HL Deb 27 June 1972 vol 332 cc799-924

2.55 p.m.


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

Moved, That the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 78 [Extension to all housing associations of Housing Corporation's power to make loans and extension of power to make loans to Corporation]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 119ZA:

Page 84, line 17, at end insert— ("( ) In subsection (7) of section 1 of the Housing Act 1964 there shall be substituted for the first three lines of paragraph (c) thereof the following— '(c)which is established for the purpose of, or amongst whose objects or powers are included, those of constructing, acquiring, converting, improving or managing houses, being'")

The noble Lord said: One of the new developments that is taking place is that certain councils are providing substantial sums of money for buying up old property which is structurally sound but which has some inadequacy in the services, such as plumbing and kitchen facilities, and they are modernising those particular blocks of property and then turning them into housing associations. This Amendment is moved to ensure that the intention of Clause 78 is quite clear: that any monies available can be applied to the converting of blocks of property which, though structurally sound, are in need of renovation. I beg to move.


I had assumed that it was this question of conversion which the noble Lord wanted to draw me on. It is the case that hitherto the local authorities have been regarded as the best, or the main, source of loans for conversion and improvement work, leaving the Housing Corporation on the whole to deal with the question of acquisition and building, though it occasionally has moved into the conversion field when it occurred, as it were, incidentally. But the time may come when there should be a shift in policy. I am able to advise the Committee that if it were ever felt that the policy should be changed it could be done without amending legislation and within the existing powers. In those circumstances, I can assure the Committee that it is not necessary for the noble Lord to press his Amendment in order to achieve what he wants.


In view of the Minister's undertaking and explanation, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 119ZC:

Page 84, line 21, at end insert— ("( ) For subsection (1) of section 4 of the Housing Act 1964 there shall be substituted the following:— '(1) Where a housing society or housing association desires to acquire any land (including land on which houses are erected) the Corporation may acquire the land compulsorily.'")

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee I should like to deal also with Amendment No. 119ZG. These Amendments are aimed at the same target; namely, the question of acquiring land in advance of a planned construction programme: to put it rather more simply, the power to create a land bank. There is no doubt that one of the problems we are facing to-day, and which I believe we shall face increasingly, is a shortage of building land. If a corporation or a housing society or housing association were planning ahead but had not actually reached the point when construction could start, I think it would be a good thing, if a plot of land became available which could be used for the long term plan which was under consideration, that the housing society or the corporation should be empowered to buy that land while preparing its plans for a major building project. I beg to move.


At present the Housing Corporation has power to acquire land compulsorily on behalf of a housing society, but only where the local authority has declined to do so on the society's behalf or will do so only under unacceptable conditions but that is in order that the society should build. In other words, this is land for building on and not for establishing a bank of land. The Committee will agree that it is in any event undesirable that an elected local authority should in normal circumstances be by-passed by the Corporation in the exercise of compulsory powers. Opposition Members were at pains in Committee on the 1964 Act to ensure that the Housing Corporation consulted the local authority to obtain its reasons for not making an order on the society's behalf, and an Amendment was made to that effect. However, the result of Amendment No. 119ZC would be that the local authority would not be consulted at all.

Amendment No. 119ZD is intended to facilitate the purchase of land by the Housing Corporation for the creation of a bank. I submit to the Committee that this would be going too far and that the right arrangement to safeguard and hold is for the Corporation's power to be limited to doing this by buying land by agreement for sale to housing societies. They already have power to do this and I submit that that power is adequate for the purpose. The second leg of Amendment No. 119ZD would again go too far in that it would give the Housing Corporation power to acquire land for one authority in the area of another, so putting the Corporation in the undesirable position of being capable of being used by one local authority as its agent to acquire land compulsorily in the territory of another. I could not commend that proposition to the Committee, and I do not think the noble Lord would commend it either. I am grateful to him for having given me an opportunity of speaking on this point, particularly as an Amendment in these terms was not called in another place. I hope that, for the reasons I have given, the noble Lord will not press this matter.


The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, used the phrase "by agreement" when speaking about the first part of Amendment No. 119ZD. Am I correct in thinking that he was referring to an agreement between the Corporation and the local authority?


Yes. I had in mind the buying of land by agreement with the existing owner rather than by using compulsory powers. The building up of a bank of land under those terms would be an acceptable and proper activity by the Housing Corporation; but giving it compulsory powers would, I submit, be going too far.


I agree that it would be undesirable for such a housing body, without an elected basis, to be given compulsory powers. On the other hand, would not the noble Lord agree that the new subsection (1B) in Amendment No. 119ZD would enable the Corporation to buy land outside a certain local authority's area when conditions were becoming extremely cramped? The whole concept of overspill is part of life nowadays and I see no objection to the Corporation being able to assist the flow of population from a congested area into the area of another local authority, and the steps suggested in the Amendment would assist this process.


I think we all agree that this is a desirable activity—again, it is perfectly permissible—which we want to see by agreement. What I do not think the noble Lord really wants, but what the Amendment would do, is to enable the Housing Corporation to be put in the position of acting as the agent of one local authority in order to assist it in acquiring land for building in the area of another local authority against the wishes of the second authority. This would be going too far.


If the Minister agrees with my interpretation of what he said—that housing societies and/or the Corporation can carry out the various activities outlined in the Amendment by agreement, without any element of compulsion—then he has given an assurance which I accept and, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.8 p.m.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 119ZE:

Page 84, line 28, at end insert— ("( ) After section 11 of the Housing Act 1964 there shall be inserted:— '11A.—(1) The Corporation may borrow money from building societies on such terms as to interest and repayments as it thinks fit and upon the security of a sub-charge or sub-charges on land on which the Corporation has made advances. (2) Nothing in the Building Societies Acts shall prevent a building society lending money to the Corporation on such security.'").

The noble Lord said: This is one of a group of complicated Amendments whose intention is simple. This clause is for the Extension to all housing associations of Housing Corporation's power to make loans and extension of power to make loans to Corporation. I wish to simplify the lending procedure and the relationship between building societies and the Corporation. The Amendment seems to be drafted in good English and is clear, and I feel that it would assist the intelligent layman more readily to understand the powers contained in the clause. I beg to move.


Section 11 of the Housing Act, 1964, refers only to Scotland and does not apply to England. I feel, therefore, that this provision, which could apply only to Scotland, should not be incorporated into a Bill which affects only England. Furthermore, the wording of the Amendment seems to give the impression that the Corporation shall have power to … borrow money … on such terms as to interest and repayments as it thinks fit …"; in other words, it can dictate to building societies, which would hardly be in their interest. In a case like this there must be freedom to negotiate, and it would be a mistake to try to dictate policies of this sort.


I support the final point made by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. The Amendment should say: The Corporation may borrow money from building societies on such terms as to interest and repayments … as may be agreed. To say … may borrow money … on such terms … as it thinks fit … would seem to knock the whole of the Building Societies Act.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for providing us with this opportunity to look at this matter. I say straight away that it had been our original intention—we said this in Fair Deal for Housing—to provide in the Bill what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve by this Amendment. We have had extensive discussions with the building societies and with the Housing Corporation. At the end of the day we have come to the conclusion that the balance of advantage lies in the opposite direction, and that on the whole this would not be the best way of enabling the building societies to assist the housing association movement. On the Report stage we shall be hoping to put down an Amendment to facilitate the building societies in their desire to assist the housing associations specifically by ensuring that their loans do not have to count as special advances.

I am in some difficulty because I am conscious that the Committee as a whole wants to move fairly fast over this ground, which is not particularly controversial, on to other new matters on which we want to have a substantial debate. I should like to suggest to the noble Lord that I write to him at some length setting out the pros and cons. We might have some discussion together about this matter between now and the next stage and, in the light of that, decide whether we want to return to it. In any case, we shall be returning to it to some extent and we can have a further debate at that point. I can go into the matter now at greater length, but to do the subject justice would take quite some time.


I am most grateful to the Minister for his courtesy. I accept his offer with gratitude. If a meeting between us is considered desirable may I ask that it should take place in good time before the Report stage?




We do not know what is in the noble Lord's mind or in the brief, and there may be others outside the Committee who are very interested in what he has to say about building societies and so on. If the noble Lord thought it appropriate perhaps he would say something which would go on the Record and be read and heard by others. We would understand that and, even so, try to accommodate it within our over-tight programme.


I should like to make a suggestion. In the past it has been known for inspired Questions to appear on the Order Paper. If the noble Lord would get this information to us in the form of a Written Answer obviously people outside would be able to read it.


May we leave it that I do not add anything to what I have just said? This possibility is something which the noble Lord and I could consider when we have our discussion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


This seems to be the converse of my previous Amendment, Perhaps this could be discussed at the same time. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 84, line 28, at end insert— ("( ) After section 11 of the Housing Act 1964 there shall be inserted:— '11B. The Corporation may receive loans from members of the public on the same terms as if the Corporation were a building society and may make arrangements with housing societies and housing associations to ensure that in the letting of houses priority is accorded to those who have contributed by loan to the funds of the Corporation as prospective tenants of a housing society or housing associations.'").—(Lord Winterbottom.)


Yes, certainly, but I think I ought to say for the record and make the point to the Committee that our view is that the Housing Corporation and the building societies should not get into the position where they are rivalling each other, as I believe they would if this Amendment were accepted. Their relationship is such that they complement and assist each other and do not get into a position where they are in competition. For that reason I would hope the noble Lord would not want to press the Amendment. We can certainly consider it together in the discussions.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 agreed to.

Clause 79 [Housing agreements]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 119ZH: Page 85, line 20, leave out ("if he thinks fit")

The noble Lord said: I am afraid I have jumped ahead a little. With the agreement of the Committee, I suggest that Amendment No. 119ZH and No. 119ZJ should be taken together. They are very simple Amendments and are designed to ensure that the Secretary of State's attitude in this area is as liberal as it can be. According to subsection (6), the Secretary of State may direct that the agreement shall have effect with such variations determined by him or agreed by the parties as may be specified in the direction without involving the Secretary of State in the negotiations. I do not place great weight on these two points, but they are to make certain that the Secretary of State acts in a liberal manner.


We are concerned in Clause 79 with housing agreements. In subsection (6) reference is made to the six types of agreement set out in subsection (2). It empowers the Secretary of State to direct that a housing agreement may be varied or terminated either at the request of any one party to the agreement or of both parties should they agree. As the balance of the terms of the agreement may, as a result of subsection (1), become much more favourable to the one party than to the other, it is reasonable that the Secretary of State should be able to redress the balance without the agreement of the party which, as a result of subsection (1), may have gained an advantage over the other party. For this reason it is undesirable to restrict the Secretary of State's discretion in this matter. I hope this meets the noble Lord's point, giving the flexibility for which he was asking.


The Secretary of State in fact acts as an umpire between conflicting parties.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 119ZK:

Page 85, line 27, at end insert: ("(7) Nothing in this section shall affect housing agreements made in respect of housing for the old, the sick or the disabled or agreements in respect of housing sponsored by an employer for his employees through the medium of a housing society.")

The noble Lord said: In my view, this is the most important of the four Amendments which I and my noble friends have put down. I believe the first half of the Amendment would attract general approval. The second half may be equally important. It deals with housing sponsored by an employer for his employees through the medium of a housing society. I do not know exactly the constitution of the various charitable trusts and housing associations linked with great firms such as Rowntrees or Levers, but throughout the country there are many housing associations sponsored by an employer in which houses are provided for the employer's employees, and it is very important that the benefits arising from these facilities provided by the employer should not be whittled away by this clause.


There are really two parts to this Amendment. In the case of the first part the effect is that under Part II of the Bill tenants of housing associations will become eligible for rent allowances. I am sure the noble Lord will recognise that his point is met, in effect, by the rent allowance scheme. The second part of the Amendment refers to an employer who provides housing for his employees. There is no particular reason why the rent terms restricting the rent which may be charged should be retained where the dwellings are provided by an employer for his employees through the medium of a housing association or society. It would mean that if the purpose of the dwellings was to enable the employer to offer accommodation to his employees at a particular rent, he might not wish to increase the rents to the fair rent level. If that happened and the association incurred a deficit as a result of the phasing out of the existing housing subsidy, it would be open to the employer to contribute towards that deficit as part of the expenditure of his business, and so make it unnecessary for the rents to be raised. That, in fact, would be by agreement between himself and his employee if he so chose to do it. I hope that this explanation meets the noble Lord's point.


In view of the noble Baroness's explanation I am glad to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 79 shall stand part of the Bill?


May I ask one question? I am sure my noble friend is fully aware of this, but I have not had an opportunity of speaking to him about it. On the last Amendment the noble Baroness dealt with the position of the old, the sick and the disabled, and made the point that they would be automatically taken care of in the arrangements for rent allowances. I wonder whether the noble Baroness could give us some examples of the additional amounts of assistance towards rent payable that would be available to those who are old, sick, or disabled, as opposed to the normal person. What I am asking is, would the needs allowance be appropriately increased in the case of the sick, the old or the disabled?


I understand the position to be as set out in Schedule 3 which we have discussed, and the detailed working of the Schedule and needs allowances are set out there. The tenants of housing associations would of course be eligible for these rent allowances—I beg your Lordships' pardon, rent rebates.


It is my fault, I misled the noble Baroness in talking about allowances when technically we are talking about rebates. I have Schedule 3 in front of me, and I am not sure that Schedule 3 sets out the details of the distinctions to be drawn.


The needs allowances are in paragraph 8 of Schedule 3, on page 122. Perhaps the noble Baroness will recall that we had some discussion on this point, I think on the late night sitting on Tuesday, when the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, moved an Amendment dealing with the needs of the disabled. I think at that time it was the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who promised to come forward before Report stage with some suggestions as to how the needs allowance might be improved in respect of the disabled.


I thought that this might be a convenient moment for the Government to explain what they have in their mind with regard to this matter, because the clause and the Amendment which we discussed relating to the clause deal with this very issue. If the Government say that they have not had an opportunity yet of considering the matter further we shall understand, but if they have considered the matter further and are able to give us an indication as to the extent to which they are able to suggest improvements, we shall be very glad to hear their views.


The scheme is set out in paragraphs 8 and 9 of Schedule 3. I am afraid that I have nothing further to add on this point to what my noble friend said in that long Committee discussion.


Was not the Amendment withdrawn by the noble Lord on the understanding that there was to be a statement on Report stage about this?


The undertaking was that there would be an Amendment at Report stage. That undertaking will be honoured, but I am not ready to make a statement on it at this point.

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 agreed to.

Clause 81 [Power to apply to certain housing associations provisions of Act relating to local authorities]:

3.25 p.m.

BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 119A: Page 86, line 32, leave out ("to the association") and insert ("in relation to the association and to any relevant authority").

The noble Baroness said: I should like, in moving Amendment No. 119A, to consider at the same time Amendment No. 119B. These are in effect drafting Amendments, No. 119B being consequential on Amendment No. 119A. Under Clause 81, the Secretary of State is given a power by order, where any housing association who are providing housing accommodation on such a scale as to render it substantially unnecessary for the local authority in question to do so, to treat that association for any parts of the Bill as the local authority or as their agent. In such a case the order may make exceptions, adaptations or modifications to any provision of the Bill. Amendment No. 119A makes it clear that these exceptions may be made in relation both to the association and to any relevant local authority. Amendment No. 119A will ensure that the necessary provision can be included in the order.


Should that not be housing authority?


It is a reference to the local authority.


Then should it not be local authority?


No, my Lords, I do not think so.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 119B.

Amendment moved— Page 87, line 10, after ("payable") insert ("to the association").—(Baroness Young.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 120: Page 87, line 32, after ("area") insert ("being either expenditure").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 120, and I should like to take at the same time Amendment No. 121. These Amendments are to state more clearly that an order made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) of the clause may require a local authority to make rate fund contributions to a housing association specified in the order not only in respect of that proportion of the association's reckonable expenditure for subsidy which is not met by subsidy, but also in respect of any expenditure which is not reckonable for subsidy—that is, in respect of costs of new building in excess of the housing cost yardstick. The only housing association in fact to which an order made under this clause is likely to apply is the North East Housing Association, and the clause has been drafted to take account of the special arrangements which have been agreed for that association between the Department of the Environment, the association, and representatives of the local authorities on whose behalf the association provides dwellings.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 121.

Amendment moved— Page 87, line 34, after ("subsidy") insert ("or expenditure which is not reckonable for the purpose of calculating the amount of that subsidy;").—(Baroness Young.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 81, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 82 [Tenancies to which this Part of this Act applies]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 123A:

Page 88, line 41, at end insert— ("(c)and the landlord has not passed any resolution which would have the effect of declaring the intention of bringing into operation a change in the constitution or membership of the landlord association which would bring it within the exemption to the definition 'housing association' in section 100 of this Act.")

The noble Lord said: We are now moving into Part VIII of the Bill, and Clause 82 defines the "Tenancies to which this part of this Act applies". That is a straightforward introduction to Part VIII. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) are, on the whole, clear, but there is a possibility of doubt about a situation which I am trying to cover in the new paragraph (c) which forms this Amendment. At some abominable hour this morning we heard about manipulations of rents in Tonbridge. But here we have a slightly different situation, not where rents are being manipulated, but where the landlord brings about a change in the constitution which would take an association outside the definition in Clause 100 of the Bill. There is that possible escape route for an association or an individual who wished to avoid involvement under the powers in this Bill, and I therefore seek to close it. I beg to move.


This is a point which was debated in another place, but it will do no harm to air it here as well. The Committee will see the point which the noble Lord has raised in moving his Amendment, but I suggest that the moment when a tenancy moves out of the ambit of Part VIII by a change in the constitution is the moment when the constitution is changed, and not when a resolution expressing an intention to change the constitution takes effect. The point is a valid one that, if the constitution changes in the way described in Clause 100(1) towards a co-ownership association, the tenancy then moves out of the ambit of Part VIII. But it would not be right, and it would produce quite a number of anomalies, if the moment of that change were tied to the passing of a resolution, because a resolution could be passed and nothing need be done about it, a resolution could be passed and could then be revoked, and we could get into a number of awkward situations. I think what is set out in Clause 100(1) gets the matter right, but I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving an opportunity to discuss this point.


In view of the assurance of the Minister, that the fears I expressed are laid to rest by paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) of Clause 82, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 82 agreed to.

Clause 83 agreed to.

Clause 84 [The rent limit]:

3.34 p.m.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 123E: Page 89, line 36, leave out ("the rent so registered") and insert ("such rent as the landlord selects from time to time to be the rent limit being within the range where R=Registered rent").

The noble Lord said: I hope the Committee will not charge me with attempting to blind it with science. We had an agreeable algebraic exchange on Clause 10—again, at some later hour of the night—and I feel that I shall not exceed my mathematical powers in trying to express what is really a simple idea. May I say that the equation R—R/5 to R+R/5 means plus or minus 20 per cent. and is really quite comprehensible?

The reason for this Amendment is that I have received information about some disquiet arising out of a fear that administrative difficulties in putting the Act, as it will be, into effect may cause such delays that housing associations will get into difficulties. It is the case that the Federation of Housing Associations is in contact with the Institute of Rent Officers on a number of matters, and there is concern among many housing associations that delays in fair rent procedures could have serious effects on their work. It is hoped that better information on the nature of the voluntary housing movement and the work undertaken will assist rent officers in their dealings with the housing associations. Clearly this is a desirable step, but on discussing this Bill with intelligent friends of mine I find that they are all very much afraid that the complexities of giving effect to this Bill will bring about substantial delays.

We cannot pass the Bill and immediately expect the machine to start running smoothly. So I would argue that since there is this uncertainty, and since time may pass before rents are fixed, a landlord should have power from time to time to vary the rent within his own discretion by plus or minus 20 per cent. This is perhaps asking a great deal from the Government, because it gives an organisation, or an individual responsible within that organisation, substantial powers. But because of the fears that it may not be easy to run in this complex Bill, and because it may not run smoothly at first, power should be given to the landlord to vary rents within a defined range, such as plus or minus 20 per cent. I beg to move.


The noble Lord has made quite clear what he is aiming at by this Amendment. But the point I would make to the Committee, which I hope will satisfy the noble Lord, is that it is not necessary to press this point, because the housing associations as landlords are quite free to vary rents downwards by 20 per cent., or by any other percentage. In Clause 86 there is provision for the Secretary of State to direct, under the circumstances there set out, that a rent should be above that registered, by whatever amount he directs and for whatever period he directs. That enables him to apply his discretion in the matter, in the light of all the information given to him about the finances of a housing association. I think it is better that his discretion should be based upon all the circumstances of each case, rather than apply a formula which, although it looks complicated is, as the noble Lord said, really quite straightforward and means plus or minus 20 per cent. To leave it to the absolute discretion of a housing association as landlord as to the amount by which it could be reduced, and to the discretion of the Secretary of State in all the circumstances as to the amount by which it could be increased, is on balance a better way of providing for this.


In view of the explanation of the Minister I am glad to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 84 shall stand part of the Bill?


I have only one question to which I am sure there is a simple answer. I am not able to understand completely what subsection (1) means. It says: Where the rent payable under a tenancy would exceed the rent limit determined in accordance with this Part of this Act the amount of the excess shall be irrecoverable from the tenant. That is beyond my understanding.


Under a tenancy a certain rent is payable. In the subsection we are talking about, another rent limit is determined in accordance with this Part of the Bill. If that is lower than the rent payable under the tenancy it will not be possible to get the excess from the tenant.




The amount by which the rent payable under the tenancy exceeds the rent limit.


I might be able to help the noble Lord. There was a similar provision in the 1965 Act which was read over into the 1968 Act. The point was that if you had a tenancy agreement with your landlord which provided for a rent larger than a fair rent and you then found out about this, you could recover the excess from the landlord. There was a case recently reported in the Guardian—I think it related to the Freshwater group of companies—where a number of firms went to the county court and recovered excess sums above the fair rent which they had paid under a tenancy agreement. This covered a period of something like 12 months and the sums involved were quite substantial. This was a private landlord. This subsection is merely a repeat of an equivalent provision in the 1965 Act.


I have not got a copy of the 1965 Act with me. I have no doubt that the Government have. I have a copy of the 1968 Act, but I have no idea where to look for this provision. I fully understand what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is saying, in which case one would have a reference to the excess being recovered from the landlord. But as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, observed, the provision in this subsection is that the excess shall be irrecoverable. One would understand that if it went on to say that the excess shall be irrecoverable from the landlord. But it says that the excess shall be irrecoverable from the tenant. In the totally immodest belief that others may have the same difficulty as I have in following the language, I was hoping that the noble Lord would explain it for the benefit of us all.


I wish I could, but I do not see the difficulty. A certain rent would be payable under a tenancy. Were it not for the fact that a rent has been determined it might be less. In these circumstances the rent limit supersedes the rent payable under the tenancy.


I will read what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has to say and I hope that there will be no need for me to come back on this at the Report stage.

Clause 84 agreed to.

Clauses 85 and 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 [Special rent limit: procedure on application]:

LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 124: Page 93, leave out lines 43 to 45 and insert ("(including loan charges as defined in section 75 of this Act) which in his opinion it is reasonable for the applicant to incur in the exercise of housing functions, as defined in the said section.").

The noble Lord said: This is the same subject as we discussed under Amendments Nos. 112, 113 and 118. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 87, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 88 and 89 agreed to.

3.47 p.m.

LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 125: After Clause 89, insert the following new clause:

Power to increase rateable value limits for Rent Act 1968

".—(1) Subsections (6) and (7) of this section shall come into force if and only if the Secretary of State so directs by an order made not later than 1st September 1973.

(2) For the purposes of the said subsections (6) and (7) (which, for dwellings first entered in the valuation list on or after 1st April 1973, alter the rateable value limits in sections 1 and 71 of the Rent Act 1968) an order under subsection (1) above shall determine—

  1. (a) as the relevant amount for a dwelling-house in Greater London, such sum exceeding £400 as is specified in the order, and
  2. (b) as the relevant amount for a dwelling-house elsewhere, such sum exceeding £200 as is so specified.

(3) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, and the Secretary of State shall not make an order under this section unless a draft of the order has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(4) The date specified in an order under this section as the date when it is to come into force shall not be earlier than 1st April 1973.

(5) If the date so specified is later than 1st April 1973, the order may contain such transitional provisions as appear to the Secretary of State to be desirable.

(6) For paragraph (a) of section 1(1) of the Rent Act 1968 (protected tenancies) there shall be substituted the following paragraphs— (a) where the appropriate day in relation to the dwelling-house fell before 1st April 1973, the dwelling-house on the said appropriate day had a rateable value exceeding, if it is in Greater London, £400 or, if it is elsewhere, £200, or (aa) where the appropriate day in relation to the dwelling-house falls on or after 1st April 1973, the dwelling-house on the said appropriate day has or had a rateable value exceeding the relevant amount determined by an order under section (Power to increase rateable value limits for Rent Act 1968) of the Housing Finance Act 1972, or".

(7) In section 71(1) of the Rent Act 1968 for the words from "which has or had" to end of the subsection there shall be substituted the following words— unless—

  1. (a) where the appropriate day in relation to the dwelling fell before 1st April 1973, the dwelling on the said appropriate day had a rateable value exceeding, if it is in Greater London, £400 or, if it is elsewhere, £200, or
  2. (b) where the appropriate day in relation to the dwelling falls on or after 1st April 1973, the dwelling on the said appropriate day has or had a rateable value exceeding the relevant amount determined by an order under section (Power to increase rateable value limits for Rent Act 1968) of the Housing Finance Act 1972."

(8) It is hereby declared that in section 1(1)(a) and section 71(1) of the Rent Act 1968 as they have effect apart from the preceding provisions of this section, the expression "has or had on the appropriate day" requires, in all cases, the ascertainment of what the rateable value is or was on the appropriate day, and not on any other date."

The noble Lord said: This new clause deals with a question that has given a good deal of trouble during the course of the passage of this Bill. This is the solution that the Government are proposing. If it is in accordance with your Lordships' wishes, may I suggest that we discuss at the same time the new clause standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, which is dealt with in Amendment No. 138, and Amendment No. 109GU, which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, kindly agreed to postpone until this stage. This new clause gives power to increase the rateable value limits for Rent Act protection in respect of new dwellings first entered in the valuation list on or after April 1, 1973. The rateable value limits for protection are, as the Committee will know, £400 in Greater London and £200 elsewhere. These limits were set by the Rent Act 1965. The rateable value for this purpose is the value as at March 23, 1965, or, if the dwelling is a newly provided one and was first entered in the valuation list at a later date, as at the date when it was entered in the valuation list.

The general valuation which is to take effect on April 1, 1973, is expected to result in a considerable increase in rateable values. Consequently, if nothing were done between now and then the effective field of Rent Act protection would be reduced for new rented properties first entered in the valuation list thereafter. If the present field of protection is to be broadly preserved, the rateable value limits for protection for such properties will need to be increased by April 1, 1973, in line with the broad movement of rateable values emerging from the revaluation. The majority of the Francis Committee recommended that all new dwellings built for letting should be exempt from rent regulation on the grounds that this would encourage the provision of such accommodation. In the Committee stage debate in another place, when an Amendment to Clause 39 was being discussed to which this recommendation is relevant, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Channon, explained that the Government were not yet in a position to come to a decision on this aspect of the Francis Committee's Report, and he assured the Standing Committee that if the Government came to the conclusion recommended by the Francis Committee legislation would be needed and Parliament would have the opportunity to discuss it. Indeed, Sections 1(1)(a)and 71(1) of the Rent Act would need to be amended, either to implement the Francis Committee recommendations or to preserve the present broad field of protection.

Legislation to implement the Francis Committee recommendations as a whole would certainly involve a major Bill, and clearly one cannot rely on such a major Bill becoming law by April 1, 1973. So this new order-making power is needed in the interim. It applies both to regulated and to furnished tenancies, which have the same limits of protection. It would be the intention of the Government to exercise the power by that date to maintain broadly the existing field of protection unless possibly any decision which might have been made by then on the relevant Francis Committee recommendation made its use inappropriate. The Order is to be laid in draft, and is to be subject to an Affirmative Resolution of each House before it can be made. The intention would be to make the Order by April 1, 1973, but the power has been drawn so as to be exercisable up to the summer Parliamentary Recess of 1973.

As I said, for dwellings entered in the valuation list before April 1, 1973, protection depends on the rateable value as at March 23, 1965, or, if later, as at the date of the first entry of the hereditament in the valuation list. The Rent Act 1965 made it clear that subsequent alterations in the rateable value, whether on revaluation or for any other reason, would not affect protection unless they were applied for before April 1, 1965, or in the same financial year as that in which the hereditament was first listed. An opinion has been expressed, however, that the consolidating Rent Act 1968 has removed this certainty, and to avoid any doubt on this, subsection (8) of the new clause declares the position still to be as originally enacted in 1965. Those are the main points of the new clause, and those are the reasons for the Government's introducing it in this form. I beg to move.


I can certainly say that we are grateful to the Government—very grateful indeed—for having brought this clause forward, and I understand the form in which it is being brought forward, having regard to its temporary nature. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having answered most of the questions I had put against the clause during the course of his introduction of it. I now understand in particular why the dates are there and what the Government have in mind. This is a widely permissive clause—very widely permissive—and, as I understand it, what the noble Lord has said is that it is the Government's intention to use the order-making powers under this clause broadly to restore the position as it was originally, when the £400 and £200 were decided upon. That is the essential point we want to get clear; namely, that in the Government's mind there will be no intention to increase the area of protection. So far as I am concerned, I had hoped that the Government would move somewhat in that direction. One obviously could not expect that the Government would protect all such dwellings; and the Amendment which was down in the name of some of my noble friends and myself was worded shortly for the purpose of probing the matter and raising the whole issue. So the first thing I should be grateful if the noble Lord would make absolutely clear is what the Government's intentions are with regard to either widening or narrowing, or keeping broadly level, the area of protection. We shall read in Hansard very carefully what he said and if necessary come back to it at Report stage, but I think it would be helpful if he could deal with that point at this stage.

There are two minor questions that I should like to put to the noble Lord at the same time. Does the wording of this Amendment enable a decision to be varied? That is to say, after an Order has been approved, does it enable the Government to come back with another Order varying the original one, and so on? I ask this question because frequently one finds an expression giving that power specifically. The second question is: does the power given here include power not only to increase the figures for the whole country in the two categories of London and outside London but also to vary the figures for particular areas only, in case it was felt that there were other areas which were nearer to the London figure than to the outside London figure, and in case it was felt desirable, for example, to have three categories instead of two? Those are the two questions I am putting to the Government, and I repeat my gratitude to them for dealing with this matter, at all events provisionally, in advance of the legislation to mop up the decisions of the Francis Committee.

3.57 p.m.


I should like to add one or two points to what my noble friend has said. It is obvious that a very serious position has been created in respect of new houses in consequence of the fact that the rateable values do not give the protection which a similar house would have had if it had already been built at the time of the Rent Acts. I should like to go a step further. Whilst being grateful for the proposal here, is it not about time that your Lordships considered the question of increasing, even for those houses that come within the Rent Acts at present, the amount of the rateable value which gives the protection to tenants? The position in the country at present, as we know, is an extremely serious one, particularly for those who have moderate means; and the methods that are being adopted in order to push tenants out of their flats or houses, by increasing rents to an enormous extent, must of necessity place a large number of people of modest means in the position that they are unable to find a house.

I think that we ought seriously to consider—and at once—apart from any other methods of dealing with the situation, the question of whether the rateable values for protection should not be increased. It would certainly prevent certain landlords from exercising powers which mean evicting tenants, many of whom have been tenants for very many years, because they are not in a position to pay the exorbitant rentals that are being charged. I think this would be one of the methods by which speculation in property would be halted to a very considerable extent; because people would then know that they could not turn out tenants and could not charge more than a reasonable increase on the return from the orginal investment. What is happening to-day is that people are buying blocks of houses or flats, selling them and making an enormous profit. The next purchaser very often sells again at an enormous profit. Then the plea is put forward that because the property has cost them so much, the eventual purchasers are entitled to charge a rental consistent with the amount they have paid and the repairs which they have made to the premises.

This is an extremely serious matter, for it opens the way to speculators to take advantage of a situation because there is no protection for the tenant so far as rent is concerned. We talk about price levels and wage levels. It is about time that we started to talk about rental levels so that people should not utilise the position of shortage in the way that is being done at present. After all, the original purchaser would be able to obtain perhaps a reasonable increase even if the rateable values of protected properties were increased. I hope the Government will consider this point very carefully. There is no doubt in my mind, or in the minds of most people, that speculation in property is going on at such a pace that no person who is making an ordinary livelihood—and I am talking about the average man in the street—will be able to retain possession of the house in which he lives.


May I ask one question about the rateable value limits of £400 in Greater London and £200 in the rest of England and Wales? When in 1965 we discussed this matter in Standing Committee on the Rent Bill, Mr. Crossman put forward the argument that one had to pitch these rateable values above the level at which scarcity occurred. In this way you would get a comparison between properties within the regulated sector and those on the other side of the boundary where, both being in a free market, you would tend to get the upper limit. This could help to determine the regulated rents. This was a pretty good argument. I thought, for pitching the levels above the point at which scarcity had ceased to become a problem. From what noble Lords are saying, and from other information, it appears that nowadays there is as much scarcity at rateable values of £400 in Greater London as there is at much lower ones. I would ask the noble Lord whether the Department have considered this. Do they form an assessment of the relative scarcity at different rateable value levels? Would they now say, contrary to the situation as it seemed to be in 1965, that there is a scarcity going up to about the £400 mark and the £200 mark respectively?


I think there are possibly some misconceptions over the question of rents and property being available to rent. A man and wife who have no children and who are beyond the age when they could expect to have them find no difficulty whatever in renting property almost anywhere in the country. The rent can be registered; yet they have no trouble. It is for one reason. Since one of the few things that we can be absolutely certain about in this life is death, the landlord knows that at most at the end of 50 years he will get back that property and may do with it what he likes. Those who are most unfortunate here, those people for whom I have always felt desperately sorry, are the families moving from one area to another looking for accommodation. If they have a young family it is virtually impossible for them to rent a house from a private landlord. The reason is simply that the private landlord is not prepared to allow a young family to occupy his property under a tenancy which could continue long beyond the landlord's lifetime.

In a great many cases local authorities will not accept applicants for inclusion in their housing list unless they were either born in the area, had lived in the area or were working in the area. That is where the really unfortunate cases arise. Let us suppose that a man becomes redundant in one area. He has a wife and three young children. In order to get employment he goes off somewhere else, to within another authority's area, let us say; he starts working, puts his name on the housing list and, perhaps three years later, his family can join him. He may, and very often does, get the sympathy of somebody like a farmer who might have a redundant farmhouse where this family can occupy a farm cottage while they are waiting for a council house. In such cases, and there are hundreds of them, the farmer charges no rent at all. He dare not.

I sometimes wish that noble Lords, and particularly noble Lords opposite, would bear in mind that it is very easy to produce legislation which can have the opposite of the desired effect. It is very easy to introduce legislation (as happened on the Rent Act) that protects the rents or protects the security of tenure to such an extent that it results in people being prevented from moving into accommodation that would be otherwise available. Houses need people; but no private landlord can afford to have those houses tied up beyond his lifetime.

4.10 p.m.


I am grateful for the comments made and for the way in which noble Lords have received this proposal. I am not quite sure whether Lord Diamond quite understood what I was trying to say in moving the Amendment. I would point out that the 1968 Act starts off by saying: A tenancy under which a dwelling-house (which may be a house or a part of a house) is let as a separate dwelling is a protected tenancy for the purposes of this Act unless … the dwelling-house has or had on the appropriate day a rateable value exceeding, if it is in Greater London, £400 or, if it is elsewhere, £200 … The appropriate limit for houses which were on the valuation list in Greater London on March 23, 1965, was £400; for houses elsewhere, it was £200. For houses going on to the valuation list after that, the appropriate limits of valuation were again £400 and £200. This is the position as it is now.

This Amendment does not alter that position. It preserves the present broad field of protection; that is, to make it possible for the Secretary of State to make an order on or before April 1, 1973, when the new valuation list will come into effect, to extend the limits, presumably in proportion to the change in the relativities between the new and the old valuations, so that the field is being extended to include those houses which come on to the valuation list from that time onwards; to bring the limit after that time in line with the limits existing at present. I was not quite certain whether the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, understood this point. From what he said, he seemed to think that this operation was going to alter the rateable limits for existing houses, but that is not the case.


Would it be convenient if I interrupted at this point? Because these matters are very difficult to be absolutely clear about, and I am not sure that I was not a little clearer before the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, explained the matter more carefully. But let me be absolutely clear on this point. Is it the Government's intention to maintain the protection for a particular dwelling which was protected previously but which, under the new valuation list, would not be protected because it would exceed the relevant figure? As I understand it, the Government's intention under the power of this new clause is to continue to protect that particular dwelling, but not to protect a house which was 10 per cent. above the limit at that time and which would be revalued: but not, in short, to increase protection to a house which was bigger or better, or at all events worth more of a rateable value, even as little as 10 per cent. or 5 per cent. above the relevant figure at that time.


The reason for that is that the appropriate day in respect of those dwellings would come before the revaluation. I agree that this is the intention; that an individual dwelling within the limits of rateable value will remain within, but no new existing houses will be drawn within the limits, either by extending the limit or in any other way. But for new houses thereafter placed on the valuation list for the first time it is possible for the Secretary of State to make an order which, in respect of them, will increase the valuation limits so as to bear the same relationship for those houses to the valuation limit as is borne at present by existing houses. In other words, and to simplify it as much as possible, the way it would work would be this. With a present house we know where we stand. If it is in London, and its rateable value is below £400, it has protection. Supposing the valuation as a whole was increased by 50 per cent., the purpose then would be, for new houses, for the new limit to be 50 per cent. higher, so as to maintain those houses within the limitation that would have been within the limit if they had been constructed before the order was made. Have I now made it clear?


The noble Lord is saying that old houses are not taken out of control, out of protection, by the revaluation; nor are like houses built anew.


Yes, I accept that entirely—with the background of the explanation. It would not have been clear without it.

The second point the noble Lord asked was: is there a power, once the Secretary of State has made an order, to vary that order. The answer is, No. The power cannot be used again. In other words, it is only in respect of this particular valuation, so far as this Bill is concerned, that the rateable value limits can be raised. There is no power, either, to bring in different valuations for different areas. It is a straight comparison, as it is now, between dwellings in the London area which have one limit and dwellings elsewhere which have another rateable value limit.

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, carried the debate very much further. This is a wider question and, so far as protection is concerned, it arises on Lord Diamond's Amendment. We do not think it would be right to take power of this kind to meet that or (and the same applies in regard to Lord Bethell's Amendment) to vary by order in relation to a matter of this kind. The whole question of rent protection and security of tenure is so important that we should vary the general principles only by legislation. I realise that the noble Lord's Amendment simply takes off all restrictions altogether, and would bring all rented dwellings, whether furnished or unfurnished—I am sorry: this Amendment will bring only the unfurnished dwellings—within the scope of the rateable value limits. We do not believe that this is an appropriate thing to do. Legislative intervention in private tenancy contracts which are at present outside the scope of the Rent Acts would be a very serious step. It would bring undoubted advantages to some existing tenants. But the Government must consider whether these advantages would be outweighed by the adverse effects on the supply of rented accommodation and on the long-term interests of tenants. Before such a step could be considered the Government would need to be in possession of much more evidence about the need for it. I think this is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The Government would need to be surer about its effects than they are at the present time.

We all know what the effects of restriction in this form can be. As soon as there is restriction, if landlords can get possession of the premises they will dispose of them in any way they can other than by letting. This therefore reduces the supply of houses for letting and simply increases the shortage. One then runs into a vicious circle from which we all know how long it takes to escape. This would be far too great a step to take without very much more information then we have available at present. The purposes of this Amendment are limited really to maintaining the status quo. bearing in mind the effects of the revaluation that is to take place on April 1, 1973.


Would the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, be good enough to tell me the date of the last valuation? Was that subsequent to the appointed date within the Act?


I am sorry; I have not quite got the noble Lord's point.


What the noble Lord is saying—it is certainly my understanding—is that the valuation was in 1963 and the relevant date was 1965. But I am coming back to the noble Lord because, as he recognises, he has been dealing with a most important issue. I repeat what I said earlier: the purpose of my Amendment was not to indicate that it was the official view of my Party that protection should be given over the whole field, but that it was right that this issue should be raised. The simplest way of raising it was without putting any particular figure and saying to the Government, "Please tell us what your views are on this particular topic". We certainly feel that the Government's intention does not go far enough. I could not say that the Amendment does not go far enough because, frankly, it gives the Government power to do almost anything; but the noble Lord has made clear the extent to which the Government propose to use that power.

Do I understand from the noble Lord's statement that no power is included here to repeat an order or to vary an earlier order; that it is the intention of the Government to legislate in the reasonably near future on the Francis Committee proposals and that therefore there would probably be no need to have that power of variation included in this Amendment? I should like to be quite clear as to the timescale the Government have in mind. I can quite understand the Government, if they have in mind a temporary provision, not wishing to go beyond that. The other matter I wanted to come back to was the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and I thought perhaps he was going to raise this issue.


I will move the Amendment at the appropriate time.


I am glad I have referred to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, because, as I understand it, we are, with the consent of the Committee, taking his Amendment and my earlier Amendment together with the Government Amendment which is now before your Lordships. Perhaps, therefore, I could continue, and I look forward to hearing what the noble. Lord, Lord Bethell, has to say, he having already heard the Government's reply. There is an interesting proposal in his Amendment: that it should include power to vary the figure for areas other than the whole area. Subsection (3) states: After subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsections:— '(4) An order under this section— may be made so as to relate to the whole of England and Wales or to such area in England and Wales as may be specified in the Order … I recognise that the Government do not want at this stage to do more than take power to act in a provisional way, but surely it is not entrenching on the whole principle of the extent to which protection is increased merely to say that we maintain the status quo. We have new figures which achieve that, but we have in the meantime found that there are areas which cannot be neatly fitted into this simple division. After all, all that is provided for so far is a rateable value of £400 in London and £200 everywhere else. It is a very simple division, but it just cannot be right that everywhere else is governed by the figure of £200, that everywhere else all the houses are so like one another that their rateable values are precisely the same, no matter whether in Scotland, the North of England or the South West, and that rateable values in London are exactly twice the rate for everywhere else. That formula is administratively very convenient and has existed so far, but I should have thought the Government would have been prepared to look at that aspect to see whether they might not extend it into three or four categories, without varying the principle at all but just making sure that they were dealing with the area with which they want to deal in the respective parts of England and Wales. I am wondering if, after the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has told us what he feels about that, the Government would care to reconsider that aspect.


I apologise to the Committee for not being aware that I was going to have to speak to this Amendment now.


The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, can, if he so wishes, move his Amendment separately, but it is a matter for the noble Lord and the convenience of the Committee whether they are taken together. I hope he will not feel that he is being forced into taking his Amendment now if he wishes to take it separately. I suggest that he makes up his own mind on the matter. He is free to do what he wishes.


I will speak briefly to my Amendment, No. 138, particularly since I have already had the answer to it from my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. I think it would be more courteous to the Committee if I were to state my arguments briefly, then perhaps my noble friend may have one or two things that he can add that would be of assistance. I tabled this Amendment, which was previously drafted in another place by six Conservative Members, for three reasons. The first is one which was briefly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond: that it is surely anomalous to have these two arbitrary dividing lines enshrined in legislation on such an important point as protection for a person living in an unfurnished flat.

We all probably know of cases where a block of flats exists in which there are two identical flats; one may have a rateable value of £398, the other a rateable value of £402. The one with the lower rateable value may perhaps have obtained some slight reduction by an appeal against the rates, say, a few years before 1965. Because of this reduction, the tenant has the haphazard benefit of security of tenure, which his neighbour in the identical flat does not have. It seems to me a strange law that strikes at one person who is in exactly the same situation as someone else who is not affected. A second thing that follows on from this is the question of hardship to tenants who have no protection at all, and I would emphasise that, so far as I am aware, people who live in flats with high rateable values are the only tenants in the country who have no protection at all. There are cases of hardship for tenants who find that their leases come to an end and very often there is nothing for them to do except to find alternative accommodation, which may be very difficult.

My noble friend has indicated—and I am glad he said this—that the question of protection is one that the Government are studying. He said also that at the moment he has not sufficient evidence to recommend any increase in protection or any change in the law. Perhaps he will forgive me if, after the end of the discussion on this Amendment, I hand to him some of the evidence that I have collected. For example, I have letters from the Federation of London County Residents Associations, which has several dozen thousand members who support my Amendment: a motion to support it was passed unanimously on May 23. Several of the members of the Association are in danger of eviction; naturally, this is causing them some anxiety. I have letters also from the Ashley Gardens Tenants Association, comprising a large number of tenants (in the over 400 bracket) who are liable to have to move out of their flats. Very often the situation is made worse because the sort of person who occupies a high rateable value flat on a five or seven year lease is an elderly person. Young people seem less inclined to be occupants of such flats. Leases of five to seven years have been obtainable only rarely of recent times. Many people who find themselves in this unfortunate position are elderly; often they are retired people. For this reason they cannot get mortgages when their landlords come to them and say: "We are sorry, but either you buy the flat or you must leave." A man over 60 has great difficulty in getting a mortgage; quite likely it is an impossibility.

The third reason why I think my noble friend may wish to consider this Amendment a little more before we come to the Report stage is because of the effect on Central London, for which I would make a special plea. The 1968 Rent Act, quite properly in my view, fixed a higher rateable limit for London than for the rest of the country. That was because rates are so high. But we have a situation in Mayfair, Westminster and Chelsea where quite a modest flat may find itself above the limit. It would be a mistake for the Committee to assume that Mayfair, Chelsea and Westminster are inhabited only by the very rich. There are people living there on fixed incomes, who are not at all well off. It is these people who will find themselves forced to leave their flats unless something is done to protect them.

I have already spoken about the personal hardship to these people, but another danger arises from the damage that is done to Central London as a residential area. I have figures (I will hand them to my noble friend later if he is interested) which indicate that the population of the Mayfair ward has been reduced to one-third of what it was in 1939. The reason for this is that the resident is discriminated against in housing and finds great difficulty in competing with other people who are claiming the limited amount of accommodation in this highly desirable area. For instance, there are companies who take residential units, not for any commercial purpose (such a tenancy agreement would entail a change of use, and they cannot do this), but in order to accommodate transient employees, and often to use them as clandestine hotels, particularly during the summer season.

I happen to know that there are flats in Ashley Gardens which are used on a sort of two to three week occupancy basis, where families move in and out at regular intervals. This means that two or three more residents have abandoned the area, thereby causing the number to drop still further. With the pressure on Central London for accommodation, the same thing happens with diplomats and foreign executives; and I can only see this pressure increasing in the next few years when we enter the E.E.C. The pressure will be greater, and will, I feel, lead to a further fall in the number of ratepayers and electors who reside permanently in the Central London areas. It is right that Central London should have a flourishing tourist industry, that diplomats should have accommodation in Central London and that companies in the area should have somewhere for their employees to live. But the danger is that this transient population cannot have the same approach as a resident has to the upkeep of Central London and to the preservation of its amenities and beauty. A resident comes to his home and lives in it perhaps for a lifetime. A transient, particularly from overseas, is here for two or three years. There is no reason why he should be interested in preserving the amenities of Central London, or should concern himself with the politics which are an inevitable part of seeing that this important area of our nation is kept in first-class condition. I see the gradual trickling away of residents from Central London as a dangerous process which my Amendment would do something to alleviate.

4.38 p.m.


I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said, and I am bound to say that I cannot see that there can be any real answer, in spite of the fact that there are difficulties attaching to giving the Government power to make an order. They could of course consider the difficulties as and when they come to exercise that power. But the position is an extremely serious and urgent one. Day by day advantage is being taken of the position as it stands at present by the demand for unconscionable rents in respect of properties. It is not only a question of the people who can well afford to pay the high rents, but is a matter of dealing with professional people—civil servants and people of that description—who have to live in conditions which are reasonably suited to their professions.

There is no doubt that the situation is a critical one. It is not one that allows of long investigation or anything of that sort, because the position is as clear as the path to the parish church. People are placed in this position, and while attempts are being made to deal with the position by allocating certain lands for building, the fact still remains that people are being turned out of their homes. One could have used the kind of argument that is being used to-day against this type of Amendment: people indeed have used it for years and years in respect of leasehold reform. They were using this kind of argument for the protection of the small businessman whose lease came to an end and was not in a position to find alternative accommodation. Some kind of compensation was paid to such people; but no compensation can really replace the protection of a home. We are dealing with the homes of the people. We are dealing with a position which was not dreamt of 18 months ago.

Let us face the facts. The facts are that the inflated rents being demanded, the inflated amounts asked for the purchase of flats, have cropped up in the last nine to twelve months. Here are people who would normally have expected a reasonable increase in their rents and they have calculated upon the possibility of meeting that increase. They are now faced with an impossible situation. They just cannot live. What then are they going to do? It is perfectly clear to anyone who is using his reason. Supposing a man comes to the end of a lease and he is then faced with having to pay twice the amount that he was formerly paying: in previous years perhaps his rent would have increased by a reasonable amount, say at the end of each lease, so that he would naturally expect a similar increase at the end of his current tenancy. Instead, he will find that the increase will be one that is not within his power to pay. What are we going to do about it? We cannot sit still. This is a human problem of a very serious nature. It is an important human problem because, as the noble Lord has himself said, in many cases it involves people who are advanced in age. They cannot find anywhere else to go—what are they to do? How are we going to help them and how soon are we going to act? That is the question. Shall we allow this matter to drag on until these people find themselves in a desperate plight? There may be a question of court proceedings, and it may be that some of them cannot afford such proceedings. In addition, there may be little time available.

I think we should be realistic in this matter—the Government and everybody else concerned—and face the fact that time is against the ordinary human being who has nowhere to turn to find a home or alternative accommodation, who cannot buy and who cannot get mortgages—because nobody is going to give a mortgage to people who are over a certain age. Are we going to provide homes for them or push them into paupers' establishments, or something of that sort? I ask the Government: What are we going to do? In my view, the only way of dealing with such a situation is to bring about as speedily as possible what the noble Lord has requested. It will not be a question of raising the rateable value, but at least it will prevent speculation because people will be afraid that an order will be made, even though it is not actually made. It will put a brake on the situation that exists at present. I think that the Bill we are dealing with at present could be made to cover this situation very adequately. I also think that even if it means stretching the purpose of the Bill we would be entitled to do that—and indeed called upon to do that—to enable the Bill to cover the situation. We could even change the Title, if necessary. These things are possible.

The proposal which has been put before us in this Amendment is very reasonable. I personally would go further: I would say we should at once increase the rateable value for protection, but, if it was not possible to go as far as that, at least let us frighten those who are at present speculating and prevent them speculating further, in the knowledge that if such speculation continues the Government will take steps to end it. Nobody will then be prepared to speculate because of the possibility of some kind of order coming in; and matters will assume a very different aspect from the present one. I hope that the Government will consider this matter very carefully and not delay, because delay could be very dangerous. I believe that in this Bill itself we could take this particular step, at least, to advance our attempts to stop what is to-day a scandalous thing.


The noble Lord need have no fear that we are prohibited from accepting this Amendment by the Long Title. The Long Title includes the words "to amend the law relating to rents" and it refers particularly to those rents determined under the Rent Act, 1968. So the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, is perfectly within the rules of order. It could be incorporated in the Bill, although I appreciate the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that if we were going to implement a rather fundamental change, such as is called for here, perhaps it would be better to do it under separate legislation. I can see the force of that argument; but I was really rather disappointed to hear the noble Lord say that he had not got enough evidence when I asked him the question before the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, moved this Amendment, concerning the relationship between the rents charged and the rateable values just less, and just more, than £400 respectively.

There cannot be an enormous number of dwellings with rateable values of between £350 and £400 on which a fair rent had been determined under the provisions of the 1965 Act. The noble Lord could get those figures from his Department and it would simply be a matter of comparing these few rents at the rateable value levels between £350 and £400 with a sample of the rents charged on flats and dwellings with a rateable value of between £400 and £450. If the noble Lord then finds there is a discontinuity in the relationships between the rents and the rateable values occurring at this figure of £400, then there would be reasonable grounds for assuming that it is due to the fact that scarcity prevails up to a level which is higher than the rateable values originally set. I think the noble Lord ought to be able to produce these figures: I am surprised that he has not armed himself with them in coming down to the House, particularly in the light of the Amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I could understand his not necessarily having them to hand when we were talking about a question of mechanics and the new list coming into operation on April 1, 1973, which required the Amendment in his own name; but he must have known that people were going to question him about the scarcity and the level at which it ceased to have effect. I should have thought he could have produced some figures which would have helped the Committee in making up their minds. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said that he had dozens of thousands. I think that was the figure he used.


I mentioned several dozen thousand members of the London County Residents' Association. They were the members who passed the resolution in favour of this Amendment.


Presumably among the membership of this Association there must be many who are affected. It would not be difficult to obtain detailed information as to the rents that are being charged if rateable values are just above the £400 limit. This would enable the noble Lord to make up his mind. I do not suppose we shall be able to pursue this because the noble Lord evidently did not have any figures with him, but at some stage during our proceedings I think we are entitled to ask him to produce them.


We have had a most interesting debate, and I shall consider very carefully indeed what has been said. It is as well to remember that what we are doing at this stage is to provide for action to be taken as an interim measure until the Report of the Francis Committee has been thoroughly examined and the Government have reached their conclusions. I should stress that the only thorough study so far made in the Rent Act rateable value limits was that made by the Francis Committee, and they reached the conclusion that, so far from raising the restriction levels, whether by order or by legislation, they should be reduced.

The tenor of the argument to-day has been in quite a different direction. It would be foolish to deny that there are elements of shortages in rented accommodation in certain areas above the present limits. This is a matter for concern. Any shortage is likely to give rise to anxiety on the part of tenants, especially where there is no security of tenure. You have to bear in mind that if you are going to draw the line somewhere—and my noble friend Lord Bethell talked about the arbitrary dividing lines—there are always going to be some people who are on the wrong side of it. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, quoted what one might call the "Crossman doctrine" on this matter. I quite understand that if you are going to raise the level you have to raise it above the level where the shoe is pinching. This is something we have to consider in the light of the Report of the Francis Committee. All I am asking at the present time is that we should be given the power that this new clause proposes so that we can keep things as they are until we reach a conclusion and are able to introduce legislation.

I agree with Lord Janner's point of view; but one has to bear in mind that the tenants who are able to occupy property at these rateable value levels will generally have adequate means to exercise choice in the type of housing they occupy, even if they cannot always find it where they want it. They are in the same position as anybody else in a situation of shortage. This is a consideration that has to be borne in mind. These are not easy matters at all.

I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Bethell, who presented his case for his Amendment excellently. I will consider what he has said, and will take into account the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that it might be possible to extend the provisions to three or four areas. Your Lordships may feel that we have gone as far as we can on this and I hope you will agree to this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.56 p.m.

LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 125A: After Clause S9, insert the following new clause:

Information about service charges

".—(1) Where the service charges which are payable by the tenant of a flat in any calendar year, or which are demanded from the tenant as being so payable, exceed the amount specified in subsection (2) of this section, the tenant shall, in accordance with this section, be entitled to obtain a summary in writing of the relevant costs in the accounting year ending in or with that year, certified by a qualified accountant as being in his opinion—

  1. (a) a fair summary of those costs, set out in a way which shows how they are or will 837 be reflected in demands for service charges, and
  2. (b) sufficiently supported by accounts, receipts and other documents which have been produced to the accountant,
and the certificate shall identify the accounting year to which the summary relates.

(2) The said amount is £80, but the Secretary of State may from time to time vary that amount by order.

An order under this subsection may contain such transitional or other supplemental or incidental provisions as appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient, and shall be contained in a statutory instrument of which a draft has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(3) The rights conferred by subsection (1) of this section shall not be exercisable—

  1. (a) if the tenant has contractual rights exercisable in return for a reasonable payment, or without payment, enabling him to obtain from time to time statements of the relevant costs, certified by a qualified accountant, which afford all the information which could he obtained under this section, or
  2. (b) if there are accounts, certified by a Qualified accountant, which afford all the information which could be obtained under this section, and the tenant is given reasonable facilities for inspecting them, and taking copies of or extracts from them, or
  3. (c) where there are not more than five flats in the building, and the relevant costs relate only to that building, if the tenant is afforded reasonable facilities for inspecting the receipts and other records supporting the service charges, and for taking copies of or extracts from them.

(4) The tenant shall exercise the rights conferred by this section by serving on the landlord a request in writing which states the calendar year to which the request relates, and which is so served not later than twelve months after the end of that year.

(5) It shall be the duty of the landlord to comply with the request not later than one month after the service of the request, or four months after the end of the accounting year with which the summary is to deal, whichever is the later.

(6) If the request relates in whole or in part to relevant costs incurred by or on behalf of a superior landlord, and the landlord on whom the request is served is not in possession of the relevant information about the costs so incurred, he shall in turn serve a request for the relevant information on the person who is his landlord, and it shall be the duty of that person to comply with the request within a reasonable time.

(7) If no accounts have been made up, or if for any other reason it is impracticable to deal with an accounting year, the summary specified in subsection (1) of this section shall be a summary of the relevant costs in the calendar year, and—

  1. (a) the accountant's certificate shall indicate that the summary deals with relevant costs in the calendar year, and
  2. 838
  3. (b) subsection (5) above shall apply with the substitution for the reference to the accounting year of a reference to the calendar year.

(8) A request under this section shall be deemed to be duly served on a landlord if it is served on any agent of the landlord named as such in a rent book or other similar document, or on the person who receives the rent on behalf of the landlord; and it shall be the duty of a person on whom the request is so served to forward it as soon as may be to the landlord.

(9) The assignment of a tenancy shall no[...] affect the validity of a request served under this section before the assignment, but a landlord shall not he obliged to provide the summary specified in subsection (1) of this section more than once for the same flat for the same period.

(10) If any person without reasonable excuse fails to perform any duty imposed upon him by this section he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.

(11) Proceedings for an offence under this section may be instituted by any local authority.

(12) In this section— accounting year" means a period of twelve months for which the accounts relating to the building in question are made up, flat" means a separate set of premises, whether or not on the same floor, constructed or adapted for use for the purposes of a dwelling and forming part of a building from some other part of which it is divided horizontally, being a set of premises occupied wholly or mainly as a private dwelling, landlord", in relation to a flat occupied by a tenant under a right conferred by an enactment, includes the person who, apart from that right, would be entitled to possession of the flat, qualified accountant" means a member of—

  1. (a) The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales,
  2. (b) The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland,
  3. (c) The Association of Certified Accountants,
  4. (d) The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland, or
  5. (e) any other body of Accountants established in the United Kingdom and for the time being recognised for the purposes of section 161(1)(a) of the Companies Act 1948 by the Secretary of State,
or a person who is for the time being authorised by the Secretary of State under section 161(1)(b) of that Act; but excludes, except in the case of a Scottish firm every partner of which is so qualified, any body corporate, relevant costs" means any costs (including charges for overheads) incurred or defrayed in the period in question by or on behalf of the landlord, or any superior landlord, which affect, or may affect, the amount of the service charges for the flat for that period or for any other period, earlier or later, service charge" means any charge for services, repairs, maintenance or insurance, being a charge which is payable as part of, or in addition to, the rent, and which varies or may vary according to any costs (including charges for overheads) incurred from time to time by or on behalf of the landlord or any superior landlord, tenant" includes a tenant under a right conferred by an enactment, and, where the whole or any part of the flat is sub-let, includes both the tenant and the sub-tenant.

(13) This section shall come into force, for tenancies granted before the passing of this Act or later, on 1st November 1972, but subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to an accounting year ending before 1st August 1972."

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 125A. It involves another explanation, and I hope that the Committee will bear with me. This clause deals with information about service charges. If I may, I will speak both to this Amendment and Amendment No. 125B at the same time. These new clauses have been drafted following an undertaking given by the Minister for Housing and Construction at Report stage in the House of Commons. The effect of this Amendment will be to enable all tenants of flats, whether they are furnished or unfurnished, held on long or on short leases, and whatever their rateable values, to have a statement of professionally audited accounts supporting any variable service charge of more than £80 per year. The accounts may be requested up to one year after the end of the year in question, and it will thus be possible for tenants to ask for accounts of costs in a previous year which govern charges demanded in a current year.

The only exceptions to the provisions of this clause arise when a tenant has rights under his lease which are comparable to the rights granted under this clause; and where, in a building containing five flats or less, a tenant has access to the receipts or other records covering the items included in service charges. The tenancies of properties owned by local authorities or county councils, new town corporations, the Housing Corporation or housing associations are also excluded from the provisions of this clause; as are the tenancies in blocks of flats where the management of the flats is carried out by an association or company whose mem- bership is wholly or mainly confined to the tenants of the flats themselves—as a result of Amendment 125B.

It is common practice, where a landlord provides services for a tenant or lessee, for the lease to provide for the tenant to pay a variable service charge depending on the amount which the landlord spends in providing the services. This is entirely appropriate where the lease provides for the tenant to be given an audited statement giving a summary of what the landlord has spent, and where the lease also contains machinery for arbitration. Unfortunately, not all leases are framed in this way. There are a number which not only give the tenant no right to know how the landlord has spent the money on which the service charge is based, but also provide that the landlord's agent's certificate of the service charge shall be final and conclusive. Such a provision cannot oust the court's jurisdiction on questions of law; and the tenant can still challenge, for example, any attempt by the landlord to charge for things which he has not covenanted to provide, or for things for which he has not provided. But the tenant is not in a position to do even this if he has no statement of what the landlord has spent on the various services; nor has he any clear power to challenge amounts which, while properly spent in carrying out the landlord's covenants, nevertheless appear to the tenant to be unreasonably high.

This does not mean that all landlords who use this kind of lease are unscrupulous. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence of landlords using this kind of lease but behaving with the utmost fairness and consideration for their tenants. But even in these cases the tenant is not really in a happy situation since landlords can change.

There are thus two main facets to this problem. First, it is necessary to give tenants a right to an audited statement of the costs incurred in providing the services; secondly, it is necessary to consider how the tenants can be given a right to challenge the amount which can properly and reasonably be charged by way of service charges. The new clauses now on the printed list as Amendments Nos. 125A and 125B deal with the first facet. They are designed to benefit all those tenants of flats who have to pay a variable charge for services or maintenance of more than £80 a year. Tenants will be able to request a statement of account endorsed by a qualified accountant showing how the landlord's costs are reflected in demands for service charges. Any landlord who without reasonable excuse refuses to comply will be subject to a fine of up to £200.

When the matter was debated on Commons Report stage it was strongly urged on the Government that this provision should apply not simply to unprotected tenancies but right across the privately rented sector. I now confirm that this will indeed be the effect. The new clauses cover long leases, unprotected tenancies, regulated tenancies and furnished tenancies. Although the new clause refers to "tenants" it does not include the holders of leases.

The exceptions in subsection (3) of new Clause 125A are drawn up so as to exclude only those tenants whose leases give them in effect the same rights as this new clause, or better rights, and those tenants of one of a small number of flats who have direct access to a landlord's bills. Subsection (4) enables a tenant to serve a request on his landlord up to 12 months after the end of the year for which he would like to have the accounts. This is an important aspect of the provision, for it enables a tenant to ask for past accounts, as I have already said, supporting a present demand for charges.

These new clauses do not deal with the second facet of the general problem; namely, the right to challenge the landlord's charges. This is not because of any lack of concern or anxiety on the part of the Government on the latter point, but because the preparation of a workable provision to give a right of challenge which would be fair and practicable in the context of the infinite variety of forms of lease was, with the best will in the world, beyond the bounds of feasibility in the time available. Legislation which intervenes in private contracts which are already in existence must always be thought out most carefully.

The Government are therefore making special arrangements for a full study of this whole question to be put in hand now, with the aim of preparing and bringing forward at the earliest opportunity properly considered legislative proposals. Consultations with interested bodies will take place and, indeed, anyone who wishes to put forward any suggestions or comments on this matter is invited to write to the Secretary of the Leasehold Service Charge Study at the Department of the Environment. The Law Commission, who are already engaged in the codification of the general law of landlord and tenant, have kindly offered to put their services and advice at the disposal of the Study. The Government's aim would be to produce further legislation of a practicable and workable kind as soon as possible, perhaps as part of the legislation on the recommendations of the Francis Committee.

The Study will need to take account of modern developments in the contractual machinery for carrying out repairs and maintenance and service responsibilities in large blocks of flats that have been let on long leases. If these responsibilities remain entirely with the landlord, then if the landlord's interest is confined to the receipt of only a ground rent and a long-distant reversion, his enthusiasm for the diligent fulfilment of his service and repair covenants may be diminished. If these responsibilities are wholly transferred to leaseholders, however, there may be difficulty in always finding enough energetic leaseholders to organise matters properly and in dealing with the less cooperative tenants. In this situation, certain other arrangements have been evolving in recent years. For example, there could be a company composed of effective representatives of both landlords and tenants with rights to arbitration in cases of dispute; or a trust company can act on behalf of both landlord and tenant in making proper arrangements for the continuous running of these services and repairs. Further development along either or both of these lines may well contribute to the future solution of these problems, and this must clearly contribute also to the deliberations of our Study.

Meanwhile, I would invite the Committee to add to the Bill these new clauses on audited statements of accounts. These clauses will represent the first shot in the campaign to give tenants and leaseholders reasonable protection against unwarranted escalation of service charges under the terms of leases which themselves give inadequate protection to the tenants. The further legislation which the Government intend to introduce as soon as possible will enable us not only to carry the campaign into the field of the right to challenge, but also to remedy any defects in these two clauses which emerge once they have come into operation. The Government are glad to have this prospect of a further legislative opportunity to tidy up any fault in the attached clauses since they have been prepared in a much shorter timetable than would normally be regarded as prudent for legislation affecting the whole of the landlord and tenant field. That we have been able to produce these clauses at this stage is due in no small measure to the very great help we have received from a number of outside individuals, bodies and associations, including in particular the National Association of Property Owners. I should also like to pay my tribute, and to pay it also on behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, to Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg and his colleagues who pressed this matter so hard in another place. I beg to move.

5.7 p.m.


With the consent of the Committee, I should be most grateful if I might raise now the subject of Amendment No. 126 which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Hertford. I must confess that the extremely adequate reply by the Minister has rather taken the wind out of my sails: I never hoped to receive such a full and adequate reply. It is most encouraging to see that the Government have appreciated the very real problem that exists. At first, when I saw this Amendment I felt that it covered only part of the Amendment that we had tabled—the second paragraph, which covered the providing of information regarding service charges. Ironically, I thought that it took three pages to do what we thought we had done in three lines. But I now fully understand the reason why the noble Lord has tabled such a full Amendment.

I am delighted to hear that this rather tongue-twisting survey that he has discussed—the leasehold survey of service charges—is to be put in hand at once. I feel that it should be done with all haste, because recently some of these charges have got quite out of hand. I am sorry to take up the time of the Committee after the noble Lord has given such a fully reply, but I should like to put on record the fact that some of these charges have gone up very dramatically indeed. For instance, one service charge has gone up by 100 per cent. in four years, and it is possible to provide other figures which show ever greater increases.

The whole situation has slightly snowballed due to the fact that many new landlords are now in the business (if one can use such a term), and they have looked upon it in a rather different way from that of the really established landlords, such as Grosvenor Estates. Some problems have arisen where full service charges have been prescribed. Indeed, the services have been provided while all the flats concerned were being let, or were in process of being let, but when nearly all the flats had been let the services unfortunately started to disappear. The whole problem has been that charges have been made for services which are not provided.

There is one last point to which I would draw the Minister's attention. Even with very adequate accounting procedures it is possible for an unscrupulous landlord (and I am not saying that all landlords are unscrupulous) to hide away a number of charges within a service charge and get them audited. I am sure that the survey will look into this question as well. I feel that, as the Minister has made such a full reply, it would be totally wrong for us to raise Amendment No. 126, and therefore we shall not be moving it.


I made a mistake. The noble Lord was quite right. I should have said that although the new clause refers to tenancies it includes the holders of long leases.


I have one brief comment to make, and it is not critical. It is simply that we described the Industrial Relations Bill as being a paradise for lawyers; I believe that this Bill, and this particular part of it, will be a paradise for accountants.


I think this is an appropriate point for me to welcome these provisions and to underline what the noble Lord said at the close of his remarks. He paid tribute to those who had helped, and in particular he paid tribute to some of his friends in another place. I want to pay tribute to the workings of democracy, and those who are aware of the figures and of the happenings in another place will know exactly what I mean. It shows that after all Governments are prepared to listen to the arguments which are put forward at Committee stage, especially if they come from their own side. However, we are glad that the Government have worked fast and put something into the Bill which undoubtedly meets part of the problem—and I should have thought a major part of the problem.

The problem of challenge has not yet been dealt with, although it was referred to in the very interesting Amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. My own view is that with this part of the problem dealt with, it will emerge as the major part, and therefore time can be taken to look into whichever is the best method of dealing with the problem of challenge. We recognise that a great deal has had to be done and that the Amendment has been put together rather more quickly than usual in this complicated field of rents and leases. Nevertheless, on a quick reading, it appears to me that the Government have got it about right. There are one or two small points where perhaps the periods might be varied a little, but they are niggling points and certainly not worth raising at this stage.

I have had representations—and probably the noble Lord has too—about the meaning of "service charge". I believe the Institute of Surveyors have reservations about how to define service charges, and as the whole of the new clause deals with service charges it is just as well to know what one is talking about. The definition of "service charge" here is merely that a service charge means any charge for services. That cannot be gainsaid, but I recognise that it goes on to say, "being a charge which is payable in addition to rent". At this stage I do not want to suggest any alternative definition, but I ask the noble Lord to be good enough to look at that aspect of it carefully between now and Report stage, to be quite sure that he is satisfied on the professional advice of those who are well informed on it, and to think that there might still be a difficulty because people will have a problem in defining what are and what are not service charges. But if he is relying in the main, as the clause appears to rely, on any payment which is in addition to the rent, that is a considerable safety net.

We spent a great deal of time on the earlier Amendment and we have not a lot of time left. I should like to thank the Government for having acceded to the pressure that was put upon them and for bringing forward an Amendment which I am sure will work well, and to the knowledge of those of us who are continually looking at auditors' certificates of accounts covering service charges I should have thought, as the noble Lord has already said, that the best existing practice, and what is being provided for here, is for the practice to be brought up to that level.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, and also to my noble friend Lord Redesdale. I will look again at the definition, although of course the noble Lord did not read the whole of it. However, I realise that services present a difficult problem and the words, payable as part of, or in addition to, the rent are also important, and of course this covers repairs, maintenance and insurance as well. It may be of assistance to the Committee—and I am sure that it will be to my noble friend Lord Redesdale—if I say (as I have already done) that the new clause applies to regulated tenancies as well as to other tenancies. This is entirely without prejudice to the protection already given by the fair rent system.

Service charges are in fact covered by the fair rent formula in Section 46 of the Rent Act, so any fair rent determined by a rent officer or a rent assessment committee will be based, not on any amount determinable under any lease, but on the rent officer's or the rent assessment committee's judgment of what the services actually provided by the landlord are worth in rental terms. Clause 25(5) obliges the rent fixing authority to note in the register not only the fair rent determined but also how much of that fair rent is fairly attributable to those types of services which will not count towards rent allowances. There will be no statutory provision regarding registration of amounts attributable to those types of services which will count towards rent allowances; for example, lifts in high rise blocks. This may help the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, up to a point. This is because any amount due to the provision of such services comes directly within the rent officer's determination of the fair rent, which covers everything provided by the landlord under the tenancy. Even so the Government will ask rent officers, in guidance notes issued after the Royal Assent, to continue the practice approved by the High Court of noting in the register the amount within the registered rent which is fairly attributable to all kinds of services. I think this will be helpful in the kind of case that my noble friend has in mind. I am grateful to noble Lords for their reception of this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 125B.

Amendment moved— After Clause 89 insert the following new clause:

Information about service charges: exceptions

.—(1) Section (Information about service charges) of this Act shall not impose any duty on—

  1. (a) a local authority or a county council, or
  2. (b) a new town corporation, or
  3. (c) the Housing Corporation, or
  4. (d) a housing association as defined in section 189(1) of the Housing Act 1957.

(2) Section (Information about service charges) of this Act shall not apply to service charges payable to an association or company the membership of which is wholly or mainly restricted to persons who are tenants in the same block or blocks of flats."—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 89, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 90 [Hostel subsidy]:


This is in line with Amendment 119. Specific provision is made here instead of relying on Clause 16, which is too wide for the purposes of this clause. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 97, line 16, at end insert— ("( ) An order under subsection (10) above shall be made with the concurrence of the Treasury by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution by either House of Parliament and may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order under that subsection.")—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 128.

Amendment moved— Page 97 line 20 leave out from first ("Act") to end of line 23. (Lord Drumalbyn.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 90, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 91 [Financial assistance towards tenants' removal expenses]:

5.20 p.m.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 128A: Page 97 line 36 after ("dwellings") insert ("or a tenant or owner of a dwelling which lies within a clearance area or an area designated by the authority for compulsory purchase by that authority (whether confirmed or not)").

The noble Lord said: Like my noble friend Lady Gaitskell I find this a particularly difficult Bill and my having had to wait for some two hours has been rather like waiting in the dentist's waiting room. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and the noble Baroness Lady Young, will feel that their own period in purgatory is shortly to come to an end, and also that the noble Lord will understand that the only thing we would really like to consign to the fire is this Bill.

An Amendment in these terms was moved in another place. There I thought I saw a chink of light in the Government reply, and this led me to table it on this occasion. Clause 91 empowers local authorities and new town corporations to pay expenses when a tenant, having acquired premises within that authority's area, moves in, and we approve of this. However, we wonder whether the Government are prepared to be more forthcoming in dealing with those who have premises either as residents or tenants, in slum clearance areas. This is a major problem confronting many local authorities.

I understand that if one is the owner of a property—I think this also applies if one is a tenant—and one knows that the area in which one lives has been designated as a slum clearance area and one moves voluntarily, one does not receive any assistance from the local authority to meet one's removal expenses or, for that matter, to help meet the cost of purchasing new accommodation. On the other hand, if one is difficult and stays on until the local authority is obliged to go through the procedure of compulsory purchase, one gets all the help that is available through the existing legislation—help which it is mandatory on the authority to provide. I would have thought that, in equity, a person who is willing to move voluntarily from an area from which he will have to move eventually, and thereby assists the local authority should not be treated any worse than the person who remains until the authority must go through the compulsory purchase procedures.

The clause is narrow and is a miscellaneous Part of the Bill in which the Government have already made an Amendment to introduce a new factor. I therefore have precedent on my side in that a new item has been brought in. What I propose is within the Title of the Bill and I see no difficulty facing the Government in accepting it. It would be right on grounds of equity that these two classes of people should be treated in the same way.


This clause is concerned with the payment of removal expenses and is quite specifically concerned with tenants of council houses and new towns. The Amendment would extend the provisions to owner-occupiers or tenants of private property. The Government are concerned with this matter; I want that to be clear from the outset. The legal position under existing legislation is that where dwellings are acquired or are to be demolished, owner-occupiers may be entitled to compensation for disturbance, which includes removal and other expenses, including legal expenses, in connection with the purchase of another house. In the case of tenants who will be displaced as a result of the use of slum clearance or planning powers, local authorities have power to pay removal expenses. So to a certain extent the point of the Amendment is met.

We recognise, however, that this is not the complete answer, and I can give an assurance that a review of compensation is at present in progress and is nearing completion. It is being undertaken at the same time as that being conducted by the Urban Motorways Committee, and when the Government have received the report of that review a White Paper containing the Government's proposals will be published. Legislation would thereafter be necessary. I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.


When I heard the first few words of the noble Baroness's reply I thought that she was using the same brief as that used by the Minister in another place. As her remarks continued, however, it was clear that she had something new to say, and I welcomed what she said. I am glad that the Government recognise that this is a matter for concern and that a review is being undertaken. We hope that the period of the review will not be too long. When it is over, will any Government proposals require new legislation, which would create a problem—no Government have sufficient time for legislation in either House—or will it be possible for such proposals to be implemented by way of regulations or an order?


I understand that new legislation would be required.


I am not quite so happy as I was when I first heard the noble Baroness's reply. Having been a Chief Whip and having been involved in securing time for legislation, I know the difficulties that confront any Government. I have a feeling that unless we use this Bill to implement the purpose of the Amendment we may have to wait four or five years for any Government decision to be implemented. I will not press the Amendment, but instead will see whether it is possible for the Secretary of State to use his powers to implement, by way of order, any proposal which, though it may affect only a relatively small number of people, should be implemented. In the meantime and on that understanding, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.29 p.m.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 128B: Page 97, line 42, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: Subsection (2) restricts the payment of expenses to where a tenant is purchasing a dwelling in the area of his own authority or corporation. It says: Paragraph (b) of subsection (1) above shall only apply in a case where a tenant of a Housing Revenue Account dwelling moves to another dwelling of the same authority or corporation if that dwelling has never been let and was built expressly with a view to sale or for letting. Why are the Government restricting this item so much? If they wish to assist tenants to purchase their own houses—these are houses built by local authorities; I wish to make it clear that I approve of this policy though I do not want to give too much emphasis or encouragement to it—I do not see why the facility should be available only when a tenant is purchasing a house in the area of the authority in which he is living. What would be the position of a tenant in a London borough who had an opportunity to purchase a house, as defined in the Bill, in an overspill area? I am thinking of the G.L.C. areas around Hitchin, Headstone and Haverhill, where houses have been built specifically to deal with overspill of London. Would a person who wished to buy one of those houses and who at present may be resident in the Borough of Kennington be able to use this provision when he was buying a house in one of the overspill areas? I put this forward as a probing Amendment. I wonder whether the noble Lady can help me in this matter.


The first thing the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked was what was the purpose of this clause. It is designed to enable local authorities to have the maximum number of council houses for letting purposes, and that is why it particularly applies to them. Perhaps I may let the noble Lord know later the details of the overspill case he mentioned: I do not have them immediately before me, and I should not wish to be drawn into something on which I had not got an accurate reply. The intention is that if a local authority wish to help a council-house tenant who wishes to buy his house, they can do so by special arrangements—for example, giving a 20 per cent. discount to a sitting tenant. This may not necessarily apply in the case of overspill. It is because I do not wish to mislead the noble Lord that I should prefer to let him know the answer later.


I deliberately bowled a fast one to see whether the noble Baroness would play it fine to leg, and she clearly has done so. Would she answer the first question? I fully understand what the Government intend in this subsection. I want to know why they have decided to restrict this to the authority in which the person is living. Why should it not be available over a much wider area? Why have the Government confined it to the particular authority area?


One of the problems facing a local authority is that very often people want to move from one area of a county to another area in the same county—in other words, from the East to the West. A great many authorities have a housing transfer list for people who want to do this. I do not think the authority should be involved in removal expenses in such a case. In the present case, when a person is moving to buy a house, he is leaving the house and it will be available for reletting. That sort of thing should be encouraged. Another area where paying removal expenses ought to be encouraged is where there is a grown-up family and perhaps two people are living in a five-apartment house although a two-apartment house would do them. In these circumstances, many authorities would like to be able to pay removal expenses to encourage that family to move to a smaller house, or vice versa. I am thinking very much of my own area. I should be very unhappy about paying removal expenses for somebody moving outside the area altogether. He may want to take a loan from the local authority for the purchase of his house, and it would be a mistake if that local authority arranged for him to purchase its property with a loan from his old authority when he had moved into a new local authority area. We might end up in the embarrassing position, if he could not pay, of suddenly finding that East Lothian might own a house in West Lothian. That would be a pity.


I do not think I have anything to add to the reason I gave the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in my original reply on this question. Subsection (1) applies either to tenants in one authority or moving to another authority, but subsection (2), as the noble Lord has said, applies to tenants within the same authority. The reason is the one I gave—to give that authority the highest number of lettable houses within the authority's area. I do not think I can add anything further.


I am going to do my best not to get irritable. The time is twenty-five minutes to 6 o'clock. Could the noble Baroness not agree that one of the purposes here is that a local authority should have people moving out of letted houses into houses which they purchase? I believe this is the Conservative Governments philosophy, and therefore I should have thought it was immaterial to a local authority whether that person buys a house in the existing authority area or purchases a house outside it. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, mentioned persons who move from one area in a county to another, but a person may wish to move to a house just over the border because it is more convenient in terms of his employment. It may be a matter of only a few yards.

The point I was trying to get from the noble Baroness is why the Government have restricted it as they have done. I can see the reasons for their doing it, and I applaud them. What I really wanted to know is why the Government are not allowing this facility, this assistance, to be used by persons who may be buying an authority house, as proposed here, but one that is in a different authority's area. I do not know whether the noble Baroness can help me. If she cannot perhaps she could seek advice. I should be very happy to receive a letter from her. If I am impressed by it I will do nothing further. If I am not, I can always come back on the Report stage. If she is prepared to consult on this matter I am quite willing to withdraw the Amendment.


The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has raised one or two new points, particularly the one about new towns, and it would be better if I let him know later the answers to the points he has raised.


I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. Perhaps she will find some difficulty with this particular clause. If one refers to the House of Commons Hansard one finds very little meat to take from it and one may find that one is raising points which the Gov- ernment may not have anticipated. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 91 agreed to.

Clause 92 agreed to.

Clause 93 [Default by local authority].

LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 129:

Page 99, line 24, at end insert— ("or

  1. (d)have, at any time after the passing of this Act, acted in such a manner as will or may render them unable to prevent a default under any of the preceding paragraphs of this subsection, or
  2. (e)have by unreasonable delay made it certain or likely that they will be unable to prevent any such default.")

The noble Lord said: We now pass to the provisions relating to default by the local authority. This Amendment extends the circumstances in which the Secretary of State may declare a local authority to be in default so as to include any action or unreasonable delay by an authority which will result in its being unable to prevent a default occurring under the preceding three paragraphs of this subsection. The new paragraph (d)is designed to provide for those cases where an authority after enactment decides that it will not carry out all or some of its duties, but such a decision has not yet caused a default under the preceding paragraphs. For example, an authority might decide after enactment but before October 1, 1972, not to take on the extra staff needed to administer the new rent rebate scheme, or it might decide not to start assessing fair rents. If the Secretary of State considered that such action might render the authority unable to discharge its functions effectively under Part II or V respectively, he could, under this Amendment, give notice to the authority at this early stage that he was considering making an order declaring it to be in default. That is the purpose of the new subsection (d).

The new paragraph (e) provides for those cases where an authority does take some action to carry out its statutory functions but does so in such a dilatory fashion that it will inevitably default on them, or where the authority fails to take the necessary preliminaries to the carrying out of its statutory functions until so much time has elapsed that it will inevitably default on these functions. For example, an authority might carry out its duty to make a provisional assessment of fair rents so slowly that it would be unable to keep within the required timetable, or it might engage the necessary staff for its rent allowance scheme so slowly that it would be unable to introduce it effectively on the required date, January 1, 1973. Given these duties that are laid upon the local authorities, it is up to us to see that they are carried out and not frustrated, and so I hope that noble Lords will agree to this Amendment.


The noble Lord keeps talking about "slowly", "dilatory", or "unreasonable delay", and I wonder whether the noble Lord could define what the Government have in mind, or is it vague? Could the noble Lord give us an example of what the Government have in mind when they use these particular words in this particular clause?


Certainly. The Bill all along provides for things to be done within a certain time. For example, a great deal is to start to be done on October 1, 1972. Thereafter, the next stage is that the rent allowances have to be introduced on January 1, 1973. There is the time laid down for the assessment of rents, the six months within which the local authority has to prepare its assessment and later submit it to the rent scrutiny board, and so forth. The duty of the authority is to equip itself and so to organise itself that it can comply with these requirements. If it does not do so, then it can be said to be working too slowly.


I can see grave difficulties in that regard if the Secretary of State is ever required to use Clause 93(1). I do not propose to say anything further. I find this drafting very unsatisfactory, but if the noble Lord wishes to persist with it I am prepared to let it go through. However, I will reserve my comments for a later Amendment, which I hope the noble Lord will see the force of and accept.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.43 p.m.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 129A:

Page 99, line 24, at end insert— ("(d) have resolved that they do not propose to exercise any of the functions referred to in the three preceding paragraphs,")

The noble Lord said: Clause 93 is one of those objectionable clauses that one finds from time to time in this Bill. We can discuss the principle of it on the Motion, That the clause stand part. I hope the Government will recognise that a councillor of a local authority will feel that he has as great a mandate in performing his duties on a local authority as a Member of Parliament in another place. There may be a number of councils composed of majorities who may feel that they have a mandate from their electorate that nothing should be done to assist the Government in the administration of this particular Bill. If I may say so, I think one must sympathise with the position of those councils.

I hope the Government will recognise that central Government and Parliament, while pre-eminent, must have a continuing working relationship, understanding and sympathy, with the democracy of grass roots that we know as local authorities. The powers that the Secretary of State is taking in Clause 93 are, I think, without any form of precedent whatsoever. I doubt very much whether the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, can produce powers of this character for the purpose of requiring a local authority to act contrary to what it believes is right and just for its own people within that authority. I do not know of any. The powers that I know of are powers that have been taken to protect the ordinary person against the authority of some bigger organisation, either the Secretary of State or a local auhority itself.

Therefore, I come back to the fact that a local authority may feel that it has a mandate, and may feel, on grounds of conscience, that it can have nothing to do with this Bill, which many will regard, as my noble friends have repeatedly said throughout this Committee stage, as very much like a tax collector. They may feel that it will be seen by tenants as a means of saving for the central Exchequer; of reducing taxation and, like so many other things that this Government have done, of placing upon the tenant, through increased rents and eventually through increased rates, an added burden. There may be in local authorities a genuine conscience against administration of this Bill.

I must say that I am in some difficulty, because I believe that one should respect the law, even though the law is bad. But Parliament should always be careful, when introducing a law, to make sure that it is a law which, broadly, the persons concerned are willing to perform and see through. Under subsection (1)(a), (b) and (c) the Secretary of State can take action when it is quite clear that the local authority has deliberately failed to carry out its responsibilities—has opted out, refused to comply with the law. This is not a very pleasant position for anyone, even those who may feel strongly about the intentions of the Government in terms of this Bill.

I put this Amendment down, quite seriously, because if accepted it will provide an opportunity for the local authority, by resolution and after full debate, and perhaps after consultation with its electorate, to say, "We will have nothing to do with the administration of this Act, and we know the consequences. Now proceed and appoint your Housing Commissioner to perform what you, the central Government, desire to be performed." If that were done, it would improve the relationship between local authority and Government. It would remove the criminal aspects of failure to comply with the law. It would permit an authority to say quite constitutionally, on grounds of conscience and mandate, "We will have nothing to do with this Act. We express this view through this resolution", and it would then be left open to the Secretary of State to take action under this Bill.

There is one other advantage which might result from this Amendment. I have gone through the Bill and I cannot discover any procedure whereby a local authority which has defaulted under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), and the new (d) and (e), and which has had a Housing Commissioner appointed, can decide to resume its responsibility for housing in its area. I do not see any procedure by which an authority can approach the Secretary of State and make submissions, and it seems that once the Housing Commissioner is appointed that is the end of the matter. There seems no way of a local authority coming back to its real position of being the housing authority.

I hope that the Government will accept that these councillors—and I can say this as one who has not been a member of a local authority—are extremely proud and sensitive about their responsibility to their electorate. They feel that their mandate from the electorate is equal to that of any Member of Parliament, and we know how much Members of the House of Commons feel their responsibility to their constituents. There may be a conflict here between certain local authorities and central Government, and if there is a clash I hope that it can be resolved with a degree of dignity. If a local authority passed a resolution, I hope that the Secretary of State would be able to accept it in a truly democratic manner and could then proceed as he is called upon to do. If this Amendment is not accepted, sourness and bitterness could well result and could spill over to many other services, to the detriment of the people within a local authority's area. I hope that the Government will consider very seriously what I have said, and see whether this solution is a better way out of a difficulty than letting feelings fester, with the atmosphere becoming increasingly bitter, which could happen if this Amendment were not accepted. I beg to move.


I should like to show the other side of the penny, because I have had actual experience of default powers in the case of a local authority not carrying out the duties which Parliament placed upon it. It is true that the altercation then was not between central Government and the local authority concerned, because under the old Housing Acts it was the county council which had default powers and not central Government. But at some time between the two wars, in the mid-'thirties, there was in my own part of the world a housing authority which felt, I think quite strongly—one might call them old-fashioned Liberals—that it was not right that the State or a local authority should interfere in the affairs between landlord and tenant and the like. They grossly neglected their duties tinder the Housing Acts and the result was that the unfortunate people in that area did not get the benefit which Parliament intended them to get.

At election after election the same people were returned, usually, I must confess, unopposed. But, finally, it was quite obvious that the authority with default powers would have to intervene and, although the matter did not actually come to intervention in the end, the power to intervene was I think the only factor which ultimately secured proper administration in that area. That is the other side of the penny. The power to intervene was essential for the people who were suffering from the maladministration of that authority—or rather from the way in which that authority was not doing what Parliament had said it should do—and I should be sorry to see the Government or some other body not having some power to see that all local authorities do their duty.


May I draw your Lordships' attention to a fact which may be quite relevant in these times of mobility of labour and new technological processes? A local authority may not be able to meet all that is requested by the Government under this clause, if industry in the area is disappearing. Without naming it, I can think of an area which is threatened with the closing down of a little steelworks upon which hundreds of tenants are dependent for their employment. We know that the Bill deals with increases in subsidies, and lays down policies which imply increasing rents or even providing greater amenities which might be socially necessary. But an authority in an area such as I have mentioned would not be able to do those things and might refuse so to do, as happened in South Wales in the bad old hungry 'twenties and 'thirties.

All I am asking this Committee to do, before it makes this legislation hard and fast, is to build a social shock absorber into the Bill so that before draconic action is taken by this very abrasive Government there will be a saving clause. Consequently, I hope that before brushing this Amendment aside in a pleasant semi-peremptory manner, the Government will promise that they will look into this point in view of the fluidity and mobility of three-quarters of the twentieth century industrial society in which we live.


I should like to support the Amendment because this clause goes back to the principle of the Bill, which we dislike most intensely; we have a dilemma in carrying out the law and this Amendment will help us to do that. We object to the principle that central Government are taking such great powers and emasculating the powers of the local authorities. It is not I who have said this. The Cullingworth Report, which looked into council housing, its purposes, its procedures and its priorities, said quite categorically: We reject any suggestion that there should be greater central control over local authority housing management policies … We recommend advisory functions of the Ministry … Nothing could be clearer than that.


As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd said, the general principle can be gone into on the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill. I shall not therefore take up the time of the Committee in discussing the general problem of Government interference with local authorities and whether or not local authorities should be given greater or less freedom. It has been a fact over the years that the amount of freedom a local authority has continually declined. We might think that it is a good thing or a bad thing.

But let us look at the suggestion which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He said that if a local authority passes a resolution saying that it is not going to implement some or any of the duties laid upon them by the Act then the Minister can take the various steps that are open to him. He does not immediately appoint a Commissioner. Later on in the clause he has a power of direction. He can instruct the local authority in detail as to what steps they have to take to remedy the omissions. This is all done before the appointment of a Commissioner. So if this Amendment were accepted the local authority would first pass a resolution saying that they did not intend to implement Parts I, II, V or VI of the Act. The Secretary of State would issue a direction saying that they had to implement them. The local authority, having passed such a resolution, would be unable to do so and it would be only at that stage that the Commissioner would be appointed.

It seems to me that this is an unnecessary Amendment. This is the first time during the proceedings on this Bill that I have not entirely agreed with the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I would not deny that it might be a good thing to make it more clear-cut and allow local authorities to say that they refuse to implement the Act. In this way the odium would be laid on the central Government, where it belongs, and the ratepayers would know that it is not the fault of the elected councillors. It would also appear to me that under paragraph (d), which we have just written in by means of the last Amendment, the Government could treat a resolution of the kind envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, as evidence of the local authority acting in such a manner as will render them unable to prevent a default. So, having written in the new paragraph (d) under the last Amendment it would appear to me that the Secretary of State, on receiving the information that the local authority have passed a resolution of this kind, would invoke the powers of direction which he has later on in the clause. He would be able to invoke those powers under paragraph (d), which we have already passed.


What we are discussing is quite a simple proposition. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, would enable a local authority simply to resolve that they did not propose to exercise any of the functions referred to in the three preceding paragraphs. They would then leave it to the Secretary of State to get on with it. The noble Lord started off by referring to the mandate that local councillors feel they have in performing their duties as members of local authorities. We can all understand that different jobs are subjected to different constraints. We have our own constraints in Parliament. But the constraints of local authorities are those of bodies which have been created by Parliament and whose boundaries have been decided by Parliament; it is Parliament that also has to decide what their functions should be.

It is not in any way derogatory but merely a constitutional fact that they are subordinate authorities. Local authorities do not have any right or option not to discharge the duties conferred upon them by Statute. If they were to decide not to discharge a duty, they would not be choosing between two policies either of which they were free to adopt; they would be choosing to act illegally instead of legally.


Will the Minister give way?


I should like to finish, if I may. Their freedom is like that of all Her Majesty's lieges; they have freedom within the law but not freedom to flout the law.


I am grateful to the Minister. I will be brief. I am assuming that a local authority, whatever their political colour or calibre, would have the common sense to try to implement national legislation. But there may be extenuating circumstances which the Minister would have to take into account because of the economic and social conditions in the area. That was one of the points that I was trying to spike to-day.


I quite understand the point that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, which, if I may say so, is not on quite the same plane as the point of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—and this is a paradox of what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said—was inviting greater central interference by handing over all housing functions under this Bill to the central Government. That is what is being proposed in this Amendment. It is not as if the existence of the default powers gave a local authority the right to default from doing their statutory duties. The fact that there is a remedy for a breach of the law does not make that breach of the law any less unlawful. It has never been suggested that it would be reasonable for a local authority not to comply with their duties under the Housing Act 1957 merely because that Act contains the default powers in Sections 171 to 176.

I must say to the noble Lord that, in essence, the default powers in Clause 93 are similar to those in Sections 171 to 176 in the Housing Act 1957 and to those in other legislation which confers powers and duties on local authorities, for example, the Public Health Act 1936. The existing powers in the Housing Act 1957 are part of the remedy sanctioned by Parliament in cases where a local authority have failed to obey the law made by Parliament; and, like the Bill, the 1957 Act does not require a particular remedy to be employed. But what would be most dangerous would be to accept the argument that a local authority has more right to default on the exercise of some duties rather than on others; that it can pick and choose those to which it will adhere.

Obviously, the whole process of an application on the part of a local authority, compelling the Secretary of State to take the powers into central Government, would run entirely contrary to the freedom of local authorities and to the mandate on which local authorities are elected—to carry out their duties within the law. They may not like some of them. We all have to do duties that we do not like. But their duty is to implement the law decided by Parliament and to exercise their discretion on behalf of the inhabitants of their area in accordance with the law. I can quite understand the question of genuine conscience, but I think one must have regard to the constitutional realities here.

The noble Lord asked about how one would return to normal. I think that was the question he asked. The answer here is that it could be done by another resolution of the authority, resolving to take on their duties again. The power of the authority to remedy the default and to get rid of the Commissioner is by implication in the Bill. All the authority need do is to pass the necessary resolution, send it to the Secretary of State and ask him to revoke the default order and the order appointing the Commissioner—he has power to revoke the default order under subsection (13)(c) of this clause—so there is no great difficulty there. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook for what he said; and I think that even the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, himself recognised the need for default powers. But this is not quite the point we were on. As he said, this is the reverse of the coin. This is not really the exercise of default powers: it is stepping in where an authority refuses to perform the duties which are laid upon it by the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, raised rather a separate point, as to where the local authority was perhaps running into difficulties and felt that it was no longer able to carry out its duties—and no doubt this may have been so in the case that my noble friend Lord Cranbrook was quoting. I am not quite certain whether it was deliberate in that case or whether it was an inability to fulfil duties for one reason or another. The fact is that the Secretary of State can come in at various points to assist in matters throughout the Bill; but in a Bill where the whole structure centres upon the management of the housing revenue account and the concept of subsidy to meet deficit, the way in which the local authority will be failing, presumably, will be because deficits are increasing, and it may well be that this may be due, for example, to a recession in that particular part of the county. The deficits in the housing revenue account will obviously continue, but in those sorts of cases the authority will continue to get subsidies long after most other local authority areas have ceased to get them.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is quite right in saying that the Secretary of State could give a direction, but it would not be much good giving a direction if the local authority had already abdicated from its responsibilities. No: we are here faced with an absolutely straight issue, and that is the issue of whether local authorities will perform their duties as local authorities. If they were to resolve not to do so, they would, so to speak, be "kicking over the table". So far from vindicating the rights of local authorities, they would be undermining them. They would be undermining them by forcing the Secretary of State to centralise, instead of allowing local authorities to run their affairs within the law. So, I am afraid, this is certainly not an Amendment that could accept, and I cannot recommend the Committee to accept it.

6.16 p.m.


When the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, talks about undermining positions, in this Bill the Government are undermining the authority and the freedom of local government. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, knows the deep and bitter resentment that is felt by a number of local authorities in regard to the position in which they are going to be placed if and when this Bill becomes an Act. My noble friend Lord Shepherd does the Committee a service when he draws attention to this deep and bitter resentment. And why is it that they feel so resentful? It is that, in regard to housing policy and the treatment of tenants, their hands are going to be tied; and, to put it quite bluntly, they feel they are being forced into a position in which they are going to be doing the dirty work of this arrogant Government. Let us be under no illusion: the present Government are behaving in a thoroughly arrogant manner in regard to this business, and the noble Lord knows how deeply it is resented.

But, having said that, may I make it clear that, in so far as advice from the Labour Party is concerned, the advice to local authorities has been, "When it becomes an Act, do your best; work it to the best of your ability. When the time comes, we will repeal the Act, but in the meantime do your best to make it work." The reply there is, as I understand them—I am certainly not speaking for them, but I have tried to understand their point of view and I have attended conferences where I have listened to delegates from local authorities talking on this matter—"Our hands are being tied in the matter of rents; our tenants are being treated as second-class citizens in regard to rights of appeal; and if we become the agents for Government policy, then we are going to get the blame—and the blame ought to be seen to rest where it properly belongs".

I have tried to put concisely the position, as I see it, of the authorities which are likely to come in conflict with Her Majesty's Government. I think a very great deal could have been done to meet them, and still could be done to meet them, if there was a little less haste; if the Government, even at this late hour, would give some further consideration to the timing of the imposition of the rent increases; if the Government were to realise that, in calling on local authorities to act in advance of legislation, they had provoked a number of them—and the noble Lord knows perfectly well that this Bill says, "If you did not impose a 50p increase in April you have got to impose a 100p increase in October", and that they do not like it. I think that the Government could do something to improve the atmosphere, because I am quite certain that nobody wants the clash that can take place. Nobody can anticipate with any degree of equanimity local government coming into conflict on a substantial scale with central Government. I do not know whether it is possible to make any appeal to the Government to hold back a little, to show a little more willingness than has been the case up to now, or to make some concessions of some reasonable substance. At the moment, although they have made a few they have not been of real substance and are not likely to do anything to ease and sweeten the atmosphere. I should not have intervened had I not felt that the point of view which I have tried to put forward is one that the Committee ought to have placed before it; and it is one that the Government would be wise to consider—in their own long-term interests.


I am in some difficulty. I recognise the problem posed by the Amendment. I said in my opening speech that I believe the law, good or bad, should be obeyed. But I am not certain yet whether the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, fully appreciates the really strong sense of outrage that exists in local authorities throughout the country, irrespective of their political persuasion. I do not think the noble Lord appreciates that; nor does he appreciate the deep bitterness among councillors, in areas where housing conditions are difficult, that they are being called upon to carry out a political policy which is utterly obscene and obnoxious. They are required to do it by the law of the land.

I agree with my noble friend that so far as my Party is concerned, we have said to local authorities and to the people who serve on local authorities, "Do your best with the law. We will repeal it when we come back into office." I thought there might be a way out. I recognise the difficulty. But what I was seeking to do by this Amendment was to remove the possible bitterness that might arise as a consequence of periods of delay while things are ascertained. Nothing will be done while all this "argy-bargy" might be going on between the local authority and the Secretary of State. I wonder whether through dignified action by a resolution one could bring it to an end. The council will make its decision and the Secretary of State will proceed. I feel very strongly about this. I do not believe this Amendment is one that I could persuade my colleagues to vote for. We shall have to do that on the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill? I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.22 p.m.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 129D:

Page 99, line 34, at end insert— ("( ) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that the power contained in the preceding subsection shall be to the exclusion of any power under section 228 of the Local Government Act 1933 (if any) to surcharge a member or officer of a local authority in respect of the default.")

The noble Lord said: The two Amendments which I did not move were really directed towards the very wide powers given to the Secretary of State by subsection (2). That refers to the legislation, and it says: … any power, whether conferred on them by an enactment or not …". In other words, I think the Secretary of State can take into account whether a local housing authority is acting within any power conferred on them or not. This certainly would be a very wide power. But the purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that where this wide power is being exercised there will be no surcharge, which is liable under Section 228 of the Local Government Act 1933, made on a member or officer of a local authority in respect of a default; and particularly that part of the subsection which refers to "or not" where there is no enactment in existence.


The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, pointed out that this Amendment is designed to prevent any member or officer of a defaulting authority being surcharged in respect of a default about which the Secretary of State has made a default order under subsection (1). Under Section 288(1)(d) of the Local Government Act 1933 the district auditor of a local authority is required to surcharge the amount of any loss or deficiency upon any person by whose negligence or misconduct the loss or deficiency has been incurred. If a member or officer of a local authority deliberately and actively supports a breach of the law by his authority his action is clearly misconduct.

It is possible to imagine a situation in which the appointment of a Housing Commissioner results in a complete recoupment of all losses caused by the authority's default before and during the period of his appointment. In that case there would be no loss to the authority and no liability to surcharge. But a default order may be made and no Housing Commissioner may be appointed. The Secretary of State may confine himself to using his powers under Clause 95 to reduce, suspend or discontinue housing subsidies, or to enforcing the order by other means, for instance, through the courts. In the former case there will undoubtedly be a loss to the authority in relation to their subsidy income. In the latter case, it may not be possible to effect the enforcement of the order in such a way as to recoup all losses which arose through the default before the enforcement becomes effective.

In all these situations there would be a loss due to misconduct. There is no justification for treating this particular form of misconduct differently from other forms of misconduct. The power to surcharge exists to protect ratepayers from adverse financial consequences resulting from the misconduct of members or officers of their local authority. It would not be fair to remove this protection.


I will read carefully what the noble Lord has said. It may be that I have misunderstood the intention of subsection (2). I will look at it and decide whether to raise it, in perhaps a different way, on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 129F: Page 100, line 33, leave out from ("order") to ("appoint") in line 34.

The noble Lord said: This is a probing Amendment. What have the Government in mind in the use of the words, "without prejudice to any other means of enforcing the order"? What means has the Secretary of State in mind other than appointing, a Housing Commissioner? I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.


The Secretary of State can go to the court and get a direction from the court. Presumably, he can get an order of mandamus. There are a number of courses that he can take. He can also surcharge, he can withdraw subsidy—I am sorry, I meant to say that he can withdraw subsidy; he does not himself surcharge. A variety of options is open to him. No doubt he would exercise the one most appropriate to the default. In the case of a reasonably small default, obviously it would be inappropriate to appoint a Commissioner—that would be like taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut. It would in such a case, I imagine, be appropriate to give a direction, and if the direction was not complied with an application to the courts would follow.


Where directions are enforceable by a writ of mandamus it normally says so in the legislation. I cannot find it here.


May I ask the Minister a question? If an order of mandamus is obtained from the High Court, and the members of a council fail to comply with the terms of that order. what is the next procedure? Can they be sent to prison?


If they are—and we know how big a qualification that if "is—in contempt of court, they can be sent to prison. But that would be only as an absolutely last resort—as we explained at enormous length during the discussions on the Industrial Relations Act—where no other remedy existed.


The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, had better be very careful when he talks about the Industrial Relations Act. I well remember the noble Lord assuring your Lordships' House that the possibility of any workman, any trade unionist, being sent to gaol under the Industrial Relations Act was so remote that it was inconceivable that such a situation would arise. The noble Lord knows it was only the fact that a strange character called the Official Solicitor, who most people did not know even existed, suddenly appeared on the scene that saved the Government from a major strike because of the possibility—at that moment a near certainty—that three trade unionists were going to be sent to gaol over the weekend for contempt. The noble Lord had better be careful in giving assurances of that sort on matters such as this. I am not very happy with this provision. It seems that the Secretary of State is acquiring very wide powers which he can use to twist and to pressurise a local authority. Again we shall look at the matter between now and Report. I take this course only because I do not want to delay the Committee too long, because we have a "crunch" situation arising shortly with the noble Lord's own Amendment to the clause. Therefore, in the circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.34 p.m.

LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 130: Page 101, line 8, leave out subsections (8) and (9).

The noble Lord said: I suggest that with this Amendment we might discuss Amendments Nos. 131, 132, 133, 135—which is the proposed new clause—and 141. The new clause is a fairly lengthy one and the purpose of these Amendments is to set out in the new clause more expressly the powers of a Housing Commissioner in connection with the performance of functions conferred on him by an order made under Clause 93(7). That is the reason why we have this new clause, and there are to be incorporated in it certain provisions now contained in subsections (8), (11) and (12) of Clause 93. The Amendments make unnecessary the Secretary of State's power to give directions to the Commissioner under Clause 93(9). The purpose of the proposed new clause is to clarify the relationship between the Commissioner and a defaulting local authority, and between the Commissioner and the authority's staff. This will be of assistance to third parties who may have dealings with the Commissioner or the authority, and will provide safeguards for the authority's staff.

The new clause ensures that certain matters which would otherwise have had to be clarified under the provisions of Clause 93(13)(b) in the order appointing the Commissioner, will have been expressly provided for by Parliament from the outset. I do not know whether noble Lords would wish me to go briefly through the provisions. I am in the hands of noble Lords, and I am sure that they will have studied this. I think that the points I have already made cover most of what is required.

I should point out that the order appointing the Commissioner confers on him the housing management functions of the authority. He may be concerned with legal proceedings in connection with any of the many aspects of running the authority's housing services; for example, with a contractor who has undertaken repairs or improvements to the authority's dwellings. If the order confers on the Commissioner the whole of the housing management functions of the authority, he will have the whole of the powers that are exercised in connection with that. Obviously, he must be able to enter into contracts or agreements for the execution of work, for the supply of water and other services, and so on. He must be able to grant tenancies and to execute and serve notices of a rent increase and notices to quit. In other words, he will have the whole of the authority's powers in regard to housing, if that is what the order provides.

I think I should also mention that an express duty is placed on the authority's officers to obey the Commissioner's orders and to give him all reasonable assistance. This provision clarifies the position of the authority's staff in relation both to the employing authority and also to the Commissioner. It enables them to ignore any order from their authority not to assist or take instructions from the Commissioner. It protects them against any subsequent action by the authority which is intended to penalise them for having assisted the Commissioner. These are important matters. In other words, what it amounts to is that the loyalty of the staff, in their housing capacity, is transferred from the authority to the Commissioner in the service of the people of the area. I beg to move.

6.40 p.m.


The only thing that really commends this Amendment is the clarity of its drafting. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, speaks of loyalty as though it is something which may easily be transferred. I will come to that part of the clause in a moment. I must say that I find it very strange that where an appointement of a Housing Commissioner may be invalid (it may even be ultra vires—this is a possibility since the order under which he is set up will be a Statutory Instrument), no matter how irregular the circumstances may be, whatever he may do will be valid. I can understand the problem of the Government. Looking at the Amendment, it seems to me to be very much a form of "whitewashing"—giving the Government power to go ahead, irrespective of the vires of the order and the appointment. I should have thought this quite an exceptional power to take. May I ask the noble Lord whether the Housing Commissioner, through this, will have the power to borrow, or to require the authority to borrow, sums of money for the development and building of new housing accommodation, since the Housing Commissioner takes over all the functions of the housing authority?

What really concerns me is the question of the staff who will find themselves with a split responsibility. I have no doubt at all that as officers of a local authority their general instincts, sympathy and loyalty will be with the authority which employs them. Where a Housing Commissioner has been appointed and staff are to be used and to be made available for him, they still remain employees of the local authority. Their position, if a Housing Commissioner is appointed, will be very difficult indeed; and I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, fully appreciates the sort of bitter political feeling that will be generated by the appointment of a Housing Commissioner to take over the housing responsibilities from the local authority.

I am wondering whether the Minister ought not to have another look at this provision. If a Housing Commissioner is to be appointed to take over the responsibility of the housing authority, I should have thought it would be much more advisable to do it completely properly and to transfer staff completely to the Housing Commissioner so that there can be no question of loyalty or disloyalty between the staff of the authority and the authority itself or the Housing Commissioner. There would be very great advantages, if this proposal is to be proceeded with, in arranging that the staff required by the Housing Commissioner should be transferred to him from the authority. I understand that the Government need to pursue this particular clause and require these Amendments. The time is now a quarter to seven, and I think we are to have an adjournment. Unless any other noble Lords wish to speak, I appeal to my friends on this side of the House that we should vote against these Amendments in order to show our displeasure in regard to the clause as a whole.

6.43 p.m.


What happens to contracts which have been made by the local authority and have then to be completed? The Housing Commissioner has power to complete any work that has already been done by the authority. Supposing a contract has been placed for the construction of 50 dwellings to go into the Housing Revenue Account, the contractor is still in a legal relationship with the authority (is he not?) yet it is for the Housing Commissioner to see that that work is completed. I do not see how this is going to work out from the point of view of the contractor who suddenly finds himself answerable, when the houses are half completed, to somebody other than the authority with whom he was first in a relationship. If the Housing Commissioner goes along and tells the contractor that he wants some modification to the scheme as originally set out in the contract, is the contractor to obey the Housing Commissioner or must he still look to the authority who employed him in the first instance? The legal position does not seem to me to be entirely clear, and I should be grateful if the noble Lord would consider this.


The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has hit upon a point of real practical and constructive importance. This Committee has been working very hard on this Bill and has been sitting up until two or three o'clock in the morning. May I make this comment about this legislation? We are churning this stuff out without the responsibility that this House should give to it. We expunge Clauses 8 and 9 and later on we have a vast new clause. The clause itself is almost worth a day's discussion and we are trying to churn out this stuff rapidly for the sake of a Government who have got their legislative pro- gramme in a mess. We are doing a disservice to another place because we are not given time to consider this Bill in depth or constructively. We are now presented with a totally impractical point of view. How many Commissioners would be needed if there were difficulties in various parts of the country? None of us is having time to look in depth into the vast power that is given here. We are passing this legislation in a way that I think is derogatory to the dignity of this Committee. I would suggest that the Government take this Bill back, look at the whole scheme of our legislation, and stop trying to churn out this important social legislation about housing in this fashion.


It is anti-social.


Housing is important to the happiness of people and we should stop churning this legislation out as with a sausage machine. That is what we are doing at present.

6.46 p.m.


I had wanted to remain silent, which is rather difficult for me, but I should like to speak along lines similar to those of my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. We are rushing through Parliament a Bill more complicated than any we have seen for years. We know what happened with the Industrial Relations Bill. The Government are now confessing that some of the clauses were badly drawn and that Amendments will probably be necessary. I foresee the same difficulty arising after this legislation has been passed. As my noble friend Lord Davies said, we have, in connection with the powers of the Commissioner, deleted seven or eight lines and replaced them by two complete pages. Either the original draft was wrong or this is wrong; it is one of the two. The same comment applies to many of the clauses we have been discussing for the last few weeks.

On Second Reading I used a rather theatrical phrase when I said that this Housing Commissioner was really the Obergruppenführer, and the more one looks at it the more one is convinced that he is. Under subsection 1(a) he is entitled to do anything which the authority would have power to do in relation to housing. That is exactly the power that Hitler took in the early 1930s. We see the same spirit of arrogance in subsection 1(d) where he is to have the right to use the seal of the council. The seal of a council is the very holy of holies. When I was chairman of a county council there were two keys to a seal. The clerk of the council had one and I had the other, and neither of us could open and use the seal without the presence of the other and his key. The seal is something very sacred. It is almost as sacred as the Crown. Yet we are going to allow this outsider, who is not answerable in any way to the electorate of that particular council, to impose his will, to give orders that anything is to be done that he says is to be done, and to be able to use the common seal of the council.

Furthermore, in subsection (3)(a) he can take possession or control of documents. How far is he going back? We have a sort of Statute of Limitations with regard to Cabinet documents, and ex-Cabinet Ministers cannot use them in order to produce lucrative volumes of memoirs; but this man will be able to say to the town clerk: "I want all your documents going back 20 years in respect of your housing schemes", and the town clerk dare not deny him that request. Then we go to subsection (4): It shall be the duty of any officer of the authority to obey any order given to him by a Housing Commissioner. … Those of us who have had long experience of local government know that we frequently have very bright ideas, and sometimes almost obsessions, that such and such an item of policy should be put into operation. But then we are confronted by the town clerk or the treasurer who says that under clause so and so of such and such an Act we should be ultra vires if we took that particular action. What is the position of a town clerk or legal adviser to be if, according to this subsection, It shall be the duty of any officer of the authority to obey any order given to him by a Housing Commissioner"? If that town clerk, a qualified solicitor, says to the Housing Commissioner: "I think, sir, you will be on very doubtful legal ground if you proceed along those lines", the Housing Commissioner can say to him: "To hell with all your legal expertise. I say you are going to do this, and you have got to do it." We then progress towards a state of anarchy in local government.

I am extremely sorry that the elected representatives of the people are going to be swept aside so that a dictator can rule over a local area in their place. This is bad, and it is a mistake: and I think it will recoil on the Government in due course, just as the Industrial Relations Act has recoiled upon them in the last few weeks.


There is no time limit on it.


I just want to say one thing on this clause. There has been a default clause against local authorities in every single Housing Act that I have read. I have not read every one of them, but I cannot think of a Housing Act which does not have that provision in it somewhere.

6.53 p.m.


I must say that I find the criticism of this new clause a little baffling. On the one hand we are told that it is remarkably well drafted, and on the other hand we are told that it is going through undiscussed and all the rest of it. Surely there is nothing unusual for substantial Amendments to be introduced in your Lordships' House to a Bill that has come from another place. These are decided improvements to complete the purposes of the Bill: otherwise they would not be made. The noble Lord looks astonished.


I am astonished, because, although I may not have read the debates in another place sufficiently I have no recollection of this matter being raised in this form. I have no recollection of any pressure on the Government to bring in totally new provisions and to extend in an unprecedented way, so far as I am aware (this is the answer to the noble Earl, Lord Balfour), detailed powers in a Bill which already contains full powers to deal with default under any kind of possible alternative need. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord can tell us how it came about that in between the discussion in another place and the Committee stage here the Government decided that it was necessary to introduce these totally new detailed extensive powers. What has happened to cause this?


These powers have been made more explicit and exact as a result of discussion in another place, consideration here, the whole process. I am not saying—


Can the noble Lord—


I cannot give way. I am not saying that there was particular discussion on these matters.


The noble Lord did say that.


No. I said "as a result of discussion in another place". Things can be referred to indirectly; there can be discussion, and so forth, over a wide area. This is the normal democratic process to which the noble Lord has been referring: consideration, study, discussion; Amendment leading to Amendment, and the like.

I have been asked a great many questions. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked about borrowing powers. The answer in that regard is that the Housing Commissioner himself will not have borrowing powers. The authority will have the powers, and the authority is obliged to pay his expenses. But the main point here is that the Commissioner steps into the shoes of the housing authority. This is the position that this new clause establishes. He is then able to carry on exactly from where the local authority has been going. This applies to contracts and to the whole range of functions. There is nothing particularly unusual in this. There are various devices for carrying on companies, for example, and this is not entirely surprising. All I am saying is that it is possible to have a smooth transition.

There is another point here. There has not been needed so close a definition of the powers because in previous legislation the Secretary of State has been able to sit in himself as an agent, and there is no point in his defining in legislation how he will conduct things. But here he is appointing a Commissioner in the, local authority. The same applies to documents. There is no question of search here. It is a question of having access to documents that are necessary in the ordinary course of running the local authority's housing affairs. This is quite normal. The noble Lord says that there should be a transfer of staff. But he knows as well as I do what this would involve in terms of extra legislation. We have had so much of it where there have been transfers within the nationalised sector from one public authority to another. These are always ticklish matters, and I should have thought it was much better that those who are conducting the housing affairs of the authority should go on doing so, but under the ægis of the Commissioner.

I do not think there is any real opposition to these provisions, because they do not go much further than what is in the Bill either explicitly or implicitly. So I hope the committee will agree to this clause.


What about contracts?


I mentioned contracts. I said that the local authority is simply replaced. If the powers are complete the Commissioner simply steps into the shoes of the local authority and carries on from there.


Ultra vires?


Where something is done ultra vires a long succession of consequences may arise. But it is not uncommon for somebody to be given powers to do things and to be protected in the course of doing them, even though his appointment was ultra vires.


I heard the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, twice say that the Commissioner "steps into the shoes of the local authority". Is he sure that the Commissioner is not stepping into their shoes but rather standing on the feet of the local authority?


One of the difficulties about business in your Lordships' House is that we have a Division and, despite the argument, there is always one answer. The criticism made by my noble friends about the period we have had available for this Bill was not really directed towards the particular clause we have been discussing but to the Bill as a whole. Right through, and certainly since the day we made the offer, I must tell the House that I was wrong and my noble friend, Lord Diamond, was right. I suggested that we should finish to-day; my noble friend thought that we ought to have further time. We on this side of the House have in fact reduced the number of Amendments put forward and on a number of occasions have deliberately restrained ourselves in the development of our arguments because we have always been conscious of the deadline of ten o'clock this evening.

So the criticism is valid, not only of this Bill but going right across the legislative programme. I do not know how the Government are going to get the local government reorganisation Bill through this House. It will not be a Party political issue. I do not know how they are going to find the time, frankly, without abusing the good sense and the service that noble Lords give to this House. We have heard it said on many occasions, and it is worth repeating: most of us have other work to do. Most of us, in one way or another, have to earn a living, and to be required, as we were only last

night—or perhaps I should say this morning—to sit until 2.30 a.m., to get home and later to proceed to the office by 9 o'clock and then to have to be back in this House arguing over detailed legislation, is fair neither to the Members of the House, to the House itself, nor to the country, bearing in mind the responsibility that we have for looking at legislation. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I am not blaming him, but he is the agent and servant of those who are responsible for the present chaotic situation of Government business. I said that I should wish for a vote on this new clause, in order to show our general disapproval of the whole of Clause 93. Therefore, unless anyone else wishes to take part in this debate, I suggest that we now take a vote upon it.

7.4 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 130) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 72; Not-Contents, 37.

Aberdare, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Margadale, L.
Allerton, L. Falkland, V. Masham of Ilton, Bs.
Atholl, D. Ferrers, E. Milverton, L.
Balfour, E. Fortescue, E. Mountevans, L.
Beauchamp, E. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Belstead, L. Gainford, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Gisborough, L. Newall, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Glasgow, E. Northchurch, Bs.
Brook of Ystradfellte, Bs. Gowrie, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Gridley, L. Rankeillour, L.
Colwyn, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Redesdale, L.
Courtown, E. Hanworth, V. Rowallan, L.
Cowley, E. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Sandford, L.
Craigavon, V. Hawke, L. Sandys, L.
Cranbrook, E. Hertford, M. Savile, L.
Croft, L. Inglewood, L. Sempill, Ly.
Cromartie, E. Kemsley, V. Sinclair of Cleeve, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Kinloss, Ly. Strang, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Kinnoull, E. Strange, L.
Dundonald, E. Latymer, L. Strathclyde, L.
Elgin and Kincardine, E. Lauderdale, E. Vivian, L.
Ellenborough, L. Loudoun, C. Winchester, M.
Elles, Bs. Luke, L. Young, Bs.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Macleod of Borve, Bs.
Archibald, L. Delacourt-Smith, L. Janner, L.
Avebury, L. Diamond, L. Leatherland, L.
Beswick, L. Fiske, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.
Blyton, L. Gaitskell, Bs. Maelor, L.
Boothby L. Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.] Nunburnholme, L.
Brockway, L. Hale, L. Peddie, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Henderson, L. Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]
Caradon, L. Heycock, L. Platt, L.
Crook, L. Hoy, L. Royle, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Jacques, L. St. Davids, V.
Segal, L. Slater, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Shepherd, L. Strabolgi, L. Watkins, L.
Shinwell, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.12 p.m. to 8 p.m.]


I beg to move Amendment No. 131. It is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 101, line 17, leave out from ("under") to ("require") in line 18 and insert ("this section").—(Lord Drumalbyn)


I beg to move Amendment No. 132. It is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 101, line 21, leave out ("or direction").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)


I beg to move Amendment No. 133. It, too, is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 101, line 25, leave out ("or direction".—(Lord Drumalbyn.)


I beg to move Amendment No. 134. It is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 101, line 29, leave out subsections (11) and (12).—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

8.3 p.m.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 134C.] Page 102, line 10, at end insert— ("(15) Nothing in this Part of this Act shall authorise a Housing Commissioner to sell dwellings in the Housing Revenue Account.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 134C. We have had some discussion about the functions of the Housing Commissioner. My understanding is that he would be appointed by the Secretary of State as a result of the default of the housing authority, and I suppose it would be the wish of the Secretary of State that the period in which the Housing Commissioner carried out his duties would be of the very minimum. The purpose, as I should hope, of the Housing Commissioner's functions would be to administrate the housing stock of the authority, proceed with the fair rent policy, ensure that rents and rebates are properly dealt with, and deal with all connected matters. But I should very much question whether it should be the function of the Housing Commissioner to be able to dispose of and sell dwellings that are in the Housing Revenue Account of the authority. This is a matter which I should have thought was one very much of policy of the local authority and should not be undertaken by someone who has been put in, as I believe someone mentioned to me, as a kind of receiver and of only temporary occupation. Therefore, I move this Amendment.


I appreciate the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, with regard to the Housing Commissioner and his powers of selling houses. I hope the noble Lord will agree that it would be unwise to limit in advance the functions which a Housing Commissioner could discharge, should he be appointed for the purposes of remedying a default. A Housing Commissioner may not be able to remedy the default unless he can also discharge a fairly wide range of the authority's housing functions. Many of the housing responsibilities of a local authority are in practice indivisible. For example, the determination and collection of rents could probably not be divorced in practice from the responsibility of granting rebates and allocating tenancies. These duties are closely connected with the maintenance of dwellings and may be linked with the disposal of dwellings which tenants wish to buy.

The various aspects of housing management are all part of the same responsibility and policies on the sale of council houses or new buildings, improvements, maintenance and indeed management, are all interdependent, in the sense that decisions in one field have financial, social and administrative repercussions in other fields. Local authorities recognise this in their day-to-day housing operations and in the formulation of their housing policy. Once they put themselves in a position where they oblige the Secretary of State to confer any of their housing functions on the Commissioner, they are in effect placing on the Commissioner the full responsibilities for which they up to that time had been responsible. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will agree that it would be a pity to curtail in advance any of the functions which the Housing Commissioner might be obliged to carry out.


I do not see how the noble Earl can say that in certain circumstances it would be impossible to remedy the default unless the Housing Commissioner had these powers. It is not enough for him merely to stand up and say that this is the case. If he can demonstrate, perhaps by means of an example, a connection between the remedying of a default by the Housing Commissioner and the sale of dwellings, then I am certainly prepared to listen to it. But I cannot see that the other matters which he has mentioned, such as collection of rents, the granting of rebates and general management of the housing stock owned by the authority, can possibly have any implications so far as the sale of council housing is concerned. That is an entirely separate matter. The fact that we have existed for many years without selling off the housing stock owned by local authorities, and that the housing authorities have been able to manage their housing revenue accounts without having this power, or without being exhorted to do so by the Government, indicates to me that the two things are wholly independent of one another. I am not prepared to accept the noble Earl's argument unless he can produce a much better reason.


The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, says, "Give an example". I do not think it is particularly helpful to try to conjure up an example, but what I would say is this. A Housing Commissioner will be appointed only where a local authority are in default and where they have been told they are in default and have not remedied their default. It is only in the last instance that the Secretary of State will then appoint a Housing Commissioner. But when he has done that, then to say to the Housing Commissioner, "You are to take certain responsibilities which the local authority have had previously, but you must not take them all because certain responsibilities are still going to be retained by the local authority" seems to me to be making an unnecessary curtailment. If the Secretary of State appoints a Housing Commissioner it seems reasonable that that person should take over all the responsibilities which the local authority previously had and on which they had defaulted. In this instance, one of the items for which he would have to take over responsibility is the selling of houses—or not selling houses—because this is an integral part of the housing policy.


First, the local authority are in default. They are in default because they will not accede to the Government's view that they should move to what the Government themselves believe to be fair rents. So far as the local authority are concerned this is the raising of rents beyond a figure which they believe is in the interests of their particular tenants and their particular authority. They will come to that view as the elected representatives of the people of that locality. So the issue is that of fair rent. The Housing Commissioner is being put in to administer on behalf of the Secretary of State because the local authority will not accede to the views of the Secretary of State. But the housing stock has been built up over many years as a consequence of investment, through rent, rates and, of course, national subsidy, and it is very much the asset of the local authority, and the people within that local authority. It would be absolutely unforgivable if the Government were to say that because a local authority are in default on a matter of policy—because in the end that is what it is; a disagreement on policy—what has been built up over a period of years can be sold off and dissipated by the Housing Commissioner because he may think it is the right policy.

He could well be forgiven for thinking that, knowing the views of noble Lords opposite on the sale of council houses. This goes contrary to the general philosophy of the majority of local authorities in this country, and that philosophy is backed by the way in which people in that area vote once every three years or so. So I am saying to the noble Earl that it is absolutely un- tenable and unforgivable that this man, who has been put in on no other basis than that of a receiver to represent Her Majesty's Government as a consequence of a dispute on policy between the local authority and the Secretary of State, should be in a position, without any reference to the local authority, without any form of appeal to the electorate of the local authority, to say that the assets of that authority can be dispersed.

I cannot see how the noble Earl can make a serious case in support of this decision. The noble Earl may say: "Well, of course these powers already exist for the local authority". But the local authority are responsible to the electorate; the Housing Commissioner is not. It is absolutely unforgivable that a man should be in the position of disposing of assets that have been built up by the community over many years and which are required for the development of the people within that local authority. I hope the noble Earl will think again.


With respect to the views held by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I think possibly we are making rather too much of this. The chances of a Housing Commissioner being appointed are, in the light of all the facts, relatively remote. It is at the end of the road that the Housing Commissioner comes in. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, says that after all the local authorities are the elected representatives. Of course they are, and they have certain duties put upon them by Parliament. If they do not carry out these duties it is not a conflict between—I see the noble Lord is shaking his head, but it is not a conflict between the local authorities and the Secretary of State; it is a conflict between the local authorities and what Parliament has said should be carried out by the local authorities.


Will the noble Earl allow me? There is no possibility of the local authority being in default on selling houses because neither Parliament nor the Government require them so to do.


No; but the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, instanced a Housing Commissioner being brought in because the local authorities did not approve of the progression to fair rents. The Housing Commissioner having been brought in, which after all is a fairly unlikely matter, we believe it is right that the Housing Commissioner should retain all the responsibilities for which the local authority were previously responsible, which responsibilities they have not carried out. It is not a question of a person who is not responsible to Parliament coming in and selling off all the assets of the local authorities. If I may say so with the greatest of respect, I think the noble Lord has somewhat overstated the case.


I am not the slightest bit convinced by what the noble Earl has just said. I have heard it said a great many times this evening; indeed, it was said by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that the local authority was subordinate (he used that word) to the central Government. In this case, if the Government are going to give to the Commissioner extensive powers, quite apart from the punishment for being in default, not only is the local authority made subordinate, but it is being wiped out. All the powers of the local authority are being wiped out so that the local authority becomes a complete cypher and we have the basis of democratic government simply destroyed.


I hesitate to prolong the discussion, but the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has just said something that I think is not in the Bill. He said that the Housing Commissioner is responsible to Parliament. Where does it say that? The Housing Commissioner is appointed by the Secretary of State. The noble Earl has raised a most important point if he is now saying that provisions are to be put into the Bill whereby the Housing Commissioner is to lay before both Houses a report, which can be debated. If he is saying that Parliament can do something if we do not like the way in which the Commissioner is carrying out his function, and in particular if we think he has incorrectly sold off council houses which he ought to have retained, I am interested to hear that. It is a great step forward in the Bill if Parliament is to be able to intervene.


If I said that—and I do not think that I did—I will certainly withdraw it. What I thought I said was that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had said that here is a Housing Commissioner who is not responsible to Parliament. I did not mean to imply in any way that the Housing Commissioner would be responsible to Parliament: because, of course, he is appointed by the Secretary of State to carry out the functions which the local authority would and should have carried out, but had not.

8.19 p.m.


If I misheard the noble Earl I apologise to him; but whatever he did say, it puts a good idea into my head for the Report stage. The Housing Commissioner certainly ought to be caused to make a report which is subject to debate by both Houses, so that if he does things, such as selling off council houses contrary to the wishes of the local electorate, there will at least be some way of querying it. I ask the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to imagine a situation in which the Housing Commissioner was brought in. In such a case it is not likely to be a Tory authority, is it? It is going to be an authority which has not been in the habit of selling council houses in the past. Would not the noble Earl agree that this is a reasonable hypothesis?


I certainly would not agree. The noble Lord can draw what hypothesis he likes but the only occasion on which the Housing Commissioner will be brought in is if the local authority have been in default, whatever that default may be.


I am asking the noble Earl to entertain the hypothesis that it is not likely to be a Tory authority. Is the noble Earl living in the same world as the one in which I am living?


The answer is that it could be.


It could not. Let us not be ridiculous. Of course it will not be a Tory authority, and therefore, as I say, it will be an authority which has not been in the habit of selling, or is less likely to have been in the habit of selling, council houses. I know of a few Labour authorities which do so; generally speaking, when they do, they are in areas where there are special reasons for so doing. Even with the housing shortage that exists in most parts of the country there is, I am glad to say, the occasional bright spot where a surplus exists, and it is legitimate for local authorities in such areas to exercise the powers they have in this respect. Generally speaking, however, the rule will be that those authorities, if there be any at all, on which a Housing Commissioner is imposed will be those most violently against the present Government's policy of so-called fair rents, and equally they will be authorities which are unlikely to have sold their council houses in the past.

It is clear, therefore, that if the I lousing Commissioner has this power, it will represent a reversal of what has been decided by the authority in question and by the people who elected that authority because they will have elected councillors who, first, were opposed to the sale of council houses and, secondly, were opposed to the sort of provisions contained in this measure. This Amendment seeks to remove an undemocratic feature which could exist in the operations of the Housing Commissioner.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, speaks of duties laid on local authorities by Parliament, but he must distinguish between what local authorities are permitted to do, like selling council houses, and what they are compelled to do, such as keeping housing revenue accounts. No one suggests that if a Housing Commissioner is appointed he should not do all the things that a housing manager or director is compelled to do. But there is no such compulsion on housing authorities to sell their housing stock and I want to make a distinction, which does not appear to be present in the noble Lord's mind, between the things a council is obliged by Statute to do and the things it is not compelled by Parliament to undertake. If the noble Lord will consider the matter in that light he may come to rethink his attitude. I hope that he will do so and will not continue to resist this Amendment. The least he can do is promise to reconsider the matter between now and Report.


Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, can help us on one matter. He spoke of the Housing Commissioner having a responsibility to the Secretary of State. Will he indicate in the Bill the requirement on the Housing Commissioner to report to the Secretary of State on his activities? This is relevant to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the making of reports to Parliament.


We have had an interesting discussion on this matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, suggested that we would be taking away the powers of local authorities. In fact, local authorities have duties imposed on them—one can put it this way—by virtue of such Acts of Parliament as are passed, and under this Bill there will be certain obligations placed on certain authorities. This is the way in which Parliament works. As a result, they will be obliged to do certain things in the housing field. If they fail to carry out the wishes not of the Secretary of State but of Parliament, as laid down in this Bill, and if, when the Secretary of State draws that to their attention, they still refuse to carry them out, it is only then that the Secretary of State has the power to say "We will now have to take this step" and in those circumstances he will appoint a Housing Commissioner; but that is a long way down the road and I would have thought it a rather improbable thing to happen.


If a local authority is in default for not making fair rents and ultimately a Housing Commissioner is brought in, why should that Commissioner be allowed to meddle in the business of selling council houses? What does that have to do with him? He has been brought in to settle a dispute about fair rents. Why should he be allowed to meddle in another matter?


He would not necessarily have to meddle, as the noble Baroness puts it, in that matter. It would depend entirely on the orders that the Housing Commissioner had been given by the Secretary of State. It seems reasonable that the question whether or not houses should be sold would be an integral part of the housing policy of the local authority. If so, we feel that it is reasonable that the Housing Commissioner should have power to carry out the policy as a whole.


Will the noble Lord please answer my question?


The Secretary of State appoints a Housing Commissioner. The Commissioner will be in constant touch with the Secretary of State. He will not go out and never be in contact with the Secretary of State because he has been appointed by him to do a certain job.

8.30 p.m.


I asked the noble Earl to indicate where in the Bill it says that the Housing Commissioner shall report to the Secretary of State with an account of his stewardship following his appointment. Because this is very important I shall keep talking until the noble Earl finds the part of the Bill in which this is laid down. It is important because as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said earlier when moving an Amendment, a Housing Commissioner will have power to do such things as he considers to be necessary or expedient for the functions which he is appointed to discharge. It appears to me from that, and this is confirmed by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that the Housing Commissioner will have the right to dispose of and sell assets built up over a period of time by a local authority, assets belonging to the inhabitants of that authority. He may decide to sell ten, twenty-five, fifty or the whole housing stock of that authority.

I cannot find where it says in the Bill that the Commissioner shall account for his stewardship to the Secretary of State. He seems to be given carte blanche. It is as though he is told "Go in, sort it out and do whatever you like". The Secretary of State is responsible to Parliament but there seems to be no instruction to the Housing Commissioner to give an account of his stewardship annually or monthly to the Secretary of State. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, can help us in this dilemma.


I have a simple question to ask about such authorities as I have mentioned which have never in the past operated a policy of selling council houses. Is it not reasonable to suggest that the Secretary of State should in those cases exercise his powers under Clause 93(9) and give a direction to the Housing Commissioner not to sell off council houses in such circumstances because to do so would be contrary to the democratic policy evolved by such authorities prior to the take-over of the Commissioner?


We are getting a little unrealistic, because the mere appointment of a Housing Commissioner is going to make for a great row and for unpopularity. No Minister of State is going to send an emissary with complete powers into the countryside to do things unless he keeps in very close touch with that man, because the Minister is responsible for answering in Parliament for the stink which the action of the Housing Commissioner may raise.


I hope I can help the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd; at least, I shall try. I will deal first with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The Secretary of State could obviously give such a direction. I am not going to say that he will give such a direction in every such case, or indeed at all; but he could do so. The main point is that the Secretary of State may by order—this is in subsection (7)(a)—appoint a person to discharge in the name of the authority and at their expense, subject to such limitations, conditions or exceptions … as may be specified in the order such functions as may be specified. The selling of houses may not be specified. I should imagine that where the council was selling houses and this was part of its normal function, it is quite likely that this is one of the functions that might be specified, so that there should not be an interruption of policy there. But there is no necessity for the Secretary of State to confer on the Commissioner power to sell houses.

The other point concerned reporting. There is nothing in the Bill about the Commissioner reporting, for the very good reason that, as has been said time and time again, he is in the position of the local authority. He is subject to the same constraints of the law, and all the rest of it, under which the local authority works, and in so far as the local authority report, he will report. No doubt he will be in constant touch with the Department of the Environment in the same way as the local authority are in constant touch. I really do not understand what the noble Lord is worrying about here. The Commissioner is in the position of the local authority.


I am really surprised. Perhaps on a piece of paper—this Bill—the Housing Commissioner is in the place of the authority, but the authority, the elected council, operate within a mandate with the general consent of the people of the locality. In the end, the councillor is responsible and answerable to the electorate. To whom is the Housing Commissioner responsible? He is appointed by the Secretary of State. I accept that limitations may be set out on the terms of his appointment, but there is nothing here as to his accountability for his stewardship on matters of policy apart from matters of practice. I would not question in any way the person who was appointed, how the money was spent, how it was collected, or even how it was invested; but when one comes to the question of selling houses one comes into a matter of general policy which the electorate of that locality have decided themselves. What the noble Lord is saying is that because there is a default, because the local authority are in difficulties with the central Government and this man is appointed, the question of what the local electorate wants counts for nothing. This man can do what he likes, and so far as I can see is not accountable to the Secretary of State for his actions. Certainly there is no requirement in the Bill as to whether there should be a monthly report or even an annual report. On a matter of principle I have no doubt at all where I stand.

If the noble Lord were prepared to give an assurance to look at the question of reporting, and to see that there is a proper check by the Secretary of State, which indirectly really means Parliament, over the activities of the housing authority I would be content in that particular field, but I would certainly wish to press the noble Lord. With the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I think I would go a little further. I would not wish to relate this just to a local authority who have never sold their houses, because I am not against the general principle of the sale of local council houses. It is a question of balance—the relation of the houses that are likely to be sold, the locality in which they are being sold and the general stock of the local authority. These are matters of policy, and I do not believe that a man who has been appointed—a professional man, at that—as a Housing Commissioner is the right sort of person to be involved in matters of considerable policy on which over a number of years the electorate may well have expressed their views through the ballot box. If the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, undertakes to look at this I will not press it any further. I am very conscious of the time, and we have still to consider a number of Amendments, including those of the noble Lord. If he will undertake to look at the question of assurance and also the question of reporting, I will not proceed further; but unless I have that undertaking I fear that I must press this matter to a Division.


I shall be very happy to look at this point: obviously, in going through this Bill one has not followed all the trains of thought right through. I shall be not only very happy but very interested to consider it, and, if I may, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and send a copy to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to show him just how this responsibility will be exercised.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 93, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

8.38 p.m.


I fear that I need to say one or two words about Clause 93; and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also wishes to speak. Strong exception has been taken to the general principle of this clause, but I do not think there is any point in deploying the arguments once again. I only wish to ask this question. It is important, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will give it special attention. We have had a series of debates as to a tenant's opportunities to appeal against an award or decision of a particular authority. Last evening we had a debate on the rent scrutiny board, and, if I may say so, if we had had an answer a little earlier we might have saved a good deal of time. The question I now want to put concerns what happens after the Housing Commissioner has been appointed.

He is responsible to the Secretary of State. The local authority is required to render service, but no more. It is not in a position to use its influence in the policy of the Housing Commissioner or it may run foul of one or two clauses of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said last night that there is no appeal by the tenant to the rent scrutiny board, but that he can appeal to the local authority. What happens when the Housing Commissioner appears on the scene and he decides what should be Mrs. Snooks's rent, or the rent of Mrs. Jones down the road? He will be making decisions affecting tenants. In such a case it is no good saying that the tenant can go to the local authority, because the local authority has no standing, as I see it, with the Housing Commissioner. There is nothing in the Bill that gives a tenant a right of appeal to the Housing Commissioner. It is no good saying to the tenant, "Go to your local Member of Parliament", because I really do not see a Member of Parliament going to the House of Commons and raising the question of Mrs. Snooks's rent and what decision has been taken by the Housing Commissioner. In fact, I think that this would be wrong in the terms of the House of Commons.

Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, whether I am right in saying that there is no provision for an appeal by the tenant against an award made by the Housing Commissioner? If there is this appeal procedure, where is it in the Bill? If there is no procedure, will the noble Lord accept that a tenant ought to have a right to make an appeal against any award or decision regarding his rent, or anything connected with his dwellings, and that such procedures and rights should be written in the Bill. Could the noble Lord help me on this point?


Surely there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a Member of the House of Commons from bringing up anything about a constituent that he wished to.


Of course there is. Perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to complete my sentence before she starts shaking her head. A Member of Parliament cannot bring up on the Floor of the House of Commons anything to which a Ministerial responsibility cannot be attached. The noble Baroness knows this as well as I do; she has been in another place. She knows for example that a Member cannot put down a Question to a Minister about matters that are the day-to-day responsibility of a nationalised industry, or, to take this context, something which falls to be dealt with by a local authority.


If you have sufficient ingenuity you can always do it.


It is rights that matter.


It can be done by asking an irregular supplementary after an innocuous main Parliamentary Question, but it will not produce a proper answer. This is not the sort of right that a Member of Parliament can exercise properly in the defence of his constituents. I think that an important point has been raised that should be explored a little further, and that is whether the Housing Commissioner is going to be one of the persons who can be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner. If I remember rightly—and it is a long time since I have looked at it—in the Parliamentary Commissioner Act there is a list of organisations and bodies which are not to be the subject of his scrutinies, and that was laid down at the time of the passing of the Act. Therefore, presumably, anyone who subsequently becomes a servant of the central Government falls within the ambit of the Parliamentary Commissioner's duties.

But what I should like to know is this. If a determination of a fair rent is made by the Commissioner and a tenant objects to it—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said the tenant has no right under the Bill; he has only a right (and a pretty poor one) of appeal to the local authority, which is the landlord, and the Housing Commissioner of course is not his landlord but only a person who has come in to take the place of the landlord for the time being on a purely temporary basis—can he go to the Parliamentary Commissioner and claim maladministration? It seems to me that it would be quite an important right if that were so. I doubt very much whether that is the case, but it would be an important protection for the tenant if he could do that through his Member of Parliament.

The other matter I wanted to raise, and I shall do so very briefly, in view of the length of time we spent on the last discussion, is the question of default which is not attributable to any failing on the part of the local authority but is due to the impossible time scale which has been imposed on the local authorities by this Bill. Under subsection (1)(a) the Secretary of State may be of the opinion that a local authority have failed effectively to discharge any of their functions under Parts I, II, V or VI. He does not have to be also of the opinion that this failure is the responsibility of the authority, which it may very well not be in the circumstances that I was attempting to describe yesterday, where no reply is given to authorities such as Birmingham which have put forward schemes for the determination of fair rents and are still waiting to hear from the Government whether these are acceptable.

Time is dragging on, as I explained to the noble Lord, and I am sure he is as well aware as anyone else that local authorities have recesses in August. They do not have meetings then, and unless he can give a decision on the calculation of fair rents in the next few days then local authorities such as Birmingham will not be able even to consider how to get out the notices to their tenants until the September meeting. I have explained to the noble Lord that it is physically impossible for them to do this in a matter of two weeks, so they will be in default if they have neglected to raise the rents of their tenants on October 1 by such amount as the Secretary of State may approve less than the £1 a week because, as in the case of Birmingham, they have already shown that 2 per cent. of their tenants would come above the fair rent limit if the full amount of the increase were imposed.

Therefore, how can you leave this clause as it stands when you know perfectly well that the local authority are going to be faced with these difficulties? Should we not ask the noble Lord either to lengthen the time scale, or at least to write in here some wording that makes it clear that the Secretary of State is not going to use these powers unless the default is attributable to some omission or failing of the local authority, and not because the Government have placed an impossible burden upon them in requiring them to do this work in such a short space of time.

8.47 p.m.


In reply to the noble Lord, I can only say that he has given a number of subjective judgments. His view that the time scale is impossible and may cause default is an entirely subjective judgment. The view of the Government is that, provided the local authority are diligent, and recruit the necessary staff they will be able to work within the time scale. He says that we know perfectly well that local authorities are going to be faced with these difficulties; we are always being faced with difficulties, but we are equipped to overcome them, and this is what the local authorities are being asked to do. If they bend themselves with determination, good sense and good will to the solution of their problems, no doubt they will solve them. We have already included an Amendment to deal with the situation if they are dilatory. One cannot foresee all these situations. The Government's judgment is that this is a job that can and should be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that the local authority would not be in a position to exercise influence over the Commissioner. Again it depends entirely on which of the functions of the local authority are transferred to the Commissioner. The Commissioner will then be subject to the directions of the Secretary of State, and he will have his job to do and those functions to perform. I do not see that any particular difficulty arises out of this.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has a happy knack of having flashes of genius in the middle of his speeches and developing them for a time, but the idea that the Housing Commissioner might be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner is a very interesting idea and I shall have a look at it. I do not know what the answer is to that. Then I am asked whether tenants will be able to make representations to the local autho- rity. Well, the machinery will go on as it was going on before. The Housing Commissioner prepares his provisional assessment. He is the person who takes the position of the local authority, and he prepares the provisional assessment if a provisional assessment is due during the period when he is performing his functions. If he has to do that, he then has to consider the tenant's representations, just as the local authority would. This is the same pattern right through, because he has taken over the functions under Part V which they have declined to discharge. I do not see that any particular difficulty will arise from this. But what we hope very much is that there never will be an occasion when a Commissioner will have to be appointed.


That is the only point about which I agree with the noble Lord. I hope that these Housing Commissioners will not be appointed, but they may be appointed. However, the position of the tenant still remains the same. He still needs the right if he is in disagreement with an award to make a protest, to have the matter looked into and to have a form of appeal. I am sorry to delay your Lordships but this is important. Last night the noble Lord talked about the rent scrutiny board. He said that the local authority would assess the rents and make proposals to the rent scrutiny board. The board would either agree or disagree, would make a new judgment and would give a direction to the local authority. The noble Lord then said that the local authority could decide what rent a dwelling should pay, and that might vary according to whether it was at the end of a block and had a good view or overlooked the gasworks. The local authority would have discretion, so long as the total figure was right, to decide the amount that each dwelling should pay. The noble Lord then said that if there were a dispute an appeal could be made to the local authority. Am I right?


Representations could be made.


If a Housing Commissioner is appointed he takes the place of the local authority and will say whether dwellings A, B, C and D should have uniform or different rents. But the Housing Commissioner is a man who is answerable to nobody, except the Secretary of State. There is no way by which a tenant can make representations and appeal, to which the noble Lord attached so much importance yesterday in terms of a local authority.

Will the noble Lord undertake to look at this matter? It is not a Party political issue, and I am certain that in his heart he genuinely has the tenant in mind and wishes to see justice done. I hope he will recognise that the Commissioner is in a different position from a local authority. He is not in the same shoes. He has a different function, a different responsibility, and certainly a different loyalty. I shall he very grateful if the noble Lord will look at this point. But so far as the clause is concerned, I cannot let it go through unchallenged.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 93, as amended, agreed to.

9.2 p.m.


I beg to move Amendment No. 135, which has already been discussed.

Amendment moved— After Clause 93 insert the following new clause:


Of course I shall very willingly look at this point. I still think that the noble Lord does not appreciate how this will work, because exactly the same people will be doing the assessment under the Commissioner as are doing the assessment under the local authority. Admittedly, in the end, the whole decision has to be approved by the boss, which in one case is the council and in the other case is the Commissioner. But I take the noble Lord's point and I shall certainly have a look at it.

8.54 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 93, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 22.

Aberdare, L. Elles, Bs. Lothian, M.
Allerton, L. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Macleod of Borve, Bs.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Margadale, L.
Balfour, E. Ferrers, E. Milverton, L.
Beauchamp, E. Fortescue, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Belstead, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Northchurch, Bs.
Berkeley, Bs. Gainford, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Bessborough, E. Gisborough, L. Oakshott, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Glasgow, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Bradford, E. Gowrie, E. [Teller.] Rankeillour, L.
Colville of Culross, V Gridley, L. Redesdale, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Sandford, L.
Cowley, E. Sandys, L.
Craigavon, V. Hanworth, V. Savile, L.
Craigmyle, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Sinclair of Cleeve, L.
Cranbrook, E. Hawke, L. Strathclyde, L.
Davidson, V. Hertford, M. Swansea, L.
Denham, L. Hylton, L. Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, Bs.
Derwent, L. Inglewood, L. Vernon, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Vivian, L.
Dundonald, E. Kinnoull, E. Westminster, D.
Elgin and Kincardine, E. Latymer, L. Young, Bs. [Teller.]
Arwyn, L. Hale, L. Popplewell, L.
Avebury, L. Hoy, L. Segal, L.
Beswick, L. Janner, L. Shepherd, L.
Blyton, L. Maelor, L. Slater, L.
Burntwood, L. Nunburnholme, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Davies of Leek, L. Phillips, Bs. [Teller.] Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Diamond, L. Platt, L. Watkins, L.
Gaitskell, Bs.

Housing Commissioner: supplemental provisions

(".—(1) A Housing Commissioner shall have power to do all such things as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for the performance of the functions he is appointed to discharge, and he may in particular—

  1. (a) do anything which the authority would have power to do in the performance of 901 those functions, and complete anything begun by the authority in the performance of those functions,
  2. (b)appoint and employ his own staff, obtain any legal or other professional services, and use any legal or other professional advice obtained by the authority,
  3. (c) institute or defend legal proceedings, and continue any proceedings to which the authority are a party,
  4. (d)execute any deed or other document, which shall be valid whether or not expressed to be executed in the name of the authority, and for that purpose use the seal of the authority,
  5. (e)grant any tenancy, and execute and serve a notice to quit, or any other notice, and
  6. (f)conduct business from, and require correspondence to be addressed to any ordinary address or place of business of the authority, or any other address or place.

(2) notwithstanding section 286(1) of the Local Government Act 1933 or any other provision concerning any notice or other document served or to be served on a local authority a Housing Commissioner may authorise a document which relates to the functions which he is appointed to discharge to be served on the Housing Commissioner, instead of on the authority, or to be served at an address appointed by the Housing Commissioner for the purpose, instead of at any other proper address; and service in accordance with this subsection shall be good service for all purposes.

This subsection shall apply, with any necessary modifications, in relation to any document sent or delivered to a local authority or to a Housing Commissioner as it applies to a document served on a local authority or on a Housing Commissioner.

(3) It shall be the duty of the authority to take all reasonable steps to facilitate the performance by a Housing Commissioner of the functions he is appointed to discharge, and the authority shall in particular—

  1. (a)afford all reasonable facilities to the Housing Commissioner for obtaining information and inspecting and taking copies of documents and, where documents relate exclusively to the functions he is appointed to discharge, for taking possession or control of those documents,
  2. (b) allow the Housing Commissioner to use or share the use of, any premises or property previously used or used in part, by the authority in discharge of those functions,
  3. (c) allow the Housing Commissioner to use, or share the use of, the services of officers in any department of the local authority to which those functions are or were assigned, or of any officers whose services were used, or used in part, by the authority in discharge of those functions.

(4) It shall be the duty of any officer of the authority to obey any order given to him by a Housing Commissioner for the purposes of the functions which the Commis- sioner is appointed to discharge, and to give to the Housing Commissioner all assistance which he is reasonably able to give for those purposes.

(5) The terms of service and remuneration of a Housing Commissioner, and of any staff appointed by him, shall be such as the Secretary of State may determine with the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service.

(6) The acts of a Housing Commissioner shall be valid notwithstanding any defect that may afterwards be discovered in his appointment.

(7) The authority shall on demand pay to the Secretary of State—

  1. (a) any expenses certified by the Secretary of State to have been incurred by a Housing Commissioner in pursuance of the provisions of this Part of this Act; and
  2. (b) any sum certified by the Secretary of State as required to meet the remuneration of a Housing Commissioner.

(8) An authority shall have the like power of raising money required for paying expenses or other sums certified by the Secretary of State as aforesaid as they have of raising money for paying expenses incurred directly by them, and the payment of any sums so certified shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Secretary of State, be a purpose for which the authority may borrow money in accordance with the statutory provisions relating to borrowing by that authority.

(9) The provisions which may be included in an order by virtue of subsection (13)(b) of the last preceding section shall include any matters connected with the coming into force of such an order, or its termination, and the provisions of this section are without prejudice to the generality of the said subsection (13)(b).").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 94 [Power of Housing Commissioner to require authority to supply information or produce documents]:

EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 136:

Page 102, line 19, leave out subsection (2) and insert— ("(2) Where a notice is given under subsection (1) above, it shall be the duty of each officer concerned, without instructions from the authority, to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the notice is complied with. (3) In subsection (2) above "officer concerned" means the clerk or chief officer of the authority, any officer designated in the notice for the purpose and any officer having custody or control of any document, or possession of any information, to which the notice relates. (4) If an officer of a local authority fails to comply with this section he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400.").

The noble Earl said: The purpose of this Amendment is to clarify both the duty of an officer of a local authority in the event of a Housing Commissioner giving that authority notice in writing requiring the production of a document or the supply of information, and the penalty to which the officer would be liable for breach of his duty. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 94, as amended, agreed to.

EARL FERRERS moved Amendment No. 137: After Clause 94 insert the following new clause:

Obstruction of Housing Commissioner

".If a member of the authority—

  1. (a) wilfully obstructs a Housing Commissioner in the performance of the functions to be discharged by him, or wilfully obstructs any person carrying out any order or requirement of a Housing Commissioner given or imposed in the performance of those functions, or
  2. (b) whether before or after the appointment of a Housing Commissioner, does any act having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely to impede, mislead or interfere with a Housing Commissioner, or any person carrying out the orders or requirements of a Housing Commissioner, in performing those functions,
he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400."

The noble Earl said: The purpose of this new clause is to set out separately the sanction on members of a defaulting local authority who impede a Housing Commissioner's performance of his functions. Previously this sanction was included with that on officers in Clause 94, but that clause has now been amended by Amendment No. 136 to deal with officers only. I beg to move.


Why in the case of a member of an authority is it an offence wilfully to obstruct a Housing Commissioner whereas in the case of an officer it is purely a failure to comply? There is no mention of it being done wilfully. There seems to be a discrepancy in these two provisions which the Government are seeking to insert. I should have thought that in each case it would have been necessary to demonstrate that the obstruction or the failure to comply is wilful, because it could have been purely accidental.


While the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is thinking out an answer to that point he might also consider a question which I have in mind. Paragraph (b) of the Amendment says: … having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely to impede, mislead or interfere with a Housing Commissioner … This is clearly directed at a member of an authority, who presumably will be some form of political animal, perhaps a moderate or a militant. He may be a member of a tenants' association or some activist organisation like Shelter. If there is a demonstration or a meeting which gets out of order is there not a risk, with the choice of these words, of a member of a local authority being accused of obstructing a Housing Commissioner if that meeting or demonstration becomes involved with the Housing Commissioner? I am quite certain that this is not what the Government have in mind. I am worried about how these words "impede" and "interfere" could be interpreted in these circumstances. I will not press the matter. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will look at it and, if he cannot give us an answer to-night, he will be able to do so on the Report stage.


May I endorse the view that has been put forward by my noble friend Lord Shepherd? If this matter arises in any legal proceeding, what exactly is meant by the words, "likely to impede"? Suppose a Housing Commissioner makes up his mind about something at some future stage. Does this provision mean that nobody can criticise or deal with a position which may arise? Because, obviously, that would be impeding what the Housing Commissioner would himself want to do. Similarly, there is the question of "interference". What exactly does that mean; and, when a person is accused of impeding or interfering, how will a court be able to decide what was in fact happening? I think it is important that one should have regard to those words, because they are, it seems to me, much too wide.


I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on the question of the word "wilfully" in relation to both of the places in which it appears. I think they are most insulting words in legislation of this kind. We are not talking to children. The Government are addressing themselves to members of a local authority, and yet here they twice use the phrase "wilfully obstructs".


I think the purpose of that phrase is to provide that, if a member of a local authority should intentionally so conduct himself that he deliberately prevents a Housing Commissioner from carrying out his job, then he will be subject to the penalties contained in this clause. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about what would happen in the case of a public meeting, or something like that. Speaking without notice, I would be pretty certain that this clause is not intended to cover any such thing, but I shall certainly look into the point which the noble Lord has raised and will write to him about it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I am very conscious of the time, and that we have a number of Amendments with which we ought to deal. I wonder whether, if I were to give notice of the Amendments which I do not intend to move, it might save their being called. If that would meet with the approval of the Committee, they are Amendments Nos. 137A, 137B, 137C, 138A, 138B, 138C, 138D, 138E and 139A. I give notice that I do not intend to move those Amendments this evening.

Clauses 95 and 96 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Termination of certain provisions about housing finance]:

LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 139:

Page 154, line 44, at end insert— ("( ) Hostel subsidy shall be treated for the purposes of this paragraph as payable to a local authority or a new town corporation under Part I, and to a housing association under Part VII, of this Act").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment has the effect that the hostel subsidy which is to be payable both to housing authorities and to housing asso- ciations, and is therefore included in Part IX, is to be treated for the purposes of paragraph 9 of Schedule 8 as payable under Part I if it is payable to a housing authority, and as payable under Part VII if it is payable to a housing association. I do not think there is any point of difficulty here. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 97 and 98 agreed to.

9.14 p.m.

LORD DIAMOND moved Amendment No. 139C: After Clause 98 insert the following new clause:

Annual housing estimates

".—(1) The Secretary of State in each year commencing 1973 shall publish a statement containing information specified in the next following subsection.

(2) The information shall be:—

  1. (a) in respect of every local authority having housing functions the number of dwellings which that authority reasonably ought to be required to build in each of the following five years in order to deal with the shortage of housing in that local authority's area and shortages in other areas which might reasonably be expected to look to the first mentioned local authority for assistance in the solution of their housing problems,
  2. (b) in respect of each such local authority the local authority's own proposals for each of the following five years to meet the requirements mentioned in paragraph (a) above,
  3. (c) the steps which the Secretary of State proposes to take to eliminate any shortfall in the estimates published under paragraph (b) above in relation to the estimates published by the Secretary of State under paragraph (a) above, and
  4. (d) a statement setting out the effect on the levels of rent charged for local authority dwellings and the rate of house construction by local authorities of the provisions of this Act."

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the new clause printed on the Marshalled List dealing with annual housing estimates. This is a proposal that the Secretary of State should in each year publish a statement containing information relating to the housing needs or likely needs for each locality. New subsection (2)(b) describes the proposals of the local authority for the following five years. Subsection (2)(c) describes the steps the Secretary of State proposes to take to eliminate shortfall in the estimates. Subsection (2)(d) describes the statement setting out the effect on the level of rent charged for local authority dwellings and the rate of house construction by local authorities.

Here is a comprehensive statement of all the material one would want to know in deciding whether the Government were bringing their mind to bear on ascertaining and supplying the housing needs in the country as a whole. Parliament is familiar with estimates. In particular, if I may for a moment dwell on my own particular experience, I am very familiar with the problem of persuading Parliament that five-year estimates are an essential part of democratic control of a Government. It took me precisely four years to persuade Parliament that it is sensible to have estimates on public expenditure covering the following five years. That is now part of the established procedure of the other place and a most essential part; and in a manner comparable with the annual budget debate there is an annual debate on public expenditure and a Select Committee deals with public expenditure.

We now move from that parallel to housing expenditure. In the public expenditure figures to which I have referred are the estimate of the amount to be spent on housing in the public sector. That is an essential ingredient in public expenditure. But as we all know housing, and this Bill, cover both local authority tenants, housing association tenants and private tenants and housing needs can only be satisfied adequately by providing citizens with the opportunity of satisfying their choice to be tenants of a local authority, tenants of private landlords or to buy their own house if they happen to have anything upward of £20,000 lying idle and they are only looking for a small cottage. So this method of providing information for Parliament, for local authorities and for the public is proposed. It requires to be a method by which one can see whether the needs are being carefully assessed and are being met. At the moment, clearly they are not.

I have already referred to Lord Drumalbyn for housing figures and I have on more than one occasion asked for figures in relation to pressures on council houses. We had an interruption in the discussion on this Bill at an earlier stage for a statement relating to Government policy on the sale of council houses. An essential ingredient is to know to what extent there is pressure by would-be tenants if there is a surplus of local authority houses and whether there is a prima facie case for disposing of that surplus. If on the other hand there is a tremendous need and a queue all over the country for local authority houses by would-be tenants then to dispose of the houses, thereby extracting them from the stock of houses, is something which would be prima facie unwise.

Therefore the first thing one wants to know is the extent of that pressure. I hope the noble Lord will be able to let us know that this evening; but in any event it is something which should be made available if we had estimates of this kind. I think I have said enough, in the short time available, to indicate the importance which I attach, and which I think Parliament would learn to attach and the public would learn to appreciate, to private housing estimates of this kind. We cannot be satisfied with the information we have which deals exclusively with the public sector. It would be right to have information covering the public and the private sectors, and that may be provided by a set of estimates specifically relating to the whole field of housing.

9.20 p.m.


The implication of this new clause is that the Secretary of State is the judge, or is to become the judge, of the housing needs of each area, and that his judgment should supersede that of the local authorities. If that were so, the local housing authorities would be regarded as no more than agents of the Secretary of State, which is very far from being the case. Local authorities have been, and are, and under this Bill will continue to be, the people who have the primary statutory responsibility for assessing the needs of their areas, and, within the framework provided by the Bill, acting to meet the needs of the areas. It is no function of the Secretary of State to usurp that statutory duty. There is no evidence of the local authorities failing to discharge this function put on them by the Statute, though they are labouring under a considerable number of difficulties which it is the purpose of this Bill to remove.

Once primary responsibility for dealing with housing needs was moved from the local authorities to the Secretary of State, he would be close to becoming the local housing authority everywhere, and a review of all the housing legislation would be necessary; for example, the implications of the Secretary of State's confirmation function on clearance and compulsory purchase orders. Such a transfer of responsibility to the Secretary of State which this Amendment envisages would not only be objectionable in principle, but also it would be necessary for my right honourable friend and our Department to appoint a vast army of new staff to discharge the transferred responsibilities. I am sure that is not what noble Lords opposite really want. Their main purpose, perhaps, is to criticise and again to challenge the reduction of local authority discretion regarding rent determination, which certainly is one of the effects of this Bill. But in return for that they have an immense number of larger and wider choices open to them.

Furthermore, those authorities which are still dealing with serious housing need have access to greater resources to help them meet that need; and the people in need have access to a more generous and universal system of rent rebates than they have had hitherto. That is to say, to go back to the phrase used repeatedly in connection with Part I of the Bill where this issue was first raised, the aim of the Bill is to concentrate assistance where it is most needed but leave the responsibility for meeting that need firmly with the local authorities. With that explanation and confirmation of our main purpose I hope the noble Lord will see that this Amendment could not be accepted.


I will now have another go, and start right from the beginning, because not one word of what I have said has penetrated the noble Lord's thinking. What we are here concerned to do is to try to get an estimate—based if you like exclusively on local authority thinking—of housing requirements, and the fulfilment of housing needs over the country. It is totally unrealistic to talk about the Secretary of State being the judge and superseding local authorities and they being his agents and so on. All the information which is supplied in the five-year estimate of public expenditure includes information on what all sorts of bodies other than the Government are going to spend. Public expenditure is not the estimate of central government expen- diture. It is the estimate of expenditure incurred by Government, local authorities, nationalised industries, et cetera. Nobody says for one second that this makes the local authority the agent, for example, for education or for housing or makes the nationalised industry the agent. Nobody has ever produced such a statement. The Government collect the information, put it together, edit it, give their own opinions and planning views with regard to the following five years. All one is asking is that the same thing should be done with regard to housing estimates.

I hope the Government are going to give this at all events some consideration. If I may say so, it is a very sensible non-Party proposal. It has got nothing to do with whether one is Conservative, Liberal or Labour. It is a method to enable people to judge housing needs and the extent to which they are being met and we are without any adequate figures. We have not figures on the public sector. All the noble Lord said about superseding local authorities is rendered somewhat ridiculous, if I may say so, because we have got that information already; it is in the five-year public expenditure estimates. One only has to look them up to see what the Government propose should be spent by local authorities on housing in the public sector. One has to try to expand this to get a total picture.

Nobody can work satisfactorily on the problems that face us ahead—and housing is a long-term problem—without having some idea of the size and shape of the problem. That is what one does in one's budget and it is also what one does in public expenditure. This is what I am suggesting for housing. All I am asking in effect is that one gets existing public expenditure on public authorities—that is already mostly there—and adds to it the Government's estimate of the needs in terms of private housing. The Government know this. They have got certain plans and they make certain estimates. A housing policy cannot otherwise be carried out.

I obviously failed completely in my first speech to give the Government an idea of what I wanted. I hope that in this second speech they have now got some idea of what is required and that they will be good enough to look at it. It is a very serious non-Party proposal which is not necessarily hitched to this Bill. It has got nothing to do with fair rents at all. It is suitably raised while we are discussing this Bill. It is a major step forward in the democratic control of a Government's housing policy, requirements and enactments.

9.30 p.m.


It may well be that this Amendment is not drawn up in a form which is acceptable but I very much welcome the spirit behind it. It would be wrong for us to become involved in an argument as to whether or not local authorities are agents of central Government in housing but we should remember that local authorities were recently given—I am afraid I cannot remember exactly under what Act it is—a more comprehensive duty than they ever had before to look at the whole of the housing needs of their districts and to review them periodically. We should also bear in mind that the building industry has lately come out with a very gloomy forecast about the total number of council dwellings that will be completed this year, next year and the year after. They say the trend will be a steadily declining one. We also have to recall that ever since the Milner Holland Report on London housing questions it has been pointed out time and time again that the inner London boroughs will never solve their problems unless they received very considerable assistance from the outer London boroughs. So far, unfortunately, we have seen very little action on this point. Once again I welcome the spirit of the Amendment, and I hope that Ministers will consider it seriously and perhaps incorporate something on these lines into the Bi11 at a later stage.


The information supplied by local authorities is the estimates of what they require. There is nothing in present legislation that asks the Secretary of State to check up as to whether they ought to have X number of houses in addition. I feel that this is going to put an enormous duty on the Secretary of State's staff investigating what might turn out to be fruitless information of what might be required by an authority. Let us face it: it is up to every authority to ask for what it needs, and this is what is done. These figures are given.

This Amendment reads: The information shall be … in respect of … the number of dwellings which that authority reasonably ought to be required to build …". There is the proposal for a five-year plan. Fair enough! We have not got a five-year plan. But this Amendment asks the Secretary of State to investigate that and also the level of rents being charged. I do not think this is necessary at this stage or will be of benefit to the Bill. This is the sort of thing, if anything, that might be brought out by Statutory Instrument if something goes wrong with the amount of housing. At the present moment, I think it can be left to the authorities. In their existing five-year plan the Secretary of State will I am sure have all the information that he requires; and he already has a present of most of the information he needs of the plans that exist. I think it would be wrong for the Secretary of State to interfere in the management of local authorities by dictating to them what they should do about housing.

9.32 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, believes that there is a misunderstanding between us. My own belief is that there is a disagreement. However, I will read carefully what he has said and consider it to see whether there is a valid point that he is making that could be met. I suspected when he moved the Amendment that the implication in what was being proposed would inevitably have involved a degree of interference—involvement with the local authority's judgment of their housing problems—which we do not think it would be proper or necessary for the Secretary of State to engage in, even though it is necessary for estimates to be drawn up in advance of what national resources are likely to be devoted towards meeting housing needs. But, as I explained at an earlier part of the Bill, there is no limit set on the amounts that local authorities can borrow to meet their needs, and the subsidies to support whatever building programmes they decide to embark upon are attracted automatically.

I think that the first time the noble Lord spoke he was speaking to his Amendment, but on the second occasion he introduced the dimension of private housing, which is rather a new factor. I do not think private housing comes into his Amendment. But, as I say, I will consider what the noble Lord has said. I think I understand what he aims to achieve, but I do not agree that it is consonant with the philosophy behind the Bill. I cannot recommend the Committee to accept the Amendment if he presses it, but I hope that, with the assurance I have given, that I will look at what he has said and consider it, he may feel that it is unnecessary to press it.


I certainly do not feel that it is necessary to press the Amendment. I do not expect to make more than a small amount of progress each time this is referred to, but I am certainly gratified at the amount of progress I have made between speech one and speech two, because speech two has persuaded the noble Lord to listen to what I said in speech one; and that is always a very good thing.

May I refer the noble Lord to page 40 of the Government's public expenditure paper for 1975–76 where the table headed "Housing" appears. This gives the Government's estimates of the public expenditure on housing for the years 1971–72, 1972–73, 1973–74, 1974–75 and 1975–76—five years. It gives the details of subsidies, lending and investments, and of course the totals, and how they compare with figures in previous public expenditure papers such as this. Then it goes on to say this: The White Papers, Fair Deal for Housing and The Reform of Housing Finance in Scotland, set out the Government's main objectives and describe the proposals for the reform of housing finance which will facilitate the attainments of these objectives. So one has set the objectives of the Government in the field of public housing. I am suggesting that it is impossible to extract public housing from housing as a whole, if a Government want to conduct a housing policy. Indeed the Bill we are considering deals with both private and public housing; it deals with rent rebates in the public sector and rent allowances in the private sector. It deals with change from controlled to regulated tenancies in the private sector; it deals with the whole of housing for England and Wales, and does not deal exclusively with public housing. The background to the intelligent understanding of these proposals and of the Government's plans are figures of the kind which I have spoken to.

Let me say straight away that the words in the Amendment do not matter at all. I will repeat: they do not matter at all. If we can just have the rubric of Annual housing estimates, and then agree that it would be a good thing to have annual housing estimates, say, covering the public and private sectors, I should not mind in the slightest what the first form of those estimates was, because Parliament would see to it that the form was ultimately developed into that which was most useful for Parliamentary decision and democratic participation, and that is what one is seeking to achieve. I know deep in my bones that this will come, because no Government can fully carry out a housing policy in conjunction with the people and with Parliament without giving the background figures. I would have hoped, therefore, that the Government would want to have the credit for being the first in the field and getting such an exercise mounted.

The noble Lord has said that he will be good enough to look at this, and so I say to him, "Forget every word, if you like, except the rubric. That is good enough to start with." If the noble Lord and the Government would be good enough to look at such a start, then we might make good progress. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.39 p.m.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 139D: After Clause 98 insert the following new clause:

Rebates Officers

".—(1) It shall be the duty of every housing authority and of every other authority with an electorate exceeding 20,000 persons to appoint a Rebates Officer who shall be responsible for the administration of the rebate scheme and allowances scheme established by the authority in accordance with the provisions of sections 18 and 19 of this Act and of such other means-tested benefit and allowance schemes for the administration of which the authority is responsible as the authority shall consider appropriate.

(2) The Rebates Officer shall be of the status of Deputy Chief Officer and shall be provided with such staff facilities and clerical assistance as he shall reasonably require for the due performance of his duties.

(3) It shall be the duty of the Rebates Officer to seek out all persons within the area of the authority who are or may be eligible for rent rebate, rent allowance or any other means-tested benefit or allowance (whether administered by the authority or by any department of central or local government) and to supply every such person with a list of all other means-tested benefits and to use his best endeavours to ensure that every such person is made aware of his entitlements or possible entitlements and is encouraged to make the appropriate application or applications.

(4) Every application for rate rebate shall also be treated as an application for rent rebate or rent allowance and vice versa.

(5) The Rebates Officer may by agreement between his employing authority and the local education authority also be made responsible for the administration of the free school meals scheme.

(6) The Rebates Officer shall submit to his employing authority and to the local education authority, the County Council and the Secretary of State an annual report which shall contain estimates of the numbers of persons within the area of the authority employing the Rebates Officer likely to be eligible for rent rebates and rent allowances (with grounds for such estimates) and details of the numbers receiving such rebates and allowances and such other material as the Secretary of State shall require or the Rebates Officer shall consider relevant."

The noble Lord said: We still have 22 minutes to go. I beg to move this Amendment. Like my noble friend Lord Diamond, I would ask the Minister who is going to reply to forget the terminology—the noble Lord may smile, but I am trying to help the Committee. I am quite willing to go through this Amendment line by line, but this would mean that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, would have to go beyond 10 o'clock, as agreed, for his Amendments. I was asking the Minister to forget the terminology of this Amendment and to look at the spirit and intention that lies behind it.

What we are suggesting in the Amendment is that there should be a rebates officer for a local authority where the electorate exceeds 20,000 in number. The purpose of that rebate officer, who would be a senior officer, would be, apart from dealing with general administration, to seek to ensure (and I know that the Government attaches great importance to this) that those entitled to rebates or allowances should know of the availability of this assistance. One of the tasks of the rebate officer would be to ensure that the maximum number of those entitled should know of it and be assisted to achieve what they are entitled to. The rebate officer should be able to report annually to his local authority giving an assessment of those who are likely to be eligible for rent rebates and allowances and to see how best they could be assisted and be covered.

I hope that the Government will look at the spirit of this Amendment. They will recognise that if we are moving into a field of higher rents and are going to have this new assistance so far as the private sector is concerned—and clearly there will be an extension in the public sector—it is right and proper that such a service should be not only efficiently administered but also humanely administered. This would be best achieved by the appointment of a senior officer within a locality so to ensure. I beg to move.

9.42 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that we should forget the words and understand the spirit. If I understand the spirit of his Amendment correctly it is that people who are tenants should have the greatest opportunity of having rebates drawn to their attention. He said "Forget the words"; but his Amendment would mean that all local authorities with more than 20,000 electors would have to have a rebates officer. This would involve county councils and bodies which are not housing authorities. I accept that that is probably not the point the noble Lord had in mind. We also agree that tenants should know enough about the rebates and allowance schemes of their authority to be able to make use of the schemes if they need to do so. That is the reason why Clause 24 of the Bill places specific minimum duties on authorities, in addition to the proposed national publicity by the Government, to make available to tenants a summary of their rebates and allowances schemes.

In the case of the council's own tenants they will receive a summary direct at regular intervals, or at least once a year. For private tenants there will be annual Press publicity. Landlords will be under specific duties to provide copies of the summary to all new tenants and also to existing tenants who have a right to a rent book. It is intended to give guidance by circular to all authorities on publicity methods which might be adopted in the light of the best experience of methods currently employed by local authorities and of any advice which the advisory committee on rent rebates and allowances can give. In this way the lessons of the best practices can be disseminated, and we believe that this will be the best way of drawing the attention of tenants to what is available to them, rather than to have a statutory duty placed upon local authorities to employ a specific person.


I am most disappointed in the noble Earl. I am well aware of what is in the Bill. I asked the noble Earl to look at the spirit of the Amendment, which is for the appointment of a rebates officer. He did not undertake to look at it. In view of the time, I do not know what to do. If he will at this late moment respond and say that he will look at it I shall be happy to withdraw my Amendment.


I am sorry if I "needled" the noble Lord. I said I thought we were in agreement with the spirit; it was only the fact that we thought the other way of doing it would be the better way. But certainly I will look at it again and see if there can be an improvement.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 99 agreed to.

Clause 100 [Interpretation]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 141.

Amendment moved—

Page 106, line 15, at end insert— (""officer", in relation to any authority, includes a servant").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 143: Page 106, leave out lines 33 to 41.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 143, which paves the way for No. 144. These two Amendments are little more than drafting Amendments, to exclude certain properties which really have no place in the Housing Revenue Account. An example of one such is the Barbican scheme of the Common Council of the City of London. The dwellings in this scheme were built, without subsidy, for letting to persons with incomes a long way above those for which council housing is normally provided, in order to meet the high rents charged on such a site. I think the whole Committee will agree that it would be inappropriate for such dwellings to attract subsidy under the new system. The powers, therefore, are needed to exclude buildings in classes of this exceptional kind from the Housing Revenue Account. That is the purpose of these two Amendments.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 100, as amended, agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 144.

Amendment moved— After Clause 100, insert the following new clause—

Exclusion of housing authority property from provisions of this Act

".—(1) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is inappropriate that this Act, or any provision of this Act, should apply to a dwelling, he may direct that, for the purposes specified in the direction, it shall not be treated as a Housing Revenue Account dwelling.

(2) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied, on the application of a local authority, that any of the provisions of this Act relating to the Housing Revenue Account are inappropriate for any houses or other property provided by that authority under Part V of the Housing Act 1957, he may direct that all or any of those provisions shall not apply to that property, or shall apply subject to such modifications as are specified in the direction.

(3) Where in pursuance of a direction under this section any dwellings of a housing authority are excluded from all or any of the provisions of Parts V and VI of this Act, the Secretary of State may direct that Part I of this Act shall apply to the authority subject to such modifications as are specified in the direction, being modifications which do not increase all or any of the sums payable by the Secretary of State to the authority under the said Part I.

(4) A direction under this section may be a general direction or a direction for a particular case, and may be given for such period and subject to such conditions as may be specified in the direction."—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clauses 101 to 103 agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Minor and Consequential Amendments]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 145 and I should like at the same time to speak to No. 146. These are only drafting Amendments to make a reference to "the provision of housing accommodation" read, "housing". The subsidies under this Bill are more comprehensive and wide-ranging than those before and this change is required in order to reflect that.

Amendment moved—

Page 160, line 5, at beginning insert— ("In section 1(6) of the Local Government Act 1966 for the words "the provision of housing accommodation" there shall be substituted the word "housing".").—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 146.

Amendment moved— Page 160, line 6, leave out ("the Local Government Act 1966") and insert ("that Act").—(Lord Draumalbyn.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD DRUMALBYN moved Amendment No. 146A:

Page 160, line 25, at end insert— ("10. For paragraph (a) of section 107(1) of the Rent Act 1968 (power of local authority to publish information) there shall be substituted the following paragraphs— (a) to publish information, for the assistance of landlords and tenants and others, as to their rights and duties under—

  1. (i) the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1962,
  2. (ii) Part III of the Rent Act 1965,
  3. (iii) this Act, and
  4. (iv) Parts III, IV, VIII and section (Information about service charges) of the Housing Finance Act 1972,
and as to the procedure for enforcing those rights or securing the performance of those duties, and (aa) to make any such information available in any other way, and". 11.—(1) In section 109 of the Rent Act 1968 (service of notices on agents of landlord) subsection (5) (which excludes the operation of that section in relation to Parts VI and VII of that Act) shall cease to have effect. (2) In subsection (3) of the said section 109 (right to obtain name and address of landlord) after the words "this Act" there shall be inserted the words "or Part III of the Rent Act 1965 (protection against harassment)". (3) So far as the said section 109, as amended by this paragraph, relates to Part VI or Part VII of the Rent Act 1968 or to Part III of the Rent Act 1965, references in the said section 109 to a landlord and to a tenant shall respectively include references to a lessor and to a lessee as defined by section 84(1) of the Rent Act 1968.")

Page 169, line 23, at end insert—

("10 & 11 Eliz. 2. c. 50. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1962. Section 5(1) (as set out in Schedule 15 to the Rent Act 1968)")
—(Lord Drumalbyn)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment goes with Nos. 149 and 150 and extends the power of local authorities regarding publishing information on the Rent Acts, and the opportunity is taken to remove some obsolete exceptions from this power. The new paragraph 11 allows notices to be served on the landlord's agent as an alternative to the landlord himself, and requires the landlord's agent to disclose the landlord's identity for the purposes of legal proceedings under the Act. It is understood that in some cases some local authorities have had difficulty in identifying the landlord and this provision will help to bring desirable prosecutions. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Schedule 11 [Repeals]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 147: Page 167, line 18, column 3, leave out ("section 19") and insert ("Part I").

The noble Lord said: Amendments, Nos. 147 and 148 are consequential upon the repeal of other provisions relating to the existing system of housing finance which is affected by Clause 103 and Schedule 11. In moving Amendment No. 147 I should like to make it clear that this relates also to Amendment No. 148. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 148.

Amendment moved— Page 168, line 3, column 3, leave out ("paragraph 4(1)") and insert ("In paragraph 4 sub-paragraph (1), in sub-paragraph (4) the words from "and there shall" to the end of the sub-paragraph and paragraph 6(2).").—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 149, which is consequential.

Amendment moved—


I beg to move Amendment No. 150.

Page 169, line 25, at end insert—

("1968 c. 23. The Rent Act 1968. Section 107(3).
In section 109, in subsections (1) and (3) the words "Subject to subsection (5) below" and subsection (5).")
—(Lord Drumalbyn)

9.54 p.m.


As acting Leader of the Opposition, and as one who has played a small part in the consideration of this Bill, perhaps I may say just one or two words. During the earlier part of our Committee stage I heard various noble Lords wondering whether the role of this House was changing, and whether it was a particularly good thing. I myself have felt that the role of this House lay very much in the reforming and the reviewing of legislation. We have our moments when we can deal with high policy and matters of general interest, but if we have a role it is in the close scrutiny of legislation, some of which unfortunately does not receive that same degree of examination in another place that I think it ought to receive. Therefore we have this role to perform, and I believe that the House in Committee on this occasion has performed a notable service, not only to the Government but also to the local authorities and the communities who will be affected by the Bill.

I think it is right that a Bill of this nature should be looked at line by line and, where there is doubt, for it to be examined, and occasionally when a Minister may not be in a position to reply, for that Minister to be pressed. All this requires a certain degree of change within the House of Lords itself, but I believe that the acceptability by the Committee of the way in which my noble friends have prosecuted, examined and questioned is an acceptance of a remarkable performance not only by my noble friend Lord Diamond and those who have helped him but also, as I look across to the Benches opposite, by a number of familiar faces who have seen out the dark watches of the night into the early morning and sunrise. These Committee stages can often be a complete and utter bore for Back-Benchers, though there it little point in having a Committee stage if it is merely a confrontation between the two

Amendment moved—

Front Benches. We need people to talk to and only by doing that can adequate argument be adduced.

I thank my noble friends and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and the Ministers who have assisted him, for the way in which they have stuck to their task. This sort of job is hard on us, but it is in some ways harder for noble Lords who must deal with a mountain of briefs. My only comment to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is that I always found her second speeches, when she got her nose out of the comments prepared for her by the Department, more acceptable and often more persuasive. On behalf of my noble friends I wish to express gratitude to noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite who have done their best and have tried whenever possible to meet us.

We now look to the Report stage. My only comment to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, is that we have a lot of work to do. The Government have undertaken to examine many points. We shall wish to return to them on Report. But these are matters which we can discuss through the usual channels. I must not forget to mention the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who has fought a lone battle from the Liberal Benches. We have been glad to have him with us and we have been glad to be with him. This has been a good Committee stage, and again I thank all who have taken part in it.


I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his very gracious words. I join with him in his kindly references to his colleagues on the Front Bench opposite. For my part, I wish to thank my colleagues very much indeed for all the help they have given me. I particularly thank our back-benchers, not least my noble friends Lord Balfour and Lord Hylton, who have contributed greatly to our proceedings, which have been all the better for the support they have given us through the watches of the night.

We are continually learning and, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, changing our procedures. There are certain things that we can learn still, but it is not for me to talk about that tonight. We have in the latter stages—I am not talking only of the last day or so—managed to deal with the various Amendments in a business-like way and avoid returning to the same points time and again. This makes for good deliberation and it seems that we are learning as we go along; I am sure that we will continue to do so. I, too, would like to thank all concerned, including the staff who, as always, have served us manfully or womanfully, as the case may be.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendments.

House adjourned at ten o'clock.