HL Deb 22 June 1972 vol 332 cc441-92

8.0 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 50 [Principles for the determination of fair rent]:

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110DD: Page 52, line 36, at end insert ("Housing Revenue Account").

The noble Lord said: Clause 50 deals with the principles for the determination of fair rent. Subsection (2) 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 … is not substantially greater than the number of such dwellings in the locality which are available for letting … In short, this is a method of eliminating from the calculations the scarcity element. I understand that and I agree with it. But I am not sure that it is right for us to talk about tenants of similar dwellings. I assume that what we have in mind are tenants of Housing Revenue Account dwellings; in other words, local authority dwellings. There is such a distinction between local authority dwellings on the one hand and private tenancies on the other. I recognise that it is the Government's wish to import into the public sector the fair rent concept. While such a concept has some validity in the private sector, it has no validity in the public sector. Nevertheless, for the purpose of eliminating the scarcity element, I should have thought that we should have to concern ourselves solely with the public sector, and it is for that pupose that I beg to move the Amendment.


In this clause we are concerned with the principles for the determination of a fair rent. One of those principles is that in the calculation of a fair rent it must be assumed that there is a balance of supply and demand in the case of all dwellings to rent and not just Housing Revenue Account dwellings. If this Amendment were agreed to, we should be concerned simply with Housing Revenue Account dwellings, and not with those in the private sector as well; whereas the principle of the Bill is that the fair rent for each should be assessed on the same basis; that is, the rental value of the dwelling in a balanced market. In the Government's view it would be wrong to have separate principles for determining rents in the public and private sectors.


I have listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, and I am not going to pursue the matter unduly. I do not think that it is right. We are not arguing about the principles, but I feel that the way of determining those principles is to say that there shall be a method of eliminating scarcity. When we are eliminating scarcity we are not concerned with the switch of fair rents from the private to the public sector; we are concerned only with eliminating scarcity. What we want, therefore, is a balanced position of supply and demand in the area with which we are dealing. This is the area of public housing. Somebody is suffering from slight confusion of thought. It may be myself, and to be on the safe side I am going to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.6 p.m.

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110DE: Page 52, line 40, leave out from ("terms") to end of line 41.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment proposes to leave out the words: and that no person seeking to become such a tenant can expect any special preference. I realise that we are in the company of Alice the whole way through this clause in that we seem to be in Wonderland. We are trying to assume a situation which does not and cannot exist in order to enable the Government to have some justification, which they cannot possibly have, for saying that it is possible to switch the concept of a market rent in a market situation to a market rent in a non-market situation. Therefore, we are bound to get into a hopeless confusion.

The previous Amendment illustrated a minor confusion: this one illustrates a major confusion. The clause deals with the principles for determining a fair rent, and subsection (2) says: For the purposes of the determination it shall be assumed that … no person seeking to become such a tenant can expect any special preference. Broadly speaking, there is no tenant in the public sector who at the time at which he was accepted as a tenant was not in receipt of special preference. That is how he got there. He was preferred on the grounds that his need was such that under the points system he was at the top of the list and was preferred to others in the middle or bottom of the list. Preference was given to him on the basis of need and on the basis of that council's computation of that need according to its points system.

The point that I am making is that every such tenant was the subject of special preference in being given a local authority house. Therefore, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to assume these conditions for the sake of importing the private sector concept into the public sector. It is for those reasons that I beg to move the Amendment.


I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, should feel that there is confusion over this Part of the Bill, because these particular words were put in to clarify what might appear to be a complication that could arise from the fact that local authorities choose their tenants from a housing list, whereas private landlords simply choose tenants from those who happen to wish to rent their property. It is perfectly true that under Section 113(2) of the Housing Act 1957 local authorities are required to give a reasonable preference to persons who are occupying insanitary or overcrowded houses, have large families or are in other respects living in unsatisfactory housing conditions. It may well be thought that this statutory duty might throw doubt on the assumption, which has to be made in the determination of a fair rent, of a balanced market for rented dwellings. This assumption, of course, rests on the tacit assumption that any landlord is, in principle, able to let his accommodation to any prospective tenant. Such a tacit assumption conflicts with the statutory duty of local authorities to select certain persons in preference to others, and also with the practices adopted by local authorities for the discharge of this duty; for example, that a local authority will have, of course, a waiting list with a points scheme, and will insist almost certainly on certain residential qualifications.

In order that, in determining a fair rent, the same assumption of a balanced market can be made for council dwellings as for private tenancies, subsection (2) provides in effect that the statutory requirement under Section 113(2) of the 1957 Act should be disregarded in making the assumption required by the subsection about a balanced market. It is therefore put in for the avoidance of this doubt; but I should like to say that in putting it in it is important to note that it does not affect the local authority's duty to give preference to certain people in the selection of its tenants. Nor does it mean that the fair rent for a council dwelling should be assessed otherwise than on the bases that the dwelling is as it is, that its locality is as it is, and that the dwellings around it are as they are. So that in effect the bases of determining the fair rent should be the same for both local authority and for private dwellings, but the local authority still has a duty to give preference to certain people.


If ever the noble Baroness thought that when I got up and said that I was grateful to her for what she had said there was any lack of any sincerity in my words, would she please realise that on this occasion I mean every syllable of it. I could not think of a speech which proved my point fully more than the speech which the noble Baroness has been good enough to make. What she has said is that, in order to move with this ridiculous concept that you can switch a market situation into a non-market situation, you have to do at least two things: you have to assume that the Statute does not provide what the Statute does provide, and you have to assume that the facts on the ground are not what the facts on the ground are. If I therefore used the phrase, "We are accompanying Alice in Wonderland" in moving this Amendment, I was, if anything, understating the position. It is quite a ridiculous situation at which we have arrived. The noble Baroness has explained it in the clearest of terms. She says that, notwithstanding that the Statute provides this, you are to ignore the Statute; notwithstanding that the facts are that here is preference for every tenant, you are to ignore that; but you are not to be confused by that into thinking that the facts are not what they are, and you must take into account the fact that every tenant, both this one and the neighbour, and those in all the so-called balanced market, are all people who in fact have had to be selected under the statutory instructions to the council by the methods which the council uses.

We really are in a ridiculous situation. All I want to establish is that you have to go to these ridiculous lengths—I do not think you can use a word less strong than "ridiculous"—in order to bolster up this untenable theory that you can have a market situation in local authority housing where there is nobody purchasing in the market, where the normal demand and supply is totally absent on the basis on which supply and demand are normally measured—that is to say, purchasing power—and where every tenant is not only in fact but in Statute a tenant who is selected, not on grounds of purchasing power or command of resources but on the grounds of his personal needs. I think that the speech the noble Baroness made was so good and so excellent, and proved the point so perfectly, that all I can really say to her is "Ditto" and seek leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.15 p.m.

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110DF: Page 53, line 11, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: In its new form—I gather it has changed its content on its journey through another place—this subsection provides: In any case where, if the rent of a dwelling were being determined under Part IV of the Rent Act, 1968, consideration would be given to the return that it would be reasonable to expect on it as an investment, the like consideration shall be given in determining a fair rent for it under this Part of this Act, and the fact that it is vested in a public body shall be disregarded. I think that here we are broadly on the same point. It is just not sensible to contemplate that a local authority house is not vested in a local authority. That is the assumption which you have to make, presumably, if that is the case the Government are going to put up in support of it. I really do not think I have any more than that to say on this Amendment in view of the pressure of time. I beg to move.


I do not think there is much to make of it, either. As I explained in dealing with the Amendment moved on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, just before supper, the fact is that this particular consideration, as to what the return is on the investment made, is not the main or primary method of arriving at a fair rent in respect of any particular dwelling. It is only used as a check. It can be used as a check in this particular instance—where it is possible to know what investment was made on a particular dwelling in the case of the stock belonging to a particular local authority; there may be circumstances where it would be useful for that purpose, but as it is not the primary purpose, I do not think we need spend any longer on it.


The noble Lord is quite right in saying that that argument was dealt with on Lord Avebury's Amendment, but the point I am stressing is that we have again to make an assumption which is totally invalid and totally incapable of being made; namely, that there is not a public body, or, in other words, that the local authority house is not owned by a local authority. So the whole of this clause, which sets out the principles for the determination of fair rent, moves on the basis (a) that there is no local authority owning the houses; (b) that local authorities have not got the duty which they have to perform under Statute; and (c) that the facts are that tenants are not chosen by preference, by which they are chosen. If you make all those assumptions you can then go on, presumably, to the other parts of the clause; but to describe those as principles for the determination of fair rent to me makes the point very clearly that you simply cannot import the fair rent concept into a public sector, where you have a local authority, where you have a public body, where you have statutory duties and where you have the facts of the case, which everybody knows; namely, that every tenant is chosen by a preference. So I can only repeat, I think, that the whole thing is utter nonsense, and seek leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 [Rent scrutiny boards]:

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110DG: Page 53, line 24, leave out from ("Secretary of State") to end of line 27 and insert ("may in consultation with the local authority associations accordingly appoint to any panel drawn up under that paragraph such persons as they consider necessary to enable the members of the panel to carry out the functions of rent scrutiny committees for their areas").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps it would be convenient to discuss the next Amendment, No. 110DH, at the same time. We are now on Clause 51, having not put the Committee to the trouble of dividing on the last clause in order to save time, and not because one has any belief that the clause can possibly work. Clause 51 deals with rent scrutiny boards. The words in line 24 which are sought to be left out are the words that the Secretary of State: may accordingly appoint to any panel drawn up under that paragraph such numbers of persons as he considers necessary to enable the members of the panel to carry out the functions of rent scrutiny boards for their area". These rent scrutiny boards were at one time called rent scrutiny committees, but the Council on Tribunals insisted on having their name changed as they wanted to have nothing to do with them, fortunately and very understandably.

The situation which we are going to discuss under a later Amendment is that these rent scrutiny boards are to have complete power to decide, in private and behind locked doors, without hearing appellants and without giving reasons for their decisions, what the rents of local authority dwellings shall be. Under a later Amendment we shall come to the manner in which they are to conduct their affairs. But in those circumstances—assuming that this situation continues—the only protection that the tenant will have is in the constitution of the boards. Therefore, instead of the words I have read out, this Amendment proposes to insert: May in consultation with the local authority associations"— I dwell on the word "consultation"— accordingly appoint to any panel drawn up under that paragraph such persons as they consider necessary to enable the members of the panel to carry out the functions of rent scrutiny committees for their areas. That brings in the point of consultation with the local authorities.

Subsection (4) says: … 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". Subsection (1) is the one which we have already been discussing. Amendment No. 110DH proposes to add: and four of whom shall be nominated for and elected by local authority tenants' associations in their area. The reason for having both Amendments is to try to keep a better balance in the rent scrutiny boards which look like being composed unduly of professionals. As a professional myself, I recognise that there are professionals and professionals; and the kind that we want are those with the wider, rather than the narrower, experience. Therefore caution leads one to conclude that they should be balanced with those who are not professionals in that technical sense; people with their feet well on the ground who have experience of a different quality.

It is right, I think, that as the boards will be hearing nobody, but will be deciding behind closed doors matters affecting local authorities and local authority tenants, the only way to get any kind of acceptance of their decisions is to have boards constituted in part of people in whom the local authorities have every confidence and in part of people in whom local authority tenants' associations—representing the tenants—have every confidence. These two Amendments seek to achieve that purpose: balanced scrutiny hoards including members who have the confidence of the two sides whose views will not be heard, but in respect of whom decisions will be made.

8.25 p.m.


I do not seek to correct the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, at every point in the debate as we go along, but I must not let him get away with the assertion that the rent scrutiny boards do not have to give reasons for their decisions. It is specifically provided for in Clause 56(3) that they do have to give their reasons if they disagree with the rent assessments proposed to them by the local authorities. But we will discuss that when we get to it. As to these two Amendments, the purpose of the rent scrutiny boards is primarily to do a valuation exercise as a check and confirmation of the assessments worked out by the local housing authorities and presented to them for their adjustment. What is required is not people representative of the various interests concerned—the tenants and the local authority being the two concerned in this case—but people who have the necessary personal qualities: personal judgment and experience in the relevant fields of valuation and public administration, to mention the two main ones. Because of the need for experience in local government administration, the views of the local authorities will certainly be of value and will be taken into account by the Secretary of State in making his nominations, but that is not to say that they ought to have a right to nominate people themselves, and that is not provided for.

When it comes to tenants' associations, if we accepted that limb of the Amendment we should be putting on to the rent scrutiny boards people with a distinct bias in favour of one of the parties with an interest in the matter. Of course their interests must be taken into account, safeguarded, and provision made for them. But that is done in so far that the tenants' associations, if the tenants so empower them, will be able to make representations on behalf of the tenants to the local authorities when the provisional assessments are first published. This may be done by the tenants individually, or by the associations acting for them. That is the point at which the interests of the tenants' associations are provided for and safeguarded to an extent which they are not provided for at all at the moment. This is the point at which council house tenants are being given rights which they do not have at present. Because they are provided for there, it would be quite inappropriate to provide for them on the rent scrutiny boards. I have nothing else to say in answer to the Amendment. I hope that I have made the position clear to the Committee.


The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has said that the Government are going to have valuers and that they do not want to consider people from the local authority tenants' association because they would be biased in favour of the tenants. But where does the bias of these valuers lie? They have never valued local authority housing; surely they have valued only private housing. The Government are going to have a lot of non-professional people, too, but if they are going to have professional valuers where are these valuers to get their experience about valuing local authority housing and where is their bias going to fall?


It will be for the Committee to form a view, but if I were a valuer asked to value a piece of property, the fact that it has been occupied by a council tenant or by a private tenant would not, to my mind, introduce any particular difficulties. It is quite common for private housing to be acquired by local authorities and it then becomes part of the H.R.A. stock. But the fact that it has been changed from one sector to another does not introduce complications for valuers which present any difficulty at all.


I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. A valuer to-day values a house at a sum out of all proportion. It is valued according to the market value, but here we have local authority housing which has to be valued quite apart from market values. Therefore, there is still a problem. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has not answered my case at all.


My noble friend Lady Gaitskell has raised a point that ought to receive more attention. Surely it is reasonable to indicate on what basis valuers are going to be chosen and from where they are going to be chosen. The point my noble friend is making is very serious. The public will want to know whether these valuers are as unbiased as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is suggesting. If it were not for the time factor, matters like this would need to be probed much more deeply than we are able to probe them. We are under some considerable constraint in putting these matters before the Committee but, quite frankly, the Committee, local authorities, tenants, and the public at large, are entitled to know on what basis the Secretary of State is going to appoint these people to these panels. It surely is not unreasonable to ask that he should consult, in the first place, with local authority associations. Amendment 110DG says that local authorities shall nominate and appoint. It is asking for consultations. The Government are bending over backwards to ensure that the people who are to administer the Bill when it becomes an Act are biased, or are thought to be biased, against the interests of the tenants, particularly tenants in local authority accommodation.

As to tenants associations being represented, Amendment 110DH does not ask that they shall appoint, but it does give the Secretary of State an opportunity to consult with them and to select people that they may suggest to him as being right and proper for this kind of work. I should have thought that their point of view could have been valuable and would have been appreciated. The Committee are entitled to a great deal more information than they have received.


My noble friend Baroness Gaitskell has made a very good point about valuers who are to be responsible to the local authorities for selling council houses on a rateable value. I am wondering whether the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, or my noble friend Lady Gaitskell have ever had any experience in local government. A Government valuer is necessary in order to purchase land on which to build council houses. He is the one who enters into negotiations with private landowners in order to acquire land for building purposes. Then there are officials attached to local authorities, the housing managers, architects and surveyors. They are responsible in the first place for drawing up plans for the building of houses. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will take note of what I am saying. A great many council houses were built after the Second World War at a price based on the land value operating at that time. Where do we stand in regard to post-war houses?

The Government on this occasion have just slipped up. They have never given serious thought, apart from seeking advice from officials in their Departments, to the administration of the local government departments which are responsible for housing. Local authorities differ on policy and on the fixing of rents. As a member of a rural local authority I was responsible for introducing a scheme whereby we were able to collect rent over a period of 50 weeks instead of 52 weeks per annum. We were able to do this by a slight adjustment in the weekly rents over a period of 50 weeks which meant that tenants received a kind of rebate, a fortnight's rent-free accommodation. This idea is spreading to various parts of the country. We must never forget that there are Tory councils who go all out to sell council houses irrespective of what it might incur. We must also bear in mind the amount of subsidies that have gone into the building of local authority houses during the postwar period of succesive Governments. The Department has not taken these issues into consideration. My noble friend Baroness Gaitskell has posed the question about where the bias of these valuers will lie. It is time that the Government were having second thoughts about issues like this which have been presented by my noble friend Lord Diamond and about what action should be taken in the interests of people who are tenants of local authority properties.


Rent assessment committees have existed for some time under the Rent Acts. One very large house-owning organisation has taken advantage of these rent assessment committees and the rent officers; that is, the Coal Board. They have registered through the Rent Act a tremendous number of their properties, and a tenant in that case has a complete security of tenure under the terms of the Rent Act. That is something, as we all know, that a local authority tenant does not have. I have never heard anybody complain of unfair treatment where the rent officers have been called in to register houses belonging to the National Coal Board. I feel that the fear of noble Lords opposite is misguided. I do not think it will exist in practice. I hope that to some extent, also, I have been able to answer one of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell.


It seems that noble Lords opposite underestimate the ability of valuers. These are extremely objective people who are quite capable of ridding their minds of all forms of bias. Having said that, and having listened carefully to the reply given earlier by my noble friend, Lord Sandford, I am quite convinced that it would be wrong to exclude any lay element from the rent scrutiny boards. Maybe a minority lay element could be incorporated in them. I think that justice would be seen to be done as well as actually being done, and this could be a helpful thing in the public sector. The two Amendments that have been moved are almost certainly defective in form. In the second one, the number is specified, and this may easily not be the right number. However, I would ask my noble friend Lord Sandford, if he can, to give some further consideration to the principle raised, and whether he can possibly bring in an Amendment at a later stage to include a degree of lay representation on the boards.


There is one other reason why the noble Lord's argument about the rent officers is defective. At present the rent officers are not valuers. Here the Government are introducing rent officers who are going to be valuers. Therefore, if they are so sold on this idea of fair rents comparable to fair rents in the private sector, why are they so against having fair rent officers of the kind that they have at present?


I am going to press the Government much more on this, because I do not think they have taken on board the seriousness of the situation. The seriousness of the situation does not rest only on this Amendment: it rests on the denial of justice, on the way the boards are going to funstion, which is the subject of a later Amendment and which I shall be speaking to at some considerable length. But the first thing I want to do—and I hope my noble friends on this side will not be jealous—is to thank the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, for his most interesting and helpful speech. He said that under the system which is not going to apply you have justice. You have rent officers. They can appeal to rent assessment committees. And the noble Earl said that, so far as at all events one applicant was concerned, the Coal Board, he was not aware of any complaint in relation to their dealings with this two-tier system of having justice performed in the fixing and registration of rents.

I go all the way with the noble Earl on that. That is exactly what happens at the present time, and it is exactly what is not proposed under the Bill. It is exactly what we are not discussing at the present time. It is that comparison which helps my case considerably, because the present proposal is for a board which sits in private, not in public; a board which does not have representations made to it; a board which does not hear the participants in the argument; a board which does not allow participants to be represented by counsel; a board which, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who went as near to misleading the Committee as I did, only has to declare its reasons when it disagrees—not when it agrees—with the view put forward by a local authority. Therefore the tenant comes nowhere. The tenant disagrees with the local authority. The local authority puts the provisional rent to the board. The board decides that the local authority is right. The tenant is not heard by the board; the tenant is not represented, and is not entitled to be told by the board why the board has confirmed what the local authority says. I will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, immediately if he wants to correct that statement of fact.

Very well. So we are all agreed on the facts, which is the only sensible way of proceeding with the argument. The fact is that a tenant comes nowhere. What are we proposing? To avoid the explosion which is going to take place when 5½ million tenants have their rents increased by enormous amounts and are going to have no outlet whatsoever for complaint when their fate is decided behind closed doors, we are proposing to help the Government, who still do not seem to understand that confrontation politics of this kind is suicidal, as well as being divisive. We are trying to help the Government by saying: "At all events if you are going to stick to that method of reaching decisions, for Heaven's sake[...] let the boards which make the decisions contain some people in whom the participants have confidence."

The first thing I have made clear is that the tenant comes nowhere. So the first thing, surely, is that the tenant should have some representation in a committee that is going to decide his fate so far as the rent of his house is concerned. Surely that is a minimum and a reasonable request. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, says that perhaps four is not the right figure: and he may be right. The purpose of moving an Amendment at Committee stage is to hear the views of the Government; to clarify one's mind; to be relieved of the mistakes one has made or the misunderstandings one has come to, so that one is in a position to reach agreement, if possible, on the Report stage. I am not concerned whether it is four, three or five, or whatever method is chosen, but it cannot be right for the Government to say, in those circumstances, that they will not have any tenant represented in the committee. The bias will be so strong, and so strongly felt, that I am not using extravagant language when I refer to "an explosion".

The second thing I am saying to the Government is that it cannot be right to refuse to say in a Bill that you are going to consult the local authorities in the appointment of a board which is going to have these draconic powers: it is going to act behind closed doors, hear nobody, not even publishing its conclusions except where they differ from the local authority; it is not going to hear counsel; it is not going to hear evidence; it is not going to hear expert witnesses—certainly not expert witnesses; it may research in its own way behind closed doors—none of these things is going to happen. Yet its function is to decide whether the views of the local authority on the rents are right. Therefore you must have, if not people who clearly can be seen to know the local authority point of view, people who are accepted by the local authority as being independent and informed.

What are these rent boards going to do? Are they going to inspect every house before reaching a decision? No, they are going to reach block decisions. That is what the Bill provides. Are they going to know about the whole of the houses or flats in the block? Of course not; how can they know? The only people who can know are the members of the local authority who work in the area or canvass the area, the tenants' association, people who live in the area. One is accused of suggesting that there will be bias in favour of the tenant by having people there who know the tenants' conditions and know the circumstances in which the tenants live. If that is the case, then anybody who speaks with knowledge or authority is biased. We want people who are knowledgeable and who will be accepted by the tenants as fair and independent and aware of the situation of the tenants.

These are very reasonable requests; they are against a background of the most astonishing method of constituting the board—we shall come to that later. What I have to say now is moderate in the extreme as compared to what I am going to say when we get to that. It is going to cost the noble Lord absolutely nothing to say that he will think about this Amendment and let us know his views at Report stage. There is every justification for what we are asking. It is not a Party point; it is a method for making his rotten scheme work. You cannot ask for more than that from an Opposition. The noble Lord has heard a lot. He has heard my noble friend, to whom I am grateful. He has heard nothing in approval of this proposal at all. There have been four speeches, other than from the Front Bench, and he has heard not one word in support of this proposal. He has heard words from his noble friend Lord Balfour supporting the situation which works well. When we come to the appropriate Part of the Bill I shall show how much it has departed from that situation, because we are going to have an Amendment which seeks to restore the present position. I look forward, possibly for the first time, to walking arm in arm with the noble Earl through the Division Lobby. It is my hope that it will not be for the last time. So I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will say a good deal more, a good deal more sympathetically and understandingly than we have heard so far from him.

9.3 p.m.


That was good, spirited stuff. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity and encouraging me to go rather further into this subject. It is good that the Corn-mince should do this because we are dealing with entirely new bodies. There is a good deal of inconsistency in what the noble Lord says. He started off earlier this afternoon advocating to the Committee reasonable rents, but without any criteria as to what was reasonable. It would not be possible to have a rent scrutiny board at all under that system, or for anybody to entertain any representations, because there would be no criteria by which to judge them. What we are dealing with now is fair rents. The criteria have been taken over from the legislation of the Party opposite and are set out in some detail in an earlier clause which we have been discussing. Those criteria have to be applied by the local authorities. The local authorities are elected by the local electorate, a large number of whom in many cases—sometimes the majority—are council tenants. For the first time in legislation the council tenants have a statutory right to make representations and to have them heard about increases and changes in their rents. That is something which they have not had hitherto. It is provided for in this Bill. The local authority have to take into account any representations council tenants make. There is a statutory right for this as the noble Lord has said. There is nothing now to prevent tenants from talking to their councillors; but that is quite different from people having a statutory right to make representations, and to have those representations dealt with and heard properly.

The rent scrutiny board is not the body that noble Lords opposite take it to be. The rent scrutiny board will have what is essentially a valuation function. The specially appointed members will be persons whose experience, personal qualitties and special qualifications, if they have them—and I take the point from my noble friend Lord Hylton, that not all members need be specialists—make them particularly suitable for the service that the rent scrutiny board has to fulfil.


Do we take it that the valuation officers that were set up by the noble Lord's Government will be the officers that the Minister has in mind, and that those are the people who will have to carry out the operations of this particular Bill?


No, not directly; they are the kind of people from whom suitable candidates for these boards may be well drawn, but there are many others. Members are likely to include some persons with special experience in public administration, including local government administration, knowledge of housing problems and housing administration. They may have professional qualifications in valuation and estate management. I think I have said enough to indicate the range of specialities from which the people with special qualifications may be drawn; there may be experts and there may be lay people with wide experience of public administration. That is the kind of body that the rent scrutiny board will be. That is the kind of job they will do. Of course the tenants and tenants' associations must have an opportunity to make their representations, and here, for the first time, we are providing by Statute for this. But this will be to the local authority itself after the publication of the rent assessment. I hope that explanation has made the matter clearer than it was before as to how we see this board operating.


The noble Lord has made it clearer that the noble Lord, with the greatest possible respect, can have little idea of how local authority works or how a citizen in a local authority makes his representations. He is laying great stress on the fact not that a tenant will be able to have access to the board that makes the decision, but that the tenant will have access by Statute to the local authority. He has that access at the moment in a greater measure than he will have under this Bill. He has that access under the greatest sanction that exists; namely, the sanction of the vote. If any citizen goes to his councillor and says, "I want to object", does the councillor say, "I am not going to listen"? He does not say that twice—at least, not after two elections, because he is no longer a councillor. The councillor's job is a difficult and tiresome one. He has to listen on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, to the people living in his area, ringing up, coming to see him and making complaints; and if he does not listen he does not get re-elected. That is the real sanction.

But what is going to happen now? That sanction is withdrawn, because the local authority puts forward a view of the rent to the board and the board makes a decision. It is no use a municipal voter going to his councillor and saying, "I object to what the board has decided." All the councillor will say is, "So do I, but what can I do? I cannot make representations; I cannot go and be heard; I cannot introduce expert witnesses to be heard; I cannot employ counsel and have it heard; I do not know how they carry on their business—it is carried on behind closed doors. I'm in the same boat as you, mate." The two of them will commiserate with each other and the tenant will have no sanction, no right whatsoever. That is the change in the situation. So the reality, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is that there is being written into the Bill a statutory right which is absolutely meaningless, to replace a right which is valuable and always used and which is based on the sanction of the vote, which is the democratic system in our country. So there is no advantage in the scheme which the noble Lord is proposing; nothing but disadvantage.

So I come back to my earlier request. He has made it clear that there is a further disadvantage which I did not find it necessary to refer to, because I thought I had made a sufficient case. As there is a further disadvantage, surely it is right that the board which will decide upon the disagreement of the tenant and the local authority, without hearing either party, or counsel, or any witness, should include members in whom both sides have confidence and who know the circumstances, the locality and the kinds of problems affecting people living there.

I repeat that we are asking nothing of the Government; it is not a Party point at all. We are asking whether they would be good enough to consider this matter in the light of the difficulties they are going to experience in getting their scheme accepted. I should prefer to see their scheme destroyed, because it is a bad scheme, but our duty in Committee is not to challenge the fundamental principles of the Bill but to seek to improve them. On the basis of the Government's own principle, we think that the only way in which the thing might work is if the boards are so constituted that the local authorities and the tenants had some faith in them. The proposals in these two Amendments are merely an attempt to offer one alternative. If the Government can think of any others we shall be glad to look at them, but that they should turn them down out of hand is something which we cannot accept.


It was clear from his earlier remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, had not read Clause 56(3). It is now clear from his further remarks that he has not read Clause 56(4). There it is clearly set out that the local authority can make representations to the rent scrutiny board. Nor is the noble Lord's grasp of Clause 53 all that it might be. A particular phase in the whole process is there set out. There is a pause of two months before the local authority submit their assessment to the rent scrutiny hoard, specifically provided for the consideration of tenants' or tenants' associations' representations, There is no question of the local authority making assessments and passing them to the rent scrutiny board at once.


There are times when the noble Lord and I misunderstand each other in such a fundamental way that I am not sure that he is trying to help me as much as I should like to be helped. It is true that I have not read the Bill in the same detail that he has. It is also true that we have not got to the Amendment to which I am continually referring and did not want to have to go into very closely. I want to be sure that what the noble Lord is saying is right. As I understand it, he is saying that a tenant can make representations to the board before the board reaches its conclusion. I think that is wrong, but if the noble Lord tells me that it is right I will accept it.


I am afraid that is not right. In Clause 53, particularly in subsection (5), there is provision for a pause of two months specifically to allow tenants and tenants' associations to make representations to the local authorities about their provisional assessment. That is the additional statutory right provided to tenants which they have not got at the moment. I make no mention of the right of all tenants to approach their council. That exists and that is not changed by this Bill. There is built into this subsection an additional statutory right. The next point to which I wanted to invite attention—


The noble Lord has challenged me and I want to get this straight. I am saying that there is no provision for the tenant to apply to the board. Nobody said there was no provision for the tenant to apply to the local authority. I am talking about the tenants applying to the board. I am saying that the board will not hear a tenant or his representative or his expert witness, nor will it sit in public. Is that wrong?


The noble Lord said before that there was no scope for representaions to be made to the rent scrutiny board. There is provision in Clause 56(4) for the local authority to make representations to the rent scrutiny board.


With great respect, the noble Lord does not improve the situation by avoiding my question three times running. I am speaking about the tenant. I have not got so far as saying that the noble Lord is deliberately trying to mislead the Committee, but it is getting very near to it.


Would it not be better if the noble Lord opposite occasionally listened to the explanation and then he could decide afterwards?


I wonder whether I can help in this matter. My noble friend Lord Diamond made an appeal to the noble Lord opposite to consider this matter. Having listened to the debate, I am not saying that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is evading the issue. He may not understand the provisions of the Bill and nobody would criticise him in those circumstances. But if he will undertake to consider this matter I am certain my noble friend will not persist. If the noble Lord will look at it I am sure that my noble friend will agree and we can move on. It seems to me that there is no point in doing otherwise if the noble Lord finds himself unable to answer the particular questions my noble friend has put to him.


Of course we are considering all the points noble Lords opposite are making to us, and we shall consider them, but I want to make it clear, because I do not think it was clear to the noble Lord before, that there is provision in Clause 56(4) for the local authorities to make representations to the rent scrutiny board. Equally, there is a requirement on the rent scrutiny board, as I said earlier, to give their reasons if they disagree. The other point I was seeking to make, because I did not think the noble Lord had appreciated it, was that there is a specific pause in the process between the publication of assessments by the local authority and the submission of them to rent scrutiny boards. It is a difficult Bill, I know, and I am trying, when it appears to me that points may have been missed by noble Lords opposite, to make them clear. I have the job of doing this as well as defending the Government's policy. But I do not think I can say more now. If noble Lords opposite think that rent scrutiny boards ought to operate in a different way from the one in which we intend them to operate, and they feel they have made all the points they want to make, then there is nothing further to be done except to divide.


May I say with great respect that I appreciate that my noble friend Lord Diamond did not dwell on the pause aspect of the matter, but I think that if the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will read to-morrow my noble friend's words he will appreciate that by what he himself has just said he has added nothing. What the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has signally failed to do

9.20 p.m.

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110DJ: Page 53, line 39, leave out ("and may be removed").

The noble Lord said: Subsection (5) deals with rent scrutiny boards and provides that: The chairman and other members of the 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 the Board.

The president of such a panel will have quite an amount of power. The idea of him nominating without consultation in the first place, if that is to be the position, is a little far-fetched. The idea that he shall have power to remove anybody is going ridiculously far. It means that nobody can be sure of doing his job according to his own likes and conscience is to reply to the questions and points made by my noble friend Lord Diamond.

9.11 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 110DG) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 54.

Ardwick, L. Henderson, L. Stow Hill, L.
Bernstein, L. Hoy, L. Strang, L.
Beswick, L. Hylton, L. Tanlaw, L.
Champion, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Diamond, L. Phillips, Bs. [Teller] Wells-Pestell, L.
Gainford, L. Popplewell, L. White, Bs.
Gaitskell, Bs. Sempill, Ly. Wise, L.
Garnsworthy, L. [Teller] Shepherd, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Hanworth, V. Slater, L.
Aberdare, L. Derwent, L. Limerick, L.
Abinger, L. Digby, L. Lothian, M.
Ailwyn, L. Drumalbyn, L. Milverton, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Elles, Bs. Reading, M.
Alport, L. Ferrers, E. [Teller] Redesdale, L.
Atholl, D. Ferrier, L. Reigate, L.
Balfour, E. Fortescue, E. Saint Oswald, L.
Barnby, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Sandford, L.
Belstead, L. Gage, V. Savile, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Gisborough, L. Selborne, E.
Bessborough, E. Gowrie, E. Strange, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Greenway, L. Strathclyde, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hailes, L. Terrington, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Thomas, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Vivian, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Harvey of Prestbury, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Craigavon, V. Hatherton, L. Winchester, M.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Kemsley, V. Young, Bs.
Denham, L. [Teller]

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

without being removed by the president at a whim—or should I say at a stroke?—whenever it occurs to the president so to do. In these circumstances I hope that the Government will agree to delete the words "and may be removed."


Everyone has said that this is a difficult Bill and not much fun, but subsection (5) is just hilarious. It could have been drafted by Edward Lear. The words "and may be removed" should be removed, but why not simply by-pass the whole of the first part of the provision, and instead of saying: The chairman and other members of the 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 the board simply say: … the president of the panel … shall have power to nominate himself as chairman or as an ordinary member of the board. That would save a lot of people a lot of trouble.


If the Minister does not wish to accept the Amendment, may I ask him to say in what circumstances it is envisaged that a member of a panel might be removed in this way?


If it had been realised what emotion and anxiety these words would cause, a different phrase might have been selected, and perhaps we can choose another one now. This provision does nothing more than enable the president to exercise the necessary functions to keep the rent assessment panels matched to their tasks. The committees, once they have done one particular job, cease to exist and then the president appoints a fresh one, so that there is no question of removing people or disbanding them. They automatically come to an end as their job is done.

These words appear in the clause only in order that the president may he able to continue the unfettered discretion he was given when rent assessment committees were established under earlier legislation, passed when noble Lords opposite were in power, to operate fair rents in the private sector and to enable him to remove members from one rent scrutiny board when the amount of work they have to do no longer justifies the number who might have been required at an earlier stage and to put them to work on another rent scrutiny board. That is the only purpose of it.

Rent scrutiny boards on the whole will remain in existence for some considerable time but their workload may well alter, and in those circumstances the president must have the discretion to decide when that rent scrutiny board does not require quite so many people. Then he removes a member and puts him on another rent scrutiny board. The working of this whole system was something the Francis Committee looked into. There is nothing in their Report to indicate that panel presidents have abused the unfettered discretion which they were given to form committees and adjust committees. The rent scrutiny boards are slightly different because they will remain in existence for longer, and during their life their work may decrease, so that it will be necessary to take people off them and put them to work on some other rent scrutiny board. I am sorry that the simple and innocent purpose behind this clause has caused so much anxiety.


May I ask the Minister, if he is removing both the chairman and a member of the board because there is not enough work for them to do, why he has to appoint himself as chairman and a member of the board immediately? I do not understand.


May I put this point to the Minister? This subsection is very unfortunately worded. Most people reading it will feel that the chairman will consider appointing himself after he has removed somebody else. That may not be the intention, but I think the subsection could be re-worded with advantage. The Minister said that he was prepared to think about another word instead of the word "remove". Would he go so far as to say that there is a case, if not for deleting the subsection, at least for considering redrafting it completely? Because at the present time the inference drawn by most people will be that the chairman is going to consider appointing himself after he has removed the chairman or after he has removed some other member. When the noble Lord says that they will be removed when they are no longer required, at what point is the chairman likely to be no longer required if in point of fact the other members are to continue?


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 are, have given rise to some considerable anxieties on this side of the Committee. Would he not agree that it would be better for him to take these words back, think about them and perhaps insert some qualifying words like "removed for good reason" or "for good cause"? I make that suggestion to him.


I think I have already indicated that if we had thought, as it is still clear, that these words were causing anxieties, we would certainly have a look at them. But the reason for including this power here is as I have stated. The reason why it is not exactly equivalent to that provided for rent assessment committees is, as I explained; namely, that rent assessment committees have a short life in which they do a particular job and then they disband. There is no need to remove anybody because it ceases to exist. But the rent scrutiny board has a longer life with a changing workload and its members may need to be reduced. I will certainly look at this again to see whether I can find a form of words which does what we want but does not cause anxiety or concern.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for everything he has said and for undertaking to look at it and also for having explained the circumstances which he has described as the only circumstances in which the power to remove is envisaged. In order to enable us to get on and for this matter to be considered in its appropriate context, we will at the Report stage put down an Amendment which coincides with the words which the noble Lord has used.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 51 agreed to accordingly.

We trust that that Amendment will be accepted at that stage. I beg your Lordships' permission to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 51 shall stand part of the Bill?


This is an objectionable clause, objectionable in every way, and none of the objections have been removed by the discussion that has taken place. We have made our position quite clear with regard to these rent scrutiny boards; we do not love them any more than the Council on Tribunals loves them. We think it is a very good thing that at all events they could not parade as judicial bodies when they are nothing whatever related to them. It is most unfortunate that our attempts to have the boards constituted in such a way as to be acceptable to the people whose affairs they are going to decide have not succeeded. If we cannot get any better response from the Government all we can do is to seek to have the whole clause removed.

9.32 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 51 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 55; Not-Contents, 17.

Aberdare, L. Digby, L. Lothian, M.
Abinger, L. Drumalbyn, L. Milverton, L.
Ailwyn, L. Elles, Bs. Mountevans, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Reading, M.
Alport, L. Ferrers, E. [Teller.] Redesdale, L.
Atholl, D. Ferrier, L. Reigate, L.
Balfour, E. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Barnby, L. Gage, V. Saint Oswald, L.
Belstead, L. Gainford, L. Sandford, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Gisborough, L. Savile, L.
Bessborough, E. Gowrie, E. Sempill, Ly.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Greenway, L. Strathclyde, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Terrington, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Thomas, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Harvey of Prestbury, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Craigavon, V. Hatherton, L. Vivian, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Hylton, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Denham, L. Kemsley, V. Young, Bs. [Teller.]
Derwent, L. Limerick, E.
Ardwick, L. Gaitskell, Bs. Shepherd, L.
Bernstein, L. Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.] Tanlaw, L.
Beswick, L. Hoy, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Blyton, L. Maelor, L. White, Bs.
Champion, L. Milner of Leeds, L. [Teller.] Wise, L.
Diamond, L. Phillips, Bs.

Clause 52 agreed to.

Clause 53: [Publication and alteration of provisional assessments]:

9.40 p.m.

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110J: Page 54, line 33, leave out ("six") and insert ("twelve").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment refers to the publication of provisional assessments, and at the beginning of the clause it is provided that: An authority shall publish their provisional assessment of fair rents within six months of the coming into force of this Act". The Amendment suggests that for "six months" the Bill should read "twelve months". I am moving this Amendment because we think that six months is an impossibly short time if the task is to be taken seriously. Moreover, we believe that it is quite unnecessary to provide for such a short period as six months. We are suggesting 12 months, not because 12 months is a very adequate time but because it gives more time, would produce better results and would be very much more economical in labour and money.

The first point which I want your Lordships to consider is the range and variety of dwellings which have to be looked at—variety in age, in location, in amenity, in whether or not they have gardens and in whether or not there is the noise of aircraft or of traffic. All these matters create a need for a separate examination of a whole variety and range of dwellings. The second point which I want your Lordships to consider is that there is really no adequate starting point. So far only 300,000 houses in the private sector have registered fair rents. We are now moving to a figure of 5½ million in the public sector, and 100 based on five or six is not enough to cover the enormous variety. Then there is the question of the time scale—perhaps the most relevant consideration of all. These 300,000 houses in the private sector were registered over a total of six years, and 5½ million on the same basis would take over a century. We are not suggesting a century, but we are suggesting 12 months. Even that is too short, but it gives some possibility for the task to be done. The Conservative chairman of the Conservative council at Reading has stated that his officers have estimated that it would take 10 years for this job to be done satisfactorily in Reading, so that six months is really absurdly short.

Then there is the question of staffing. I believe that Camden has estimated that they would need 12 extra staff at a cost of some £35,000. At all events, they would need a substantial number of additional staff at substantial cost—10 being valuation and technical professional staff and two being administrative staff—to cope with the work of publishing a provisional assessment of fair rents. But if the period were extended, their requirement of staff would be proportionately reduced, as would the cost. I think that a conservative estimate for the country as a whole is that something like 1,000 additional qualified technical staff and about 250 additional administrative staff would be required in order to do this job, at an additional cost of something like £4 million. Doubling the time could halve the bill, according to the Camden officer's estimate, and so we could save up to £2 million by merely changing from six months to twelve months.

I have tried to get help from the Financial Memorandum to the Bill but it is very reticent on this point. If one looks at page viii one sees the effects of the Bill on public service manpower. It says that we will need an additional 1,350 civil servants in order to carry out the provisions of the Bill and, in the last paragraph, that some increase in the staff of local authorities is expected to arise as a result of the provisions of the Bill, including the administration of the rent rebate and allowance schemes and the work in connection with the determination of fair rents. I now understand why the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, chided me somewhat for making an underestimate in allowing only 150 additional local government officials, making a total of 1,500 extra people to be employed. It will be very much more than 150; I should have esimated 1,000, getting near to a total of 2,500 rather than 1,500, in order to carry out the provisions of the Bill in the time which this clause suggests.

I hope that the Government will be able to say that in the circumstances they feel that the matter should be dealt with more efficiently and at less cost in manpower and money by taking twelve months instead of six. I cannot see that it makes very much difference. The Government have estimated that the final determination, on the basis of six months here, would still take something like 18 months after allowing for various representations that have to be made. So I cannot see that it makes very much difference whether the final determination is made in 18 months or in 24 months if the longer period provides for the job being done properly or, at all events, a good deal better and saves so much in skilled manpower and in money.

I do not know how so many skilled people, such as valuers and the like, with all the qualifications which we were told in an earlier debate were going to be necessary, will be found. It is hardly necessary for me to say that the A.M.C. is strongly in support of the extension of time because it represents the authorities who have got the job of doing all this. I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment which is put forward in the interests of economy and efficiency.


May I say one word in support of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and point out that the Government have rightly argued that the conversion from controlled rents to regulated rents should be phased over a number of years. This is because the rent officers will not be able to cope simultaneously with the 1.1 million dwellings which are at present in the controlled sector. The sequence of conversion is being spread out according to the rateable value of these dwellings up until 1975. So the Government are saying that the rent officers are not able to cope with 1.1 million dwellings in under three years and yet they are proposing that the assessment of local authority dwellings, which are several times as numerous, ought to be completed within six months. How can those be reconciled? Only if you say that the assessment will be done on a very rough and ready basis, and that large estates will all have their rents fixed simultaneously—and that, of course, would conflict with the provisions of Clause 50, where regard is supposed to be had to the age, character and locality of the dwelling and to its state of repair. Going back to what we were discussing earlier in relation to the Birmingham ease, it was evidently the intention there that all houses or flats of a particular kind and in a particular area to which the Birmingham treasurer attached an amenity factor would have the same rent. But that could not be fair, because one of the houses might be next to a gasworks at one end of the estate and, at the other end of the estate, with an exactly similar rent, the tenant might be overlooking a public park. So you would not be taking into account the factors which are mentioned in Clause 50. If one is going to be fair and is to determine rents on the basis of this formula which the Government have themselves set down, it is physically impossible to do the job in six months. Therefore, I would beg the Government to accept this Amendment. I think twelve months is far too short a period, but if that is the best we can have from the Government then I hope that we shall get at least that.


I should like to begin, if I may, by putting the Record right on the numbers of council houses and the numbers of private tenancies going into regulated tenancies with fair rents. There are in fact slightly under 5 million council tenancies in England and Wales, and there are at present some 300,000 tenancies in the private sector with fair rents registered. Fair rents are being registered at the rate of about 100,000 a year. To suggest, therefore, that it is an absolutely impossible task because it has taken five or six years to achieve this rate is not a fair analogy. Clearly, at the start it was a much more difficult job, and what we can do now is to build on the experience that we have already gained. The fact is that in the private sector this is going much more quickly than it was at the beginning.

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. But having heard so many noble Lords opposite, in the course of both this afternoon and this evening, explaining that in the case of council rents local authorities have an enormous amount of knowledge about their own stocks of houses—the kinds of houses they are, and so on; in fact, a great deal of detailed information about them—I think it is only fair to say that they start off in a much better position than private landlords in the case of private tenancies. In fact, of course, on the whole, local authority dwellings are mainly grouped in estates built at about the same time and containing a limited number of standard dwelling types. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that, while an authority must assess the fair rent of each dwelling individually, the scope for variation between the dwellings on an estate may be relatively limited and factors within each dwelling type are readily identifiable—factors such as the outlook, the size of garden, the absence or presence of a garage and those sorts of facilities.

Furthermore, many authorities at present adopt to a greater or lesser degree a system of rent pooling—a point which has been referred to many times to-day—under which the rent structure takes account of the differences in size, in amenities and in the location of the houses within the Housing Revenue Account of an authority. I should like to say that, in connection with the relative level of fair rents, authorities may find it helpful to have some regard to gross values; and the Inland Revenue are ready to make available informally, to any authority, the gross values of their Housing Revenue Account dwellings proposed for the 1973 rating revaluation, and certain survey data, including information on floor areas. As regards the overall level of fair rents, authorities can obtain advice from the rent officer for the registration area in which the dwelling is situated. The other fact is that there is nothing to prevent an authority that feels it is unable to complete its provisional assessment within the six months from embarking on this now; indeed it could have done so some months ago. The G.L.C., Portsmouth and Newcastle-upon-Tyne have already started on this task. I hope that for these reasons noble Lords opposite will feel ready to withdraw the Amendment.


May I ask the noble Baroness to say categorically how many extra civil servants and municipal servants will be required to operate the clauses in this Bill, and what will be the total cost?


While the noble Baroness is working out that sum—unfortunately there is not sufficient information provided in the Financial Memorandum—may I say that I recognise the force of all the arguments she has used. That is why I think that twelve months, although probably too short a period, may not prove to be impossibly short. But I cannot conceive that the task could be done in six months, and it is not right to penalise an authority which had not anticipated the passing of an Act of Parliament. We are getting to a sorry state if local authorities are to be expected to engage staff and incur expenditure on the basis of the provisions in a Bill which has not gone through Parliament. I should have thought that was not an argument the Government would wish to use. Otherwise they will find themselves in considerable trouble. Because, of course, Bills may be amended by the Government, and this Bill is being substantially amended. If a local authority has incurred expenditure and finds it has no authority for doing so, because the necessary provision was removed before the Bill became an Act, the auditor would be in difficulties; individual councillors would be surcharged and, I should have thought, be able to look to the Government for the recovery by way of damages of the loss they had suffered.

What the matter boils down to is this. The noble Baroness and the Government think six months is possible. We, and the Association of Municipal Corporations—a body not entirely ignorant of the subject, as they have to work it—think that period is impossible. The sensible solution, therefore, is for the Government to say that they will introduce a provision whereby a local authority would be able to seek permission for the Government to extend the period from six to twelve months if it could not achieve its purpose adequately within six months. Would the noble Baroness be prepared to consider a suggestion of that kind, and to put down her own Amendment on Report stage?


I wonder whether any special provision is to be made for those district councils and housing authorities which are yet to be formed, because we are now in a period of transition. I do not know when such authorities would start; they have not officials or offices, and I feel that they should have some special protection.


The answer to the questionn that the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, put, is I think in the Explanatory Memorandum at the beginning of the Bill. If my arithmetic is right, it is estimated that there will be about 500 extra staff for the rent assessment panels, and the Supplementary Benefits Commission. In the next paragraph it is indicated that there will be a substantial increase in the rent officer service. According to the memorandum the figure may well double from 850. As far as local authorities are concerned, I have not got the figures. It would depend very much on what staff local authorities have at present. Housing authorities vary from very large county boroughs to much smaller rural and urban districts. It would be difficult to give any kind of exact figure of the numbers of increased staff that local authorities would require, but I accept that they would require more staff. I have not the figures of cost, but if it is possible to get any kind of costing I will, of course, let the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, know. I am not in a position to say in any way that I could accept this Amendment, but if there was a point that could be considered without prejudice before Report stage, I think that could be done.


I am sure that Her Majesty's Government have done some homework on this subject. If they have not, I hope they will do so pretty quickly. Perhaps they could let us know in writing the estimated number of municipal servants required—this they could get from the associations—and the total cost.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for what she has said. She did not add greatly to our knowledge on the public service manpower or on the cost. So far as manpower is concerned I think she was referring to the first two paragraphs on page viii in the Explanatory Memorandum where the staff is described, but that does not deal with the third paragraph where the question mark arises, so we should be grateful for any help she could give us on that. The only estimate I have been able to work out is based on an inadequate sample of one or two local authorities who have described their difficulties. The noble Baroness, Lady Young has said, as I understand it, that she is not in a position to accept the Amendment but will consider what we have been putting forward. In particular, I am anxious that she should be good enough to consider the suggestion I made that a local authority can be given an extended period, not without the Minister's permission but if the Minister thinks fit. That is going only a very small way to help a particular local authority out of a particular difficulty. Otherwise we are afraid we might get a botched job. In the circumstances, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for what she has said in her promise to have a look at the matter, and I ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.5 p.m.

LORD AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 110K: Page 55, line 10 leave out from ("and") to end of line 18, and insert ("shall notify each individual tenant in writing of the provisional assessment of fair rent on his own dwelling, and of his right under subsection (5) below to make representations relating to it.")

The noble Lord said: Would it be convenient for the Committee if we took Amendments 110K and 110M together, since both of them relate to the serving of notices on tenants at various stages in the procedure for determining the fair rent? Amendment 110K seeks to insert strengthened machinery for ensuring that tenants know what is going on at the preliminary stage when the rent assessment is first prepared. All Clause 53 as it stands says is that the authority, shall take such steps as they may consider reasonable to notify each individual tenant of a dwelling to the rent of which the assessment relates …". I think the word "to" must be wrong there: it must be "of the rent" and "to which".

There are minor drafting points which perhaps the noble Baroness will have a look at before Report stage; I did not think it was worth putting down an Amendment now.

What are "such steps as they may consider reasonable"? Some authorities might think it adequate to place a notice in the office of the housing department to inform tenants verbally through the rent collector that they could come in and look at it if they felt like it. I do not see why this provision should not be strengthened. The machinery exists for individual notification of the tenants, because rent collectors go round periodically, and the notices for which I call in Amendment No. 110K could be taken round in the normal course of events. The only cost that would be placed on the shoulders of the local authority would be the cost of printing the notices, because they could be distributed for nothing. Certainly, I think it important that each individual tenant should have written notification.

The Party opposite are always telling us how the fair rent provisions in relation to local authority dwellings are modelled on those contained originally in the 1965 Rent Act for private dwellings and read over into the Consolidation Act 1968. If one looks at Schedule 6 to that Act one finds in paragraph 2: Where the application is made by the landlord alone the rent officer shall serve on the tenant … a notice informing him of the application and specifying a period of not less than seven days from the service of the notice during which representations in writing may be made … So in the case of the private tenant it was thought desirable that individual notification should be given. All I am asking is that the same privilege—if you like to call it that; I would call it a right—should be accorded to the tenant in the public sector. If noble Lords and the noble Baroness opposite are so keen on the Government's formula in the 1965 Act, here is an opportunity to adopt a little more of it.

Let me turn to the second Amendment, No. 110M, which is to provide for a similar notification in Clause 54(1). The notification is needed for this reason: that the authority may reassess the rent of a dwelling, and unless there is a second notification the tenant has no way of knowing that this has been done. They have to amend the entry relating to the rent of that dwelling in the copy that is deposited at their principal office (that is provided for by Clause 53(7)(a)), but they do not have to tell the tenant that this is being done. There might be an alteration made in that principal office copy and the tenant could remain in complete ignorance of the fact. So I am asking that when the final copy is submitted for approval under Clause 54 the tenant should be given a second notification. Here again I must draw a parallel with the 1968 Rent Act, the provisions of which were read over, as I have said, from the original 1965 formula which is so popular with the Government. The noble Baroness, if she is going to reply, will find the relevant provision in paragraph 5 of Schedule 6 to the Rent Act 1968. I have simply copied the wording from there in the perfect knowledge that this will be to the satisfaction of the Government. These are two very small Amendments which I feel sure the Government will be able to accept. I beg to move.


I should like to support the Amendment put forward so briefly and to the point by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It seems to me (there may be an explanation) quite incredible that one should try to save—I presume that this is the object—the money on postage and ask the tenant to go and look at the rent assessment. People's time these days is of some value, and if they are expected to trail to wherever the offices are purely to save a 2½p or 3p stamp it is quite appalling.


I think there is considerable merit in this Amendment. Tenants may have to travel quite considerable distances to get to their council offices. A one-line notice could be incorporated along with the rent demand, which will be delivered anyway.


The proposal behind the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is certainly an idea and a very desirable one. It was a subject that was discussed with the local authority associations, among many other topics, in preparation of this Bill. They recognised that it is very desirable, in the course of notifying tenants that a rent assessment has been made—that is provided for in the Bill—that each individual tenant should be notified of what his particular assessment has been. They confirmed that it was their intention to recommend to their members that they should do so. But they asked that this should not be made a statutory requirement of every single authority. Like noble Lords opposite, we pay attention to what the local authority associations say. On the whole, we have been disposed to agree with them that, although this is something which everybody would like to be able to do, and most authorities would try to do, there is a case for not making it a statutory requirement on every authority.


The authorities that found some difficulty were the widely scattered rural authorities which would have some physical difficulty in getting notices out to tenants in isolated areas.


That is not the argument. There is a requirement to notify everybody; a letter has to go to every tenant indicating that a fair rent has been assessed. That statutory requirement is met by sending out a circular. The Amendment the noble Lord is seeking would involve sending out an individual notice, which is an increased commitment. It is not a question of saving postage, because a letter has to be sent to meet the statutory requirement. The point the local authority associations made was that they should not be under a statutory requirement to notify each individual of his own particular assessment in every case, though they recognise this as desirable.


Could the noble Lord give us the reasons why the authorities gave that advice to the Government? It would be helpful if the noble Lord could give the reasons why.


I do not think I can do so off the cuff. I have already undertaken to consider whether this agreement is the best in all the circumstances. Noble Lords will recognise that in a widespread rural community where it is not at all ordinary for people to come anywhere near their town hall it imposes a much greater burden on individual council tenants to come in and inspect the lists. There is a much stronger case there for notifying individual tenants of their own particular assessments. In other cases it is not an undue burden. The borough may be a compact one and almost every tenant may have occasion to go into, or at any rate very close to, the town hall, and it is not asking too much for them to inspect the lists there. It may be possible to provide lists at branches of the town hall. But these are all questions I shall be very happy to look into in the light of what noble Lords have said.


In his reply to the debate, the noble Lord made a very strong point in that the local authorities felt very strongly in this matter. This was the basic point, I think, in his defence. Does he not find it extraordinary that when he is asked "What was the reason the local authorities came to this conclusion?" he is unable to give it to the Committee? We could save a great deal of time if we could understand why the authorities have put this view to the Government and could assess why the Government accept their particular view.

10.16 p.m.


I do not care what the local authorities say or do not say, because I realise that during the course of the Committee discussions noble Lords opposite have ignored their advice on a great number of more important issues. The point is that people occupy council houses or flats, which accommodation anybody in this Chamber might occupy, and they suddenly find that their rent is going up. They would obviously wish to be advised in writing that the rent was going up. Why should we have a kind of apartheid on the question of rent because these people are paying £2 (or whatever it is) average rent per week? I think it is disgraceful that people's rents are to be put up without their being given written notice of the fact.


The Minister has said, I think, that in each case the tenant would have to be informed by letter. The first point is that it does not seem to me (I may be wrong) that the wording of the Bill is such that notification must be by letter. Surely, it might be by the unsatisfactory means of an advertisement in the local paper. That is the first point I should like an answer upon. The second is that if the Minister is correct in saying that they must write to the tenant, the only advantage that can accrue to the local authority by not sending direct information of the assessment is that it may save a certain amount of clerical labour, at the expense, as another noble Lord quite apart from myself has pointed out, of tenants having to go to the council offices themselves to find out. I think that unless we have a more satisfactory reason why the councils oppose this step, all noble Lords ought to support the Amendment to ensure that this kind of practice is not going to continue.


I support this Amendment. I feel that not everybody visits his council offices now. When we get the new establishments with 100,000 people or more in a housing authority, it is even less likely that people will often be in their council offices.


May I ask one question? Would I be wrong in thinking that my noble friend would undertake to look at all these matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury?


Before the noble Lord opposite answers, may I point out that it does not say in Clause 53 that each individual tenant will be notified in writing when the provisional assessments have been made. What it says is that an authority shall take such steps as they may consider reasonable to notify each individual tenant". As I pointed out, some authorities might consider it reasonable for the rent collectors to give this information verbally to the tenant. That is point number one. The second point which emerges from this discussion is that if the local authorities do have to send out a circular—accepting the noble Lord's argument that somewhere or other, which I have not spotted, they are obliged to do this—the only additional work which is being created for them by asking them to give the tenants individually the fair rent of the dwelling in which they are living is to put in one figure by typing it at the bottom of the circular. The circular could have printed in it a sentence which says: "The provisional assessment of fair rent on your dwelling is …"—followed by a blank, and then the clerk in the housing department office would simply fill in £2.75 or £3.50, as the case may be. I really cannot see why any local authority should object to what seems to me to be a fairly simple operation. Even if there are tens of thousands of dwellings in a particular local authority, so that many of these forms must have this figure individually added in, this is absolutely nothing compared with the vast staff which the noble Baroness told us in connection with the previous Amendment that local authorities would need to engage—750 here; 850 more officers in the rent officer sections. It is not by any means as huge a task as they will have to undertake, so I cannot see why the local authorities should take this view at all.

On the second Amendment that I took with this one I cannot see anything about notification at all, whether by circular or individually in writing. Under Clause 53(7) if the authorities re-assess the rent of a dwelling they only have to amend the copy of the assessment deposited in their principal office, and they have to take whatever steps they may consider reasonable to amend copies deposited at any of the other offices. So that they could amend the provisional assessment in accordance with the provisions of subsection (5) without the tenant knowing anything about it at all. So, if anything, my second Amendment is more important than the first. The two should be considered together because they both involve the despatch of notices. I think we are making rather heavy weather of this, and for once we ought to tell the local authority associations that we disagree with them.


May I just say that we are not really dealing with the publication and alteration of provisional assessments. I would put it to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that unless we can be satisfied that each individual tenant is notified how can we be sure that he is going to enjoy the opportunities to which the noble Lord himself drew attention earlier this evening—the opportunity to do something about it and to make known his dissatisfaction?

I think there is little doubt that there is strong feeling in the Committee on this matter, and it is coming from all sides. Attention has been drawn to the fact that we shall shortly be considering local government re-organisation. It will not just be people living in rural districts who will find that they have a long journey to go to their district council offices; most of us will have a long journey to go to our council offices before we are much older. The difficulty will be countrywide, and the noble Lord who spoke from the Back Benches on the other side of the Committee was absolutely right to draw attention to this. The Committee should be quite definite that every tenant is not going to be told that his rent is going up when it has been decided, but indeed that he will be notified when an assessment has been made.


There is one further point I should like to make. When people receive notification that there is a change in their rent assessment, how many of them will simply sit back and say: "Oh, yes, the next time I go in by 'bus I can conveniently call at the council office"? So while to some it is not very inconvenient, most people are desperately interested in their rent. What will they have to do? They will have to rush in the next day at great inconvenience to themselves, and one cannot contrast that inconvenience against any administrative difficulty that the councils may have.

10.25 p.m.


I agree with Lord Avebury that we are making very heavy weather of this. I draw his attention, in connection with the point he made, to Clause 53(6) which in that respect lays an inescapable statutory duty on the authority in those circumstances to notify the individual tenant direct about a change. To listen to the debate one might have thought that I had asserted that local authorities did not intend to notify their tenants of the assessment of their rents. In fact, I have done the opposite. I have confirmed that it is their intention, and we are concerned here simply with whether we secure this by putting it into the Bill and making it a statutory requirement; by including it in a circular; or by relying on the local authority associations to recommend it to their members. I have indicated that I am more than willing to reconsider this whole matter in the light of the comments of noble Lords. As many noble Lords opposite have said, the amount of extra cost and effort involved in doing this is very small compared with the sums we are considering in the Bill as a whole. It is not a major matter. I will certainly consider it and if, in the light of this debate, it is thought right to make this a statutory requirement on local authorities and not to rely on their intentions and word, we can do it.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for those remarks and perhaps on Report he will give the reasons why such a strong line has been taken on this matter. He referred the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to Clause 53(6) in which, he said, there was an inescapable requirement on authorities. In fact, that provision simply: If an authority re-assess the rent of a dwelling under subsection (5) above, they shall take such steps as they may consider reasonable to notify the tenant of the dwelling of the amount of the rent as re-assessed. The operative words are: "… such steps as they may consider reasonable …". I would not have thought that such words would be sufficient for the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. They do not seem to place an inescapable duty on authorities to inform individual tenants in this matter. Too much is left open, and perhaps when considering this issue the noble Lord will see whether subsection (6) can be tightened up so as to place a more specific duty on authorities.


Certainly, but I do not see how that could be done without writing to each tenant saying what the amount should be. However, I will look into the matter.


In view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has been so forthcoming, I feel that it might be convenient to bring this debate to an end. I urge the noble Lord to draw the attention of the local authority associations to what has been said in all parts of your Lordships' House and to make it clear that strong feelings exist that this should be written into the Bill and not be left as a vague undertaking given behind closed doors by the local authority associations to the Minister. It should be written into the Bill so that everyone, including the tenants who will be affected, may be clear about it. As the noble Lord has undertaken to discuss this matter with the local authorities and as we can, if we wish, return to the subject on Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.29 p.m.

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110L:

Page 55, line 18, at end insert— ("(iii) of the rent proposed for his dwelling with a statement explaining that the changes in rent structure are mandatory on the local authority following legislation by the Government.")

The noble Lord said: I move this Amendment so that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, can, if he will be good enough, take these considerations into account when he is giving thought to any Amendments he may like to see incorporated on Report. This Amendment begins by making it clear that one of the duties to be performed is the notification of each individual tenant of the rent proposed for his dwelling. This is really repeating what has already been said and what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, proposed in his Amendments. Then the Amendment goes on to ask for, a statement explaining that the changes in rent structure are mandatory on the local authority following legislation by the Government. The reason I think that some kind of explanation ought to be given to the tenant is that rents have always been fixed by the local authority, and the tenants will naturally assume that their councillors are responsible for whatever new assessment has been made. Unless they are told to the contrary, and told very clearly, they will assume that; and they will immediately go rushing round to their councillors or go complaining to the council itself or raising hell with the housing officers or town clerk, whatever it may be, quite unnecessarily and quite improperly—because, of course, the local authority will have had no alternative but to carry out the duty put upon them under the Bill. Therefore I think the tenants ought to be told that there has been this complete change, and that it is not the council who are responsible but the Government, who have introduced the legislation with which the local authority are compelled to comply.

The second reason is that this Bill is a very bad Bill—as I think it is—and the proposed increase in rents is far too great and coming far too quickly, and that as a result trouble will be coming. If I am right and it is a bad Bill, then there is great need for the cohesion of the local community to be borne in mind, and people should know that it is not the local authority who are inflicting these increases in rents upon them. Alternatively, it may be a very good Bill, as the Government think it is (and I should be the last one to wish the Government to be denied the credit to which they are entitled), in which case they ought to notify the tenants that it is their Bill and this additional explanatory paragraph ought to go on the notification that is already taking place. There is no question of additional work.

On looking at the words, I think they are perhaps not sufficiently precise. The words "following legislation by the Government" is not the accurate position. They ought perhaps to be "following legislation promoted by the Government and passed by Parliament". But the words could be whatever the Government like, so long as the principle is included. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to say that he will take account of these matters and give them consideration when he considers the other Amendments that we have just discussed.


As the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has said, I think the first part of this Amendment has been adequately dealt with by my noble friend Lord Sandford, in the undertaking that he has just given. The second part of his Amendment is not something the Government feel able to accept. Anyone who has had experience in local government knows perfectly well that local councillors are perfectly capable of making their views felt, even if this Amendment does represent their views; they can do it in a whole variety of ways; through the Press, through local radio, through public meetings, through tenants' meetings, or even by going and visiting tenants. Really it would be quite unnecessary to tell local authorities how to put forward a point of view, if indeed it did express the point of view of all local authorities.

I would conclude by saying that the Government do consider that the fair rent principle is a good principle and are quite prepared to stand by it.


The major part of the Amendment, of course, is the point which the Government has already undertaken to consider, and as to the rest, certainly councillors can make their views known. It would have saved a little trouble, irritation and misunderstanding by tenants if this further information had been given, but if the Government do not want to do it then I do not want to press them particularly, and I seek leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 [Functions of rent scrutiny board]:

10.35 p.m.

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 110N: Page 57, line 2, leave out (" consider ") and insert (" adjudicate upon ")

The noble Lord said: We are now dealing with the functions of the rent scrutiny boards, and the clause provides in its first line: It shall be the duty of the rent scrutiny board to consider any provisional assessment submitted to them. The difficulty about the rent scrutiny boards is the difficulty I have already alluded to, that they are an extremely authoritarian body, an extremely powerful body. They are going to fix the rents of some five million tenants, I gather—although 5½ million was the figure used throughout in the other place without correction, but I am grateful to the noble Baroness for letting us know that the right figure is about five million tenancies. The difficulty is that no tenants are going to be allowed to make any representations to the rent scrutiny board, or to be heard through their representatives, or to know the manner in which the rent scrutiny board function or reach their conclusions; and of course there is going to be no appeal and the decision of the rent scrutiny board will be final. This is all an extraordinary situation. But at all events it would give some appearance of the quasi judicial character of the procedure of the rent scrutiny board if, instead of the duty being laid upon them to consider any provisional assessment, we had a duty to adjudicate upon any provisional assessment. That is why the word "consider" is left out, so that the sentence would read: It shall be the duty of the rent scrutiny board to adjudicate upon any provisional assessment submitted to them". The views of the Government on this are not absolutely clear. I thought the Government was at one stage content about it, because I read at column 2064 of the proceedings of Standing Committee E on February 15 the views of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Channon: I have sought to illustrate my point that the process of consideration which the rent scrutiny boards will undertake will be such as to ensure that they make a proper judgment of the rents and assessments … "A proper judgment of the rents and assessments"—that is adjudication; and so I should have thought, therefore, that to have the word "adjudicate" would be helpful, for the reasons I have indicated, and would be in line with what the Government were thinking.

However, to be fair to the Government, if one reads on in the same column in the proceedings of that Standing Committee E, one finds the Minister going on to say: I believe that the rent scrutiny boards will be able to make a proper consideration of the rents". So I am not so clear as I thought I was at the beginning about what the view of the Government is. I shall be very happy, if the Government want it both ways, to put in both words, so that the sentence would read: It shall be the duty of the rent scrutiny board to consider and adjudicate upon … because of course nobody can adjudicate upon without considering. Perhaps that would be the most suitable way of amending this subsection. I should be grateful to know the Government's view, and I beg to move.


I must take this opportunity to confirm what I believe I indicated before—namely, that we see this rent scrutiny board as being a body, not which adjudicates in the sense of deciding the claims of one person against another person, such as landlord versus tenant, but which considers the rents proposed as provisional assessments by the local authorities after the processes described in the Bill—that is, a consideration as to values and fair rent. One can use the word "judgment" in two ways. One can use it in relation to a numerical assessment; one can use it in relation to judgment as between two rival claims. I must make it clear that our view is that the rent scrutiny board, will be exercising its judgment in the first way—namely, a judgment as to a particular value to be set on the fair rent of a building or group of buildings as proposed by the local authority. It is because we are quite clear that this is the rôle of the rent scrutiny board and that that is the kind of judgment they will exercise, rather than an adjudication between two rival claims or two parties, that I cannot advise the Committee to accept this Amendment.

In view of our previous debate I hope the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will not feel it necessary to press the Amendment. If he were to succeed in persuading us to his view, then of course all the other Amendments consequential upon it would certainly flow, because if the board was going to act in a judicial way it would be necessary for it to receive representations from the parties and for provision to be made for it to call expert witnesses, and so on. It is because we see the rent scruntiny board's function as being an exercise of its judgment upon the value of the fair rents proposed by the local authorities that I cannot recommend the Committee to accept this Amendment, if the noble Lord presses it. But, in view of our previous debate on this cardinal point, I hope very much that he will not feel it necessary to do so.

10.43 p.m.


I do not think I can regard that as a wholly satisfactory answer. I quite agree that it would be a lot easier for all of us if the Government were to change their mind about the function of this board and endow it with some of the qualities which would make its decisions acceptable to tenants. That is the point I am getting at I am not getting at the figure; that is a separate issue, and is something we have passed. The Government know our views on that, and we know the Government's views; we shall never reach agreement on that unless the Government change their mind. We shall not change our view. But our point here is on making acceptable what we think is the Government's excessive figure. It is the Government's profitable rent figure—profitable in the sense of making a profit over and above the costs involved—a figure which we dislike intensely.

That figure will never be acceptable if, in addition to its being a vast increase, it is decided in such a way that nobody knows how the decision has been reached and people feel they have not had an opportunity of making their representations felt. It will be necessary to go into considerable detail about the ways in which this proposed function lacks any possibility of making the board's decisions acceptable to the tenant community as a whole. In the meantime, I should have thought that the Government could have dressed up this clause a little by saying "consider and adjudicate". Certainly on some of the figures coming before it the board will know that the local authority think one thing and the tenant thinks another, because the tenant will have made his representations to the local authority. Unfortunately, the tenant cannot make his representations to the rent scrutiny board.

As I have said, "adjudicate" is a word which gives a feeling that people have looked in an objective and judicial way, at the question they have had to decide, and I should have thought that that would be very helpful to the Government. If the Government are not prepared to consider it, then I can only say that it is most regrettable. I do not want to divide the Committee at this late hour but I suggest that there is a good deal in what I am saying that is helpful to the Government, and that they would be not unwise to offer to consider what I have said.


Perhaps before we conclude this matter I can make sure that the noble Lord is not under the impression that the local authority will submit to the rent scrutiny board anything except their provisional assessment. They will take into account the representations of the tenants, and if they are swayed by them, they will alter those provisional assessments. What the rent scrutiny board receives from the local authority is one set of assessments, and it is on those that the rent scrutiny board has to make its consideration.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. That makes quite clear a point on which I was not absolutely sure. Not only can the tenant not make representations directly to the board, but the tenant cannot make representations indirectly to the board. Any representations which the tenant makes to the local authority stop there and are lost, and the board will have no idea of what the tenant feels. That is an additional matter which we shall take into account when we consider the rest of this objectionable procedure as we go through this clause. I hoped that the noble Lord would say that he would consider what we have said. But in the meantime, to save the time of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.