§ Further considered on Third Reading.
§ Clause 60 [Applications for new registered rents and phasing of increases]:
Lord JANNER moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 42, line 33, at end insert—
( ) Except in cases where an increase has not been registered in the preceding three years the Rent Office nor the Rent Tribunal may register a rent which increases the rent previously
registered by a sum the percentage of which exceeds the amount by which the Taxes and Prices Index has increased over the period since the rent was last registered.".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I may be wrong, but I think that we are now on one of the most important sections of the Bill. I do not know whether the noble Lord opposite yet realises—and I am sure that he must have had quite a number of approaches on this matter—how terribly serious the position is for whose who are in flats and those who have been occupying homes for the last 30, 40 and in some cases 50 years. I speak from very long experience. Unless we move rapidly, we shall be allowing to be created—I would not say that we are creating—homelessness for hundreds of thousands of people in this country; because we are dealing with a situation which has placed the tenants, particularly in flats, in a position where they cannot possibly stay, in consequence of the fact that there is a speculators' market today, created by very ingenious people, who have cornered the property market and who are consequently placing, in particular elderly people, in that position. A lot has been said about the elderly people here. But, my Lords, I can go back to the time, before our particular party had created a different situation, when the very poor were able to exist by charity; the very rich were able to exist and they had their health looked after by their own means, but the poor middle man was in a terrible state because his resources were such as would not enable him to obtain the absolute necessities of life.
§ We are now going back to that position and that does not mean merely the former middle man; it means a very large section of the community who would probably be in that particular class, together with their fellow-men. I know that the noble Lord has consideration for the human side of this; it is not just a trivial matter. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will understand what I am driving at when I say that I have seen what happens to people who are so-called middle class, and today I have the greatest fear and I think I am justified in that fear when it comes to a question of housing these people. What is actually happening?
§ We had a Rent Act which was supposed to be a protective Act—to protect people. We increased the amount of the rateable 963 values. It does not protect them in the slightest today, because of what actually happens regarding speculators—and I am not speaking about the old type landlords and the many landlords who are (shall I say?) decent people who think about their tenants and who want to make a modest and a proper living from existing tenancies. But there are no such tenancies today in the speculators' field; they are not out for that at all. What they do is this. They go to rent tribunals who assess—and in many cases assess greater amounts than the rent officers had fixed, amounts which make it impossible for the tenants to remain in their flats or in their homes. This is not a trivial matter. It is a great pity that there are not more noble Lords present, because I am almost certain that this issue affects a very fair percentage of the Members of your Lordships' House.
§ What I am trying to do, with my colleagues, is to prevent an upsurge in this kind of speculation. The only way to do it (apart, of course, from protection of the tenants, which is extremely important) is by keeping rents within certain limits; and I consider it is our duty to do that. We did it with the leasehold system. We allowed leaseholders to buy their places—and mark you, my Lords, we are not helping the middle-class man to buy his place today. Not at all. We are not helping anybody who is just a leaseholder to buy his home in the private sector. I agree that in the public sector we are doing something to help—not that this Housing Bill will do anything to improve that help, but here we really have a problem which has to be solved. It has not only a human aspect to it but also a moral aspect.
§ Many of these speculators are still old landlords who have some kind of feeling for the tenants and who are obviously entitled to a fair rent, but these people create what I consider to be a scarcity value. No places can be rented because it does not pay the landlords. What they want to do is to purchase a place, raise the rents to such an extent that the tenants cannot remain, and then sell at enormous profits. How are we going to stop that? I do not say I am sufficiently full of (what shall I say?) prophecy to be able to do it entirely with any particular amendment. That is why today, subject to your Lordships' approval, I have put down two 964 alternatives. If your Lordships will permit me, I will speak about both, as they both relate to precisely the same situation, and are put down with a view to giving the Government an opportunity to say they will accept one or the other.
§ I just cannot understand for one moment why we do not stop this racket; because it is a racket; it is an unwholesome one. Many speculators come from abroad and have offices abroad; they do not pay tax, they fail entirely to make any contribution to the country in which they are speculating. I am going to make an appeal to the noble Lord. I do not think you can deny what I have said. I think you will agree with me—I hope you will—in saying that this is a problem which is created at the present time, a problem of a vicious nature, and one which is putting into the pockets of those who are speculating in property, and who wish to make fortunes out of it, vast sums of money, and at the same time it is reducing accommodation that is essential.
§ We talk about scarcity value. I cannot for the life of me understand the interpretation, including that of the courts, that was put upon this matter. If people speculate in property to such an extent that there is no property left to rent at a reasonable rent, that to me creates a scarcity value. I may be wrong, but I cannot see what the answer to that is. Scarcity value is created by these people.
§ All this takes me back many years to a time when we used to talk about the tenants and their rights. The tenant, let us understand, creates the value of the place and of the district. If he has been living there for any length of time, he has created its value; he has paid the rates. He has made the district a valuable district. He is the person who is entitled to be considered, as he was in the case of the Leasehold Reform Act; after a long struggle we managed to get it through. I was myself, one of these people. Thank the Lord I was able to find some other place—which cost a very nice packet, and in order to do it one has to save for very many years. You do not have to go any distance at all to a tenants' association, on whose behalf I also speak, to know what misery the present situation is causing, what distress it is causing. Consequently, I appeal to the noble Lord to give his assent to one or other of these amendments. If he has 965 some other method, by all means use that, but it is a little late in the day as far as this Bill is concerned.
§ I know he will probably say this is a matter for the Rent Act and all the rest of it. This is essentially a matter for the housing of people. The noble Lord said I was emotive. Of course, I am emotive; I cannot be otherwise than emotive on a subject of this description. You have to have a pretty hard heart not to be moved by the conditions that you find are facing people who come and talk to you. I am in a profession where they do so. I have acquired a very considerable amount of understanding of the man in the street, because when you are a Member of Parliament in another place you get it straight from the horse's mouth. All I can say is that if I do not succeed on this proposal, I shall feel myself to be a very poor advocate unable to put over a first-class cause. I have much pleasure in moving the first of these amendments. If the Government are not satisfied with the first, I will withdraw it and move the second.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I propose to speak to both of these amendments, No. 19 and No. 21, because what I have to say really covers them both. I do not for a moment question the noble Lord being emotive on the subject. Why not, if one feels deeply about it? I think it is right that one should. If I sometimes speak the same way, I hope the noble Lord would feel similarly so far as I was concerned. There would be something strange about a debate in your Lordships' House on housing if the noble Lord, Lord Janner, were not to raise the subject which he is raising now. I understand the very great feeling he has about it. Indeed, he tabled very similar amendments to Clauses 60 and 61.
My Lords, both the amendments seek to set an index-linked ceiling on rent increases. It might be helpful to the noble Lord, and to the House, if I comment on both together, because, as I say, the arguments are similar in each case. I shall not criticise the drafting of the two amendments. The noble Lord probably realises that they are technically defective. Instead, I shall comment on the general principle of placing an index-linked ceiling on rent increases. Increases in fair rents over previous years have not on average 966 been particularly high. The last year for which we have full data is 1979. The increases made then in cases where the previous rent was registered three to four years ealier averaged 47 per cent. in England and Wales as a whole and 41 per cent. in Greater London. This compared with an increase of 47 per cent. in prices, 45 per cent. in earnings and 57 per cent. in the price of secondhand homes bought with a mortgage. So in the last three to four years on average fair rents registered have just about reflected general inflation over that period. If, however, we look instead at the last 10 years, fair rents have gone up 111 per cent. compared with 206 per cent. increase in prices, 258 per cent. increase in earnings and 297 per cent. increase in secondhand homes. So registered fair rents have lagged well behind inflation over the decade. Since 1975 the phasing of increases has meant an even greater lag in rents actually payable, to the extent that a landlord's rent return on vacant possession capital value may be running at no more than 2 to 3 per cent.
My Lords, I cannot accept that there is a case based on recent increases for a statutory ceiling. Indeed, some would argue the case the other way round as did the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on Report—and say that fair rent in-creases should be no less than increases in other indicators of inflation. There is no doubt that fair rents would be a lot higher today if they had followed precisely increases in prices or earnings. I accept that there are some cases of increases significantly above the averages that I have quoted, and others of course that are significantly less. But these are more likely to occur on first registrations where the rent was not previously fixed according to the fair rent criteria. Clearly index-linking would be quite wrong in these cases, because a fair rent as assessed by the rent officer would never be changed. The wording of the noble Lord's second amendment would suggest that he accepts that point. As I understand it, he would apply the ceiling only to re-registrations where there has been no change in circumstances. Nevertheless, the amendments would make a charade of the whole fair rent system. I have visions of landlords lobbying for higher old-age pensions so that they can put up rents, and the Christmas pension bonus being—
My Lords, I have given the noble Lord an alternative not because I did not feel that one was better than the other, but in the hope that he might consider that if he is not prepared to accept the one which I would have preferred, then perhaps he would consider the other. Perhaps he will realise that in one of them I have put in something as regards one of the very important points he made on the previous occasion.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I must say that I clearly think that it is wrong to link fair rents to some artificial, extraneous index. It would really undermine the whole of the Rent Act basis taking account of the particular circumstances of the tenancy on which they are assessed.
Where there is hardship for tenants we have the rent allowance system—and supplementary benefit—to deal with it. The allowances available are generous. We have increased from 1st July the maximum payable amounts from £13 to £25 in London—£10 to £23 elsewhere—to ensure that tenants in the highest cost areas can benefit from the scheme. Many of those who would not normally consider themselves eligible can receive help with their rent. To take one or two examples: where a married couple in Westminster have an income of £5,000 a year and rent of £20 a week, over one-third of the rent would be met by rent allowance. If their income was £10,000 a year and their rent £50 a week they would receive over £15 in allowance. Even with an income of over £14,500 a year a couple paying £50 a week would receive some help. The problem is not that the allowance is not generous enough, but that some people fail to take up the help that is available to them as of right.
The noble Lord talked, as he has done on many previous occasions, on the subject of scarcity being a factor in assessing rents. I always say that I do not want to get involved in that topic, not because I do not appreciate the arguments—I once spent a great deal of time looking into them—but because I firmly believe that, if scarcity were to be included, the consequences would be such that the Rent Acts as they exist today would cease to be effective in any way at all. There would be the most horrendous situations. I am sure that the noble Lord does not appreciate the significance of it. Govern- 968 ments of all complexions have always said that, as regards the basis of assessment of rent, it was an absolute fundamental that scarcity should not be included.
The noble Lord said that rent tribunals fix higher rents than rent officers. I think that today that is so, but it was not always the case in the early days of the Rent Act 1965. But inevitably as they tend to deal with re-registrations, the rent tribunals or assessment committees take a broader view than an individual rent officer can take of his own situation in his own local area, and they are often better able to equate the rents in that area with those in others. After all, their job is to try to fix what it says—a fair rent. If the system can lead to some of the types of problems and situations to which the noble Lord referred—yes, I do not deny that there are situations which are less than desirable. But to contemplate ending the basis of the Rent Acts in this way is, I am sure, unthinkable to all parties because the alternatives that were there before and will be there again just would not do for the situations that one would then find.
So, I must say yet again to the noble Lord that I fear that I cannot help with his amendments. I know that it is disappointing for him and I know how sincerely he puts forward his point of view, but there are the other points which I have made. It just is not a starter to index-link rent increases and ceilings on rent levels. Therefore, I wonder whether—albeit I know with disappointment—the noble Lord will feel able yet again to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I could not hear everything that the noble Lord said so the noble Lord must forgive me if I do not deal with every point which he raised. First, as regards the payment towards the rent, I point out that it does not come anywhere near replacing the tremendous burdens placed on tenants. It is part of the rent and it is part of the increase, but it is nothing like the amount that they still have to find. Moreover, they may be wrong, but my experience has been that a great many people regard that type of thing as charity. If the noble Lord looks at the number of people who actually apply for these benefits he will find that it is comparatively few when one considers the number of people 969 affected. There is that human factor—perhaps it is a failing; I do not know. But the independence of the individual is something in which he personally believes.
However, that does not cover the point that this speculation is going on, and everybody knows about it. People are making fortunes out of it at the expense of housing accommodation. The result is that we cannot get places to rent and "scarcity value" as a term is sheer nonsense having regard to the manner in which it is dealt with today. This is all created by the speculators themselves. We do not stop it. We make no attempt to stop it.
In those circumstances I think, with all due respect—and I know that that expression does not always convey satisfaction to the people to whom it is being said—I must ask the House to vote on this particular matter. It is much too serious from the point of view of the community.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ 8.28 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 42, leave out line 42 and insert ("½(P+S+R)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 20. This amendment restates in simpler form the formula for the calculation of phased increases in fair rents contained in Clause 60(3). It achieves precisely the same effect as the more complex version currently in Clause 60, but in a manner which is more easily understood. I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, for—I shall not say suggesting the amendment to me—perhaps in the most effective way possible simply handing me a little piece of paper with an algebraical calculation and no further comment or suggestion. It spoke volumes for itself. If ever one wants a way to influence Government to put something down in a different way, this must be a rather classical or perhaps mathematically classical way of doing it. I am pleased to put it before your Lordships' House as a measure which, while it has no substantive effect, will make the Bill more easily comprehensible. I repeat my grati- 970 tude to the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, and I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 61 [Effect of registration of rent etc.]:
§ [Amendment No. 21 not moved]:
§ Clause 73 [Dwellings forming part of Crown Estate or belonging to Duchies]:
§ 8.30 p.m.
Baroness FISHER of REDNAL moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 56, line 41, at end insert—
( ) In the Duchy of Cornwall Management Act 1863 the words in section 21 "not exceeding Thirty-one Years in possession, but not in reversion, so that upon every such Demise, where the Subject matter thereof shall consist of Land or Property other than Mines or Minerals, there shall be reserved the full and fair annual Rent of the Property to be comprised therein, to be incident to the immediate Reversion of or in the Premises to be thereby demised without taking any Fine or Consideration in the Nature of a Fine for the granting thereof;" are omitted.".
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, my noble friend, Lord Northfield, when he gave me this piece of paper, was giving evidence to a Committee of your Lordships' House. I do not know whether he still is. He has asked me to give his apologies to the House and to move his amendment formally so that it will give the Minister an opportunity to tell us whether he has had any further thoughts on how the Duchy of Cornwall tenants can in some way become eligible for long leases and how the limit of 31 years can be changed. I understand from my noble friend that the Duchy has in draft a Bill to bring up-to-date the Management Act 1863. I am concerned when the Bill will be published and available in your Lordships' House. Can the Minister say whether he will use his best endeavours to ensure that the point in the amendment is included in the Bill? I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, there are just two points that I should like to make. The first is that the way in which the Duchy of Cornwall manages its estate within its current statutory framework must, of course, be a matter for it, and 971 not for the Government. The noble Baroness who has just spoken on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, raised the same points as he did.
When the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, referred on Report to the agreement in principle by the Crown Estate Commissioners, he did so, as I understood it, hoping that they would grant assignable but non-enfranchisable long leases to sitting tenants. He seemed to suggest that this was some kind of expression of Government policy and that we should now do likewise in respect of the Duchy of Cornwall. I must stress that decisions on the granting of leases were made by the Commissioners and they alone, as a matter of estate management policy following consultation with their tenants, come to such decisions.
The noble Lord pointed out that the Duchy of Cornwall would apparently be prepared to act similarly were it not for the statutory bar on their granting leases of more than 31 years. This still leaves the possibility of leases of 21 to 30 years which are technically "long" for various statutory purposes, but perhaps the noble Lord has in mind leases rather longer than this. There might be a case for removing this statutory bar—I do not wish to comment on that. But there is no sense in which the case flows from the Housing Bill or from any commitment entered into by the Government. If there is a case, it must relate to general Duchy of Cornwall estate management considerations.
This brings me to my second point. It is that the Housing Bill is not the place to make a statutory change of this kind, and that Third Reading in your Lordships' House is most certainly not the time. The text of the noble Lord's amendment I think illustrates the difficulties. As the noble Baroness said, it relates to the Duchy of Cornwall Management Act 1863, which covers land and property generally; that, of course, goes much wider than housing. In that sense it is outside the general subject matter of this Bill. I just cannot tell what consequential problems would rise if we took a slice out of it in the way the noble Lord proposes.
The amendment has, however, drawn attention to the constraints on the granting 972 of long leases by the Duchy, and what the noble Baroness has said will have been carefully noted. She might know that the Duchy is reviewing its powers—as she mentioned—on a general basis. It is in this kind of review, rather than on Third Reading of the Housing Bill, that the point in question can best be looked at, and I am sure that it will then be given the fullest consideration.
I cannot give the specific information for which the noble Baroness has asked; she asked whether it would be a Bill and when will it be published. I am not sure. I expect that that would depend upon the results of the deliberations of the Duchy and, obviously, I cannot foretell what they will be. So I fear that I cannot be more helpful on this particular matter and it seems to me that this will have to await the outcome of the Duchy's own deliberations on the matter.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for that very helpful reply. I feel sure that when my noble friend Lord Northfield reads the official record no doubt his great interest in it will be furthered in the best way that he thinks is possible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 123 [Consent of Housing Corporation to disposals of land by housing associations and housing trusts]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 92, line 28, after ("for") insert ("any of paragraphs 2 to 7 of").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very minor amendment which will mean that the Housing Corporation's consent will be required before a registered housing association can grant a long lease of a dwelling in Scotland. The Bill already requires the corporation's consent to be obtained for such disposals in England and Wales and the Government have decided that it would be sensible to put these disposals on the same footing whether they take place North or South of the border. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.973
§ Clause 133 [Interpretation of Part VIII]:
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment inserts the Scottish definition of a housing association into this clause which is the interpretation clause of Part VIII. The definition is almost identical to that for England and Wales which already appears in the clause, but as most of Part VIII applies to Scotland, it is clearly necessary to include the Scottish definition. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 137 [Avoidance of certain unauthorised disposals]:
Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 99, line 40, after ("has") insert ("otherwise than in pursuance of a binding contract made before that date").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the reason I move this amendment at Third Reading is that it is an amendment to Clause 137, which is a new clause introduced by the Government. The amendment, to insert the words on the Marshalled List, seeks to protect people who have entered by way of a binding contract into a purchase with a local authority or a housing association not only before this Bill becomes law—which it has not yet—but before the purchasers concerned could possibly have known that a clause in these terms would be inserted in the Bill.
§ The noble Lord the Minister has criticised me and others for trying to introduce retrospection into legislation and with the greatest possible respect—which is shorthand for saying 'with no respect at all'—here we are with the Government doing precisely the same thing. It is being done in a small way in the sense that it affects only a small number of people, but it is a matter of quite important principle, because the Government are seeking to interfere with vested rights. Once a person has signed a contract for the purchase or the sale of 974 property, that is a binding contract so far as the law of this country is concerned.
I would ask your Lordships to note the words in the new Clause 137 that such an agreement:
… be deemed always to have been void".
In fact, in this clause the Government are seeking to say that a binding agreement or a binding sale that had been entered into by people who thought they were acting at arms' length, is now found to be a transaction which has been declared retrospectively, by this proposed legislation, as being void. It seems to me that, unless there are very cogent reasons, the Government should be very concerned. The subsection says:
at any time after 18th July 1980 a local authority or a housing association has disposed of a house".
§ I say in addition to that, or has entered into a binding contract to sell a house. Those noble Lords who are involved in any way with the conveyancing law in this country will know that a binding contract for sale is virtually the same as a sale. It has the same purpose and brings about the same results, and it is a vested right in terms of the law.
§ The noble Lord might suggest that the word "disposal" on line 4 of page 100 covers this. I am prepared to concede, and I think the Law Society are, that it is possible that an agreement for a lease might be covered by "disposal"; but it does not seem to the Law Society—and who am I as a solicitor to argue with my professional body?—nor to me, that it would cover a contract for the sale of land.
§ Therefore, it seems that the Government have left, I hope unintentionally, a loophole in the law. I gather that the Law Society has written to the noble Lord the Minister about this. The only reason why the matter is being raised at this late stage is that it involves a new clause and there was no other way of raising it. I hope that the noble Lord can reassure me and those advising me by saying that the word "disposal" does in fact refer to a contract, or will accept my amendment. I beg to move.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I can see the point of this amendment, which I know has the support of the Law Society, but I 975 am sure that the fears expressed are unfounded. The local authorities have given no indication that they share these fears. I should emphasise at once that the central purpose of Clause 137 is to deal with disposals which take place without the necessary consent of the Secretary of State. At present Section 128(2) of the Local Government Act 1972 makes a special provision, the effect of which is to give good title to those who take disposals of this kind from local authorities.
As a measure to deal with potential evasion of the right to buy, we have decided to remove that special protection to relate to council houses and flats disposed of after 18th July 1980, with one important exception. Similar provision is made in relation to housing associations. Turning to the exception, it should be emphasised that an individual purchaser, or two or more individual purchasers, of a single house or flat from a local authority, or housing association, would not be affected by this new clause, which provides for the avoidance of certain unauthorised disposals.
This exception is made because an authority or association might sell, or lease, a house or flat and do so without consent unwittingly, and such a disposal would not subvert the right to buy. So far as disposals by housing associations are concerned, there is at present no protection equivalent to that provided by Section 128(2) of the Local Government Act 1972. The exception made in the clause is an important one. We are not aware of disposals on a large scale which have taken place without necessary ministerial consent being obtained, and we hope that this is not so.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans, said that he is concerned about cases which do not require consent at present, but which would do so if this Bill was already in force. I make two comments on that. First, this is a very limited category of disposals, as I think the noble Lord himself said. The great majority of disposals, and all those which could be described as sales, already require consent. I cannot envisage circumstances in which a local authority would enter into a binding contract to make the sort of disposal which would not need consent 976 now but would do so if this Bill was an Act.
If I am wrong, my second observation is relevant. Where consent may he needed it can always be sought. It is open to anyone who fears the effect which this clause may have upon him to approach the department to seek the consent of my right honourable friend to the disposal which he contemplates.
I do not think I can say much more. This is a technical and not too simple a matter, certainly for lay people. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, smiles, and I am glad to see that. I could not make the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, smile earlier in the day but at least I have succeeded with the noble Lord. I am sure he does so not without the concern he has expressed, but I fear that I cannot go further than I have on this. I hope he understands why, and that he may feel able in those circumstances to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, I certainly would not seek to divide the House on this, as the noble Lord the Minister said, technical point. But it can be quite important (a) because of its retrospective nature, and (b) because it might pick up a transaction which it was not the intention of the Government to pick up. I can understand—although I do not necessarily support—the Government's wish to stop-up an escape route. It seems to me and the Law Society bad enough to have a provision avoiding transactions from a date which will be some time before the Act becomes law. It would seem to me to have been on the face of it unacceptable in principle that it should affect transactions where a binding vesting contract has been entered into before the amendment was even tabled.
What reassures me is the second leg of the noble Lord's remarks, in that presumably on the few occasions where this has happened and an application was made to the Secretary of State, he would presumably look upon this kind of thing favourably in that people had committed themselves to a legally binding contract at a time before they could possibly have known that this amendment was being put down; and therefore presumably the Minister would look at the record of the speech of the noble Lord the Minister 977 and say, "Well, by Jove, this is a typical example of where we have to let the thing go through". On the strength of that, and before the Minister can say that he did not mean that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.48 p.m.
Lord BARNBY moved Amendment No. 26:
After Clause 146, insert the following new clause:
"Amendment of s. 4 of 1977 Act
( .Class A in section 4(2) of the 1977 Act shall be deleted and the following substituted therefor:
The appropriate day in relation to the dwelling-house fell on or after 1st April 1973, but before the date of passing of the Housing Act 1980, and the dwelling-house on the appropriate day has or had a rateable value exceeding £1,500 or the appropriate day falls or fell on or after the date of passing of the Housing Act 1980 and the dwelling-house on the appropriate day has or had a rateable value exceeding £3,500."").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should first like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for his courteous and considerate hearing before discussion of this Bill, and of course without any commitment. The clause concerns what now appears as an oversight in previous legislation resulting in what appears to be called an injustice, because it is presently in conflict with the overall policy of security of tenure. Its aim is concerned against discrimination of a two-fold character, both against the occupier of a dwelling and also the owner of a building.
§ The plea for the amendment is generated by inflation which, as in so many other matters, has distorted values which now can be thought inappropriate. Although they were appropriate in the 1977 Act, they are now entirely out of relationship. Therefore the aim of the clause is simple and needs no tedious or voluminous explanation; it is to increase the rateable limit conferring protection under the Rent Act from £1,500 to £3,500 and so extend the security of tenure which is in step with the general policy of the Bill.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
I support the amendment, my Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, referred to the Rent Act 1977, which is of course dated only 978 recently because it is a consolidation measure, and the amounts to which he referred go right back to 1973, as is implied in the Amendment. Those were the rateable values below which security was given to regulated tenancies; the larger amount refers, of course, to London, and the smaller amount to cities outside. They were put on by the Conservative Government of Mr. Heath with the support of the Opposition, and it was right that that was done at the time. On the other hand, it has been found since then that there has been great distress and trouble with some of the more expensive flats, particularly in London. A lot of trouble occurred, and was in the newspapers, at Arlington House, for example, where the tenants there had a most dreadful time with some of the new types of property speculators.
The Government should therefore seriously consider increasing the rateable value so as to give security of tenure and regulated tenancies on property which is more expensive and of a higher rentable amount. This is ever more necessary because there will be much more insecurity in the rest of the market with shorthold. I do not know whether they will consider a re-rating. There has not been one recently; but if there is to be a re-rating of rateable values then these amounts will hear little relation to what the new amounts will be. I therefore hope the Government will seriously consider the amendment.
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, now realises what is happening in certain places today, and even if the Government are not prepared to support the people concerned or remove the difficulty about which I spoke earlier, at least they should be merciful and see to it that those whose rents have been increased to exorbitant proportions shall have such little protection as the 1977 Act affords.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I say at once that the Government have received a number of representations about the rateable value limits in the Rent Act 1977. At present these are £1,500 in London and £750 elsewhere, as has been said. Tenancies of properties above these rateable values are not protected tenancies under the Rent Act. There are a relatively small number of these tenancies, most of which 979 are in London. About 40 are in Grosvenor Square, and I know of the concern which has been expressed by those living in a particular block there. I have spoken with my noble friend Lord Barnby and other tenants about the problems they are facing. I would certainly accept that these problems are real for those concerned; rents which have been fixed for some years are rising substantially at the end of their leases and, as I understand it, the background may be the owners' plans to turn the flats over to some use other than long-term residential letting.
But it does not necessarily follow that the Rent Acts should be applied here. We are talking of tenants who have been paying agreed rents of some £10,000 a year and who may be prepared to pay more, and it is a far cry from the original purpose of the Rent Acts that rent officers should be asked to fix rents at that sort of level. We should keep the problem in perspective. The Rent Acts were introduced to deal with problems of housing stress, which were particularly acute for those on low incomes who had no other option except to rent the home in which they were living. I do not for a moment pretend that housing stress is limited to those on low incomes, but clearly the considerations are somewhat different for high rateable value tenancies which, typically, would have a value of £200,000 to £300,000 or more if sold on the open market. It cannot be right that we should apply the full panoply of the Rent Act and the fair rent system in these circumstances.
Having said that, let me make it clear that the Government's mind on this is not forever closed. We do not want to form a fixed and immutable view on how and where protection should apply, and we continue to bear in mind all the representations made. I know that there have also been suggestions to help high rateable value tenants which would fall short of applying the Rent Act itself. At this time I am not able to go further than that, but I hope the fact that I mention it, as I do, indicates that this is an area where thought is being given.
We cannot accept the new clause. Even if we were able to agree to an increase in the rateable value limits—and I do not want to mislead noble Lords, least of all 980 my noble friend, by suggesting we are—this clause is not acceptable. Nor do I believe it achieves what my noble friend intends. It is drafted in such a way that it raises the London rateable value limits only for dwellings whose "appropriate" day is after the Housing Act becomes law. The appropriate day is defined in Section 25 of the Rent Act as being the day a dwelling first enters the valuation list, or 23rd March 1965 if that is earlier, so all existing tenancies outside the rateable value limits, including those in Grosvenor Square, would remain outside the rateable value limits.
However, I do not want to let the case stand on technicalities and I would not seek to base the Government's case solely on that. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, was an interesting one which I had not previously heard put in this context. I trust that my noble friend Lord Barnby understands why we could not accept the amendment and why, for the reasons I have given, we do not feel that alterations in the rateable value limits within the context of the Rent Act could be done to help with this problem. But I repeat that our minds are not closed. This is an issue which we shall have to look at again, and although I can go no further than that, I hope I have made the position clear to him.
§ Lord BARNBY
My Lords, I ask for your Lordships' indulgence because of my partly worn-out hearing and because of the breakdown in the electrical arrangements which have no doubt denied your Lordships the possibility of hearing me properly. As I expected, therefore, I could not hear the totality of the Minister's reply; I say that without reflection on the obvious clarity with which he must have dealt with the matter. I suspect that while he could not agree with my amendment, he was courteous enough to explain in not a little detail the reasons why. I must therefore postpone my impatience until I have read in the Official Report—if it is printed tomorrow following the deliberations in the House earlier today—precisely what my noble friend said. I thank him for his comments and hope that the matter will continue to receive his sympathetic consideration. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.981
§ Clause 149 [Power of local authority to require repair of houses]:
§ 9 p.m.
Lord JANNER moved Amendment No. 27:
Page 106, line 36, leave out ("on a representation made by an occupying tenant").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with your Lordships' leave, I propose to deal with Amendments Nos. 27, 28 and 29 together, because they cover a similar field. I am moving these amendments to tidy up the new section which has been introduced by the Government. I support the principle of the section, but I feel that it excludes categories of occupiers who very often are affected by disrepair; that is, licensees, especially in houses in multiple occupation. Line 24 means that a notice can be served simply when an officer of the council is satisfied that it is needed. The appropriate notice can be served without the requirement of representation being made by the occupying tenant. I do not feel that this is necessary in this section, either.
§ Where a public representation has to be made, this can later make life difficult for the occupier, and in particular this is important where the lawful occupant is a licensee and therefore not fully protected. Similarly, line 28 extends this protection to any lawful occupier, not only a protected tenant. The amendment in line 27 is a technical detail to clarify that this notice which can be served in 1(a), which I have referred to before without mentioning the actual section, refers specifically to property in substantial disrepair, but the express purpose of this section is to broaden the application of notices. I beg to move the first of these amendments standing in my name.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, for over 30 years, following a 1942 High Court decision, local authorities were able to use the statutory nuisance provisions in the Public Health Acts to secure the remedying of defects which might not have been substantial in themselves but which interfered with the personal comfort of the occupiers. Authorities made very considerable use of these powers. However, in 1976 the divisional court ruled that the earlier decision could not be sustained. The effect of their ruling was that conditions 982 which affected only the occupiers could not be dealt with unless they were prejudicial to health. We introduced Clause 149, therefore, to give authorities power to deal with defects which, not substantial in themselves, are having a very specific adverse effect on the tenant's home. This will go a long way towards restoring the powers lost by authorities as a result of the 1976 court decision.
However, we restricted the power given to authorities by this clause so that they can only take action where they received representations from an occupying tenant. The first of the noble Lord's amendments would remove this requirement and thus leave local authorities free to take action on their own initiative. I appreciate the purpose of the change, and it may be that there will be cases where a tenant will be unwilling to make the necessary representations. The clause does not, however, require that the representation has to be in a particular form, or even that it has to be in writing. Given that the purpose of the power is to enable local authorities to require the remedying of defects on the ground that they interfere with the comfort of the tenant, it does not seem in any way unreasonable that it should be left to the tenant to decide whether he wants anything done.
There is, moreover, an even more serious objection to these amendments. The combined effect of the first and third amendments would be to enable a local authority to take action against an owner-occupier to compel him to put right defects in his own house which were interfering with nobody's comfort but his own. I hope that we live in a supportive society, but this does seem to be carrying things rather far. If I, as owner of my own house, am content to put up with some defect or other, and it does not interfere with anyone else, that surely is not only my own business but also my right.
Finally, I come to the second amendment. It is true that local authorities already have power to take action against houses which are in substantial disrepair, and it may, therefore, seem illogical not to exclude such a case from the much more limited provisions of this clause. However, there is a reason for not doing so; namely, that the "substantial disrepair" power is only exercisable, first, where the house as a whole is to be brought 983 up to standard; and, secondly, provided this can be done at reasonable cost. The clause as it stands enables an authority to take action to remedy a specific defect in such a case even if there is no prospect of securing the much more expensive range of works which would be needed in order to meet the requirements of the "substantial disrepair" provisions. This amendment would remove that possibility and thus restrict the power of the local authority to act in the tenant's interests. In view of what I have said, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Janner, may feel able not to press his amendment.
My Lords, it is late in the evening and I do not think I want to go into a long, disputative argument with the noble Lord. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 not moved.]
§ Clause 153 [Commencement]:
§ Lord BELLWIN moved Amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 32:
§ Page 108, line 1, after ("(1)") insert ("Chapter I of")
§ Page 108 line 3, at end insert—
§ ("(1A) Chapter II of Part I shall come into operation on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint or, if no such order has been made, on the expiry of the period of eight weeks mentioned in subsection (1) above.").
§ Page 108 line 4, leave out from ("Sections") to ("shall") and insert ("90 to 105, 108, 112, 113, 120, 122 to 127, 130, 131, 133 to 135, 137 to 140, 150, 151, 152(2) and 153 to 155")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission might we take Amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 32 en bloc? As I have already spoken to them with Amendment No. 1, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 155 [Short title and extent]:
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN moved Amendments Nos. 33 and 34:
§ Page 108, line 20, after first ("to") insert ("122(1), 123 to")984
§ Page 108 line 21, leave out from ("section") to ("extend") and insert ("Schedule 14, Part II of Schedule 16, paragraphs 1to 3 of Schedule 17, Schedule 18, paragraphs 11 to 13, 24, 25 and 69 of Schedule 25 and the associated repeals in Schedule 26").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the convenience of the House I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 together. The first of these amendments disapplies all but Clause 122(1) to Scotland. Under the Bill as drafted the whole of the clause extends to Scotland, but save for the first subsection, which empowers housing associations to sell, the application is inappropriate. The second amendment sets out the schedules and parts of schedules to the Bill which are relevant to Scotland. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Schedule 3 [Tenancies which are not secure tenancies]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 35:
Page 116, line 45, at end insert ("or as mortgagee").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very minor change to the exclusion providing that lettings of dwellings leased to local authorities for use as temporary housing accommodation shall not be secure. We have provided this exclusion because, of course, we do not want to do anything to jeopardise the so-called "North Wiltshire" arrangements, where public sector landlords are offered, on lease, a dwelling from a private home owner to be used as temporary housing accommodation.
§ We have written into the Bill, as a safeguard against abuse, that the exclusion should not apply where the public sector landlord has an interest in the dwelling other than under the lease. However, it has been brought to our attention that there may be some instances where a public sector landlord may be offered, for temporary use, a dwelling subject to a mortgage which it has granted. There seems no reason, where this is the sole interest, why the benefit of the exclusion should not be available. This amendment therefore provides that such an interest does not prevent the exclusion applying. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.985
§ 9.11 p.m.
Viscount HANWORTH moved Amendment No. 36:
Page 118, line 13, at end insert—
("14. A tenancy is not a secure tenancy if the landlord is a housing trust which is a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1960 or is a housing association which is a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1960 and the principal object of such trust or association is to provide short term housing accommodation for persons who by reason of domestic marital or similar problems are in need of short term accommodation for themselves or their families and is granted a certificate of exemption under this paragraph by the Secretary of State.")
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is an amendment that I should like to put to a Division. It is unfortunate that there are but few Members now in the House, and I must decide, perhaps on the basis of who is on the Government side, whether in fact to press the matter to a Division. Those noble Lords who listened to me late at night at the Report stage of the Bill will know that this amendment, although less satisfactory than the one that I then moved with support from all sides, has the same object in view. I can describe it very briefly.
§ There are a considerable number of charities whose object is to provide relatively short-term accommodation to people in desperate need. Unmarried mothers with young children are a case in point but there are other people who need a limited period in which to readjust and to rehabilitate themselves. In nearly all cases there are long waiting lists for such vacancies. The Government do not, and cannot with limited funds, provide this kind of facility; nor are they likely to be able to do so in the foreseeable future. All they provide is bed and breakfast, which is quite unsuited, for example, to the mother of a young baby.
§ The Bill gives secure tenancies to these people. No doubt the Minister will refer to Ground 9 of Schedule 4, which allows the charity to go to the court for repossession if continued occupation of the dwelling would conflict with the object of the charity and alternative accommodation is available. That sounds quite reasonable, but really it is not so at all. The accommodation thus secured was specifically planned to provide short-term relief and is not necessarily appropriate for permanent tenants.986
§ Further, by application to the court a heavy burden is imposed on these specialist charities. First, application to the court is costly; secondly, there can be a wait of several months before the case is heard; and thirdly, alternative accommodation often will not await the delay before the court hears the case. There are other reasons. A secure tenancy enables tenants to take in lodgers and to sublet, which is often undesirable in the case of single mothers, and which could mean yet another application to the court to terminate the sub-tenancy.
§ I think that the House has clearly shown its view about this Bill. What is so worrying is that it seems that the Government have tried to legislate in principle and in detail without regard to pragmatism and side effects; and this I think is one of those cases. Throughout the passage of the Bill I have been in close touch with the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, who has always been most courteous and helpful, but unfortunately he has been unable to meet any of the suggestions that I put forward. This amendment may be defective, and, it would seem from the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to me, unacceptable to the Government, at least at the time that he wrote it. I nevertheless ask your Lordships to support this amendment.
§ This is a Bill which is going to be, I am afraid, a lawyers' paradise; and even if this amendment is in minor respects defective, I do not think this will make much difference to the problems of the Bill as a whole. This really is an important point. The Government will no doubt argue that of course it is up to the Secretary of State to exercise a discretion as to what charities should be exempt; but, of course, what I have quoted—Ground 9 in Schedule 4—does exactly that. The only difference is that it leaves it to the court to do it. In view of what I have said, I hope that if I take this amendment to a Division noble Lords from every Bench will support me. I beg to move.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, may I say very briefly that I support the amendment proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, even though, as he says that if this amendment is not passed the situation will be a lawyers' paradise, from the point of view of self-interest I should oppose it. I would have 987 thought that this was an important measure which will affect a minority of charitable organisations, but the kind of organisation which is in fact doing a very great deal to help the public sector from a voluntary point of view. They will be deterred, I suspect, if the security of tenure is involved, and all that goes with that—the right to take in sub-tenants, and so on.
Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister can deal with this, but I would have thought that the Government's control over this becoming a major loophole is well taken care of by the last few words of the noble Viscount's amendment; namely, that this right will be granted only if a certificate of exemption is provided by the Secretary of State. I would have thought that any danger that this would become a huge loophole in the Government's legislation was protected by the fact that it would be most unlikely that the Secretary of State would give such a certificate and provide such a loophole. I would have thought that an amendment, perhaps not in these precise words but something accepting principles of this kind, would be acceptable to the Government.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, perhaps I may say two or three words in support of the amendment. I can see some of the difficulties which have been raised by the Government when they have been opposing it in the past, but I think the noble Viscount has put his finger on what is likely to be a very great problem; and the fact that it may be small in dimension does not make the situation any better for those who are going to suffer from it. If it means, as I understand—and the case put forward by the noble Viscount seems to me to be a very strong one—that in fact the charities which deal with, for instance, either battered wives or single-parent families are going to find that they are not able to turn over their clientele, which is really the only way they can work with limited resources, both financial and as far as property is concerned, then obviously it is going to be a very grave situation; and to be able to go to the court, as the noble Viscount pointed out, is not very much help when time and money is involved.
As the noble Viscount rightly said, as did the noble Lord, Lord Evans, even if the amendment itself is defective it really is the purpose behind it, I think, 988 which is concerning and worrying many of us; and if the Government can bring forward something alternative, or be prepared to do something about this, I would have thought that this would have met the case. But it seems to me that the main thing is that a case has been made out, and we do not seem to have had so far a very satisfactory or completely clear answer to it.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I must say at once that I very much appreciate the concern which has moved the noble Viscount to table this amendment to the tenants' charter. I know he has been particularly anxious about this matter for some time; and, indeed, the very fact that he has felt the need to move it again at this late stage I think indicates the measure of his concern. I have great respect for that, and I do not mean that in the rather lighthearted way in which people were talking about respect earlier—I really do mean it. The noble Viscount is of course particularly anxious about charities which provide short-term accommodation for groups such as unsupported mothers or homeless families who are in urgent need; and the need for flexibility, which the noble Lord stresses, is something which I obviously accept. But, as I have explained previously, I cannot accept the amendment, which would have the effect of denying the tenants' charter rights to a potentially large number of tenants simply because of their landlords' objectives.
Again, as I said before, the use of the phrase "short-term" poses the most serious problems of definition. For instance, is a period of two or three years—which I believe is the sort of timetable on which some of the associations the noble Viscount is concerned about operate—really short-term? I do not believe it is possible to separate out particular types of need for special treatment.
I know that the suggestion of an exemption certificate procedure is a helpful attempt to avoid the problem of mass exclusions and consequent possible abuse, but I am afriad there are genuine and serious objections. At present, all exclusions from the tenants' charter are stated on the face of the Bill, so that tenants know where they stand. If this principle were 989 breached, tenants could not be sure that at some time in the future their tenancy would not be declared insecure because an exemption certificate had been issued to their landlord. I do not think this would be acceptable.
A further difficulty arises on the criteria for granting an exemption certificate. If criteria were stated on the face of the Bill, the problems of defining, for instance, the phrase "short-term" would arise again. If there were no criteria, Ministers would be open to charges of arbitrariness.
However, I believe, as the noble Viscount quite properly assumed, that the amendment which has been tabled to Schedule 4 will meet many of the points which the noble Viscount is concerned about, by acting upon the grounds for possession rather than by exclusion. I know that many housing associations' short-term arrangements involve rehousing by local authorities at the end of the day. I believe an addition such as we are providing in Schedule 4 to allow possession to be sought where a local authority has offered secure accommodation, will allow associations to maintain a throughput of tenants without taking away the tenants' rights while they are in occupation.
I for myself am confident that this, combined with the existing grounds for possession, is the right approach. If I may make one or two other general observations on what has been said, Ground 9 is, of course, not the only option open to charities; alternative accommodation must be available when it is needed, such as when the order for possession takes effect. The Government must be satisfied with this.
I have said that I feel the amendment to Schedule 4 will meet most of the noble Viscount's points. At present, in any case, it should also be said that landlords already have to go to court to seek possession if the tenant is not willing to move. Furthermore, even if the tenancy is not subject to security of tenure, it is still necessary to go to court in order to evict the tenant. Neither the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, nor the noble Lord, Lord Evans, mentioned Ground 11 for possession. This could be even more useful than Ground 9, particularly if amended on the lines of the Government 990 Amendment No. 37. As to the assertion that the Bill will be a lawyers' paradise, I will not make any comment on that. I wonder how many Bills on housing have not eventually turned out to be a lawyers' paradise, which brings another smile to the face of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and understandably so.
I really am regretful if the noble Viscount feels I have not covered his points properly. I stress again, yes, his concern is a very real one, and because we have tried to pursue it over a period of time I have endeavoured to become involved in the discussions to feel satisfied myself on this. Because I have done so, it is not without confidence that I say I believe the fears are not groundless, they are certainly not groundless, but they will not in practice be justified to the extent they might have been. In any case, it would be the duty of any Government to monitor what did take place in practice, and that we will certainly do, whatever course the noble Viscount decides to take.
§ Viscount HANWORTH
My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his very nice approach to this amendment, particularly after the rather caustic remarks I made about the Bill as a whole at Report stage. He will know that what he has said does not meet the point. I do not want to delay the House, but I would say first that it is inconceivable that the charities who take these people in on a short-term basis would be liable to throw them out on to the streets. He has admitted that if you apply to the courts you have to have alternative accommodation available at that time and, bearing in mind that it might take months to get the case heard in court, any accommodation that you may have lined up is unlikely to be available at that time. There we are. I am afraid that most of these charities—and there are a large number of them indeed—are very unhappy about this. They feel that it strikes at the roots of all that they are trying to do and that is something which the Government cannot do for them. They regard it as the Government kicking them in the face. I am afraid that, with all respect and thanks for all the trouble that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has taken over this matter, I cannot withdraw the amendment.
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Greenwood of Rossendale)
The Question is that Amendment No. 36 be agreed to. As many as of that opinion will say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content". The Not-Contents have it. Amendment No. 37. The Lord Bellwin.
§ Schedule 4 [Grounds for possession of dwelling-houses let under secure tenancies]:
§ 9.35 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 37:
Page 120, line 13, leave out from ("(a)") to ("and") in line 14 and insert ("either there is no longer such a person residing in the dwelling-house or the tenant has received from a local
§ Lord PEART
My Lords, may I suggest, in view of the fact that it is extremely difficult for the noble Lord the Deputy Speaker to have heard my noble friend that—
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 36) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 57.991
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hanworth, V.[Teller.]||Raglan, L.|
|Birk,B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Irving of Dartford, L.||Simon, V.|
|David, B.[Teller.]||Janner, L.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||London, Bp.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Monson, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Gainford, L.||Peart, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Dundee, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Elton, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Avon, E.||Gibson-Watt, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Godber of Willington, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gowrie, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gray, L.||Sandys, L.[Teller.]|
|Boardman, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Selkirk, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Long, V.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lyell, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||McFadzean, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Swansea, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Mansfield, E.||Trenchard, V.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Margadale, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Marley, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Denham, L.||Middleton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mottistone, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Dulverton, L.||Mountevans, L.||Westbury, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
authority an offer of accommodation in premises which are to be let as a separate dwelling under a secure tenancy").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it may be for the convenience of the House if in moving this amendment I speak also to Amendment No. 38. There has been some concern in this House about the problems of housing associations providing accommodation on a short-or medium-term basis for particular groups such as single-parent families or the homeless. In particular, many noble Lords have expressed their concern 993 that such associations will, as a result of the Bill, be unable to keep up their existing valuable work by maintaining a throughput of tenants because the tenants will have security of tenure.
§ I believe, however, that we have drawn the exclusions correctly. Having looked again at housing associations' genuine need for flexibility, it has become clear that in many of the cases where associations are providing short- and medium-term accommodation they are doing so until the local authority is in a position to rehouse the tenants permanently. Of course, nothing in the Bill as it stands prevents local authorities from continuing to rehouse short-term housing association tenants, but there is no ground on which associations may seek possession in such cases in order to meet the pressing needs of new, and otherwise uncatered for, applicants.
§ This amendment therefore extends Ground 11 for possession. It will allow associations which cater for special needs to seek possession, if the accommodation is needed for someone in the "special need" class for which they cater, and the existing tenant has been offered a secure tenancy by the local authority. I believe this addition will give the extra flexibility that is needed to allow specialist associations more easily to carry out their valuable work.
§ Perhaps I should say, further, that in cases where our own amendment to Ground 11 is in use the certificate system can be expected to operate. It would conflict with this arrangement which has been specially designed to assist housing associations who lack the accommodation in which to rehouse tenants and would slow down the throughput of tenants for associations who are using Ground 11 if a further condition for suitability were introduced into the ground itself. This would be to the disadvantage of the local authority, the housing association and the people who are waiting for a tenancy with that association. Therefore, I think we must accept that a certificate from an authority saying that suitable accommodation will be available means what it says. I beg to move what I hope is a helpful and useful amendment.994
Baroness BIRK moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 37, Amendment No. 38:
Line 4, leave out ("an") and insert ("at least one suitable").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government amendment extends the grounds under which the housing association can, in certain circumstances, evict secure tenants. As it stands in the Bill, Ground 11 covers housing associations which let accommodation to special needs groups and allows them to obtain possession if there is no longer a person with a special need living in the accommodation and the association needs the dwelling to let to another person who has such needs: examples are the disabled, the mentally handicapped, or the elderly.
§ However, if the amendment were passed as it stands, without my amendment, it would enable the housing association to obtain possession if a tenant with a special need had been made an offer of accommodation by a local authority. The tenant may be reluctant to accept the particular offer either because it is in an inconvenient location or because its condition is not satisfactory, or for reasons of personal preference. Yet, as the amendment stands, the tenant would be under pressure to accept the offer or risk eviction. There are only those alternatives.
§ The only safeguard is that Ground 11 is subject to the court being satisfied that it is reasonable to give possession and that suitable accommodation will be available to the tenant when the possession order takes effect. Though this provides a safeguard, it does depend on the tenant defending the possession action in court. This can be expensive and time-consuming and some tenants may be intimidated by the thought of having to go to court.
§ The purpose of my amendment to the Government amendment is to make it quite clear that the tenant must have been given at least one suitable offer before a housing association can seek possession. This will provide a more effective safeguard for the tenant, while still enabling the housing association to obtain possession if the tenant has been given a number of suitable offers and has turned them all down without good reason. My Lords, I beg to move.995
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I touched earlier on some of the points that I wanted to make on the noble Baroness's amendment, but perhaps I can just make one or two further observations. The noble Baroness has sought to make it a further condition that there shall have been at least one suitable offer of accommodation. If she looks at Clause 34, she will see that an order for possession under Ground 11 cannot be made, unless the court is satisfied both that suitable alternative accommodation will be available for the tenant and that it is reasonable to make the order.
Part II of Schedule 4 sets out the criteria against which a court shall judge suitable alternative accommodation. Paragraph 3 provides that a certificate from a local authority shall be conclusive evidence that suitable alternative accommodation will be available where a landlord, other than a local authority (such as a housing association) is applying for possession on a ground requiring suitable alternative accommodation. If I say more on this point, it will be repeating what I said previously about the certificate procedure. In those circumstances, I wonder whether the noble Baroness will feel satisfied.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I see the point that the Minister has made. I was aware of what is in Clause 34, but it seems to me that it would be better to include it here as well, so that the position is beyond doubt. I cannot see any objection to putting it in, if, as the Minister says, one is really underlining and repeating something that is elsewhere in the Bill. We are now dealing with Schedule 4 and one might not want to turn to one of the other parts of the Bill, when one seems to be spending half of one's life reading this Housing Bill. I should have thought this was something which could be easily accepted, in order to make the position clear. If the Minister has a real objection, perhaps he can explain to me what it is. He has explained that this is covered to some extent, but it obviously is not covered here in Schedule 4, because it does not read in that way.
§ Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 37 agreed to.
§ Schedule 16 [Registered housing associations]:
§ 9.44 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 149, line 4, leave out ("they relate") and insert ("it relates").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is simply a minor consequential amendment following on a previous change in Schedule 16. At Report stage, we accepted an amendment to alter the phrase "accounts give" in paragraph 4(2)(a) of the schedule to "revenue account gives". As a consequence, it is necessary to change the phrase "they relate" in the same subsection to "it relates". My Lords, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 18 [Amendments of Housing Acts 1974 Part III]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 40:
Page 153, line 26, after ("lease") insert ("or licence to occupy").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, paragraph 1 of Schedule 18 makes it clear that grant can be provided for housing associations' shared ownership schemes. While the schemes operate in England and Wales by means of leases, in Scotland they operate by way of licences to occupy. The amendment thus enables grant to be given for Scottish shared ownership schemes and I invite your Lordships to accept it. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 9.45 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 41:
Page 156, line 19, leave out ("and").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the convenience of the House I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 42 and 70. These amendments are simply small, 997 consequential amendments to changes to the Housing Act 1974 which are already incorporated in Schedule 18 to the Bill.
§ Schedule 18 amends the circumstances in which revenue deficit grant may be paid. Under the 1974 Act it may only be paid on the provision of dwellings and any related property; under the Bill it may be paid on any of an association's housing activities. Section 32(8) of the 1974 Act contains a definition of "related property" which is no longer needed, as the phrase has been superseded under the new circumstances in which RDG can be paid. The amendments therefore repeal subsection (8). I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 42:
Page 156, line 21, at end insert—
(g) subsection (8) is hereby repealed.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 19 [Provisions replacing sections 90 to 91A of Housing Finance Act 1972]:
§ 9.47 p.m.
Lord JANNER moved Amendment No. 43:
Page 157, line 48, leave out from ("concerned") to ("and") in line 1 on page 158.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I propose to deal at the same time with the next two amendments; they refer to the same point. Despite all the attempts which have been made both in your Lordships' House and in the other place, very few changes have been made to the service charge provisions of the Bill. This amendment is to ensure that the one safeguard which requires the landlord to inform tenants of his intention to undertake major works and to give them the opportunity to make observations is effective. It is simply not enough to allow the landlord to display a notice so as to be likely to come to the attention of the tenants. He must be obliged, in my view, to give to each tenant a copy of the notice and to address one formally to 998 the tenants' association, in the particular place where there is such an association. The cost of putting out these notices would be negligible compared with the cost that tenants might have to bear if extravagant works were carried out without adequate consultation.
§ I should like to point out that in existing tenancies, particularly in blocks of flats, the notice might very well be overlooked by some of the tenants. Furthermore, many of them might be away and would never see this notice, or would not see it for weeks or months. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, paragraph 5 of Schedule 19 as drafted requires the landlord to inform his tenants of proposed work costing more than whatever is the prescribed amount in the particular block. He can do this either by giving each tenant a notice describing the works and inviting comments and a copy of the estimates for the work, or by displaying a copy—perhaps more than one—where it is likely to come to their notice.
Amendment No. 43 would remove the option to display a notice. I should have thought there would be situations where it would be the more practical and sensible alternative, and I would be reluctant to dispense with it. We believe that a flexible approach is the best here. I would remind your Lordships' House that if the landlord fails to observe this requirement he will run the risk of not being able to recover the full cost of the works. If he relies on displaying the notice and estimates rather than giving copies to every tenant, he will need to satisfy himself that it can be seen by all the tenants and remains visible for a reasonable time. Consequently, in a large block of flats a landlord might decide to display copies of the notice and estimates in each entrance or stairway. On the other hand, he might feel that he was on surer ground in giving a copy to every tenant. Indeed, he might consider it safest to do both. In any case, he has to give a copy to the secretary of a recognised tenants' association. I do not see that anything is to be lost by leaving the choice open and letting common sense prevail.
As far as Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 are concerned, I do not think they would 999 serve any useful purpose and therefore wonder whether the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, there is not much point in pursuing the amendment and therefore I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 not moved.]
§ 9.51 p.m.
Lord JANNER moved Amendment No. 46:
Page 158, line 20, leave out paragraph 6.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with regard to this amendment, while in paragraph 5(6) of Schedule 19 the landlord is allowed to carry out the works if they are urgently required, in my view there is no need for this clause which allows the court to dispense with the requirements of the schedule if the landlord acts reasonably. I see no reason for that at all. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I would remind the House that the consultation requirements in Schedule 19 to the Bill contain a very strong sanction, not to be found in the existing legislation, so that if the landlord fails to comply with these requirements he will not normally be able to recover the full cost of the works even if the cost was reasonable. He could be very heavily out of pocket as a result. Nevertheless we have to recognise that there may be circumstances in which he could not comply with the requirements. For example, in the case of very specialised work, such as repairs to a lift, he might not be able to get two estimates, because no firm other than the one which had installed the lift would quote for the job. It would be wrong in our view for the landlord to be penalised as a result, and paragraph 6 gives the court discretion to dispense with the consultation requirements if satisfied that the landlord had acted reasonably.
would not agree that this paragraph would enable the landlord to evade the consultation requirement generally, or to disregard the expressed views of tenants in particular. If the landlord, having consulted, decided to act in a way contrary 1000 to the expressed wishes of the tenants, he would have to satisfy the court, if challenged, that he had nevertheless had regard to their views. Paragraph 6 provides an essential safeguard for the landlord, but it does not provide him with a means of evasion.
My Lords, again I have listened with interest. I wish we had a few of the tenants' associations here and could give them leave to vote; I think the noble Lord would realise that his answers are not as satisfactory as they would want, but in the circumstances what can one do? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 47:
Page 158, line 24, leave out from ("tenant") to ("requests") in line 25.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I beg leave also to speak to Amendments Nos. 48 and 49. These amendments are to Schedule 9 which deals with service charges in flats. They make a small but not unimportant change in the provisions under which tenants have a right to information about their service charge. The purpose of the first two is to safeguard the individual tenant's right to obtain a summary of costs relating to his own flat. They provide that the secretary of a recognised tenants' association may obtain the summary only if he has the consent of the tenant concerned.
§ This is needed because under paragraph 10 of the schedule a landlord is not required to produce a summary for a particular flat more than once for any particular year. This was in the 1972 Act and seems to be reasonable. This does mean, however, that, as a result of the rights we have provided for association secretaries, if the secretary obtained the summary first the landlord would not be obliged to provide it again for the tenant.
§ Although it seems unlikely that the secretary would not give the tenant a copy of the summary that possibility must be recognised, particularly where not all the tenants belong to the association. The amendment accordingly provides that the secretary must first obtain the tenant's consent. The tenant could then give his 1001 consent on condition that he received a copy of the summary. The third amendment similarly provides that the secretary can only inspect the accounts and receipts relating to a particular summary with the consent of the tenant concerned. I beg to move.1002
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, these are very useful amendments, considerable improvements to the Bill, and we welcome them.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1003
§ 9.55 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 48:
Page 158, line 31, at end insert—
(" (1A) If there is a recognised tenants' association for the building and the tenant consents, a request under sub-paragraph (1) above may be made by the secretary of the Association instead of by the tenant and may then be for the supply of the summary to the secretary.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 49:
Page 158, line 41, leave out ("he") and insert ("the tenant, or the secretary with the consent of the tenant").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord JANNER moved Amendment No. 50:
Page 160, line 39, leave out paragraph 15.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in my view the right to information and to challenge service charges must apply to tenants who pay non-variable service charges as well as to those who pay variable service charges. The purpose of this amendment is to put this right. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, Government amendments in Committee of your Lordships' House to Clause 59 and Schedule 6 fulfil our commitment to give fixed fair rent tenants the opportunity to challenge the evidence on service costs deployed by their landlords before the rent officer. The rent officer in fixing a fair rent would anyway only take account of service costs which he considered to be reasonable. But our amendments give an added safeguard to the tenant.
I would suggest to the noble Lord that this is a much better approach than that in his amendment because it places the safeguard in the right place. Fixed fair rent tenants can only have their rent increased by the rent officer, and it is at that point that we are providing them with a right to challenge the landlord's evidence. The noble Lord's amendment, however, seeks to apply the machinery of Schedule 19, which is designed for those whose leases 1004 provide for a service charge which can be varied at any time according to the costs incurred. It is not intended for fixed fair rent tenants, and I could not say quite what the legal effect would be if it was applied to them. All I could guarantee is perhaps uncertainty for all those involved. In the light of this, and of the major safeguard introduced by the Government at an earlier stage, I wonder whether the noble Lord would feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Lord is not able to accept the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 20 [Housing co-operatives]:
§ Lord BELLWIN moved Amendments Nos. 51 to 62:
§ Page 162, line 1, leave out ("or") and insert ("a")
§ after ("corporation") insert ("or the Development Board for Rural Wales")
§ Page 162, line 5, leave out ("or")
§ after ("corporation's") insert ("or Board's")
§ Page 162, line 35, after ("corporation") insert ("or the Development Board for Rural Wales")
§ Page 162, line 37, after ("corporation's") insert ("or Board's")
§ Page 162, line 43, after ("corporation") insert ("or the Development Board for Rural Wales")
§ Page 162, line 46, leave out ("or") and insert ("a")
§ after ("corporation") insert ("or the Development Board for Rural Wales")
§ Page 162, line 49, leave out ("or")
§ at end insert ("or Board").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the convenience of the House I will speak to Amendments Nos. 51 to 62 inclusive. These amendments rectify an omission in the drafting of the Bill. The schedule is in effect a re-enactment of paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975, which was used as the basis for a similar provision for the Development Board for Rural Wales in paragraph 5 of Schedule 5 to the Development of Rural Wales Act 1976. However, the board has not been included in the 1005 scope of Schedule 20 to the Bill. There is no reason why the board should not be covered in the same way as local authorities and new town corporations, and the amendments will accordingly bring within the scope of the schedule agreements made for the exercise by a housing co-operative of any of the board's powers under the Development of Rural Wales Act 1976 relating to land in which the board has a legal estate. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 63:
Page 163, line 24, after ("1980") insert ("or in pursuance of a contract entered into before that date").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships may be aware there is a provision in paragraph 3 of Schedule 21 to the Bill which closes a loophole in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. Under this some landlords have been granting leases terminable by notice given by the tenant after the death of a third party, such as a descendant of King George V.
§ The Government decided that the change in the law should not operate retrospectively, and consequently it does not affect leases granted before 18th April 1980, the date on which the proposal was announced. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has drawn our attention to a situation in which building agreements have already been entered into requiring the granting of leases of the houses which will be terminable on the death of a third party.
§ We take the noble Lord's point and in order to prevent this proposal operating retrospectively in these circumstances the Government have tabled Amendment No. 63. This exempts from the 1967 Act leases of this kind granted after 18th April 1980 as a result of a contractual agreement entered into before that date. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I beg to move.1006
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and the Government very much for this amendment which will avoid accidental, unfair retrospection, which I know the Government would not wish to embark upon.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 24 [Houses in multiple occupation: means of escape from fire]:
Baroness VICKERS moved Amendment No. 64:
Page 169, line 15, after ("is") insert ("occupied by three or more households or six or more individuals or is")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 64. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 24 gives the Secretary of State the power to specify certain types of houses in multiple occupation, and the local authorities will then have the duty to ensure that these houses are made safe with effective means of escape from fire. I ask my noble friend to tell the House precisely the type of premises that are to be covered by this duty. I believe that there is real concern that if this new duty is to be worth the paper that it is written on it must cover multi-occupied houses like the hostel in Kilburn where the fire last March occurred in which 11 women died and that was a three-storey terraced house.
§ My amendment—and I shall call it, if I may, the "Kilburn Amendment"—seeks to ensure that houses in multiple occupation which are occupied by three or more family households or by six or more single people, would be covered by the new duty. I can well understand that local authorities would not want the duty to cover every house in multiple occupation in their area. What is essential, therefore, in my opinion, is that the houses occupied by two-family households are excluded from this amendment, but that small hostels, like the one in Kilburn, containing people, are included. That is what my amendment seeks to do.
§ I am aware that on Report my noble friend said that he would need further 1007 talks with the local authorities—and I hope that he has had the opportunity to have them—about the scope of the duty. My amendment would leave the Secretary of State with the power to specify types of premises over and above those houses now listed in the amendment. It would therefore leave the Secretary of State with flexible powers, while at the same time setting crucial safeguards for people living in small hostels.
§ I am pleased that the Government have in this Bill moved some way to recognise the need to protect vulnerable, single homeless people. But I urge my noble friend to go one step further and give them adequate protection in law by accepting this amendment. It would show that the Government are ready to respond to the great public concern over what I think a great many people consider to be a matter of life and death. I beg to move.
The LORD BISHOP of LONDON
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment. It concerns a very vital and important area of safety, and we have already seen in London the awful consequences when there are not proper safeguards. The amendment of the noble Baroness gives a cutting edge to this clause, and I hope that the Government will accept it.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, we also should like to support this amendment. I think it is very necessary to cover the people living in small hostels, and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept this.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, you may recall that, when I moved at Report stage the amendment that brought Schedule 24 to the Bill, I explained that it was an amendment with far-reaching implications, in that it provided a means of laying a duty on local authorities to take action in the matter of means of escape; and for this reason we felt that it was imperative to allow time for the most thorough consultation on the question of whether, and if so how, the scope of the duty should be restricted.
I stand by what I said then, and I am afraid that I cannot accept an amendment that would pre-empt those consultations. I have to say to my noble friend Lady Vickers that there has been no evidence put 1008 forward that the implications of her amendment have been considered, in respect either of the effect on local authority resources, or of the kinds of property that would be affected; and it is possible that, at worst, the acceptance of this amendment could be so damaging as to lead to widespread closures and homelessness. It would be tragic if this were to happen simply for lack of careful consideration of all aspects of the matter.
We are most concerned about this situation and noble Lords would surely not expect otherwise, but we must take into account all the implications of what we seek to do. If the amendment were accepted as it is, it could mean that unless the definition of HMOs was clearly made in such a way that local authorities could cope with the situation, it would lead to what I have suggested. I do not want to sound dramatic about it, but this is far too serious a matter for us just to be tossing around by way of discussion.
There is considerable concern here that the problem is very far-reaching in its implications. We are most anxious that we should not do anything in a way that may, on the face of it, seem not to be right. I very much take the points made by those who have spoken, but at the same time there is much in this which is very difficult, and we shall only obtain the best solutions if we are able to do this without preempting the consultations and discussions which we are having, and must have, with all those concerned, not least local authority associations.
In the light of the way in which I have expressed the concern, I wonder whether my noble friend will feel able, if not competely satisfied—because I suppose one never is completely satisfied if one puts forward an amendment which is not accepted—to accept what I am saying in the way in which I said it and perhaps in those circumstances feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Vickers for having moved this amendment, and also to my noble friend Lord Bellwin for the comment that he has made on it. It is certainly the case that, although housing authorities—and I speak for the ADC—are fully seized of the problem which was thrown up and revealed by 1009 the tragic episode in Kilburn, they do not have the resources to deal with the matter on the scale that is likely to be before them if this amendment were to be accepted. That is not to say that the issue ought not to be looked at, and suitable priorities developed after appropriate forms of consultation. I can certainly give my assurance that every housing authority is fully seized of the importance of this matter and wants to deal with it in the best way possible in the light of the resources available to them.
My Lords, in view of what my noble friend has said, I should like to ask him two questions. He said that he will discuss the matter with the local authorities. Will he also discuss the matter with the environmental officers and particularly with the fire officers?— because one of the difficulties is that in different boroughs of London and in different counties they have completely different standards. Perhaps he could consider this and write to me about it. I should be grateful if he could consider those three points. I was a little sorry that the answers to my Amendment No. 147 in the previous debate did rather prevent me from expressing myself on that occasion, and that is why I put down this amendment today.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, with leave, may I just say that after having heard my noble friend I shall again read carefully what she has said. Of course, I shall write to her on the point.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 65:
Page 171, line 3, at beginning insert ("section").
§ The noble Lord, said: My Lords, this is a purely drafting amendment. It corrects an error in Schedule 24, dealing with means of escape from fire in houses in multiple occupation, which was added to the Bill at Report stage. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1010
§ 10.12 p.m.
Baroness VICKERS moved Amendment No. 66:
Page 171, line 9, at end insert—
("16. In section 70 of the Housing Act 1969 after the words "Part IV of the 1974 Act "there are added the words" section 147 of and Schedule 24 to the 1980 Act ".").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is simply a drafting amendment which I hope my noble friend will feel able to accept. I should like to ask him how exactly local authorities would become aware of unsafe hostel conditions so that they would have to assume the duties and the powers set out in Schedule 24. Local authorities have a duty under Section 70 of the Housing Act 1969 to inspect the houses in multiple occupation in their district "from time to time".
§ There is some argument as to whether that duty is sufficiently rigorous, bearing in mind the dangers to life and limb in some hostels, of which we are all too well aware. However, local authorities have such a duty, and it would not be possible to amend it at this stage of our proceedings on this Bill. My amendment to Schedule 24 would ensure that local authorities are well aware that they must inspect hostels in their area from time to time to satisfy themselves that they are safe. I gather that this does not add to existing legislation but merely consolidates it. I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept this amendment.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Vickers has tabled two amendments dealingwith houses in multiple occupation which would have the combined effect of placing local authorities under a double duty: first, to inspect their areas, and, secondly, to secure adequate means of escape from all houses in multiple occupation occupied by three or more households or six or more individuals. This may involve the inspection of tens of thousands of properties. What arguments are advanced to demonstrate the rightness of the arbitrary choice of size? How are the local authorities to find the resources of men and money?
As my noble friend Lord Sandford so rightly pointed out when we debated this topic on Report, we must guard against the best becoming the enemy of the good. It was for precisely that reason that the 1011 Government's proposals, set out in Schedule 24, were cast in such a way as to provide an opportunity for detailed consideration and wide-ranging consultation. My noble friend may argue that she is doing little more than continue the general duty under Section 70 of the Act of 1969. But we cannot overlook the further implications of the duty to require means of escape, whether defined in the terms proposed by my noble friend or in some other way. The provisions must operate in concert and consideration of their implications should be similarly concerted.
Naturally, we will consider in the discussions and consultations to which I referred when we discussed the last amendment, how these aspects should be linked. I would just say again that this is indeed a subject that we cannot just pass by because we are all so anxious to ensure proper provision. We must handle this carefully and properly, and after much consultation—and by that I do not mean that that should drag on, because I know that consultation can be an excuse for doing nothing, or for doing very little for a long period of time. If we do not do it very carefully, in the manner I have suggested, there is a real danger that local authorities will feel that they are unable to comply strictly speaking within what might be laid down in this way, and therefore we should have the kind of adverse results which no one wants to see. I hope I have given enough expression to the real concern we share with my noble friend, but it could not be done in the form of the amendment.
My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 25 [Minor and consequential amendments, transitional provisions and savings]:
§ 10.16 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 67:
Page 176, line 20, leave out from ("in") to ("the") in line 21 and insert ("subsection (7) there are substituted").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor consequential amendment to the 1012 amendments to Clause 61 and Schedule 25 dealing with the effective date of rent registrations which were made by the Government on Report in your Lordships' House. It has no substantive effect. Clause 61, as amended, already revises this subsection. The reference to it in Schedule 25 is therefore superfluous and the amendment simply deletes it.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 68:
Page 181, line 33, at end insert—
(" (2) Section 104(3) of the 1957 Act shall have effect, in the period between the commencement of section 91 and the commencement of Chapter II of Part I of this Act as if Chapter 11 were in force.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 69:
Page 181, line 37, at end insert—
(" 69A. Subsection (3A) of section 2 of the 1974 Act (inserted by section 123(4) of this Act) shall have effect, in the period between the commencement of section 123(4) and the commencement of Chapter II of Part I of this Act as if Chapter II were in force.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 26 [Repeals]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 70:
Page 185, line 29, leave out ("subsection (4) ") and insert ("subsections (4) and (8).")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this with Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I wish at the outset to thank noble Lords for the very great effort they have put into the consideration of the Bill. We have 1013 had lengthy sittings, finishing very late on several occasions. We have had to consider the Bill on Monday and Friday as well as the more customary days in the middle of the week. We have spent many days and late nights on it with at least one false start and one interruption of a rather major nature. However, we are in the main most of us still here.
As a result of the lengthy and thorough consideration which your Lordships have given to the Bill, I believe that important issues have been aired and are at least better understood, even where we have not been able to accept all the points made. Despite what some may have said or felt, we have tried to be flexible and we have brought forward amendments to meet points raised wherever we could do so without breaching the fundamental principles behind the legislation. I do not intend to refer to them now, but I have with me quite an impressive list of amendments made both in this House and in another place, many of them in response to proposals made other than by the Government.
I wish to thank all who have taken part in the proceedings during the various stages of the Bill. To name names is always fraught with the danger of omission, but I should like to say particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that I felt that her contribution at all times was never less than courteous and helpful in expediting the proceedings. We disagreed on many matters arising from the Bill, but she always made her case most ably, if I may say that without being misunderstood, and I gladly pay tribute to her very considerable abilities.
Although they are not all here, I should like to say to noble Lords opposite how grateful I am to them in the main for their great help in getting through what has been a very large number of amendments. Again, although he is not here, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for the way he helped us to get through a very complex, difficult sector. I hope he will feel it enabled him to get a long way along the road, either to where he wished to be or to where one day he hopes we will be. Likewise the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. Again, he is not here, but he took a complicated sector and put it together in a way that was most constructive.
1014 The noble Baroness, Lady David, was always very much to the point. We usually disagreed, as we seem to do on so many things, but she always made her case very powerfully. Noble Lords on the Cross-Benches, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, successfully moved amendments which I am sure helped to make the Bill a better Bill.
I should like to thank, on my own side of the House, my noble friend Lord Hylton, who is not here. We disagreed down the line, time and again, but his points were always put very fairly. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, moved a very important amendment which we were glad to accept at the end. My noble friend Lord Sandford's contributions were always of immeasurable value. I also want to mention the noble Baroness, Lady Faith-full, the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. Perhaps last, but certainly not least—in fact, almost "most"—I want to express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Mowbray, who was of immense value to me all the way through, and, indeed, to the whole of the passing of this Bill. I am deeply grateful to him, and I welcome the opportunity to say so as sincerely as I know how. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Belstead, who also helped out.
I am not going to spell out again or even summarise all the provisions in the Bill. It is a far-reaching and radical Bill. The right to buy shorthold, the tenants' charters, ending the old controlled tenancies are, in my submission, great steps forward in the context of housing. We have tried to protect and to extend the rights of individuals, to make a real attempt to preserve and revive the private rented sector and to give help to those who need it most. It is with no inconsiderable pride that I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I want to start by thanking the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the very nice things he said about me personally, and also about my colleagues. I should like 1015 to reciprocate by saying how courteous we found him all the way through. He kept his cool extremely well and was as helpful as he was able to be, which was not all that helpful on the substance of the Bill. But he always performed his task in a pleasant manner and with a smile, and while one had to realise that really one was not getting very much, the cover was extremely nice. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, also played a great part in this Bill and was always very courteous. I do not think I can possibly emulate or even equal the Minister in going through a list of names. I would only say that I am very pleased to see the right reverend Prelate here this evening; he has been present so much and has played an extremely active part in the whole of the Bill.
When I come to speak to the Bill itself I am afraid the mood has to change, because I do not feel the same towards the Bill as I do towards the Minister and his colleagues. It is most fortunate that I do not; otherwise there would occur some sort of Greek tragedy very much greater than occurred at the beginning of this afternoon. At Second Reading I pointed out that major amendments were required if the Bill were not to be a monument to moral and social irresponsibility. The Bill has now passed through Committee, Report and Third Reading, and a great many amendments have been made. I should say that there have probably been about 200 amendments in this House alone; the Minister says that there were even more than that. Some important improvements have been made. For example, the discretion to local authorities to designate rural areas, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is an extremely important step forward. There is also the limitation on the Secretary of State's draconian powers; the amendment now puts a duty on the Secretary of State to give reasons for his actions.
There is also what I would call the very sensible compromise on windfall gains through the two-year option scheme—the scheme which we and many other noble Lords in different parts of the House viewed in various ways, ranging from complete animosity towards it to a feeling of considerable unease. One sensed that feeling coming from different areas of the Government Benches as well. The amend 1016 ment that is now in the Bill certainly helps to mitigate some of these things. There is of course the option mortgage extension which was moved by the Liberal Party in this House.
Finally, there is what I consider to he probably the most important of the amendments put into the Bill by your Lordships' House—that concerned with the exclusion relating to houses specially designed or adapted for elderly people. As we are all aware, that was the subject of our preliminary debate, the rather large curtain-raiser this afternoon to the Third Reading.
It is extremely important that these amendments—and there is not a tremendous number, if one considers them in the context of an enormous Bill of this kind —should remain in the Bill, should be accepted by the other place, should come back here as part of the Bill, and later become part of the statute. So far as the elderly are concerned, I feel that your Lordships would resist any attempt to change this provision, or take it out, in another place, since there was strong feeling about it in all parts of the House from noble Lords temporal as well as spiritual.
I must also mention the question of fire precautions in hostels. Although this proposal did not go as far as was wished by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and those who supported her, it was certainly an improvement on the Bill compared with when it first reached us. There has been a certain amount of give on service charges, although my noble friends, particularly Lord Strabolgi and Lord Janner who are most closely concerned with it, would consider that it was not sufficient.
Having said that, I must add that the Bill remains defective and dangerous in many aspects. There are quite insufficient safeguards on shortholds. There is a chance that with the proper safeguards the shortholds could be the means of finding more property for rent and of encouraging people to rent out their property. The warlike resistance of the Government towards accepting any of the really fundamental safeguards makes that whole area of the Bill very different from what it should be. For instance, again this afternoon we saw an absolute resistance towards accepting the proposal 1017 regarding the sitting tenant having first refusal. I am not suggesting that the Minister himself thinks up all the reasons for resistance that were given, but those reasons, as well as the reasons given in another place, do not really cut any ice at all. They were quite trivial and extremely unconvincing.
Then we had the formula for the steep rent rises for private tenants and the phasing cut from three years to two years. The opportunities for steep rises or increases in rent at a time of high inflation in this country really does not make economic or social sense. It is going to cause hardship to a great many people, and it is not going to help the economy of the country at all. Then there was what I feel was the completely insensitive approach to the decontrol of controlled tenancies. We tried to let them erode themselves, to disappear through natural wastage, but this was turned down. I then moved an amendment, which was originally down in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, to make sure that at least they reached a standard fit for human habitation before they were decontrolled; but that, again, failed.
Then there was the failure to end the medieval instrument of distraint, which takes us back centuries and should not be in a Housing Bill that is looking forward to the 'eighties. Then there were the completely inadequate provisions to encourage mobility through the refusal to accept our amendments on those and on allocations. Then again there was the refusal to accept any amendment which would have dealt with the problem which we all feel, right across the House—the problem of the number of houses which are boarded up and are not used as short lets while they are waiting to be rehabilitated by local authorities. There are, of course, a great many more matters. I would hate the noble Lord the Minister to think that that was the end of my list, but as it is late tonight I will not go through all the omissions from, or bad commissions in, this Bill.
On the key part of the Bill—the right of council tenants to buy—the Government have been so astonishingly doctrinaire and rigid it is almost unbelievable, except that one sees it written into the Bill. Of course there is a case for the sale of council houses, and a great many 1018 authorities have been operating it for a long time. Where it is possible and people want to buy their houses, then there should not be any obstacle so long as it fits in with the local authorities' structure and the resources that they have. But the way in which it is done in this Bill is a complete imposition on local authorities. There is no respect for local circumstances, no respect for the impact on the supply of lettings to those who can afford only to rent—and this is at a time when new house construction, and therefore the supply of lettings, is at its lowest level since the 1940s.
We saw today a report of the Commons Select Committee on Housing. The most recent White Paper forecast a total reduction in public expenditure of £2,800 million, which is about 4 per cent., between the period 1979–80 and 1983–84. Of that, £2,582 million, which is more than 92 per cent., will come from cuts in the housing programme. By 1985, nearly half a million fewer flats and houses will have been built than was expected in the 1977 Green Paper. The report of the Commons Select Committee on the Environment expects the number of housing starts in the public sector to fall to no more than 31,000 in 1983–84, and suggests that the total could be even lower than that; and the private sector starts this year are now running at about 100,000 units only.
However, the most extraordinary aspect about this report—and this is extremely relevant to a Housing Bill which we are in the process of seeing (reluctantly, so far as we are concerned) pulled through the legislative procedure —is that the cuts have been carried out in secret. The Secretary of State for the Environment did not give evidence. The committee is scathing about his secrecy, and as the Guardian says, it needed to be; not even the basic information has been provided. The Times also commented on the committee and on the committee's censure on the Government, and says that no other programme comparable to housing has been accompanied by so little information. This is at a time—and it should cause a great deal of unease among everybody—when the housing programme has been cut so very greatly; when inflation is so high; and the Select Committee, with incidentally a majority of Conservatives on that com 1019 mittee—quite naturally with a Conservative Government, and the Conservatives outnumber the Labour Members by six to five—reported unanimously. It was a report of evasion and secrecy in the whole of our housing field and what is projected for the future.
This, I believe, is a very serious matter. If we put the Bill in that context, then I think the drawbacks thereafter, the things that are worrying to so many of us, become even starker in their worry and their concern. Here we are, in the midst of a grave economic crisis, a time when today the CBI said that morale was at its lowest ebb among manufacturing industry, and we have a Government that is so doctrinaire about this that the right to buy has to override everything; shortholds without proper safeguards take precedence. It does not seem to me to have any real relevance to so many of the things that we are concerned with and that are important both to our economy and to our national life if we are to get on our feet again.
This Bill is really a Bill which is a doctored dogma. There are, it is true—and I will be fair; I said so at the beginning—some good aspects of it. I have seen through this House, and been connected with, a number of Housing Bills. I admit readily that none of them has ever been perfect; I do not think there is any piece of legislation that has been. Most of them are complex. They are complicated. But I do not think I have ever had anything to do with a Housing Bill that has been so bad as this one in its whole construction, policy, and purpose—this is not to do with the individuals who are dealing with it at the moment—and which has had so little wholehearted support.
During the process of this Bill, with the exception of the president of the ADC, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, the Minister has really received very little support from his own side, let alone anywhere else. Although there is a Conservative in-built majority, and always has been, in this House, it is significant that the voting from the Opposition and those on the Liberal Benches, and those who joined us, particularly on many of the very important issues, was much higher than it has been on many other 1020 Bills. I would remind your Lordships that when we had a debate on clause stand part on shortholds, the voting was 98 to 90, which is quite amazing with a Conservative Government in this House.
I feel sorry for the Minister, though I do not think he will need me to feel sorry for him, because he has been landed with a Bill of this sort. The drawbacks to it are far greater than its advantages. It is a great pity. It has all the marks of not only being doctrinaire but of having been rushed through in a very mixed-up sort of way, so that it has had in so many ways the worst of all worlds. It would have been nice to be able to speed something off with some feeling that it had created something good or was doing something good. I am afraid that it is very difficult to find many good things to say—apart from the good intentions which I do not doubt underlie a great deal of it. I am sorry, but I am afraid that even the best of intentions cannot turn this Bill from a bad Bill into a good one.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, I should like to join in the words of congratulations personally made to the noble Lord the Minister for the way he has conducted the Bill through your Lordships' House, and, indeed, for the very remarkable support and considerable devotion which his noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton has given to him during the passage of the Bill. I probably ought to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, most of all because he was the noble Lord who accepted one of my amendments as drawn. My Liberal colleagues on Leeds city council used to tell me that Lord Bellwin, when he was a mere councillor, as leader of the Conservatives there was very helpful and cooperative. Now, I would not go quite that far, but I think he is well on the way to being helpful and co-operative and, with a few more Bills of this nature, he might become really helpful and cooperative.
I would say that he has gone out of his way to try to explain the inexplicable and has tried very warmly to justify the unjustifiable in a very reasonable and very patient way. He has been very helpful, in my opinion, on some of the more difficult and technical matters in this 1021 Bill. Many of them have been very difficult and very technical. And it is quite apparent that he is a master of the subject of housing. Speaking possibly a little subjectively, I feel that in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, local government has proved to be a very good grounding for your Lordships' House. I was going to thank the noble Lord for the graceful and charming tributes he made to the contributions from the Liberal Benches, but since he has said nothing about that, I am going to thank the noble Lord the Minister for accepting some of the smaller but useful amendments that have been moved from these Benches.
I suppose that we on these Benches do not need any thanks since the Government have gracefully accepted the substantial amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Banks on option mortgages. It will make a very great number of elderly and less-well-off people very happy; and I see that the Financial Times today says that this was a rare victory for the Liberal Party—so it will also make quite a lot more Liberals very happy. The noble Lord therefore must feel that he has spread a little happiness around the Palace of Westminster and elsewhere.
I am sorry that he was not able to accept some of the amendments put down by me and by other noble Lords about restricting the right to buy in rural areas. I feel that in five or ten years' time the Government will find that this has been a mistake. It was significant, I thought, that many noble Lords on the Cross-Benches and on the Government side seemed to take the same view as I and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, took about amendments of this kind. I hope very fervently but without much optimism that the amendment dealing with the exemption of old persons' accommodation which has been widely hailed as a victory for commonsense will be accepted in another place and will not be brought back to your Lordships' House in an amended form.
I myself put forward an amendment for giving pre-emption for old persons' accommodation and, on reflection, I decided that the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was a better and more effective amendment than mine which was based on pre-emption. I hope that the Government are not going to think that the 1022 granting of pre-emption, though it is better than nothing, would be nearly as good as the amendment that this House passed on Report stage, because I just do not think it is practical politics to consider the probability that local authorities in 10 years' time will be in a position to repurchase the many thousands of homes for the elderly which would otherwise be lost to the elderly because they were specially designed or adapted for the purpose of old people's dwellings. I hope and believe that, in spite of what happened in your Lordships' House today, wiser counsels will prevail and that the Government will accept the amendment that your Lordships passed on Report stage.
I also believe that the amendment requiring the Secretary of State to give the reasons when he intervenes in the affairs of housing authorities is a very good amendment and should be accepted. I, as a person who has spent most of my life in local government, believe that the continual erosion of the liberty of local government is a very serious matter indeed. It has been said that when Adolph Hitler wanted to destroy democracy he first destroyed local government. I would not in any way suggest that this Government are set on that kind of course. But we are moving very rapidly from a partnership between local government and central Government to local government being an agency of central Government. This to me, as a local government person, is very bad and unhealthy and is a matter that I suspect is going to be continued; and this erosion is going to be continued when we reach the Local Government Bill in your Lordships' House.
One of the great faults in the Bill was that it gave the Secretary of State almost unfettered powers to interfere with locally-made decisions. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that the old people's amendment is probably the most important; but an amendment was accepted to fetter the Secretary of State's right to interfere. Though he still has the right to interfere, the amendment as accepted made him explain why he was interfering. That is a very important amendment if we believe in local democracy, and f believe very firmly in local democracy. I think that was perhaps the most important amendment from that point of view.
1023 Again I say that this is the first major Bill that I have been engaged in; I have enjoyed very much the procedure of this Bill, and have become exhausted. I have felt that attempts have been made, within the limits that the noble Lord the Minister was allowed, to meet the criticisms made from these Benches and Opposition Benches generally. I should like to say a warm word of congratulation to him and his noble colleagues for the way that they have conducted the Bill through your Lordships' House.
§ 10.48 p.m.
The Lord BISHOP of LONDON
My Lords, before we send this Bill on its way, I should like to add a word from these Benches. On the Second Reading, I observed that this was an extremely complicated and technical Bill, but that beneath all this verbiage there lay the most important things of human rights and human happiness. Therefore, we owe a great debt to those who have carried us through the complexities of this Bill.
I should like to express gratitude, first, to the noble Lords, Lord Bellwin and Lord Mowbray, for the lucidity with which they have explained the Bill, and for the courtesy that they have shown to all of us who have been concerned with it. I would also add my thanks to those on the Opposition Benches who have brought such illumination: I think especially of the noble Baronesses, Lady Birk and Lady David, and the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Evans of Claughton. It is as a result of their knowledge and their insight that the incomprehensible has been made at least partly comprehensible to those of us who have not the training that a Bill like this requires if one is to understand fully all that it implies.
I hope that the Government will appreciate that there are many of us—among whom I count myself—who approve and accept the main thrust of this Bill, but who also see that, when one is introducing new principles and new ideas, one must also very carefully examine all the consequences. If some of us have been concerned with amendments which have not commended themselves to the Government, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to accept that we have moved these amendments because we want to improve a Bill 1024 of which we fundamentally approve. This is particularly true in my view, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has said, of the clause which was added to Schedule 1 concerning houses and accommodation, either built specially or specially adapted for old people.
It has been suggested to me that what I said at the Report stage on 21st July indicated that I thought that, if this was not carried, then a great many old people would be immediately in peril. I have read what I said and I can see that that interpretation could have been put on what I said; but of course I was thinking in a much wider and longer-term manner, believing that if it is possible for old people to buy these specially constructed houses then in the course of time they will eventually go out of the use for which they were first intended. Therefore I attach the greatest importance to this clause, and the worry I had about the matters which concerned this House earlier today was the suggestion that our amendment might be disregarded. I very much hope that will not be the case and that the amendment will be accepted, because I agree with many noble Lords that it is of very great importance.
I see also another broad-term danger about this Bill. It may be that as a result of passing it we might believe that we have solved the housing problem. When Cardinal Hume and I spoke at the beginning of May about this problem, we said there was a general complacency about the housing situation and that many people believed it no longer existed. Maybe that sentiment will be strengthened because we have a new Housing Act on the statute book; but when this Bill becomes an Act there will still be nearly 1 million families on the waiting lists of housing authorities, and there will still be thousands of people in London and other great cities who have nowhere to lay their heads and with no homes, who are sleeping rough or who may be, in the main, accommodated by voluntary associations. There will still be that jungle of regulations which brings despair to those who try to do something constructive. Above all, there will still be that terrible social problem of what is to happen to our great cities when the housing situation becomes so expensive and so difficult that, as I said earlier, they 1025 become deserts with no people living in them at all.
So I hope that this Bill, when it becomes law, will not just be food for those who feel self-satisfied—I do not suggest in any way that such is the case so far as the Government are concerned—but that it will rather be a spur to us to see that this is the great social problem of our day and that we must do everything that we can to solve it.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench on his mastery of this Bill and marvel at the tenacity of the Labour Opposition. I expressed the hope when we started that we might be able to enlarge the area of bipartisan approach to housing, but I think that the noble Baroness who is just leaving the Chamber has seen to it that we did no such thing.
Ten days ago The Times reported that this Bill was approaching the statute book almost unamended. It is interesting to note how wrong the press can be! As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, there have been innumerable substantial amendments and scores of useful minor ones, as a result of which the Bill is going on to the statute book considerably amended and considerably improved.
I am nevertheless grateful that it emerges very much in its broad original form in respect of Parts I and II, because I believe that the right to buy, which is perhaps the predominant element of the whole Bill, will confer on council tenants an individual choice which very large numbers of them are eagerly looking forward to exercising, and an individual sense of responsibility, which many of them are well capable of shouldering, and which they look forward to exercising. It will also confer a great deal more mobility.
The shorthold will, I am sure, have the very desirable effect of bringing onto the market, and making accessible, a large quantity of housing stock which is there in existence, but at the moment is not available for large numbers of tenants who would like to occupy it. So for those reasons, I particularly welcome the passage of this Bill onto the statute book.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, I believe that this Bill leaves your Lordships' House a very much better Bill than when it first reached us, although there is still plenty of room for improvement. If—and it is a big "if"—the other place accepts your Lordships' extremely worthwhile amendments to Part I of the Bill, the part concerning council tenants' right to buy, then I do not doubt that Part I will have a beneficial effect overall, not only so far as purchasers are concerned, but also from the local authorities' point of view. It is interesting in this context to note that the Greater London Council estimates an annual surplus from existing council house sales of £2½ million.
Where I think the Government are being wildly optimistic is in their assumption that this part of the Bill will aid mobility of labour. I tried to emphasise this fallacy on Second Reading, and was interested to note that in the Observer last Sunday it was pointed out, in connection with the Prime Minister's suggestion that unemployed people should be prepared to move house in order to get a better job, that in Berkshire high-priced private housing and lack of vacant council accommodation mean that it is virtually impossible for a skilled man from a depressed area to move South. The first and second letters in yesterday's Daily Telegraph also drew attention to the Government's mathematical miscalculations in this regard.
I am extremely pleased that the Government accept the principle of coterminous leases, where local authority flats are sold. I have it on expert professional authority that this step will save the country millions of pounds in the future, so this noble House can certainly give itself a collective pat on the back here. I am afraid that I am less sanguine about the effects of Parts II and III of the Bill, which deal with private sector tenancies. I know that, in theory, the Government want to "arrest the decline of the private rented sector "—to quote the words in the Conservative election manifesto—but the various ways in which private landlords are hamstrung in this Bill, by the extraordinary Clauses 80, 81 and 82, for example, do not give much practical evidence of the Government's will in this 1027 matter. Another snag is the retention of phasing, which, in an inflationary age, means that the rent received by the landlord is always lower than the fair rent. A rent which is lower than the fair rent is by definition unfair and is certainly no incentive to landlords to let.
A further snag is that, unlike council tenants and owner-occupiers, private tenants are unique in getting no subsidy or tax relief, so that it is usually a poor financial proposition for both owner and tenant. All this is a very great shame, especially when one thinks of the great number of lonely widows in this country —given that, statistically, women live seven years longer than men—who would like nothing better than to invest their savings in rented residential property, where they could take a personal interest in their tenants, and even baby-sit for them on occasion, instead of investing in impersonal unit trusts, investment trusts or Government securities. But as things stand, no financial adviser worth his salt would recommend a widow to invest in residential property for letting in present circumstances. I should like to conclude by joining other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his great courtesy, his patience, his helpfulness and his good humour in coping with this marathon of a Bill.
§ 11 p.m.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
My Lords, I have taken part in the debates on this Bill from the Second Reading onwards but have particularly avoided intervening in the Third Reading until now because I have tried at all stages to concentrate on the basic principles upon which the Bill has been drawn. I believe that tonight we are facing a very serious situation. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, whom I congratulate—along with his officials and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, too—has been excellent, patient and accommodating in every little detail. But I found that every time we came to the principles embodied in the Bill the noble Lord the Minister refused to meet the arguments. Time after time he referred either to the Conservative election manifesto, or to there being arguments on both sides, or he studiously ignored the arguments. And on one occasion he 1028 put them aside as simply contained in a political speech.
Today we know why. As my noble friend Lady Birk has pointed out, all has now been revealed by the Select Committee of another place. I believe that that revelation has demonstrated that this Government have deliberately and scandalously deceived both Parliament and the British public by refusing to give the relevant details upon which we should have been debating this Bill. Yet during every stage of this Bill, in both Houses, the Department of the Environment had the statistics and the consequent projections, and suppressed them. Now the Select Committee has exposed them. The Minister, if I may say so to him, can no longer use the excuse that I am making a political speech for, as my noble friend Lady Birk has pointed out, the findings of that Select Committee were unanimous. And there were six Conservatives to five members of the Labour Party upon it.
What is the relevance of that Select Committee to this Bill? It forecasts that by 1985, as my noble friend has pointed out, there will be a shortage of nearly half a million houses. It demonstrates, or projects, that the cuts of this Government in their housing allocations over the next four years will be 48 per cent. It calculates that council house building will be down to 31,000, or less, by 1984. It also points out that, whereas the subsidies to council house tenants are being cut back to £600 million, or less—or considerably less according to the forecast—the hidden subsidy of mortgage tax relief is standing at a figure around £1,500 million. These are the figures and the projections that the noble Lord the Minister's Secretary of State refused to give to the Select Committee and which he or his department—I am not attacking him personally—kept away from Parliament, away from the public and away from the press during the very time that we were debating this Bill.
May I ask him whether he has looked at the public expenditure White Paper. If he has, where are the figures for public expenditure on housing in 1981, 1982 and 1983? So far as I can discover, unless I am blind, there are blank spaces there. And if we recall the universally accepted Housing Finance Review of 1977, which estimated that there would be a demand of 300,000 houses or housing units per year up to the year 1986, where does that leave 1029 us and where does it leave this Government in their provision of housing over the next few years? What does this Bill do to meet that situation which has been secreted until today`? And yet this year —again according to the Select Committee —if we put together both the public and the private new building to be started this year, it amounts to no more than at the most 150,000—just 50 per cent. of what is estimated to be the need. What are the Government saying about this in their Housing Bill? We have yet to hear.
So far as I can see, the effect of this Bill which not I but the Conservative dominated Select Committee has reported, is the situation which is facing this Government and facing us all in this country so far as homes are concerned. The effect of this Bill will inevitably be to increase the number of the homeless, to lengthen the housing waiting lists, to enforce more house-sharing and to increase very rapidly the price of housing way above what it is today.
Let me say finally to the Minister that he knows, although I do not believe that he has ever met this argument, that my objection to this Bill from the start has been on a matter of principle. I refuse to accept the slogan of the "right to buy" and I repeat that this Bill is based upon the compulsion to sell. It will reduce the housing accommodation to let in the public sector; it will endanger, particularly if what we heard earlier today proves to be correct, the accommodation available to the elderly; it will handicap what members of the Minister's Government have been preaching over the last two weeks —that is, the necessity for mobility of labour, the injunction to the unemployed to move from where they live to other parts of the country. That will be handicapped by this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has pointed out and as many of us have tried to get through to the Government throughout the discussions on this Bill, it will undermine the character of the rural communities on which much of Britain's rich culture is based.
I believe that the Bill has been improved in this House, but it is still a bad Bill. It is a bad Bill for the ecomonic and social health of our nation; it is a bad Bill when it leaves this House. If in another place, as we have been warned, the improvements that have been made in this House are 1030 reversed, then I can assure the Minister and the House that there will be a deep and widespread resentment throughout our country.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I must say that when I tried very briefly to make a few courteous winding-up notes on this Bill I did not expect that the response would be the blatant political diatribes that we have had to listen to from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and I am very sad indeed that I have to wind up this whole thing on such a sour note. It certainly was not my intention to do so, but when the noble Baroness and the noble Lord read their speeches in Hansard tomorrow I think they will take the significance and the rectitude of what I have just said.
The fact is that I attempted merely to pay courtesies which I felt I wanted to pay in tribute to those who had helped to move the Bill on, and I thought that was all that one did in moving the Motion, That the Bill do now pass. I have learned a lesson; I have learned many lessons, and this is another one. Another time I shall think carefully before I move the Motion in that way. I am not going to rise to the bait, as might be expected. I will just say very briefly two or three things which I think ought to be said.
The fact is that it ill becomes spokesmen of the Labour Party to talk to us, after some 15 months in office, on housing, when they had the most appalling record in housing that this country has ever seen over a period of five years; when the number of dwellings was cut in a dramatic way regardless of the situation as it was then; when the whole of housing was deteriorating on a scale almost beyond belief. These people have the effrontery to come here and, because they do not like it, tell us that we are bringing forth a Bill that is adverse to housing as a whole. I refuse to accept just about everything that they have said about it. I am sorry to respond in that way, and I will not pick up the bait and go into the details of each point made. I would dearly like to, and I am sure there will be other opportunities when I shall.
May I, in conclusion, say to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, that I feel I owe an apology to him and to his colleagues on 1031 the Liberal Benches. I did say that mentioning names was fraught with the danger of omission, and I am sorry that I omitted to pay tribute, because at all times he and his colleagues were most helpful, and even when they differed with us, it was done in a most courteous way. Likewise, may I say to the right reverend Prelate that I was appreciative of what he said. It is true that the Bill does not solve the housing problem. Who could claim that any one Bill ever could, that the whole housing situation can be solved just like that? I, least of all, would make such a claim. This is only a moving on stage in an attempt to take us further forward. We do recognise all the difficulties. Finally, may I say, "thank you" to my noble friend Lord Sandford, who has been so constructive and helpful to me during the passage of this Bill.
I feel very badly about what was said at the end of the whole proceedings, but I still believe, with every bit as much conviction as noble Lords opposite and anywhere in this House, that this is a fine Bill which takes us a lot further down the road of getting the individuals who live in the houses of this country having the rights that many of us want to see, and that shortly we are going to see.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.