§ 2.58 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is based on the same general philosophy as the Housing Bill for England and Wales which the House debated two weeks ago. Your Lordships will therefore already be familiar with the substance of many of the policies, derived from the election manifesto, to which I shall be referring, notably the right for tenants of public sector housing authorities to buy their homes and a 1480 tenants' charter for those public sector tenants who continue to rent their homes. The Bill, however, differs from the Housing Bill in many particular points, because it applies the broad policies in the way which is most appropriate to Scottish circumstances. Since well over half the people of Scotland rent their homes from a public landlord, the central policies of the Bill apply to a much larger proportion of the Scottish people than does the Housing Bill for England and Wales.
The right to buy is undoubtedly the most important provision in the Bill. Only about a third of Scots presently enjoy the advantages of owner-occupation, although that tenure is much more common not only in the rest of Great Britain but in virtually all of the countries of Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The Government believe there is a massive pent up demand for home ownership in Scotland and we are determined to release it from the fetters placed upon it in the past.
It is essential, in considering this provision, to keep in mind that before this Government's election last May, or just over a year ago, public sector tenants in Scotland had to accept the policy of a Labour Government who had apparently set their face firmly against any substantial council house sales in Scotland, while allowing such sales on a more or less unrestricted basis in England and Wales. One might have thought that logic would suggest that if sales were to be allowed, the case for allowing them in Scotland was much stronger than that for allowing them in England and Wales. Now that the right to buy has been put before the Scottish people, and it is clear that they approve of it, we hear some elements in the Labour Party talking in terms of the sensible exercise of discretion by local authorities.
But we have to judge the significance of such words in practice by looking at the actual recent behaviour of Labour-controlled local authorities in Scotland. Although there has been discretion given to local authorities since last May to choose which houses, and how many, to sell, there was not a single Labour-controlled authority before the recent local elections which took advantage of the new policy and sold houses freely. 1481 Now we have the spectacle of some authorities where Labour gained control last month reversing the decisions of their predecessors and refusing to sell any more houses. We have even seen a gathering of representatives of Labour-controlled local authorities to discuss how to attempt to frustrate any of their tenants who wish to exercise the statutory rights which the Bill is to give them.
It is against this background that the right to buy represents the only realistic policy for bringing the benefits of home ownership to those tenants who want it. Clause 1 of the Bill gives virtually all tenants of public housing authorities—that is, islands and district councils, the new towns and the Scottish Special Housing Association—an unqualified right to buy their homes at a discount of between 33 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the market value of the house, assuming vacant possession. The exceptions to the right to buy are strictly limited and the numbers affected are small, chiefly tied tenants and those with temporary tenancies and those who live in fully sheltered housing, complete with warden and a call service, for elderly or disabled people.
Where the community has a special interest in houses because they have a measure of adaptation for the elderly or disabled, but the houses are not fully sheltered, Clause 4 allows the landlord to impose a pre-emption condition giving it the right of first refusal where the tenant resells. The possible difficulties affecting sales in rural areas also caused concern in another place. After considerable debate, the Government accepted an amendment which would in certain cases permit pre-emption conditions in rural areas where there is a second homes problem. But such conditions are not otherwise permitted. This is the core of our proposals.
I have already explained the need for the right to buy and I think the House will recognise that we have given shape to that right in a fair and reasonable manner. We have drawn the right as widely as possible and in as simple terms as possible, while writing in safeguards for legitimate community interests, and we have recognised by providing for substantial discounts that the sitting tenant has a very real interest in the house. These terms of sale will bring home 1482 ownership within the reach of many who would not otherwise be able to afford it. At the same time, they will bring substantial relief to the public purse as we realise the proceeds of disposals of public property which has for so long required regular and substantial subsidy from ratepayers and taxpayers alike.
Part I of the Bill, as well as conferring the right to buy, ensures that tenants will be able to exercise it. For those who cannot obtain a building society mortgage, Clause 5 provides for housing authorities to give loans. The procedure for exercising the right to buy and for obtaining a loan is organised into a timetable in Clauses 2 and 3, with strict limits on the time which authorities may take to act, and Clause 7 places a general obligation on authorities to take the steps necessary to enable their tenants to exercise the right to buy. In the event of disputes or breakdowns in the procedure, tenants are given a right of access to the Lands Tribunal, where the right to buy is concerned, or the sheriff, where loans are involved.
Part I also provides greater scope than in the past for voluntary sales. Clause 8 allows local authorities to sell any house not covered by the right to buy to the sitting tenant and to sell vacant houses, if they are difficult to let, and Clause 9 allows housing associations to sell houses. At present, these sales by local authorities would require the consent of the Secretary of State and there are statutory barriers to the sale of houses by certain housing associations. These provisions reflect a general encouragement by the Government to voluntary sales of housing by a range of public bodies. In the main, no statutory change is necessary to achieve this and Government departments are taking administrative action to identify houses which can be sold among those which they are responsible for, such as prison service houses. Other public bodies, such as police and education authorities, are being encouraged to conduct a similar weeding out of houses which it is not necessary to keep as tied housing. It will be possible for these houses to be sold at discounts in the majority of cases. Although it is only briefly reflected in the Bill, this policy on voluntary sales is, nevertheless, an important part of the context in which Part I as a whole operates.
1483 I turn to Part II of the Bill, which deals with the tenants' charter and which underlines our determination to improve the lot of all council tenants, whether they want to rent or buy. It will bring about a new stage in the development of public sector housing. The last few decades have seen enormous and rapid growth in the provision of public housing, but the quality of life in that housing has not always matched the physical quality of the accommodation provided. The balance of control over individual houses has rested with landlords rather than the tenants of these houses, leading to the growth of what has been termed "the new feudalism". The time has come to change this, to give quality of life equal priority with the physical quality of housing, by creating a new framework for the relationship between landlord and tenant which will provide a clear set of rights for tenants and an impartial mechanism for resolving disputes. I recognise that this approach is already adopted by the more enlightened local authorities, and in many respects the Bill simply gives statutory force to the existing best practice of local authorities. In this sense, no local authority which deals with its tenants in a reasonable manner need have anxiety about the provisions of the Bill but the Bill will ensure that tenants throughout Scotland will have equal opportunity to enjoy their homes free from unreasonable constraints.
The foundation of the tenants' charter is the provision of security of tenure for tenants of public sector housing authorities, including housing associations, in Clause 10. The exceptions to security of tenure are few and are clearly set out in Clause 11 and Schedule 1. The natural extension of security of tenure for existing tenants is a right of succession to the tenancy for their family after their death, and Clause 13 provides for this. The formalisation of security of tenure requires that the circumstances in which eviction can take place must be made explicit, and this is done in Clauses 14 and 15 and Schedule 2, with a special procedure in Clauses 18, 19 and 20 to deal with cases where tenants abandon their homes and the landlord needs particularly quick possession of the house. There is special protection given to tenants who are being moved from one house to another for management 1484 reasons, rather than being evicted because of their conduct, and Part II of Schedule 2 sets out in detail the basis on which the suitability of the alternative accommodation which they must be offered is to be judged.
The Bill extends a package of rights relating to enjoyment of their home to all tenants who have security of tenure and to one group who do not, tied tenants. The most far-reaching of the rights conferred is a completely new power to challenge unreasonable tenancy conditions in the courts, which is conferred by Clause 17. This is coupled elsewhere in Clause 17, and in Clause 16, with the right to a written lease so that the tenant can see clearly his rights and obligations, and a restriction on changes in tenancy conditions, so that landlords will no longer be able to impose changes unilaterally, as they can at present. Taken together, these measures put tenants on a radically different, more equal, legal footing in their dealings with their landlords.
Through this new framework for tenancy agreements, it is left to tenants and landlords to negotiate fair and reasonable tenancy conditions in a way which will take into account the special circumstances of particular areas, or of individual tenancies. However, there are certain areas of the dealings between landlords and tenants in which we believe that there should be standard rights for all tenants. These are the right for tenants to improve their homes and to take lodgers, or sublet, which are dealt with in Clauses 21 and 23 and relate to aspects of tenants' enjoyment of their homes which arise particularly frequently and in which any unreasonableness on the part of landlords is a source of particular annoyance and resentment among tenants.
We are not only concerned with those who already have houses. Part III of the Bill contains several provisions aimed at helping those seeking council housing. As a foundation, we are imposing in Clause 27 a statutory obligation on all housing authorities to publish their rules on allocations, transfers and exchanges, as the great majority of them already do, in order that those seeking a house, or wishing to move from one house to another, can see quite clearly where they stand and what their chances are. It is quite clear from the hundreds of letters 1485 about allocations received every year by the Scottish Office that people's dissatisfaction with allocations often arises because the rules are not made clear to them and they have no idea why some people are allocated houses in preference to others.
In addition to this, we have decided that, although the allocation of houses is, in general, a matter for local authorities themselves to control, it is necessary to take action against several features of allocation practice which are operated by some authorities, particularly those which act as barriers to mobility. There is a considerable volume of evidence to suggest that the practice of many authorities of refusing applications from, or discriminating against, applicants from outside their area has a depressing effect on the Scottish economy by inhibiting labour mobility. The size of the public sector in Scotland makes this a serious national problem, which justifies the exceptional step of over-riding local discretion and prohibiting residential qualifications and certain other aspects of allocation policies which act against people needing to move for employment reasons.
Clause 26 also strikes at a number of other practices which in an arbitrary manner exclude people from consideration for council housing without regard for their housing needs. Authorities will in future be prevented from discriminating against applicants on the basis of their age, or income, or against people wishing to move into their area for sound social or medical reasons. One particularly important change is that authorities will no longer be able to refuse to rehouse a separated or divorced woman as a threat to force her to pay off rent arrears owed by her husband. The malpractices at which we are aiming are not common but, in those areas where there will be changes, they will represent a substantial opening up of access to consideration for council housing so that people who may have acute housing needs are not denied the right to be judged on those needs, rather than by arbitrary general rules.
I now turn to the provisions in Part IV relating to the private rented sector. The main feature of these is that in order to encourage landlords to make, and keep, available accommodation for letting to 1486 private tenants, we shall introduce a new type of tenure—a short tenancy—under which a landlord may in future let accommodation with the absolute certainty of being able to recover possession of it on a pre-determined date, if he so wishes. This is a measure aimed at bringing new accommodation into the private rented sector and does not affect the rights of existing tenants under the Rent Acts.
In some quarters the continuing decline of the private rented sector has come to be regarded as inevitable. The Government do not share this view, which in any event overlooks the way that the role of the privately rented sector has changed in the past 30 years or so. It is no longer the normal source of accommodation for those who wish to rent on a permanent basis. People who prefer this type of tenure will now look to local authorities or to housing associations to accommodate them. Where the privately rented sector still has a vitally important role to play in meeting housing need is in catering for the young and the mobile who normally regard it as a temporary expedient. It is here that the privately rented sector can, and should, continue to make an important contribution to meeting housing needs, which the introduction of short tenancies will foster.
We are also taking powers in Clause 44 to complete the process that we began in 1972 to convert all remaining controlled tenancies to rent regulation; a process which was halted by the last Government in 1975. The anomaly of running a fair rents system and a controlled rents system side by side cannot be justified. This is also true of the anomaly of preventing progression to fair rent levels in some cases, while many thousands of other tenants are already paying fair rents. Consequently, we are changing the basis on which a rent progresses from one level to another. We recognise that to require all tenants to pay the full fair rent forth-with could cause hardship to those who have hitherto benefited from the phasing of rent increases. Therefore, while Clause 38 abolishes phasing as such, it is our intention that increases in rent should continue to be subject to a maximum annual increase, also provided for in Clause 38, which we are considering might be fixed at £104 per year, or 25 per cent. of the existing rent, whichever is higher, in the first instance.
1487 A benefit which Part V of the Bill will confer on private and public tenants alike is the extension of eligibility for the whole range of improvement and repair grants to most tenants in both sectors. This is part of a range of measures to extend the availability of grants, which will benefit owner-occupiers and landlords, as well as tenants, and will continue the drive to improve our older housing. Part V of the Bill contains other provisions which I shall mention briefly. We are removing, or relaxing, a number of central Government controls over local authorities, including the power to prevent local authorities from fixing rents at the level which they consider appropriate, and we have decided, reluctantly, to abolish the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, which had fallen into disuse under the previous Government.
There is such a wide variety of important provisions that I have not been able in the time available to mention them all. I shall, of course, try at the conclusion to deal with any points which may arise in the course of the debate, but for the present I hope that I have made it clear that this is positive legislation which sets out to bring choice and opportunity to everyone living in the public rented sector and the private rented sector. Its main importance is the changes which it will bring to the public sector, where we are providing a framework in which all tenants in the public sector will be able to choose for themselves how they wish to live. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Mansfield.)
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I had hoped that following my passage here from another place I had seen my last Housing Bill; and I do not know whether it was out of kindness to me that this Bill was christened the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill. The et cetera, the tail end of this Bill, unlike England's cricket team, is fairly powerful; so much so that I suggest that, had the Government been acting in another sphere, they might have been contravening the Trade Descriptions Act in respect of the Bill. We have just listened to the noble Earl giving a long, painstaking explanation 1488 of the details of the Bill, most of which was not at all related to tenants' rights. What the noble Earl said dealt with private sector landlords' rights and with changes in improvements grants, which apply mainly to owner occupiers, and to landlords as well, though history tells us that they do not tend to take up these things.
Would it not have been far better had the Government called this Bill a Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill? That would have been much more honest. But I think that this is probably one of the hangovers from the election. You get slogans and then you try, rather foolishly, to translate slogans into legislation. That is what has happened here.
I was fascinated by the noble Earl's description of the mandate. We all know about the mandate. The people of Scotland knew about the mandate. That is why the Conservative Government cannot get a majority in the Scottish Grand Committee, even although they take every single added Member to which they are entitled and put them on it. Scotland returned 71 Members of Parliament: there are 22 Conservatives. So that mandate was rejected by the people of Scotland at the general election. I was reading some of the earlier proceedings of the Committee stage on this Bill, which took place before the recent municipal elections. These municipal elections were elections only in the district authorities, created by the Party opposite when local government was reorganised. What is their one function? Their main function is housing. Do your Lordships remember the thinking behind this? They were going to create viable authorities; they were going to give them more freedom; they were going to be independent. They are the people who are being clobbered in this so-called tenants' rights Bill.
It was way back in 1917, when the position was so bad in relation to private housing in Scotland and when the working class rented houses, that a Royal Commission was established. When it reported it said that the system of private, tenanted houses had failed. It suggested that the Government should take responsibility for housing the people of Scotland, and that their agents should be, and should be compelled to be, the local authorities. The first Bills were those of 1489 1919, 1923 and then there was the Wheatley Act of 1924. The first, I think, was the Addison Act. Very little was done because there were no subsidies. In 1924 John Wheatley, the uncle of the present Lord Wheatley, introduced for both Scotland and England a housing Act that began the process of meeting the needs of the people of this country for housing. It was not exactly dear to the hearts of the party opposite.
I think it is ironic that I am talking here today on this Bill, which the Government are to use to force local authorities to sell houses. In 1925 there were five people in Ayr who used the power that was given them by previous legislation to demand of the Secretary of State that Ayr Town Council exercise their legislative power to build houses. One of these five was one William Ross—my father. We had to compel Tory local authorities to build houses; and it was as a result of that Act and then the Slum Clearance Act 1930, which was stopped by the Tory Act of 1934/35, which switched the emphasis to overcrowding. All the slums in Scotland were going to be cleared within five years; and when Parliament resumed their consideration of housing after the war they discovered that there were more slums than had been calculated by the Royal Commission in 1917.
We have scarcely had a housing Act without a White Paper in which the Government detail for the consideration of both Houses, and for the people outside, the reasons why they are making a change of policy or a change in financial provisions. But there is none this time. There has been no consultation; and the district authorities who have to apply this, whether or not they like it, have complained that this will upset the whole balance of their housing stock. There has not been a withdrawal from the local authorities of their obligations in respect of meeting the housing needs of the people of Scotland. As a matter of fact, the noble Earl gave one or two further instances where they have to extend the obligations to meet needs. He referred to the problem—and I do not disagree with this—in respect of the break-up of marital status, where they are now asked to undertake an obligation in respect of the people so affected.
1490 Of course, with the extension of the allocation system which is in one of the clauses—I believe it is Clause 7—it means that local authorities will have to accept applications for inclusion in their housing lists from people outside their area, and, indeed, will not be able to restrict them, as some of them (though not all of them) are doing, in that way. So there are more people going on to these lists; and, in the meantime, of course, we have report after report as to the needs in the rural areas. Most of the complaints have come from the rural areas. The honourable Member for Inverness instanced the fact that the Scottish Special Housing Association, which was going to build about 305 houses in his area, had that number slashed to about half; and at the same time local authorities are compelled to sell from their stock of housing. If you sell from your stock of housing, you cannot meet the needs of those who are dependent on it.
The noble Earl rightly pointed out that there are more than a million local authority houses in Scotland, and he deplored the fact that there are not so many owner-occupied houses. The whole tradition of Scotland has been that of rented accommodation; but if the noble Earl knew anything at all about the history of Scotland in the pre-war years he would know that there were very few working people who were able to embark on home ownership. When you have the highest unemployment figures, when one in three men are unemployed, you cannot embark on home ownership and you would not find a building society prepared to support you in it. Has the noble Earl had a look at the million houses? My Lords, 55 per cent. of the people in them are unemployed, are receiving rent rebates, are widows or are on pension. So 55 per cent. of the people do not have tenants' rights. They have some rights. It is not just tenants' rights: it is council tenants' rights. It is not all tenants; and not all council tenants, either, or public sector tenants, because the list was given.
We have the list in, I think it is, Clause 3. There we have the whole list of those so defined for occupation. It is a very lengthy list. But then you take the list of those who are given security of tenure—and you cannot buy your house unless you have security of tenure under the new procedures of the tenants' charter. They 1491 are forestry workers, prison officers, health board workers and water authority workers. None of these people is able to buy his house; so it is only some public sector tenants who can buy their houses. Then you have to take out from that list those who cannot possibly do so. There are 55 per cent., I think, of the people in local authority houses in Scotland who are over the age of 55. How many of them, even though they are not in the categories I have spoken about, are going to embark on a 25-year mortgage?
So the Government are deceiving themselves in respect of this. It was not mandated to them by the people of Scotland. On the eve of the poll at the time of the local elections, the Tories took a full-page advertisement in the Glasgow Daily Record. The Glasgow Daily Record is Scotland's national newspaper. I know that the noble Earl probably does not buy it. The noble Lord sitting next to him does buy it. He has to keep up with the football, which is reported on the last two pages.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, the Courier and Advertiser has a far wider circulation over a much broader spectrum of Scottish national life.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord's education, even in respect of the sale of newspapers in Scotland, is as limited as his knowledge of housing. Scotland's national newspaper is not the Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald or even the journal to which he referred. That was why the Conservatives took a full-page advertisement on the eve of the poll. They knew what it was, even if the noble Earl did not.
What did they say? They said: "Vote Tory and buy your own council house". What was the result? The Tories now have fewer seats in the Glasgow district than ever they had before. They were massacred, not just in Glasgow but the whole of the West of Scotland—even in the constituency in which I reside, where the Secretary of State is the Member of Parliament. It is not exactly entirely working class. Troon, Prestwick, Ayr, and Turnbury as well—it is almost like a recital of golf courses in the West of Scotland. But the Tories lost seats in Troon, in Prestwick and in Ayr, and they 1492 lost control of that council, which is surely unheard of.
The noble Earl tells us that the Government have a mandate for this. If one thing is sure, it is that they do not have a mandate for it—and little wonder. COSLA, the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities, are not enthusiastic about this. They are concerned, of course, about their rights that have been taken away—the main right of that local authority, the district authority in Scotland, to look after the housing of its people. Along come the Government and tell the districts, whether in Glasgow, Ayr, Inverness, Skye or Lochalsh, that they know better. On the demand of the tenant, every district, no matter where it is, has got to sell the house. They have not only got to sell the house. If the building society will not give the tenant a loan, they who own the house, and who have been compelled by the Government to sell it, must provide the loan. They cannot even draw up the conditions of that loan. It has to be done by the gentleman in Bute House. He need not apply for security of tenure of that place. I have been thrown out of it. Once I walked out, and once I was thrown out.
Is it not nonsense? All over Scotland, the housing needs are different. They are different in the rural areas and they are different in different rural areas over the country. They are different in the cities; they are different in what used to be the smaller burghs. But the Government apply one blanket policy over the whole lot: "You will sell your council houses". I think of the words of that eminent Back-Bench philosopher of the Tory Party in another place, the Member for Aberdeen, South. He said, "Get rid of the council house". It has always been thought—and it was evident in the noble Earl's speech today—that there is some great and special virtue in owning one's own house. Maybe some of the people who buy these so-called bargains (which I will come to later on) will find just exactly where the virtue is. Some young people today see little virtue in it when they examine very carefully every single thing they have to spend because of the obligation they suddenly find they have taken upon themselves, with a very high mortgage rate imposed upon them by the economic policies of this Government.
1493 I do not think the Government are truly in tune with the people of Scotland in this respect, and certainly they are not in tune with the local authorities. They objected, and will continue to object. I hope they will use whatever means they can lawfully to frustrate the Government's wishes. I would not wish anyone to act unlawfully. For 60 years these local authorities have been building up, meeting the needs of their people in respect of houses. Some of their housing schemes and their houses are a credit to Scotland, and certainly the people who have come out of them have been a credit to Scotland; and I do not speak about myself. But I am proud of the fact that I was brought up in a council house from the age of 12 until the age of 17. I do not take the view, as I was told by a gentleman in another place whose father I see sitting listening intently to me, that if one lived in a council house one was a second-class citizen. All this comes out time and time again. I see another noble Lord present who will remember a lady MP on his side of the House who once described the person in the council house as, "A shiftless council tenant".
In actual fact, of course, it has been expensive to meet the needs of the people in Scotland. It has been expensive from a Government point of view; it has been expensive also from a local authority point of view, but it was a priority consideration and they met it. And now that stock has to be sold off. Which houses will be bought? I ask noble Lords to remember what I have already said about the 55 per cent. who are receiving help of some kind with their rents, either from the DHSS or from the local authority. Which houses will be sold? It will be the best houses. It will be the most desirable ones, not necessarily the newest ones. Some of them are older houses, because some of the first schemes that were put up by the local authorities were nearer the centre of the towns and they were built to very good standards indeed. They have recently been modernised, with the local authorities spending quite a lot of money on them. These are the houses that will be sold.
As times changed, people saw the special needs. For a long time it was large families; before the war overcrowding was the problem. Since the war, it was a 1494 case of building houses, houses and more houses, and, I am afraid, sometimes without much consideration for the amenity as well. In fact, I remember a noble Lord in this House, when he was Minister of State for Scotland, saying that we were building the slums of the future. The multi-storey flats were not started by Labour Governments. They were started during the 13 years when we were not the Government; and if there are social problems they stem from that time. We are much more discriminating now. There was a sudden realisation that there was a shortage of houses for single people, for spinsters, for bachelors, for widows, for widowers, and so they have been built.
Under this provision of a tenant's right, even despite the feelings of the local authority that they had met the needs, the houses can be sold, outside of their control, and there is no saying what happens thereafter. They will be sold out of the control of the local authorities, and the local authorities will then find that they have got to rebuild again to meet a need that they thought they had met, or partially met. What about the elderly? Local authorities have been putting the elderly into suitable houses. These suitable houses are usually on the ground floor. They become readily available when reletting for other suitable elderly people. But, under this Bill, these houses will go outside the control of the local authority and what you will find is that the local authority will be left with a considerably unbalanced stock of houses but still with the same needs to meet. And the Government wonder why the local authorities object to this—and not just Labour local authorities. Why did they not leave this on a voluntary basis and leave the local authorities to decide which houses they want to sell and which they could sell without unbalancing their stock?
Then there is the question of the rural areas. There was a sudden touchiness about what they were going to do about rural areas. The provisions in this Scottish Bill are not as good as those in the English Bill. The noble Earl seems to think that the only concern in the rural areas was about second homes. He should read what was said by his own honourable friends in another place and what the leader of the Liberal Party said 1495 about their concern on the Borders. It is very easy to live in the Borders now and commute to Edinburgh; so that the pressure of prices for housing on the Borders has grown high, to the detriment of the chances of local people. If these houses are sold and there is a need for housing in the rural areas, the people who will suffer will be the local people in the rural areas. An SDA report has recently become available to the noble Earl, if he wants to read it—a report of the pressure for local authority houses in the rural areas. If he likes, he can read a letter from his honourable friend Mr. Rifkind in reply to one correspondent—I think it was in January this year—saying, "That is all right: the local authorities can build and use their resources for building." Do noble Lords appreciate that at the same time as we are passing this Bill, the Government are cutting the capital expenditure of local authorities on housing? The reduction in capital expenditure on housing and revenue in the next four years is from over £700 million to £410 million—a reduction of 42 per cent. In terms of the Government's economic policy, that is all right; but in terms of this Bill and of the burdens being thrown on local authorities and in terms of the needs of local authorities it is absolute nonsense. For the noble Earl to suggest that this is in any way going to meet the needs of the people of Scotland is absolutely wrong.
I can understand why the noble Earl did not produce a White Paper. I have a collection of them. I could paper the walls of this Chamber with them. It is the perorations that I like best. Let us take the 1971 White Paper, the Reform of Housing Finance in Scotland. It says:Taken together these policies are calculated at best to meet the urgent housing needs of Scotland today and the expected requirements of the next decade".
In 1973, two years later, in Homes for People: Scottish Housing Policy, these words appear:
The conditions are being created in which nobody need go without a reasonable home for lack of means and most can enjoy a fair choice of sound, attractive houses. The tide has now turned and the Government intend to keep it Flowing".
§ In April of this year the number of registered unemployed in Scotland rose above the level at which it stood in the 1496 year 1933. What is the latest slogan? Is it: "Spend your redundancy money on buying a council house"?—and not any council house, just the one you are in. There is no choice there. It is like Henry Ford's choice: "Any colour you want, so long as it is black".
§ My Lords, I think that this Government have let down the people of Scotland. I listened to what the noble Earl had to say about the tenants' charter, the changes in allocations. I can assure him that these were in the Labour Government's Bill. All that is good in this Bill came from the Labour Government. Anything else that is good came from the committee that the Government are abolishing. I loved his phrase that they were abolishing the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee for the simple reason that it had fallen into disuse under the last Government. It fell into disuse during the 13 wasted Tory years—and I revived it.
§ On the allocation changes, I do not know whether the noble Lord realises it, but the improvement grant system stemmed from that Scottish Housing Advisory Committee. The better management of local authority housing, too, came from the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee. I would suggest that there is one invaluable report which they produced in 1967 and which the noble Earl should read again. I shall be kind to him: I say, "Read again". It will give him the whole history of Scottish housing, the whole perspective of what was needed to be done and of what must be done.
§ In the last Government we had started on a series of annual plans in which the local authorities, having surveyed their housing needs, made an assessment of what they were going to do. It covered modernisation, provision for sale of council houses, help for owner occupation, general needs, housing for the disabled and housing for the elderly. How can any local authority plan on a basis of what it is going to do if it does not know what stock it will have because its control of houses has passed to individual tenants who will be given these bargain prices? Three years in a house and you can buy it with a 33 per cent. discount—and that discount going up to 50 per cent. If you so unbalance your stock of housing, 1497 then you must rebuild. What will that cost? The Government are in Cloud Cuckoo-land so far as this Bill is concerned. There is one thing that we do know. Each house which comes off the housing stock, the Government will not need to pay towards in the housing support grant. But the housing support grant is being reduced as well. Only one thing is sure in respect of this, and it applies to private tenants and to the tenants of council houses: we are going to have an unsatisfactory position from the point of view of the local housing authority. Rents will go up, as a result of the housing support grant cut, by at least £1.40 a week—and our estimate is £1.60. And the rents of the privately-rented houses will go up. We are going over to the rent system. The houses which are still in control in Scotland are the houses occupied by the oldest people in the community. They are the poorest houses and their rent will go up. Imagine throwing these people into this whole business of fair rents, registered rents, regulated tenancies, rights of possession and so on!
§ If the noble Earl thinks that that is to the advantage of the people of Scotland, then he had better start to talk to the people of Scotland. I think the noble Earl is wrong. I think that the Government are wrong. The consequence of this sloganised Bill will be destructive of democracy. It will not commend itself to those who are democratically inclined and who thought that local authorities could judge what was best for their own particular areas. It shows a fundamental distrust of elected authorities. It shows more clearly than ever before the Government's detestation of municipal enterprise, whereas, so far as housing is concerned, without it the Scottish situation would not have been dealt with as well as it has. What further tasks have to be done in Scotland in respect of housing are not going to be done in the private sector. The Government say that themselves. There is the Homeless Bill. It is not the private sector that has to provide for the homeless: it is the municipalities. And everything the Government are doing within this Bill is going to make it more difficult. I think it is one of the most shameful Bills that I have come across in my 34 years of parliamentary life.