§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Second Reading debate resumed.1510
§ Viscount THURSO
My Lords, before I turn to the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill, may I remind the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that, whatever they may read in Strathclyde, we in the far North still start the day with the P. & J? Perhaps I may now ask the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, a question which was put to me by another noble Lord and which I was totally unable to answer. Apparently, the Housing Bill, which is at the moment going through your Lordships' House, deals with Scotland and covers a number of subjects and problems which the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill also deals with. Can the noble Earl tell us whether there is, in fact, an overlap between the Housing Bill and the Bill whose Second Reading we are discussing today? I am unable to answer that question to my own satisfaction and I should like guidance on it.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount, so that I can answer his question? What does he mean by "overlap" in this case? Does he mean spheres of influence, time or what?
§ Viscount THURSO
My Lords, in a sense, spheres of influence. It seems to me that both Bills tend to deal with the same subject. Which one, therefore, is to have priority? I can perhaps explain that more clearly to the noble Earl privately, afterwards.
Turning now to the Bill which is the subject of the debate, it is only a qualified welcome which we on these Benches can offer to this Bill. Frankly, we find it to be a bit of a curate's egg. The good parts include, for instance, the power to sell empty houses, the security of tenure provisions, the opening-up of house allocation systems to public scrutiny and the abolition of minimum waiting periods. But the taint of the Bill arises mainly from a suspicion that it may, in the long term, spoil the chances of those who cannot afford to buy getting housed at all. It also looks as though it may create very great difficulties for local authorities in maintaining a properly balanced housing stock.
Let me say right away, that I am not against the sale of council houses to sitting tenants, nor is the Liberal Party against 1511 such a policy. Indeed, it has always seemed wrong to me that a family should be prevented from acquiring the house which they have come to regard as their home, if they want to do so and can afford to do so. In fact, if they do buy their house they must at the same time be doing the community in which they live, and indeed the whole country, a good turn.
They will be putting back into the coffers of the local authority a capital sum which can then be redeployed for useful purposes, and they will be relieving the local authority of the ever-increasing burden of maintenance and repair of that house. When I was a town councillor in Thurso, I often used to think that it would have paid us simply to give all our houses to the sitting tenants as a present, such was the burden of upkeep and the gap between rents and maintenance costs.
But, of course, such thoughts are mere idle speculation. Local authorities and governments cannot simply divest themselves of their responsibilities—much though their members might like to do so. I must therefore remind Her Majesty's Government of their responsibility in the area of housing. I must remind them of their paramount responsibility to maintain an adequate stock of houses for the people of Scotland. The selling of council houses to sitting tenants must not be allowed to happen in such a way as to threaten the provision of an adequate housing stock, or the ability of local authorities to give adequate shelter to the people.
The danger in this Bill seems to lie in treating the whole of Scotland as one. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, drew attention to this earlier on and I would underline it. Danger also exists in not recognising that there are great differences in conditions and in needs from region to region, and from district to district within regions. Where there is a surplus, there is probably little danger in a policy of council house sales, but in areas where there is shortage and a long waiting list, social damage and hardship could be caused by lowering the stock of local authority houses.
Over much of Scotland, and particularly in rural areas, there is still a shortage of 1512 houses for young couples starting out in life. Too many people start their married life in the cramped conditions of a caravan. Too many young children are being born in Scotland into conditions which fail to meet a tolerable standard. How do I know, my Lords? It is because I know that there are 150,000 houses in Scotland which are below the tolerable standard, and anyone who lives in Scotland knows the caravan sites where families struggle to bring up children in the mud, slush and sleet of a Highland winter.
This means that not only must we see that local authorities are able to meet their commitment to house the needy, but, also, we must see that the private sector is able to bear its part as well. Private builders must be encouraged and helped to build in disadvantaged areas. Local authorities in some rural areas should be helped to add to their stock of houses, not to sell them off, and they should discriminate between different applications to buy, lest they sell off some precious housing stock to become holiday homes.
Above all, however, we should once again sharpen that excellent tool, the improvement grant, and put it to work to meet Scotland's housing needs. In 1974 when the Housing (Scotland) Act became law, the average cost of a dwelling in Scotland was £9,775, and the grant which could be obtained to bring a house up to tolerable standard was £1,875. Today, the cost of an average dwelling has doubled but the grant available has not. The grant should he £3,750 and it is £2,250. Therefore the effects of inflation are not being accounted for and the effects of increasing costs are not being met. Not only is the grant too little to help adequately but it is also hedged around with a thorn fence of regulations so that it is very difficult indeed to qualify for the full grant that is theoretically available.
We must surely all know the high cost of house improvements. Recently I added a room to a cottage—not a specialist room like a bathroom or a kitchen but just an ordinary sitting room, as there was not adequate public room space in the cottage for a family with kids doing homework and so on. It was only three walls and a floor, with a roof, added to a two-up, two-down, plus bathroom and kitchenette, and it has cost £5,500. None of it is eligible for grant. 1513 In 1968 or 1969 when improvement grants were brought into being, that sum of money would have built a five-apartment council house. Today it adds a room.
The Government are not keeping pace with inflation. Everybody knows it. Local authorities know it; ordinary people know it; Government advisers know it; Ministers know it. They cannot pretend otherwise. This is one area in which the Government must examine again their hard line on expenditure cuts. The sufferers are not the rich, or the lay-abouts, or the well established, or the well employed and well paid. They are the young, the vulnerable, the little children, the poor and the inadequate in the community. It is just plain unChristian to shut our faces to their need.
It is our duty to shelter our people. This Bill does nothing to help us to discharge this duty and it puts at risk local authorities' ability to do so. We must see that this risk is avoided, and we on these Benches may well bring forward amendments which will seek to do so. Meanwhile, without prejudice, we give this Bill a qualified blessing and we listen to its Second Reading with an open and critical mind.
§ 4.33 p.m.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, with the permission of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, may I say a word before he speaks? I am sure that he would rather speak on behalf of the Opposition at the end of the debate.
I think that my noble friend Lord Mansfield should give us a little more explanation of the way that these two Bills dovetail. The English Housing Bill deals with the whole of the country. The Scottish Bill deals exclusively with Scotland except for some rather curious references to "English local authorities". If one looks at Part I, Chapter I, of the Housing Bill, one sees that it is headed, "The Right to Buy". However, if one looks at the Scottish Bill, Part I deals with the right to purchase. I do not know whether there is overlapping, but there is a very strong suggestion that there is a certain amount of it, which means that one has to read both Bills carefully.
A more important question is this: if I put down an amendment to the 1514 English Bill, does it apply to Scotland, or must I put down an amendment to both Bills? I think that there ought to be a clear explanation of this, and it may be that there is. I do not know whether my noble friend wants to speak now or later?
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, in case my noble friend wants to intervene again, may I direct his attention to Clause 144 of what I call the English Bill, when I think all will be unfolded. I see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, is nodding.
The Earl of SELKIRK
Yes, my Lords, but if I look at Clause 142(2)(b) in the English Bill I see:… any provision may be brought into force on different days for England, Wales and Scotland".That means that any part of the English Bill can be brought into force in Scotland. There may be a perfectly simple explanation which I am stupid enough not to understand.
May I make two points on the Bill? I think it reflects on the general administration of this country that Bills as complicated as this one must be produced in order to help people to get housing. This is a great pity because housing is terribly important. The great body of people will not understand the complications—the aura of law which surrounds tenancy and other forms of house ownership. It is probably impossible to simplify this Bill, but I very much hope that in the course of time this matter will be made very much more simple.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, referred constantly to the needs of local authorities. It is not a question of the needs of local authorities; it is a question of the needs of the people of Scotland who want houses of the type they require in the right place. Most of them would like to have owner occupation if they could get it. I would go further than that. I wonder whether it is right that local authorities should provide houses for people who can afford to buy their own houses and who want to do so. Certainly the Government's view is that anybody who can afford it should have owner-occupation. I thought that most members of the Opposition accepted that in proper cases owner-occupation is generally the 1515 most desirable form of occupation. I should have thought that the main task of local authorities was to provide houses for the homeless—for people who, for one reason or another, cannot afford to provide houses for themselves. It is on that need that today I hope local authorities will concentrate. We are dealing with a situation which is entirely different from that in the 1920s, the 1930s or the 1940s. There are, by and large, enough houses.
That brings me to my second point. In this Bill, emphasis is placed on the need to maintain houses. One of my anxieties is that if we do not maintain houses properly but allow damp to get in, gradually we shall allow houses to fall into that grey area from which eventually they will have to be wiped out as slums. I believe that a great many houses could be very much better maintained and that the time to maintain houses is when they start to get damp. We should not wait until they are beginning to fall down. I believe that this is what the Bill emphasises. In so far as it does that, I hope very much that it will succeed in its purpose. No doubt there will be many comments and criticisms, but I hope very much that these results will be brought about by the Bill.
§ Lord HUGHES
My Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey has accorded to me the same courtesy as he gave to the noble Earl opposite of speaking just before him, very briefly, in order to explain that my silence so far does not indicate anything other than the fact that the Addison Rules prevent me from taking part in the debate. This will apply also to future stages of the Bill, so far as Parts I, II amd III are concerned. So far as the other parts of the Bill are concerned, which have no effect whatsoever on development corporations, I hope to make a contribution during future stages.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, as some noble Lords may remember, I am a devolutionist. Had the Scotland Bill been put into effect, this Bill would never have reached this House—indeed, it would never have reached Westminster. Under the Scotland Bill housing was a devolved matter, but I am quite certain that no Scottish legislature would have 1516 passed such a wrong-headed measure as the one which comes before your Lordships' House today. Indeed, had this measure been left to the decision of the people who live and vote in Scotland, whether they were meeting in Edinburgh or in the other place, it would certainly have been consigned to the dustbin. It passed through the other House against the wishes of the Scottish Members, who voted against it by a majority of approximately two to one. It was carried in the other House by English Conservatives who know nothing whatsoever about Scottish housing. It will no doubt be passed by this House because of the substantial indifference of this House to the whole question.
I note with some dismay that not one Back-Bench Member of this House, comprising over 1,000 Members, has put down his name to speak on this Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, intervened on a technical matter, and my noble friend Lord Hughes intervened to say that he was unable to speak on the Bill. That still leaves over 1,000 Members of your Lordships' House, none of whom saw fit to utter one word in relation to one of the most dramatic changes in relation to Scottish housing that has ever been proposed.
Not only that, my Lords. This Bill offends against a number of the principles which this House has traditionally held dear. For example, it is a basic, naked and quite uncompromising attack on the whole principle of local democracy. It says that central Government knows best when it comes to an essential local matter like housing. I should have thought that this House has many times affirmed the view that that is quite wrong. It introduces compulsory purchase at a price which is only a fraction of the market value of the property to be compulsorily acquired. Again, I should have thought that this House has many times expressed its view against such a proposal. It is a Bill based upon a slogan, and it is plain from the proceedings in another place, and I hope it will be plain as a result of the proceedings here, that no study at all has been made of the possible consequences of this Bill upon the housing stock in Scotland.
Fourthly—I hope to make each of these points good in a moment or two—it ignores the advice of almost everyone who knows anything at all about housing in 1517 Scotland as to the disastrous consequences that will flow from it for countless thousands of public sector tenants in Scotland. It will, in my view—and I hope I can make this point good in argument—at one stroke arrest the building of both public sector and private sector housing in Scotland. It will ensure that the best local authority houses pass forever out of the local authority housing stock, and local authorities will then be driven inexorably to be the providers of cheap welfare housing, social housing, indeed fulfilling the role the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, seemed to think was properly theirs, but which has never traditionally been theirs in Scotland.
Finally—and I only summarise the main points—it will undoubtedly create in Scotland, bitterness, division and confrontation on a very severe scale indeed. It will—and I regret it very much—breed political extremism among local authority members, who fought and won local elections on this very issue, and who will, and again I regret it, be prepared to defy the law on the strength of their electoral mandate. I regret and I would not support such extremism, but this Bill will feed it and will foster it, and will give it strength, perhaps for many years to come.
My Lords, I have not been in your Lordships' House for very long, but I have been here long enough to discover that when a Bill of this kind is debated its protagonists stress the motives which inspire it, its opponents stress the results which it will produce. This House has repeatedly, and to its great credit, been mature enough on many occasions to recognise that what is important about a Bill of this kind is not how well intentioned are its essential ideals or how good are the motives of those who bring it forward, but what its effects are likely to be and whether those effects are desirable or deplorable. This House, therefore, knows from many experiences that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
For example, everyone remembers the Industrial Relations Bill 1971 which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, saw through this House. It was intended by the Government of the day, and I believe sincerely, to improve industrial relations. It did the very opposite—it embittered industrial relations. It produced in the process by far the highest number of 1518 working days lost through strikes since 1926. That is one example. Local government reform is another example of good intentions which went awry. The reform of the National Health Service is another example of good intentions which went awry. Some would say that the Rent Acts had the same kind of effect, quite the opposite of what was intended by their authors. No doubt other noble Lords on that side of the House would mention the nationalisation of great industries, inspired, they would say, by good ideals but impractical, producing wrong results. Depending on your political standpoint you can draw up your own lists. One thing we are all agreed about is that the excellence of the motives, or the idea that was espoused by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, does not save the Bill if in the real world the effects are disastrous. On that basis, I propose to look at the effects in relation to the main heads that I have outlined.
My Lords, this Bill is a fundamental attack upon local democracy. The housing role is surely the most important function of the district authorities in Scotland. They are principally the managers of a huge stock of local authority housing, nearly one million houses in Scotland, and they are responsible for its good management to several million people who are their electors. These people elected them into office. They are responsible to these people and that is their main function. It is the one which concerns the councillors, day and daily, in their surgeries; and it is even the one which concerns Members of Parliament, day and daily, in their surgeries, because it is a matter of great importance. These local authorities have to assess the need for housing; they have to plan the acquisition of land; they have to finance, perhaps over a 60-year period, the building of housing for rent, and they have to try to manage all their houses, good and bad, old and new, with a number of purposes. They have to try to do justice to existing and to potential tenants; they must try to provide for the housing demands which will be created by employment gains in the area, and they must try to allow room for the private sector to develop housing for those who can and do make that kind of choice.
But, my Lords, Part I of this Bill at a stroke destroys for ever the possibility of a 1519 sensible long-term planning of the housing stock of the local authority. The local knowledge of the elected district council and its officers are at once set at naught, because under this Bill the district council becomes a piece of administrative machinery activated by the self-interest—I do not use that word in an improper sense—of the tenant. Once it is activated, the local authority has no alternative but blindly to obey rules laid down by the Secretary of State and as yet undisclosed, because although this Bill is bristling with references to orders which the Secretary of State will make we have not yet seen these orders and we are in a sense buying a pig in a poke.
Let me give an example. There are no fewer than eight separate references in Part I of this Bill to statutory instruments that may be introduced by the Secretary of State. They govern, in Clause 1, the sale price, in Clause 2 the form of application. In Clause 4 they govern very important matters relating to rural housing, and in Clause 5 there are no fewer than four orders referred to which govern loans by local authorities to the people who are buying these houses. In Clause 7 s further order is contemplated in relation to the duty of the local authorities to process the sales. So here we have a Bill bristling with delegated legislation and we have not yet been told what its content is going to be. At every point the district council is made not a responsible local authority but a puppet on a string, and we do not know the length or elasticity of that string at the present time.
My Lords, your Lordships should be warned. I have already said—and I repeat because I want to make it clear—that I do not support defiance of the law. But elected district councillors are not in fact puppets. They and not the Secretary of State have the local knowledge. They and not the civil servants in St. Andrew's House have the local knowledge. To deprive them of the responsibility and turn them into the Secretary of State's puppets, to deprive them of the responsibility for housing, as this Bill does, is to commit a cardinal error with grave social and constitutional implications. I hope that this House, which has looked at many Bills to see what effect they will have, will look more carefully at this Bill than has hitherto 1520 been done by those who support the Government.
My Lords, let me turn to my second point, about compulsory purchase. As your Lordships will be well aware, compulsory purchase under our law is allowed only for the most limited purposes, and only after proof in each individual case. That proof is designed to show that compulsory purchase is necessary to achieve a clear and reasonably certain public gain. Then, after proof, if a compulsory purchase order is confirmed, there are provisions for fair compensation.
Let us contrast that situation with the present one. In this case, the individual case is not to be looked at at all. There is no requirement to look at the case of the individual house; there is no requirement to look at the housing scheme in which the house may be situated; there is no requirement to look at the needs of the area in which the housing scheme may be; there is no requirement to look at the needs of the whole district; and there is no requirement to look at the particular village, town, borough or whatever it may be. All local considerations that may have a bearing upon the public good are to be ignored. All that matters is how the individual tenant sees his self-interest. Necessity has no part to play in the scheme under the Bill, by contrast with normal compulsory purchase procedures.
The public good is assumed: it is not proved. Indeed, it is disproved at this stage. However, what is even more important is that the Secretary of State will not allow any evidence to be put before him, or before anybody else, to show that the public good will not be served by allowing purchases of this kind.
To turn to another contrast with normal compulsory purchase, the compensation to the public purse is not fair. The purchaser gets a bargain basement price and can hold that price against inflation, under one of the provisions of the Bill, for two years. He pays a £100 option sum, and he holds the price of the house, at the date when he pays the option, for two years. At the end of two years he can then buy the house for two-thirds or perhaps one half, of its market value price. So there is compulsory purchase without fair compensation to the public purse. Then, the final indignity is that 1521 the unwilling seller—the local authority—is compelled to lend to the purchaser the purchase price on terms which the Secretary of State has not yet disclosed, although the Bill was printed no fewer than six months ago.
My third and fourth points I can take together. There has been no study whatsoever of the probable effects of the Bill. The consultation with those who have knowledge of these matters in Scotland has been extremely cursory. The advice received from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorites in Scotland, from many individual local authorities, from Members of Parliament, from Shelter and from numerous organisations and individuals has been ignored, because the great weight of that advice is against the central theme of the Bill. This is the most arrogant, ill-informed and wrongheaded manoeuvre since the Charge of the Light Brigade, and as the poor attendance in the House today proves, it lacks even the glamour of that celebrated occasion.
I said that this Bill would, at a stroke, arrest the building of both public sector and private sector housing. Let me seek to make that assertion good. Why should a local authority build houses in the knowledge that it can be compelled to sell those very houses 36 months—three years—after the first tenant has moved in, and not just to sell them, but to sell them at that date at a discount of 33⅓ per cent? Indeed, not just that, but, having sold them, to lend the price, or a substantial part of the price, to those people who are buying them. Why on earth should a local authority spend its resources, which are extremely difficult to raise, on building houses which it will no longer own 36 or perhaps 38 months after they have been completed?
I should like to answer a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. The noble Earl talked about improving houses. Why should a local authority which has a stock of local authority houses, including some poor quality houses, spend substantial sums improving those houses in the knowledge that the only effect will be to encourage the tenants to buy those very houses at one half of the market price? So, it is not just the building of these houses that will be discouraged—the improvement of these houses will also be discouraged.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, it would be 20 years before he would be able to buy it with a 50 per cent. discount.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, I think the position is that once he has been in occupation for three years he can buy it at a 33 per cent. discount and then he adds 1 per cent. a year for the next 17 years. So it is 17 years' occupation, I think.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
No, my Lords; I think it is 17 including three. None the less, there are a great many houses. The point that my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock made is relevant here. Many of the most attractive houses—those that were called in the other place "cottage houses" with a front door, a back door and a garden—were built a long, long time ago and have been under the same occupation for a very long period. Many of those houses are the same houses which have required, and in some cases have received, improvement. What encouragement is there to a local authority to improve such houses now when it knows that all it will do is encourage the tenants to buy them?
Let me turn to another point; namely, what effect will it have upon the building of private sector houses? The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was not able to comment, but the new towns in fact sell off some of their assets. It is very difficult for a private builder to go into a new town area and build new houses, simply because he cannot compete with the prices at which the local authority—the new town corporation—can sell them. Can your Lordships imagine a private builder thinking of building somewhere in an area where there are good local authority houses being sold off at half price? He has no chance whatever of building and selling houses there. He may sell to some people, of course, who do not have the same rights as are conferred by the Bill upon some privileged tenants. But, it is perfectly plain that there will be a substantial discouragement to the building of private sector houses.
So there is a bad effect upon improvement, a bad effect upon public sector housing and a bad effect upon private 1523 sector housing. Let us look at the substance of the matter. We are talking here in a sense about paper although it has serious effects upon people. The Bill creates no more houses, it discourages the building of houses and it discourages the improvement of houses. The best houses will undoubtedly be those that will be bought. Let me give an example of the houses that will not be bought—the houses, for example, in the multi-storey blocks which, as my noble friend Lord Ross reminded us, started to be built during the 13 years of Conservative rule from the early 1950s to 1964. Will those houses be bought by the tenants?—surely not. There is no evidence that they will be bought. If, in a multi-storey block with 30 or 20 storeys and with all the problems that one gets in those blocks with lifts and graffiti and so on and so forth, a quarter of the flats were bought by the sitting tenants, what would happen if there were a Ronan Point type of disaster and the building required millions of pounds spent upon it to save it? Will the quarter of the people who bought their flats there be required to contribute? Is there some way in which the money can be obtained from them? What will happen? Or will the local authority simply pay for the repair of those flats as well as the local authority's own flats?
There is another point—a point of social discrimination—which is of great importance here. As my noble friend reminded the House, over 50 per cent. of the present council tenants in Scotland are in receipt of some form of public fund assistance for the payment of their living/housing costs. Those people will not be able, one would have thought, to borrow either from a building society or, indeed, under the regulations, from a local authority. So, basically, those who can afford to buy the houses, if they wish to do so, and live in the right type of house, will be the ones who are better off. So the better houses will be bought by the better off, and the houses that will be left will be the poorer houses and will be inhabited by the disadvantaged and the less well off. The local authority will end up as the manager of social welfare housing for the poor and disadvantaged. We have the classic example here of what Professor Galbraith called private affluence leading 1524 to public squalor. He said that the price of private affluence is public squalor, and that is the tendency to which this Bill inexorably takes us.
I have mentioned the division between the less well off and the better off. There is another important aspect. In some local authority areas in Scotland no fewer that 25 per cent. of the tenants are on the transfer list. It is the ambition of many tenants to move ultimately to the better type of council housing. As a result of this Bill that type of housing will be removed for ever from the local authority housing stock and the ambition of these people will be dashed for all time.
This Bill will create anger among local authorities; it will create anger among those on the transfer list. Inevitably, it will lead, I fear, to defiance of the law and to the kind of resort to the courts, the law of contempt, fines, surcharging, and so on, that followed the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1972. It will be a breeding ground for extremism. I should have thought that, whatever one may think of the Government's economic policy, they have enough confrontations and enough economic problems on their hands at the moment without encouraging more in this particular field.
Let me turn briefly and in conclusion to some of the details. Clause 5 is a very badly drafted clause. As I have said, it depends, in no fewer than four places, upon regulations to be made by the Secretary of State. Where are they? Why have we waited six months without yet seeing them? What happens under Clause 5(8), if I may ask the noble Earl, if the local authority will not, in fact, advance the loan?—because the Bill contains no sanction and no compulsion upon the local authority. How will that operate?
Under Clause 7, which provides an escape route, if the local authorities, in fact, defy the law, how many extra staff will be required by the Lands Tribunal, and how can they possibly get through the work that is likely to fall upon them in the first few months after the Bill is brought into effect? I would submit that the Government have immense difficulties ahead of them. What they have done, which is extremely foolish, is to refuse to allow themselves any flexibility. They have built no ground to which to 1525 retreat into the Bill. If the problems become as immense as I suggest they will be—and many who are more expert than I have asserted that they will be immense—the Government have left no ground whatever on to which they can retreat, and they are making a very unfortunate situation for themselves.
The Government have made an unfortunate situation for the House because this Bill—and I do not know whether your Lordships have tried to follow it—is 83 clauses long and is prefaced by a Financial and Explanatory Memorandum which extends only to 50-odd clauses. That is because the Government for some reason have chosen to print the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum which was printed in front of the Bill that was brought before the House of Commons. That is unfortunate because about 25 or 26 clauses have been added to the Bill since then, with not a word of explanation as to what they mean. It is difficult enough to follow this type of legislation without being treated in that particular way. I would urge the Government to think of some way of issuing an explanatory memorandum by way of supplement in order to explain the consequences of the 26 clauses that were added when the Bill was in another place. Perhaps the way to do it is for the noble Minister to make available to us, and indeed, in the Library, the Notes on Clauses, particularly the Notes on Clauses that he has in relation to these 26 new clauses.
Finally, let me turn to the other parts of the Bill and say a few words on them. Of Parts II and III, I say nothing. They have been dealt with by my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock. Part IV deals with short tenancies, and nobody believes that this will encourage new properties to come on the market for rent—nobody at all. Indeed, the history of the Rent Act 1957 tends to point in the opposite direction. Furthermore, what is plain is that as the secure tenancies come to an end they will simply not be replaced by other secure tenancies, and the long-term effect will be very deleterious to the rights of tenants.
In introducing the Bill the noble Earl referred to Clause 44, but he did not refer to Clause 37. However, these two clauses taken together remove the phasing 1526 restrictions on rent increases, and the result of that is that in Scotland rents will inevitably rise much faster than inflation and much faster than wages, and so will tend to ferment further increased wage demands and further bitterness. These are unfortunate features of the Bill, but they do not touch upon the central issue, which is that the local authorities are being robbed of their right to bring their local knowledge to bear and to carry out the job which they have been elected to carry out. It is a Bill which has left the Government no room for manoeuvre; it is a Bill which, if put into effect, will wreak disastrous results across the whole spectrum of housing in Scotland. I beg the Government to think again about it.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I venture to suggest that this has been an interesting debate, not least because it shows up almost more starkly than anything else since I have been in this House the complete division between the parties and their philosophy. From the very first time when I sat where the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, is sitting now and made what, at any rate at that moment, I thought was a jolly good attack on what we considered to be the vindictive Finance Bill of the day in, I think, 1975 and all that it proposed, speaking personally for a moment, I do not think I have ever seen a Bill which so clearly shows up the two parties and their respective philosophies. The Opposition's one-two attack on the Bill, with two Front Bench speakers, amply illustrates this.
If I may say so without offence, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, provided what I might call, going back to the Daily Record, the intellectually "page 3 approach"; that is to say, if you cannot attack what the other side are proposing to do by any other manner, you accuse them personally of being either ignorant or malicious, or a combination of both. Then we have the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, who produced a considerably more intellectual approach, if I may so call it, but who went far too far when he said that various uncalled for and unhappy consequences would flow from this particular Bill.
First, I should like to deal with the fact that there are not very many speakers and 1527 that there are not very many of your Lordships in the Chamber. I do not regard that as at all untoward, or, indeed, surprising, because a great many of the principles which are in the Bill have already been discussed—I shall not say ad nauseam—in the very full Second Reading debate on the Housing Bill. As I said when I sought to introduce the Bill, this, in fact, mutatis mutandis, provides the Scottish dimension, putting into effect exactly the same principles as appeared in our manifesto and upon which the election was fought. Therefore, it would be surprising if a great number of your Lordships came to make more or less the same points as were made the other day. One only has to look at the Official Report to see that.
However, there are one or two points which I ought to raise. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, said, "Oh, no, there is no mandate for this sort of thing in Scotland". The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, said that if only his dear departed assembly had come into being the Bill might have received a different fate or might never have been brought forward. I do not think that it is any good going over that particular ground. We all remember the skill, and at times the charm, with which the noble and learned Lord introduced the Scotland Bill. I am afraid that I never saw the advantage of it, but we know that it was dear to his heart.
The fact of the matter is that we live in a unitary state; we have one sovereign Parliament which has to legislate for each end of the United Kingdom. For many years—from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1979—the vast majority of English Members of Parliament had to endure a Government which was most uncongenial to them, and it happens that from time to time the representative balance so far as the parties are concerned gets out of balance in different parts of the United Kingdom. But that does not then immediately say that there is no mandate in Wessex for this or that policy. I hope that as these debates go on the noble Lord, Lord Ross, on reflection, will not produce that point too often—I am sure he will, but not too often—
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords I will give the pledge that I shall not produce it too often if the noble Earl will 1528 promise me that in future the Tory Party will not produce a Scottish manifesto.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, what I will say to the noble Lord is that as our policies begin to bite and take effect I foresee the situation coming back to 1955, and then the noble Lord will finally be silenced about this business of mandates. I will say no more.
What does this Bill do? Noble Lords have said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and to a lesser extent the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that these measures are probably unwelcome but certainly uncalled for so far as the sale of housing authority homes is concerned. However, may I just remind your Lordships that since May 1979 when the general consent was introduced there have been over 4,000 sales? Until recently there were 12½ thousand—exactly 12.5 thousand—applications to purchase. Many of those, because of the change of control of local authorities, will not for the moment go through. But it is idle to say anything but that a very large number of what are described as council tenants in Scotland will welcome these provisions—and I am talking now of the sale of council houses, or public authority houses—and will wish to avail themselves of the chance to become owner-occupiers.
The next point made was that in some way the sale of housing in this context will either make it more difficult for young couples, or indeed any would-be tenant, to become one, or in some way that the stock of houses will be diminished in a way which will make it more difficult for people to become tenants in the houses of their choice, so to speak. I would suggest that that is a fallacy. The research that has been done shows that the vast majority of the people who will want to buy their homes, whether in the country or in the urban areas, will be people who would in any event live out most of their lives in those houses. Therefore, if they are forced to continue renting them as opposed to buying them, that is not going to make any difference at all to the stock of council houses, still less deprive others of those houses because they will not move out of them. Even if all tenants were made to go on renting, the fact is that houses would not become available to those on waiting lists at least for another generation, and the position would be as before.
1529 The way to improve the position of people on the waiting lists—and I acknowledge this, and it is the responsibility of Government and the local authorities hand-in-hand—is first to build more houses, and secondly to ensure that, where possible, existing houses do not lie vacant, and to make provision to remedy that situation. So that, I suggest, gives the lie to the theory that the stock of houses is in any way going to be adversely affected by the right to buy.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, complained about the abolition of the Housing Advisory Committee. All I can say is that it had fallen into disuse under the previous Government; that its numbers were not made up; that at a time of scarce resources the Government must have regard to the cost of such a body; and that the advice which the Government have received is that the kind of role and advice which the advisory committee could give and be consulted about can be performed equally well on an ad hoc basis. Therefore, I do not think there is anything very real about that complaint.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, asked—and my noble friend Lord Selkirk raised the same point—whether there was in effect any overlap between the two Bills. The answer is that there is not. Each Bill refers to a different part of the United Kingdom. In fact they are going along more or less contemporaneously because it would be extremely inconvenient if they did not. The clauses in the English Bill which apply to Scotland in fact deal with the Housing Corporation, which is a GB body, and these provisions are not duplicated and indeed not covered at all in the Bill presently before your Lordships.
All the provisions in the Bill—that is to say, all those that deal with the sale of council houses, rents, tenants' charters, and so on—are dealt with separately in each Bill. Sometimes, as for instance in the phasing of rent increases, there are differences between the two countries, but this comes about as a result of different circumstances and different desirable considerations in different countries, and for no other reason. Therefore, there is no question of duplication.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, dealt with a number of 1530 clauses which we can come to in Committee. May I say to him that a revised version of the Explanatory Memorandum will be available for the Committee stage? It is an oversight that it was not already revised for this print of the Bill. I apologise, as I must, for that oversight, which will be remedied. I shall think about his suggestion that notes on clauses should be published, or provided. I hope that he will not think that I am facetious if I say that I am tempted by that proposal if he, in turn, will undertake to get his amendments down in good time. I think the answer to his request is yes, probably.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, with respect to the noble Earl, the two situations are not quite comparable. In a Bill of this kind it is extremely difficult for either a person like my noble friend Lord Ross, who has a great deal of experience in housing, to understand the technicalities, or a technical man like myself to understand the housing background. Therefore, there is nobody who can come to it with any very clear understanding of what the provisions mean and what their effects are likely to be. The Notes on Clauses do that, and, from my experience, they do it in an impartial way. I would hope that the Government would find it possible to do for this House what has been done in respect of some of the clauses in the other House and make the Notes on Clauses available. Then the House itself will get a better service from those of us who see our main function as being to advise the House as to what its attitude may be. The same applies of course to the Housing Bill in England.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is really preaching to the converted. If he says that he personally, or his noble friend, has experienced difficulty with these things, then I say, so say all of us.
I come back to the other points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. I know that he did not wish to give any aid or comfort to those who might disobey the law. The beneficial effects of this Bill will not be long in being felt. One would hope that any opposition to the Bill, or to various parts of it, will speedily die away. To harp on and 1531 threaten, in effect, that misguided people will continue, after the parliamentary battle, to try to thwart particularly in respect of the elected House, what is, after all, the will of Parliament, is a disservice to the community at large and I hope he will agree with me—I am sure he does—that nobody would encourage such lapses to occur.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, I would ask the noble Earl to withdraw the word "threat". I do not threaten anything. I deplore any breach of the law and I deplore the intention of those, already expressed, that they will not implement this measure. I believe it is the responsibility of elected Members to implement the law, whether they like it or not. So I am making no threat at all and I deplore it, and I am certainly offering no encouragement to it. However, I am prophesying that it is going to happen.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I did not, with respect, accuse the noble and learned Lord of making a threat. I said threats had been made and I was particularly careful in what I said. I know that the noble and learned Lord, who has held high office, would deplore as much as I would any proposal on the part of people not to respect the Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament.
The noble and learned Lord went a little far when he criticised the Bill in respect of the order-making powers. Regarding Part I, the order-making powers are, in the main, reserve powers for special circumstances, and indeed the only orders to be made in the first instance are the tenants' application form, which is a piece of administrative machinery, and the rules governing mortgages, and it has already been made abundantly clear in another place that they will be based on building society practices.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, surely the noble Earl realises that, a promise having been made about this, the Government tried to produce something but it was so bad that they had to withdraw it. So erroneous was it.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am saying that the noble and learned 1532 Lord, Lord McCluskey, went too far in his argument, and I am not saying anything other than that. It is equally misleading, I suggest—as the noble and learned Lord implied, if he did not actually say it—to say that selling prices would be determined by order. In fact the rules, if I may so call them, about prices are perfectly clearly set out in Clause 1(5). The order-making power in Clause 1(7) is to be used only in special circumstances, and in any case it can be used only in relation to a very limited category of houses. I say that only because opposition to the Bill by the Opposition is—I will not say hysterical—not founded on logic.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCloskey, in the same vein, spoke about the Bill being a negation of local democracy and that it was in effect introducing a form of compulsory purchase without the usual safeguards which normally obtain when powers of compulsory purchase are introduced. I cannot do better in summing up the debate than to point to the positive measures of the Bill, not one of which has been acknowledged by noble Lords opposite. What is the Bill going to do? First, it will give a right to council tenants to buy their own homes with a virtual right to a housing authority mortgage if they cannot avail themselves of private finance, so it gives the individual that right. Secondly, it gives council tenants, for the first time, security of tenure. I can remember—I was going to say when I was a boy and the noble Lord was Secretary of State for Scotland, but I must have been rather an old boy—reading in the papers (whether it was the Daily Record, which I read and enjoy every day, or some of the other papers in other parts of Scotland I do not remember) about tenants who were forced out of their homes, for instance for not painting their doors the appropriate colour or for keeping pets which were—
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
—not approved by the local democrats. That will go. Thirdly, for the first time there is given to the ordinary person, the council tenant, the right of succession on their tenancy; fourthly, for the first time there is a right to a written lease; fifthly, 1533 a right for the first time to challenge unreasonable tenancy conditions; sixthly, a right for council tenants to take lodgers; seventhly, a right to carry out improvement work, and that applies to both private and public tenants; eighthly, a right is provided for the first time of eligibility for improvement and repair grant; ninethly, a right for the first time of access to other authorities' housing lists if a tenant wishes to move; and tenthly, a right to information about the landlord's transfer and exchange rules.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, wondered in almost his first sentence why this was called a tenants' rights Bill. I hope those 10 good reasons give him the answer to that question; it is a measure which gives ordinary people rights—rights over the local authority tinpot dictators who in Western Scotland have made local authority housing into what can only be described as a scandal for far too long; the right to improve themselves with a sense of security and to lead their lives with their families free from the petty tyranny of the local town hall bosses; and instead of paying rent for years and years and getting nothing from it, free to save their money and pass on something at the end of the day to those who come after them. This is the cornerstone of Conservative philosophy—liberty and rights for the individual.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.