§ Report stage resumed on Clause 2.
Lord LYELL moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 7, line 36, leave out ("or").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting amendment. It is to eliminate the redundant word "or". This is consequent upon the deletion during the
Committee stage in your Lordships' House of paragraph (c). If noble Lords will look at subsection (6), they will find paragraphs (a) and (b), but there is no paragraph (c). It seems that the first two lines of subsection (6) fall well enough on their feet. Then come paragraphs (a) and (b), after which we go straight on to:
the tenant shall serve a notice of acceptance on the landlord …".
One finds, therefore, that the word, "or", in line 36 is redundant. For that reason, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 18 not moved.]
§ 8.1 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 8, line 23, at end insert—
("( )The fixed price shall be the purchase price quoted by the landlord in the offer to sell in accordance with subsection (6) above plus a sum equal to half the difference between that price and the value of the house when the tenant purchases the house in accordance with subsection (8) above.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment, which was not accepted by the Government, was, however, put into the English Bill and I believe that there is every justification for doing the same thing in the Scottish Bill. It refers to the occasion when a tenant has decided that he wants to purchase his house, but because of the size of the loan he accepts a fixed price option which he can take up within two years. In other words, he is not going to purchase the house right away, but he has an option to do so within two years. We suggest that an increase in the value of the house within that period of two years—and it is bound to be a pretty good bargain when he decides to accept the option—will mean that the appreciation in the value of the property during that two-year period should be divided between the tenant and the local authority. We suggest that there should be added a sum equal to half the difference between the purchase price quoted by the landlord and the value of the house when the tenant purchases the house in accordance with subsection (8)—half to him and half to the local authority in terms of the increase in the price. I beg to move.809
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said, this amendment was incorporated in the English Housing Bill against the advice of the Government. On that occasion the debate lasted rather less than 10 minutes. I hope therefore that the House will recognise that the arguments were not fully deployed. The reasons for maintaining the status quo in the Housing Bill, which, a fortiori, apply to the Scottish Bill now before your Lordships, were not fully explained. I hope therefore that I may be permitted to do so in rather greater detail this evening.
The purpose of Clause 2(8) of the Bill is to provide a realistic opportunity of owning their existing home for those tenants whose financial resources are just slightly inadequate to allow them to buy when they first apply. A fixed price option is available only to those tenants who have been told by their landlord that they do not qualify for a loan as large as that which they need to buy the house. So it will only be available to a small number of tenants, but they will be those on the borderline between those who can afford to buy outright and those whose means are quite inadequate to do so.
It is hard to believe that this borderline group will ever have any chance of home ownership except through buying their council house. The purpose of fixed price options is to say that if they are prepared to make an effort and to save money in order to reduce their mortgage requirement, then the Government are prepared to meet them halfway by holding the price steady while they save. Fixed price options are an encouragement to self-help on the part of those people. We cannot expect them to save towards a receding target without any certainty that inflation in house values will not deprive them of their chance of buying, however hard they try.
It may be that I misheard the noble Lord, but I thought that he was speaking to Amendment No. 19?
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
Then, if I may continue, I am obliged. One of the defects of the amendment is that it is wholly silent as to how the tenant is to 810 know what price he is being asked to pay. This is not surprising because it is logically impossible to tell him if the price is to be fixed by reference to the value at the time when he buys. Since a price fixed on this basis cannot be known until after the purchase, the tenant cannot possibly know what price he is being asked to pay at the time when he has to decide whether to buy. No one could be expected to buy a house on that basis, least of all a person whose financial situation makes the price he is being asked to pay an absolutely crucial consideration. What I am trying to say is that an option without an end price is not an option at all. It is merely the payment of a sum to give one the right to exercise an option in respect of an undisclosed sum at a period in the future.
I hope I have shown, if I have not convinced your Lordships, that this amendment is wrong in principle and constructed on an illogicality. But there are a number of misapprehensions which have cropped up, particularly with relation to the Housing Bill. It is all very well to say that a house is theoretically worth a certain amount more after two years, but we have only one potential purchaser. If we take the price out of his reach, there is no profit. Instead of several thousand pounds, the landlord will, as a result of the tenant's inability to buy, have to content himself with a rent which covers only a fraction of the cost of providing, managing and maintaining the house. The financial consequence for the ratepayer and the taxpayer is that they will have to continue paying substantial subsidies to house someone who wanted to relieve them of that responsibility and was ready to bear a greater share of his own housing costs. That, I suggest, is a poor bargain for everyone.
During the passage of the Housing Bill on Report, I was struck by the financial argument of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in particular, who is not in his place. It applies I think with equal force to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and to others who seem to think that by the adoption of this fixed price option, the persons availing themselves of it for £100 are in some way getting an unjustifiable pecuniary advantage—in other words that there is an unjustifiable benefit which is liable to go to those who opt to buy 811 their own homes by reason of the incidence of inflation between the time when the option is taken out and the time when the house is actually purchased. I hope to show on likely figures that this is a fallacy and I shall do it in the following way.
I have looked at some recent council house sales in Scotland, and a typical valuation would be about £11,000. If we assume for these purposes that the potential purchaser who is unable to qualify for a loan and can thus benefit from an option has 18 years qualifying residence, he would get a 48 per cent. discount which would bring the option price down to £5,720. So if at the end of two years the valuation of the house had risen to £15,000 the person exercising the option would have to pay £5,720 plus, according to this amendment, half the difference between £11,000 and £15,000, making a grand total of £7,720. If this person had not decided to take out an option but to save his £100 and wait two years he would by then have been a tenant for 20 years and thus be entitled to 50 per cent. discount on the £15,000 valuation, that is to say he would have to pay £7,500, which is £200 less than the option arrangements which the noble Lord proposes under this amendment.
By no stretch of the imagination could that be considered fair. That is the first point. Secondly, the so-called unjustified enrichment which the person paying for the option is supposed to get is illusory. That is the point that I am trying to make. I have already made plain the purposes of these option arrangements, which are designed to assist the lower earner to become a house owner by giving him an incentive to save and to reach an achievable identifiable target. The best that this amendment could do would be to ensure that the target was ever receding into the distance and the worst that it could do, as I have illustrated, is in fact to put the person paying for the option at a disadvantage in price terms when he comes to buy his house as against the person who does not go for the option.
From this simple and homely example I hope noble Lords will see that whatever attractions there may have seemed to be in the theory that a person exercising an option in these circumstances was in some 812 way unjustifiably enriching himself by virtue of the incidence of inflation in fact this does not hold. Therefore I would ask your Lordships to reject this amendment.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I think it took me about half a minute to move the amendment, and I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, was not here, but it took the Minister a considerable amount of time more to explain why they were wrong in respect of the Housing Bill in England and how misguided the House was in passing that particular amendment. The point remains that that amendment was passed; that amendment is part of the Housing Bill. So there is a dilemma for the Government or a dilemma for the Scottish Office, in that formulae which started out the same are now diverging—diverging to the disadvantage of the tenant who has taken the fixed price option and to the advantage of the local authority. Somehow or other the Government must make that right.
I should like to know the Government's intention on this. I am not saying that I dispute or entirely accept what the noble Earl has said. The dilemma is not of my making. It is not for me to accept it and I want to know whether the Government are going to retain these words which they did not want in the Bill, which they say are unfair, or whether they are going to take them out. If they take them out, as a Scot I have no grouse. The people in Scotland are being treated in the same way as the people in England but if the Government do not take them out—if they feel that it is wrong and they are not going to make a change in the English Bill then I am certainly disappointed and I have a right to be disappointed.
I do not always look at matters from the same standpoint as the noble Earl: sometimes I look at them from the point of view of the ratepayers, and I think he has probably gathered that I think the ratepayers are getting a very bad bargain in respect of the assets which they have built up. But here we are: we started out with exactly the same situation in these two Bills. A change has been made in regard to England, and the Government now say they are not going to make this change in regard to Scotland. 813 But there is another stage in this place for the English Housing Bill and of course there is the question of what happens in another place, where the Government have a certain amount of authority and have a majority. Are they going to remove this thing which is wrong, which the muddle-headed Lords insisted upon putting in?
If I may concentrate the argument of the noble Earl, he said that on the English Housing Bill they took only 10 minutes to discuss this, and that the Government's point of view was not put forward properly or fully. I do not know whose mistake that was. He then proceeded to put forward the argument which should have been put forward on the English Housing Bill. I think it is a bit unfair and a bit late for the Government to try to argue against an amendment in another Bill in respect of this one.
All I put to the noble Earl is the dilemma: how can he justify having allowed a thing to be done in an English Housing Bill which he will not do in a Scottish Housing Bill? I do not suppose we are going to get an answer. The noble Earl will say that it is not his responsibility and he cannot divulge any important Cabinet secrets about what they are going to do when that Bill goes to the Commons.
I am not going to drag this on. I just wanted to bring out to the people of Scotland that in this Bill the Lords are prepared to do something for England and they are not prepared to do it for Scotland. The conclusion to that will not be to the disadvantage of myself or the party that I represent. The sins of omission and of commission are the sins of the Government and they can sort it out with those who shout loudest in Scotland against discrimination against the Scots. With that, I will allow the amendment to be negatived.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
Lord LYELL moved Amendment Nos. 20 and 21:
Page 8, line 29, leave out ("or").
line 31, at end insert ("or").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it may be for the convenience of the House if I move Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 together. These are purely drafting amendments. If your Lordships will 814 glance at Clause 2(9), it can be seen that there is a requirement for the word, "or", at the end of line 31 because subsection (9)(c) has been installed at an earlier stage and the grammar would require that we put in the word "or" so that we get any one of three alternatives (a), (b) or (c), but not (b) and (c) together. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Refusal of applications]:
§ 8.20 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 9, line 14, after ("respect") insert—
("or the landlord considers there are reasonable grounds (including any of those listed in Part I of Schedule 2) for so doing").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 22. At the present time the landlord, the local authority, can only refuse the right to purchase if, after reasonable inquiry, it is of opinion that information contained in the application is incorrect in a material respect. That is the only justification for a refusal of the right to purchase. I suggest we should put in the words in the amendment. Obviously they take us right away to Part 1 of Schedule 2. We open our hymn books at the same point as before, the grounds on which a court may order recovery of possession.
§ One of the cases in which a court may order eviction of a person whose tenancy is secure is when the rent is lawfully due from the tenant and has not been paid. If the tenant has not been paying his rent do you not think that is a justification for saying, "You have forfeited the right to purchase"? Another reason is that the condition of the dwelling-house or any of the common parts has deteriorated owing to acts of waste by, or the neglect or default of, the tenant. So you have a tenant in the house which is in a terrible state and you can evict him. But you say, "Instead of evicting you we will allow you to buy the house". Some people will say that is all right, let him go to the devil in his own way as far as concerns the property he has bought. But there are other people to be considered, the people living round about him. It is so important that you are prepared to evict him, but it does not enter into the question of 815 whether he is the kind of person to whom you give a right to buy the house.
Then there is paragraph 7:
The tenant of the dwelling-house … has been guilty of conduct in or in the vicinity of the dwelling-house which is a nuisance or annoyance …".
Everyone who is in public life and concerned with housing knows that the most troublesome thing, about which you can do so little, is the tenant who is an annoyance and a nuisance to everyone round about. What do you do about these people? The local authorities find it difficult. The Government are finding the answer: We will sell them the house. The nuisance remains. The only thing is that the neighbours cannot go to the council and say, "Please transfer them; please evict them". While they were secure tenants they could be evicted. But now you are going to sell them the house. The only reason for refusal to sell the house is inaccuracy in respect of information provided, and none of the information relates to the tenant at all. We tried to get that amendment in during the Committee stage.
The other points in relation to this matter are quite interesting, but they are worthy of consideration in respect of whether the tenant should be allowed to buy the house. Look at paragraph 2:
The tenant (or any one of joint tenants) or any person residing or lodging with him or any sub-tenant of his has been convicted of using the dwelling-house or allowing it to be used for immoral or illegal purposes".
You can evict them; but no, you will sell them the house. It really is silly that we so tie the hands of the local authorities by saying that, come what may, it is only on the basis of the information that you can refuse; and the information you are allowed to gather is what the Secretary of State tells you, and that is strictly limited and has nothing to do with this point.
§ You can evict the tenant but you cannot deny him the right to buy. It was to show how silly the whole thing is that I suggested that we ought to give the local authority some further power in respect of assessing whether or not the tenant would be such a person, and the state of the house and the use of the house by that tenant over a period was such, that he had forfeited his right to purchase. I beg to move.816
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, the effect of this amendment would be to allow a landlord to refuse to sell a house which Parliament will have given the tenant a statutory right to buy in any case where it is considered that "there are reasonable grounds … for so doing". Whatever may have been the intention of the noble Lord when he came to draft this amendment, the effect of it is that it is no more and no less than a wrecking amendment. There is no doubt that some local authorities would use this to refuse to sell a single house, since it is their stated objective that they will stop as many sales as possible.
The reference to the grounds for possession in relation to security of tenure really does not make any difference at all to the effect of this amendment. It certainly would not abate one bit the authority's freedom to refuse to sell. It is a red herring, because they are given in the amendment the discretion which they would like and would undoubtedly make use of. It would allow local authorities to refuse to sell to every one of their tenants if they so wished, and I have no doubt that it would be used to deprive hundreds of thousands of tenants of the right to buy. This amendment, however cunningly concealed, is not about discretion for landlords in special cases; it is a wholesale attack on the purpose of Part I of this Bill. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw it, or that the House will reject it.
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, why should council tenants be treated any differently from private sector tenants? You do not refuse to sell a house in the private sector because a person is wanting to use the house for a purpose for which they should not use it. Why should this apply to council tenants? Surely the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is applying a different standard to council tenants as opposed to those in the private sector.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Of course it goes further than that, because if the local authority could use its discretion to evict somebody under this ground the person would not be in a position to buy the house anyway.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question on a similar line? Could he tell us why a council tenant who is considered to be undesirable as a tenant—that is the point—should be enabled to have a 33 per cent. discount, maybe going up to a 50 per cent. discount; and if he cannot take the option for two years he will not feel any effect from possible inflation? Can the noble Earl tell us why that should be considered fair and just?
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, when my noble friend replies would he also tell us why these undesirable people are still council tenants?
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I am glad to notice the element of particiation that we have had, from the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, for instance, who wants to know why there are different standards. I just draw attention to the fact that we are giving to council tenants new rights which they have not had before. It is as simple as that. In exercising those rights the local authority has the power to put in certain conditions. It cannot refuse the right to purchase unless—and this is the only reason—the information given on that form, about which we spoke earlier, is inaccurate in a material way. That is the only ground. Surely in respect of this matter, the noble Baroness must face the fact that already, within the Bill, we are exercising a different standard, because in the schedule it says that this is one of the reasons why the tenant can be evicted. He cannot be evicted for that if it is a privately tenanted property—he can be prosecuted, but not evicted. That standard has already been laid by the Government and it is in the schedule.
I am pointing out that one can evict them, but one cannot refuse to sell the house to them. Not all people who are found guilty of this are, of necessity, evicted. It might well be that their neighbours would want them to be evicted. But it has not taken place or is in the process of taking place, and they have the right just to apply to purchase and that right must be given to them. It is 818 unfair, and unfair on everyone round about if we exercise this.
It was also suggested that somehow or other we are denying thousands of people the operation of this by unscrupulous local authorities—of whom I am aware; in fact, I am working hand in glove with them, according to the noble Earl—who will use this in order to stop all council sales. However, the noble Earl has forgotten one thing. There is an appeal against this. There is an appeal to the Lands Tribunal. If the local authority does not act the Lands Tribunal, according to his own Bill—which I suggest he hurriedly reads—can then, after a certain time, proceed to conclude the contract with the tenant. So the right of appeal is there, and remember that we are reasonably fair-minded and law-abiding people. But the noble Earl the Minister will talk us into a situation where, in order to defend our own reputations, the local authorities will need to act in the way in which he is suggesting they act. He will disappoint us all, and disappoint all his noble friends, if the local authorities do not become so antagonistic that they take up that kind of attitude. He should not be preaching that or proclaiming that a justification for turning down an amendment which, as he reads it, is quite justifiable—
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, is it not the case also that if one allows an undesirable tenant to purchase a house one reduces the value of the houses round about, because one certainly will not be able to sell them?
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, that is perfectly true. I did not put it forward because I thought that it was self-evident. We shall come later to the effect upon the amenity and the value of other houses. The Government already have something down about that in a further part of the Bill.
I am sorry that the Government have not responded to this. I have been trying to show that there are consequences of the Bill about which they have not even dreamed.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, while the noble Lord is talking about dreaming, and he has asked me to read the Bill, I wonder whether he could point to 819 that part of the Bill where a Lands Tribunal can overturn the refusal on the part of a local authority to sell?
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, Clause 3(4) says:Where a landlord serves a notice of refusal on a tenant under this section, the tenant may within one month thereafter apply to the Lands Tribunal for Scotland for a finding that he has a right to purchase the dwelling-house under section 1 of this Act on such terms as it may determine.The noble Earl does not have far to look to find that. It is just above the point where I am making the amendment. That is one of my difficulties in respect of this matter and that is why the Minister is so inflexible. If he does not appreciate that that is there, then I can understand why he does not proceed to accept some reasonable amendments. That being so I do not think that it will serve any useful purpose for me to continue knocking at pretty dead wood. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4 [Conditions of sale.]:
§ [Amendment No. 23 not moved.]
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 10, line 28, leave out subsection (7).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 24. This is a very important amendment, and it is a great pity that we did not turn our attention to it much earlier. The amendment is to leave out subsection (7). The safeguards that the Government have inserted in respect of the position of rural areas is contained within subsections (4), (5), (6) and (7) (a) and (b). The Government were pledged to make some special provision in respect of housing in rural areas. I do not think that this subsection adequately meets the position. What they suggest at present is that in a rural area designated such
by the islands or district council within whose area it is situated where the Secretary of State, on the application of the islands or district council … makes an order, which shall be made by statutory instrument",
disapplying certain dwelling-houses in that area; that is, they will have the right of
pre-emption of any house in a rural area where, in the opinion of the local authority, that right of pre-emption ought to be exercised.
§ Then, in subsection (7)(a) and (b) the Secretary of State is given additional power to restrict the operation of that. First, within the rural area more than one-third of the number of dwelling-houses of which the council concerned is the landlord, have to be sold. Indeed, not just one-third sold, but the Secretary of State must be satisfied that an unreasonable proportion of those houses sold have been resold and are now being used as the only or principal home of the owner.
§ It is the opinion of those who are concerned with the problems of conserving the inadequate number of houses in the rural areas that that protection is absolutely nil. If we must wait until a third of the houses are sold then the situation has gone beyond repair. And even that guarantees no action by the Secretary of State. He must then be satisfied as to whether or not an unspecified number, an unreasonable number, have been sold for second homes.
There is no doubt about it that the situation in the rural areas is a matter of very considerable concern. It is of concern to the National Farmers' Union and to the rural area authorities. I could quote what they have to say and I have statistics from them as regards their position. If sales are on a large-scale, the infrequent casual vacancy will become more infrequent and more important the traditional stepping stone for families saving to build their own home in an area and situation of their own choice will be eroded. The council plan to build 301 houses. But, as a result of cuts, the programme is being cut to 130. The council say that they will look to the SSHA—that is, the Scottish Special Housing Association—to make up some of the difference. However, the SSHA has also been cut and will not be starting any new projects outside of Glasgow. That is a bleak outlook for local authorities. That was in Badenoch and Strath Spey. Skye, Lochalsh, has 545 people on the waiting list and its housing stock is 689. The council believes that this Government Bill will not help. It says:
The primary factor limiting availability of access to housing within the district is the serious
shortfall of public sector rented housing against demand".
The areas primary housing problems stem from the lack of available public sector housing to rent. There are no private houses to rent in rural areas, certainly not for ordinary folk. The people cannot afford owner-occupation of houses being built or houses being resold in the private sector. They cannot meet it.
§ Whether we like it or not—and I have this information from the Scottish Office itself—there is and will remain a dependence on public sector housing. The more we sell and the less we build—and we build fewer and fewer—the more grievous will be the situation. There are 5,000 and more on rural area housing lists at the present time. Certainly there is some protection; the protection of pre-emption is something, but when it is clouded around by this further exercise by the Secretary of State saying, "I shall not do anything until a third of the houses are sold", and even then a certain number has to be sold for second homes, then it is a bleak outlook for the rural areas, and we must face that.
I can give the opinion of Ross and Cromarty:
The district council generally desire to permit the sale of local authority houses to sitting tenants where the housing need can be met from existing stock, but they view with concern the current arrangements with serious repercussions on the council's financial position, taking cognizance of the house-building costs, especially on the West coast where housing land is scarce and building costs excessive".
Roxburgh District Council says:
If the right to purchase was completely unrestricted, there was a serious risk that in Roxborough district local authority houses would be resold as second or holiday homes".
That is what the district council says.
§ Local authorities should have a statutory right to include in the title a 10-year pre-emption clause which the authority considers to be appropriate. That is reasonable and that is what my amendment does. It simply leaves it at the point of pre-emption. I am even prepared not to move the next amendment, which deals with the limitation of 10 years. I think this is the least that the Government should be prepared to do in respect of the rural areas.
§ There is a great deal more that I could say, but I feel that everyone is 822 convinced. Do not tell me that the situation will be as with the old Scottish Member of Parliament, who was convinced by many an argument but never changed his vote. That was a very corrupt Parliament. But this is the House of Lords. We have very different standards here, and I sincerely hope that we shall attend to the needs of the rural areas and accept this amendment. I beg to move.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, the central issue here is whether it is right for Parliament to limit the Secretary of State's power to allow the imposition of pre-emption conditions. I take the view that if Parliament knows what it wants to do, it should explicitly provide just that in the legislation. The effect of this amendment would be to leave it entirely to the discretion of the Secretary of State whether or not an area was designated a rural area, and, in effect, whether pre-emption conditions should be applied in that area. Government spokesmen have made it clear throughout the passage of this Bill that they believe very firmly that, generally speaking, the position in rural areas is the same as it is elsewhere.
I again repeat that the sale of a council house does not alter the overall housing stock, and in any case the sale of a council house in the short and medium-term has little effect on the availability of houses to rent. Those who purchase their houses are likely to be those who most like their houses and who are most likely to have continued to rent them for some considerable time in any event. As I have said previously, an earlier study of an English local authority in whose area a great many houses were sold indicated that the houses sold would, had they remained in the local authority rented stock, have not become available for reletting for about 30 years.
However, we accepted that there was a measure of disquiet about one particular aspect of housing in rural areas. On disquiet, my information is that only two out of the eight district councils in the Highlands Region have made any representations to the Secretary of State about sales in their areas. At any rate, there was and there remains the possibility 823 that the house would be sold to a sitting tenant and thereafter sold to a townsman or someone who would use it as a second or holiday home. For reasons which we went into in Committee, we believe that the likelihood of this is not very strong, but nevertheless to take account of the fears of some rural local authorities, we accepted an amendment at an earlier stage in this Bill which would have the effect of protecting the stock if there were any significant sign of large-scale disposals for second homes.
At this stage I should like to pause and remind the House what the position is at the moment under the Bill. Under Clause 4 there is a power to designate an area within the local authority area, and when certain things happen—that is to say, when more than one-third of the number of dwelling-houses which the landlord owned have been sold, and an unreasonable proportion of those have been resold and are now no longer used as principal homes—then the pre-emption clause comes in. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, at the Committee stage was concerned as to the position in, for instance, a village. I prepared a rather nice little example of what could happen in Thurso, but as he is not here it rather loses its point.
This power to designate is not only concerned with large concentrations of houses; it could quite easily be triggered off in a village where there are comparatively few, or very few, houses. Unless they were all bought at the same time, which I think is most unlikely bearing in mind the fact that most of the people who buy these houses are likely to be there and to remain there for a good number of years, and unless they were then sold off again and became second homes, the chances of a drastic diminution of the housing stock occurring in this way are, I think, minimal.
Even if that were to take place, it would take place, would it not, in one of three eventualities? If houses in rural areas are sold, they may first be sold by people who want to continue the sort of work that those who previously resided in them carried on. Secondly, they might want to live in the house in the country and commute, say, to a nearby town. Or thirdly the house could be bought 824 and used as a second or holiday home. Bear in mind that unfortunately but inevitably there has been a drift from the rural areas because of the increased efficiency, for instance, of agriculture and the increased mobility of trades and services like, for instance, farriers; the drift from the countryside has continued, although, I am glad to say, to a certain degree, it has now bottomed out, and that is certainly so in the Highlands and Islands. If the housing stock were taken up by people who came into the first two categories, that would be evidence in fact of an economic resurgence in that particular area. It would be very welcome, and I suggest that the local authority would probably be keen to build more houses in that particular area.
But there is a further safeguard to which I am prompted by Lord Ross's remark that there are not people in the rural areas who are willing to let houses—that is to say, private landlords. Of course under this Bill they will. The reason is the short-hold tenancies that we are bringing in. For the first time for many years there will be every inducement to the private landlord to let houses on a short-term basis, which will precisely tide over a rural area which comes to need extra housing in the circumstances which I have described. I hope that under the Bill as it is at the moment the situation, on reflection, is satisfactory.
The amendment widens the scope for pre-emption to all houses in rural areas with no criteria to guide the Secretary of State. As I have said, I have always considered that the law should be explicit and that people likely to be affected by the law should know how that law is likely to affect them. They should be able to base their decisions on a reasonable interpretation of the law. This amendment, by striking out subsection (7), gives no guidance whatsoever to the local authority seeking a designation, nor to the council tenant considering his future plans in respect of housing, nor to the Secretary of State in considering whether the authority should be allowed to apply pre-emption conditions. It would leave a large number of local authority tenants in doubt as to their standing. A country dweller, on considering how much he would have to save and how long it would take him to do so, could in the middle see the rules of the game changed, perhaps 825 quite capriciously and for reasons which he could not possibly have forecast, simply because he lived in a rural area.
The House has frequently shown its concern for those who live in the countryside where public transport is poor, schooling can be difficult, and prices are higher than in the towns. This amendment would put the country dweller at yet another disadvantage as compared with his opposite number in the town. It would deny him the full freedom of being an unfettered home-owner for no good reason other than that he lived in an area which someone had decided to designate as a rural area.
Like other noble Lords I have a knowledge of the countryside and those who live in it, and I am quite sure that if this amendment were accepted it would do nothing to help the countryman. In fact, it would do the reverse. Once more he would see himself as discriminated against by legislation, and Parliament would he unsympathetic to his needs while conferring rights upon town dwellers which would not be available to him. For all those reasons I do not commend this amendment to the House, and indeed I must ask that it be rejected.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, that was just about as disappointing a reply as many of the others. The noble Earl said that this House has been responsive to the needs of the rural areas. How right he is. But it was usually against the advice of the Government when we voted. The Government were wrong. I suggest that they are wrong again here in thinking that there is any protection in this possible pre-emption—the designation and application by the local authority, and then the Secretary of State making the order after more than a third of the number of dwelling houses had been sold and the Secretary of State is satisfied that an unreasonable portion of the houses sold have been resold.
The noble Earl seems to forget that the situation in the rural areas so far as public sector housing is concerned is very different indeed from that in the urban areas. In Scotland as a whole in the urban areas about 58 per cent. of the houses are public sector houses, but not so in the rural areas. The figure there overall in rural areas is about 38 per cent., but I can 826 take him to places, Skye and other areas, where it is only 20 per cent.
I wish I had the confidence that he shows that the short tenancy is going to solve any problems. Can he tell me whether he is going to make houses available on short tenancies? I wish we had the time to do this. Remember a short tenancy is one that is not already let on a statutory tenancy. I know the Scottish landlords. I have known them for a long time. We tried to be optimistic about what they would do in respect of improvement grants and in respect of making private rented housing available. As soon as they get the house vacant they sell it, and they will continue to do that. We have seen a decline year after year, decade after decade, in the number of houses available for private renting. Private renting used to be the way of life in Scotland, and it has gone.
§ Lord BURTON
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Is it not the case that the private landlord might not let too readily because he is afraid that we might have another Labour Government which would change the legislation and do away with what this excellent legislation is preparing for us now?
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, you have to appreciate the frustrations of the people of Scotland. They have already voted for a Labour Government. In another place there are twice as many Labour Members as there are Conservatives. So far as mandate is concerned, they had no right in mandate and manifesto, or anything, to introduce this at all. There is such a thing as democracy, and that democracy is being frustrated in Scotland at the present time. I am afraid that there will be further consequences of that. Not on the heads of noble Lords will it fall, but on the heads of their comrades in another place who have to bear the brunt of the inflexibility of this Government and their unwillingness to do justice and be responsive to the needs of the people of Scotland. I do not know whether the noble Lord lives in Scotland or whether he has any knowledge of the situation in Scotland.
§ Lord BURTON
My Lords, I think the last time I saw the noble Lord was at 827 a political meeting, when he complained because I was sitting on the front bench of his political meeting in Inverness.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I do not remember having many political meetings in Inverness, but I am sorry to see that I failed to convert the noble Lord. I think the Liberals won Inverness at that time, and the noble Lord will bear me out that we still have a Liberal MP in Inverness. Even Inverness itself is complaining about this Bill, and what it is going to do.
The real trouble is the pressure on the local authority stock. The stock is lower in the rural areas than it is elsewhere, but the pressure is even greater. There are frequently vacancies available, and of course this relieves them. When this was taken up by the Scottish Office and it was pointed out that this would lead to a reduction in the stock, they said, "Well, you have just got to build more". But the Scottish Office is busy refusing the local authorities the right to build more, and so you get the local authorities in this Catch 22 situation.
The noble Earl could have helped. If he thinks subsections (7)(a) and (b) are any protection to the local authority, well he is a pretty poor lawyer. But then I have said he is an English one, and we accept that. No action is going to be taken until a third of the houses are sold, and then the Secretary of State is going to think about it. How long is he going to take for that? We have been waiting for Statements about education from the Secretary of State. The other day we eventually got a non-Statement about health. We are waiting for one on colleges; we have been waiting for that for
§ months. It is going to be a long time before we get a decision on this, and then he has got to make up his mind; he has got to be satisfied.
§ The Minister of State, who says the law has got to be clear and people have got to know where they are, mentioned "an unreasonable proportion". What is an unreasonable proportion? Is it a half, a third, or three-quarters? There is nothing clear about "an unreasonable proportion". There is no protection there for local authorities. The Minister says that local authorities have not been complaining about this. He should consult Shelter. A month or two ago they said that about 10 local authorities had so far replied to a recent Shelter circular on council house sales in rural areas. Only one was unable to agree upon a view on the matter, and even it had its doubts. I quoted some of the things that it said. But in rural areas like Argyll and Bute, and islands where there are a small number of houses in a locality, either all or a percentage of these should remain in council ownership because of the danger of depopulation, the cost of replacement, infrastructure for industry and other services necessary to support a community in such an area. The Government are making no effort at all to protect the local authority, and whatever effort they make is going to be too late when it does come, if it ever conies. I think we need to divide the House on this one.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 24) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 32; Not-Contents, 80.829
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L|
|Blease, L.||Howie of Troon, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Janner, L.||Segal, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||McCarthy, L.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Maelor, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Mishcon, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Peart, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Phillips, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Fortescue, E.||Margadale, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gainford, L.||Marley, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Avon, E.||Gibson-Watt, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Glendevon, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Godber of Wellington, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Belstead, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Gray, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Burton, L.||Gridley, L.||Pender, L.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Haig, E.||Remnant, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Harvington, L.||Renton, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Henley, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Chelwood, L.||Hives, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Craigavon, V.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Selkirk, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Hunt of Fawley, L.||Selsdon, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Sharpies, B.|
|Crathorne, L.||Kemsley, V.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Cullen of Ash bourne, L.||Killearn, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|De La Warr, E.||Kimberley, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Denham, E.||Kinnaird, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Digby, L.||Kinross, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Dulverton, L.||Long, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Dundee, E.||Lyell, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Mansfield, E.||Young, B.|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 25 not moved.]
§ Clause 5 [Loans]:
§ 9.10 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 11, line 38, leave out from beginning to ("a") in line 39.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this clause, which deals with loans, is spattered all over with such phrases as:
…shall be in such form as the Secretary of State shall by order made by statutory instrument prescribe
Subject to such requirements as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument impose
and a little later:
…calculated in accordance with regulations made by order made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State".
So it goes on, and in subsection (6) we find:
…subject to such requirements as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument impose".
That embraces Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 28 to which, with the permission of
the House, I will speak at the same time. I suggest it is rather an imposition on the House, and stretching our credulity rather far, that we should give the Secretary of State power to do certain things when we have not yet been given the slightest indication of what he will do. Consider the one which by this amendment we are seeking to delete:
Subject to such requirements as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument impose, a landlord"—
which is the local authority—
or other body which receives an application
and so on.
What are the requirements that the Secretary of State feels it so necessary he must put in? We are simply asking for information about this important part of the Bill relating to loans. We are told that the loan is to be
calculated in accordance with regulations made by order made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State".
§ One would have thought that by this stage we would have been told about these calculations. This is all very important for the tenant who has applied for a loan to purchase his house. It is equally important from the point of view of local authorities; and not all local authorities are as unscrupulously opposed to doing anything that is legal as the Minister of 831 State would suggest. We are entitled to information about what the Secretary of State proposes to do and why he is taking these powers. After all, it is the local authority's house and it is the local authority's money that is being loaned. Yet the Secretary of State is the one who has to determine everything, and it is time that we were given some indication of what all these directions and regulations mean. I do not expect an answer, but I shall still move the amendment because I hope for better things. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, the noble Lord puts two questions in effect. First, he asks: Why is the Secretary of State taking powers that are described in, for instance, Clause 5(3) and (6)? The noble Lord then asks what form will these orders take and what will they reflect so far as the will of the Secretary of State is concerned? With regard to subsection (3), the duty of the local authority is to provide loans in order that the tenants who have taken up the right to buy their homes are provided with the means of exercising that right.
The Bill is drafted in effect with the intention of giving tenants every encouragement to seek private finance, but we say that where they cannot do that, there is no reason why they should not receive a loan from their landlord. No additional public expenditure is involved. A slice of debt is transferred from one account of the authority to another account, and the tenant makes mortgage repayments to the second account instead of paying rent to the first account. Therefore, it is encumbent upon the Secretary of State to prescribe the rules relating to mortgages for tenants applying under the right to buy. If there were no rules, authorities would, for instance, have complete discretion to refuse tenants loans of a realistic amount.
The noble Lord has made much of the fact—though not unfairly—that details of the rules have not been available to the House. I am afraid that they are still not available. As the Bill was going through another place, it was said on a number of occasions that the rules will reflect existing practice by building societies and housing authorities, and I am 832 informed that consultation with these bodies is still going on. It would be wrong to rush the preparation of the rules. Obviously they need to be detailed and thorough, and we must try to get them right.
I turn now to Amendment No. 28, since I think that the noble Lord spoke to that amendment, too. It will be obvious that the Government are to be very sparing in the use of the provision referred to here, since it is a fail-safe provision. I am sorry that I cannot give the noble Lord more information now. There is no dark or sinister purpose, as I have tried to say, and certainly there is no intention of withholding information. But we want to have consultations and get the regulations right at the proper time.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, blessed is he who expecteth little for he shall not be disappointed. The Bill has been on its way for over six months. Am I to understand that the Government have been discussing this matter with local authorities for six months and yet cannot give even a glimmer of information about it to your Lordships? I can remember a time when very distinguished Members of the party opposite used to go around the country with statutory instruments and orders, speaking on the evils of delegated legislation. Delegated legislation is sometimes absolutely essential. We could not govern the country or carry out Acts of Parliament without it. Those gentlemen who toured the country speaking about delegated legislation should be the last people to allow a Government to take powers without that Government saying what those powers are to be. Here we have four instances of the Government taking powers. First, we have the phrase, "shall by order Secondly, there is the word, "may". The third example is mandatory, and in the fourth the word "may" is used again.
We have not been given a single explanation of what is going to be contained in these powers. It is not good enough for any reasonable Government to come along and ask for this. All I can say is that it justifies my low opinion of the present Government, that they have stumbled along in this way. I have the impression that they are feeling their way in this Bill, and this is why I am convinced 833 that the consequences are going to be dire, both for them and for Scotland. I will withdraw the amendment that I have moved, and I will not move the next two amendments.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.]
§ Clause 7 [Duties of landlords]:
§ 9.21 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 14, line 33, at end insert—
("(c) Powers in any such enactment shall be exercised by the Secretary of State for the purpose of Part I of this Act by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 7 is the clause which deals with the duties of the landlords, and indeed outlines the responses that the landlords have to make in order to progress the purchase of the house and the granting of the loan. It also outlines the powers that the Government give to the Lands Tribunal. I do not suppose the noble Earl wants me to read about the powers of the Lands Tribunal after his last episode in respect of that, hut I am concerned about subsection (4). I raised the matter in Committee, because I have more than the feeling that the more open the Government are about what powers they are going to use, and their insistence that they will use them if necessary, the more will be the salutary effect upon local authorities and those who constitute those local authorities.
I gave the noble Earl the opportunity, and he imputed the motive to me that all I wanted him to do was to state this and then I would find some way or other to get round it legally. He did not know me, obviously, or he would not have made that suggestion. But, anyway, subsection (4) says:
Nothing in this section shall affect the operation of the provisions of any other enactment relating to the enforcement of a statutory duty whether under that enactment or otherwise".
I feel that a warning should be given to local authorities in respect of the use of this power, and so in this amendment I have suggested:
Powers in any such enactment shall be exercised by the Secretary of State for the purpose of Part 1 of this Act by statutory instrument which shall be subject to anulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament".
That means that they will need to publish it and there will be a debate in either of the Houses of Parliament, or indeed in both. I think that will all be to the good in the situation that might well arise if the worst fears of the noble Earl come to be.
§ That is the justification for this amendment—no other. Let the noble Earl not impute any further such degrading motives to me, please. Let him treat the amendment as it is. I justify it on the basis that the matter will be of very considerable importance. The matter should be debated, and everyone should be clear as to what the Government are doing and why they are doing it. One of the best ways to ensure that is to have a debate in this or the other House. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State, in exercising his default powers under any enactment in relation to Part I of the Bill, to do so by statutory instrument, subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. Really, the effect of this amendment would be nothing but an obstacle to proper action being taken by the Secretary of State against a local authority which was refusing to carry out its statutory duties. It would require the Secretary of State to seek Parliament's permission, through a statutory instrument, to take default action against such an authority. I ask the House to consider whether it is likely, or even imaginable, that there are circumstances in which Parliament would wish to say to a Secretary of State that he must stand idly by while a local authority flouts the law. I suggest that such a situation is inconceivable and that it would be a little absurd to require a Secretary of State to make a statutory instrument and to make that statutory instrument subject to Negative Resolution procedure.
It is not as if we are dealing with draconian powers when we talk about the Secretary of State's powers in relation to default. Section 211 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 provides that the first step is for the Secretary of State to order a public inquiry to establish whether default exists. Only if 835 that inquiry finds evidence of default may the Secretary of State make a direction that the authority should carry out its duties and, if the authority continue to disregard the law, it is for the courts rather than the Secretary of State to decide on what further action should be taken. One asks whether any of this procedure is liable to, or even capable of, misuse? I suggest that the answer is, No. I do not wish to bore the House with details of administrative machinery; but it takes the best part of two months to propose and make the simplest of statutory instruments so that, even if the order were not prayed against, an authority would gain that much extra licence for defiance of the law. If any Member of either House were to pray against the order, the Secretary of State would be inhibited from taking action for an even longer period. I cannot believe that the House would wish to make it difficult for the Secretary of State to take action against defaulting authorities; and I hope that, in the circumstances, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw this amendment.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I sought at Committee stage to get some full explanation of what the Government wanted to do. We have had more information tonight—the point about the public inquiry. We are thankful for small mercies. I see some of the disadvantages here, but I think that if I had desired to be obstructive I could have suggested the Affirmative Resolution procedure rather than the Negative procedure because, as the noble Earl knows, the Negative procedure would still allow the Secretary of State to act and thereafter could be followed by parliamentary action which may or may not take place. It does not always follow that there will be procedure invoked by Parliament. However, in view of what the noble Earl has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 30 to 34 not moved.]
§ Clause 16 [Tenant's right to written lease]:
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is concerned with the right to a written lease. The local authority must provide a written lease to new tenants within a year. In the case of their old tenants, they have two years in which to do so. I suggest that they can do so quite easily within one year. They usually have a new lease every time they change the rent. It would not be beyond the wit of a local authority to get this completed within one year. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, Clause 16(1) provides that every secure tenancy created after the commencement of this clause shall be constituted by writing which shall be probative or holograph of the parties. I see the reasonableness and understand the desirability of giving tenants written leases as soon as possible. The very fact that this provision is in the Bill indicates our sympathy to that proposition. However, we live in the real world and I do not believe it would be realistic to expect every authority to provide this document to every tenant within one year of the commencement of the clause. To quote two examples: in the case of Glasgow, to impose this requirement would mean the preparation of over 150,000 such documents and arrangements being made for 150,000 tenants to sign them. Even a medium sized authority, such as Motherwell, would have over 40,000 such documents to deal with, and 40,000 signatures. The sheer administrative task involved in preparing the leases and ensuring that they are consistent with earlier agreements, written or otherwise, between the tenant and landlord is enormous—and remember we are asking authorities to do this at a time when the Bill before us will require them to do a number of novel things, to reorganise their housing management arrangements and to set up procedures for selling houses.
This, too, is at a time when it is essential that local authority manpower is kept under control and administration costs are minimised. I hope that many authorities will meet the timetable which the amendment seeks to place upon them; but I do not accept that it is realistic to expect every authority to do so. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord will agree that 837 what is proposed in the Bill is reasonable in the circumstances.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I know that the noble Earl has a poor opinion of Scottish local authorities; he has told us about it before. I have a very much higher opinion of Glasgow's administrative capacity to deal with that number of tenants and their problems. This has already been proved by their activities. I have confidence that they could do it in a year, and it is important that the tenants should have this lease as early as possible. It is unfair that they should have to wait for two years. However, I bow to the noble Earl. He says they cannot do it. I am perfectly sure that most of them could, but I am not going to fight about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 17 [Variation of terms of secure tenancies]:
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 36:
Page 23, line 4, leave out from second ("may") to end of line 6 and insert—
("refer the matter to the Lands Tribunal for Scotland for determination.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we could here get on. with this and take Amendments Nos. 36, 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 together. It is no surprise to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate that I have a strange love for the Lands Tribunal in Scotland. I remember that when we were dealing with the question of the feudal reform in Scotland, where it came to a restrictive condition where the person taking over the land, ground or it may have been house, thought the restriction was one which created hardship he had a right to appeal to the Lands Tribunal.
§ This variation of lease is the kind of thing that the Lands Tribunal could do very well. We should not burden the sheriff with that. There has been an overdue burden of bringing the sheriff into this. I was glad to see the Lands Tribunal was brought in in respect of an earlier part of the Bill: the right to purchase and the conditions attached thereto. In relation to the lease the sheriff is not necessarily the 838 right person to deal with this. That is why I suggest the Lands Tribunal for Scotland is right for the determination of this matter. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I appreciate the desire of the noble Lord but I cannot accept these amendments. It is well established that in Scotland disputes between landlord and tenant relating to tenancy conditions are settled by the sheriff and there is no good reason why this should be changed now. The Lands Tribunal has historically had a different part to play. Their main remit is to deal with conditions attached to land and disputes between feuars and land superiors. The use in Part I of the Bill of the Lands Tribunal is because their specialised knowledge of conveyancing and conditions attached to the disposal of heritable property is appropriate to dealing with the problems which may arise between the landlord as seller and the tenant as purchaser of a house. Those skills could not appropriately be exercised in dealing with disputes between a landlord and a tenant who intends to continue as a tenant. For those reasons I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 37 to 41 not moved.]
§ Clause 26 [Restriction on residential requirements]:
§ 9.36 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 42:
Page 28, line 15, at end insert—
("( ) Housing lists shall be reviewed at regular intervals; shall be brought and kept up to date; and shall be available for inspection at all reasonable times at local authority offices.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I suggest that this is an addition to Clause 26 and we go to page 28, line 15. Here we are dealing with matters relating to public sector housing authorities, with questions of allocation and the new rights to knowledge that are being introduced for tenants of local authority houses and for would-be 839 tenants of local authority houses. I suggest that housing lists should be reviewed at regular intervals showing housing allocations and also showing the responsibilities at the requisite times at local authority offices. I do not know how many times in the past people have come to me and said: "I thought I was on the housing list and they tell me I am not," or: "I applied on such a date and they tell me there is no trace of my letter." If there was more public display in respect of housing lists, that situation would not arise.
§ Also, how many times have I heard Government Ministers say: "It is no use quoting to us the number of people on a waiting list. The lists are unrealistic and out-of-date." Would it not be a good thing if we could get really reliable information and placed the responsibility on the housing authorities to keep the housing lists up-to-date, review them and keep them on public display, so that the local people will be able to inspect them at all reasonable times? The noble Earl will say, "What do I mean by at regular intervals'? "If it were every year or every six months I think most people would be satisfied, but the fact that it is being done at all would be a very considerable advance on the present situation. From that point of view, I am happy to move Amendment No. 42.
§ I could deal with Amendment No. 43 by argument at the same time, where I deal with allocations. Nothing causes more trouble in a village. I have said before that people are very subjective about housing. They can see their own case but they are not prepared to see justice in anybody else's—either their case, their son's or their daughter's. There is nothing more troublesome than allocations. There is also nothing worse than hiding away the allocations from people. I think there should be open publication of all allocations when they are made. A housing scheme nearing completion—I used to know that by the number of people who would come to see me at various points in one of my surgeries, and they would be troubled and concerned about the allocations that had been made. Now we have changed the allocation system; we have insisted that local authorities show on their housing lists 840 allocations so that people know the property is allocated and there is no priority or favouritism for local people: people from outside may equally have a claim.
§ I think the more openness we have in local government by openly proclaiming the allocation of houses when they are made, the better. It may well be that a house is vacant and someone has moved into it. Publish it so that people know. If there is going to be publicity, it is less likely that there will be suggestions of unfair dealing in relation to allocations. Many a person has discovered very late that an unfair allocation has been made, and has discovered it in a roundabout way. It is far, far better that the allocation should be open. I beg to move.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, it might be more useful to talk to both Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 in the context of Clause 27, which requires authorities to publish their allocation rules, than in relation to Clause 26, which prohibits various types of restrictions affecting allocations. But be that as it may, there is a great difference between the publication of an authority's allocation and transfer rules, and the publication of housing lists.
The purpose of requiring the publication of rules is partly to open up allocation practices to public scrutiny, so that the community as a whole can judge whether they are fair, and partly to allow applicants to work out in general terms what realistic expectations of housing or rehousing they should entertain. Once the rules are known, the community at large will not have the information necessary to determine whether a particular applicant's place on the housing list reflects his personal circumstances, so the publication of lists, as opposed to rules, could be of relevance only to individual applicants.
If such applicants have any reason to believe that the rules are not being operated fairly, they can complain to their local councillor. A number of such complaints find their way every year to the Commissioner for Local Administration, the Ombudsman, and in many cases they stem partly from resentment that another individual applicant has been allocated 841 a house in preference to the complainant. In virtually every case, the Ombudsman discovers that there are perfectly good reasons for this, and the fact that these groundless complaints arise so frequently illustrates the case against the publication of housing lists. It would breed personal resentments between individual tenants.
Cases in which a recent application gets a higher priority on the list than people who do not have acute needs, but have been on the list for a while, or cases where, although an applicant is top of the list, the authorities decide that there are good reasons for allocating a particular house to someone else, would cause resentment even though the authority was acting perfectly reasonably. So long as an applicant can assess his own priority for housing he does not need to know, and it is undesirable to know, other people's business, bearing in mind that housing priority can be based on confidential information which it is quite wrong should be open to inference from published lists.
If I may turn for a moment to Amendment No. 43, and the question of allocations, what I said previously applies even more strongly to the proposal by the noble Lord that lists of actual allocations should he published. Apart from the general arguments which I have set out, there are occasionally very good reasons why some allocations should not be published. One example which springs to mind is where a battered wife is rehoused and is terrified that her husband, or former husband, may find out her new address. As I have already said, there are adequate remedies available to anyone who has reason to believe that allocations are being made unfairly, but there is no reason to believe that the publication of details of individual allocations would be beneficial in this respect. I share the concern of the noble Lord that, as far as possible, these matters should be decided in conditions under which every tenant can see what is being done and how fair it is. But there have to be limits drawn and I think that they are more or less right in the Bill.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, there is no doubt that there has to be a housing list. We have had complaints 842 time and again. The Government have complained, and the Scottish housing adviser has complained, about the unrealistic nature of waiting lists. If we are to have lists of people waiting for houses, then they should be as accurate as possible. Indeed, that was the purpose of my suggestion that lists should be reviewed and kept up to date. It will need to be done. There is no reason why it should not be available for people to see whether their name is on that list when they think that it is, rather than two or three years later to discover that it is not.
I take the point that this might have been better in relation to Amendment No. 27. I do not think anybody will disagree that we must have rules and that they must be published so that people know what they are. However, I assure the noble Earl that people will get to know who has been allocated a house. It is far, far better to be open and to say that they have been allocated a house. One can easily cover the point about the battered wife who does not want her address to be made known. It is not necessary to give the address. One could exercise caution there.
I completely disagree with the suggestion of the Minister that it might not be desirable to publish the names of those who have been allocated houses. People will find out, will give the wrong reasons for the allocation and will create unnecessary trouble. This might be one of the reasons for the complaints to the Ombudsman. We might obviate the need for that kind of action by much more openness and by having everything more publicly discussed. However, I do not think that the Government are going to move on this. I had hoped that we would make progress, but I will withdraw Amendment No. 42 and not move Amendment No. 43.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 43 not moved.]
§ Clause 28 [Repeal of provisions of Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Act 1975]:
§ [Amendment No. 44 not moved.]843
§ Clause 31 [Local authority and Housing Corporation indemnities for building societies, etc.]:
§ 9.47 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 45:
Page 33, line 18, leave out subsection (3).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is important. Here is a case where, under circumstances which I know nothing about, the Secretary of State is going to give power for general agreements to be approved between local authorities and building societies if he is satisfied about specified requirements between local authorities and building societies whereby the local authority guarantees to indemnify the building society for any loss, I presume, in respect of a home loan—not necessarily moneys lent in respect of the purchase of a local authority house but any house at all.
§ I want to know the reasoning behind this and just how much is involved and what the local authority associations feel about it. We are going a bit beyond it. We have tried to lure the building societies into the lower end of the market. When there were flats for sale in Glasgow in tenement property—sometimes good, sometimes bad—we found that the building societies would not support the purchasers. I think that it was the Labour Government who agreed to set aside a certain sum of money for the building societies to go into this market, but they never took it up. It has been very disappointing. The Minister said that a great deal of the money will come in from the building societies for the local authorities—that it will flow immediately into the coffers of the local authorities and enable them to go on with building houses on a large scale. The scenario which has been built up by the Government in respect of the sale of council houses will not, I think, come about. I do not think that the building societies are going to enter into this in any considerable way. In effect, it will come down to loans by local authorities, as provided for in the Bill.
§ I am interested in the indemnity for building societies in respect of any debtor. But what are the limits to it to be? What 844 is going to be in the mind of the Secretary of State when he gives approval? It may be given generally, as it says here, and with or without conditions, if he thinks fit, and such approval may be withdrawn at any time on one month's notice. The Secretary of State may know something about it and some of the local authorities may know something about it. I do not, and I shall want to be convinced before I allow a thing like this to pass. I am sure that goes for most noble Lords here; we like to know what we are legislating for.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I take this to be a probing amendment. I do not suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, really cares so much about subsection (3) as the effects of the clause and I shall try to enlighten him a little. The purpose of the clause is to enable a local authority or a Housing Corporation to indemnify a building society against incidental losses resulting from a borrower's default as well as repayment of the whole or part of a borrower's outstanding debt, subject to the Secretary of State's approval.
Subsection (3) provides that the Secretary of State's approval may be given generally or in respect of individual agreements. It is envisaged that the Secretary of State will give his approval, after discussion with COSLA, the Housing Corporation and the Building Societies Association, to a model form of agreement in order to benefit, as do commercial guarantees, from the increased speed of standardised procedures. An individual local authority or the Housing Corporation would therefore itself need to seek approval only if it proposed to depart from the model. I understand that the building societies place considerable importance on this power on the part of the Secretary of State to prescribe a standard form of indemnity agreement. The noble Lord asked about the costs covered with indemnity: they represent such matters as legal costs, repossession costs and outstanding interest. I hope the noble Lord will agree that this is not only an unobjectionable but indeed a good clause.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I do not know whether it is a good clause from the point of view of the local authorities. It means that the building 845 societies will come in so long as they do not take any risks and the risks will be taken by the local authorities. I think it reflects very considerably upon the building societies. I do not think it is at all good that we have to introduce this in order to get building societies to do what I think is part of their aim and their purpose of supporting house purchase; but in supporting house purchase they normally take a risk. The noble Earl did not answer the question which I asked him: Does this only refer to covering them in respect of home loans that may cover private houses, or is it loans in respect of the purchase of public sector houses under Part 1 of the Bill? I was probing; I do not think I shall get any more from the noble Earl, and it does not really matter. ft will be up to the Secretary of State in this general agreement in respect of certain categories of houses. I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 not moved.]
§ Clause 37 [Limits on rent increases]:
§ 9.54 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 48:
Page 38, line 6, leave out from ("Parliament") to end of line 8.
The noble Lord said: This is an interesting amendment. I do not know how many times Parliament has been asked to give a Secretary of State this kind of power. The Bill says:
An order made under subsection (2) above shall be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution by either House of Parliament, and may contain such supplementary and incidental provisions as the Secretary of State thinks fit".
Usually we specify very carefully just exactly what power we give to a Secretary of State, and I cannot remember many instances in which a Secretary of State took power to go beyond what Parliament has given him. It
may contain such supplementary and incidental provisions as the Secretary of State thinks fit".
With all due respect, it is Parliament that should think fit about the powers that are exercised by the Secretary of State, and we
should be very careful indeed. He specifies the maximum amount; he does this by statutory instrument. How he needs to go beyond this with supplementary and incidental provisions we should be informed about, because Parliament is usually very jealous of its powers being exercised outside by statutory instrument, and we should know the extent to which we are giving this power. What are the supplementary and incidental provisions? Incidental I can understand; supplementary I cannot—supplementary to what? I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, with respect, is reading into the clause a sinister connotation which really does not exist. It is essential that there is flexibility in relation to the various circumstances that can arise following registration or re-registration of a fair rent. Subsection (1) of this clause repeals Schedule 2 to the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Act 1975, and that schedule covers such matters as definitions of noted amount, previous rental limits, how to treat rates when they are included in the rent payable, what happens when the rent is increased, and so on. All these and other matters will have to be covered by the order. Thus it is not possible for the order simply to say that the rent can only go up to EX, which is the effect that acceptance of the noble Lord's amendment would have. I do assure the noble Lord that the words which he seeks to delete are a standard provision in cases of this nature, and I do assure the noble Lord that they are unobjectionable.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
Well, my Lords, if it is a standard provision, and that is the standard explanation, I am perfectly sure the House is unenlightened. I think it is time we looked into this kind of thing and suggested to the draftsmen that they should be a little bit tighter in their language and not give such open powers to the Secretary of State—"supplementary and incidental provisions as the Secretary of State thinks fit". That is a fairly wide power and I would hesitate to agree with the noble Earl that this is standard practice. I doubt very much if it is. I will not at this hour go any further on the point. I have seen the day, and I could think of the people concerned, some 847 of them in this House now, who would have kept the House up all night on giving this kind of power by statutory instrument to the Secretary of State as he thinks fit; certainly not. i beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 40 [Extension of Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 to Crown tenants of Crown Estate Commissioners etc.]:
Lord LYELL moved Amendment No. 49:
Page 40, line 38, leave out ("paragraphs") and insert ("subsections").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple drafting amendment which seeks to correct a small error in terminology. We find in the second line of subsection (5) —I think it is line 38—the word "paragraphs". I understand that paragraphs are usually only referred to when we are dealing with schedules to the Act, and this time we are dealing with subsections. I beg to move.
§ Clause 55 [Notice to quit relating to Part VII contracts entered into after the commencement of Part IV]:
Lord LYELL moved Amendment No. 50:
Page 47, line 13, at end insert ("of this Act").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is also a drafting amendment, which attempts to make clear that the Sections 92 to 95A, which are referred to, are those in the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971, because they could apply to any other Act virtually at will. This amendment seeks to make clear the Act to which these particular sections apply. I beg to move.
§ [Amendment No. 51 not moved.]
§ Clause 62 [Publication by local authorities of information as to rights]:
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 52:
Page 49, line 25, after (" 980") insert ("and Part I of the Tenants' Rights, Etc., (Scotland) Act 1980").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 52 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 53. The House will remember that a short time ago I was asking for information to be given to tenants who were would-be purchasers. I remember someone saying, "You don't need to tell tenants these things—dumb peasants" and so on. Well, here we are, and where is he? Is he rising in his wrath to say that this clause is unnecessary? The clause says:
The powers of local authorities to publish information for the assistance of landlords and tenants as to their rights and duties shall be extended so as to include all such obligations under the Rent (Scotland) Acts 1971 to 1980".
Then there is a definition on page 59 of the Rent Acts 1971 to 1980 and we discover that part of this Bill will thereafter be included, but not Part I.
§ I think that it is very important that local authorities should have the power to give information for the assistance of landlords and tenants as to their rights and duties. I do not know whether this has been a deliberate piece of drafting, whether it is an error or whether we shall be told that they have the right to do it from somewhere else. But, I have looked at the 1971 Act and I think that it would be far, far better and far safer to give this power to local authorities to cover Part I of the Bill as well, and that is the reason for the amendment. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, Clause 62 extends the powers of local authorities to publish information for the assistance of landlords and tenants to include all rights and duties under the Rent Acts. It is desirable that authorities have such powers in order to ensure the dissemination of information about the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords in the private sector. Such tenants and landlords may not otherwise be in a position easily to discover, or to tell each other, what their legal position is.
The position of public housing authorities and their tenants is entirely different. Housing authorities have large staffs, including legal advisers, and are fully aware of their own and their tenants' rights and responsibilities. They already have powers to pass on this information to their tenants, and have every incentive to do so. The Scottish Office has in preparation, and will make available to 849 tenants as soon as possible after commencement of the Bill when it becomes an Act, an explanation leaflet on the right to buy.
So far as the provisions of this Bill are concerned, I am slightly surprised that the noble Lord has sought to include here Part I rather than Part II, which deals with the more apposite question of public sector tenants' rights generally. However, I can assure the noble Lord that local authorities have powers to publicise to their tenants all the implications of any provision of this Bill which concerns them, and that every encouragement will be given to them to do so wherever it seems desirable that the information which we intend to provide centrally to tenants should be supplemented by them on the local level. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will concede that this amendment is unnecessary.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I was going to suggest that the substance of the noble Earl's speech was that the amendment is unnecessary. That being so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 53 not moved].
§ Clause 63 [Recovery of possession of dwelling-house subject to regulated tenancy]:
§ 10.5 p.m.
The Earl of MANSFIELD moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 49, line 39, at end insert—
("(iA) the owner-occupier has died, and the dwelling-house is required as a residence for a member of his family who was residing with him at the time of his death; or").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 54. At the moment Case 11 does not provide for a member of the owner-occupier's family to require possession unless he or she was also living in the house when the owner-occupier last lived there. This would not, for example, cover the situation where the owner-occupier was single at the time of the letting, marries and subsequently dies, or if he remarries after the letting and then dies. This is, however, a circumstance 850 for which Case 11A—which gives the owner of a retirement home an absolute right to a possession order—has always provided, and it is appropriate that it should be one of the conditions also under which Case 11 can be operated. It has the added advantage of bringing Scottish law into line with English law on this point, which is perhaps particularly important in relation to the amendment shortly to be moved by my noble friend Lord Selkirk, which seeks to apply Case 11 to his new Case 17 relating to servicemen. I beg to move.
The Earl of SELKIRK moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 50, line 43, leave out first ("Case") and insert ("Cases").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 55 and to speak to Amendment No. 56, both in the names of myself and noble Lords whose support I greatly value. The purpose of this amendment is to enable members of the armed forces to buy their houses when they are serving and to let them in order to pay the mortgage money; and thereafter, when they leave the services, to recover possession of their houses. This has been discussed at the Committee stage and I shall not enlarge on these matters at all.
§ However, the amendment which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has just moved is a very valuable and proper one and I am very grateful for it. I know that the noble Earl had a little difficulty about this amendment and I am extremely grateful to him for the help which he has given, and particularly for drafting Amendment No. 56 in a manner which I hope is entirely satisfactory. I have to draw attention to one printers' error. Paragraph (e)(ii) contains the word "Case" in the second line, and then there is a Roman "II". That ought to be "11", in what I believe are called Arabic figures. I believe that otherwise this is well within the prerogative of the Table to put right, so I do not propose to make any further comment. I beg to move.
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Segal)
My Lords, I take it that it is the wish of the mover that both amendments be taken together?
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, the purpose of these amendments is already well known to your Lordships through the eloquence of my noble friend and his co-sponsors—if that is the word—at various moments during the passage of this and the Housing Bill through your Lordships' House. I am very pleased to be able to recommend both these amendments to your Lordships, and I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend for the able and agreeable way in which he has pushed forward his point of view.
§ Lord GREENWOOD of ROSSENDALE
My Lords, if I may, I should like briefly to add my appreciation both to the Minister and to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. He has given us splendid leadership on this subject; all of us have been very proud to be associated with him. He is a splendid president of the Building Societies Association. On this occasion I think that he has shown great clarity of judgment and considerable tactical skill. I know that your Lordships will be grateful to him, and I hope that many thousands of servicemen and women will also share that appreciation.
The Earl of BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, may I also support my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, in what they have said. As the president of the South Eastern Association of Building Societies, it is clear that I am not a Scot, and I am not president of the Scottish association; but I should like to support my noble friend and the noble Lord in this matter because this is something which the members of the armed services will greatly appreciate and which they greatly deserve. I am sorry that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, is not also here to support the amendment on behalf of all the armed forces.
I am sure that it is right that this should happen for those who have been serving abroad and also in Northern Ireland, and even I hope ultimately it might be possible for those in the armed forces who serve perhaps in some other part of the United Kingdom from the point at which they reside to benefit. I hope that this may be possible, but it is gratifying that my noble friend Lord Mansfield should have accepted this amendment. We must all be most grateful to him for doing so.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I also say how welcome this amendment is? May I draw attention to one small point? It seems incongruous that one should have two definitions in the same Bill of "regular armed forces of the Crown". My noble friend will be aware that there is a definition in Clause 1(12) of the Bill, where it admittedly says "In this section". But if it were thought fit, it might make it a little more tidy to introduce this amendment on Third Reading.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, perhaps I might answer the point made by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. I drew this point to the attention of the draftsman. His answer was that he thought it wise that the definition in this clause should be the same in the Housing Bill as in the Tenants' Rights Bill. He agreed it was perhaps a little anomalous to have two definitions in one Bill. That is the answer I received, and it seemed to me at least to be adequate.
The Earl of SELKIRK moved Amendment No. 56:
Page 51, line 8, at end insert—
Where the dwelling-house is let by a person (in this Case referred to as "the owner") at any time after the commencement of section (Recovery of possession of dwelling-house subject to regulated tenancy) of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 and—
Provided that if the court is of the opinion that, notwithstanding that the condition in paragraph (c) or paragraph (d) above is not complied with, it is just and equitable to make an order for possession of the dwelling-house, the court may dispense with the requirements of either or both of these paragraphs, as the case may require.
In this Case "regular armed forces of the Crown" has the same meaning as in section 1 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975").
The DEPUTY SPEAKER
My Lords, the question is that Amendment No. 56 be agreed to, with the correction of the slight printer's error in paragraph (e)(ii) on line 2 that "Case II" should read "Case 11".
§ Clause 64 [Pensions etc. for Rent Assessment Panel]:
§ [Amendment No. 57 not moved.]
§ Clause 65 [Increases in penalties for offences relating to houses in multiple occupation]:
§ 10.14 p.m.
The Earl of MANSFIELD moved Amendment No. 58:
Page 52, line 15, leave out paragraph (g) and insert—
("(g) in section 185(2) after "offence", insert "and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200".").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to correct an error that has inadvertently crept in to the revision of the penalties proposed for offences under subsection (1) of Section 185 of the 1966 Act. Broadly speaking, that subsection provides that the sheriff may order the occupier or owner of premises, who has refused access, to undertake work required to be done in compliance with notices served under Part VI of the 1966 Act or Part II of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1969. If the occupier or owner fails to comply with such an order, at the moment the penalty is a fine not exceeding £20 for each day the failure continues.854
§ It was intended to revise the fines provided for in Section 185(2) of the 1966 Act by, as subsection (l)(g)(i) of Clause 65 correctly does, introducing a new fine of up to £200 where the landlord was guilty of failing to comply with the order made by the sheriff, leaving the fine of £20 unchanged for each day that the failure to comply with the order continued. This is what the equivalent amendment made by the Housing Bill provides. However, when the amendment was moved as a new clause on Report in the other place the £20 for the daily fine was inadvertently amended to £500, and the change has unfortunately not been noticed until now. As I have already indicated, it was not the Government's intention to interfere with the daily fine of up to £20, and the purpose of the amendment is to maintain the status quo in this regard. I beg to move.
Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE moved Amendment No. 59:
After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
"Grants for provision of fire escapes.
( . After section 10A of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1974 there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(10B) Subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may by order make the local authority shall make a grant in respect of work for the provision of a means of escape from fire from a building which, or part of which, is let in lodgings".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 59, which I regard as a very important matter. I am not entirely sure about the drafting —the noble Earl will be delighted to hear this—nor am I entirely sure as to whether it ought to be moved in this House because it does contain certain financial provisions. I do hope, however, that the noble Earl the Minister will discuss it, because it is an extremely serious matter and one which at various times has given rise to a lot of concern not only in Scotland but throughout the Kingdom.
§ This matter was drawn to my attention by the Scottish Council for Single Homes, and the purpose of the amendment is really to improve fire precautions in hostels and lodging-houses. These hostels and lodging-houses have not got to carry out the fire precautions which have been such a burden on Highland hotels and 855 other hotels, but which are so necessary, particularly in the case of some accommodation in Edinburgh where, in one instance where 200 people were accommodated, the cubicles which were described as tinder-boxes. The only fire precautions were hot buckets of sand, water and fire doors. The company managing the premises simply could not afford to make the improvements, and any pressure by the authorities to make these improvements would have resulted in the hostel having to close, as indeed was the case in Fife, where the last hostel for the single homeless had to close in 1977 for this reason.
§ We have all been aware of the tragedies that have occurred through fire in various establishments far better protected than these hostels. I understand that in the English Housing Bill the Government have already made provision for grants up to £5,000, or 75 per cent. of the cost of improvements. It is a matter of urgency and one where, if advantage were not taken of this Bill to put something through, the Government might greatly regret it. I hope that the Minister can perhaps overlook the technicalities which may be wrong about the amendment and will address himself to the substance of what is a very serious matter which should concern us all. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, an amendment in the same terms was not allowed in the other place because it is outside the Money Resolution and I am afraid therefore that I cannot now recommend it to your Lordships on that ground, quite apart from the question of the merits. However, we can discuss the merits of the amendment and it is proper that we should do so. The whole question of control over houses in multiple occupation is at present being studied by the Scottish Development Department and there is also currently going through its parliamentary procedure a comprehensive provisional order sponsored by Glasgow District Council. It is in those contexts that any proposal to pay grants for fire escapes should be considered and it is just not practicable simply to deal with one isolated provision, expecting the Secretary of State to make an order with no indication of the conditions on which it is based.
856 Having said that—and I appreciate the concern of the noble Lord, which I think is generally shared—I would merely remind him that Section 107 of the 1966 Act enables local authorities to require the provision of fire escapes, which of course is a different matter from the provision of cash; but that may act as some consolation to the noble Lord, who I hope will see why in the particular and peculiar circumstances I cannot accept the amendment.
§ Lord ROSS of MA RNOCK
My Lords, may I ask the Minister to say whether the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is right in suggesting that a proposal of this kind was put into the English Housing Bill during its Committee stage? Surely exactly the same kind of conditions would apply, and it seems strange that Scotland once again is being denied provisions which the Government are prepared to see put in an English Housing Bill. There must be some watchdogs for Scotland somewhere, and I do not hear anybody barking on the Benches opposite.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, I would draw the Minister's attention to an amendment which said:After Section 69 insert: 'Mandatory special grants'".The amounts are then specified. However, to enable us to make progress with this Bill and accepting the Minister's assurance that the matter is under study and that he appreciates the seriousness of the position, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD moved Amendment No. 60:
§ After Clause 73, insert the following new clause—
§ ("Discretion of court in cases relating of instalment purchase agreements
§ 73A.—(1) Where, under the terms of an instalment purchase agreement, a person has been let into possession of a dwelling-house and, on the termination of the agreement or of his right to possession under it, proceedings are brought for possession of the dwelling house, the court may—
- (a) adjourn the proceedings; or
- (b) on making an order for possession of the dwelling-house, supersede extract or postpone the date of possession;
§ (2) On any such adjournment, superseding of extract, or postponement the court may impose such conditions with regard to the payment by the person in possession in respect of his continued occupation of the dwelling-house and such other conditions as the court thinks fit.
§ (3) The court may revoke or from time to time vary any condition imposed by virtue of this section.
§ (4) In this section "instalment purchase agreement" means an agreement for the purchase of a dwelling-house under which the whole or part of the purchase price is to be paid in 3 or more instalments and the completion of the purchase is deferred until the whole or a specified part of the purchase price has been paid.")
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this new clause makes equivalent provision for Scotland to a similar clause introduced in your Lordships' House into the Housing Bill relating to England and Wales, on which occasion the principle which it contains received general support. It deals with people buying their homes by instalment purchase—a sort of hire-purchase arrangement—who encounter financial difficulties and have possession proceedings brought against them. This is much more likely to happen to a person buying by instalment purchase than to people buying in the normal way with a mortgage, because instalment purchase is, generally speaking, an extremely disadvantageous means of house-purchase which only those on relatively low or unstable incomes make use of and because those who sell under instalment purchase arrangements are often less compassionate in the event of financial difficulty than building societies, perhaps because they often stand to make substantial financial gains if they can repossess the house.
§ However, the law at present gives the courts discretion to allow mortgage defaulters time to remedy the situation, in order to avoid the necessity for depriving them of possession of the house, but does not give the courts similar powers where an instalment purchaser defaults. This is clearly undesirable particularly since instalment purchasers are probably more likely to find themselves subject to possession proceedings for relatively small amounts of default and without being allowed reasonable time to remedy the default. We have no information about the extent to which instalment purchasers are evicted with unreasonable haste, but 858 we know that instalment purchase is quite common at the bottom end of the housing market in some areas, particularly the cities, and we are sure that this addition to the courts' powers of discretion will be beneficial.
§ [Amendments Nos. 61 to 67 not moved.]