HL Deb 29 July 1980 vol 412 cc726-804

2.58 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Secure tenant's right to purchase]:

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 8, leave out ("3") and insert ("5").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 1 deals with the question of the term of occupation before certain rights accrue in respect of the purchase of a local authority, new town, SSHA, or certain housing associations house. When we discussed this at Committee stage I had an amendment down suggesting that instead of three years it should be eight years. There was a feeling which I gathered from all parts of the House that three years was too short a period, but on the other hand eight years was just a bit long; so I thought I would split the difference and give your Lordships an opportunity of deciding on five years.

The position is this. It is not a question of occupation of the house which the tenant proposes to purchase. If your Lordships have a look at the Bill, you will discover that all sorts of people have a right to have occupation of a house, other than that particular house, considered for the building up of the three years of occupational term—a house of the Forestry Commission, a house of the Welsh Development Agency, a house of a regional authority, occupied, say, as a janitor, with a health authority, a police authority, a prison authority.

There could arise a situation where someone arrives for the first time in a small town or a rural area having been allocated a house and then, within a day after arrival, he has the right to buy, and the right to buy at a discount. I have more than a feeling that there may well be built up within a community a certain sense of discontent in respect of that. I feel that three years is far too short a period. I know that it is three years elsewhere and there are arguments for saying that we do not need to have the same terms in Scotland as in England and Wales. I am satisfied that three years is far too short a period as regards the very extensive rights that are given under the Bill: the right to buy a house, the right to a discount and the right to a delayed option to buy for two years.

I am also worried in respect of local authority allocation policies. At present if a janitor retires or someone retires from the prison service—or it may be from some other Government service—local authorities have been very generous in offering quite good houses in good areas to those particular people. They will have already built up their three-year period and when they come in—from that moment—they will have the right to buy. Will they be as willing to do that now? I doubt it. I think that out of a sense of fairness in respect of the rights that we are giving to those people—provided they get an allocation in a local authority house—we ought to make the period a bit longer. I do not think that that would so detrimentally affect the chances of these people from outside being allocated a house by a district authority.

I think that it was the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who first suggested that the three-year period was too short. I remember that a former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, thought that the three-year period was too short. There was support on this side of the House—in fact on all sides of the House—for looking at a longer period. It was thought that eight years was too long and that is why I suggest that five years would be a sensible period as regards this matter. I am not challenging the right to buy. I am only challenging the rightness of such a short period of occupation of a house—indeed, not necessarily occupation of a particular house, but a build-up of three years—to give someone the right to buy a particular house. I beg to move.


My Lords, I must say that, if the three-year period applied to the house in which he was living, it might be more reasonable, but I think that we detected a certain amount of sympathy during the Committee stage for saying that three years for the whole of the period, wherever it may be spent or under whatever circumstances, was far too short. I think that five years is a very sensible compromise and a reasonable period which I would like to support.


My Lords, it seems to me from the amendments which the noble Lord has moved that he is making it more difficult for those who occupy public sector houses to obtain possession of those houses. That seems to me to be quite contrary to the generous nature of the noble Lord as I have known it over many years. Has he himself ever had to wait for a period of five years before he could get the ownership of a house? I have done so and I can tell him that five years is an awful long time to wait. I wonder whether he would reconsider the amendments which he has moved recently in your Lordships' House before he goes further as regards this matter? This seems to me to be quite contrary to his nature.

The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)

My Lords, I start with the theme which runs through the Bill, that we believe that it is unacceptable that half of Scotland's population should be housed in the public sector. The policy of the Bill is designed to implement a desire on the part of the Government to ensure that as many council tenants as possible are given the opportunity to own their own homes. That is a theme which runs clearly through the Bill and one to which I have no doubt we shall return at moments during our discussion. But, given that theme, there would really be quite a strong argument, I suggest, for saying that there should be no qualifying period before the right accrues, and indeed authorities already have consent from the Secretary of State to sell a house, his house, in fact, to any sitting tenant irrespective of that tenant's length of tenancy. I would expect the Secretary of State to continue to give this discretion to authorities even after the Bill becomes law. Nevertheless, the Government accepted that there should be a qualifying period before the right to buy, as opposed to the discretion, could be enjoyed. That was partly to allay any fears that there may have been that some people, who would never otherwise have entered the public rented sector, would do so to find a cheap way into home ownership.

So, the next matter to consider was how long should the qualifying period be. Bearing in mind our determination that as many people as is reasonably possible should be allowed to become home owners, the period therefore should be short enough to ensure that not too many would be excluded while meeting the requirement that opportunists, in the sense that I have described them—and it is a limited sense—should not obtain an immediate right to buy. I think that I undertook to consider this at the last stage of the Bill, but we now estimate that about 60,000 tenants have been in the public sector for three years or less and that about another 100,000 or so have been in the public sector from between three years and five years. So, I think that it is tolerable that the first 60,000 tenants or so should have to wait until their three years are up before acquiring the right to buy, but it is in my view too much to ask 160,000 to sit out five years. That would be an unreasonable interference with the policy which, as I have already said, the Bill sets out to implement.

In his remarks the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, said on a number of occasions that three years was "far, far too short". I do not think that he adduced very many, if any, reasons as to why it was far, far too short. But, in view of the fact that this is the Report stage and that I can only speak—unless it be with the leave of the House—but once, I ought to deal with what, in a rather racey way, I call the "fast buck argument" which was deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, on the last occasion this matter came before your Lordships.

I refer to the matter of financial reasons. There is a financial benefit to the country as a whole if people buy their houses from local authorities. To extend the period from three to five years would only extend for two years the length of time over which tenants have to be subsidised, and, in fact, as such would reduce the financial benefits to the country as a whole. One must realise that while these tenants remain tenants they are a burden to the taxpayer. One of the benefits which will flow from this policy, besides the money which is gathered in by virtue of the sale of the houses, is that the tenants will then become, as it were, financially responsible.

For all those reasons, and although I gave careful consideration to the points made in Committee, I think that the period in this Bill and in the Housing Bill is right; and therefore, I do not think that it would be right to ask your Lordships to accept this amendment.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, for noticing that I am here. It will save me the bother of bringing in a cushion in order that my head should appear above the back of the seats! I think that my noble friend Lord Ross has repeated what is generally accepted as a very strong case; it will not merely allow young people who have moved in and stayed there for three years to buy their houses, but indirectly it will confer a very great benefit on them.

People who move into public sector houses generally are not aware of the pitfalls that can await them whenever they enter into the ownership of houses. They have to learn a few things, discuss a few things and they also have to find the mortgage payments. If they fall behind in their income during the period of the rented tenancy, they would receive rent rebates. I am inclined to ask whether or not they will receive any rebates if they fall into a similar financial difficulty over the repayment of their mortgages. There is certainly no mention of it anywhere in the Bill, but there is a very decided advantage in being a tenant falling on bad times and getting the rent rebate which eases his position.

However, he is in an entirely different position when it comes to the question of having entered into a mortgage. Therefore, three years would give these young people—and they would be largely of the younger group—an opportunity to assess whether they really are in a position to embark upon what could be a burden if they should, unfortunately, become unemployed, having been in employment when they entered into the mortgage.

As the Minister has indicated, quite a high percentage of people have already qualified by virtue of the fact that they have been in the house between three and five years. I think the noble Earl said that altogether there would be 100,000 but that 60,000 would qualify. Surely if they are in that position, another two years—with a possibility of mortgage interest rates being reduced and not being at the present high level—would be a distinct financial advantage to these people. If for no other reason than helping these people, who have had no experience and who have never in their talks discussed burst pipes, drains, repairs to roofs in addition to the cost of their mortgage, it would give them time to assess just what they are entering into. In my opinion, if for no other reason than that, we should let them be five years in tenancy before they embark on buying their houses.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, if I have understood correctly the noble Lord who has just spoken, he is really advocating that the qualifying period should start to run from the passage of the Bill and not start right away, so that within the three or five years—whichever it may be—such people have some experience of what goes on in a house. It does not much matter from any point of view whether they own that house or whether they do not. The house still needs repairs and in the previous period they must have known what goes on in a house, what has to be repaired, what things go wrong, and so forth. I am afraid that I fail altogether to understand his argument.

If the argument is that it is unfair for somebody to go into a house and then qualify within the three years because he has been occupying a house rented by another public authority, such as the police authority, the fire authority or what not, and the period in which he has occupied that house entitles him to count it for qualification for the house that he is now in and which he proposes to buy, again I fail to see any reason why there should be any discrimination. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, did not mention any reason except that other people might not like it. He asked, What would the neighbours say? But the neighbours would know perfectly well that if a person has been in, for example, a police house, when his duties no longer require him to occupy that house he has to find a house elsewhere, and he has to look to the local authority, and the local authority provides it. In that way there is a perfectly normal channel for him to acquire the qualification. I do not see how it could have been done otherwise. They could have said that after one has left, say, the police authority one has to be allocated a house by the district council, or whatever, and then be in the house for three years after that. But that would make two different sets of circumstances. For what purpose? I am afraid that I do not see it at all.

I do not believe that there would be any more public objection to what the Bill provides than what happens now when a policeman leaves a police house and goes into a district authority house. Of course some people object. People will say that such a person has not been on the waiting list, and so on. Nevertheless, local authorities are broadminded enough to realise that that person has been doing a public service which requires him to occupy a certain kind of accommodation and, therefore, when he leaves that he should be given some consideration for a house from a district council.

Therefore, it seems to me that the Government have taken the only possible course in order to meet all the contingencies. The only remaining question is whether it should be three or five years. Personally, I do not see any reason to vary the three-year provision. As I said at an earlier stage, the person has been identified with that house; he has come to know it and knows whether or not he wants to buy it. If you are setting up a policy of this kind, the qualification is a very secondary matter indeed. The question is simply: on what terms will you allow people to buy their own houses? —and a qualification of three years' occupancy seems to me to be perfectly adequate.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has suggested that three years is a satisfactory period for prior occupation of a public sector house, whether it is the house that the person is now in, or whether it is the house that he has been in for three years or two and a half years elsewhere. The noble Lord did not justify three years. But what is forgotten in this is not just the right to buy the house—that is the first right; the other right arises after the qualification is met, whereby one can immediately buy the house at 33 per cent. discount. There are not very many bargains like that around these days. I do not know whether the noble Lord himself gives houses away or gives anything away on such glowing terms as that.

I thought that I had tabled a simple amendment—instead of three years, make it five years. The noble Earl the Minister went out of his way, quite unnecessarily, to give us the whole principle of the Bill, but I thank him for it. It will be spread around Scotland. Let us listen to what he said: "It is unacceptable that half the population he housed in public sector housing". Why are they in public sector housing? Because they could not afford private sector housing either as owner-occupiers or because over forty or fifty years ago the private sector stopped providing private rented accommodation.

Then he said, "Tenants are a burden to the taxpayers". This is an entire justification for what I said on Committee stage when I took up the statement that was made in another place by the Member for Aberdeen, South, who said, "They want to get rid of these houses". To my mind this is not the way to deal with the housing problems of Scotland. This sudden discovery that owner-occupation is such a wonderful thing! They had better make up their mind whether it is wonderful or whether tenants are a burden to the taxpayer. We are getting pretty near to almost compelling people to buy their houses. That is the logical conclusion of the argument of the noble Earl.

I look at it from a different point of view. I have lived with the problem of housing for a long time, and know the efforts that have been made by local authorities to build up a stock of houses to meet their statutory obligations. Now the Government have a new principle, a new policy: "Get rid of these houses. The tenants must buy them. We are going to make it as attractive as possible for the tenants to buy them. You have only got to be three years in a house and you get a discount of 33 per cent.".

The noble Earl says, "We want to give as many people as possible the chance to buy. He outlined the figure of 60,000 with three years' occupation or less. That means they would need to wait another two years. There are another 60,000 who have occupied between three and five years. They would need to wait less than that. What he neglected to tell your Lordships' House was that there are over 1 million public authority houses in Scotland. So another 900,000 of them will have this right.

Do you not think we should pause for a minute to consider whether we should give these houses away at bargain prices? The feeling of Members of your Lordships' House when we discussed this question in Committee was that three years was far too short a period. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, says, "It is contrary to my nature". This whole Bill is contrary to my nature. It is contrary to my nature to be so generous to the Government and say, "Yes, I accept the principle, but five years and not three years". This is a reasonable amendment; a sensible amendment. I am sure my noble friend Lord Galpern, who has had plenty of experience of this, will agree with me in considering it is an amendment that we should make in the interests of the tenants themselves in Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, was a Member of Parliament for a long time. It may be a long time ago, but surely he remembers that there was nothing about which people were more subjective than the question of housing. At the present time local authorities provide houses to janitors who retire from a local education authority, and to people from the prison service, and they provide not only houses but good houses. If they come with their right immediately to buy, and these good houses are taken out of the stock, that will cause more trouble. It is possible for someone to go into these services and decide that they do not like them, and after two years to get a local authority house. They have not got a long length of service behind

them, and so occupation has not built up to the three years. I can assure the noble Earl that there will be quite a lot of discontent in an area if that kind of thing happens.

It is not the complete answer. No matter what we do there is going to be certain trouble in respect of this short period. The feeling of your Lordships was that eight years was too long. The feeling of many on all sides of the House was that three years was too short. I suggest this reasonable compromise of five years, and I must insist on taking this amendment to a Division.

3.25 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided; Contents, 88; Not-Contents, 102.

Airedale, L. Foot, L. Pargiter, L.
Amherst, E. Gaitskell, B. Peart, L.
Amulree, L. Galpern, L. Phillips, B.
Ardwick, L. Gladwyn, L. Piercy, L.
Aylestone, L. Gordon-Walker, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Bacon, B. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Balogh, L. Grey, E. Rochester, L.
Banks, L. Hale, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Beswick, L. Hall, V. Seear, B.
Birk, B. Hampton, L. Segal, L.
Blease, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Shinwell, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Henderson, L. Soper, L.
Briginshaw, L. Irving of Dartford, L. Southwark, Bp.
Brockway, L. Jacques, L. Stedman, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Janner, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jeger, B. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Kilmarnock, L. Stone, L.
Caradon, L. Kirkhill, L. Strabolgi, L.
Chitnis, L. Leatherland, L. Strauss, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Lee of Newton, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Collison, L. Leonard, L. Underhill, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.[Teller.] Wallace of Coslany, L.
Crook, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. McCarthy, L. Whaddon, L.
David, B.[Teller.] Mackie of Benshie, L. White, B.
Davies of Penrhys, L. McNair, L. Willis, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Maybray-King, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Milverton, L. Winstanley, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Northfield, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Paget of Northampton, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Bessborough, E. Clitheroe, L.
Allerton, L. Bethell, L. Cockfield, L.
Alport, L. Blake, L. Cork and Orrery, E.
Ampthill, L. Boyle of Handsworth, L. Cottesloe, L.
Auckland, L. Brentford, V. Crawford and Balcarres, E.
Avon, E. Bridgeman, V. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Bellwin, L. Burton, L. Daventry, V.
Belstead, L. Campbell of Croy, L. De Freyne, L.
Berkeley, B. Clifford of Chudleigh, L. De La Warr, E.
Denham, L.[Teller.] Hives, L. Pender, L.
Derwent, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Porritt, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Renton, L.
Dundee, E. Ilchester, E. Rochdale, V.
Eccles, V. Kemsley, V. Romney, E.
Effingham, E. Kimberley, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Ellenborough, L. Kinloss, Ly. Sandford, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Kinross, L. Sandys, L.[Teller.]
Energlyn, L. Lyell, L. Seafield, E.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Selkirk, E.
Faithfull, B. Macleod of Borve, B. Sharples, B.
Falkland, V. Malmesbury, E. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Fortescue, E. Mancroft, L. Spens, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mansfield, E. Stamp, L.
Gainford, L. Margadale, L. Strathclyde, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Marley, L. Strathspey, L.
Godber of Willington, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Swinfen, L.
Gowrie, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Trenchard, V.
Gray, L. Netherthorpe, L. Vaizey, L.
Gridley, L. Northchurch, B. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L.Chancellor.) Nugent of Guildford, L. Vickers, B.
Nunburnholme, L. Vivian, L.
Hanworth, V. O'Neill of the Maine, L. Westbury, L.
Hayter, L. Orkney, E. Wise, L.
Henley, L. Orr-Ewing, L. Yarborough, E.
Hill of Luton, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.34 p.m.

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5: Page 2, line 23, leave out ("fixed by subtracting from") Page 2, line 25, leave out from ("below)") to end of line 26 Page 2, line 33, leave out ("with") and insert ("without") Page 2, line 35, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with permission, I shall take Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 together, galloping through the Bill. During the Committee stage, when we asked for an explanation of the generosity of the discount, which ranges from 33 per cent. of the fixed price to 50 per cent. of the fixed price after a very much longer period in occupation, we were told by the Minister of State that if the house was sold without vacant possession, it would, according to information that he had somehow or other obtained, be 40 per cent. cheaper than the house with vacant possession. He told us that it would be of considerable advantage to those who had been there for about 20 years, but of not quite the same advantage to those who had been there for only three years.

I queried his assessments, and later on, on another amendment, he said that the market had not been tested. Surely the right thing to do, then, is to leave it to market value in respect of vacant possession, and this is the purpose of this series of amendments. It wipes out the discount altogether but it changes the formula for the sale of the house as presently stated on page 2, line 23, which lays down that it is to be calculated in accordance with paragraph (b)", as if the house was available for sale with vacant possession.

Of course, the house is not vacant at all because the tenant who is in it is the one who wants to buy it; but it is notionally with vacant possession. It is very difficult to assess that, but if a tenant were in it that would be a fairly normal thing for a qualified valuer to do. In all sense of fairness, I think it is the right thing to do.

The house will be cheaper. I do not say it will be 33 per cent. or 50 per cent. cheaper, but it will be the same for everybody from that point of view and it is the way it is done at the present time. We have been selling local authority houses without these discounts, and, of course, they have been valued with their tenants in them. So if we wipe out the whole business of subtracting the discount, if we wipe out the formula for discount, and if we change the words "with vacant possession" to "without vacant possession", then we shall get a realistic, fairly simple and well understood way of valuing the house. I got the impression that the noble Lord seemed to justify his various calculations on this, and so I am testing him as to whether or not he is justified in what he said at that time in suggesting that this will be fair to the tenant, certainly fair to the local authority and something that local authorities presently understand.

The only difference is that, whereas at the moment the local authorities are willing sellers, under this clause the local authorities have got to sell whether they like it or not. Interference at this stage is very regrettable and runs counter to all the slogans about freedom for local authorities that we have heard before and which noble Lords have no doubt spouted at various times from various platforms. Here we are telling the local authorities that they will sell whether they like it or not. What I am suggesting is to wipe out the artificiality of this formula of discount and leave it to the market, leave things as they are. One is selling a house without vacant possession. It can be easily understood and it can be justified, whereas to my mind the present discount system cannot be justified. I beg to move.


My Lords, Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5 really hang together; Amendment No. 4 puts the argument on a slightly different basis. I should like to begin by correcting the noble Lord on one assertion he has made. He said that in the past local authorities made these sales at sitting tenant values. In fact, they did not. Under both the last Government and the last Conservative Government they were based on vacant possession value. That does make a great deal of difference, as the noble Lord has been trying to say. We debated all this on Committee, and I do not want to go over old ground too much, particularly if it is going to irritate the noble Lord, as apparently I did on the last amendment. But I must say that the whole object of the exercise is to give as many council tenants as possible a real choice between owning and renting. One has to belabour that point if necessary.

Secondly, unless there are substantial discounts, a large proportion of tenants simply would not be able to afford to buy their houses. With the discounts, sales of houses in the last year show that many thousands will be very keen to do that. Thus, it is in the tenants' interest that we give them every inducement to buy their houses and, for reasons I gave when I spoke to the last amendment, it is also in the public interest that they should be given a real opportunity to buy. These houses cost the ratepayer and taxpayer a lot of money while they are rented. In the short and medium term, selling council houses will realise substantial profits for the taxpayer.

On the last occasion we debated this matter I regaled the House shortly with the rather complicated forecasts which have been made of financial effects. Some time ago the Government published an extremely thorough attempt at an analysis of financial effects over 20 and 50 years. That analysed 24 different combinations of key assumptions based wherever possible on the evidence of past trends, and the results based on Scottish data were that even over 50 years there was not a single combination of assumptions which showed that sales at discounts would result in a loss. In some cases, the potential profits over 50 years were estimated to be as high as £13,789 per house. If tenants cannot afford to buy, then I repeat that those potential profits will not be realised. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, proposes in Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5, the discounts were done away with, their absence would simply mean that a large number of tenants would not be able to buy their houses; there would be a lot of houses unsold that could be sold and that would be to the detriment of the taxpayer and ratepayer and the tenants themselves.

I will not go over the old argument as to mobility of labour which we also talked about when we considered these amendments—I am looking particularly at the noble Lord. Lord Mackie of Benshie—on the last occasion. Nor will I go into the basis of the valuation in Clause 1(5)(a) But when I come to Amendment No. 4, there the noble Lord, Lord Ross, turns the argument on its head. Having in effect complained at the levels of discount, under that amendment some tenants would receive less discount than if the houses were sold at sitting tenant valuations; and, as I say, we have been advised by the Chief Valuer for Scotland that sales with sitting tenants which took place did so at discounts which averaged 40 per cent., and that was taken into account.

There are other considerations which one should take into account, particularly in respect of tenants who have been in their houses for a long time. Older tenants have a shorter earning life ahead of them, and they may need larger discounts to enable them to buy and repay their mortgages in the span of years left to them in which they can earn. So, without going over old ground, we think it is fairer if the short-term tenant has less of a discount than the 40 per cent.—because he is younger and has his earning life before him—whereas the older tenant who has been there the maximum of years has the larger discount, larger than 50 per cent., because he deserves it and does not have so much time left.

Those are basically the arguments. There is also the argument of consistency, and we think the Bill as it stands is fairer and more acceptable than this series of amendments would make it. I hesitate to say they are wrecking amendments because I am sure the noble Lord did not mean them as such, but the effect of them would be that the scheme as proposed would be neither so fair nor so attractive either to the taxpayer or the tenant as that in the Bill at present.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister to answer a simple question? He has made great play of the inducement offered by the discount to attract a would-be purchaser. I should like him to explain where he sees a financial or other advantage coming to a public sector tenant from purchasing his house by way of discount. Does he see the advantage arising from being a householder instead of a tenant, or is the attraction that as soon as he qualifies to sell the house he will profit at least to the extent of the discount he got a few years earlier?


The noble Lord is back on his quick buck theory again, my Lords. The advantage to the tenant is that he will be a property owner—that instead of year after year paying out rent and money to the local authority and at the end of it dying and having nothing to show for it—and as he will own his own house he can pass it on. We think—I certainly think and I think most noble Lords think—that is a thoroughly desirable state of affairs. lf, at the end of the five-year period, he sells, then he gets the full market rate for the house, so long as there is no right of pre-emption or any other fetter on his freedom of action, and that in short is the attraction for the ordinary person who is a tenant.


In this case, my Lords, for reasons of practicality, I cannot support the amendment. I say that for the simple reason that when you come to an open market valuation you have a chance of arriving at a logical outcome, whereas when you come to valuing with a tenant, the position is entirely different. In the old days you made a 20-year purchase, but today that would be quite ludicrous, and with the movement in the value of money and the movement of interest rates, the only practical way to value a house is to take the open market value. In that event, I believe a valuer has a good chance of arriving at a fair figure. The question of the amounts of discount we shall discuss next, but meanwhile I could not agree that it would be better to value on the basis of value including tenant, and therefore I believe the discount system is more practicable.


My Lords, while Amendment No. 4 has the appearance of tidiness, it contains a fatal flaw. As I read it, it would enable the occupier to buy without vacant possession. It would mean, if paragraphs (a) and (b) were removed, that the day he bought he could sell again with vacant possession. He would have vacant possession and could therefore make a windfall profit. There would then be no possibility of imposing any kind of penalty on the early resale in the way paragraphs (a) and (b) do, and I cannot think the noble Lord, Lord Ross, can have intended such a fatal flaw, however tidy the amendment looks.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for pointing out the fatal flaw. However, if for a minute he thought that had the Government accepted this amendment, I would not have urged on them a holding position in relation to resale, as has been included in all grants given—improvement grants and all the rest—then he must think that I am much more simple than I have been given credit for, during my parliamentary career anyway.

The noble Earl said that all these amendments hang together, with the exception of Amendment No. 4, but Amendment No. 4 was the central issue. The purpose of the amendment arose from the statement that he made about the discounts. Whether or not one likes the discounts, they are very complicated and the figures are very difficult to justify. They range from 33 per cent. to 50 per cent. They were supposed to be in place of a valuation of a house with a tenant in it. Of course, the house is cheaper if it is sold with a tenant in it, because it depends on how long one has to wait for the tenant to vacate before one can realise the value.

It was following the noble Earl's own statement that I thought it would be much fairer to everyone and would be much simpler to understand if there was one formula; that the house is valued without vacant possession. This is open market value. It is quite easy for the valuer to do that. I cannot understand the difficulty mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, if he will excuse me calling him my noble friend.

One minute the noble Earl is telling us that these tenants are a burden on the taxpayer. Then he says, "Ah! if they have been a burden on the taxpayer for a longer time we must make the house cheaper for them." I have lived with the arguments of the party opposite in relation to council house tenants; they were shiftless, they were second-class citizens, living in houses with subsidised rents. The argument of the Government now is, "If you live longer in a council house as a burden on the taxpayer, then we will make your house cheaper."

I have never raised in this amendment, or in any other amendment, the question of the full effects of the financial implications of this policy. The noble Earl keeps dragging in and mentioning this document that we have not had before us—certainly not as a public Paper, though it was published and was available, I think, to Members in another place. But it was so riddled with assumptions that no one could place any great reliance upon it. The noble Earl admitted that himself when we discussed this point in Committee.

The other great assumption is this: If a local authority has to retain its stock of houses—whether in rural areas or for the elderly, or whatever—what will it cost the local authority to replace the house that is sold? All the financial calculations fall to the ground. I look at the matter from the point of view of the local authority. If the local authority is to fulfil the obligations placed on it by Parliament—by both Houses—it must meet the housing needs of the people. That means that the local authority must build, and at present building costs and the cost of money are such that the local authority will do very badly out of this.

However, all that is beside the point. What we are discussing here is the fairness of a formula. I thought that the noble Earl was serious in Committee when he spoke of the valuation without vacant possession. I took him at his word; I put it down. I took out the other reference to discounts in the other amendments, so that the whole thing hung together and made it very much simpler. I had hoped for better things, but, no, my hopes were to no avail at all. Well, I am not going to press—


My Lords, does the noble Lord know that my family motto is, Spero Meliora?—I hope for better things.


Yes, my Lords, but that was a long time ago, and some people do not live up to family mottoes. I had hoped for better things. Did the noble Earl think for a minute that I had missed that little point in relation to his family crest?


My Lords, the noble Lord might know that my other motto is, Friendly to virtue alone, and certainly observe that.


My Lords, even I should not be so self-righteous as to proclaim that. There are times when we all fall far short of virtue, and never did the noble Earl fall farther short of virtue than he did in respect of some of the clauses in the Bill, to which we shall come. But if the noble Earl is faithful only to virtue, I would say that there are a few tests yet ahead of him. He has nailed his colours to the mast. We shall put him to the test. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendments.

Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.

3.56 p.m.

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 37, leave out ("33") and insert ("20").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to take with this amendment Amendment No. 8, too. The amendment deals with the question of the discounts of 33 per cent. to 50 per cent. I have already argued—and I shall not prolong the argument—that I consider that in terms of rewarding tenants for three years' occupation a 33 per cent. discount on the value of the house is far too high and is unfair to taxpayers. It is unfair to ratepayers. It is unfair to the local authority in general. When we go to the extent of 50 per cent. of the market value, I think that is being even more unfair. It does not stand in relation to logic, in view of what the noble Earl said about the tenants being a burden on the taxpayer. We are rewarding those who have been a burden. The longer they have been a burden, the higher the discount they receive. Those are not my words; they are the noble Earl's words.

I shall not labour this matter. I think that during the Committee stage it was felt on the other side of the Chamber as well as on this side, that we are really overdoing it. I know that the noble Earl wants to get rid of these houses. He is the master of the infelicitous phrase. He did not use that particular phrase, but he used the one about cocking a snook at the local authority: you buy your house in order to cock a snook at the local authority. Then he talks about the tenants being a burden on the taxpayer. This is very offensive. The noble Earl said that I got irritated. I do not get irritated at all. I am delighted to hear the noble Earl in his simplicity come clean about the reasoning behind his Government's Bill. What are people in local authority houses—people who have never been behind with a single penny of rent, who have been good tenants, and who have paid every increase in rent asked of them—to think when they are slurred in this way? He is the man who is doing it; not me. I do not get irritated; I get angry at times, but not irritated.

I propose to change the discounts; to leave out 33 per cent. and insert 20 per cent. That would be a fairly good discount after three years of occupation. I propose a maximum of 40 per cent., instead of 50 per cent. That is reasonable. Occasionally, one should be fair to the local authority in regard to the asset that it is selling, or is being compelled by the Government to sell. I am not saying here, "Don't sell". I am accepting that one has to sell. We have already accepted that there is to be a discount. I now say that the discount should be a reasonable one. It should be not 33 per cent., but 20 per cent., and the maximum should be not 50 per cent., but 40 per cent. I beg to move.


My Lords, when the noble Earl replies can he give an indication of the amount that will be awarded to the sitting tenant when he buys his house'? In other words, has the noble Earl any idea what price the average council house will fetch, and what in financial terms will be the saving to a prospective buyer'?


My Lords, I feel that here it is a question of tuning. I have accepted the principle of discounts, but, really, in Scotland we are a fairly canny lot, and to be offered a house, after three years as a tenant not of that house, at a 20 per cent. discount, is a fairly appealing bargain, and I would have thought that that was enough. I accept the argument that if a tenant has been a tenant for a number of years in a house then he deserves to buy it at a further discount. I think he has been a burden, but that is mostly because of the incompetence of the local authorities in the maintenance of houses. He has certainly, in most cases, paid plenty of rent. So I accept that a long-time tenant has a right to a further discount.

As I say, I think this is a question of fine tuning. Certainly for a long-time tenant a 40 per cent. discount near the sale or the passing on of the house appears to me to be plenty; and if we are looking at the local authority's obligations, then certainly I think that the tuning should be such as to give them the maximum amount of money to start a further replacement of houses perhaps in other areas of their bailiewick. So I think the fine tuning here is about right at between 20 and 40 per cent.


My Lords, if I may say so, I think that we have to consider housing policy other than on what I might call a vague feeling of meanness, as adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. We have had a considerable debate on these discounts and their quantum. We are advised that any reduction in the size of the discount will make it impossible for some tenants to buy, and thus the financial and social benefits of our policy will be reduced. The Government are opposed to any change in their objectives, in which we have been perfectly consistent, may I say, since before the last election. Those objectives are to ensure that a large number of tenants have a genuine opportunity to buy.

There is still an impression—I might almost call it a myth, but it is a mistaken impression—that something is being given away under this scheme. What we are doing is to encourage tenants to bear a greater share of their housing costs than they do by renting and, by buying their home, to relieve the taxpayer and ratepayer of the burden which they presently bear. The noble Lord, Lord Ross—I do not know whether he was being serious about this—suggested that I was being slanderous (I think that was the word) to council tenants by saying that they were a charge—a burden, if you like—on the taxpayer. They are.


My Lords, I quoted the noble Earl's own words—not a charge; a burden.


My Lords, I really do not know what the semantic difference is between a charge and a burden. I shall go and look it up in the dinner hour, I am so keen to know the difference. But the fact of the matter is that, however worthy they may be—and I am the first to claim that 99.9 per cent. are as worthy as they come—financially speaking, public sector tenants are a financial burden on the community. What we want to do is to lighten it, and to impose on those tenants—if, and only if, they are willing to accept it—a heavier share of the cost of their housing. This is what this is all about.

These discounts must be large enough to enable people to buy, and to attract them. We talked about the 40 per cent. mean, if I may so call it, and I have sought to justify the difference between the younger tenant, so to speak, who will qualify at 33 per cent., which is under the 40 per cent., and the older tenant, who will qualify for the 50 per cent. and who may well not have another 20 years or so of active economic life before him in which he can pay off his mortgage. He may have to pay off his mortgage in a period of, perhaps, 10 to 15 years. It follows, does it not, that he will need a discount of about 50 per cent. in order to enable him to do that? What I am saying, in other words, is that a reduction in the top rate from 50 per cent. to 40 per cent. would certainly rule out a number of older tenants from the chance to buy their own homes.

This particular formula figures in the Government's appraisal of the financial effects of the sales, which, if I can remind the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has been in the Library and available in the Printed Paper Office since a very early part of the year. There is no queston that the discounts which we promised, which have been operating for over a year as part of the voluntary sales policy and which are now included in this Bill, are both socially and financially beneficial. Any reduction in discounts will merely reduce the benefits without bringing any compensatory benefit whatsoever to balance the loss. The community will have no comfort from reduced discounts except the knowledge that a house worth thousands of pounds is being rented out at a rent which does not cover costs to someone who would have paid a price which not only would have covered the cost but would have provided a reduction in public expenditure as well. I hope that this argument commends itself not least to the Scottish soul of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, because it is pitched at this moment entirely on a financial plane. If we can persuade more people in Scotland to become owner-occupiers, we shall have taken one step nearer, may I say, to maintaining our level of owner-occupation in relation to that of most of Western, and indeed Eastern, Europe.

The noble Lord, Lord Galpern, asked me a question related to the value of discount. So far, the average value of the house in question subject to the sale has been £11,000, and the average discount has been about £4,500.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving us that interesting figure, but because I do not wish to do him an injustice, may I also ask him this question: Am I right in concluding that what he has just told the House is that the main attraction for the sitting tenant of a public sector house to buy the house which he occupies, which he rents, is in order (and I hope I have the words right) to bear a greater share of his housing costs? I hope the noble Earl will tell that to all the tenants that he is inviting to become owners of their houses. But it may be that I am doing him an injustice.


My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may say that of course that is not the main gain to the individual tenant, and I did not say it was. What I suggest the noble Lord does is to read the Official Report tomorrow; then he will see what is the gain to the tenant, about which I pontificated at length—that he will have something to call his own and something to pass on.


My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Galpern should really do justice to the Minister. What he said was, There is a mistaken impression that we"— that is, the Government—" are giving something away". I think you will find those words in Hansard tomorrow. He went on to say that what they wanted to achieve was that the tenants should bear a greater financial burden. In other words, they will pay more than they are paying in rent. This is going to be a bargain for everybody, evidently. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate would like to correct me, or probably his recollection is more or less the same as mine in respect of the words used. I have a very bad habit of writing things down as they are said. It is not a habit that I will give up readily.

Hitherto, we have been told that this is going to be a great bargain for the tenants; that it is going to be of great benefit to the local authority and that it is going to be useful for the taxpayer. With respect, it cannot suit them all. Somebody is going to pay. Who is it? I suspect that many of the would-be purchasers may come to the same conclusion as the noble Earl, the Minister; that they are not getting anything for nothing; that they are going to contribute more than they have been contributing before. I will return to this in a further amendment—and I hope I shall have the support of the noble Earl and Members opposite on that—when we want to be quite sure that the tenants who would be purchasing their houses will be quite clear about the obligations they are taking on as well as the rights.

What we really come to in resistance to this amendment is this. The Government feel that they must maximise sales, and if in any way they reduce the discounts the number of sales would go down so that the burden on the taxpayer would be greater. I am concerned about giving things away below their value. I thought it was the whole ethos of the party opposite that you did not transfer public assets at a price below their value. In the case of a Government so commercially-minded as are the present Government at this moment, a Government so anxious to get rid of things belonging to the community, I should not have thought that they would have gone overboard as they have here to the disadvantage of the local authority. The more a local authority gets for a purchase, the better for the ratepayer. The noble Earl says, "We cannot do this; we must maximise the attraction of the terms"—then later on in the Bill we come to a provision where they have to increase the interest rates beyond what the local authorities are levying at the present time. There is an element of inconsistency in this. At times I despair of the Government.

When I come back to it, the question is this. Is it fair, is it right, that the price should be as low as this or that the discounts should be as high as this? I am convinced that the discounts are unfair to the general ratepayers and to the local authority who may have to replace a

house. From that point of view, I insist on taking this amendment to a Division.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80: Not-Contents, 120.

Ardwick, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Aylestone, L. Gosford, E. Pargiter, L.
Bacon, B. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Peart, L.
Beswick, L. Hale, L. Phillips, B.
Birk, B. Hall, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Blease, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Blyton, L. Henderson, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Rochester, L.
Briginshaw, L. Ilchester, E. Ross of Marnock, L.
Brockway, L. Irving of Dartford, L. Segal, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jacques, L. Shinwell, L.
Chitnis, L. Janner, L. Stedman, B.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Jeger, B. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Collison, L. Kilmarnock, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Kinloss, Ly. Stone, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Kirkhill, L. Strabolgi, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Leatherland, L. Strauss, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Lee of Newton, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Leonard, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Underhill, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. McCarthy, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Mackie of Benshie, L. Walston, L.
Gaitskell, B. McNair, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Galpern, L. Maelor, L. Whaddon, L.
Gardiner, L. Milverton, L. Willis, L.
Gladwyn, L. Northfield, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Gordon-Walker, L. Oram, L. wynne-Jones
Airedale, L. Crawford and Balcarres, E. Harvington, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Henley, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Daventry, V. Hill of Luton, L.
Allerton, L. De Freyne, L. Hives, L.
Alport, L. Denham, L. [Teller.] Home of the Hirsel, L.
Amherst, E. Digby, L. Hooson, L.
Ampthill, L. Drumalbyn, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Amulree, L. Dundee, E. Kemsley, V.
Avon, E. Eccles, V. Kimberley, E.
Baker, L. Effingham, E. Kinnaird, L.
Banks, L. Ellenborough, L. Kinross, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. Lauderdale, E.
Bellwin, L. Evans of Claughton, L. Lloyd, L.
Belstead, L. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Long, V.
Berkeley, B. Faithfull, B. Luke, L.
Bessborough, E. Fortescue, E. Lyell, L.
Birdwood, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Blake, L. Gainford, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyle of Handsworth, L. Gibson-Watt, L. Malmesbury, E.
Brentford, V. Glendevon, L. Mancroft, L.
Bridgeman, V. Godber of Willington, L. Mansfield, E.
Burton, L. Gowrie, E. Margadale, L.
Caithness, E. Gray, L. Marley, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Gridley, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Haig, E, Merrivale, L.
Clitheroe, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Monk Bretton, L.
Cockfield, L. Mottistone, L.
Cork and Orrey, E. Hampton, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cottesloe, L. Hanworth, V. Moyne, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Romney, E. Strathspey, L.
Netherthorpe, L. St. Aldwyn, E. Swinfen, L.
Norfolk, D. Sandford, L. Trenchard, V.
Northchurch, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.] Vaizey, L.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Seafield, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Orkney, E. Selkirk, E. Vickers, B.
Orr-Ewing, L. Sharpies, B. Vivian, L.
Pender, L. Soames, L. (L. President.) Westbury, L.
Porritt, L. Spens, L. Wise, L.
Redmayne, L. Stamp, L. Yarborough, E.
Renton, L. Strathclyde, L.
Rochdale, V. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

4.22 p.m.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Aberdare)

Amendment No. 7.

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 9: Page 3, line 15, leave out ("lesser") and insert ("higher").

The noble Lord said. My Lords, this is related to those houses that have become secure tenancies after 15th May 1975. That means all the really modern houses in Scotland. There is a different formula in relation to them. The price fixed under subsection (5) is, I presume, the price fixed by the district valuer. And then there is the discount. That has to be subject to yet another scrutiny. The fixed price shall not be less than the outstanding debt incurred in providing the dwelling-house or the market value of the dwelling-house determined under subsection 5(a)—that is, with vacant possession. Anything coming under the category of the market value of the dwelling-house determined under subsection 5(a) and then subject to a discount is rather difficult to understand. It is bound to be less but then we have the question of the outstanding debt—


My Lords, to which amendment is the noble Lord speaking?


I am speaking to Amendment No. 9.


My Lords, does the noble Lord wish to withdraw Amendment No. 7? That is the amendment I called.


My Lords, Amendment No. 7 went with Amendment No. 1. The subject is the same and I did not move it.


My Lords, I cannot accept amendments en bloc unless they are consecutive. Does the noble Lord not wish to move Amendment No. 7?



[Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.]


My Lords, Amendment No. 9 deals with this question of subsection (7) of Clause 1. As I said, it is a new formula in respect of the price fixed under subsection (5). That is the price as determined by the district valuer. Then there is the discount. Then the Bill says that that has to be assessed according to whichever is the lesser of the following: the outstanding debt incurred in providing the dwelling-house; or (b) the market value of the dwelling-house determined under this formula of subsection (5)(a).

If this is going to apply to every house built after May 1975 I want tenants and local authorities to be absolutely clear what is involved. We have a definition of "outstanding debt". It means the cost of the erection or acquisition of the dwelling-house. In most cases it will be erection of a dwelling-house. There is the cost of the acquisition of the site of the dwelling-house; the cost of works of improvement, alteration, or major repair, et cetera.

There are some other costs not mentioned and I wonder whether they should be included, because they are relevant. There is the question of the preparation of the site. There is the question of the provision of the services. I do not know whether the noble Earl knows that, in relation to the provision of sewerage and water in newly built private, owner-occupied houses, those have to be provided by the person who constructs them and purchased by the person who goes in. For long enough that was the position. I remember as Secretary of State passing an Act of Parliament saying that a time to be determined by the Secretary of State that would be paid by the local authorities. That is only fair because the local authority pays for all the services in respect of new local authority houses.

However, I do not see in the cost of acquisition of the site or the cost of erection the cost of the services. That too is a relevant part that should come into this computation. Or is it included in one of those composite phrases such as "the erection of the building"? Will that be included there? This is a probing amendment and I want to understand why, even though the fixed price is less than the outstanding debt, the lesser sum must be the one decided as the fixed price.

As this is to relate to all houses erected and completed after 15th May 1975, this is important. We should know that the formula that we have discussed and argued about and eventually confirmed does not apply to these houses, but there is something added on. I want the Minister to make it absolutely clear what the price is going to be to the tenant and how it is going to be determined. Will he justify the use of the word "lesser" where I suggest it might be "higher"?

I know his argument is going to be that we must get them as cheaply as possible so the word "higher" is out. But it still has to be justified as to why you are selling relatively new houses and leaving the local authorities still with an undischarged debt. Have we included in this formula all that should have been included, or are we going to make the house even cheaper and leave a greater debt with the local authority? The local authority still has to pay the debt. It still has to pay the charges on this house. It is not getting away with anything. I beg to move.


My Lords, this amendment would have the effect of preventing the sale of any house first let after 15th May 1975, even at full market value, where the outstanding debt on the house was greater than the house's market value. One would hope that the number of cases in which local authorities have spent more money on providing houses than they are actually worth when they are completed was small, but where that has occurred it would be quite wrong to ask tenants to pay more for their home than anyone else would pay for it. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, asked in effect whether such costs as the provision of services and the preparation of the site come into the computation. The answer is that they are included as part of the cost of erection of the house.

The noble Lord has spoken in the past, I think, about the losses which could arise in selling but the losses which so arise would be less than those arising from the alternative course of renting these particular houses at rents which would meet only a fraction of the costs, even before a significant proportion of the rent has been diverted to meet management and maintenance costs. The sale of these houses will not recoup the full cost of providing the house but, once houses have been built for more than their value, nothing will do that. The best that can be achieved then is to minimise the loss. The balance of outstanding debt will, in any event, be covered by the profits from the sale of older houses so that overall losses will not occur. However, the basic point is that it is totally unreasonable to ask anyone to pay more for their house than that house is worth and I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that.


My Lords, I appreciate that; but if the cost is too high one can always say, "No, I do not want it". He can appeal to the Land Tribunal and all the rest of it. But the noble Earl still has not justified why this formula should apply to houses built after 15th May 1975. We all know that was the period of the takeover from the housing authorities when the county council was a housing authority and small and large boroughs were all housing authorities, but why is there a different formula in respect of that? Can he spell out why this formula for these houses—which will apply to any house that is built as from this moment as well— should be different from what applies to houses built before 15th May 1975?


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I really do not think I can help the House any further. There is nothing magical about this formula. All this part of the clause says is that the price fixed under subsection (5) shall not be less than one of two figures and that the lesser shall prevail. I do not think there is anything untoward about that.


My Lords, there is nothing untoward about it, but why should it apply to a house built after 15th May 1975 and not to on built in, say, 1974, 1973, 1972 or 1971? I hope the noble Earl appreciates that every local authority house built since 1945 has still got an outstanding debt, and the earlier it started the lower the outstanding debt, unless very considerable sums of money have been spent on it for modernisation. In the case of some houses, more has been spent on modernisation than the original cost of the house. Why 15th May 1975? Quite apart from the fact that that marked the takeover of the new authorities, there must be some justification and reason why all these discount formulas and the rest of it—which are not easy to understand and very difficult to justify—should apply to every other house, but for those built after that date there is an additional consideration coming into it. All I want to know is, Why?


My Lords, it is a matter of convenience. As the noble Lord has said, 15th May 1975 is a very significant date in Scottish housing history. The older the house, the more difficult it is to trace the records prior to 1975. That is the simple answer.


My Lords, it is not difficult to trace the record because all the records were handed over, and indeed all the subsidies paid by the Government prior to that were related to the individual houses. So that is not the answer; there must be some other reason. However, I have sought enlightenment and have not got it. It is going to prove troublesome to some of the tenants, perhaps in adjoining houses, as to why formulas apply to them and not to other people. When they come to me and when they come to Members of Parliament, we usually have an answer to give them because it has been provided by the Scottish Office. If they come to me on this matter I shall not be in any position at all to justify what the Government are doing, because we are told it is just a matter of convenience. With all due respect, it is more than just a matter of convenience. There must be a practical reason behind it, and that is not it. I do not think we shall get any further forward. I still hope for better things and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.37 p.m.

Lord LYELL moved Amendments Nos. 10 and 11: Page 4, line 39, after ("Wales") insert (",or for the purposes of the statutory predecessors of any such board") line 46, leave out ("is") and insert ("was at the material time").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it will be for the convenience of the House if I speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 together. Both are purely minor drafting amendments. If I may deal first with Amendment No. 10, this is proposed in order to eliminate any doubt as to whether the reference to the statutory precedessors at the end of the subsection applies to the health boards in England, Scotland and Wales or, alternatively, only to those in Northern Ireland. Clearly it was always intended that the reference should apply to all United Kingdom health boards. The amendment is proposed to remove any doubt on that score.

Amendment No. 11, as I said, is again a drafting amendment and it is intended simply to clarify that the condition as to the use of the house should apply not to the time when the application for discount is actually lodged but to the time in respect of which the discount is claimed; in other words, it is the beginning of the period when the house was occupied and not the date when the application was lodged. Obviously the latter is the relevant time, and this is the time in respect of which discount is claimed Obviously this is the relevant time, and it is desirable that this point should be made clear in the drafting of the provision. The change reflects a number of parallel amendments made to other parts of this subsection at an earlier stage in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.


My Lords, I do not think these amendments really go together, apart from the fact that they are drafting amendments. They are not on the same point at all. I just wonder whether the Government have gone far enough in respect of putting in the question of the change of the statutory predecessors. I gather that at the present time we are in the course of reorganising the health service in England and Wales. Might we not be advised to put in "successors" as well as "predecessors" and then we shall have covered the point for just a little longer?


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I had hoped that the amendments were relatively clear. I would think that the fact that the health service is being reorganised in England and Wales at present has nothing to do with this amendment. But we will check what the noble Lord has said and come back to it on Third Reading, if there is any matter of substance.


My Lords, since Wales has been mentioned, I had better ask a question. I have read paragraph (n) very carefully—it needs careful reading to get the semantics right, never mind the law—and it refers to the dwelling-house being used at the material time for the purposes of the Forestry Commission. Having seen these lovely Forestry Commission houses in Scotland and in parts of Wales, how far—and I hope that the Minister can get the leave of the House to reply—do the Government think this is a wise policy, when we want to develop our forestry, to get rid of Forestry Commission houses in a time of mass unemployment? What will happen if these houses are sold off and new foresters want jobs in the area? It is only a simple point.


My Lords, I do not need to ask the leave of the House, because I am breaking my silence so far as this amendment is concerned. As regards the Forestry Commission, the paragraph does not give anybody the right to buy a house. What it does is to give those persons who inhabit Forestry Commission houses, if I may so call them, the right to count that period as qualifying towards the three years at the time when after inhabiting a Forestry Commission house, they are allocated a house in the public sector and want to buy that. The noble Lord asked about the wisdom of including Forestry Commission houses in paragraph (n). The Bill did not originally include them, but in another place the Government and the Opposition colluded on this matter and it was felt on all sides that it would be right and proper for Forestry Commission houses to be included.

4.43 p.m.

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 12: Page 4, line 47 at end insert— ("(m) The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment arises out of a suggestion that was made by, I think, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, in Committee when, having looked at this long list—which no doubt mystified my noble friend who is looking after the interests of Wales, with a certain measure of success—it was felt, having included the Scottish Special Housing Association, police authorities in Scotland, fire authorities in the United Kingdom, water authorities in Scotland, England and Wales, the Secretary of State, the Home Office or the Northern Ireland Office, in respect of the prison service, that in his part of the world there were a considerable number of people who had been attracted or brought to the North of Scotland to work at Dounreay, where houses were provided for them by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which is known locally as the "Atomics".

What if they change their job? What if they are made redundant? What if they retire? They are presently living in tied houses in the same way as Forestry Commission employees. Surely we should provide that their occupation of those houses while in service should equally entitle them to this right to purchase a local authority house, always provided that the local authority allocate them a house, which I gather is the practice there. It is a simple amendment. The noble Earl said that in another place they had added the Forestry Commission. Let us be devils here. Let us add the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, I should very much like to plead with the noble Earl to open his noble heart and, for very practical reasons, to accept this amendment. The "Atomics", as they are affectionately known, have a very valuable population who have come to Scotland to work at highly skilled jobs. They are a great asset to Thurso and it would be foolish of us, thinking in terms of the skill of the Scottish population, not to make it as attractive as possible for them to stay in Scotland, if they leave Dounreay or retire. The point is that there is an extremely valuable population in Scotland. It would he very foolish not to accord them the same rights as people who work for the Forestry Commission and the other bodies in that long list. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to concede this point and make himself extremely popular.


My Lords, one noble Lord invites me to be devilish and the other to open up my heart, but I am afraid that it must remain good and closed for reasons to which I shall come. This amendment is very similar to one which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, raised in Committee, when he sought to insert a reference to certain civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence into the list of bodies whose former tenants can count their past tenancy as qualifying time for discount. Certain noble Lords have already commented on the length of the list, and we have already shown that we have been very generous in drawing it up. In the course of the Bill's consideration through Parliament, we have accepted amendments which have added health board and Forestry Commission employees to the beneficiaries of this provision. These represented some blurring of the lines of the limits placed on the list of bodies, which was originally comprised of housing authorities, local authorities in their various other guises and two special categories of Government employees—prison officers and servicemen.

We made it clear, in accepting the two additions to the list which I have mentioned, that we could not agree to a general extension of the list. One of the reasons for taking this view is the problem of consistency, and it is one which is of particular relevance to this amendment. There are innumerable bodies which have the same kind of indirect relationship with central Government as the Atomic Energy Authority, and we feel that it would be wrong to single out one of them, as this amendment would, for special treatment. It is also important to recognise that the common feature of the bodies listed in subsection (10) of Clause 1 is that they provide direct services to the community, in a way which the Atomic Energy Authority does not.

Having said all that, I appreciate that the Forestry Commission is an exception to this rule. The Government thought long and hard before it was included in the Bill, at the behest of the Opposition. But it was made abundantly clear in the other place that this was a special case which would not be accepted as a precedent for further additions. So I feel, in a way, a sense of regret about this. I think it shows that if one starts being inconsistent in a Bill such as this, the invitations to be yet more inconsistent come pressing in. But I do not think that is any excuse for not resisting them.


My Lords, if there was ever a case for including anyone in the Bill, and adding to this list, it is here. The noble Earl mentioned the point that I made and the amendment that I put down in Committee. I think he knows me well enough to realise that, rather than he out of order and drag in this particular group of people and talk about their particular problem, I felt it right to put down an amendment. There is no comparison between people who have been residing in Ministry of Defence houses since the start of the last war and the position of the United Kingdom Atomic Authority.

For all practical purposes, these houses are the same as local authority houses. But they are tied houses. We attracted people up there by promising them a house, and they serve the community directly. We in Scotland have been very proud of their service and their achieve- ments. Now we are told that we cannot give them a measure of security when they retire or when possibly, although not hopefully, they are made redundant. If they have to leave these houses and get one from a local authority, they will be denied the right to carry forward their occupation so as to give them the right to buy a house after three years.

I think that what the Government are doing is a bit unfair. A Government should never say "never". I remember one person, now a noble Lord, who did say "never" and who regretted it because what he said would never happen eventually did happen. I appreciate the difficulties which have been raised by the generosity of a Minister in another place. Although we in this House are convinced that it is right and although the Minister has said he has some sympathy for us, we have reached the point where we cannot have that sympathy translated into action. It is regrettable. However, I do not propose to take this amendment to a Division. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.52 p.m.

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 13: Page 5, line 10, after ("dwelling-house") insert— (";(c) where a dwelling-house 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 Lord said: My Lords, this is probably the most important amendment that we shall be dealing with. These words will be familiar to every noble Lord in the House, for, at the instance of the House and against the advice of the Government, they were put into the English Housing Bill. On all sides of the House—on the Bishops' Benches, on the Labour Benches, on the independent Benches and on the Conservative Benches—it was felt that the statutory duty that is placed upon local authorities that bears most heavily upon them and that must be met is that which obliges them to look after the proper housing of old people.

This realisation is as strong in Scotland as it is in England and Wales. It is probably even greater in Scotland because of our greater reliance upon local authority housing. We have to remember the reason for that. It was the extent of the slums in the cities of Scotland. We have the unenviable reputation of having the worst housing in the whole of Europe. One of the curses of that was the small house, so in the early days there was a reluctance on the part of local authorities to build small houses. However, as the years went on it was appreciated that because people were living longer, as a result of the benefits of the National Health Service and changes in life-style, the pressure of people of pensionable age upon local authorities to provide the right kind of house was becoming greater and greater.

That is why I say that this is the most important amendment with which we shall be dealing. It is a test of the credibility of your Lordships' House. It is a test of the judgment of your Lordships' House as between the need in England and the need in Scotland. I am sorry that the House is not full. Many Members will be coming in to vote, but they will not know what they are voting about and it may well be that they will do irreparable damage to the party that they presume to support.

There is nothing about which the Scots are more sensitive at present than whether the Government are responsive to the needs of Scotland. This was part of the argument for devolution. If we had had devolution we should not have been dealing with the Bill here; we should have been dealing with it in Edinburgh. Furthermore, we should probably not have been dealing with this Bill. It would have been a very different Bill.

I hope that the Minister realises, from his party's point of view, the importance of the test of the credibility of the Lords and the credibility of the responsiveness of the Government to the needs of Scotland. They have already responded to the needs of England and Wales. This was shown by the amendment which, on a Division, was carried by a majority of over 35. It was an overwhelming majority, not a narrow one. The feeling in your Lordships' House was that we should handle the question of houses for pensioners in a particular way, and differently from the rest.

I do not know whether the noble Earl realises that what has been happening for quite a number of years now, at the instance of the Scottish Office, is that, quite apart from sheltered accommodation, local authorities have been building houses for single pensioners or pensioner couples. These people are living independent lives but they do so in houses which have been specially built for them and which have been specially allocated to them. I know dozens of them. I know groups of houses in Kilmarnock, in Ayr and in Galston Newmilns which have been built by the local authority and which have been allocated to pensioners. The question is whether we should allow these houses to be sold at a time when the pressure is becoming even greater to put into these houses people of pensionable age.

I could quote statistics from every part of Scotland about the inadequacy of the availability of such houses. The inadequacies are staggering. Yet local authorities are faced with the possibility of that inadequate stock being further reduced, and further reduced at a time when the Government are saying, "No, we will not allow you to build"—for good reasons or for bad—"because of the current financial situation." We are cutting capital costs and we are cutting the allocations to local authorities in respect of building all houses—even houses of this type.

I take this seriously. Elderly people are occupying houses that young people are waiting for. The Government may argue that these houses which are occupied by the elderly are not going to be available for reletting for some time, so they might as well sell them. With all due respect, these are the houses which do become available for reletting. The people are old. If, for example, it is an old couple and the wife dies, what happens to the elderly husband? The chances are that he goes to live with some other member of the family. The turnover of houses which are let is about 5 per cent. a year, but in respect of these houses it is higher. And they are very desirable houses. Young couples would like them to start a family in, but it would be wrong to allow young people to buy their way into these houses when people of pensionable age are anxious to get them. Let us consider what will happen if they do not get these houses. If they are living in a multi-storey block of flats, they will finish up in an old people's home, and that would cost the local authorities even more.

I want your Lordships' House to show the same sensitive appreciation of the problems of the elderly and of the problems of local authorities in meeting this need. Let us not be told that they are a burden on the taxpayer. When we talk about tenants we are talking about people. We owe something to people of pensionable age. We cannot always give them the pension that they would like, but we should so far as possible retain the stock of specially built houses which have been allocated to them. The only way to deal with the situation is to make them an exception to the general rule.

In actual fact in Scotland, if we take all categories of people who are in local authority housing, we find the largest category consists of people of pensionable age; and their needs are growing because the numbers of old people are growing. Let us be thankful for the fact that they live longer, but if we place the responsibility on the local authority for housing them adequately we must look after the stock of houses that we have at the moment, which is already inadequate. We should not make it worse by envisaging the possibility of their being sold up to relieve the burden of the taxpayer; that makes worse the position of the most deserving people in the community. I beg to move.


My Lords, I agree wholly with my noble friend (in this case) Lord Ross of Marnock. This is the most important amendment and I cannot understand why a Conservative Government should be so doctrinaire about the selling of houses built specially for old people. As the noble Lord has said, it is a fact that the turnover there is inevitable as the houses are much sought after. The arguments which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has adduced previously for selling houses cannot possibly apply in the case of retired people living in a specially built house. If they had been going to buy a house they would have bought it long before, if they had been able to; and, my goodness! the discounts one would need to give before they were able to buy their specially adapted house would be enormous. It is wholly illogical in both rural and urban societies to sell the stock of old people's specially adapted rented houses.

There are cases all over Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, cited Kilmarnock and Galston; I can cite many other places in other parts of Scotland. In the agricultural community it is especially important that this stock of houses is retained. The old County of Angus had an especially good policy in that they realised that the tied house was necessary in agriculture but that they had to provide retirement houses for farm workers. As a result, in Angus farm workers will move from a council house to a tied house because they know that there are retirement houses available for them when they retire.

So this amendment is not only logical from the point of view of humanity in all circumstances but in the case of the agricultural community it is absolutely vital that these houses should not be dispersed. I repeat, because it is very important, what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said: they are very attractive for a young couple. What could be better? If old couples do buy them it really can only be to pass on to their heirs and thereby reduce the stock available. I ask the Minister to think again about this. It must be logical. Having accepted it in the Housing Bill in England, it is even more important that it should be accepted in Scotland, and I implore him to think again about his attitude to the sale of specially adapted houses for old people.


My Lords, I fully expected the Minister to have circumvented a debate on this particular amendment this afternoon. I thought he would readily agree to accept it and I still hope that he will. I hope that he is going to give us all a very pleasant surprise this afternoon. I spent almost 40 years in the service of the Glasgow Corporation and the housing policy of that corporation throughout the whole of that period was—and still is—a desire to transfer widows or widowers from larger houses, far larger than are necessary for their actual needs, to houses which have been specially constructed for single persons' needs or for two persons. Now we are proposing to remove from the stock of local authorities these particular houses. It is obvious that in this amendment we are referring to houses which have been specially built or adapted for old-age pensioners. If people are over 65 when they move into these houses, they will immediately be allowed to purchase these houses. Can the noble Earl tell the House what advantage can accrue to a person of 65 if he has the carrot of the discount dangled before him, to acquire a house and become a house owner at that age? Kind-hearted people being looked after by their kith and kin will be tempted to buy the house not for their own period of occupation but for the benefit of their much younger relatives.

So in the first place the policy of a local authority, which is geared to trying to cater to a greater degree for the needs of over-crowded families by putting them into larger houses and transferring old people to houses which have been specially created for them, will be completely nullified because it will lose opportunities of doing that very necessary and humanitarian action. So we shall have an old person of 65 or 70 tempted to buy a house with a discount of £4,500. He lives in it for a few years. Can that house be sold or must there be a wait of five years? I do not know, but that is a side issue. The main issue is this. We have some beautiful houses in Glasgow, specially built for these people. Are they to be sold to the old-age pensioners at a further discount? A non-handicapped person would say, "I don't want the handrail here and I don't want the toilet there and I don't want this other facility"—which the local authority has spent so much money on providing. As a matter of fact, they will have to get a special allowance because the special accoutrements in the house will not be wanted. They will have to get a reduction because these houses are not for people who are young and healthy and do not want these special fittings. I am quite sure that nobody can justify this.

When I used to do my surgery for over 40 years in the Shettleston area of Glasgow a number of people came to see me, who were mostly young, asking me to try to help their parents to be transferred to one of our specially adapted houses for old people. Ninety per cent. of the cases that I dealt with over that long period were of that type. Yet now we are going to undo all this humanitarian work that the local authorities have done over the years. Unless the Minister can show what advantage an old-age pensioner obtains by purchasing his house after the age of 65, I think he can do nothing else but rise—as I am sure he will rise; and judging by the sympathy which he so earnestly expresses, I am sure his speech is going to be very short—simply to say to a delighted House, "I accept the amendment".

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I should like to make an appeal to the Government on this amendment. In some ways the Scottish Bill is rather more advanced than the Bill for England and Wales which has been going through the House. I refer particularly to doing away with residential requirements and allowing people of over 18 to go on the housing list. But I think the Bill will be not at all as advanced as the England and Wales Bill if this amendment is not accepted. This amendment preserves houses specially built or adapted for occupation by persons of pensionable age. This is not asking for complete carte blanche for all houses where old people are living; it is asking that dwelling-houses designed or specially adapted to make them suitable for occupation by elderly people should be exempted. If this is not accepted, so far as I can see there is not even a clause in this Bill for pre-emption, for buying back. So it will in fact be a great deal worse than the other Bill if this amendment is not accepted.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness turn her attention to Clause 4(4) of the Bill? I recognise the fact that an amendment in these terms was recently incorporated into the Housing Bill by your Lordships' House against the advice of the Government. This gives our discussions perhaps an unusual background, but I hope your Lordships will bear with me while I explain the Government's views in the context of this Bill, bearing in mind that this Bill and the Housing Bill have differed in a number of respects, of which this is one, since they were published, and have reached your Lordships' House in different forms.

There is an argument, and I think a very strong argument, as to why this amendment is misconceived and badly drafted. I am going to draw your Lordships' attention to what I consider to be the salient points which justify those allegations. I do not normally make a point of challenging defects of drafting in Opposition amendments; I was in Opposition myself, and have always realised that it is the principle behind the amendment which is of concern and not the form of the drafting. But on this occasion I must go behind the principle and give some reason for, as it were, attacking the drafting of this amendment before I pass on to matters of principle.

I must distinguish between drafting defects and technical defects. The latter can easily be put right when a Bill comes to be considered further. But serious defects in the way that an amendment is drafted, particularly when one realises how late is the stage at which we are considering the amendment, may pose very considerable difficulties, and they are all the more difficult when one considers that the legislation will, if put into operation, reflect the wishes of Parliament. When we considered the matter in Committee I made the point that the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities had requested that whatever conclusions Parliament came to on this precise point the Bill should be unambiguously drafted, and for that reason I stressed, and I stress again, that particularly painstaking efforts had been made to achieve a clear and precise set of provisions on houses for the elderly, and indeed for the disabled, which we considered at an earlier stage.

Unsatisfactory drafting in this connection is not a matter of technicalities or semantic nitpicking. We have been told of the duties of this House and the appearance which it will give, particularly as it deliberates over this amendment. But the House has the right to know precisely what it is that the Opposition and those who support it intend. I know, but I do not believe that the Houes realises, that there is a vast potential gap between the professed intention of this amendment and its possible effects.

Before I go further I must remind the House that we are not dealing here with legislation which can be expected to be implemented in accordance with Parliament's intention. I have to say this. There are various local authorities in Scotland, who are landlords to over half of those living in the public rented sector, who have already got together, and they have quite publicly announced their intention of devising ways of frustrating Parliament's intentions, and in particular, in as many cases as possible, of denying tenants the opportunity to buy their homes.

So far as I am aware—and I am looking at the noble Baroness, Lady David—I do not believe that local authorities in England and Wales have taken such a public stance on this matter, nor have they organised themselves into a group to plan what is, in effect, defiance of the law. For this reason, if for no other reason, I believe it is imperative that we look at the legislation for Scotland in a different light from that in which your Lordships considered the Housing Bill. We do the House no service if we agree to an amendment which, whether or not it is well intentioned, while professing to improve the Bill in fact has the opposite effect.

I should like to turn to some details in the amendment which I believe could allow literally hundreds of thousands of tenants to be denied the right to buy their own home. First, the amendment does not require that a house should be substantially adapted for occupation by the elderly, so that, as I explained in Committee, a house could be excluded from the right to buy because of insignificant features, such as a grab rail in the bathroom or a handrail on internal or external stairs. Such features will not only occur in houses which do not genuinely fall into the category of special needs housing, but could well be installed in any house, at minimal cost, by authorities bent on frustrating the purposes of this legislation.

Secondly, the assertion that houses are "designed" for the elderly could be made in relation to all houses of one or two apartments, certainly, and possibly to some two-bedroom houses. It is a matter of fact that many local authorities do reserve their small houses and flats exclusively for the elderly, and it would be open to those who do not do so to change their allocation policy for the purpose of exploiting this provision. Your Lordships should not be misled into thinking that we are talking of a small number of houses. Fifteen per cent. of the public sector housing stock is one or two apartment housing. In addition, we must recognise that one-bedroom housing is not always what elderly people want or need. If we consider the possibility that some two-bedroom housing would come within the terms of this amendment we are opening up a potential addition of sonic 460,000 two-bedroom houses in the public sector, thus denying up to a half of public sector tenants the right which this Bill seeks to confer on them.

Thirdly, it is extremely important to note that this exclusion does not confine itself to houses actually let to the elderly, but also extends to those, which it is the practice of the landlord to let to the elderly. I ask your Lordships to consider very carefully what that could mean. Certainly it would include any house which had been let to an elderly person in the years prior to a recent allocation to another type of household. It must often be the case that elderly people live for 10 or 20 years of their pensionable age in a house which they were allocated years before, perhaps when they had children, and that they are succeeded by a young family with children. So, the tenant of a house in which the previous tenant was fortunate enough to enjoy his old age at length would not be safe from exclusion from the right to buy.

I have spoken about the drafting at considersble length because I genuinely believe that any house could be excluded from the right to buy by a landlord determined to frustrate this legislation. I do not believe that I am being alarmist, given the stance taken by some local authorities in Scotland, when I suggest the possibility that an authority might install a grab rail in the bathroom of every house in its stock within a very short period but, even without an authority taking such steps, I invite your Lordships to consider the scope which this amendment opens up: every house with the most insignificant feature which could be regarded as being for the needs of the elderly; one-bedroom houses and an unpredictable number of two bedroom-houses; and any house which is either occupied by an elderly person or was occupied by one before the existing tenant took over.

Let us pause for a second to consider the task which the courts will have to bring to bear if they are asked, as indeed they will be, to pronounce on an amendment of this nature. If the amendment is accepted I believe that it will be used to exclude very large numbers of houses which have no genuine connection with special provisions for the elderly and that large numbers of tenants to whom Parliament intended to give the right to buy will be cheated of that right.

I should like to sum up the effects, as I see them, of this amendment if it were agreed to by your Lordships. First, it would exclude houses which are only minimally adapted—in other words, a grab rail in the bathroom. Secondly, it would be possible for authorities to attempt to argue that houses were specially designed, in the words of the amendment for occupation by persons of pensionable age", simply on the grounds that they consisted of only one or two apartments. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, touched on this matter when talking about stocks in Angus. It would exclude by my computation, 130,000 houses or about 15 per cent. of the public sector stock.

Thirdly, it would apply to houses not actually let to elderly people if a house currently let to another type of household had previously been let for a considerable time to elderly people. So, one thing is certain—namely, that without very much need for ingenuity by local authorities the amendment could be used to deny every tenant of pensionable age the right to buy. Here we reach one of the irreconcilable conflicts between the Government and at least the Labour Opposition. The Opposition wish to deny every tenant the right to buy or, failing that, to deny it to every particular group of tenants, such as the elderly in this context, which can be indentified. We wish, on the other hand, to give every public sector tenant the right to buy unless there are compelling reasons for not doing so and, quite simply, we believe that the elderly should have the same right to buy as everyone else unless the community has an interest which clearly outweighs the case for giving them that right.

The Opposition—and it was exemplified by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Galpern—have suggested—


My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves the question of the drafting—and he has obviously looked into the matter—can he say whether a clause could be drafted which would make the matter watertight so that only the houses which we all know are intended for old people could be excluded?


My Lords, I am coming to the effect. Nobody who has spoken to the amendment has actually said what the Bill says. Everyone has said in a rather vague way what they would like to see. However, I am coming to that matter. As I was saying, the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, exemplified the attitude of the Opposition on this matter when he said: "What do the old people want a home of their own for?" That is an attitude which we certainly do not accept.

Some elderly people may very well not want to buy their homes, especially those infirm enough to require special housing needs. They will not buy and that is one of the reasons which leads us to believe that fears of some sort of massive depletion of the stock of genuine special needs housing are misplaced. Equally, we believe that there will be elderly people who will want to buy, who have saved up during their lives and who will have the means to buy. There are many hale and hearty elderly people who can expect to live for another 10 or 20 years in their existing homes, and surely they have the same right to the security and independence which we associate with home ownership.

I am coming to the end of my remarks, but I promised the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that I would briefly remind your Lordships of what the Bill says and how we think that, as it stands, it is quite satisfactory and fair both to tenants and to the public. There are three types of tenant in different types of housing. Clause 1(11)(c) states: a dwelling-house is one of a group which has been provided with facilities (including a call system and the services of a warden)". There is no right to buy in that respect and we feel that that is as it should be. I do not think that anybody would complain about that.

We then have the situation in Clause 4(4) to which I directed the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady David, where, unlike the proposals for the English Bill—if I may so call it—it speaks of: a dwelling-house which has facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house and which has been designed or adapted for…an elderly or disabled person whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house". That gets over the drafting point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. It is well-drafted and I point out that my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate is sitting behind me. In that instance there is a right of pre-emption and it is not—as was proposed in, I think, Amendment No. 23 to the Housing Bill—limited to 10 years.

I should like to make a few comments on the right of pre-emption. The English —and I speak as a Scot who quite happily made his living for some years at the English bar—because of their conveyancing system and their law of real property and restrictive covenants, have never taken to the right of pre-emption. Restrictive covenants do not sit easily on English real property. There is a quite genuine mistrust of such things. In Scotland, with our system of land tenure, we have, until very recently, always had a right of pre-emption which was thoroughly understood and generally speaking accepted.

So, we have here a safeguard that where we have houses that fit into subsection (4), which are genuine houses for the elderly then the right of pre-emption comes in and the local authority can exercise that right in due course if it wishes to do so, either when elderly person dies or when he wishes to dispose of the house that he has bought.

Thirdly, we have the remainder of the houses where there are no special facilities, where there are no particular reasons why the tenant should not exercise the right to buy in the way that is given to every other tenant under the terms of the Bill. I hope—I am afraid at very considerable length—that I have explained, first, the reasons why this amendment does not commend itself to the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said that he could not understand why the Government were being so doctrinaire. It is not the Government being doctrinaire; with respect, it is the Labour Opposition who are being so doctrinaire that they do not want tenants to have this right—and, perfectly genuinely, they are entitled to their point of view—and are determined to frustrate, insofar as they can, any move to allow tenants to exercise this right, as I have tried to illustrate. I know that nothing that I say will shake the noble Lords opposite and I do not expect it to do so, but I hope that what I have said has gone a little way to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and those on the Liberal Benches.

For the reasons which I have given, this amendment is misconceived, badly drafted and, in effect, designed to frustrate the wishes which lie behind the general principle of the Bill—in other words, except where it is plainly against the public interest, that tenants should be given the right to buy. It is for those reasons that, if it comes to it and the noble Lord, Lord Ross, forces the matter to a Division, I hope that the House will support the Government on this amendment.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down and as he has been anxious to reassure both my friends and myself, I believe that Clause 4(4) does not quite cover the case, in that there also appears to be some doubt there when it says: …except in the case of a dwelling-house which has facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house and which has been designed or adapted for occupation…". One could say that a small house, or sections of small houses, which had been so used had not been specially adapted. It appears that this leaves a little doubt as well, and arguments could be adduced to say that these houses, except in respect of size, had not been specially adapted.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is asking me whether a house, merely because it happens to be a little house, ipso facto, comes under Clause 4(4), I must tell him that the answer is, No, of course it does not; although one can easily envisage the circumstances in which a little house would be specially designed for the needs of the elderly.


My Lords, I should like to raise the same point as that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. I fail to see the difference between the wording of Clause 4(4) and the amendment that we are moving. The Minister made great play of the difficulty to establish how a house is specially designed. Would he care to undertake to give us some indication how this clause would not allow as wide an interpretation as the amendment allows as to the kind of house that has been specially designed for elderly people?


My Lords, I am asking leave of the House because I really had resumed my seat. Two totally different types of housing stock are envisaged by the amendment and by what is in Clause 4(4). I have tried to illustrate the difference between the two types of housing stock, and I am trying to say that almost any house, with the addition of minor alterations, would fall within the scope of the amendment, and that is by no means true of Clause 4(4).


My Lords, I have listened carefully to what has been said and despite the efforts of everyone to make the acoustics in this Chamber clear—it is not the fault of any of our staff; it is our difficulty—I apologise for not having heard some of the argument. The noble Earl's argument was so meticulous that it needed following. Is the noble Earl saying that Clause 4(4) wishes to make it quite certain that: …an elderly or disabled person whose special needs require accommodation of the kind provided by the dwelling-house will be exempt and will not be able to buy? The noble Earl says, No.

Secondly, like the old classical giants of ages gone by, the noble Earl has been very carefully piling Pelion on Ossa. This is the first time in all my years in Parliament that I have heard a Minister hang on to an amendment that has been badly drafted. The brilliance of the draftsmen in their serried ranks is behind the Government and the spirit of our amendment is not to socialise the losses and privatise the profits, but to do what the amendment is saying is bad semantics and bad drafting. If the Government really want to support us, why do they not courageously say that they will put this right and not worry us by pushing us all away further down in the Bill. I do not believe that the noble Earl has made the argument clear, but I apologise in case I have missed some of his meticulous argument due to the acoustics. The noble Earl is a kindly gentleman and I am upset because he does not like the argument which his officials have pushed onto his piece of paper.


My Lords, again with even more leave of the House, I know that I have a thin voice and that I am not always easily heard, but the only provision which Clause 4(4) makes in respect of this type of housing is that it gives a right of pre-emption to the local authority—to the landlord—once the elderly person comes to dispose of the house. That is all that Clause 4(4) says. When I said that I attacked the drafting of this particular amendment, I tried to say at the beginning of my remarks (and obviously failed to get over, either through the acoustics or my bad advocacy to the noble Lord) that I was not in a nit-picking way attacking the technical drafting of the amendment; I was attacking it because it was misconceived; that, in fact, it would prove—who am Ito say it?— a field-day for the lawyers. It would provide a great deal of difficulty for the courts in interpreting such legislation if it came to be put onto the statute book; but much more especially it would give those local authorities which wish to evade the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act, and which wish to frustrate the will of Parliament, a gateway through which to drive a coach and horses through the Bill. That is why I said that the amendment was badly drafted.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, perhaps I could ask the Minister a question. Would he not say that the words "substantially different" in line 10 of Clause 4(4) would equally give the lawyers a field day?


My Lords, I am sorry, but I think it is plain English. The words, "substantially different", in that connection are perfectly easy to understand and, if I may say so, I do not think that a local authority would try it on. I do not think I ought to stand here answering questions much longer.


My Lords, I must apologise because I did not hear the amendment moved as I was attending another meeting in the Parliament building. However, I have heard the Minister's replies. Frankly, I am amazed. I may be a simple soul, but perhaps the noble Earl would explain matters to me. If one leaves out the reference to being one of a group, one finds three phrases: a dwelling-house specially designed or adapted for the needs of elderly or disabled persons". That is to be found in the Bill. In the amendment it says: dwelling-house…designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age…". There is not a great deal of difference. Then in Clause 4(4) it says: dwelling-house…which has been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly or disabled person…". I am certain that almost every noble Lord in this building will say, "Just a moment, these three are almost all the same". The noble Earl laughs; it would not be beyond the wit of the draftsman on Third Reading to put the position right. The only extra thing we have is: …the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age". I should have thought that that was a safeguard for the Government; that it must be the practice that the authority does this. If the Government's argument is that because there are likely to be recalcitrant local authorities in Scotland, whereas it does not matter for us in England, then that seems to me to be a very weak argument.

Finally, is there not something in Clause 3 about the appeal to the Lands Tribunal of the refusal of a landlord? Do not the Government put some stake on that provision? If not, why have it there?

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am very disappointed indeed that the Government arguments, in their desparation here to refuse to do something in Scotland which this House has told them to do in England, are so weak. The drafting! The noble Earl's words were that there were drafting difficulties and technical defects. If they are defects in Scotland, they are equally defects in England. This is the amendment that was moved and accepted and put into the English Housing Bill with the overwhelming support of noble Lords on all sides.

If there are drafting defects and technical defects, they are there in the English Bill. But, No, we cannot have them in the Scottish Bill. Why? The noble Earl said that the amendment was ill-conceived, badly drafted, and calculated deliberately to frustrate the will of Parliament. I drafted the amendment. So he is telling me that I put these words in deliberately to frustrate the will of Parliament in relation to the main principle. He has imputed a motive. What right has he to do that? What proof has he that that was my motive? Where is there anything I have said on Second Reading, Committee stage or Report stage to suggest that I have not accepted the main principles in respect of this Bill, and that I will invite people to act illegally and unlawfully? He has no right whatever.

One of the great weaknesses of the noble Earl as a Minister is that he jumps to motives, and tries to terrify your Lordships' House in respect of what is going to happen with local authorities in Scotland. He will remember the discussions we had on Clause 7—and Clause 7 is the one that matters—where the duties of the landlord are spelled out and the safeguards for the tenant, and the right, which the Government accept, to come and intervene at the right time. They are all there. I asked him to spell them out. He seemed to think that I was seeking to frustrate him by letting the people of Scotland know that the Government were determined to see this thing through. He could not even see that I was trying to help the Government. He again imputed a motive.

His motives are unworthy of him. What was it he talked about in respect of virtue? He should be careful what he says about his family crest from one amendment to another. A part of his virtue is to impute unworthy motives to people who sit on the other side of the House. Might I suggest that he should think again and watch his words carefully. I already said that he proved the master of the infelicitous phrase. I underline it. He is not improving as we go along. Well, I still hope for better things.

Let us get back to this. I said earlier when I moved this amendment that the credibility of this Parliament, of this House, is at stake, and the credibility of that party is at stake where they are prepared to do something for England and deny it to Scotland. The Government may have a mandate for this Bill in England; they have no mandate for it in Scotland. But, against their will, the House of Lords has put these words into the English Bill. I can assure him that these words would be welcomed in Scotland.

He tells us that the drafting is bad. Let us look at it. When I said that I drafted the amendment, I put my name to it. I lifted it. It is the actual amendment that was put down for England and Wales and accepted by your Lordships' House. I remember the arguments that were put. They were exactly the same as to why your Lordships should not do it, because it was an opening, and there were going to be 100,000 or 200,000 houses involved.

Let us look at what the Government have already got in, and he says, "We have done things so well". There are 50,000 people in Glasgow alone waiting for an elderly person's house. Fifty thousand! The Scottish Office has laid down that there should be 50 per 1,000 of the population houses specially built and designed sheltered houses for the elderly in Scotland. How many are there? Over the whole of Scotland 11 per 1,000. Totally inadequate. That is the sheltered housing. When he adds to the sheltered housing all the things he has in Clause 1(2)(c) about call systems and wardens, I spoke to him about a group of houses in Kilmarnock. Has he checked up whether they are in or out?—because it would be an absolute shame if these houses are out. Has he checked up on the Glebe Centre in Kilmarnock where a local authority has built houses within a centre where the mentally handicapped go? Where people coming out of a mental hospital go for a short item? I doubt whether there is a warden there—so they will be out; they can be sold.

He does not appreciate that over the years local authorities have accepted their responsibility and built to meet the needs. They have built to meet the needs of elderly people for houses that are specially designed. I can take him to them in different parts of Scotland. They are building a large housing scheme. They took a particular area and said, "This is a quiet area. These are houses which we will allocate to people of pensionable age".

The noble Earl intervened on a question from, I think, my noble friend Lord Galpern, or perhaps somebody else, to say that Clause 4(4)—that is, just putting in the adaptations that were very simple—would meet this. My recognition of the courts in Scotland is that they will look at the word, "substantially", and not be satisfied with minor adaptations. The trouble about his two places where he thinks that this situation is covered is that the sheltered housing one is far too restricted and will cover very few houses. The other one is equally restricted. What I am demanding for Scotland is what has been put into the English Bill. If English noble Lords do not appreciate the difficulties they are going to create for themselves, it is not the Labour Party that will take up this cry of unfairness to Scotland. If it was good enough for England, it is good enough for Scotland. The credibility not just of the party, but of the House of Lords is at stake.

All over the country we have a shortage of these houses. He says, "Oh, it will be so loose". Look at the amendment; "designed or specially adapted". Can the courts decide on that? Of course they can: …to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age and which it is the practice of the landlord to let…". "It is the practice". The courts can judge on that as to whether it has been their practice to let them.

The noble Earl seems to think that these frustrating local authorities, as soon as the Act is passed, will put in handrails. That will not get past the words. They are not so badly drafted as he thinks. If they are badly drafted, and if the Government accept this as good for England, I shall wait to see when we come to Third Reading as to whether there is an amendment down to change the drafting for England. Could the Government tell us whether they are going to accept the amendment that the House placed in the Bill? Are they going to try to take it out? We are entitled to know. I, as a Scotsman, am entitled to know, because if it remains in the English Bill and they refuse to put it into the Scottish Bill they do not know the trouble they are going to have on their hands. There is nothing wrong with the drafting. If there is, I suggest they put it right on Third Reading.

But this House appreciated the problem that we have in housing the elderly—a growing problem—and the inadequacy of the housing stock that is there; and we want to save every house in order to meet the obligations. This is where we are in difficulty. One cannot give tenants

full rights and at the same time meet the obligations that one has placed upon the local authorities. We recognise that in exemptions, we recognise it in pre-emptions, in relation to the elderly. To my mind it is the supreme test of the sense of the Bill. I cannot think of anything that would be more widely welcomed in Scotland, and be less likely to lead to the possibility of cries of confrontation which the noble Earl feared, than the acceptance of this amendment, and I sincerely hope that noble Lords who voted for these very same words to go into the English Bill will, on soul and in conscience, vote to put them into the Scottish Bill.

5.51 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 85; Not-Contents, 115.

Ailesbury, M. Davies of Penrhys, L. McNair, L.
Airedale, L. Elwyn-Jones, L. Maelor, L.
Ampthill, L. Evans of Claughton, L. Monson, L.
Amulree, L. Fulton, L. Ogmore, L.
Ardwick, L. Gaitskell, B. Oram, L.
Bacon, B. Galpern, L. Peart, L.
Baker, L. George-Brown, L. Phillips, B.
Banks, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.[Teller.]
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Gosford, E.
Bernstein, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Rhodes, L.
Beswick, L. Hale, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Birk, B. Hampton, L. Rochester, L.
Blease, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Blyton, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Seebohm, L.
Bowden, L. Howie of Troon, L. Shinwell, L.
Brockway, L. Irving of Dartford, L. Stedman, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jacques, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Janner, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Jeger, B. Stone, L.
Caradon, L. Kennet, L. Strabolgi, L.
Chitnis, L. Kilmarnock, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Leatherland, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Lee of Newton, L. Underhill, L.
Collison, L. Leonard, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.[Teller.] Walston, L.
Craigavon, V. Wells-Pestell, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Whaddon, L.
David, B. McCarthy, L. Willis, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Mackie of Benshie, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Abinger, L. Bellwin, L. Bridgeman, V.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Belstead, L. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Bessborough, E. Burton, L.
Allerton, L. Blake, L. Buxton of Alsa, L.
Alport, L. Boothby, L. Caithness, E.
Auckland, L. Boyd-Carpenter, L. Campbell of Croy, L.
Avon, E. Boyle of Handsworth, L. Chelwood, L.
Balerno, L. Bradford, E. Clitheroe, L.
Cockfield, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Norfolk, D.
Colville of Culross, V. Harvington, L. Northchurch, B.
Cork and Orrery, E. Henley, L. Orkney, E.
Cottesloe, L. Hives, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Craigmyle, L. Holderness, L. Pender, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Redmayne, L.
Daventry, V. Hylton-Foster, B. Renton, L.
De La Warr, E. Kemsley, V. Rochdale, V.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Kimberley, E. Romney, E.
Digby, L. Kinnaird, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Drumalbyn, L. Kinnoull, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Dundee, E. Kinross, L. Selkirk, E.
Ebbisham, L. Lauderdale, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Eccles, V. Long, V. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Effingham, E. Luke, L. Stamp, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Lyell, L. Strathclyde, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Faithfull, B. Macleod of Borve, B. Strathspey, L.
Fortescue, E. Malmesbury, E. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Gainford, L. Mancroft, L. Teviot, L.
Geddes, L. Mansfield, E. Thorneycroft, L.
Geoffrey-Lloyd, L. Margadale, L. Trenchard, V.
Gibson-Watt, L. Marley, L. Vaizey, L.
Glendevon, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Godber of Willington, L. Merrivale, L. Vickers, B.
Gowrie, E. Mills, V. Vivian, L.
Gray, L. Milverton, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Gridley, L. Monk Bretton, L. Westbury, L.
Haig, E. Mottistone, L. Yarborough, E.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Mowbray and Stourton, L. Young, B.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6 p.m.

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 14: Page 5, line 11, leave out from ("dwelling-house") to end of line 14 and insert— ("forms part of a group of dwelling-houses which has been designed or which has been provided with or located near facilities for persons in need of social support.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope I shall not be told that the drafting of this amendment is bad, for the very words which I propose to insert are to he found in Schedule 2(12). The amendment has been drafted for me, as it were, with the unfailing and unerring support of the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office do not get these things wrong. At that point in the Bill we read: The dwelling-house forms part of a group of dwelling-houses which has been designed, or which has been provided with or located near facilities, for persons in need of special social support". Part I of the schedule is headed: Grounds on which court may order recovery of possession". We are prepared to evict people from this type of house because it is so valuable to the local authority. I am suggesting that if it is so valuable to the local authority, then it is the kind of house that should not be sold.

One of the other rights given under the Bill—the Minister did not seem to think it was much of a right when he spoke to the last amendment; they can buy the house only if they have security—is that as secure tenants they cannot be turned out; but here is a case where a secure tenant can be turned out; the Bill says that certain houses are so important to the local authority that we must be prepared to evict the people living in them. Why are we prepared to evict them? The answer is that: The dwelling-house forms part of a group of dwelling-houses which has been designed, or which has been provided with or located near facilities, for persons in need of special social support". That is the very thing that will arise on the resale of a house.

In logic, if any amendment should be accepted, it is this one; but what answer shall we get from the Minister? He cannot complain of drafting or technical defects, because within the words "social support" we have the frail and elderly, and they need social support; the disabled, and they need social support; and the mentally disabled, and they certainly need social support. It would cover the kind of houses I mentioned in two places in Kilmarnock; the elderly in Springfield Gardens and people with some mental disability housed at the Glebe Centre. At present they are not covered. It will be an outstanding affront to a number of local authorities with houses like that, specially built and designed, if they will be left out with the possibility of them being sold and passing out of the stock of houses. If the Government are prepared to evict a secure tenant from that kind of house, it should never be sold; it should be retained in stock because once it is sold, we shall have no control over it. On resale it can go to anybody and it is therefore lost to the people who really need it, people requiring social support.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said, the provisions of Schedule 2(1)(12) are im-impeccably drafted. Whether the noble Lord, when he took the wording for his amendment, intended to leave out the word "special", we do not know; but, whatever his intention was, the effect is to broaden the definition, and that I suppose he intended.

To the extent that the amendment might exclude houses designed or provided with facilities for the elderly or disabled, I have nothing to add to what I said in relation to the previous amendment. I will therefore concentrate my remarks on the other main category of houses which would be excluded from the right to buy under the amendment, which, as the noble Lord said, more or less follows the wording of paragraph 12. This refers to houses …located near facilities for persons in need of social support". When this matter was debated in another context in another place, my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State made it clear that one example of its scope would be if an authority allocated houses situated near to a creche or a nursery school to single parent families. I do not think anyone who accepted the principle of the right to buy would believe that this sort of arrangement is sufficient grounds for denying tenants the opportunity to own their houses. The purpose of this provision in Schedule 2 is to embrace arrangements of this nature which involve a more tenuous connection between a tenant and certain facilities than is involved in special needs housing, which is dealt with separately in Schedule 2, and I do not believe that houses which are allocated to particular types of household because they are, say, within a quarter of a mile of some social facility rather than half a mile are houses which there is any reason to exclude from the right to buy.


I cannot say I am disappointed by that answer, my Lords, because I am beginning to expect that sort of reply; perhaps I shall have to stop hoping for better things. The Minister is nit-picking now. He talks about the way in which this might be construed, but let us remember that for it to be so construed the person concerned—a single parent family or whatever—would need to take the matter to court, and even if it were so construed, how many houses would this cover? There might be a justifiable reason for keeping the house, but I would not have thought it fitted in with the full definition of "designed or specially adapted". Was it specially adapted for a single-parent family? Of course, it was not. It does not say anything about it having to be specially sited, so the Minister is nit-picking and he fails to appreciate that it was his department which inserted it in the schedule.

If he asks his department why that was done, they will no doubt explain the reasons to him. I do not think they inserted those words in order to evict somebody who was not a single parent family, or a single person who got married again and was no longer a single-parent family. If it is so important for the local authority to keep a house for the special purposes of people in social need to the extent of evicting a tenant, surely they would be wise to make an exception of this kind of house when it comes to the question of the tenant's right to purchase. If the Government cannot give me a better answer than that, then in the interests of the reputation of this House I have no alternative but to divide on this matter.

6.10 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 14) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 112.

Airedale, L. Gosford, E. Oram, L.
Ardwick, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Bacon, B. Hale, L.
Banks, L. Hampton, L. Rhodes, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hanworth, V. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Bernstein, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Rochester, L.
Beswick, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Birk, B. Howie of Troon, L. Segal, L.
Blease, L. Jacques, L. Shinwell, L.
Bowden, L. Janner, L. Simon, V.
Brockway, L. Jeger, B. Stedman, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Kilmarnock, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Burton of Coventry, B. Leatherland, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Caradon, L. Lee of Newton, L. Stone, L.
Chitnis, L. Leonard, L. Strabolgi, L.
Collison, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
David, B. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Underhill, L.
Davies of Leek, L. McCarthy, L. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Elwyn-Jones, L. Mackie of Benshie, L. Walston, L.
Fulton, L. McNair, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Gaitskell, B. Maelor, L. Whaddon, L.
Galpern, L. Milner of Leeds, L. White, B.
Gardiner, L. Northfield, L. Wigoder, L.
George-Brown, L. Ogmore, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Abinger, L. Dundee, E. Mancroft, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Eccles, V. Mansfield, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Elliot of Harwood, B. Marley, L.
Allerton, L. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Alport, L. Faithfull, B. Mills, V.
Avon, E. [Teller.] Fortescue, E. Milverton, L.
Baker, L. Gainford, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Balerno, L. Geddes, L. Mottistone, L.
Bellwin, L. Gibson-Watt, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Belstead, L. Glendevon, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Bessborough, E. Godber of Willington, L. Norfolk, D.
Blake, L. Gowrie, E. Northchurch, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Gray, L. Orkney, E.
Boyle of Handsworth, L. Gridley, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Bradford, E. Haig, E. Pender, L.
Bridgeman, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone,L. (L. Chancellor.) Renton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Rochdale, V.
Burton, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Romney, E.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Harvington, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Caithness, E. Henley, L. Sandford, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Hives, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Chelwood, L. Holderness, L. Selkirk, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Clitheroe, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Cockfield, L. Kemsley, V. Strathclyde, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Kimberley, E. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Kinloss, Ly. Strathspey, L.
Cottesloe, L. Kinnaird, L. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Craigavon, V. Kinnoull, E. Thorneycroft, L.
Craigmyle, L. Kinross, L. Trenchard, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lauderdale, E. Vaizey, L.
Daventry, V. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
De La Warr, E. Long, V. Vickers, B.
Denham, L. Luke, L. Vivian, L.
Digby, L. Lyell, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Westbury, L.
Dulverton, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Yarborough, E.
Malmesbury, E. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.21 p.m.

Lord LYELL moved Amendment No. 15: Page 5, line 27, at end insert ("and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely drafting amendment, and it seeks to correct the grammar of Clause 1(12) following the insertion in the other place of additional words in the definition of "occupation". It is a drafting amendment, and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Procedure]:

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 16: Page 6, line 6, at end insert— ("( ) a statement that the tenant is aware of and accepts the rights and obligations of owner-occupation which will be outlined in or in a letter accompanying, the application to purchase;").

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple amendment which I hope will commend itself to the House. It is on page 6, line 6, to insert the words: …a statement that the tenant is aware of and accepts the rights and obligations of owner-occupation which will be outlined in or in a letter accompanying, the application to purchase". There has to be an application to purchase, and the form of that is laid down by regulation by the Secretary of State. It may well be I am presuming to tell the Secretary of State to give a little more information, or to do a little more; or, if he does not want to do it within the form, to do it in a letter accompanying it.

I think it is important that people who are intending to purchase their house, or are hoping to do so, should know exactly the responsibilities they are assuming. We have already had from the Minister of State today a clear statement that what he wants from tenants is a shouldering of a greater burden of financial responsibility for their house. They are not getting something for nothing; there is no bargain give-away. That, I think, should be clear to them. I am not going to specify entirely—I leave that to the Secretary of State—what he thinks should be the tenant's rights. The tenant's rights are all in the Bill, but he should spell them out. That could be helpful in relation to the Lands Tribunal; it could be helpful in relation to his right to a loan and his right to go to the sheriff; and, indeed, apart from that, it could be helpful in relation to his rights by way of security in respect of the tenure of his house if he decides not to purchase. There is nothing that can disturb that except, of course, the whole list of things in Schedule 2, one of which I evidenced in the last amendment, under which they can be evicted for certain things. But I think it is more important than ever that the intending purchaser should know the responsibilities of owner-occupation.

We have had the glorification of owner-occupation—this new status which everyone in Scotland must strive after! It is a new virtue. The crowning virtue of life in Scotland is to be an owner-occupier. I am one. I hope that the person realises the responsibilities that go with it. There are many people who are tenants of local authority and public sector houses who talk about their rent when they really mean their rent and their rates, because they pay them both together. I hope they will appreciate that, although they are relieved of their rent and will pay a larger sum in respect of repayment of the loan, interest and capital, they will still be responsible for the rates.

Secondly, I hope they appreciate that they will in future be responsible for all alterations and repairs—essential repairs that hitherto had been done by the local authority; repairs on which it may have been one of the arguments in the past local authorities spent too much money, to which extent, of course, they were a burden on the taxpayer. I want to let them appreciate that there is more in owner-occupation than the ability to "cock a snook", to quote the happy phrase of the Minister of State, at the local authority; he still has responsibilities. He has responsibility for his rates and he has responsibility for repairs; if he happens to live in a multi-storey flat he will have a responsibility to pay for services; and if anything goes wrong with the roof then, although he lives in the bottom flat, he will still have responsibility for a share of that. All this should be spelt out to the intending owner-occupier before it happens.

He should be told if there are any restrictions. The noble Earl, as a landowner, will know that in the case of most land sold in Scotland and feued in Scotland—and feued to the local authorities, indeed—the land superior could place restrictions upon the land in respect of which a house was built; and although hitherto the feual was the local authority, the restrictions may well have been maintained, with the responsibility for maintaining those restrictions being the local authority's. But, if they sell the house, it does not relieve the owner of that house from the restrictions that stem from the original transaction. I am sure the Lord Advocate is following me closely here. I may tell him that, indeed, in the case of the house I own in Ayr I got the feu from the local authority; but there is a restriction which stems from beyond the local authority's purchase of it which will not allow me to turn it into a boarding house. The noble Earl need not worry; I would not be accepting him as a boarder, nor would he be applying.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I did not know whether he said "boarding" or "bawdy".


My Lords, we shall come to that later on, I assure the noble Earl. That is one of the other things in respect of which you can evict people when they are tenants; but you cannot evict them when they are not tenants, when they have bought the house. So let him be careful of how he jokes in respect of that—a boarding house. There are limits within which you may use it for various other purposes. The unsuspecting purchaser may not know that there are such restrictions; so I think it is an obligation on the local authority to let the intending purchaser know whether there are any such restrictions. Some of them are curious, but I will not list some of those which have come to my notice in the past.

There is the question of major alterations and extensions. At the present time the tenant has got to get the consent of the local authority, and that is continued even with the new security of tenure which has been given. But the point about it is that if a substantial alteration is made to a house, then of course the assessor must be informed, and the owner-occupier suddenly discovers that his rate assessment is increased. It will be the responsibility of the owner-occupier to inform the assessor of that. This is all part of the responsibilities he is assuming. It is not only if he extends his house. If he decides to put central heating into his house, then under Scottish law at the present time, if it is a fixture, he will be subject to increased assessment by the district valuer. He will pay more in rates—but it will be his responsibility. He needs to know that, and to be informed.

We are talking about old-age pensioners—these old-age pensioners who, in their thousands, are going to rush to buy these houses, persuaded by the silver tongue of the Minister of State, and conscience-stricken at being burdens on the taxpayer—racing to do this without realising what they are letting themselves in for. I am sure the Government want to play fair; so the Government should make it plain at the start, before the would-be purchasers have made up their minds, that when they make application to purchase all this information as to their rights and as to their obligations is available to them. Indeed, they should also make clearly available to the tenants information on what their rights are and any conditions that may be imposed by the local authority.

If this thing is to be a success, you do not want to have disgruntled purchasers who, after the purchase has been accomplished, can say, "I didna' ken that; they didna' tell me that". Let us have a little less of the bargain aspect, let us have a realistic approach to the question of the purchase, let us play fair with the purchasers and tell them what is involved. The best way to do this is to include the information on the form of application or in a special formal letter accompanying the application and let the would-be purchasers sign on the application form that they have read and accept their rights and their obligations as part of the purchase. Then no one can say at the end of the day that they did not know. I beg to move this very reasonable and acceptable amendment.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be brief. I hope that the Government will accede to my noble friend's request and accept this amendment. I expect that when they reply the Government will say that they are dealing with a willing buyer and a willing seller and therefore there is no need for such a limitation on the transaction as my noble friend has suggested. That may well be so, but I do not think it is entirely so nor will it always be so. I do not think that reply will be adequate and I say so for this reason.

Noble Lords will recall how, during the Committee stage, the Government remarked that they were creating a market and that that was the justification for the purchase price discounts which are proposed under the Bill—and a strong enough argument it is! The Government are not yielding to a clamour which already exist for the purchase of council houses; they are creating a clamour in the hope that it will exist in time to come. That is what a huckster does. He creates a market, whether it be for a patent medicine or any sort of nostrum or even for those things which give added vigour to life. The huckster creates a market; and here the Government are creating, or attempting to create, a new market in public housing. I am not saying that the Government are huckstering. Far be it from me to say that. I am saying they are unwittingly putting themselves in danger of doing that which the huckster does: not misleading his victim, but encouraging his victim to mislead himself.

The Government can rightly point to the advantages of home ownership and make these advantages seem desirable to many thousands of people to whom these advantages have hitherto appeared remote and who had thought that these advantages were out of their reach and likely to remain so. The Government prospectus might have the effect of persuading many people that house ownership is within their reach, when it is not so. We know already of a good many people who in the past have taken out local authority mortgages for ordinary house purchase have been unable to meet their obligations and have been obliged to give them up. It is not unlikely that the same kind of problem will face many people who are encouraged by the Government prospectus and who will find themselves unable to meet the obligations that they have in good faith taken on.

My noble friend has outlined many of the unforeseen limitations and restrictions upon ownership which new owners may find themselves facing and he has also drawn attention to the fact that many of these limitations and restrictions impose financial burdens which many people may not have anticipated. We are dealing with people whose lives have not been led in expectation that they will be owner occupiers; they do not anticipate the problems which arise from that happy state. I think my noble friend is right and that at the time of the application it should be made clear to the applicant what his obligations may be. My noble friend's proposition suggests a means by which the applicant would indicate that he has understood what his obligations will be.

Were it not for the fact that the Government are trying to create a market, I do not think that this would matter quite so much, because people would then be going into a business deal in the ordinary way. But, if the Government are trying to create a new market where one did not exist, then they must tread with caution and treat their prospective customers with the maximum care.


My Lords, noble Lords opposite have attempted to create the impression that the sort of people who will be buying council houses in Scotland are dumb peasants who are likely to be fooled by the local authority. As a half-Scotsman myself, I think that this is a grave insult to my fellow countrymen. I think the whole impression created is absolute nonsense.


My Lords, I am interested in what the noble Lord has said. The section of the community to whom we are going to make this offer of bargain houses do not embrace in their daily conversation and discussion the state of the stock market or the buying or selling of houses. They know all about paying rent and about applying to the social security department; but they are not interested in stocks and shares and they have not many friends who have been buying and selling their own homes. In school they get no education as to what is involved in buying houses. I hope that some day they will be given some tuition on that aspect. I am sure the noble Earl, as a house owner, realises the many problems which can beset the individual house owner—particularly bearing in mind that some of the houses to be offered for sale are now reaching the end of their normal life. Some of them are 40, 50 or going on for 60 years old. In Glasgow, they are reaching the period when the subsidy has been fully paid and they are 60 years old. I asked this question during the Second Reading debate. Will the local authority then offer a house for sale which they certify is electrically sound, and has been rewired and replumbed; that the roof has been reslated, that the house is adequately insured and that the drains are working properly? I do not expect the local authorities to give that undertaking; although there may be coming later an amendment dealing with that aspect. Therefore, it is our duty to acquaint people who have no knowledge of buying houses as to what they may let themselves in for. Anything can happen to the homes and the situation in Glasgow has been such that there has been very great difficulty about who is in control and who is not in control, with parties accepting the duties of office and then resigning and somebody else taking over.

One of the casualties was a booklet that contained all the possible happenings and liabilities to a potential house-buyer. This was defeated because somebody took over control, but it is still lying there. That would be ideal for every individual in a council house who seeks to buy his house, so that he will know, before he starts, what can befall him as a house owner.

I should like an answer to a point which comes within the scope of liabilities and potential financial difficulties. When a council tenant's income drops below a certain level, he gets a rebate on his rent. It is a pretty high figure. When he becomes a house-owner, if his income drops to the same level as now qualifies him for a rent rebate, will he get a similar rebate on his mortgage?

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, when I first saw this amendment I wondered what it was the noble Lord was getting at. I am not sure now I know that the amendment commends itself to me any the more. May we just first of all understand what it is that the tenant is doing under subsection (1) of Clause 2? He is doing three things: he is notifying his landlord that he wants to exercise the right to purchase his house; he is making a factual statement as to his occupancy, which will in effect entitle him to the discount which previous residents have clocked up; and thirdly—and least important—there is the matter of the joint purchaser, if there is one.

At this very early stage what is it that the noble Lord wants the tenant to do? He wants accompanying the application or the notice a letter which is going to contain all sorts of things which noble Lords have touched upon. But in effect it amounts to a kind of an essay in which the tenant is going to show the local authority that he understands the rights and obligations of owner occupation. It is ludicrous. The noble Lord has been regaling us with some of his more elderly friends in and around Kilmarnock. But is it seriously suggested—if I may go back for a moment to the subject of newspapers because I read the Sunday Post—that Grandpa Brown is going to sit down and write this sort of effort at the same time that he informs the local authority that he wants to buy his house? I can hardly believe it.


If I may interrupt my noble friend, my Lords, as I understand it, it is not the tenant it is the Secretary of State. It says a notice … which shall be in such form as the Secretary of State shall by order made by statutory instrument prescribe, and shall contain … a statement that the tenant is aware and accepts his rights and obligations as an owner-occupier.


My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend—at least, I think I am! He does not help the logic of the cause because what he is saying is that the Secretary of State is going to write down a long list of things of which a potential purchaser should be aware, and the purchaser, if it is in the form of a letter or a standard form, is going to put "John Smith" at the end, I suppose, with some kind of declaration. I am afraid that I cannot see who is going to be advantaged by this—certainly not John Smith. The drafting of this notice or letter would be a nightmare.

Just remember, my Lords, at this incredibly early stage the tenant cannot know of any burdens which may already be on the house; and, indeed, the local authority, I assume, will not have made up its mind whether to impose any conditions of sale. At the time when the tenant serves this notice on the local authority he has to say that he accepts rights and obligations before he has even made up his mind whether he wants to buy. The kindest word to say is that it is a touch superfluous.

If there are any conditions such as the noble Lord told us about to do with boarding houses or whatever, those would be I suggest in the missive which eventually will be signed by the tenant. Any conditions of sale will be accepted by him when he signs the missive. It may well be that the noble Lord will say that nobody understands the legal "gobble-de-gook" in this agreement. I am inclined to agree. But that is not the point here. The point here is what advance notice does the unfortunate tenant give to the local authority at the time when he informs the local authority that he would like to buy his house. That is quite a different point.

I think that it is almost farcical to try to write into this Bill a state of affairs in which the would-be purchasers have to write a letter explaining what they believe the consequences of their actions will be. It is almost insulting. I pray in aid what my noble friend Lord Mottistone said: it is insulting to Scottish people to believe that they are so dumb that when they take the trouble to go to their local authority in effect and say, "I want to buy my council house", they do not even appreciate that they will be responsible for such matters as rates and repairs. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, does his countrymen a favour by making that allegation.

Any Scot who is going to exercise his judgment to buy his house can decide what he is taking on when purchasing the house. If people do not know much about the details they can easily find out through the various agencies. Most of them are free; to some they will have to pay a fee for advice.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I continue to be disappointed. May I say to the noble Earl who spoke of dumb peasants that peasants are not usually dumb. But there is many a peasant who can make a very bad bargain. Probably the most articulate of the Scottish peasants was one who did.

I know of a certain reporter who complained that when I spoke in the other House I quoted Burns so often that he had to go and buy a volume of Burns so that he would be able to get it down correctly for Hansard without always referring the matter back to me. I am not going to quote Burns but I am going to cite him, because he was the man who thought he had made a very good bargain in respect of a farm at Ellisland in Dumfriesshire. It turned out to be a very bad bargain indeed, and he called the farm "Riddlings of Creation"—and he had all the advice from the experts of the time. So even a peasant—the most glorious of peasants—can make mistakes.

Surely my noble friend Lord Galpern is right. The Minister envisages thousands and thousands of people who have never thought of owning their own home before, going in for home ownership. It has hitherto been sold to them on the basis that this is going to be an excellent thing to do from some strange moral point of view and also from a financial point of view. It is a fact that at the present time, on the home loans provided by local authorities —and they do provide them to people who are purchasing properties in towns and cities, and they do so at favourable rates of interest, but we are going to stop that under this Bill—one in six default. It may well he that many of them did not appreciate the onerous nature of the obligations they were taking upon themselves. I instance my own experience as Secretary of State when, in 1967–1968, we had a tremendous storm in Glasgow which removed the roofs of many tenement flats and discovered the many difficulties involved in multi-ownership. Some people who owned their flats did not appreciate their responsibility, although they were nowhere near the roof, for the repairs that were required to that roof. I suggested to the Minister of State that he should go to the Scottish Office and ask how much of that money is still outstanding. He has not written me a letter, as he normally does, so I gather that information is still to come.

I do not think it is so ludicrous. I have always taken the view that, when you are explaining anything to anyone, you should take nothing for granted. I do not think they all appreciate that they are going to be responsible for rates and insurance. It is far, far better at the early stage to let them know that. It is not a question of an essay: it is a question of the Secretary of State in the initial approach laying down that these will be his obligations, so that you do not at the end find someone tackling something which he cannot face up to. I think that my noble friend Lord Howie is right in speaking about the financial burdens and those who have defaulted. It is already proved, and it is already proved in respect of many building societies as well, but we are in an area here which the building societies may not entirely touch.

I suggest that they also get rights. I have a later amendment down which would give power to local authorities to provide tenants with information—and I mean all tenants. If the Government want this Bill to be a success, they want every tenant in Scotland to know about it and to know about his rights; so I do not think it is ludicrous that people should be warned. They should be told about their rights to purchase and their rights to a loan and, if they are not satisfied with that, their rights to appeal to the Lands Tribunal and to the sheriff in respect of the loan.

In fairly general terms, if the house is in an area where there are feudal restrictions that continue, I think it is as well that people should know that right at the start. A number of people in a housing scheme have come complaining to me that, for instance, the person next door was running a taxi business, much to their annoyance, with taxis arriving at all sorts of hours, especially at the weekend. If there is a limitation on using the house for a business and that is going to continue—because it is one of the dangers that it may continue and the local authority may have fewer powers to deal with it after the house is sold to the individual—and if there are restrictions and conditions which are known and which are fairly general, people should be informed about it at an early stage. It is not a question of writing an essay: you just ask them to read the letter and sign that they have read it. That is all. It is far better to take no chances and to ensure that people know something about what they are doing and know their rights in respect of the Bill.

Sooner or later, when we come to another amendment, the Minister of State is going to say: "But the local authority has the power to tell all these things to the tenant and to anyone else who is concerned"—at any rate I hope he will do that. He cannot take up that attitude and then take a different attitude when it comes to the actual question of purchase. This is the first approach to the local authority, and the Secretary of State already lays down the form they have got to get. Is there any harm in accompanying that form with another leaflet or something of the kind? All you do is to ask the intending purchaser to read it and say that he has done so. I think the Minister is making very heavy weather of this.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment just to satisfy my curiosity, it would give this absurd situation a veneer of logic. Why does not the noble Lord invite the Government to consider an amendment of this nature in connection with sub-section (6), when at least the tenant really does know the conditions of his purchase because he is then going to accept them?


My Lords, if the noble Earl reads subsection (6) it is up to the local authority to put in the conditions, and they may be specific conditions with regard to that house. I do not know when the purchaser is going to be so informed that he can appeal against the conditions if he objects to them—if it is in relation to the actual purchase it is to the Lands Tribunal, and if it is later on in relation to the loan, it is to the sheriff. All this is nicely complicated. But is it not far better to let the purchaser know his rights from the start? Nobody will tell me that every local authority tenant has read this Bill. I should take a lot of convincing that every noble Lord has read it and understands it; hut, somehow or other, you have to get the information over to the tenant and, to the tenant who is really interested in purchasing, that is the right time to tell him.

I am really surprised that the noble Earl, who is a lawyer—though admittedly an English lawyer and so we can excuse him there—has this poor idea of the Scottish tenant. Of course he wants to be informed and to be sure; and that same Scottish tenant will be the first one to say, "Ye didna tell me. "It may well be they love to have their grouse, but you do not take things for granted in this respect. The tenant has rights: state them in a general way. This tenant, as an owner-occupier, will have obligations: give him due warning of those too. All you do is ask him to read the document and to say that he has read it. He is not writing an essay if he writes his name—unless the noble Earl has always thought the writing of his name is an essay—but that is quite outwith the demands of this amendment.

I am sorry the Government have taken this point of view on something which I thought was a very reasonable amendment. I believe I have seen something from Shelter or some tenants' association, suggesting that it might be a good idea that people should know about these things. Certainly it came to my mind when I have heard my noble friend Lord Galpern on more than one occasion refer to the question of understanding what they were taking on and that people should be informed. I will not divide your Lordships' House on this important amendment. There are others much more important on which I will divide, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, this might be a suitable moment to adjourn the proceedings on Report until eight o'clock. I beg to move that the House do adjourn the proceedings on Report until eight o'clock, and take further business now.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.





Returned from the Commons agreed to without amendment.