HL Deb 23 November 1972 vol 336 cc1095-9

6.3 p.m.

LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON rose to move, That the Housing (Payments for Well Maintained Houses) Order 1972, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this instrument, when in force, will double the amount payable when an unfit house, being proceeded against by a local authority, has been well maintained. The increase was heralded in the White Paper Development and Compensation—Putting People First. It has been a long-established principle, supported by every Government since 1919, that the structure of a house condemned as unfit is worthless, and that consequently when such a house is compulsorily acquired for demolition, compensation should be restricted to the value of the site cleared of buildings.

Over the years, however, we have seen the introduction of additional payments when unfit houses have had action taken against them. First, because the site value rule bore harshly on many owner-occupiers who had sunk their savings in the provision of a home for themselves and their families, virtually all owner-occupiers now receive a supplementary payment, so that in practice, when their house is acquired, they receive the market value of the property. If it is the subject of a demolition, closing or clearance order, they receive only the supplementary payment, as in these circumstances the land remains in their ownership. Secondly, where there is no entitlement to such a supplement, a payment may be made for good maintenance. This recognises that, notwithstanding the inherent unfitness of the house, there are many instances where people have spent money on maintenance and repair works. The Order that we are now considering seeks to increase the amounts payable in these circumstances.

Currently, the amount payable is four times the rateable value of the house where the whole house has been well maintained, or one-half of that amount if either the interior or the exterior has been well-maintained. The sum payable, however, cannot exceed the difference between the site value and the market value of the dwelling, for it would make a nonsense of the normal compensation code if in the aggregate more than the market value of the property were paid. The payment may be made to whoever has been responsible for the maintenance, be it the landlord of the tenant, or in part to both, the apportionment being a matter for the local authority.

This Order seeks to double the maximum amount payable by increasing the multipler from 4 to 8. By this means we hope further to encourage owners of houses which are approaching the end of their life to keep them in good repair. The recent National House Condition Survey estimated that there were 1.2 million unfit houses in England and Wales, 700,000 of which were in existing or potential clearance areas. The Government see no reason why these should not be cleared in 10 years. But 10 years for the occupant is a long while, and will certainly be more pleasant if the house is well-maintained. Anything that can be done to achieve this is to be welcomed, and I invite the House to approve this Order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Housing (Payments for Well Maintained Houses) Order 1972, be approved.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be appreciative of the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, of the purpose of this Order. On this side of the House we give it a warm welcome, and I should like to express the hope that it will be eminently successful in the achievement of the objective stated by the noble Lord; that is, the objective of keeping houses in as good a condition as possible, having regard to the fact that they are technically unfit, judged by modern standards. The Order carries a stage further something that was started by my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale in 1969. We are delighted that the Government once again are continuing and extending something that was started by the previous Administration.

The noble Lord referred to the one million-odd houses that are deemed to be unfit in certain respects but which will continue to be occupied for many years to come. The Minister, when the Order was before the other place last Friday, suggested, I think, that some 700,000 of the houses may qualify over the next ten years for compensation; that is, houses in existing or potential clearance areas. We are well aware of the nature of the problem—growing obsolescence. The improved compensation that this Order provides should do much to encourage the keeping of these houses in as good a state of repair and maintenance as possible, keeping them as places that can be reasonably maintained as good homes for those who for the time being live in them. It is important that the provisions of this Order should be widely known to the owners and occupiers of these houses, for it is not only the owners but also the tenants who may claim compensation for monies spent in maintaining the houses. Here, my Lords, I think we ought to recognise the great contribution that tenants can themselves make in this respect.

When the Order was before the other place a number of questions were asked. I do not intend to repeat them all, but the Minister was then unable to reply to one or two of them. I am wondering whether the noble Lord is to-night able to provide information that was then lacking and whether he is able to tell us the extent to which tenants have availed themselves of the grants available to date and also what percentage of the grants have been given to tenants as distinct from landlords. Such information would indeed be most useful. Last Friday the Minister in the other place indicated that the figures ought to be available, and gave it as his impression that tenants were not taking advantage of the scheme as they should. There is the important matter of publicity to be considered, since the value of this Order will depend so much upon its contents being made known to tenants and owners. They need to be made aware of the method of applying for a grant and they need to understand the way in which entitlement to a grant is determined—particularly tenants, since they are so intimately affected.

There is one further question I should like to ask the noble Lord. It concerns paragraph 3, which reads: In relation to a house which might have been the subject of a demolition order but which has … I should like to ask him, in whose opinion might it have been such a subject? I hope the noble Lord is in possession of the information asked for in the other place last week. I hope there has been sufficient time for the Department to get the information together, because if it can be made public I am certain it will have a beneficial effect. My Lords, I repeat that we welcome this Order and wish it every success.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord. Lord Garnsworthy, for the welcome he has given to this Order. With regard to some of the questions he has asked me, I regret that we are not able to give him the full details for which my right honourable friend was asked last week in another place. I myself inquired this morning whether figures were available, and was told that they were not. If they become available, I shall of course see that the noble Lord gets them; and we will also circulate them. Perhaps I may say that they are not grants, as such, but rather compensation payments, which is a slightly different matter. As regards the numbers likely to qualify, I think the noble Lord will appreciate that they are higher than the 700,000, a figure that relates merely to the number in clearance areas. It will be 70 per cent. of the 1.2 million—


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that in point of fact I was using the figure that his right honourable friend gave in the other place.


But it will in fact, my Lords, be a higher figure than the 700,000: 70 per cent. of 1.2 million. Just to put the record straight. I should like to say that the first payment for compensation was started under the Housing Act 1935. It had an earlier history than one might imagine. Once Parliament has approved and passed this Order, publicity will follow. I am sure we are all well aware of the point made by the noble Lord. It has been a matter of great worry to many people in the Department that compensation payments and grants which are available are not being fully taken up. I assure the noble Lord, however, that we shall do our best to make sure that these payments are available to all the people concerned.

As to the apportionment of payments between landlords and tenants, I regret to say that details of this have not been kept among the figures of the Department. I think that demolition orders are at the discretion of the local authority, but I will look into the question and reply, if the noble Lord will permit me to do so, by letter. I hope that, after those few words, your Lordships' House will now approve this Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.