§ Report received.
§ Schedule 1 [Exceptions to right to buy]:
§ 2.55 p.m.
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 105, line 18, leave out from ("dwelling-house") to end of line 22 and insert ("is designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age, and which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I find it very appropriate that this should be the first amendment to he considered today. As noble Lords will remember, the question of safeguards for persons of pensionable age and their accommodation was one which was discussed at great length during the Committee stage and it is clearly an issue that raises great concern on all sides of the House. I must stress at the outset that I do not consider this to be a dive into party political waters. Whatever may be our feelings about the Government policy for giving a right to buy to council tenants, I am sure we are all in agreement that when it comes to the practical implications of that policy, with regard particularly to accommodation for elderly people, there must be safeguards to ensure that those in need of rented housing do not suffer.
§ During the debate in Committee, very widespread anxieties were expressed from all Benches about the serious consequences for people of pensionable age if there were to be, as a consequence of the right to buy, a serious erosion of the supply of the only suitable accommodation available to meet their needs. In Committee, I, with the 11 noble Lord, Lord Hylton, advocated an amendment which would have excluded from the right to buy all accommodation normally used in practice for letting to elderly people. That, I believe, would have been the best safeguard. However, it was quite clear that the Government felt that this went too far and they also felt (and understandably so, looking at it from the stance of the Government) that this might be used by some local authorities as a device to get round the right-to-buy provisions of the Bill.
§ Therefore, in the time between Committee stage and today I have given serious thought to this issue, to the various points of view which were expressed during the Committee debates and have brought forward this amendment as (as I hope all Members of the House will consider) a sensible compromise. Firstly, it is much more tightly defined than the amendment I proposed in Committee. It will apply only to properties which were designed or specially adapted for elderly people and which it is the practice of landlords to let to such people. In this respect, it draws broadly upon the thinking of my noble friends Lady Denington and Lord Greenwood and also that of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, who put forward amendments which were designed to cover these circumstances. Where it differs from their amendments is that it excludes such properties from the right to buy rather than applying pre-emptions. The reasons for this are simple and, I believe, are of overriding importance. I understand that I now have the support of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Evans, in this amendment.
§ My Lords, I think that we must also remember at this stage that this would merely give discretion to local authorities. There is no question of a compulsion on them not to sell, but in this area they would have local discretion. In the first place, the amendment follows the pattern which the Government themselves have chosen in respect both of accommodation for the disabled and of sheltered housing. There is no valid logic for applying entirely different criteria to properties designed or specially adapted for the elderly which are not part of sheltered housing from those which apply to houses which happen to be part of such a scheme. Both types of accommodation are essential to meet 12 their needs. The supply of sheltered housing is known to be far less than required to meet the demand, a demand which is growing all the time with increasing longevity.
§ The cuts in public expenditure, which have resulted in severe cuts in housing, mean that we have to face the fact that, both now and in the foreseeable future, it will be very difficult—almost impossible —for local authorities to replace the housing stock and therefore to replace the housing for the elderly which, in the meantime, if these remain as they are, will be sold. In consequence, each available unit of sheltered housing is inevitably heavily over-subscribed. Many elderly people today, who would ideally wish to find accommodation in a sheltered housing unit, have to make do with the nearest alternative letting that they can find. This applies to a very wide range of elderly people. Very often they have moved from their own homes, where they have been owner-occupiers, either because they can no longer manage the stairs, or the houses are too large, or because they want to be near their close relatives.
§ In a recent Department of the Environment survey, Housing for Old People, it showed that out of 420,000 local authority dwellings suitable for the elderly, only 199,000 have warden services or some form of special facilities as outlined in the schedule to the Bill as it stands at present, and would be exempted from sale. This means the potential sale of 221,000 existing dwellings that are suitable for old people. Therefore it means it would be very wrong indeed if their prospects of finding somewhere to live when they are of pensionable age were to be seriously jeopardised by widespread sales of the present accommodation.
§ I must say here that it is true—and I appreciate the point that was made in Committee by the Minister—that old people should have the opportunity to buy their own houses, where that is possible; but the situation today is considerably different from the time when the Bill was originally drafted and the Conservative Party manifesto worked out. To give an overriding right to buy would seem to me to be quite wrong both in present and foreseeable future circumstances.13
§ Secondly—and this is becoming more and more recognised—the incorporation of a pre-emption clause is a far less effective safeguard than the exemption of such lettings from the right to buy. The pre-emption of course applies only for the limited period of time—for 10 years. It is dependent—and this is one of the most important points—on the local authority having the resources to buy back the housing at a later date at the then current market value, which must of course be considerably greater than the price for which the property was sold. We have to take into account inflation and also the fact that when it was sold it was sold very often with a considerable discount. The trouble is that a pre-emption safeguard cannot prevent a lethal erosion of the stock of rented housing suitable for the elderly.
§ In some areas—I am thinking here particularly of rural and seaside areas, where bungalows are in very great demand and will command a high price—this could well result in the loss over a period of 15 to 20 years from the enactment or this Bill of the major part—if not all—of the rented accommodation currently available to meet the needs of the elderly. That would be a tragedy which I am quite sure none of us could possibly wish to see happen.
§ There is also another point regarding the area of abuse that I am afraid this opens. The rural community councils tell me that estate agents in Devon, Cornwall and Sussex are even now advertising their availability to assist elderly council tenants in purchasing their houses. In this way, through making some financial arrangements, they feel that both parties will gain some advantage. I cannot believe that any Government would wish this to happen. Therefore, this amendment is a sensible compromise which will safeguard accommodation that I have described—that is, houses, bungalows and some ground-floor flats which have been specially designed or adapted—which it is the practice of the local authorities to let to elderly people.
§ It will also help to keep the elderly integrated into the community. Their fears would be placated and they would have a chance to live in houses suitable to them because of special adaptation 14 and design. It would have a further advantage of enabling people who are still mobile but who find it difficult to manage the stairs, difficult to bend to a low electric socket or who are in need of some of the special heating facilities that would be put in these dwellings, to continue being independent, living in the community and carrying on active lives. That is something everybody wants to see.
§ The Government have put down an amendment to be discussed later which is I imagine a desire to find some compromise to this problem. I hope I am right in thinking that the Minister would like to make the best effort he can on the part of helping the elderly to live in homes that are suitable for them and to stop the erosion of this stock. I appreciate that there are pressures from another place and all sorts of things go on over which he has not the control that he and we might like to feel he has. As often happens with compromises, sometimes they are all right and sometimes they turn out to be exactly what they were not intended to be. I am afraid that this amendment, which is the Government compromise, fulfils these unfortunate criteria.
§ The amendment is extraordinarily limited and will in no way safeguard the types of accommodation which I have been talking about. It applies only to dwellings which have features which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwellinghouse. This is very imprecise and no doubt it will have to await the courts to decide what features make a dwellinghouse substantially different from an ordinary dwellinghouse, especially in this context. When we are talking about the disabled, that is an entirely different matter.
The Association of Metropolitan Authorities have taken legal advice. I received this letter this morning:
After taking legal advice, we have come to the conclusion that the words ' substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house' impose such limitations that in practice it does not add significantly to the exclusion that is already provided for in Section 4 of Schedule 1 to the Bill".
They go on to enlarge on a further point: there will be great areas of uncertainty if people are thinking of buying houses and are not sure whether they come
within the pre-emption clause or not. They will not know exactly where they are. It is also extremely difficult, when this cannot be precisely defined, to see how it can be part of a piece of legislation and, at the same time, be made workable.
§ This is an extremely complex Bill as I think all of us who have had anything to do with it have mentioned on many occasions. If one is to increase the complexity in this area, which is a highly sensitive human area, then it can only do damage to the legislation and will not help at all to promote it. It will, I presume, cover sheltered housing, but this is already covered by paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 1; otherwise, it will be extremely difficult for the people concerned to know where they are.
In the debate in Committee the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said, at column 1799 of Hansard:
the last thing that we intend is that we should make it more difficult for elderly people to be adequately and properly housed; that is not our intention at all. But what will have to be decided at the end of the day is whether what we propose does or does not have that effect".
I submit that what is in the Government's amendment has the effect of not housing the elderly as they should be housed and of being quite counter-productive, if the object is as set out by the Minister.
It is also true that the Secretary of State for the Environment, in his speech in the House of Commons on 21st February, stated:
Needs and problems have become increasingly specific and local. The emphasis of public sector housing policy must be to meet particular needs, such as those of the elderly and handicapped".—[Official Report, Commons; col. 667.]
In other words, on that occasion some months ago he accepted and recognised the need for the public sector to be the repository of most of the rented accommodation for elderly people, as well as the disabled and other categories.
Age Concern, in their recent comments on the Bill, have said:
Our original view was that all group dwellings for the elderly should be exempted, and other dwellings normally let to elderly people should be subject to a ten year pre-emption clause. This would have enabled elderly tenants in non-specialist schemes the right to buy, while allowing the local authority some control over its housing stock to respond to housing needs. However, in view of the recent public expenditure cuts in
housing we have reconsidered our position, since it is likely that local authorities will not be in a financial position to buy back properties. We have therefore come to the view that all dwellings that are normally let to elderly people should be exempted. We feel that this would be the only way of creating a balance between individual and community needs".
I would point out that my amendment is even more tightly drawn and rather more restrictive than that, because, in my endeavours to try to find something that will be acceptable to the Government, I have used that phrase from another Act.
§ Finally, I would say that the Government's amendment can only result in a great deal of legal nit-picking, without providing any effective safeguard for the types of elderly person's housing about which we were all concerned in Committee. I hope that the Government and the House generally will accept that this is a sensible compromise safeguard, and that the amendment will have all-round support. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Viscount HANWORTH
My Lords, I should like very strongly to support this amendment from these Benches. My only doubt about it is that it is so moderate and does not go nearly as far as many of us—or, certainly, I—think it should do. It seems to me extraordinary, when there is this shortage of old person's accommodation, that we should allow it to be sold, particularly as it has been designed to help old people. I should have thought it was better if they were not able to buy it at all. This amendment does not go anything like as far as that. What it does do is to remove from the Bill a very restrictive provision which states,…and a social service or special facilities are provided in close proximity to the group of dwelling-houses for the only or main purpose of assisting those persons.Unless you fulfil that condition, the dwelling cannot be exempted. That is according to the Bill. So I very strongly support this amendment and, if it goes to a Division, I hope that other noble Lords will also do so, bearing in mind that a great many of those in this House are pensioners.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, I was rather impressed with the arguments 17 which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, put, with, I thought, great moderation. I live in a rural area and I know very well how difficult it is to find accommodation for old people in areas in which they have lived all their lives. The housing stock in some of these villages is very small indeed. I thought that the proposal which the noble Baroness made would be, on balance, a good one and at this stage, not having heard my noble friend, I feel inclined to support it. If my noble friend does not agree, I hope that he will make very clear what he thinks would be dangerous or wrong about this amendment.
My Lords, may I add just a few words? Those of us who have been in close contact with constituencies will remember the number of people who came to us as Members of Parliament, in order that they might preserve their homes. This is not a problem only of houses. I am sure that the noble Lord who is to reply fully appreciates, and is wholly sympathetic towards, the fact that people do not want to go elsewhere and that they regard the house as being their own. Any step which prevents their continuing in that home is something which is a very serious action against persons who ought to be comforted in their elderly days.
I was going to say that this amendment goes much further than I myself would go, but, at the same time, I realise why it attempts to help by creating a position in which the requirements of elderly people are attended to. I strongly appeal to the noble Lord the Minister to consider this amendment as being a reasonable approach to the matter and to do what he can—f am sure that he himself must be persuaded, in his heart of hearts—to persuade those with whom he is associated to do the same. This is a very important matter.
§ 3.20 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Janner, in the plea which he makes in support of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. It would be most unfortunate if as a consequence of this Bill more old people were constrained to be moved from their individual dwelling-houses, with all 18 their treasured possessions around them, into old people's homes.
I have seen, at second-hand, I must admit, enough of life in some communal homes for old people—and I have heard a great deal more from my wife, who is greatly involved with this—to have a strong sense of the feeling of banishment, of the feeling of loneliness, even though they may be with a considerable number of other old people, and of the feeling of stagnation as a result of being in an old people's home. I think that it is most important, following a remark made by the noble Baroness, that this country, whose elderly population is becoming more numerous, should leave the provision of individual accommodation in the hands of local authorities or housing corporations, not only for those who are living there at present but for those who, when the present incumbents have unhappily passed away, will become old and who, in their turn, will need accommodation. On those grounds, and on the ground that unfortunately our ageing and more decrepit elderly population is unlike those inhabitants of the Caucasus whom I have met, who seem to possess the facility of continued vigour, virility and activity into ages beyond 100, I believe that we should retain this facility. I support the amendment.
The Lord Bishop of LONDON
My Lords, I have been very glad to be able to add my name to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, and I most earnestly plead with the Government to accept it. It is most important that in this Bill we should defend and protect the rights of old people. As I observed in my speech at Second Reading and as I am sure has been the experience of noble Lords in this House, I have received an enormous correspondence both from individuals and from organisations concerned with one aspect or another of the Bill. A great many of the representations which I have received have been from organisations that are concerned with the protection of the rights of old people, and a great many of the fears which have been expressed in letters have come from old age pensioners who are afraid that the places where they have lived and which they have secured by their savings may be in jeopardy. I believe that that danger 19 will be removed by the amendment which the noble Baroness has moved. Therefore I shall support it, and I hope that the Government will accept it.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, this topic of special provision for the elderly was, I think rightly, the most important point to which the Committee gave attention at the earlier stage of this Bill. It is certainly something which the Association of District Councils, representing 300 of the housing authorities in the country—much the largest number—has been urging upon the Government from the moment that the Bill was first prepared in the department and throughout its passage through both Houses.
The House will recall that at tile Committee stage the whole question was canvassed from two different points of view and approached in two ways. The first was along the lines of this amendment, with a view to securing an exception in the case of elderly people from the right to buy. The alternative approach was to secure for the local housing authority a pre-emptive right to the repurchase of the property if it subsequently came on to the market. That proposal was put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, in their respective amendments. My recollection is that after a full discussion of the amendments based upon the first method and the amendments based upon the second method, the Government undertook to take the matter away and come forward with something based upon the second. I venture to suggest that, on the whole, that was the method favoured by the Committee as a whole, although we had no vote upon it.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, when the Government offered to take the matter away the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the point—if he had not I should have done so myself—as to whether it should be taken back, otherwise at that time there would have been a vote upon what was a wider amendment than this. All the amendments were taken back. There was no decision at that time that we had moved into the position that the noble Lord is talking about now.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I agree that there was no decision either way. Also, I certainly agree that the amendment which the noble Baroness has now put forward is a great improvement on a similar amendment which she moved in Committee and that it is much more tightly drawn. Nevertheless, for my part I still greatly favour, and so do the ADC, the approach to the problem which is represented by Amendment No. 23 which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Bellwin. It provides for the right to buy not to be taken away from the elderly—I should have thought that the case for that was very strong—but gives the right to buy to the local housing authorities. This is the amendment now favoured by the Association of District Councils. Therefore, I strongly recommend my noble friend to stick to his guns, and in due course to move Amendment No. 23, and the House to resist Amendment No. I which certainly attempts to deal with the problem but which deals with it in the wrong way.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, first may I say that I very warmly welcome the amendment which has been moved by the noble Baroness. It is well thought out, and it is moderate and permissive. It is also very tightly drawn and would set very clear boundaries and distinctions as to the kind of properties which would he available for local authorities to retain as against those which could be sold. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has commended to us Amendment No. 23 which we shall debate later. I do not wish to rehearse those arguments now but my complaint against that amendment is not the right of pre-emption, which the noble Lord mentioned, but the wording to which the noble Baroness has referred your Lordships—"substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house"—which, on a fairly objective assessment by the AMA and other authorities, is very difficult to define. My own amendment sought to retain the right of pre-emption. As I said during the Committee stage, I think that it is a pity that older people should not have some opportunity to make a profit in due course on the re-sale of their house.
However, I recognise now, for I have thought a great deal about this problem 21 since having seen the Marshalled List, read the amendment put down by the noble Baroness and taken advice, that we should be confronted with the right of pre-emption. Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure me about this, but I do not think that he will be able to. Local authorities at present and in the likely future climate will not be able to repurchase properties which were designed and built principally for old people. Therefore, on balance, I prefer the noble Baroness's amendment, although I must go on to say that I prefer my own amendment to the Minister's. But that, I suppose, is understandable. If we pass the noble Baroness's amendment the type of accommodation for which we are taking away the right of sale will at least be clear. But if, as I suspect your Lordships might be inclined to do at this moment, we pass the Government amendment, we would be left with a great area, a great miasma of uncertainty which would go on at least for 10 years until the matter was tested in court when the pre-emption came up.
I think it is vitally important, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt said, that the able-bodied elderly should be encouraged in every possible way to live in their own accommodation, unfettered by any restrictions. In this day and age the average old age pensioner, the elderly person, is not, speaking in general, going to be able to afford to buy his or her own house during retirement. Therefore, the overwhelming proportion of old people's accommodation available for able-bodied old people will have to come from the public sector, and if we are in fact saying, as the Government are saying, that there is going to be a massive cutback in local authority building of all kinds—it is already happening—then, unless we preserve the stock of houses specifically designed or set aside for old people, we shall come to a situation in five or 10 years where there is virtually no accommodation available for the able-bodied elderly people. I beg the Government, with the greatest goodwill, to accept this amendment and to make it part of the legislation. It would make a great improvement to the legislation and I believe we would be widely praised throughout the country if we were to take this generous line.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Baroness DENINGTON
My Lords, it is quite obvious that in this Chamber there is very great concern on this subject. But it is not just in this Chamber. As has already been said, there is deep concern over this matter generally. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, the local authorities are extremely concerned about the loss of accommodation for aged people through the sale of bungalows which might go to anybody in the open market because they are very desirable properties. The housing association movement is deeply concerned about it all, and there is an enormous responsibility—I hesitate to say this because I am sure your Lordships are fully aware of it—on us here this afternoon in the decision that we take in this matter. I cannot stress enough that there really is not enough accommodation available to meet the needs of our ageing population. The pressure on it everywhere is most acute.
Let us be quite clear what we are talking about. We are not talking about sheltered accommodation, where there is a warden and a bell system. The Government have already exempted that, quite rightly and properly, and we are glad it is exempted. We are not talking about accommodation specially adapted for the disabled. That, too, is already exempted, and we are grateful. We are talking about the hundreds and hundreds —did not the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, give us a figure of something over 200,000? —of units of accommodation, ordinary, mainly one-bedroom bungalows or flats, that have been provided and are now occupied by our elderly senior citizens. It is accommodation that is for fit people—not unfit people, but fit people, broadly speaking, between the ages of 60 and 8020 years of their lives. They move into it because their houses are too big for them. There is a great need for family accommodation, and so they are glad to release the accommodation they are in, whether it is in a private market or the local authority market, for a family who are wanting family accommodation.
So they move into the bungalow or flat, which helps them and helps a family. It helps them, because as one gets older and although one is fit, very often one finds it difficult to go up and down stairs. 23 Elderly people do not want big accommodation, anyway, and a small, comfortable, cozy (if I can use that word) unit of accommodation is just what suits them, provided that they can get a home help. That is all they want. Very often at the beginning help is required for only one day a week, and as they get older it may increase even to five days a week. But they are living independently. Surely it is the need of this nation that we enable people and do everything we can to let them go on living independently as long as they are able to do so and not be dependent upon hospitals or the social services more than they need.
This is what we are talking about. Really there is not enough accommodation at all to meet this need. There is not nearly enough in the private sector. I have said this before, and I wish to goodness that the Government could in some way encourage the private sector to build suitable small accommodation for people who want it, who are selling a house, and have money to buy this kind of accommodation. But mainly it has been the local authorities and the housing associations who have tried to meet this urgent need for the nation. It is in order to preserve this that we are all stressing our concern this afternoon.
I thought the Minister listened to us with great sympathy the last time we discussed this matter, and I had great hopes that he would come forward with some suitable proposal. I looked up the words he used before. He said:I feel it was most likely that we should want to do something about it".I am sure the Minister does want to do something about it, but I think at this stage we must draw attention to the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has down for later consideration. I was bitterly disappointed when I read that amendment because, quite frankly, it gives us nothing. There are the two words in that amendment--my Lords, I understand that a Statement is to be made. Shall I finish my speech or stop for the Statement? I must ask for the guidance of the House.
§ Baroness DENINGTON
Thank you, my Lords. I shall try not to be too long.
24 I must turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, which says that he will only exempt a place that is substantially different. What does "substantially different" mean if it is challenged in the court? It cannot mean that one has got a pole up by the bath; that is not substantially different, although that is the sort of thing that is put in as an extra in an old person's bungalow. It cannot be that one has got a special low bath—that is not substantially different—or that the taps are different. It could not stand up in a court of law; it is not possible that it could. These are ordinary bungalows, and therefore, much as we would like to if it were possible, I cannot see how we could accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. So we are faced with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, or that of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and clearly it is the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for which we all ought to go.
On the last occasion, I withdrew my amendment. Your Lordships may remember that even then I spoke to the original amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and I am doing the same now. If I am forced to vote because we do not carry this one—I do hope we shall carry it—then I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Evans. We are both on exactly the same wavelength, as I think most of your Lordships are, in that we want to support the noble Baroness, Lady Birk.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I think I would have to begin by saying, first of all, that my concern and that of the Government is no less than the concern of anyone who has spoken in so far as both the rights of individual elderly persons and the needs of the community as a whole to be able to provide accommodation for the elderly are concerned. The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, would greatly increase the scope of the exemption of elderly persons' dwellings from the right to buy provided in paragraph 4 of Schedule 1. I pay tribute without any reservation to the forthright and indeed humane way in which she and others have spoken on this subject, but what 25 they propose cannot be reconciled with fairness and equality of treatment for the elderly and the right to buy. At the last election, the Conservative Party manifesto contained a promise that—
§ Lord BELLWIN
—council and new town tenants would be given the right to buy their homes. That promise did not leave out the elderly or any other class of tenant. The Government's policy is that as many secure tenants as possible in the public sector should have the right to buy and that exceptions to that rule should be kept to an absolute minimum. In the case of old people's dwellings, we concluded that the right and fair approach was to identify in the Bill the circumstances in which the right of individual tenants was outweighed by the need for their dwelling to be kept in the ownership of the community and to exclude the dwellings concerned.
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 imposes a triple test for exclusion. The first test is that the dwelling must be one of a group; the second is that it must be the practice of the landlord to let the dwelling for occupation by persons of a pensionable age; the third is that social service or special facilities must be provided in close proximity to the group of dwellings. In the view of the Government, this achieves the right balance. Because of the strength of the concern expressed in Committee on this subject, I said that with my colleagues I would consider further the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk and the noble Baroness, Lady Denington.
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, did the Minister not also say that he would also consider my amendment at Committee stage at the same time?
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I am sure I did and I apologise to my noble friend for not mentioning his name. These amendments would have required the conveyance or lease to contain a covenant giving the landlord the right to first refusal at full market value if an elderly person's dwelling sold under the right to buy was resold within 10 years. I have fulfilled the commitment which I then 26 gave by tabling Amendment No. 23, upon which noble Lords opposite have spoken and upon which I will reserve further comments because I am assuming that we are not taking this present amendment together with those and I will therefore come back to that subject on Amendment No. 23.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has argued that pre-emption is not the answer because the landlord would have to pay the full market value of the dwelling if it was brought back. That was among the other points which she made and she also referred to local authorities' resources and asked what resources they would have to buy back. Indeed, I think other speakers as well suggested that local authorities would not be in a position to buy back because of the cuts in the housing investment allocations. We are speaking of a pre-emption right over a period of 10 years, and I suggest that the position of housing allocations at the present time does not have any great relevance to the ability or otherwise of local authorities to buy back in 10 years' time. Quite apart from the other aspects, I will not, unless pressed, speak upon the housing finances of local authorities because I could make a very strong case with regard to the extra finances that they will have available to them when other aspects of this Bill come into force and which will enable them to do far more in connection with the provision of accommodation, should they so wish. However, leaving that aside, the ability to buy back from resources is not relevant in so far as the present housing allocation position is concerned.
In tabling Amendment No. 23 we have endeavoured to meet the anxieties which many have expressed and when we come to that amendment no doubt we shall go over that ground. However, what we are not prepared to contemplate is any suggestion that an elderly tenant should be prevented from buying his home solely or principally on the grounds of his age. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, must know that for that reason her amendment is unacceptable, although, as she said, the references to design and special adaptation do make it somewhat narrower than the one which she tabled at Committee stage. But it would exclude elderly tenants from the right to buy in many cases, even where the dwelling-house, 27 in spite of minor design features or adaptations, was not genuinely sheltered for special needs housing in the sense of the exclusion in paragraph 4 of the schedule. They could be excluded, for example, if they lived in a development of smaller dwellings which, although they might have been built with the elderly in mind, and normally let to tenants of pensionable age, might have little about them which differed from ordinary housing suitable for occupation by tenants of any age.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, can we just establish, at the very beginning of this debate, that the elderly, by Act of Parliament, are persons over the age of 80? That has never been declared before, but it was in an Act of Parliament relating to pensions. If we continue to talk about "the elderly" it is very confusing. The amendment distinctly says, "persons of pensionable age", which is a different proposition, and I think it would be most useful if throughout the debate the Minister would refer to the group we are actually talking about.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, no doubt it would have been equally useful if perhaps the previous speakers had given the same definition. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness leads me on to the points that were made by various speakers and this in fact is one of the very points that I wanted to make. What are we talking about when we speak of "the elderly"? For that matter what type of accommodation are we talking about? The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, quite rightly talked of housing people who were—I think she said "accommodation for fit people". She referred to hundreds of thousands of units of accommodation which would be excluded. She is absolutely right. If this amendment were carried, that is exactly what would be the consequence: hundreds of thousands of people, elderly by any definition that we might care to put, and it would not be people who were 80 or over. Where would noble Lords start to draw the line of "elderly"? What is "elderly"?
§ Lord BELLWIN
Pensioners of 60 or 65, my Lords? Are we saying then that anybody of that age must henceforth not 28 have the same rights and, because they are of that age, they have to be disadvantaged as compared with anybody else?
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I must ask the Minister to give way. He seems to have forgotten that the amendment says that the houses have to be specially designed and adapted. That is the whole point.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, as it happens, speaker after speaker in no way referred to that. If I am answering on this amendment, I am equally entitled, so far as I am aware, to make reference to the points that others have made, and just about everyone who has spoken has referred to the elderly in the most general of terms. They have referred to housing, which if we think about it, goes way beyond even the 300,000 or 400,000 that the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, mentioned, because housing of one- or two-bedroomed accommodation—and that is what we are talking about—
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, that is the accommodation to which one assumes we refer when we speak of housing for the elderly. We do not think of it as three or four bedrooms or more; we think of one or two bedrooms, and therefore by definition if we pass this amendment we should be excluding accommodation—I have given way several times and perhaps I may be allowed to finish my speech because there will be an opportunity for others to speak afterwards, I am sure. This is really the kernel of it. What we are talking about here is an exclusion of hundreds of thousands—indeed, it may be more—of one- or two-bedroomed units of accommodation. Either one believes in the right of people to buy or one does not, and this Government are committed to giving a right to buy, and we would be most concerned if there were such a broad massive exclusion of this kind, well-intentioned though it might be. The effect would be to go well beyond what many of those on this side of the House believe that it should mean.
Referring to some of the other comments that have been made, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said that it would be better that old people should not 29 be able to buy at all. That is fundamental. We believe that it is better that they should be able to buy. I repeat, because I believe that it is worthy of emphasis, we do not want old people to be in any way disadvantaged. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandford for what he said. It is a fact that the ADC had expressed great concern, and we have tried to meet that concern by means of the pre-emption conditions. Pre-emption means (if I say it again for 10 years) that if the person concerned who has bought wishes to resell, then it is up to the local authority or the housing association; they will have the opportunity to buy back within 10 years. I think that is a considerable move.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate, to whom I always listen very carefully, said that we must protect and defend the rights of aged persons. I suggest with the greatest respect that that is exactly what we are seeking to do by giving them these rights. He suggested that places secured in this way might be put into jeopardy. Then you have the debate, my Lords, about what happens to housing stock when a person occupies it as an owner rather than as a tenant. I would be the first to concede that there is a marginal difference between an elderly person occupying it as an owner rather than a tenant and the position when a younger person does so, because with a younger person—so far as I am concerned there is no question about it—there is no difference whatsoever. There is a marginal difference when elderly persons occupy it, but it is only marginal, and at the end of the day the effect upon the totality of housing can only be marginal.
My Lords, other noble Lords have spoken and have referred to their concern to allow people to go on living independently. In what way is this going to detract from their ability to live independently? In what way does this send aged persons into homes and hostels when they would not otherwise be going in?
I can only say, to conclude, that this is a difficult point. I said so when I talked about it before and no doubt I shall be saying so when I talk about it again 30 on Amendment No. 23; but what we have to do is to see that there is a balance to enable the community to provide one- and two-bedroom units of accommodation. This is quite apart from specialised accommodation for elderly persons. On the other hand, there is the necessity to ensure that old people or people of pensionable age are not disadvantaged. The decision is your Lordships'. So far as I am concerned, I do not see that by giving people the right that the Government are seeking to give them there would be disadvantage of this kind. At the most, it can only be at the periphery, and in the totality of what we are seeking to do I believe the case—and I have as much concern as anyone else—is an overwhelming case.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I think the time has come to round up the debate, as the Minister has now answered. only want to take about one minute, to say first that what I am going to ask the House to vote on is my amendment which refers to specially designed, specially adapted houses, which, by the DOE's own figures, refers to about 220,000 people. I am very grateful to all those who have spoken in support of it, but whether they went wider than the amendment is not relevant at this point.
The only other point I would make is that I think the question of resources is extremely relevant because the moment this Bill becomes law people who have been in their accommodation for three years will immediately have the right to buy. So we do not have to wait for 10 years. Furthermore, with inflation as it is, it is going to be very much more expensive to build specially adapted and designed houses. I think this should be kept in mind.
My Lords, I think we have had a very long and fruitful debate. I intend to press the Division, and I beg to move.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 109; Not-Contents, 74.31
|Airedale, L.||Fulton, L.||Oram, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Gage, V.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Amory, V.||Gaitskell, B.||Pargiter, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gardiner, L.||Peart, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Garner, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gifford, L.||Plant, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Reilly, L.|
|Banks, L.||Grey, E.||Rhodes, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Guildford, Bp.||Roberthall, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hale, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Birk, B.||Hampton, L.||Seear, B.|
|Blease, L.||Hanworth, V.||Seebohm, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hawke, L.||Segal, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Henderson, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Hooson, L.||Simon, V.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Howie of Troon, L.||Smith, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Hughes, L.||Spens, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Hunt, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Byers, L.||Hylton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Clancarty, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Clwyd, L.||Ilchester, E.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Collison, L.||Janner, L.||Stone, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Kinloss, Ly.||Strathspey, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Leatherland, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Leonard, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Underhill, L.|
|Denington, B.||Wade, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Wallace of Coslany. L.|
|Eldon, E.||London, Bp.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||McCluskey, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Malmesbury, E.||Willis, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Milverton, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Exeter, Bp.||Monson, L.||Wootton of of Abinger, B.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Moyne, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Northfield, L.|
|Adeane, L.||Dundee, E.||Marley, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Effingham, E.||Middleton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Ellenborough, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Alport, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Faithfull, B.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Avon, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Newall, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Gainford, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Barnby, L.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gisborough, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Glendevon, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Grimstone of Westbury, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Savile, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Halsbury, E.||Sharples, B.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Carrington, L. (A Principal Secretary of State.)||Hatherton, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Cawley, L.||Ironside, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Long, V.||Trevethin and Oaksey, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Lyell, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Daventry, V.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Vivian, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Denham, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Westbury, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Mancroft, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mansfield, E.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.