§ 4.49 p.m.
§ House again in Committee on Clause 1.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?1756
§ Baroness BIRK
Clause 1 of this Bill, which is really the core of the Bill, marks a definitive break with past practice, since for the first time the decisions about whether or not to sell to sitting tenants, how many units and which type of housing for sale, will be removed completely from the sphere of local authority discretion. This policy runs directly counter to the increasing emphasis in recent years on the need to develop coherent local council housing strategies, will inflict significant damage to the public sector, adversely affect the housing aspirations of those who continue to look to the local authority for rented housing, and will multiply the pressures on local authorities, pressures that have already been heightened by the Government's plans to halve expenditure on housing by 1983/84, from £5,372 million in 1979/80 to £2,390 million in 1983/84, a massive cut of 48 per cent. which will put an end to new building, cut down improvements and force up rents. The other day at the Housing Consultative Council, Mr. John Morgan, chairman of the Association of District Councils, said that the Government's housing cuts could not be met without—I quote; this was reported in The Times—… dire consequences for families in housing need and the housebuilding industry".Much of the damage to the public sector from enforced sales stems from the fact that it is the best stock which is bought up. Since last May Ministers have repeatedly asserted that a fair spread of houses is being sold, and on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, claimed that the disproportionate sales of better housing were not taking place. I am afraid all the information points in precisely the opposite direction, including that presented to the Select Committee on the Environment which has been concerning itself with the sale of council houses and is, I believe, due to report next month. What an extraordinary thing that at a time when a Select Committee of another place is sitting and taking evidence and considering this very subject, the Government should rush, hell for leather, to try to implement it in advance of any measured evidence and comment from that Select Committee!
It is houses rather than flats that are taken up. It is dwellings in the outer urban 1757 rather than the inner urban areas that are being sold, and in inner areas it is houses in the most popular estates rather than those with poor environments that are being disposed of. In London, for instance, only 12 per cent. of the GLC sales have been in the inner boroughs; 88 per cent. have been in outer London. May I take Leeds? I do not want to linger on it, but just in passing—I do not think the noble Lord and I should spend time on it on this Bill, having had what I would call a local hassle—I recall that on Second Reading the noble Lord took me up and quoted the figures for Middleton and Belle Isle, but he omitted to mention, no doubt through a slip of memory, that only 0.4 per cent. have been sold in Hunslet, 1.1 per cent. in Dewsbury Road and 2 per cent. in Lincoln Green. This, of course, is not peculiar to Leeds; this pattern of large numbers of sales in suburban areas but relatively few in the inner areas has been consistent in all the large cities where significant numbers of sales have taken place in recent years. This must increase social segregation by making it harder for those who cannot afford to become owner-occupiers to move from the inner to the outer areas of our cities.
This is why those of us who supported the last amendment felt that the Minister's comments on social mix were quite out of any contact with reality. At the same time, the largest numbers of sales are taking place in areas where owner-occupation already predominates and where the most agreeable housing is the housing that is being sold. Indiscriminate compulsory sales do not and cannot promote social mix on the problem estates. Indeed, what they do is reduce the flexibility of councils to deal with problems existing within the public sector, reduce the scope for transfers and relettings and promote social segregation. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, was absolutely right when he talked about the way this moves towards a ghetto situation. We can see what has happened in America in the so-called welfare areas.
Riding roughshod over local housing strategy, which is what this Bill does, opens up the prospect of a massive rise in sales with the most serious social consequences. Transfers have already been seriously affected. Thus in London, as a direct result of the GLC "sale of the 1758 century", the transfer of existing tenants from unpopular inter-war flats in the inner boroughs to houses in the outer boroughs has finally ceased. Ministers deny that there will be an effect on relets. They argue that those who buy their houses are overwhelmingly middle-aged and would not have moved anyway. The evidence for this, presented in an appendix to the Department of the Environment's Appraisal of the Financial Effects of Sales, last December is, 1 am sorry to say of my ex-department, not very convincing, since it is drawn from surveys conducted in the late 1960s when to qualify for a discount which enabled a sitting tenant to purchase at a significantly cheaper price than in the private sector one had to have been a council tenant for a very long time. So it was the middle-aged who tended to buy.
But in the current climate, with 100 per cent. mortgages as of right to purchasing tenants and a minimum 33 per cent. discount after three years, younger tenants who would previously have moved out to buy in the private market—and even the Government's own figures indicate that—will purchase as sitting tenants. Therefore, what we can expect in the next few years is a significant squeeze on the number of households moving out to become owner-occupiers. In the past such moves accounted for over a quarter of all relets occurring annually in the public sector, and as the squeeze occurs when new building is being savagely slashed all over the country the effect will be felt by the homeless, by mothers and families in tower blocks, by the elderly and by those on waiting lists.
It is not only the public sector tenants themselves, or those who are homeless, those on waiting lists, who are going to be affected. This is also going to be, and is starting to be, a tremendous blow to the private building industry. Numbers of private builders and spokesmen for the building industry have expressed great concern that the Government's economic and housing policies are leading to serious decline. As limited Government money available for mortgages is used to finance council house sales, there is less to support the private building industry.
I know—and the Minister will no doubt remind me—that the Government have 1759 a mandate to do this very thing. But the Government brought out their proposals for a General Election over a year ago, at a time when the inflation rate was far below what it is today, when unemployment was practically nothing compared with the figures we have had this week. Now they go hell for leather, irrespective of the economic climate in which we find ourselves today, a climate, where we have over 1,650,000 unemployed, the highest since the depression in the 1930s, inflation over 20 per cent., minimum lending rate 17 per cent., mortgage rate 15 per cent., draconian cuts in housing expenditure, bankruptcies all over industry and a share of them, unfortunately, in the construction industry. What a time to bring in a compulsory council house sales policy! The real answer to this is to allow some measure of local discretion so that particular problems in particular areas can be dealt with by those who know them best. That is the way the public sector home ownership should be tackled, and certainly not in the way the Government are doing it in this really outrageous Bill.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I thought that my noble friend dealt admirably with all the points raised by the noble Baroness and others like them in his Second Reading speech, and no doubt if he wishes he will do so again. But we are actually discussing Clause 1 of the Bill. It is, as the noble Baroness says, a core clause enshrining the right to buy. However, she began her remarks by referring to the attitude of the Association of District Councils and as I am its president I think that I should respond.
It is perfectly true, of course, that the Association of District Councils does not like the cuts which are being imposed upon it. However, I think that the majority understand perfectly well why they are necessary. It is also perfectly true that it does not like limits and restrictions being put upon its discretion. But in the present circumstances some measure of that also is necessary. However, when it comes to the specific matter of this clause—namely, the right to buy—I can assure the Committee that the Association of District Councils is fully in support of it.
It is true that all along and when the Bill was first introduced it had reservations 1760 on two points: first, the special measures being taken in rural areas, which was something which was recognised in the manifesto as needing very serious and careful consideration. I can say that it is now wholly satisfied with the measures in Clause 18 dealing with that point. Secondly, it was concerned about the provisions being made for special accommodation for the elderly, the sheltered accommodation. It is true to say that it is not yet entirely satisfied on that point. We shall come to that matter when we reach Schedule 1 when I shall have a few more observations to make. However, as regards the question of its general support for the council tenant's right to buy, I can assure the Committee that the association is fully in support of the Government.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
I should like to make it clear from these Benches that we in the Liberal Party are in favour of the concept of the right to buy a council house or, indeed, any house. I mentioned in my speech on Second Reading that it is a great pity, certainly in some respects, that the right to buy that the Government are enshrining in this proposed legislation is not also enshrined for tenants in the private sector. I understand the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin gave, namely, that this is an area which is owned by the public whereas the private sector is owned, by definition, by private landlords. Nevertheless, I should have thought that some steps could be taken in the tenants' charter to make some advance as regards the opportunity for private tenants to purchase their own houses.
Having said and underlined the fact that I think it is an excellent concept that tenants should be allowed, where appropriate, to buy the houses in which they live—houses in which, very often, they have spent many years of their lives, which they have improved and regard as their home for the rest of their lives—certainly one can only applaud the principle. I suppose, as the noble Baroness has said, this is perhaps the most important part of the Bill from the Government's point of view. This is the area where the doctrine of the mandate was waved about vigorously for over a year. This is, I suppose, the part of the Bill which has, as it were, the most sex appeal.
1761 I could not help overhearing some noble Lords speaking, before the beginning of this debate. They said that they thought that the debate would probably be rather boring. That was very estimable because there are many amendments to try to limit the right to sell, all of which I think are very important and will be debated very thoroughly. However, whether or not one thinks that parts of this Bill will be boring, it deals with a fundamental change in the relationships between central and local government.
As regards this measure I object not to the concept of the selling of council houses where appropriate, but to the concept that local automony once again is being thrown out of the window on the basis of central Government policy. That is what I find very difficult to understand. We have heard great oratorical flights in your Lordships' House about how important it is in the area of education that local authorities should make their own choice: why should not local authorities have the same right to make the same kind of choice as regards whether they sell or do not sell local authority houses?
I concede that in many parts of the country local authorities would want to sell a very large part of their stock. I concede that there are local authorities that might refuse to sell a large part of their stock, not because it was not available to sell, but for the doctrinaire reason that they did not believe in the selling of council houses. However, I am sure that it was not beyond the wit of the Government to introduce machinery so that schemes for selling—or for not selling if you prefer —could be put before the Minister and a decision made on that basis, rather than a blanket order or instruction that local authorities should sell their own houses.
During my years in local government I was brought up in the belief that local government was a partnership with central Government. I learnt, as the years went by, that almost whatever Government were in power local government was being regarded increasingly as an agent of central Government and not as a free party. And no wonder, my Lords! If there is a low voting pattern when local government elections come around, no wonder if the quality of the local councillor who puts himself forward is not as high as it used to 1762 be in the old days. Frankly, more and more of those elements which gave local councillors an interest, a concern and a feeling that they were doing something positive and worth while have been eroded by successive Governments. I suspect that by midsummer, when we get through the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, other great swathes of local government responsibility will have been removed. By the end of this Government's period of office local government will be so emasculated that I wonder whether any person who has any interest in public life will bother to take part in it at all. To me the most serious part of this measure is the erosion of local government rights, local government authority and local government freedom.
There are so many things that the Government could have done if they were as enthusiastic as they claimed to be about giving tenants the right to buy. It would have been so much better had the Government developed the partnership between the private builder and the local authority to get private enterprise to build houses for sale on local government land, which, as I said on Second Reading, has been done in many cities in this country with great success. The councils build to sell and there are special provisions as regards the price, assistance with solicitors' fees, survey fees and as regards removal expenses. That would have an attraction and we would be building houses to sell in inner urban areas—where there are social problems—and releasing the local authority stock of houses for people who are willing to buy, and making those houses available to the very long list of people on many council housing lists.
In the area in which I live I would be very concerned if any substantial part of the stock of housing in the Wirral or Liverpool were sold. First, it would be the good stock that would be sold, and we have seen that already. The desirable areas like the Mount Estate, and areas which people on Merseyside would recognise immediately, would be sold and then a whole stock of less desirable property would be left for council house tenants. There are huge waiting lists and in the Wirral those waiting lists number 4,000 or 5,000. They are much larger in places like Liverpool, Glasgow and other large cities.
1763 If we were building for sale we would be providing more stock for the people who cannot afford, or who are unable to buy for one reason or other, and we would be doing something towards the Government's plan to enable people who cannot get building society mortgages to buy a house in central areas near where their families and work are located. I should have thought that these were the type of reforms that should be carried out and not this spectacular type of measure which will result in a few people owning their own houses but in the great mass of people having to wait much longer for the kind of house they want or the kind of surroundings that would best suit them to live in. We must remember that very many people in this country who still live in the private sector in grossly inadequate accommodation will be dying to get council houses, but will not be able to get them because of a shortage of council houses or because they cannot afford to buy them.
Therefore, I should like to see a limitation in the sense that local authorities should put schemes before central Government rather than that there should be a blanket sale. I should like to see building for sale being incorporated as part of this. Within this clause I should certainly like to see some measures not only for giving rights and privileges of this kind to tenants in the public sector, but I should also like the same kind of privileges to be extended to tenants in the private sector, many of whom are groaning under the hardships of high service charges and difficulties in the area of long leases which are drawing to a close without proper support. I know that certain amendments have been tabled and have been accepted by the Government, but generally I believe that the Government are putting this forward for the most dogmatic reason; not in order to serve the private sector, but to serve a political dogma.
§ Lord WOLVERTON
I should like to support this very important clause. I have spent a good many years in local government. Although it is a partnership, the State, of course, pays about 65 per cent. of the cost to local government. Although quite a number of local authorities were willing to carry out the wishes of the tenants to sell houses, quite a num- 1764 ber would not sell them because they liked to think that they had their own empire.
Wherever possible it is the policy of our party to allow tenants to buy their own houses. A few years ago an interesting experiment was carried out in the city of Birmingham where they did some really interesting research work, which impressed me very much. They discovered that a very large number of potential tenants who wanted to buy their houses remained in those houses for their economic lives. Therefore, a change of ownership did not allow the council to relet; the occupation of the house was simply changed from being a local authority dwelling to the owner's dwelling, and the local authority received some money for the house and was relieved of the burden of repairing the house. With that money the local authority could help to build another house. That impressed me very much.
It has always been argued—and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, argued a little in this direction today—that you would often get a house to relet, but that is not the case, because a large number of people remain in those houses for their lives. Therefore, I support this part of the Bill very strongly. It is unfortunate to have to give mandatory powers, but I think it is necessary because some councils have not played the game.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
Like my noble friend Lady Birk, I consider that Clause 1 is the core of the Bill and that everything in the rest of the Bill flows from it. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, I am not confident that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has answered the criticisms that were put forward during Second Reading. In particular I should like to remind him that, far from answering the specific issues which I raised during the Second Reading debate, he had this to say in his winding up speech:I really do not know where to start to answer the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, because his remarks were so blatantly political".—[Official Report, 9/6/80; col. 133.]During the course of my Second Reading Speech I referred to housing associations, which I would inform the noble Lord the Minister are a form of social owership of private tenancies, along with co-operatives. I referred to the anxiety felt in rural areas, 1765 particularly associated with agricultural workers and agricultural communities; and I referred to the dangers that were being felt, particularly in rural areas, but not only in rural areas, about the undermining of provision of housing for the elderly.
These are matters to which the noble Lord the Minister referred as "political". I have heard these matters being put forward from the Benches behind him, and, since the Second Reading debate, a very wide set of suggestions has been made to me that these matters are, in fact, of concern to all political parties and to no political parties because they are of concern to the people themselves, particularly those living in rural areas and particularly members of housing associations and the elderly. Therefore, I think that it is very feeble to attempt to avoid answering the issues which I included in my speech simply by saying, "I do not have to answer that; it is political".
However, on this clause itself I want to take up another of the issues which I raised in my Second Reading speech and which had already been raised from behind the noble Lord by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. It is the matter which has been so excellently put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and so I shall not spend more than a minute or two on it. It is the question of the relationship between central and local government.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said that he was satisfied with the answers which the noble Lord the Minister had given to the criticisms made on Second Reading. But I should like to remind him that, when a number of noble Lords from both sides of the House had raised this very important issue of the relationship between central and local government as it applies to housing and as it is spelt out in Clause 1 of the Bill, this is what the noble Lord had to say:… but there are bound to he instances where it has to be accepted that national policies must dominate over local policies".—[Official Report, 9/6/80; col. 132.]Why? No reason is given—no reason that I can discover. It is just a dogmatic assertion without any argument to support it. 1766 In this case what are we talking about so far as the relationship between central and local government is concerned? Noble Lords on both sides of the Committee have, I think, been a little misled by the phrase which the Government are using and which originates from this clause—namely, "the right to buy". I think that Clause 1 would be better described as "the compulsion to sell". That is the basic difference between noble Lords on the Front Bench on the other side of the Committee—not necessarily on the Back Benches—and the noble Lords who are sitting on this side of the Chamber.
The right to buy has been used by many local authorities. To the best of my knowledge the compulsion to sell has never been the policy of any Government before this one. The Government appear to be saying, however many differences there are between the contexts of local governments, that it does not matter whether a local authority is operating in a rural area somewhere in the North of England—in Cumbria, on Humberside, in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire or Lancashire—or whether that local authority is a metropolitan authority, all must be treated in the same way, with certain exceptions which we shall come to in Committee; the principle must he that that local authority must he compelled to sell.
I should like to suggest to noble Lords sitting behind the Front Bench opposite—it is no good suggesting it to the Front Bench—that this was not the philosophy on which they were elected in the election of last year. Indeed, they made great capital out of the concentration of power which the Labour Party was supposed to have placed in central Government at the expense of local authorities. It has always been the case that the Conservative Party has criticised the Labour Party for centralising policy and for not allowing voluntary organisations, local authorities of various kinds, to operate according to the wishes of local inhabitants.
When a local authority is elected it is surely elected by the individuals living in that area who know the specific needs of that area, and each local authority represents the majority view on the needs in that area. What this clause does is to say, "That does not matter. We do not 1767 need to have local elections so far as housing is concerned. Local elections are not going to give your local authority the power to represent your interests and your wishes as expressed in the building and control of council houses, because we are going to overrule whatever you say." As I pointed out at Second Reading, it is no good the party opposite claiming that they have a mandate to compel local authorities in every area throughout this country to sell their council houses, when we know that since the General Election of last year there have been numerous occasions—scores, hundreds of occasions—on which local people have expressed the view through their local electoral machinery that they do not wish their council houses to be sold.
They have a stake in those council houses. They have invested in those council houses. They are part owners of those council houses. What kind of philosophy is it that the Government arc now putting over that this local right shall he overridden by the power of central government? That was a question which I asked the Minister at Second Reading. He has not answered it. I should like him, when he comes to support this clause—as I presume he will do—to answer it, not just on behalf of the Government but on behalf of Conservative philosophy, so that he can convince those noble Lords sitting behind him that he has not been converted to statism, or centralism, but that he has some other explanation in order to excuse this gross overriding of local opinion and local rights by the central Government he is representing tonight.
§ Lord HYLTON
Since the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, has referred to me, and since I was moved by what the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, was saying earlier, I think it is right that I should state my position. The Conservative Party, which I support, has for many years insisted that local authorities should be able to determine the method of selection, or the administrative procedures that govern how children are admitted to secondary schools. In this Bill it lays down, with no possibility of local choice and with very few exceptions, what is to happen on the sale of council houses to existing tenants. I cannot, for the life of 1768 me, see how these two things can be reconciled in logic or in anything else.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
I rise to support my noble friend on the Front Bench regarding houses for sale in certain areas. I give you some up-to-date figures from Warrington New Town Development Corporation. There they are trying hard to sell their houses. I am a member of that authority, and I know that nothing is being held back, but at the present moment their figures are very low. In fact, no purpose built rented dwellings which have been completed by the Warrington New Town Development Corporation have been sold, but we have sold some of the houses the development corporation purchased from private builders. These were houses that were purchased from private builders because the previous Government said that more houses had to be rented by the authority than put up for sale. Our figures are very small indeed and hear out what my noble friend said. These were houses, originally built for sale by a large contractor, which Warrington Development Corporation bought up. They are the only houses at the present moment that have been sold by that development corporation.
Birmingham was mentioned. There is no need for me to repeat once again that I come from that city. I want to follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and my noble friend Lord Hatch have said. Local authorities up and down the country have accepted for a long time now that there are people who wish to purchase their council housing. They have recognised this in various ways. In those areas where there is perhaps the most urgent need of housing there has been the greatest opposition to selling council houses. Previous speakers have said that different local authorities have chosen different ways of trying to help what everybody would call the owner-occupier. I really did not follow the noble Lord on the opposite side when he made mention of some scheme in Birmingham. I think I know practically all the schemes that Birmingham has. Perhaps I could give these as examples, and no doubt other noble Lords who have served for a long time in local authorities will be able to elaborate.
1769 At the present moment there are 150,000 tenants in council houses in Birmingham. We have sold 10 per cent. of the housing stock. If you go around council houses and council housing estates now, it will be obvious to you why in some instances people bought them. It was not that they intended to live there for a very long time, because when one goes round council housing estates now it is quite surprising to see how many notice boards "For Sale" there are in the front gardens. Obviously people see a bargain, they buy it and sell it on the market, and move out. One cannot criticise them when they have the opportunity to do that. I made this point because the noble Lord opposite came to the conclusion that once you had bought it you stayed in it. I do not think that that is proving so in practice.
Birmingham built houses for sale, and that was nothing new. Ten or 15 years ago they were actually building houses for sale, to give to people on the housing register the choice whether they went into a council house or whether they went into a rented house. Partnership schemes were set up with specialist builders to build in the inner city areas houses for sale of a smaller character than those on the outskirts and therefore at a lower price. There were 50–50 option schemes whereby the tenant bought only half of his house to start with and rented the other half. Those are illustrations of what local authorities have been able to do up and down the country. This, I should have thought, was what local government was all about.
It is the variety of local government that makes Britain so different from many parts of Europe. Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms in the past of council house building was that wherever one went in Britain one could point to houses and say, "They are council houses". Since the war, however, and especially in the last 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in architectural standards for public housing and today public housing is comparable with anything to be found in the private sector.
What worries me more than anything else about the compulsion that local authorities must sell is the whole philosophy behind it; the very fact that because you rent a house you will be considered in some way inferior. The status symbol 1770 will be being an owner-occupier in a council housing development. I think I see the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, smiling at that remark. I remind him that there was a time—I remember this well, because I have been involved with housing for many years in Birmingham—when there was great pressure, if you lived in a back-to-back slum clearance house, to become a council house tenant; you were looked upon as someone important after you left the hovels of the private landlord. The noble Lord must remember that situation in Leeds, too—the stature people had once they left that environment. That stature is being removed by the simple fact that, as rents increase, more and more people will be forced into buying, and we shall find ourselves in great difficulty as local authorities become welfare housing authorities. That is my worry. This whole philosophy will mean that the whole way of life of people will be degraded by this compulsion on local authorities to do things which are very much against their will.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
It is right that we should have had a far-ranging debate on this clause, which is a fundamental part of the Bill. If some of the topics about which noble Lords have spoken are ones which we shall be discussing in greater depth as we deal with the various amendments, it is none the worse that we should be debating the principles at the beginning of these few days in which we shall be discussing the Bill line by line.
Before I make some general observations, I will comment on some of the points that have been made, some of which may not come in the generality of what I wish to say. I do not think noble Lords will mind if I start at the end by referring to the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, to whom I always immensely enjoy listening. The fact that we do not always agree is beside the point. I have great respect for her involvement in the past in local government and, when she talks about Birmingham, that is in many ways so akin to the area from which I come that I always listen very closely to her. I am sorry that on this occasion, perhaps more than on many other occasions in the past, we just have to agree to differ, and she will not be too surprised to hear me say that.
1771 The noble Baroness referred to the number or kind of sales made or not made in Warrington New Town. Clearly I do not know the individual circumstances in Warrington New Town, but I can tell her that of all the applications to buy, more in percentage terms have come from the new towns than from anywhere else in the country. Indeed, I believe there are many Members in another place who would today say that the only reason they are in another place is that, at the last general election, they pursued in the new towns very vigorously in their respective manifestoes the general Conservative manifesto line of the intention to give the right to buy. So, of all the indications that might be given against the proposal, I should have thought that the position in the new towns was probably not one of the strongest.
She then said that local authorities had accepted that people wanted to buy and she fairly went on to say that not all local authorities would give the opportunity to buy, and that is almost at the basis of the original proposal. Clearly if there had been authorities overall who were willing to sell, there would be no need for there to have to be the right to buy. It is precisely because many have accepted the philosophy in words (I will come to that shortly) but in practice have not given that right, while many more have openly stated that they will not give it of their own volition for their own beliefs —which I may respect while strongly disagreeing with them—that we consider it so basic. I shall return to that subject, too, but clearly it is a position on which we must make the move in general terms.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Retinal, said that if one rented, it used to be said that one was inferior. I do not want to go back to the old days. I too remember the back-to-back dwellings to which she referred. Indeed, when I first came into housing I was told—would you believe?—that many people wanted to continue living in the back-to-backs because they were little palaces"; that was not the kind of palace I ever had in mind when the term was used. Nevertheless, many people did live together and developed a community spirit living in back-to-backs. There is a great case, some would argue even today, for trying 1772 sufficiently to modernise (if you can, though I am doubtful if you can) those same back-to-backs that still exist because they have certain advantages; in the main they tend to be very low in rent and they have certain other advantages of that kind. I would not knock the back-to-back any more than I am sure the noble Baroness would.
If I am working my way backwards—and I am—I would say in regard to the observations of my noble friend Lord Hylton that on this issue—he said so himself—he clearly follows the Opposition line in regard to the right to buy, and that is absolutely his prerogative. It is not for me to comment on that, so long as noble Lords opposite will not be reminding me during the many debates we shall be having that on all sides there is this feeling simply because my noble friend has this feeling. We shall have to weigh the measure of the feeling on this side of the Committee, and I think that will come forth in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, referred to my "feeble attempts" to answer his questions. I do not think we add much to this or any other debate if we sink to the point where we start to be recriminatory. Frankly, that adds nothing to our deliberations. I come from a forum where the style of debate is much more vigorous than I have found in your Lordships' House, and it is not easy to adjust. While it would be easy, as it were, to revert to that style of debating, I consider that to do so would add nothing, and therefore I have no intention of bandying those sort of words with the noble Lord. It is with pleasure that I see the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, smiling; he more than most knows what I mean.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, did not like the fact that I referred to the blatant political line which he adopted, and he quoted from the Second Reading debate. I do not need to refer to Hansard of that debate because some of the words he used stuck in my mind. If he looks in the Official Report he will find that he referred to "the social ownership of private housing". I said then, and I repeat, that to me that sums up entirely if not the philosophy of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, then the philosophy of those who want something quite different from what I want to see in housing.
1773 The social ownership of private housing —I ask Members of the Committee to pause and think exactly what that means. It means that the noble Lord wants to see private housing in the ownership of the state. That is what it means. If anyone should say, "So what?" he may be right, because it was only in November last that the right honourable gentleman Mr. Roy Hattersley said almost the same thing. He said:What we want to see are two housing sectors: the public, generally to rent; the private, generally to buy".Right from the time when I first came into housing many years ago the one thing I have always regarded as appalling is to have two sectors. It is wrong that there should be two sectors. I do not want to see the public sector in one way and the private sector in another. I want to see the greatest possible mix in housing, because it is in that way that we shall achieve what many of us want to see in our society. It will not be achieved by dividing housing in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, suggested, or as has been mentioned in the reference which I have given.
Therefore I have no hesitation in saying that I have no time for two sectors in housing. I want the greatest possible mix. I have over the years discussed housing with some of the great Labour experts on the subject. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, is not in the Chamber at present. He was at one time a housing Minister in another place. He knows the people to whom I am referring. He knows, too, of the hours that we spent discussing housing generally. When do an opposition ever sit down with the party in control and discuss all the implications of the subject, as we used to do? The one thing that those who were really concerned about housing wanted was the widest possible mix. So I say to Members of the Committee, please do not tell me about what one might call the politics of housing—
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
In order to put the record straight I wish to point out 1774 that the phrase that I used was, "the social ownership of privately-rented accommodation." I thought that in my intervention this afternoon I had explained to the noble Lord that I had been referring in particular to housing associations and co-operative associations. Does the noble Lord support the concept of the housing association and the co-operative association as a part of his mix? I ask this because all I am saying is that I should like to see the social ownership of privately-rented accommodation extended through these, and possibly other, means.
§ Lord BELLWIN
Of course I see the role of housing associations and co-ownership. That was the very thing that I was trying to say. I believe in the greatest possible number of different forms of housing, and that is what I want to see. If I misunderstood the noble Lord, then I am very glad that the matter is now clear. It makes me feel much better about his views on housing.
However with regard to the noble Lord's other observations about myself and local government, I have to say to him that I need neither lessons nor lectures from him or, if I may say so, from anybody else, on local government. No doubt we shall have many chances to toss that one about when we get closer to the Bill which is to come before us on that subject.
I now wish to refer to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. The noble Baroness should not be talking to us about the number of dwellings being built in this country, the amount of money being provided for them, or for that matter the cut-back. I believe I have reminded her on more than one occasion that her party in their period of office made the biggest reduction in percentage terms in house building of any Government in history. The noble Baroness talks about what we might do and what we intend to do. Well, time will tell, and there is no doubt that as the years go by—
§ Baroness BIRK
Will the noble Lord give way? I should like to get this point clear right from the beginning. I am not saying, nor have I ever said, that everything done by the Government of which 1 was a member, or by any other previous Government, was absolutely 1775 right. It would be crazy for anyone to say that. I absolutely agree that the number of housing starts dropped during the latter years of the last Labour Government. But what is the position going to be like in the future under this Government? I am not excusing the past situation. I am not saying that that was a good thing. As the noble Lord said a little while ago, it will not help if we ping-pong along that particular line. The noble Lord was the one who asked us to stop doing that.
§ Lord BELLWIN
No, I have a long speech to make on this question, and I would beg the indulgence of your Lordships' Committee——
§ Lord PARGITER
Instead of expressing the situation in percentage terms, can the noble Lord give the number of houses involved, in regard to the position under the last Labour Government?
§ Lord BELLWIN
I undertake to do that before we finish the debate. I do not carry those particular figures in my head, though I carry many other figures in my head. The noble Lord can he assured that I do not lightly trot out the figures when I say that there was a 50 per cent. reduction during the period in question. There is no doubt about that. I think that the figures showed a reduction in the region of from 4.4 million to 2.2 million. I shall be interested in due course to see how near I am. If I have the figures almost right, I shall be very surprised—or perhaps I shall not.
I take the point that the noble Baroness makes. Nevertheless, I am glad to hear that she feels as she says she does about her own party's performance on this matter, and so long as that is on the record, I am content, as I have learned to say in this Chamber.
The noble Baroness spoke about new building being "savagely slashed". Well, in view of what I have just said, perhaps I should not take her too much to task on that, but is it not easy to use that kind of emotive language and to sound so virtuous and so right? But before so doing, one must think again about what the record 1776 shows. The noble Baroness spoke about the level of unemployment previously being "practically nothing". I should not regard 1½ million unemployed as "practically nothing". That figure may have been 100,000 lower than the present figure, but to say that the level of unemployment was "practically nothing"—well, come on, what are WC talking about? Let us keep everything in perspective.
My noble friend Lord Sandford very kindly interjected and made observations about the general attitude of the ADC. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to comments made by Councillor John Morgan at the Housing Consultative Council meeting this week. Well, I was there, as they say, and I heard those words at first hand. I also heard Councillor John Morgan say many other things which heartily approved of what we are doing in housing. Perhaps the noble Baroness would have been more effective had she quoted some of those remarks, too, as my noble friend did; and I am most grateful to him. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Wolverton for what he said.
This clause gives to secure tenants of public sector dwellings for the first time an unequivocal right to acquire the freehold of their houses, or a long lease if they have a flat, provided that they have been a secure tenant for at least three years. In enacting this right we are giving to council tenants what the vast majority want to have. There is no doubt about that; it is what the vast majority want to have. It is a chance that has been denied to many, of having access to a capital asset and the ability to pass it on to their children, a greater freedom to move house, and more control over their own lives and homes. The right to buy paves the way for a massive redistribution of wealth from the public sector to private individuals. This provision will transform the personal prospects of millions of our citizens by giving them the chance to be home owners.
Home ownership is a fundamental belief of the Conservative Party. We believe that the desire for it should be fostered as widely as possible. Noble Lords opposite, and I regret to say, even one or two of my noble friends, do not take that view. They have argued, and will argue, the case on many points, as is indicated by amendments yet to come before the Committee, and I shall refer to some of those points in 1777 a moment. But, however often they preface their remarks with pleas to the contrary, the fundamental fact is that to them home ownership excludes sitting council tenants.
The Labour Party pays lip-service to home ownership. They profess to deplore the concentration of wealth in relatively few hands, but when the chips are down they do all in their power to frustrate the widest extension of home ownership that this country is ever likely to see, and they thereby seek to curtail, and even to deny, the one step, probably the only great step, which can redistribute wealth in a meaningful way.
Let me take a few of the other anti-right-to-buy arguments which we have heard today. It has been argued that under the right to buy, only the best houses will be sold. This was said during the Second Reading debate as well; and I am told that there are those who will produce evidence to prove this. Your Lordships may talk of the evidence that can be produced by those who wish to show a particular result. All I will say—and I have the figures with me as well—is that there is no evidence at all that people do not buy houses in the poorer areas. There is no evidence of that. Certainly I know of over a thousand—I give the number, and will justify it to anyone—sold in Leeds in what would be called the poorest estates.
May I mention another point. It will come again later, but I want to mention it here now. How on earth can the opponents of this policy tell us that we shall not sell houses in the poorest areas when they put down amendments to try to prevent us from selling in housing action areas? What are housing action areas but among the poorest areas? Otherwise, they would not be housing action areas. Yet here we have amendments which say "You should not be allowed to sell there; tenants there should not have the right to buy". In the first instance, nothing is more likely to make those housing action areas better, more upgraded, than people in them owning their houses, because then they will do something about it. But what muddled, woolly thinking to say, on the one hand, that no one will want to buy in the poorer areas, and then, on the other hand, to put down amendments to pre- 1778 vent our selling in them? Come on!—let us really get this right. I have said, and will say time and time again, that houses are sold across the spectrum. They were and they will be sold across the spectrum.
It has been said that few flats have been sold. Of course the number sold so far is very small, but then very few authorities have been offering them for sale. There was a well-known Labour councillor in my former authority who used to say to me regularly, at almost every council meeting when this matter was discussed, "When will you sell me my flat?" I used to say, "Bill, be patient; your time will come". Unhappily, he is no longer with us; otherwise, he would have been among those looking forward to owning their own flat. In the debate, no one has talked about the financial aspect, so I will not do so, either. We shall no doubt come to that later. There certainly are financial benefits to the purchasers—everyone is complaining about that—but very much so to the authorities, as well, and I shall gladly dilate upon that on another occasion.
Perhaps the most significant criticism was about this issue of the erosion of local autonomy. Lord Hatch spoke at length about it. So far as I am concerned he did not say much, but he spoke at length about it. I do not consider this is at all a valid point, because there is no shortage of precedent on this issue of, if you like, local versus national democracy, which is really what we are talking about. One has only to look at Labour's steamrolling of comprehensive education. Of course the national Government have the right to put forward and put over a national policy. They have it all the more when it is part of their basic manifesto—yes, the noble Baroness was right when she said I would refer to this. I do refer to it, and I shall go on referring to it. It was a mandate, it was a valid mandate, and we shall use it. No one is more anxious than I am to protect the autonomy of local government, and I will not have anyone say to the contrary. But no one is more committed than I am to the fundamental belief—and there are many members of the Labour Party in local government who would confirm that I have said this—that Governments should govern. If the Government have a national policy, then that 1779 is what they will put forward and that it is what they will do; and that is what we are doing.
We have been told of the calamitous effect that the policy will have on the overall pool of dwellings for rent. As I have said so often, this simply is not true, and it is a fallacious argument, because a purchaser who has lived in a house for three years or more and who then occupies the same house as an owner rather than as a tenant, makes that house not one wit more or less available to the pool of rented accommodation than it was before. I will not go on about that now, but I am sure we shall be coming back to that one. A brief reference was made to restricting sales to the elderly. We are going to talk about this at length, so I shall not deal with it at the moment.
Altogether, I do not think there is much more I want to say as regards this clause. I have gone on, I suppose; but the fact is, basically, that the opportunity given to council tenants in this clause is already enjoyed by many. Many have taken advantage of it, and are reaping the benefit of having done so. Others have been denied that benefit and will continue to be denied until this Bill comes into operation. It is right on all counts, and I commend this clause to your Lordships' Committee.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
The noble Lord said in his speech (if I may paraphrase what he said), "I am a great believer in, and have a fundamental belief in, the automony of local government; no one is going to gainsay that; but because Labour Governments have eroded it in the past there is no reason why I should not do it in the future." Is that what he is saying?
§ Lord BELLWIN
Before I comment on that, perhaps I may apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, because I did not reply to some of the things he said. I do not want to draw out the proceedings, but 1 will try to answer him very briefly, because I feel I owe it to him to try quickly to do so. He said he was in favour of the basic 1780 concept of the right to buy, and then disappointed me by yet again going on to prove that he was not by the other things that he said. But I did not feel too badly about that; it happens to me all the time when we talk about this subject. He spoke of letting local government work together with the private sector in building. That is a fine concept. As he rightly said, there are authorities who do it—and why not? The enlightened authorities will make land available to the private sector and even go into partnership with them. I hope we shall see more of that; I think it is a constructive thought, but it is happening at the present time.
But what the noble Lord did say (I am sure he did not really mean it) is that he really wants to see, as he said, private sector tenants becoming council tenants. He did say that, and I noted it carefully. I suspect he did not really mean it. I hope he did not. Before I sit down, and in that I now have the chance, perhaps I may quickly answer the noble Lord who raised the question about public sector housing starts. I have the figures now. In 1974 they were 146,100; in 1978–79 they were 98,400.
§ Lord TAYLOR of BLACKBURN
May I remind the Minister, in relation to the statement he made about comprehensive education, that we did not bulldoze comprehensive education through the country? It was taken up entirely with the local authorities and they decided themselves. We did not bulldoze it through.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I would have to say that, so far as I am concerned, technically the noble Lord may be right—I say "may be right"—but noble Lords have only to have read the papers to have read of the battle. I do not think that in reality anyone would accept that that was so.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 111; Not-Contents, 63.1743
|Ailesbury, M.||Gosford, E.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gregson, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Grey, E.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Banks, L.||Hale, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Hall, V.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hampton, L. [Teller.]||Sainsbury, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hanworth, V.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Birk, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Segal, L.|
|Blease, L. [Teller.]||Henderson, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Howie of Troon, L.||Simon, V.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Ilchester, E.||Stedman, B.|
|Chitnis, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Clancarty, E.||Jacques, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Stone, L.|
|Collison, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strauss, L.|
|David, B.||Lee of Newton, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Listowel, E.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Denington, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||McCarthy, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||McNair, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Foot, L.||Maybray-King, L.||White, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Monson, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Pargiter, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Adeane, L.||Cork and Orrery, E.||Gage, V.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Alport, L.||Davidson, V.||Garner, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||De Freyne, L.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.|
|Avon, E.||De La Warr, E.||Gibson-Watt, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]||Gisborough, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Derwent, L.||Glendevon, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Digby, L.||Glenkinglas, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Dormer, L.||Godber of Willington, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Drumalbyn, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Dundee, E.||Gridley, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Ebbisham, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Effingham, E.||Halsbury, E.|
|Caccia, L.||Elton, L.||Hankey, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Ely, M.||Hawke, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Faithfull, B.||Henley, L.|
|Carver, L.||Falkland, V.||Hives, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Ferrers, E.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Ferrier, L.||Hood, V.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Forbes, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Forester, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Clwyd, L.||Fortescue, E.||Inglewood, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Ironside, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Porntt, L.||Spens, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Redmayne, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Long, V.||Reigate, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Richardson, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Robbins, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L|
|McFadzean, L.||Rochdale, V.||Strathspey, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Romney, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Rugby, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Saint Oswald, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Marley, L.||Sandford, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]||Trenchard, V.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Savile, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Moyne, L.||Seebohm, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Norfolk, D.||Selkirk, E.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Northchurch, B.||Sharples, B.||Wolverton, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Skelmersdale, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Orkney, E.||Soames, L. (L. President.)||Young, B.|
|Penrhyn, L.||Somers, L.|
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Fortescue, E.||Pender, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Alport, L.||Gage, V.||Redmayne, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gisborough, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Glendevon, L.||Richardson, L.|
|Avon, E.||Glenkinglas, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Balerno, L.||Godber of Willington, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Gray, L.||Romney, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gridlcy, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Berkeley, B.||Halsbury, E.||Savile, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hanworth, V.||Seebohm, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Hawke, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Chelwood, L.||Henley, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Chesham, L.||Hives, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Holderness, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Cockfield, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||Spens, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Stamp, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Ironside, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Kimberley, E.||Strathspey, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Long, V.||Swansea, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Lyell, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||McFadzean, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Digby, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Trenchard, V.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Marley, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Dundee, E.||Merrivale, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Elton, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Faithfull, B.||Moyne, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Norfolk, D.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Ferrers, E.||Northchurch, B.||Westbury, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Forbes, L.||Orkney, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Forester, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Airedale, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gregson, L.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Aylestone, L.||Grey, E.||Rochester, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Hale, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Banks, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hylton, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Birk, B.||Irving of Dartford, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Blease, L.||Jacques, L.||Simon, V.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Jeger, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Brockway, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Kilmarnock, L.||Stone, L.|
|Collison, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|David, B.||Longford, E.||Underhill, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||McCarthy, L. [Teller.]||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Ogmore, L.||White, B.|
|Foot, L.||Pargiter, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 1 agreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 2 [Exceptions to right to buy.]:
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendment No. 4:1782
Page 3, line 14, at end insert—
(c) has at no time received a grant under section 119(3) of the 1957 Act, section 29, 31, 32 or 33 of the 1974 Act or under any enactment mentioned in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to that Act.")
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this amendment is to exclude from the right to buy housing associations which have never received public subsidy. The great majority of associations in this position are charities, which have provided their housing from private donations rather than from public funds. They are already excluded from the right to buy by virtue of subsections (1) and 2(a) of this clause. There are, however, a handful of associations which are not charities and which have not received public subsidy. It has been put to us that such associations can scarcely be described as being in the public sector, and that they should instead be treated for these purposes as if they were private landlords. We accept that view, and this amendment therefore excludes them from the right to buy. I ask your Lordships to agree to it.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 [Exceptions to right to buy.]:
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)
I must point out to your Lordships that if Amendment No. 5 is agreed to I shall be unable to call Amendment No. 6.
§ Lord HYLTON moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 95, line 19, leave out paragraph 4 and insert—
("4. The dwelling-house is one which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age.")
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is sufficiently widely drawn to include not only old people's bungalows which are not in sheltered schemes but also flats normally let to aged persons and other properties, such as, for instance, the ground floors of tower blocks which many local authorities have frequently reserved for people of pensionable age. Considerable concern was expressed at Second Reading from all sides of your Lordships' House on the difficulties and problems that would ensue if this Bill were to go through as it is now drawn. These difficulties and problems refer to the special needs of elderly people.1784
I should like to quote briefly from what the director of Age Concern, the national umbrella body for matters affecting the elderly, has written to me. He said:
We are also anxious to protect existing public sector housing for the elderly. In our experience many elderly people seek smaller dwellings in later life and because of lack of this type of provision in the private sector they have to rely upon public sector housing".
I think I see the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, in his place, and I hope I shall have his support as President of Age Concern.
§ I made some inquiries of my own local authority in East Somerset, the Mendip District, and I found that they own some 7,400 council properties. Of these, 800 are old people's bungalows and some 650 are old people's units in the sheltered schemes which under the Bill would be exempt. Therefore, in this district we are in the situation that more than half of the accommodation now normally used by the elderly will be at risk of being sold and passed on to people who are not at all elderly and perhaps have no connection with the district whatsoever.
§ I discovered, further, that there are 779 elderly persons on the council's waiting list, and that that number of people represents more than 10 per cent. of the total stock of council houses in Mendip. It also represents more than a third of the total waiting list. I know it is often said that waiting lists are a poor guide to housing need, but in this case no fewer than 332 of the elderly people on the waiting list were judged to be in urgent housing need—very nearly half. As I said before, we risk losing from the pool available more than half of what it now contains.
§ At Second Reading I referred to the situation in the village where I live. That has a population of 450 people and we have at present six bungalows normally let to elderly people. Of those six, four belong to the local authority and two belong to a housing association. We are lucky to the extent that the housing association happens to have charitable status and therefore the two will be protected while the four will be at risk of being sold or passed on to anybody from anywhere.
§ I am delighted to have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and I hope she will speak with particular reference to 1785 the urban areas. I am delighted also that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford has added his name to the amendment. In view of the very much lesser degree of discretion that local authorities are likely to have under this Bill, I do hope that at least that much can be salvaged. I beg to move.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
This, I think, is probably one of the most important amendments we shall be dealing with, at any rate today. There is a very great problem here. On Second Reading the Minister said:We recognise the genuineness of much of that concern"—he was referring to accommodation for the elderly—The treatment of old people's dwellings in the Bill is a matter of judgment. It involves balancing community interests against the interests, or in this case the rights, of individuals. That is a balance which we have tried our best to strike correctly ".—[Official Report, 9/6/80; col. 131.]I certainly do not feel that the balance is correct at the moment. It is, as I see it, when you have set out the sort of Bill that we are studying today, with the various rather limited exclusion clauses, a difficult one; but I would put it to the Minister that it would be an absolute tragedy if these provisions were not enlarged and increased.
The Government have gone one step to exclude sheltered housing, which is a very particular and specialised type of housing, with special adaptation and with warden facilities, but it really does not help the great number of elderly people who are not in need of sheltered housing, or would not be eligible for it even if they were, because there is not enough of it. We have in our society at the moment a growing proportion of elderly people, and the demographic projections indicate that there will be a continuing increase during the next decade. Financial and economic reasons are extremely important, but most of the voluntary organisations which help the elderly in our community, with which I have anything to do, see their function as keeping old people in their own homes. They try not to have old people taken into residential care, supplying the social services by way of day centres or something of that kind. But it is impossible to do this unless housing accommodation is available for old people.
1786 The reason why this amendment is drafted in this, I agree, wide way is that it seems to me, to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and to the right reverend Prelate (whom I will mention in a moment, because he has sent a written message since he could not be here today) that the only way to deal with this situation is in this way where it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation. This covers not only specially adapted housing but the housing where there may be groups of bungalows which have been specially built. It would also cover the cases where the local authority has over the years kept a ground floor flat for elderly people—and I would ask the Minister to note particularly the words, "it is the practice of the landlord", where we have followed some of the wording in the Bill. Once this accommodation starts being sold it will be very difficult to replace it, particularly if (without going into all the details of the previous debate) we are not going to have replacement housing, certainly over the short and medium terms at the present time.
Elderly people who want to move because they need to be near supportive relatives or friends will need somewhere to go where perhaps they do not have to climb too many stairs and where, while they are quite healthy and mobile, they can live and manage on their own. If these houses, flats or bungalows are sold off, these are the people who, by reason of being older, have a shorter expectation of life than the middle-aged or the younger people; and those houses, flats or bungalows will just pass out of the circulation of property, the housing stock, that the local authorities have for older people.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was quite right when he referred to the great problem for the elderly, as well as people in the rural areas. It may be slightly different, but so far as the old person is concerned there is a similar problem in the urban areas as well. There is the problem of the old people who may be owner-occupiers but do not have the financial resources to maintain their homes. Their home may be too large for them to keep up and they will be looking for opportunities to transfer into smaller or more suitable rented property in which they can manage—this is terribly important—on their own and retain their independence. 1787 I think there is no doubt that, unless the exclusion is enlarged in the way that I have outlined, it is really going to be very hard for older people in the future.
The old person buys the house or flat and afterwards the children inherit it or take it over. In the rural areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, there is the great attraction of a second home. The property may than be lived in by younger people who do not need to live in that special location which is designed for the ease and comfort of the older person. Or the property will be sold, and then it goes out of the housing stock altogether. This is not in any way, in my view, a party political or necessarily a political question at all. It is purely a human question; it is tied up with the amount of housing stock available.
It is also a question of economic sense and common sense. Even the present housing stock is not sufficient to meet the needs of many elderly people who would like to be able to remain on their own. However, to let that housing stock drift away—and it will—is very wrong. This Committee of your Lordship's House—and the House has always shown a great and informed interest in social questions —should advise the Government to show some relaxation and latitude on this matter.
The right reverend prelate the Lord Bishop of Guildford asked me to give the Committee his apologies. He said in his letter to me:I very much hope that your amendment will be passed and I entirely support it".He is concerned about the situation of old people, both in his area and, as he says, on general grounds as well. It seems to me that this is a concession which the Government not only can make but ought to make. It really is in the interests of the community and is not in the interests of any particular political party.
§ Lord SANDFORD
In coming to Schedule 1, we are coming to the part of the Bill which deals with the exceptions to be made to the right to buy. The whole Committee will agree with the noble Baroness when she says that the concern for the housing of the elderly is something which is shared by all the parties. The Association of District Councils—which 1788 contains councils under the control of both parties—also agrees that it is necessary in this field for special arrangements to be made for the elderly. Some have been made precisely in line with the election manifesto, but there is a case for examining them closely and seeing whether they can be extended a little further. However, I do not think that my noble friend Lord Hylton or the noble Baroness have set about it in the right way. This is the only exception that needs to be enlarged. I believe the other exceptions dealt with in subsequent amendments from now until Amendment No. 11 are not necessary. That is also the view of the Association of District Councils. They are satisfied with the exceptions already being made for the rural areas, and it is only in the case of the elderly that they think that any further consideration is necessary.
The right solution to this problem has been found by other Members of this Committee. It is no surprise to the Committee that it has been found by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, who are both immensely experienced in this field. It is because I think, as the Association of District Councils also think, that the approach they make with their amendments after Clause 16 is the right one that I do not recommend the Committee to adopt the course being advocated at the moment.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
From these Benches may I say that the welcome one gives to the principle set out in this amendment is a warm one. However, the basic point that I wish to make in recommending noble friends not to vote for this amendment has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, when he drew attention to Amendment No. 53 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, followed by Amendment No. 54 in my own name. It appears to me that my amendment is exactly the same and I suspect we were getting advice from the same source. I received my advice from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.
I would prefer that one of those amendments should be carried which would enable elderly people in the circumstances 1789 described by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to have the right to buy, but there should be a preemption which would mean that the property would return to the local authority's stock if the local authority wanted it at the end of the use by the elderly at the increased price which the district valuer would settle. It would be grossly unfair if one group of elderly, active people were prevented from having the opportunity of benefiting from the capital gain that other people would be making. That is why I prefer Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 to Amendment No. 5.
§ Lord GISBOROUGH
I should like to support this amendment in principle. I hope that the Minister will advise us as to which amendment he will accept, in view of the general support in the Committee. Very often one finds that old people living in bungalows do not want to purchase because they are too old. Therefore I do not think their inability to purchase will be of great concern to the majority of them.
§ Baroness DENINGTON
I should like to make my position clear. As has been said, I have an amendment down on page 9 of the Marshalled List, but I am giving my full support to this amendment. The reason I also have an amendment is because 1 fear—alas!—that the Government may not accept this amendment. I tried very hard to put down an amendment that I hoped leaned as far as possible in the Government's direction so as to enable them to accept it in the last instance. Nevertheless, I give this amendment my wholehearted support. I hope that my position is clear.
I feel tremendous concern, as do the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and my noble friend Lady Birk, at the proposals to sell all these dwellings that are now habitually used for housing elderly people. I was very interested—as we must all have been —in Lord Hylton's figures. My amendment will, according to his figures—and I think it is possibly a national position—lose half of those whom this amendment would protect. But, if we must lose half, let us try and gain half with the other amendment.
I sincerely hope—as many of us do on all sides—that the Government will accept this amendment.—I, like the noble 1790 Baroness, Lady Birk, read carefully Lord Bellwin's speech on Second Reading on 9th June. I was very interested in it. May I quote one part to which the noble Baroness also referred. At col. 131 the noble Lord said:The treatment of old people's dwellings in the Bill is a matter of judgment. It involves balancing community interests against the interests, or in this case the rights, of individuals. That is a balance which we have tried our best to strike correctly".Those last words—and I did stress the important ones as I read them—show that this is a party political decision: "We, in our judgment". He stresses that this is a question of balancing community interests against the rights of individuals.
What I am questioning is the judgment of the Tory Party, just as many, many times I, a member of the Labour Party, query very deeply the judgment of my own party. We all do it if we are sincere people; of that I am quite certain. This to me is not a matter of party politics, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said. The Labour Party does not like the alienation (I think I must use that word) of old people's dwellings from public ownership. I think, quite plainly, that the Liberal Party do not like it either. The AMA do not like it either, and they are most concerned about it. The Association of District Councils have made representations: they do not like it either. And when the AMA and the ADC are under Conservative majorities—true, the AMA has now changed but the policy statement was made before the change of control—that is not a matter of "party" policy. It is a matter of what appears right to those of us who work in the housing field. There are many individuals and organisations and there are many individuals in this Chamber who find the matter extremely worrying and they are concerned about it.
I really cannot help feeling that the people who voted, as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has stressed to us, in the last election, voted for the Conservative Party, and the sale of council houses was a major plank in that party's manifesto. That is agreed and we must accept it. I must admit that I never read their manifesto, but I cannot believe—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will correct me if I am wrong—that in it they spelt out to their voters that it was their intention to 1791 make it much more difficult for elderly people to be adequately and properly housed in the future. I cannot think they did, because had they done that I think the matter would have been raised very, very strongly with them before the election took place.
I say that this is not a party issue at all. As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, it is a matter of common humanity, common necessity and of common decency towards our elderly citizens. I will go back for a moment to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, on Second Reading. He said then at column 132:Your Lordships are rightly jealous of our democratic rights, but there are bound to be instances where it has to be accepted that national policies must dominate over local policies".I utterly agree; but so must national needs dominate over party policies: that is the point I am trying to make. The Minister continued, in his interesting speech, by referring to Labour authorities who are "too doctrinaire". Again, how profoundly I agree with him! I know some, just as he knows some, which are far, far too doctrinaire; but I would ask him to consider his own attitude and that of his party in this particular matter. Are they not being too doctrinaire? I just ask that question and I hope he will ponder it. National needs, in my view, must dominate over party policy; and in this issue regarding our national needs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has already pointed out, we have an ageing population and a real national shortage of accommodation suitable for old people.
Socially, these dwellings we are talking about have a very great scarcity value and they ought not to be alienated. There is a great need to conserve them in public ownership because that is the only way they can be kept available for those who will follow the people who are now living in them. These dwellings have been provided by public money and through public initiative to meet the needs of those for whom public authorities are responsible.
I stress again that there is still a shortage. There is a shortage in the public sector and there is an enormous shortage in the private sector. I wish there were more private money that could be channelled into providing private homes for the elderly, where those who own a house- 1792 and sometimes it is much too big for them and they want to get out of it—could buy a 25-or 30-year lease on a private property built for them with private money. We have over the whole of this field an enormous national shortage of proper accommodation tailored for elderly people, and I suggest that we are making a tremendous mistake if we let go of any of it. I beg your Lordships to consider this matter very, very deeply, and I beg the Minister to be generous in his reply. But if he is not, I still have a long-stop!
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
I refuse to believe that when the Government considered the manifesto they deliberately, maliciously and, I add to that, with malice aforethought, introduced this section of the Bill. I refuse to believe it. I do not mean by that that there are not innumerable objections to the Bill, and many of them are of a political character; but how can one inject politics into this section? It has compassionate aspects, humanitarian aspects, and the like, but nothing really political. There is no question of partisanship in a matter of this kind.
What are we discussing? We are really discussing a principle which in effect is based on this: should we exclude from old age pensioners certain rights which are made available to a large body of people? It is as simple as that. If we agree that the rights which are embodied in this Bill in various sections are available to ordinary people—to young people, middle-aged people and so on—why exclude old age pensioners? It is really a matter of principle, and I think that the Minister, with all his eloquence and ability, at any rate in matters of this kind, whatever abilities he may lack in other areas, will find great difficulty in resisting the demands that have been made in all quarters of the Committee.
It occurs to me that this is not a matter which requires a Division. No vote is required. I say that because of the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, pointed to Amendment No. 53 and said that it is all there. But there is no guarantee that when we come to that it will be found acceptable by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. I would 1793 not take a chance on it. I prefer to deal with the situation which presents itself to us now, immediately. Forget about the rest. Anyway, with the greatest respect in the world, even if a guarantee was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and having previously said something rather different, I should prefer not to accept it.
Let us deal with this matter of principle. Are we going to exclude from some people certain rights which we believe are acceptable to a very large section of the people concerned with housing? That is what we are discussing. I venture to say to noble Lords opposite that they would have very great difficulty in arguing against that. How do they do that? They can do only this, and I suggest that it should be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, should get up and say "I have listened to what has been said. I may not agree entirely with some of the arguments adduced, but in these circumstances I will do the right thing—even if it is the only right thing I do in the course of our debates on the Housing Bill—and I will give this matter sympathetic consideration. Later on, when we come back on Report stage, having thought it out deliberately, compassionately, with the utmost humanity and in principle, I shall be able to say"—I am speaking on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin—" that we accept what was suggested on this clause and let us have no further discussion."
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Lord DIGBY
It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I spoke to Amendment No. 6, as that cannot be called should a certain result attend this amendment. I ought to explain to the Committee that in the first Marshalled List an "and" was added to the end of my amendment, which completely altered the whole meaning of it. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I read out the paragraph as it would be if my amendment were carried. It reads:The dwelling-house is one of a group of dwelling-houses which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age and"—this is my amendment—where there arc more than ten elderly persons' dwellings in one parish a social service or special 1794 facilities are provided in close proximity to the group of dwelling-houses for the only or main purpose of assisting those persons".The point of my amendment is to exclude old people's dwellings in small villages from the right to buy. Many villages have elderly persons' dwellings in small groups of four and six, and it is quite uneconomic to have a warden service, which is what is implied in the second part of this paragraph, for those groups.
As the Bill stands at present, the tenants would have a right to buy. I support entirely the principle of this Bill, but am very concerned that it might reduce the supply of old people's dwellings in small villages. These dwellings are now a vital part of village life and social structure, and, if they are sold when an elderly person dies, then they may well pass to a son or daughter and out of the ambit of elderly people.
Old people do not move well. There is a world of difference between moving to a convenient house in the same village and having to move to another village or town. I cannot believe that the Government intend to deprive small villages of elderly persons' homes. These dwellings not only help the tenants, but in many cases help the council, because they can move a widow or widower from a large council house into these old people's houses, and thereby provide a home for a larger family.
Doubtless, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will tell me that my amendment goes too wide, but I hope that the Government will give further thought to keeping old persons' homes in small villages. My point is very much narrower than Amendment No. 5, which I am afraid I cannot support. But I hope that the Government will consider my point on the narrow issue of small villages.
§ Lord SEEBOHM
I have been referred to as the president of Age Concern, which is perfectly true, but a more relevant qualification I have, if any, is that of chairman of the trustees which owns the New Earswick village in Yorkshire, where we have done a good deal of experimentation in looking after old people, both in building groups of houses, which are an enormous success, and in residential homes.
1795 I have become more and more convinced, as time goes on, that there is a very strong case for building a number of houses which are not in groups, but are more in the community where there are children round about, because old people love watching children running around and the children can make jolly good use of the old people. I am not sure whether paragraph 4, which specifically states that adwelling-house is one of a group of dwelling-housesmight cramp what I believe is quite an important movement for the future, of building houses which do not put all old people together but are in a community of all ages. So I like this amendment.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
I shall be quite brief. I understand that what the schedule is saying is that we will accept warden service housing and nothing else. If my interpretation is wrong, then perhaps I shall be told about that afterwards. What I want to say is that if you can act humanely, and place somebody who is elderly in a bungalow which has some adaptations—whether it is special bath rails, dimmer lights, ramps or whatever—then that commends itself to all of us. But if you want to look at this financially, you have to say that it is much cheaper for the social services, and therefore the local authority, to provide meals on wheels and home helps, than it is to place someone in an elderly person's home. It is better for the person concerned as well as being cheaper, if you want to look at it from the economic point of view.
Lots of local authorities have used their initiative in providing for the elderly, and the DoE have themselves produced this occasional paper Housing the Elderly, which goes into great detail about various ways in which local authorities have tried to be helpful when they have not been able to provide warden service housing, because it might not have been economic or because they felt that there was a better system.
They talk about peripatetic wardens, self-help schemes and the gradual extension of electronic aids and warning systems. The good neighbour policy has now been taken up by a lot of local authorities. It is cheap and it performs 1796 the right kind of function. I want to ask the Minister: are these schemes to be lost, because they do not conform to the letter and are not part of a warden housing scheme?
The particular point I want to emphasise is that on 21st February, when the Environment Secretary, Mr. Michael Heseltine, announced the housing investment programme, he said that housing needs and problems had become increasingly specific and local and that the emphasis of public sector housing policy now must be to meet particular needs such as those of the elderly and the handicapped. I think that the handicapped are being catered for in the Bill, but perhaps the noble Lord will remind the Environment Secretary that the elderly were also included in his announcement on 21st February.
§ Lord MILVERTON
I should like to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Hylton and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. Looking ahead, I shall also support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, though whether it is moved will depend on what happens to this amendment. As certain other noble Lords have said, I feel that we may forget about caring properly for some old people. Quite a few old people like to look after themselves and are quite capable of doing so, but there are others who need our help. I agree with those who have said that small places and villages need to have some bungalows for old people. It is good for the place and for the people, as well as for the old people. Therefore, I support the amendment and, later, I shall support wholeheartedly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale.
§ Lord GREENWOOD of ROSSENDALE
Like my noble friend Lord Shinwell, I am an essentially reasonable and emollient character, and I hope that I may be able to help him by ensuring this evening that there is not too much of a difference of opinion on this issue. I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and my noble friend Lady Birk. However, looking at it purely from the point of view of practicality and getting the largest measure of agreement, I feel that it may be possible 1797 to get that support for the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Denington and myself or for that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton. Incidentally, his amendment is not quite the same as the amendment which my noble friend and I have tabled. I believe that one of those amendments would have great support.
I appreciate what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. As president of the AMA and as a vice-president of the ADC, I can say that there is ground for believing that the amendment tabled by my noble friend and I would be very acceptable to both of those organisations. I would say this to my noble friends: that if the Minister, for whom I have very great respect, is able to tell us that he will look sympathetically at the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Denington and myself, I shall urge my noble friends on the Front Bench not to press this amendment to a Division.
§ Lord PARGITER
There is one small point that I should like to draw to the Minister's attention. The up-to-date situation is that with the almost cessation of council house building in some areas, local authorities feel compelled to restrict their building efforts to building more places for old people. That goes to show that this happens to be the most urgent sector at present. Therefore nothing should be done to reduce the stock in that area.
§ Lord IRVING of DARTFORD
I should like to support Amendment No. 5. After 30 years' experience in local government, and still a member of a local authority and chairman of its finance committee, I am firmly of the opinion that the outstanding need and the area of the greatest neglect is that of housing for old people. Many authorities, under pressure from growing numbers of families needing housing after the war, for nearly 30 years pressed on with two-and three-bedroomed properties at the expense of homes for the elderly. Many elderly people remained in under-occupied properties, private or council, or lived with their families when they needed homes of their own. This was because there was no suitable council accommodation and because private enterprise had not entered the field in any measure.
1798 This means that today the waiting lists for homes for the elderly are sometimes longer than those for other applicants. The waiting time is much greater in almost every authority. Therefore anything which makes this problem more difficult is exacerbating an already difficult situation. There are many old age pensioners who have waited nearly 10 years in some authorities—in authorities where they are able to house people in three-bedroomed properties in under a year. Even for urgent cases the waiting list is often three of four years.
In my own authority, which is not untypical, the housing stock comprises 56 per cent. of three-bedroomed properties, 27 per cent. of two-bedroomed properties and only 17 per cent. of one-bedroomed houses. This takes in not only old people but all the single people who are waiting for that kind of accommodation. Therefore, the provision is very limited indeed. Of that percentage, 200 are wardened accommodation properties. However, when one looks at the housing list one sees that half of the total applicants are looking for one-bedroomed properties, and half of that number are old age pensioners.
If a local council is required to sell all except its wardened properties, it will further seriously depress the prospects for the elderly, as at present the turnover of the limited accommodation available is greater than that of other classes of accommodation. Once these properties are sold, sooner or later they will pass into the hands of much younger people. This is because older people will not be able to provide the money to go into the market and buy such properties. I believe that this is the reason for making a distinction in treatment between elderly people and the rest of the community.
Many authorities like my own have regarded one-bedroomed properties as interchangeable. The decision that properties like this should come within Section 4 means that the great majority of properties available for old people will go. On a number of estates, bungalows and old people's properties were quite deliberately spread throughout the estates. Those properties, deliberately planned in that way, will, for that reason, be sure of being sold. May I ask the Government to look again at this matter, 1799 for I believe that it would be an act of kindness and justice to do so.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I said at the beginning that I would listen very carefully to what was said during the various debates, and I can assure noble Lords that I have done so. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Hylton will gladly accept that from me. There have been some fascinating contributions to this debate. May I begin by referring to some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, who, as she rightly reminded us, together with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, has tabled Amendment No. 53 while the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has tabled Amendment No. 54. Although they are not exactly the same, they are quite similar and cover the same point.
If I may refer to some of her observations, the noble Baroness said—I am reading what she said—that we had set out to find a balance which we felt to be correct between, on the one hand, carrying out our election promise to the elderly, namely, to enable them to have the right to buy—yes, that was an election promise and it is one that we want to see carried out—yet at the same time ensuring that the needs of the community for this type of accommodation were not so disturbed as to have an adverse effect upon the ability to make public provision.
As with all these things, it is a matter of judgment. One may call it political or one may call it anything else, but at the end of the day there will be a judgment. The noble Lord, Lord Shin-well, to whom I shall refer in a moment, was kind enough to say that one tries, with the best motivations—and one does—to get the balance right. Now what is right requires a judgment upon which one might, at the end of the day, have to disagree. However, I take without question the point made by the noble Baroness. She said we should not make it more difficult for elderly people to be adequately and properly housed. Those were the words she used. That is really the tenor of what many other of your Lordships have said. I would say to her that the last thing that we intend is that we should make it more difficult for eldery people to be adequately and properly housed; that is not our intention at all. But 1800 what will have to be decided at the end of the day is whether what we propose does or does not have that effect. I suppose only time will prove that one way or the other. We do not believe it does.
I have before me a whole set speech for Amendments Nos. 53, 54, 5, 6 and 8, and frankly I am not looking at it at all, because with the tolerance of the Committee I am really speaking right across the subject. I think that is what the Committee would want me to do. There are very many elderly people who want to buy their houses—you would be surprised if you knew how many. I have not got the figure but it is a great number round the country. We do not want that they should be disadvantaged because they are elderly. They are able to make their own judgments about what they want and we want to enable them to buy a house, and, yes, pass it on to those who follow them. What is wrong with that? Surely it must be one of the greatest joys in life to be able to pass on to one's children after one has gone something which has worth. I do not think anyone in the Committee would quarrel with that.
The only debate is what happens about availability of accommodation to house those who will remain and still continue to have need. That is the kernel of it. The noble Lord was absolutely right when he said the greatest need in housing is to provide one- and two-bedroomed accommodation. But may I remind your Lordships that one- and two-bedroomed accommodation is also what the young people in the community need. They also have a great need. Your Lordships would be the last to seek to deny to the younger people also the opportunity to have that kind of accommodation. Is it not a fact that if the old people enjoy the rest of their lives in their home, thereby making it neither more nor less available to any other old person, if it is then young people who occupy it it might marginally affect the ability to help the elderly but at least the home would be going to another section of the community which is in great need? I say that because that is part of the debate.
Turning to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, I thought he was so persuasive and so hard to deny—really very disarming —and one always has to be very careful 1801 when the noble Lord speaks. He and others of your Lordships said that this is not political, and I am happy if it is felt that it is not political in the party sense; I do not consider it to be such, not at all. It is a question of making available homes for those who need them so much and yet at the same time—and I repeat myself because it is fundamental—fulfilling the promise to give the elderly their chance to have something and to give something in their turn. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said that we should be excluding certain rights which are available to old people. But that is exactly what we are trying to give, not to exclude. We are trying, as we see it, to give old people rights which they do not have today and which we do not wish to see them not have by comparison with the rest of the community. But I entirely take the point; I know exactly what the debate is about and I am sure your Lordships know that I know what the debate is about.
I am always very influenced by what the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, says. He and I go back an awfully long way in housing and I have great respect for his views and thinking on housing. Again I am appreciative of what the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, said, and she knows also that I am aware of the social side of what local authorities have to do to help their elderly and meet their needs. I am not insensitive to the feeling of the Committee. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Hylton and my noble friend Lord Digby would feel able to withdraw these amendments, despite Lord Shinwell's hesitations as to my guarantees. I really am not quite sure what caused him to express reservations; he was so kind as to my abilities that I am not quite sure what caused him to express reservations: however, that may be something for another time.
Despite the noble Lord's concern, I would be prepared to say this: if noble Lords are willing to withdraw Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 8, I undertake when we come to Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 to take those away and talk about them again with my colleagues. I think that would probably satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood—they did intimate as much—also my noble friend Lord Sandford, whose opinions on this I follow 1802 very closely. I think, frankly, that that is what I ought to do, and it is what I gladly undertake to do. I think that is the best way to make progress tonight on this subject.
§ Baroness BIRK
My name is joined to this amendment with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the right reverend Prelate. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was talking about old people having the right to buy their own homes. This amendment does not preclude that; it says specifically that it covers only those dwelling-houses,which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age".If it is not the practice, then they get the right like anybody else under the Bill. It is only in those particular cases. Perhaps, as this is an amendment that I personally feel very strongly about, the noble Lord could just enlarge a little on that, so that I can make up my mind whether I wish to withdraw.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
Before the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, decides whether or not to withdraw this amendment, may I draw your Lordships' attention to one of the losses that are likely to be incurred through this Bill? The Greater London Council builds a lot of seaside bungalows for old people. There is not the slightest doubt that they are very attractive and in fact they will be sold. I cannot see the GLC going on building those bungalows merely for people to sell them.
§ Lord HYLTON
I am not quite clear exactly what the offer was that was made, by the noble Lord, Lord Beltwin. Was he saying that he would sympathetically consider Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 if this Amendment No. 5 was withdrawn, or was he saying something else?
§ Lord BELLWIN
I was saying very much that. I was tempted to speak at some length to these Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 8, but I feel that, in the interests of what the Committee would like me to do, bearing in mind that these amendments, like Nos. 53 and 54, do cover this whole subject, if my noble friend feels able to withdraw them I shall not need to speak at length on them, and I would further undertake to take away Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 to consider and 1803 discuss them with my ministerial colleagues.
§ Lord HYLTON
I am extremely grateful for the support I have had on Amendment No. 5 from all parts of the Committee. I think my noble friend Lord Sandford expressed the views of the Committee extremely well when he said we have a shared concern over everything that concerns old people's housing. The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, mentioned the extreme scarcity value of every unit of old people's housing, and how much I agree. I am also extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, for his support. My contention is that every single vacancy that one gets in the existing stock of old people's housing is absolutely vital. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, mentioned the possibility for old people to have a capital gain when they have bought their flat or bungalow. I just wonder how many will be in that position when one considers the proportion who are now dependent upon supplementary pensions. I do not think that they will be able to afford mortgages.
The difference between Amendment No. 5 and the later Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 is that my amendment acts as an exclusion from the right to buy. The later amendments, which my noble friend is prepared to consider, give the local authority a right of pre-emption. These are two fairly different matters and, as we are somewhat embarked upon preemption, I should like to ask how a local authority will meet the vast price difference between a bungalow sold at its present value less discount, and the open-market value in future when it comes to buy back. That will particularly be the case with the seaside bungalows built by the Greater London Council, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead.
Therefore, I think that the Committee ought to have an opportunity to express its opinion by a vote as to whether or not pre-emption is a sufficient safeguard. I contend that it is not a sufficient safeguard and I hope that the Committee will support me in going for exclusion.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I gather that my noble friend is not willing to withdraw his amendment and so I think that I must speak on it either now or later, because it 1804 has been suggested that in view of the time we should resume the House.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
It would seem an occasion to finish the subject-matter. I think that it has reached the point of near oral exhaustion.
§ Lord BELLWIN
Would that it were so! Unfortunately, it is very far from the case, and I frankly regret very much that my expression of willingness to take this matter away to consider it has been turned down in the way that it has. It is the first time since I have been in your Lordships' House or in Committee that I have ever heard that happen. I think that it is important that we should—
§ Lord HYLTON
Will the Minister give way? Surely he has confirmed to me that he is not considering Amendment No. 5? He is prepared to consider Amendments Nos. 53 and 54.
§ Lord BELLWIN
There is always the Report stage, of course, but the fact is that if we are to have a discussion on this matter then I must do it this way. I should have thought that there was great merit in our having the ability to try to find agreement by mutual understanding rather than by putting it to the vote.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
Will the Minister give way? From the interchanges that we have just had perhaps the Minister would undertake to consider —as he has already very generously and rightly agreed to do as regards the later amendments—at the same time the differences between the two types of amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has just pointed out, so that we can come back with the whole principle at a later stage. If he did that surely the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, would be prepared to withdraw.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I may have put it wrongly, in which case I apologise to my noble friend, but I specifically said that if he would withdraw these amendments we would come back on Amendments Nos. 53 and 54. I also said—or meant to say—that the areas were very close together and that, although there were differences between the amendments, nevertheless, I 1805 would feel equally obliged to consider the points in all these amendments because I think they form part of the whole subject. So, if it is of help to my noble friend, I gladly undertake to do that too.
§ Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
I think that it is time that we moved to the next business. I beg to move that the House be now resumed.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.