§ 9.10 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (LORD SANDFORD)
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 Sandford.)290
§ 12. In this Schedule—
- (a) "rates" includes water rates and charges,
- (b) other expressions shall be construed as in the Rent Act 1968.—(Baroness Young.)
§ Schedule 5 [Repeals]:
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I beg to move Amendments Nos. 42, 43 and 44, which are all consequential upon Amendment No. 41.
§ Amendments moved—
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 [Amendments to Housing Finance Act 1972]:
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 4, line 13, at end insert—
("(13) If and in so far as any regulation the previous subsection requires that as a condition of becoming a qualified person for the purposes of this section he shall have resided in the area of the authority for or for not less than any period specified in the regulation, the period so specified shall not exceed three months.")
The noble Lord said: In speaking to this Amendment, I should also like to refer to Amendment No. 3 which stands in my name, because it applies to Scotland in the same way as Amendment No. 1 applies to England and Wales. The aim of the Amendment is to reduce the period of residence needed to qualify for a rent allowance. The categories or persons affected were clearly defined by the Minister for Housing and Construction in column 1485 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the other place on February 15, 1973, and they were confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on the Second Reading of the Bill in this House on February 26. They include families with dependent children, including single parent families, who have been resident for six months in a local authority's area, and some others were also mentioned. The period of six months was criticised in the other place as being far too harsh, and I myself pursued the matter in this House on Second Reading. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, whether further thought had been given to lessening this period, particularly as the Minister in the other place had said at column 1485:
I will, without any commitment, look again at the question of six months and whether it is too long."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons. 15/2/73; col. 1485.]
I think I am correct in saying that at the end of our debate on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, made no specific reference to my question about whether further thought had been given, but at column 469 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for this House, dated February 26, he said:
I confirm that we shall reconsider both the regulations and the guidelines in the light of experience".
§ That suggested that there was firm experience to justify the period of six months, or it could be that someone thought of a figure. The Minister indicated that the Government would take careful note of what was said in Parliament. I suggested on Second Reading that a month, or perhaps less, would be sufficient for the qualifying period. The period of a month had been suggested in the other place. I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us to-night what good reason there is for fixing on six months. If there is a need for a rent 292 allowance, I should have thought it would not take six months before the need was revealed. Indeed, the need would seem to me to be there almost from the first day of residence. If it is to establish some degree of permanence of tenancy, then I would ask the noble Lord: need it be that long?
§ In the Amendments that I have tabled I have sought to compromise as between the six months and the month that was suggested, and I hope that perhaps the Minister, if he can accept it, will do so. If he finds difficulty in doing so, perhaps he will tell the Committee what is the precise nature of the difficulty of reducing the period. I am sure the Amendment would add little to the cost of the scheme, but it would give help where there can surely be no doubt help is needed. I beg to move.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me this opportunity to set out the Government's views on this detailed matter rather more fully than I was able to do at Second Reading. I would agree with him that it would be convenient, while we are dealing with the first Amendment in his name, to consider also the second, which, as he says, does exactly the same thing for Scotland as the first does for England and Wales. I am glad to notice from what the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said that he accepts that some period of qualifying residence is necessary, first, in order that the furnished tenant eligible for rent allowances may satisfy the criterion that he has set up a home, and, secondly, to prevent local authorities from being required to pay rent allowances to the much more mobile furnished tenants for very short periods. We have, as I said we would, carefully considered the arguments of the Opposition, both here and in another place, for a reduction in the period of eligibility to three months or less. As a result I can tell the Committee and the noble Lord that we accept the validity of this argument for the priority categories of families with dependent children, pensioners, and tenants with a pensioner living with them. We therefore intend, in the regulations, to reduce the period of eligibility for these categories from six months to three months.
However, as the aim of this Bill is, initially at any rate, to give preferential 293 treatment to these categories over single persons and childless couples, we still believe it is necessary to have a longer period than three months for the latter. Moreover, since this Bill is introducing rent allowances for the very first time for furnished tenants, we believe it is better to leave the power to prescribe and to amend such periods of eligibility unfettered. This would allow changes to be made expeditiously and flexibly by regulation in the light of experience, and—this is particularly important—on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Rent Rebates and Rent Allowances. The noble Lord's Amendment would not give us quite that flexibility and opportunity to amend by regulation because of the way in which it is worded. With the assurance that we have taken into account the views of the noble Lord and his colleagues in another place in respect of the categories with which I think we are all chiefly concerned, I hope he will feel satisfied with the explanation I have given and will not feel it necessary to press this Amendment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I am most grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for what he has just said, and I am pleased to accept the position as he put it. We have had two quite long and arduous days, and it would not be my desire to take up your Lordships' time 294 any more except to say that, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and obtaining from him the statement to which we have just listened, I feel like going home reasonably content. I am most grateful to him; and, with the permission of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment, indicating at the same time that I shall not be moving my other one.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without Amendment; Report received.