth, V.||Sempill, Lv.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hawke, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Strang, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Hylton, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Ironside, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Vivian, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Jessel, L.||Young, Bs.|
|De L'Isle, V.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 51 [Rent scrutiny boards]:
§ 6.50 p.m.
LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 80C:
Page 53, line 35, at end insert ("one or more of whom shall be lay members and").
The noble Lord said: We are now dealing with rent scrutiny boards. There are a number of Amendments down on this clause, but perhaps it will be convenient to take this one on its own and deal with the others a little later, because I think this one stands by itself. Subsection (4) says:
Subject to subsection (6) below, each rent scrutiny board shall consist of a chairman and at least six other members, at least two of whom shall be persons appointed to the panel under subsection (1) above.
By this Amendment it is proposed to add:
one or more of whom shall be lay members and".
The subsection would then read:
… each rent scrutiny board shall consist of a chairman and at least six other members, one or more of whom shall be lay members and at least two of whom shall be persons appointed to the panel under subsection (1) above.
§ We had a very full discussion on this point at an earlier stage, and I am sure I need not remind your Lordships of it. The view was expressed-I think by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, whom I am glad to see here-that it would be a very good thing if lay members could be included in the panel. "Lay members", I recognise, is not a very precise description, and I have no idea as to the legal effect of the word "lay"; but what your Lordships had in mind by "lay" members was not the kind of experts of whom the board would otherwise be comprised and about whom we were told all the time—experts in surveying, experts in valuing and that kind of expert—but lay members: people who would be non-technical and suitable, because of their general experience, sympathy and knowledge, to serve as members of the rent scrutiny boards. The fear was felt—I certainly felt it myself—that unless lay members were included the boards would be unbalanced; there would be an excess of technically qualified people and not enough of ordinary, "common-sensical", wise and experienced people who were not technically qualified and who did not 308 therefore have to spend a great deal of their lives in that kind of special field. I hope the Government will feel that this is a reasonable Amendment that can do nothing but improve the balance in the rent scrutiny boards. I beg to move.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I am certainly glad to endorse, and even applaud, the intention behind this Amendment. As the noble Lord said, it was the general agreement that it would be desirable that at least one member of a rent scrutiny board should be a lay member. But I submit to the House that it is unnecessary, and would be inappropriate and lead to difficulties, to make a statutory requirement of this kind. That is really the only difference between the noble Lord and myself: that to make the agreement and understanding between us statutory would lead to difficulties. Because if it were, to prescribe that one or more members should be laymen might well result in the exclusion of suitable people on the ground that they had some qualification which made them something other than lay. I am sure the noble Lord would be an admirable member of a rent scrutiny board, but he would be ruled out because he is an accountant; I might well be able to serve on a rent scrutiny board but I should be ruled out because I am a clergyman; and so on and so forth.
Presidents of rent assessment panels have made it quite clear to the Department that they would appoint to boards both persons who were specially qualified for the work they have to do—valuation, for example—and persons who had no such qualification and were lay in all the senses which we understand to be so desirable. I put it to your Lordships that, given this general understanding as to the composition of rent scrutiny boards, which is quite easy to apply, provided that we do not seek to make it statutory (which leads us at once into trying to define it and to exclude and comprehend all the things that we should want to exclude or comprehend), it will be up to each president. I am sure we can leave it to them and trust them to exercise their powers of appointment with due responsibility for the kind of boards we want to see, and to appoint whoever they think will be most suitable for the work, both specialist and lay. I hope, for the reasons I have given, that the noble Lord will 309 not press this Amendment, because it would lead to difficulties and to the exclusion of people whom it might well be desirable to have on the boards.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, can my noble friend Lord Sandford give an assurance that if it should turn out that the boards are stuffed with experts then some guidance could be given to presidents?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, we are perfectly able to arrange these things, in consultation with the presidents, and I am sure that it could be done.
§ LORD DIAMOND
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said he was a clergyman. That makes me a member of the laity, so I could certainly join the rent scrutiny board on that criterion. I say this only to illustrate the fact that, as I said myself originally, I do not think that "lay" is a suitable word to be incorporated in legislation. But it is a very simple and significant word to describe the feeling which was held on both sides of your Lordships' Committee. The noble Lord has done what I hoped he would do—and this was the main purpose of the Amendment; he has made it perfectly clear that the Government will see that these boards are balanced and will include lay members, as opposed to people who are skilled and experienced in a particular technicality. On the basis of what he has told us, I am glad to seek your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I beg to move that this House do adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.
§ Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 6.59 p.m. to 8 p.m.]
LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 80D:
Page 53, line 39, leave out ("and may be removed") and insert ("after consultation with such representatives of local authorities and of tenants as seems to him appropriate").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 80D. We are still on Clause 51, which deals with rent scrutiny boards. Line 39 falls within
subsection (5) which at the moment reads:
The chairman and other members of a board shall be nominated and may be removed by the president of the panel, who shall have power to nominate himself as chairman or as an ordinary member of a board.
The words it is proposed to leave out are, "and may be removed". This matter was discussed in Committee, and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who said he was astonished at the emotion which these words had raised. Well, it may be that the words should raise that kind of emotion; because it would be very unfortunate if a president of a panel had power to remove, for no good cause and simply on his "say so", the chairman and other members of the board. So these words, which seem far too authoritarian in impact, should be dealt with as the words themselves indicate; namely, they should be "removed" from the subsection. I think that it would be right to tone it down (and no doubt to provide the very thing the Government themselves intend) by putting in the other words in the Amendment, so that the subsection would read:
The chairman and other members of a board shall be nominated after consultation with such representatives of local authorities and of tenants as seems to him appropriate.
The noble Lord will remember that considerable anxiety was expressed during our Committee stage as to the whole setup of the rent scrutiny boards. I know that it is much too late in our proceedings to attempt to persuade the Government to change their mind as to whether to have a judicial board or not, but even if there is to be the kind of board now envisaged—which I think is a regrettable conclusion; but the Government seem determined to stick to it—I think, in the interest of making the Bill work as smoothly as it may (and it will not work very smoothly) it should at all events be provided that members of the rent scrutiny board shall be such as are likely, by their personality, character and known qualities, to give confidence to people in the area, and particularly local authority tenants. The way to achieve that is to have consultation and to find out who would be such kinds of persons. For that reason it is proposed to add the words:
after consultation with such representatives of local authorities and tenants as seem to him appropriate.
The rent scrutiny boards are going to decide on issues which in the main affect local authorities and tenants and it is right that there should be consultation and that the tenants should be consulted as to the membership. For these reasons the Amendment is proposed.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I do not know whether any other noble Lords were thinking of speaking to this Amendment. May I first ask the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, whether he would think it convenient to discuss the remaining Amendments to this clause—that is to say, Nos. 81, 81A and 82—while discussing this one, or whether he would prefer to stick to his own Amendment for the time being.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I am perfectly agreeable to whatever the noble Lord wants to do. There have been discussions about this and it was proposed that Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 should be discussed together and the others separately. I am aware of the argument that they all affect rent scrutiny boards.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I should have thought, on balance, that as they are so interlocked it might be as well to discuss them together. The noble Lord is quite right. There was, I think it true to say, an animated discussion on this point; particularly on the use of the word "removed" and on the way in which this particular subsection read, because it undoubtedly indicated that members of this board could be removed almost in order that the president could then appoint himself in their place. This is certainly not the intention. For that reason we have tabled Amendment No. 81 which would disconnect the power of the president to nominate himself as chairman or as an ordinary member of a board from his power to remove members of the board for various reasons. By that Amendment and Amendment 82 which adds the words:The president of the panel may be chairman or an ordinary member of a boardwe have sought to make it clear that the two functions are not connected in the close way that some noble Lords thought they were.
312 I hope that that deals with one apprehension that noble Lords may have had. But we do not think it is possible to take out the word "removed". As I think I made clear at the Committee stage, the main purpose of having the word there is in order that the president can do that which is indicated in the noble Lord's Amendment No. 81A; that is to say, adjust the size of the board down to, but not below, the number of seven in order that it should be of a size capable of dealing with the particular load of work with which it has to deal at any one time. That remains the general purpose. But I must put it to your Lordships that to insert that as the one and only purpose prescribed in the Statute would be to go too far. There may be need to remove people for other reasons. They may not have the particular qualifications needed for a particular piece of work; or it may be that the president does not think they are matching up to the particular job of work they have to do.
As I made clear at Committee stage, one of the differences between the rent assessment committee and the rent scrutiny board is that the rent assessment committee is formed to deal with a particular case and after that has been dealt with it is disbanded. So there is no question of having to remove anybody. Once the work that was put on the rent assessment committee to do has been dealt with that committee ceases to exist, and the only question then is whom to appoint to the next rent assessment committee. The rent scrutiny board, on the other hand, is brought into being and remains in being for some considerable time; and the need to be able to remove people from time to time for various reasons has to be provided for. Amendment No. 81A would include the phrase:… and may in addition remove any member for good cause.But I am advised that this phrase, although it is a perfectly clear piece of ordinary English, will not suffice for the purposes of the Statute. It would need to be defined and could lead to difficulties. So my advice to the House must be that this again must be left to the discretion of the presidents.
To go back to the original Amendment, No. 80D, the fact is that the chairmen and members of rent scrutiny boards are all selected by the presidents of rent 313 assessment panels from persons appointed to those panels by the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State. The effect of accepting this Amendment would be to limit the president's function when constituting the rent scrutiny board for his area and to require him first to consult the representatives of local authorities and the tenants. Although the Amendment allows the president to consult only where he considers it appropriate, in practice he could not meet that requirement unless he normally carried out consultations of that sort.
My Lords, in constituting rent scrutiny boards for their areas presidents will be primarily concerned with providing a balanced board of members with differing qualifications, and some of them with special qualifications. The word that we are using is "laymen" and we have just been into what we mean by that. To limit his freedom, in the way in which this Amendment would do, would tend to hamper a president in making the best use of available and suitable panel members. I do not think local authorities are particularly well placed to advise presidents on whether a certain member is more suitable to serve on a rent scrutiny board rather than another member, or on a rent assessment committee rather than on the rent scrutiny board.
Having made that point I would go on straight away to say that local authorities and their associations are free now to suggest names for appointments such as this whenever they wish. While the Secretary of State ought not to be bound by Statute to consult particular bodies when making these appointments he would certainly wish to consider suggestions from, for example, local authority associations; and I think that is the point where local authorities may make their most useful representations. This is not to say that there will not be council tenants among the panel members, but I would put it that they would not be appointed so much as spokesmen for, or representatives of, council tenants as persons who in their own right are suitable, by virtue of their experience and qualifications and knowledge, to serve on rent scrutiny boards and rent assessment committees.
My Lords, I hope that this has served to show that although we agree it is right for local authorities to be able to 314 influence the choice of these appointments it is not best provided for in precisely the way the noble Lord has suggested in Amendment No. 80D. We have sought to deal with some of the misgivings voiced on the Committee stage by means of our Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 which separate the idea of the removal of members and the appointment of the president himself, as it were, as a replacement. I hope that I have shown why it is necessary to keep in the word "remove" despite the misgivings that it has caused. Although we agree that the main purpose of having it in is to do what is suggested by Amendment 81A, that Amendment, although expressing the general intention well, will not serve as a phrase which could be put into the Statute. I hope that deals with those Amendments in a convenient way.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I am told that the reason why we have a democracy in this country is that the best form of government results from giving people an opportunity to choose those who are to govern them. Then people are more likely to have respect for those who govern, and to carry out the decisions of their governors. It is an exercise in democracy which I am now about to inflict on the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, if he will forgive me. First, his Amendments lack that aspect because they do not explain why powers which seem to be authoritarian are retained. Secondly, they fail to get the co-operation which one gets through the democratic process, because tenants cannot be, and local authority associations may not be, consulted.
First, may I deal with the question of the chairman and his removal. I think the Amendment to which I did not previously speak—so perhaps I may speak to it now—that is, Amendment No. 81A, is a better proposal than the noble Lord's because it explains what otherwise is not explained and which would require explanation. The noble Lord made clear the reason why you have to differentiate between this board and the rent scrutiny committees under the other legislation. It is because of the nature of the work, particularly the work-load. I should have thought the simple way to make people understand that would be to say so. It is all very well for the noble Lord to say so, and what he said will 315 be enshrined for all time in Hansard, but only those who read it will be aware of what he said; whereas what we are anxious to achieve is that everybody affected by this legislation and who therefore will read the Act will know the reasons. So I should have thought it far better that the words condemned to be locked within a publication of Hansard should instead be in the Act, so as to enlighten all who read the Act. That is why I think it far better to give the reason which is contained in Amendment No. 81A:The president of the panel may increase or reduce the size of a board having regard to its expected work-load"—or whatever other words are appropriate. I chose those words because I think the noble Lord used them in explaining the reason for the enactment.
My Lords, may I go on with the original Amendment. No one disputes that a member of a board may have to be removed. Alas! this is true and happens from time to time for reasons not connected with the work-load. I was surprised to hear what the noble Lord said about the words "for good cause", because I understood from my noble and learned friend that those are the words regularly used in Statutes precisely for this purpose. I understood it was normal to refer to removal "for good cause". In other words, the cause could be tested; it could not be allowed purely at the whim of an individual, which is what one is anxious to avoid. Perhaps the noble Lord would reconsider that matter, because there seems to be some conflict as to what are the normal words. I gather he is not saying he dissents from what is intended, but that these words would not serve the purpose. I think they are far better than the ones in his Amendment, which provides for removal by the president. If the words "for good cause" are not used the whole thing seems to be authoritarian.
So much for the make-up and powers of the president. We now come to the question of consultation. One would be more likely to get the greatest possible respect for the rent scrutiny boards and the greatest acceptance of their decisions if it were known that representatives of the persons mainly concerned had been consulted. Nobody is suggesting that 316 there should be representatives of local authorities. That is not what the Amendment says; it merely says that there should be consultation. I cannot see that the Secretary of State would be unduly limited if consultation as to who should constitute the rent scrutiny boards took place before final decisions were made. That would be perfectly normal; in fact, it might very well happen in any case. What makes the situation considerably worse and confirms my worst suspicions is that, as the noble Lord said, there will be consultation with local authorities where they want to be consulted—there is nothing to prevent that—but that the poor old tenants will have no possibility of having their views gathered at all.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I said that this was what made matters worse; in fact it makes them ten times worse. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, uses this as an argument which he thinks will appeal to us. That shows how far he is from understanding the issues which distract us. Lesser mortals would be irritated, but we are beyond that when we have the privilege of addressing your Lordships' House from this Box—or we try to be. I hope the noble Lord will think a lot more about this matter, especially now that we know that tenants will be excluded unless some words to this effect are put in the Bill. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will be persuaded that it is better to tell people why the president can increase or reduce the size of the panel. We dislike the whole mechanism and structure of these rent scrutiny boards intensely but we are trying to make them work, and they will be more likely to work with some success if those who are affected can be made to realise that their interests have at least been considered. I hope, therefore, that after further consideration the noble Lord will be able to say something which is more acceptable to us.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I have considered this matter and should very much like to do something along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, whose Amendment sets out a situation which we all agree will normally exist. 317 I will certainly go on considering the matter. I have made the point that there will be a need to adjust the membership other than in order that it should match up to its work-load. The legal advice which I have been given is that the words "good cause" would create more trouble than they would solve. I am advised that the president would not have power to remove people at his own whim. His discretion would not be completely unfettered but would be governed by the nature of his responsibilities. I have also explained that Amendment No. 82 separates the business of appointing the president from the word "remove".
Finally, I did my best to explain that, while we think local authorities should certainly be involved when it comes to the selection of appropriate people for appointment to the panels, we think it would be going too far to provide for statutory consultation as to appointment of people from the panels to the boards. Of course, it is possible that consultation at that stage of the proceedings may also be desirable. I do not think I can bridge the gap between us about the way in which tenants' representation should be dealt with. The noble Lord knows full well from what has already been said that representations about provisional assessment and determination of rents should be made to local authorities. There is statutory provision for this. I take fully the noble Lord's intention. If I were satisfied that this could be done without more harm than good I should be happy to accept the Amendments, but I am advised that it would not be possible to do so without confining the discretion of the president and the panel to an unacceptable degree. But I certainly confirm that if the words "good cause" are not put in, the president will not be free to remove people at his personal whim. He will have to show that he is exercising power conferred upon him by the Statute.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I should like to comment briefly on the last speech. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was obviously doing his best to accommodate the House, but he did not succeed. Why does he not just accept the Amendment? If the Amendment is not entirely to his liking he will have an opportunity of rectifying the situation 318 when the Bill goes back to another place. If he agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, on the principle of the matter, then it is only a question of the exact meaning of these words. He has time to take proper advice and, if necessary, to bring forward a further Amendment. But if he does not write the Amendment in at this stage there will be no further opportunity of reconsidering the matter. He should think very carefully before forgoing the opportunity which he is being offered. When he says that the president of the panel might have to increase or reduce the size of a board for reasons other than the workload, I cannot see that this is an objection to the Amendment as it stands, because the president has to have regard to this expected workload. It is not the only factor that he needs to take into consideration. If there were other good reasons for increasing or reducing the size of a board, then the president would be in no way inhibited by this Amendment from taking the necessary action. If the noble Lord thinks that by writing these words into the Bill one is imposing on the president some restriction—which is not apparent to me from the wording—this is a mere matter of draftsmanship which, as I say, the noble Lord can fully take into account.
The noble Lord then says that there would not be an unfettered discretion on the part of the president of the panel. I do not quite appreciate this point, because there is no fettering in the Bill, as it stands. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could expand on this a little further, and explain just how any decisions of the president might be restricted or how indeed they could be challenged, if anybody thought that the powers which are conferred on the president by the Bill, had been exceeded.
I fail to understand entirely the argument that the noble Lord has presented on "good cause". Without this phraseology, it would appear to me, whatever the noble Lord may say, that there is no restriction on the power of the president of the panel. It is not a matter of the noble Lord's opinion, but a matter of what is said in the text of the Bill. This is the test which has to be applied in looking at the wording, and not anything the noble Lord has said. The noble 319 Lord, Lord Diamond, has pointed this out. It is something that frequently crops up in the Committee stage of a Bill: assurances are given by Ministers that the meaning to be ascribed to a particular phrase or clause is so-and-so. But that is not a justiciable matter. When the question comes to be determined by the courts, they cannot have regard to what the noble Lord. Lord Sandford, has said, however important an authority that statement may be. I notice that the noble Lord is nodding his head and agreeing with me. Hence we must come to the conclusion that if words of this kind are not written into the Bill, the president of the panel will have an unfettered discretion, and no words of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, can possibly deny that fact.
I think therefore that the noble Lord should take this opportunity of writing in Amendment No. 81A; and I would appeal to him again on the question of consultation with representatives of the tenants, which he dismissed with a completely spurious argument. What the noble Lord said there was that in the opinion of the Government tenants' rights of representation were already fully taken care of by the provisions with regard to local authorities; and that it therefore seemed wrong to the Government to give any further rights of appeal to the rent scrutiny board. That is not what is being asked for. It is what I should like to see in the Bill. I should like to see the tenants' having a right of appeal to the rent scrutiny board. I would point out to the noble Lord, who frequently refers back to the Act of 1965, that this is a case where they have departed from the principles of the last Administration, in that the tenants of private landlords always had a right of appeal to the rent assessment committees. So if the Government had copied the provisions of the 1965 Act, there should have been an equivalent right by the tenants of local authorities to appeal to the rent scrutiny board or some body analogous to the rent assessment committees in the earlier Act. When it suits the Government's case, they say: "We are only following what the Labour Government did in 1965". Here is a serious departure from that, in that no right of appeal is allowed.
320 But the Amendment does not even seek to write that into the Bill. This is why I say that the noble Lord has advanced a spurious argument to the House. What we are talking about here, if the noble Lord will look over the text of the Amendment again, is the appointment of members to the rent scrutiny boards and the machinery by which those appointments are to be made. Who is to be consulted? The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has mentioned this a number of times, but apparently it still has not sunk in. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, is not asking for representatives of the tenants to be on the rent scrutiny board; he is not asking for the tenants to have the right of appearance, or even of submission of written objections to the rent scrutiny board. All he is saying is that in making these appointments representatives of the tenants should be consulted. I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, had addressed his mind to that argument in the reply he has just given to the House, instead of dealing with a point that does not occur in the Amendment.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, perhaps I may have the leave of the House to reply to those points. I was never under any impression that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was suggesting that tenants should be represented. I know that he was not doing that, and I was not attempting to deal with that suggestion. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made the point that sometimes we argue that we are adopting ideas first originated by noble Lords opposite, and at other times, when it is more convenient, we set that argument on one side and use others in support of our policies. The point here, which I was arguing on the earlier clause, Clause 50, is that we are adopting the principle of fair rents—and I brought forward a number of arguments used by the right honourable gentleman Mr. Crossman in support of my own arguments. We are adopting the common principle of fair rents, but we are necessarily adopting a different approach to that principle, because we are now applying it to council tenancies and it is therefore necessary, starting from a different point, to make a different approach to arrive at the same principle. This accounts for the variation.
321 I certainly was not asking the House to rely on my word alone in support of the view that if the words "for good cause" are omitted the president of this panel will not have a free and unfettered discretion to remove people from the board to which he appoints them. What I have had to say about that would be far too insubstantial to rest that case on. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, one would want a ruling of the court on this in order to be able to say that. The fact is that there is a court ruling that would cover the point. This was dealing with rather different sorts of bodies, but the circumstances were such that they would apply here to the decisions of the president. Lord Justice Edmund Davies, in the case of Breen v. A.E.U.: [1971–72] Weekly Law Reports, page 754, gave this ruling:Discretion up to a point was certainly theirs, but, though wide, is was not untrammelled—it had to be fairly exercised.That is what I am resting these assertions on: that when a president of a panel or the chairman of a committee is given discretion to remove people from the committee, board, panel, or whatever it is, but without any purpose or reason being stated, it is the view of the court that discretion up to a point is certainly theirs, but, though wide, it is not untrammelled—it has to be fairly exercised. That is to say, the way in which this is done relates to the purposes for which the committee is set up, and the responsibility is vested in the president or chairman, or whoever he may be.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, with your Lordships' leave, I should like to come now to the question of what we are going to do, because we have a number of Amendments, some of which are Government ones and some of them are ours. We have had a flat "No" on one, and an undertaking to consider on another. We are now at the Report stage, and there is the possibility of a Third Reading, so perhaps I could now deal with the Amendments stage by stage. So far as No. 80D is concerned, the noble Lord has offered no possibility of reaching agreement on tenants being consulted about the appointments to the scrutiny boards. That is all we are asking—nothing more than that, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out. They are not to have the normal right, which 322 is applied in other cases, of appealing to a body when you are in conflict with somebody. As the noble Lord has offered no possibility of reaching agreement on that, I am afraid that I must divide the House on this Amendment.
As to the remaining Amendments which we are discussing together, two of them are Government Amendments which conflict somewhat with the Amendment put forward by my noble friends and myself. The noble Lord has been good enough to say that he will give further consideration to the wording about workload and also to the wording on removing any member for good cause. I should like to refresh your Lordships' memories of column 466 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for June 22, 1972, when we were at the Committee stage. Here my noble and learned friend, Lord Stow Hill, said this:I have just been glancing at Schedule 5 to the 1968 Act which deals with rent assessment committees and I can find no similar power there. Would not the noble Lord agree that, whereas you find powers to remove in the case of a president of a panel of this sort from time to time in other precedents, you generally find coupled with it some words like 'removed for good reason' or 'for good cause' or some words of that sort. He will have realised that the naked words 'may remove', unqualified as they arc, have given rise to some considerable anxieties on this side of the Committee.Why did they give rise to anxieties?—because the ordinary layman, reading those words, would reach exactly the same conclusion as we did and which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just said he believes to be the right interpretation. Whether or not it is the right legal interpretation, it is clearly the interpretation that every ordinary person will put upon them. Therefore, in terms of public relation and good administration, the words, "may remove"—just plain and simple like that—are extremely offensive words to use. If the words "for good cause" are not harmful, then they must be very beneficial indeed to he used in order to allay anxieties. Ordinary sensible people outside your Lordships' House, as well as those inside it, will have exactly the same reaction and the same anxieties. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having undertaken to consider that, and I am now offering him the following bargain, which is all that I can do at this stage. Being a good democrat, I cannot preach democracy without practising it; and I 323 hope that the noble Lord will learn from that.
Believing, as I do, that at the end of the day the Government must have their will, just as the Opposition must have their say, I think we must let through (in spite of our large numbers) Amendments Nos. 81 and 82, in the knowledge that the noble Lord has been good enough to say that he will give further consideration to Amendment No. 81A. We shall naturally see to it that at Third Reading there will be an opportunity for the noble Lord to tell us the results of his further consideration.
In those circumstances we shall seek to divide your Lordships' House on Amendment No. 80D; we will allow through Nos. 81 and 82; and we will not move
Page 53, leave out lines 40 and 41.—(Lord Sandford.)
§ No. 81A. I do not think that the word "bargain" was perhaps the most elegant term to use in this connection, but I wanted to indicate to the noble Lord what I thought to be the only possible way of proceeding at this point, since it was at his wish that we have discussed all these Amendments together. I hope that course I propose will find favour with your Lordships, and particularly with the Liberal Party, with whom we are most anxious to consult, because they have been playing a most important and valuable part throughout the stages of this Bill.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 80D) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 32; Not-Contents, 53.323
|Avebury, L.||Hylton, L.||Simon, V.|
|Blyton, L.||Jacques, L.||Snow, L.|
|Champion, L.||Maelor, L.||Strang, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Milner of Leeds, L. [Teller.]||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Peddie, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Garasworthy, L. [Teller.]||Phillips, Bs.||Wade, L.|
|Hale, L.||Popplewell, L.||Watkins, L.|
|Hall, V.||Rhodes, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Segal, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Shackleton, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Hoy, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Denhani, L. [Teller.]||Milverton, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Dundee, E.|
|Amory, V.||Elles, Bs.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Balerno, L.||Essex, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Ferrers, E.||Oakshott, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Gisborough, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Gowrie, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Greenway, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Hailes, L.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Strange, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hawke, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Hood, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Kemsley, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Killearn, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Mansfield, E.||Young, Bs.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 54, line 4, at end insert—
(" ( ) The president of the panel may be chairman or an ordinary member of a board.").—(Lord Sandford.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.325
§ Clause 53 [Publication and Alteration of Provisional Assessments]:
§ 8.55 p.m.
LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 82A:
Page 54, line 34, after ("Act") insert ("or such extended period as the Secretary of State, upon the application of an authority, shall allow").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it will be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 82B with this Amendment. This Amendment applies to Clause 53, a clause dealing with the publication and alteration of provisional assessments. The first subsection of the clause says:
An authority shall publish their provisional assessment of fair rents within six months of the coming into force of this Act, by depositing a copy of it at their principal office.
The Amendment seeks to alter that so that it will read as follows:
An authority shall publish their provisional assessment of fair rents within six months of the coming into force of this Act, or such extended period as the Secretary of State, upon the application of an authority, shall allow by depositing a copy of it at their principal office.
This is an Amendment based on the simple fact that the period of six months is liable to be far too short a period for the authority to do the job required—certainly to make a good job of it.
§ We discussed this matter fully at the Committee stage and my recollection is that the Government undertook to give further consideration to the matter. In the hope that they have decided that this is something which is sensible, and that the Government are going to accept the Amendment, there is no need for me to do more than draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that all it provides is for those authorities who find it completely impossible, with the best will in the world, to carry out this duty in the period allowed, to apply to the Secretary of State to give them further time. If he is satisfied—not otherwise—that they are acting in good faith, and have done everything they reasonably can, but, nevertheless, cannot comply with the time limit, then they should have such additional time as he may in his own complete, unfettered discretion allow. 326 This Amendment is again an attempt to make this Bill work. I beg to move.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, there was a full discussion on this matter at the Committee stage and many noble Lords felt that the definite six month limit might in some cases make for difficulties in some local authorities. What has emerged since that discussion on this matter is an extension of the point the Government made at the Committee stage—that local authorities have had some considerable time to get themselves ready for this provisional assessment of rents since the debate on the White Paper took place in Parliament almost a year ago, and since the publication of the Bill last November. It is quite clear from the number of applications that have come to the Department for a direction under Clause 62 (4) that many authorities have begun this provisional assessment. There must be other authorities, presumably, that are doing it but who have not made an application. We argued at the time that because local authority dwellings are wholly or mainly grouped in estates built at about the same time and often containing a number of standard dwelling types, the scope for variation will tend to be limited and it ought to be possible for local authorities to make this provisional assessment within the six months, as the Bill states. In these circumstances, the Government feel unable to accept the Amendment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down. I wonder if she could be a little more helpful. She used a generalisation; she said that a great many local authorities have begun these assessments. Is she able to give the House any idea of the number of assessments? When the noble Baroness refers to a great number she must have some idea what that is. It would be very helpful if we could be told roughly the number so that we could assess the position for ourselves.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I would not wish to mislead the House in any way. I am merely referring to the numbers given by my noble friend, Lord Sandford, yesterday when the matter was discussed.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lord, might I ask the noble Baroness to deal with a 327 point which I raised in Committee and to which she did not reply at that time? The Government have seen fit to phase the increase in the rent for controlled dwellings moving into regulation over a number of years including 1976. The argument in that case was that the rent officers should not be overburdened with the work of assessing fair rents for 1.1 million dwellings at one go and that it was fairer to let them deal with the matter over a period by phasing the transfer from control to regulation according to the rateable value of the dwellings. If that is the case for 1.1 million dwellings which are now controlled and are going to be changed into regulated tenancies should not more adequate time be allowed in the case of 5 million dwellings in the council sector? At least as much time should be allowed as for the 1.1 million in the private sector which we talked about before.
How do the Government argue that it is satisfactory to allow for six months for this process for council dwellings when a period of four years has been allotted in the case of less than one quarter of that number in the private sector? The noble Baroness has said that there is every indication that local authorities have been giving consideration to the matter before the Bill comes into force and that that is shown by the number of applications which have been submitted to the Government under Clause 62(4). I think I am right in saying that we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, yesterday that the number of applications is 19. Is that the correct figure?
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, let us be generous and allow for them all. That is 34 authorities. How many housing authorities are there in England and Wales? Is it 400 or 500? I cannot remember.
§ LORD AVEBURY
Thank you. Of that number 34 have submitted applications under Clause 62(4). The noble Baroness then tells the House seriously that that is evidence that local authorities have given full consideration to this Bill. 328 A perecentage which I calculate at less than 3 per cent. of the total housing authorities in the country—
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, perhaps I could interrupt. The point which I was making yesterday and which the noble Lord will recollect when I remind him is that all those authorities are exceptional.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I know the noble Lord said that and I pointed out that he had no means of knowing. Since the Secretary of State's announcement at the weekend it may well be that the applications which are being debated by the Government or partially agreed in the case of Birmingham will be followed by an absolute avalanche. The noble Lord cannot say categorically that this is not going to happen and that other local authorities are not going to be encouraged by the example which has been set. I hope they will. For the noble Baroness to tell the House seriously that applications from 34 authorities are an indication that full consideration has been given to this Bill is ludicrous.
The other argument which the noble Baroness put forward was that in the local authority sector the scope for variations is limited because within an estate all the dwellings have been constructed at much the same time and are of similar character. For example, there are two-bedroom and three-bedroom, semidetached dwellings with the same size gardens and other similar features which might allow for variation. The noble Baroness has forgotten a very important point—the locality of the dwellings. Within an estate it might be possible for two identical three-bedroom, semidetached houses to command different fair rents because one faced the gasworks and the other bordered on a salubrious park. Is the noble Baroness going to say that the fair rent for these two dwellings ought to be the same? In that case the age, character and locality of the dwellings would not have been fully taken into account as required by Clause 50. Therefore a considerably greater amount of work is going to be needed than the the noble Baroness envisages.
The noble Baroness has not the faintest idea of what a burden this is going to put on local authorities in determining their provisional assessments. If the 329 noble Baroness thinks that one can fix the same rent for all the two-bedroom or three-bedroom semi-detached houses in an estate this would be contrary to the provisions of the Bill. The noble Baroness ought not to say something like this for the record which will be read by people outside. They might be encouraged to think that this would be the right method to assess fair rents. Then there would be a vast number of objections from the tenants to the provisional assessments on the grounds that they have not taken account of the locality of the dwelling-house. I hope the noble Baroness will modify the remarks she has made and not lead local authorities to believe that it is such a simple matter as her remarks would appear to indicate. It is impossible to expect local authorities to complete their provisional assessments in a period as short as six months.
The Amendment is not asking for that period to be increased to 12 months, 18 months or even four years which is the period allowed for transfer of controlled dwellings to regulation. What it is saying is that if in the light of experience the Secretary of State finds that a period of six months is inadequate and that local authorities are able to satisfy him that a longer period should be allowed then he can entertain their application and grant it if he sees fit. The Minister will have this additional power which is not otherwise contained in the Bill, and I seriously plead with the Government not to forgo this opportunity, because if they do they may very well regret it in six months' time.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient if I were to add a word. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for what he has said and it leaves me with little to add, although there is some background which I could fill in. Perhaps the first thing to do is to refresh the memory of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on what she said during the Committee stage of this Bill, and I quote:Having said that, I should like to say that we recognise that the preparation of the provisional assessment of fair rents for every Housing Revenue Account dwelling of an authority will not be an easy task to achieve within the six months which the Bill lays down."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1972, col. 472.]330 That is the common starting point; both the Government and the Opposition are agreed that it will not be an easy task.
Now may we refer to those who have to carry out the task and see what they think about it. May I read a letter which I and some noble Lords on all sides of the House have received, dated June 23—the following day—from the Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations. I am reading:I have also noted the possible concession you obtained on Clause 53, reported at the end of yesterday's issue of Hansard."This is the very clause we are talking about.As you know, the Association has always maintained that in this Bill the Government are attempting to do too much too quickly, Or, more correctly, they are asking too much of local authorities and particularly their staff. I need not tell you, of course, that it is not only a question of the Housing Finance Bill. Local government accepts and is prepared for the implementation of major reforms at different periods in its history. But to impose upon staffs a major reform in housing at the same time as major reforms in the organisation of local government itself, health services and the water and sewage services, is to place upon local authority staff unreasonable burdens and stress.So we are in this situation, that the Government and the Opposition and the local authority associations all recognise that there is going to be difficulty in carrying out this task. Surely in those circumstances the Government ought to be glad to take powers to deal with special cases. That is all that this Amendment provides. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has pointed out, the Amendment provides that if you have a special case where the local authority is unable to comply with the six months' period and the Government are satisfied that the local authority has been unable to comply with it, then the Government will have the power, if they wish to exercise it, to allow an extended period—whatever period they think appropriate; it might be seven months or it might be eight months. That is just an ordinary power which any sensible Government would take. I cannot see why, in present circumstances, the Government want to rub salt into the wound.
Already the local authorities, as a majority, are up in arms about this Bill. The local authority staffs are now going 331 to be up in arms about the Bill, too. The Government are very successful in making enemies all around the place. The Association of Municipal Corporations has now decided by a majority, so far as their housing committee is concerned, that they will recommend their full body to adopt a resolution which is coming from the members at their annual meeting, calling upon the Government to withdraw the Bill completely. That is the next stage. At the annual meeting of the A.M.C. there will be a recommendation by the housing committee of the A.M.C. that the annual meeting should adopt a resolution calling on the Government not to extend the provision of six months by a few weeks or months but to withdraw the whole Bill. That is the kind of relationship which the Government have succeeded in establishing between themselves and their main agents in carrying out the government of this country, namely, the local authorities.
Whenever we try to appeal to the Government to ease a situation and to oil the wheels a little, if only by allowing the local authorities a little extra time where the Government are satisfied that time should be allowed (not anybody else's satisfaction; just the Government's satisfaction) we meet with blank refusal and with arguments which, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has pointed out, do not advance the situation at all. As against the argument that local authorities are anticipating the Bill's becoming law, I have indicated that the evidence is that the vast majority of them are hoping that the measure will not be enacted but will be withdrawn. I hope that in the circumstances, to avoid a head-on collision—which the Government seem determined to have with local authorities, just as they were determined to have a head-on collision with trade unions—the Government will have second thoughts on what is the most modest and moderate Amendment I could devise. It is far more moderate than anything we discussed in Committee. This would leave the matter entirely to the discretion of the Government. I hope the noble Baroness will give serious thought to this issue. I beg to move.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made three 332 points, the first of which he made in Committee when he compared the problem of assessing fair rents for private houses with the problem of assessing them for a large number of council houses. In considering what I should say in reply I have tried to make a list of the reasons why in my local authority, which I know best, I think it would be possible to achieve this result in a much shorter space of time with council houses than a rent officer or outside body could achieve with private houses. The reason is basically that a local authority must, if it is a housing authority, have very considerable information about every house it owns. To begin with, the house will almost certainly have been designed by the authority's own architect; the road layout and layout of the estate will probably have been designed both by its architect and borough engineer; the authority will have detailed information about the inside of the house, the rent of the house and the occupants of the house.
If, as occurs in many cases, local authorities undertake the improvement of old council houses, those improvements will probably take place in a whole block of houses. I recall instances when tenders have been received to improve, say, 40 houses built in 1948 but in need of bringing up to modern standards. Thus, of necessity a local authority has considerable information about its houses.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, the noble Baroness has raised a point of considerable importance relating to the improvement of houses by local authorities. Her argument refutes the one she adduced earlier. Whereas whole estates can be assessed en bloc, it frequently happens that local authorities improve dwellings perhaps singly, when the tenants move out. This is frequently done so as not to disturb other tenants. Whole streets of houses are not necessarily improved in the way the noble Baroness described. For example, in Homefield Rise, in Orpington, some dwellings have been improved while others have not. The local authority has waited until tenants have moved out to make the improvements, which have been carried out without inconvenience to other tenants.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has considerable 333 experience of local government and will not question my assertion that local authorities have not in the past fixed their rents in the same way as the rents of private tenancies have been fixed. Local authorities have not been called on to fix rents having regard to the market situation. It is assuming more than any of us should assume to suggest that because there is a standard rent for local authority houses in any street, that represents the kind of rent structure that must operate in a free market.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I do not see that the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his most recent intervention, invalidate my argument. Of course local authorities differ in their practice, and this is common knowledge. Nevertheless, I should be very surprised indeed, if in the noble Lord's area the local authority did not have detailed information about the houses it improves—this applies whether it does them as a block, individually, or in any other way—and about the details of the locality—whether the houses face the gasworks, the park or whatever it may be. It is principally for this reason that the Government believe that it would be possible for local authorities to complete this work within a period of six months.
I did not quite follow the point which the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy was making about rents, but of course a local authority would know exactly what the rents of its houses are at the moment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, precisely. That is the point I was making. In fixing those rents the local authority were not and have not been required to have regard to the criteria laid down in this Bill. If the houses had been privately owned and market forces were fully at play, then, having regard to the factors that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has mentioned—proximity to gasworks, proximity to sewage farms, proximity to a public park, or to anything else—the rents would have been very different. The noble Baroness will know that a local authority will tend, by and large, to have a standard rent for all the houses that conform to the same plan.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I am quite prepared to accept that probably 334 for three-bedroomed or a two-bedroomed house in a block the rent at present would be the same. But, if I may say so, what we are concerned with in determining the fair rent are the provisions laid down in Clause 50 (1) and the argument I was putting forward—which I still think holds good—is that in order to determine the age, character and locality of a dwelling and its state of repair, a local authority would have detailed information to hand on every house that it owns, because it has that information and keeps it up to date. Therefore, whether or not it operates a rent pooling system, or is going on to fair rents really makes no difference because it would already have the information and could within the given period of time assess the fair rents. It would to this extent he easier for a local authority than for a rent officer to assess the fair rents of privately owned houses which would be scattered all over the place, which might have been built at very different periods of time and which would have very great variations. It would therefore take considerably longer to collect the information.
The other point I wish to answer is that I was not wishing to suggest that every authority has already begun its assessment. We do know that a number of authorities have begun this assessment, although we do not know what the total will be. To suggest that no authorities have begun would be completely misleading.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness, before she sits down, whether she is implying that there are a number who have not started to do that? This Amendment deals only with the exceptional case. If there is only one case that is going to have difficulty that is all we need to establish. The noble Baroness has not attempted to say why, in spite of the view of the local authorities and their staffs, the Government are not prepared to take the power to delay if they think fit.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 82A) shall be agreed to?335
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 20; Not-Contents, 48.
|Avebury, L.||Milner of Leeds, L. [Teller.]||Snow, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Popplewell, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Champion, L.||Rhodes, L.||Watkins, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Segal, L.||White, Bs.|
|Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.]||Shackleton, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Hale, L.||Shepherd, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Maelor, L.||Simon, V.|
|Aberdare, L.||Dundee, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L [Teller.]|
|Ailwyn, L.||Elles, Bs.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Ferrers, E.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Amory, V.||Ferrier, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gisborough, L.||Oakshott, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Gowrie, E.||Reigate, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Greenway, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Hailes, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cowley, E.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hawke, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Hood, V.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hylton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Kemsley, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Killearn, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Young, Bs.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mansfield, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 9.32 p.m.336
Page 54, line 34, leave out ("it") and insert ("that assessment").—(Lord Diamond.)
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 82B) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 19; Not-Contents, 46.335
|Avebury, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Simon, V.|
|Champion, L.||Popplewell, L.||Snow, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Rhodes, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.]||Segal, L.||White, Bs.|
|Hale, L.||Shackleton, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Hoy, L.||Shepherd, L.||Wynne-Jones. L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L. [Teller.]|
|Aberdare, L.||Elles, Bs.||Mowbray and Stourton, L [Teller.]|
|Ailwyn, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Ferrier, L.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Belstead, L.||Gisborough, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Gowrie, E.||Oakshott, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Greenway, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Hailes, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Sandford, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Hawke, L.||Strange, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hood, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Hylton, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Kemsley, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Digby, L.||Killearn, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Mansfield, E.||Young, Bs.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 9.40 p.m.
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 83:
Page 55, line 10, leave out from ("shall") to ("have") in line 13 and insert ("notify in writing each individual tenant of a dwelling to the rent of which the assessment relates of the rent provisionally assessed for his dwelling and also—
(i) that copies of the authority's provisional assessment of fair rents for their dwellings").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this Amendment I should like to take Amendments Nos. 84 and 85. At the Committee stage of the Bill, there was a great deal of discussion about whether or not each individual tenant should be notified of the fair rent which has been provisionally assessed. These Amendments are designed to meet the point that was raised, and I therefore hope that the whole House will approve them. I beg to move Amendment No. 83.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I am extremely pleased that the noble Baroness has found her way to accept the Amendment which was pressed from all sides at Committee stage, including several noble Lords sitting behind her. I only wish it had been possible for her to be as accommodating on many other occasions.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 55, line 16, leave out ("dwelling to the rent of which it relates") and insert ("such a dwelling").—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 55, line 18, leave out ("it") and insert ("the assessment").—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, having regard to what has just transpired there is no need for me to move Amendment No. 85A.
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 86:
Page 55, line 38, leave out from ("shall") to second ("of") in line 39 and insert ("notify the tenant of the dwelling in writing").(Baroness Young.)
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment and to take with it Amendments Nos. 90 and 91, which go together. Again, there was a great deal of discussion on this point at the Committee stage, and these Amendments are designed to meet the point that the tenant shall be notified in writing of his provisionally assessed fair rent. I beg to move.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, it would be only courteous for me to say how very much we are indebted to the noble Baroness for listening to and acceding to the arguments which were put forward on the last occasion, and which came certainly from both parts of this side of your Lordships' Committee, although I cannot recollect whether they came from the other side of the Committee also. At all events, we are grateful to the noble Baroness.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 55 [Functions of rent scrutiny board]:
§ 9.44 p.m.
LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 86A:
Page 57, line 33, at end insert—
(" (7) A rent scrutiny board shall, in carrying out its functions, have regard to the need to afford every tenant the like facilities as are afforded tenants of private landlords in the determination of rents.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment, which is an Amendment of great substance. It is of considerably greater substance than the last Amendment upon which we divided, which Amendment we divided upon rather more to indicate our views on the way we were being treated by the Government rather than on the substance of the Amendment. I thought it right that I should explain that from this Box. This is a very simple matter. We had a lengthy discussion and explained the considerable dissatisfaction which existed among local authorities, the Opposition, the Liberal Party, and a good number of organisations, at the proposed structure of the rent scrutiny board. We were at a later stage involved in other discussions when there was an interesting intervention by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. On
June 26 in this House the noble Viscount said:
May I ask a question?"—
I do not know whether the noble Viscount is with us. Perhaps if he is not, he will forgive me if I leave out the next line because it says:
I apologise, but I am very ignorant.
Nobody would wish to read out a line of that kind in the absence of the noble Viscount—especially as everybody knows that it is the opposite of the truth.
He went on to say:
Is it a fact that, as I think has been charged from the other side, under this Bill a tenant of a local authority will be in a different position in relation to the rent scrutiny board than a tenant of a private landlord? If so, should have thought that does want spelling out and explaining to us, because at first sight it does not look quite right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26/6/72; col. 706.]
Words like that, coming from the noble Viscount, we all know how to interpret. It means the same as if I were to say that the Government had gone off their "rocker". But the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, puts the point with a great deal more restraint, delicacy and choice of language than I am able to accomplish. But this is the reason we have this Amendment to insert:
A rent scrutiny board shall, in carrying out its functions, have regard to the need to afford every tenant the like facilities as are afforded tenants of private landlords in the determination of rents.
§ That is a very simple and just proposition. There is machinery for determining fair rents in the private sector. The Government want to import that concept—quite erroneously, because a market does not exist—into the public sector. All we are doing throughout the Amendments at Report stage on this Bill is seeking to make the Government Bill better. If they think the two are comparable, as they do, and if the whole justification for the Bill is: "We have fair rents in the private sector, so let us have fair rents in the public sector", it is only reasonable, within their philosophy, to have the like facilities for tenants in both cases. This is the view put very simply by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. It is a view which we hold 340 and it is the reason why I propose this Amendment. I beg to move.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I hope that we are to get a pretty full statement from the Government, if they are not prepared to accept the Amendment because it is one for which they have asked. Throughout they have insisted that the rents in the public sector should be based on the same criteria as applies in the private sector. Yet the Government know full well that the tenant of a publicly-owned dwelling place is not being accorded the same rights as a tenant in a privately-owned dwelling place. If they are not prepared to concede the principle of this Amendment they ought to tell us why. Council house tenants are being treated as second-class tenants, not to say second-class citizens.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, remained in her seat when I endeavoured to draw attention to the discrepancies which could exist in regard to council-owned properties. We have listened again and again to statements from the Government Front Bench that local authorities would have no problems about settling what should be the profit-making rent; that the houses were all selling and there were no problems. The noble Baroness went further and said that in their records they had details. But she said nothing to meet the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that in large council house estates, and in a long row of council houses, the amenities of each house could vary very considerably. If the houses were privately-owned the occupants would have an opportunity to appeal over rateable values, and there ought to be an opportunity to appeal individually over what the profit-making rent ought fairly to be. I hope we shall get some justification from the Government. It is not enough to say that landlords are different; they are publicly-elected representatives. The people serving on local councils will have their hands tied. They are not free agents when it comes to deciding what rents should be. The Government have decided to take from them the discretion which hitherto they have enjoyed. Therefore I hope that the Government will appreciate this is not just a matter of making a Party point; it is an endeavour to ensure 341 equality of treatment and the enjoyment of equality of status between tenants, having regard to the fact that in the assessment of the rent they have to pay the same criteria are supposed to apply.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I will certainly respond to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and give as full an explanation of this point as I can. I do not hold out very much hope of being able to bridge what I detect as quite a wide gap between Government and Opposition about the working of the rent scrutiny board and the provisional assessment of fair rents in the public sector, but I am very happy to explain it as fully as I can.
Of course we do not take the view that council tenants are in any sense second-class citizens but we agree that private tenants are one thing and council tenants are another. They have quite different kinds of landlords, which is the main difference. Whereas it is perfectly true that we are applying and adopting the same principle of fair rents, and the criteria for arriving at fair rents in Clause 50 are exactly the same as the criteria for fair rents in the Rent Acts, I have said before—I have to say it again in any explanation of this point—that it is one thing to adopt a common principle but you do not arrive at the same principle by making the same approach. You cannot use the same approach when you are dealing with a different set of tenants and landlords. The procedure for arriving at fair rents is bound to be different. It is not appropriate to apply to the local authority sector a procedure devised to deal with disputes between private landlords and private tenants.
Under the Bill, and subject to Part VI of it, the local authority has a statutory duty to assess and charge a fair rent. We have just heard how well qualified local authorities are to do this. The private landlord has no such statutory duty, and that is one basic difference. At present local authorities may make reasonable charges for tenancies of their H.R.A. dwellings, but they are not required to consider representations from their tenants when they make such charges. To ensure that the local authority takes into account all the relevant circumstances which the tenant wishes to 342 draw to its attention, the Bill now requires it to consider tenants' representations concerning provisional assessments, and to alter them if necessary.
That is a new and important statutory right for tenants and it is a new and important duty on local authorities as landlords. The change is appropriate in order to safeguard the interests of council tenants. It is not the same sort of right as has been given to private tenants under the legislation dealing with fair rents; that would not be appropriate. The steps we are taking are similar but not the same. This is something which I tried to explain earlier, and I do not think there is much I can add. I am conscious of the fact that what I have said may not satisfy noble Lords but it is the fullest explanation I can give.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The hour is getting on and I apologise for omitting something. Is the noble Lord really satisfied that the tenant of a council house enjoys the same rights as the tenant of a privately owned house? He said the council tenant had a right to make representations to what is virtually the landlord of the house, and that the landlord made the decision following those representations. We were told that the tenant had no subsequent right of individual appeal.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I was making exactly the opposite point: that the relationship between landlord and tenant in the public sector is different. Under this Bill council tenants will have a statutory right to have their representations considered by the local authority. This is something which they do not enjoy at present.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has given a number of reasons for treating private tenants and council tenants differently. Part of what he said was a repetition of his remarks during the Committee stage, but one totally new point must be demolished 343 at once. The noble Lord said that under this Bill we are dealing with a different set of tenants and landlords. This Bill specifically requires local authorities to disregard the personal circumstances of tenants in arriving at fair rents, so the noble Lord's point was a complete irrelevancy. I am sure the noble Lord did not mean to mislead the House by bringing in this factor which does not in any way apply. I think he ought to make it quite clear that we are talking—if there is any difference at all—only about the nature of the landlords and not that of the tenants.
I come now to what the noble Lord said about the differences between these two different situations, and the emphasis he has placed on the fact that the local authorities have a statutory duty to set and to charge a fair rent, whereas the private landlords have no such duty. Has not the noble Lord forgotten that in the case of the private landlord the application has to be made to an independent third party, the rent officer, who has the power to register a fair rent, or to make provision for a meeting between the landlord and tenant at which such differences as may exist between the two parties can be resolved if possible so as to avoid an application to the rent assessment committee? Where is such right contained in this Bill? Where is there provision for a third party to come in and hold the ring between the local authority and the council tenant?
The noble Lord said in Committee—and I think he repeated it this evening—that in the case of the local authority there is the elected representative to whom the tenant can go. Will the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, tell me where in this Bill there is statutory provision for the tenant's representative on the council to hold the ring between himself and the authority which has determined the fair rent? Could a councillor be in such a situation? Could he, as a member of the local authority, be an independent third party analogous to the rent officer under the 1965 legislation? Such a thing is impossible. I would also point out to the noble Lord that in an average local authority ward containing 11,000 electors there are likely to be, say, 2,000 or 3,000 local authority tenants. Surely the noble Lord is not suggesting that an individual 344 councillor representing that number of tenants will be able to give time and attention to the individual complaints of his constituents against the provisional assessments of fair rent. We all know that councillors are extremely busy, and it is unthinkable that they should be inundated with 2,000 or 3,000 objections to provisional assessments of fair rent. Or, if I may put it less onerously, perhaps the councillor is asked for advice as to whether he thinks the provisional assessment of fair rent is a valid one, without going into the question of disputes. This is going to involve an enormous amount of work. Is the noble Lord seriously pretending that councillors should undertake such a task? I do not know whether he has ever served on the housing committee of a local authority, but if he has, he will be aware that in the normal course of events, without any exceptional legislation of this kind, councillors' hands are absolutely full with representations made to them by tenants on other matters, such as the failure of the local authority to carry out repairs or redecorations, and many other things affecting housing conditions which they have to deal with every day without having all this work loaded on top of them.
In addition, the noble Lord referred at column 672 to the private landlords' having a necessity to make a profit, and in some cases to unscrupulous motives in making the maximum profit. This again is a total irrelevancy, with respect to the noble Lord, because in determining a fair rent under the 1965 Act, now consolidated in the 1968 Act, the same formula applies as here. One has to take into account the age, character and locality of the dwelling-house and its state of repair. Again, there is a subsection that we have discussed on this Bill where the tenant's personal circumstances are to be disregarded. So the profit which the landlord would like to earn does not enter into the assessment of fair rent. It is not a factor which the rent officer has to take into account in his calculations. It must be disregarded, because the element of scarcity which creates an excess profit for the landlord has to be left out of the calculation. So here again the noble Lord's attempt to find spurious differences between a local authority and a private landlord will not hold water.
345 I think it is a great shame that this Amendment and the principle behind it has not been seriously considered by the Government—as it evidently has not—because at one time when we had a long and serious debate on it at Committee stage I thought we were beginning to make some headway with the Government. In this section we have departed, and in a very harmful manner to the council tenant, from the provisions contained in the 1965 Act. I think that Act was right in so far as it gave tenants the access to a rent assessment committee which was unbiased and impartial. The fact that we have no such procedures in this Act will be a serious defect which we shall live to regret.
§ LORD DIAMOND
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for what they have said in supporting this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was right in saying that there is a very wide gulf between us; and so long as the Government propose to deny to local authority tenants the first principles of justice I hope that gap will always remain. The Government have made clear their view with regard to local authority tenants and I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that the repetition of the arguments we have previously rejected, apart from serving the useful
§ function of rubbing salt into the wound, does not help at all. The fact that he is trying to pretend that at the present moment local authority voters have no right of access to local authority councillors may be something that appears to him, but it will not wash anywhere else.
§ The statutory right that is being given in the Bill is utterly valueless and utterly irrelevant. You might just as well give a statutory right for the tenant who is dissatisfied with the rent scrutiny board to go and talk about it to the policeman, the plumber or anybody else you like. They are all totally irrelevant, and so is the local authority. It is the rent scrutiny board which fixes the rent. The local authority puts proposals to the rent scrutiny board, and the board decides whether to reject them or not. It is to the rent scrutiny board that the tenant has no right of appeal, of conversation, of giving evidence or of anything else. This is totally unjust, and we utterly reject the method of the Government in continuing to proceed in this way. We shall divide the House accordingly.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 86A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 20; Not-Contents, 46.345
|Avebury, L.||Milner of Leeds, L. [Teller.]||Simon, V.|
|Blyton, L.||Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]||Snow, L.|
|Champion, L.||Popplewell, L.||Watkins, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.||White, Bs.|
|Garnsworthy, L.||Segal, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Hoy, L.||Shackleton, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Maelor, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Elles, Bs.||Northchurch, Bs.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Ferrers, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Ferrier, L.||Oakshott, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gisborough, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Gowrie, E.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Greenway, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Hailes, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Strange, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Hood, V.||Terrington, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hylton, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Kemsley, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Killearn, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mansfield, E.||Young, Bs.|
|Dundee, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.