HL Deb 29 June 1972 vol 332 cc991-1005

3.29 p.m.


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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Introduction of new housing subsidies]:

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 13, leave out from beginning to end of line 15.

The noble Lord said: The effect of this Amendment, together with Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 5 which, with the leave of the Committee, I wish to speak to together, would be to delete from the Bill the residual subsidy, the housing expenditure subsidy and the high cost subsidy, and to leave only the subsidies of the new procedure, namely, the rent rebate, rent allowance, and slum clearance subsidy. It was made very clear, I think, on Second Reading that this side of the House dislike intensely the principles under which the Government are operating in bringing this new subsidy procedure into operation. I think I indicated that we accepted that, provided they were suitably amended, the rent rebate subsidy and the rent allowance subsidy were an improvement on the present position, and, subject to some further information about how the slum clearance subsidy is to operate, our first impression is certainly that the slum clearance subsidy is an improvement on the present position. But we cannot for one moment agree that the first three subsidies—residual, housing expenditure, and high cost—are an improvement on the present position.

The Government have stated time and time again that they have two objectives in housing: one, that people should be provided as speedily as possible with suitable housing accommodation; and, secondly, that the cost of that housing accommodation from public funds should be directed to those who are in greatest need. So far as the second objective is concerned I do not dispute for one moment that if the rebate scheme and the allowance scheme were operating to satisfactory principles, part of the money, at least, would be directed to those who would get the greatest benefit from it. But as regards enabling the Government to provide houses for those in need as speedily as possible, I cannot for one moment accept that the subsidies will achieve that objective. When the present subsidy system was brought into operation during the time of the last Administration, it was welcomed almost without exception by local authorities in Scotland as being a considerable advance on anything that had gone before, at any rate for a very long time. I think about the only possible note of caution entered was that perhaps at the time when the 1930 Act subsidies, known as the Wheatley Act subsidies, were put into effect they had achieved the greatest results up to that time. The Wheatley Act subsidies, because of the change in the value in money, would have been quite inappropriate in the 1960s, and it is beyond doubt that the greatest advance in the building of houses to rent in Scotland took place during the years when the present subsidy system was in operation.

I do not think that anyone, least of all any member of Her Majesty's Government, could argue for one moment that the housing problems of Scotland, so far as concerns those requiring accommodation to rent, have been solved in other than a comparatively few places; or perhaps I should amend that and may perhaps in the number of places which, if one counted them up, would look a number but would cover only a very small part of the population of Scotland. In all the main centres of population—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and in the large boroughs and industrial counties—there remains a considerable unsatisfied need which will only be met properly by the provision of houses by local authorities. I shall have more to say in due course on the effect of the residual subsidy and the housing expenditure subsidy.

I hope I am a realist and not carried away by any false optimism; I do not at this stage expect to suffer the shock of having the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, get up immediately to indicate that the Government are accepting this change of principle. If he does so, it will of course he a pleasant shock which I will endeavour to survive. In speaking about these subsidies I think it is right that we should make perfectly clear that we are first of all opposing this change of subsidy, and secondarily, and only if we fail to move the Government from the course on which they have embarked, that we shall set about trying to make the proposed new subsidies more work- able. If local authorities have been encouraged to go ahead with building on the basis of the present subsidy, and still have a great deal to do, it seems to us on this side of the Committee to be the height of folly, when so much still remains to be done, to abandon at this stage in the operation the system which has produced such excellent results. I would remind the Committee that until the present Government started to muck things about we had three successive years of new records of house building in Scotland. The first accomplishment of the Government in that regard has been to fall back, and it looks as if they will fall back still further in the present year. It must be the inevitable result of the withdrawal of the existing subsidies that in so far as building houses to let is concerned the Government are going to find their future figures even poorer than at the present time. I am talking now entirely on the subject of providing houses to let.

I concede immediately that the reversal of the position in relation to houses for sale, which had already taken place under the previous Government, has proceeded at even greater pace under the present Administration. But it has not increased sufficiently to make up for the loss in other directions; and if the Scottish housing position is as bad as everyone admits it to be, the only result upon which any Government could take satisfaction would be if they had increased the total number of houses provided. It is no satisfaction to look at one section and say that it is rising if, when one looks at the other section, one finds that the fall there results in a total figure which is less than we had before.

It is our view on this side that there may be a case, some years ahead, for revising housing subsidies from the present position, because no one has ever suggested that any given subsidy should go on in perpetuity. But the obvious time to change from the present successful housing subsidy structure to a new one is when it is clear over the greater part of Scotland that either we have succeeded in solving the shortage so far as housing accommodation to let is concerned, or, at the very least, that we are within striking distance of that in the major centres of population. Not even the most foolish optimist with his head firmly fixed in the clouds could say for one moment that in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee or Lanarkshire, to name the four major authorities, this is going to take place next year or the year after or the year after that.

We think, therefore, that the Government are making a mistake, which both they and the people of Scotland will have [...]onsiderable cause to regret, if they abandon the present tried, successful, subsidy structure in Scotland, which has produced results, and bring in its place these subsidies which, by reducing the resources available to local authorities for building new houses, must at the very least place the future housing programme in considerable doubt. I beg to move.

3.40 p.m.


In moving this Amendment the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has made its purpose clear and has admitted that its object would be to remove, to knock away, a number of the main planks of the edifice which we are seeking to construct. Because this measure is a comprehensive one the different parts, the different subsidies, the rebates and the other provisions are interlocking and interdependent if the desired effect is to be achieved. It will not surprise him, therefore, and he will not receive the sudden shock which I must admit he did not show great expectation of receiving, if I do not show our readiness to accept his Amendment. I do not think I need go into detail about all these subsidies. We went into them in some detail on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I am sure your Lordships would tend to find repetition tedious.

I should like to take up a number of points arising from what the noble Lord said in moving the Amendment. He spoke of seeking to deal with the housing problem as speedily as possible and with consideration for those in need. I am convinced that the provisions of this measure will achieve that end more effectively than those of the present system, built up as it has been over a great number of years and largely to meet the needs of conditions which have now changed. The noble Lord spoke of the Wheatley Act. In the Schedule we have Amendments to Statutes going back to 1919. The greatest interval between any of the Housing or Housing (Financial Provisions) or similar Acts for Scotland in a period of over 50 years has been six years. This has shown the need to adapt the system to meet changing conditions. I do not belittle what has been achieved in the past by those Statutes and the previous system. It has achieved results to meet the conditions of the time, but while it may have achieved excellent results then, we would maintain that conditions are so changed that a new system is now needed.

I would submit to your Lordships that the continuation of the existing system would perpetuate distortions and inequities as between different classes of occupier, whether tenant or owner of public or private property, and as between the conditions applying in different areas, different burghs and different counties, for the provision of housing. In my opinion, what we must rest on is the case for the future, and we do not believe that the present system, however suitable in the past, will meet the needs of the future. The encouragement to the building of houses, I submit, will not be removed at this particular juncture by the change to the new system. I agree that there are still needs to be met. They are not the same kind of need. It is no longer a case simply of the maximum number of houses in the greatest possible number of places. The need that has to be met is becoming more and more a selective need.

When we come, as we shall in further Amendments, to deal with other clauses, we shall be seeing how initially, with the provision of the residual subsidy, there will be a considerable inducement to the building of houses, in that local authorities will be receiving a greater total in subsidies over the next few years than they would under the continuation of the previous system. There is perhaps some evidence of the readiness to build houses in the figures relating to one class of house which becomes eligible for the residual subsidy. I refer to what I think have been called the "bonus houses"—namely, the provision that the Government will treat, as if they had been completed in 1971–72, houses for which local authorities had submitted proposals to the Secretary of State before last December but which need not be completed earlier than the end of 1974–75. This provision has attracted proposals for, in all, some 55,000 houses from local authorities, new town authorities and the Scottish Special Housing Association, and I am certain that this will ensure there is no loss of momentum in the building programme.

We consider that the new subsidies together will provide a strong incentive to authorities to continue with their house building programmes to meet needs. It has been recognised that the first need is no longer simply for the maximum number of houses. We are even seeing cases in some areas (the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will know at least one of them) where numbers of houses which were built not all that long ago are not occupied—perhaps because they are in the wrong place, or lack the right amenities, and so forth. I think it is recognised that the subsidies will give very great encouragement. We have had indications from local authorities that this is so. Despite inevitable opposition in some quarters and the feelings of noble Lords opposite, which I understand, the Government are confident that their proposals, which have already received a substantial measure of support, will tend to the solution of our housing problem in Scotland as speedily as possible and with regard to need in the future rather than the conditions of the past.


I cannot pretend that I am not disappointed at the conclusions at which the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, arrived, but I am rather astonished at some of the things he has said, which I should like to follow up. He said that in the first instance the circumstances have changed and that this is the main reason for abandoning the present system. If one is one of 20,000, 50,000 or 100,000 people in Scotland waiting for a new house which can come only if it is built by a local authority, obviously one has as great an interest in this being done as speedily as possible as if one had been one or 200.000, 300,000 or 400,000; yet the noble Lord says it is no longer a case of having houses built in as great numbers as possible all over the place. No one has suggested that this is what we want. What has been made perfectly clear time and time again, both on this Bill and on the Bill your Lordships have been considering in the last few weeks, is that there are a very large number of places where the need for building houses to rent in as great num- bers as possible at the earliest possible time still remains the major problem.

The noble Lord indicated, as a justification for what the Government are doing, the tremendous number of houses for which approval had been sought before December 1, 1971. He said that 55,000 houses had been approved under these proposals. I am astonished that he should put that forward as a justification for abandoning the existing subsidy structure. This was the rush from local authorities to get as many houses as possible approved for the longest possible time under the existing procedure. The houses to which the noble Lord refers represent the rush of local authorities to get the benefits, not of the new structure but of the old structure as long as possible. To put that forward as a justification for abandoning something which so many authorities are rushing to continue with seems to me to be an Alice in Wonderland type of argument. But it is quite obvious that—apart from that one figure which he would have been well advised not to use at all, having regard to the reason for it—the Minister's reply has been of a very general nature, such as the fact that the situation has changed and there is not now the same need. The noble Lord should tell any of the homeless people, those who are living in overcrowded conditions, or with their mothers or grandmothers in Glasgow, in Dundee, or in Lanarkshire, that the need has changed. He will get the same type of answer as I am giving him, but in less Parliamentary language.

The noble Lord said that there has been considerable support for the new proposals in Scotland. On Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Hoy asked the Minister to indicate who in Scotland supported these proposals, because all the indications that we have had from the Press and elsewhere are that there is very considerable opposition not only from the general public, but also from the mass of local authorities to the changes. On Second Reading, my noble friend asked the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, to indicate where this support was supposed to come from, but he has not done so up to this moment. I can help to a certain extent, because I know of one source of support for these proposals.

When I arrived home last week and read the local newspapers which my wife very carefully accumulates for me in my absence, I found that the Dundee local authority had been asked to give their full support to the proposed legislation. In the opinion of those who approached the Dundee Corporation or the Dundee housing authority, a strong case was made out for implementing the proposals. Unfortunately, the only people in that deputation were the officers of the local Conservative Party. No one else in Dundee has asked for these changes. Dundee Corporation have certainly not asked for them, Glasgow Corporation have not asked for them, and I know of no major authority who would prefer these three subsidies, which I propose to remove, in place of the present subsidies.

The Minister said that in the next few years, these subsidies would provide more money than the existing ones. I shall come back to that point, and to the reply which I received from the Minister, when we get to a later stage in the Bill. What I am seeking, to do now is to give the Government credit for improving matters where improvement is possible, because there has never yet been a piece of housing legislation which has not proved to be defective at some time through the passage of years. The provisions in relation to rent rebate, rent allowance and slum clearance, properly amended—and even in their present state—are an improvement on the present position. But these are additions to the first three subsidies, just as under my proposal they would be additions to the existing subsidies. Local authorities could use the existing subsidies to get houses put up as speedily as possible, so that in three, four or five years' time all would be able to say, "We are within sight of a solution to all our housing problems". It is not inconsistent with the principle of giving the greatest degree of help through rebate or allowance to those who need it to add that help to the existing subsidies, so that the local authority has two lines of encouragement—the necessary finance to enable them to tackle the building of houses as speedily as possible, and the necessary financial support to give rebates and allowances to those in need.


I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. As we all know, Dundee is a remarkable city, but it is not the only city in Scotland. There are also areas in Scotland where there are no cities, and although housing is still very important there it is not so urgently needed as it is in the City of Glasgow. The noble Lord made a statement which I beg to contradict. He said that he has not heard of any local authority in Scotland which supports this Bill, and, in particular, Clause 1. I was at my local authority's offices on Monday, and I asked them whether they had any particular point on the Bill which they wished me to raise if I were in a position to do so. I received the categorical answer that they were exceedingly pleased with the outline of the Bill and with the alterations which will be made and, as my noble friend Lord Polwarth has said, felt that it would help to build more houses.

When he was winding up on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, said that this Bill will not build a single new house. That is simply not true. This Bill will help local authorities to build more houses. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I sit on a local authority and I sit on the committees which deal with this subject, and they are perfectly satisfied. They are also very anxious that the Bill should be implemented.


The noble Baroness has missed out a word. What my noble friend and others have said is that this Bill will not provide an extra new house.


I challenge the noble Lord on that, because I am quite sure that not only will the Bill provide extra houses, but, as my noble friend said in his opening remarks, we shall have more money under these subsidies than we had before, and I am quite certain that that will help. As I said, although Dundee is a very important city there are other areas in Scotland which support the Bill.


Nobody in your Lordships' House or anywhere in Scotland would deny that there is a need for more houses in Scotland, but there is no need for the housing deficit which most local authorities have to be allowed to continue or to increase. If that deficit were allowed to increase, as it is doing at the present moment, a great many local authorities' building programmes will grind to a halt through the sheer failure of economics. I am confident that this Bill will clear the deficit and that, for the first time, we shall get housing in Scotland on to a proper basis.


It was not my intention to intervene in this debate, but I should like to say this. The noble Baroness apparently received no representations from her local authority, so she went to find out whether they had any. Obviously, they did not think that the Bill was very important or they would have conveyed their views to her. But she was completely wrong—I am sure unintentionally—in quoting me as saying that the Bill will not provide a new house. What I said was that it will not provide an extra house. The noble Baroness said that she thinks it will, but she made out no case and neither did the Minister. The Minister did not even make that claim. If the noble Baroness had been listening to the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, she would have heard him say that there is no need to provide the maximum number of houses. Those were his words.


I think I added the qualification, "In every place", but I cannot remember the exact words. My words must be taken together.


Of course, and I am arguing that it is necessary to provide the maximum number of houses. We have to take good care to see that the houses are where people want them; but that does not lessen the need for having the maximum number of houses. The noble Baroness said that her local authority give support to the Bill. Last week I expressed an opinion which I am sure will not have escaped the attention of the noble Lord because it is reported in this morning's Scotsman. But authorities of any size at all all over Scotland are meeting—and I am not seeking to minimise the importance of rural authorities—and the larger authorities have approved these proposals. Indeed, it is said in the report in the Scotsman: A meeting of local authority representatives in Glasgow to-day will be told that Midlothian County Council do not intend to implement the Housing Bill if it becomes law. This is the kind of reaction that I was pointing out to the House last week. I asked the House and the Government to realise that there is considerable feeling about, and no enthusiasm for the Bill because under the present subsidy rates we have in three successive years, the noble Lord, as Lord Hughes, said, built a record number of houses in Scotland.

We have to think of one other thing in this respect. If this is to be done it will be the local authorities, who are fairly competent to judge the needs in their own areas, who will have to do it. It is for this reason that we are arguing that this Amendment should be made. We do not believe that by substituting the first three proposals in the Government Bill for the present arrangements, we will be improving conditions or making it easier for local authorities. Because this is our feeling we have put down this Amendment.


Perhaps I may reply to one or two points that have been raised. One can argue about when the peak in house-building was reached, when the rate decreased, under whose auspices it happened, and so on. I am not sure that that is particularly fruitful. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said that housing completions had declined in that the peak had been reached under the previous Government. But the approvals which are what are influenced by legislation or the conditions ruling at the time rather than the completions, reached a peak in 1967 and declined in 1968, 1969 and 1970. This could be evidence that the previous system was becoming less effective than had been the case. I am not relying entirely on this. I am just stating that the matter can be argued in different directions. The trend of approvals has begun to rise again.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, made much of the rush of applications before December 1 to obtain help under what he called the old system. It was to obtain help which had been given by the Government to replace the old system in addition to the subsidies under the new one. This was done deliberately to give help and a boost to building at the time. We are all agreed that there is still a shortage of housing in many areas, but not in every area. I submit that to retain at least part of the old system of housing subsidies would fail to discriminate be- tween needs and between different places. It would be indiscriminate aid, even when combined with rent rebates and slum clearance grants, which tend much more to meet individual needs rather than the needs of areas. I do not think that it will come as any surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that I am not able to recommend the Committee to accept the Amendment.


I do not propose to prolong this discussion much longer. The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, took me to task for emphasising the rush of figures. I did not introduce the subject of the 55,000. It was the noble Lord who did so. He said that it was not a rush to get in under the old basis. Of course it was, because those who came in at that time are now getting assistance related to the old system for the maximum period of ten years, whereas if they had waited a while longer some of them would be getting it on the basis of only five years. The residual subsidy is of more value because of the rush at that particular time. It was a bonus.

It is quite obvious that in these matters the Government, having committed themselves to make a change and having brought in some proposals which are advantageous, are determined that the money for the good parts is going to be found in other directions; in other words, the money that is available in other directions is going to be cut. The Minister says that to continue the present system would not be fair as between one

local authority and another. I would suggest, with all due respect, that that is utter nonsense. The present system, allied with the system of rebates and allowances, will not compel any local authority, simply because subsidies are generous, to build houses which they do not need. But it will enable local authorities, whose need is great, not to restrict the number of houses to what they can afford to build with the reduced subsidies that are available. It is to this that the Government have completely blinded themselves.

To continue this discussion any further will be wasting the time of the Committee. The Minister has said enough to indicate that he is not in any degree open to persuasion on this point. If we had accomplished what would otherwise have seemed to be the impossible and the Minister had announced his acceptance of the Amendment, I am quite certain that to-morrow we would have read of his resignation in the Scotsman. That being so, it would be a pity to precipitate it at this stage of the Bill. Therefore, while accepting that the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, cannot recommend the Committee to agree to the Amendment, I must recommend my noble friends to support me in the Division Lobbies.

4.10 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 53; Not-Contents, 113.

Annan, L. Gardiner, L. Phillips, Bs.
Archibald, L. Geddes of Epsom, L. Platt, L.
Arwyn, L. Hale, L. Popplewell, L.
Bacon, Bs. Henderson, L. Royle, L.
Beswick, L. Hoy, L. Sainsbury, L.
Blackett, L. Hughes, L. St. Davids, V.
Blyton, L. Jacques, L. [Teller.] Samuel, V.
Brockway, L. Janner, L. Shackleton, L.
Brown, L. Leatherland, L. Shinwell, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Lee of Asheridge, Bs. Slater, L.
Burntwood, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. [Teller.] Strabolgi, L.
Caradon, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Chorley, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Citrine, L. McLeavy, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Maelor, L. White, Bs.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Moyle, L. Williamson, L.
Faringdon, L. Nunburnholme, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Gaitskell, Bs. Pargiter, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Abergavenny, M. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Milverton, L.
Airedale, L. Ferrers, E. Molson, L.
Albemarle, E. Ferrier, L. Mottistone, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Fortescue, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Alport, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L.
Amherst, E. Gisborough, L. Northchurch, Bs.
Amulree, L. Glasgow, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Arran, E. Goschen, V. Polwarth, L.
Atholl, D. Gowrie, E. Rathcavan, L.
Balfour, E. Grenfell, L. Rea, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Hailes, L. Reay, L.
Barnby, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Belstead, L. Rhyl, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Hanworth, V. Robbins, L.
Bessborough, E. Harris, L. Rockley, L.
Bourne, L. Hawke, L. Rowallan, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hertford, M. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Hives, L. Sackville, L.
Byers, L. Hood, V. St. Helens, L.
Carrington, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Chelmer, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Sandford, L.
Clancarty, E. Ilford, L. Sandys, L.
Clwyd, L. Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Seear, Bs.
Colgrain, L. Jessel, L. Selborne, E.
Conesford, L. Kemsley, V. Selkirk, E.
Courtown, E. Killearn, L. Sempill, Ly.
Craigavon, V. Kinloss, Ly. Somers, L.
Crathorne, L. Latymer, L. Stamp, L.
Crawshaw, L. Lauderdale, E. Strang, L.
Croft, L. Limerick, E. Tanlaw, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Lothian, M. Tweedsmuir, L.
Derwent, L. Loudoun, C. Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, Bs.
Digby, L. MacAndrew, L. Vernon, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Macleod of Borve, Bs. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Ebbisham, L. Mancroft, L. Windlesham, L.
Effingham, E. Mansfield, E. Wolverton, L.
Elgin and Kincardine, E. Mar, E. Young, Bs.
Elles, Bs.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

House resumed.