HL Deb 30 June 1980 vol 411 cc115-210

8.32 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 18 [Dwelling-houses in National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, etc.]:

Lord HYLTON moved Amendment No. 60: Page 14, line 43, after ("beauty") insert ("or a green belt designated under the Town and Country Planning Acts,").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to extend to council houses lying within green belts the same protection that those within national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty already enjoy under the Bill. I realise that green belts cover quite a substantial area, but I submit that they are just as much in need of protection as the picturesque parts of Britain lying within the defined parks and other special areas. I have personal experience of two particular green belts, one being the Greater London green belt in Northern Surrey, in the area of the North Downs, and the other the green belt between the cities of Bath and Bristol.

Anyone who knows those areas will know how extremely grateful we are for them and what good effect they have. In the case of Bath and Bristol, they have prevented these two cities from coalescing and, in the case of North Surrey, the existence of the green belt has preserved the North Downs in something approaching their former natural state. Nevertheless, grateful as we may be, we have to recognise that these green belts are subject to tremendous pressures. Although they are still rural there are hundreds if not thousands or millions of people now in the cities who would like to live in them if they possibly could. Therefore, all development within these belts has been most severely restricted and just about the only possible kind of houses that can be built within a green belt are cottages, bungalows or farmhouses tightly limited and restricted to agricultural use.

This is what makes me believe that there will be very great problems resulting if the present council houses lying within those green belts are sold, passed on and passed on; and there is little or nothing remaining in the way of rented accommodation to satisfy the needs of those families and people from the villages of the present green belts who will be unable to buy and who must rely perforce on some provision of rented housing. I beg to move.


At first sight, green belts may seem to be obvious candidates for inclusion in the right-to-buy scheme for safeguarding rural areas. But I trust that on further reflection my noble friend will agree that the automatic application of these safeguards to green belts would not be right. The primary purpose of a green belt is to check the spread of an adjoining urban area. Thus, though a green belt may be a rural area, the reason for having it differs markedly from the reason for making an area a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty. There, the intention is to protect the area itself. That is why some tracts of land fall both within areas of outstanding natural beauty and within green belts.

There is another difference; a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty takes in the whole of a locality, including any small towns and villages in the vicinity. Frequently, green belts are drawn so that they leave out land already developed. A green belt might well not take in many local council estates. These would not, therefore, be brought into the safeguard. That means that from a practical point of view green belts arc not a very helpful way of determining the areas where there should be a special safeguard under the right-to-buy scheme.

As the Bill stands, Clause 18 empowers the Secretary of State to designate rural areas other than national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty in which the rural safeguards will also apply. If it was right to make those safeguards apply in a particular green belt, because of the special circumstances within its boundaries, it would be open to the Secretary of State to designate that green belt or part of it as a rural area under Clause 18. I hope, on that basis, my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.


I am grateful for what my noble friend Lord Bellwin has said, particularly about the possibility of the Secretary of State defining a rural area within some or all of a green belt. Can I draw something further from him tonight? Can he give us some indication of the sort of criteria that the Secretary of State will be using when he goes about defining rural areas in need of protection? While I am on my feet, may I say that I think the protection that will be most helpful within a green belt will be that giving powers of pre-emption and repurchase to the local authority?


I fear that on this cannot be as specific as my noble friend would like. When looking at this amendment and talking about it, we touched on the point that he had just raised as to what might be the basis and so on. To be helpful, I would say it is something we have talked about. I cannot now give him any more information. I doubt that I shall be able to be specific but if I can get something that I think would assist him, then I undertake to do so; but I would ask that he does not hold me to this. I will see what might be done.


I am again very grateful. Since no one else in the Committee appears to be in support of this amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.40 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 61: Page 14, line 43, at end insert ("the local authority with the consent of").

The noble Baroness said: This is quite a small amendment designed to bring the local authority into not just the planning but the designation decision again so that the local authority is very closely concerned with the rural area. It is all so vague at the moment that even if it does nothing more than draw out some clarification and elucidation of how the rural areas are going to be designated, that will be helpful. There should be some local consultation and discussions. What it means is that the Secretary of State would designate an area but in consultation with the local authority. I beg to move.


I hope that the Government will be willing to give serious consideration to this point. I and other noble Lords have mentioned this throughout Second Reading and the Committee stage. Local authorities over the years are being more and more emasculated, and more and more responsibilities are taken away from them. I would have thought that this was an area where the local authorities' views and proposals would have been of importance; and—perhaps even more important—that the local authorities themselves would feel that they were involved in this kind of proposal. As the clause stands at present, the local authority has no direct involvement at all. I would have thought that was contrary to the best practices for local government. I hope that this amendment will be taken seriously and considered by the Government.


I realise that there has been a lot of debate during this Committee stage on the question of rural areas. I believe that it is something which more than anything else unites the different sides of the Committee. I speak to this amendment specifically because Clause 18 deals in chief with the rural areas. I want to ask the Minister to address himself to one or two issues that are raised, although they have been touched on before. I do not want to raise the issue of principle. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has indicated, this is an issue of principle which we have debated before. I assure the Minister that I had no intention of trying to give him a lecture on local government, and I do not intend to do so tonight.

However, when I spoke in the Committee stage last Thursday he referred to my remarks as apparently heralding Armageddon. I am sure that there are many noble Lords on both sides of the Committee, from all parties, who do not regard it as necessarily Armageddon but would regard it as a great disaster if the local communities in the rural and semi-rural areas of this country were to be undermined. That is what we have all been showing concern about.

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has made many references to Leeds during the course of Second Reading and the Committee stage. I also was brought up in Yorkshire; but we did not regard Leeds as Yorkshire. It was an island of somewhat soulless commercialism that did not seem to fit in with the rest of the county. I wonder whether the noble Lord has had the occasion—I am sure he has—of moving around in places like the Worth Valley. I give that as one instance—one of many. If he will bear with me for a minute he will see the point. Take two small villages, as I would call them. I am not sure whether he would technically call them towns. Oakworth and Haworth are both villages which have a number of council estates. In Oakworth there are 89 council houses; in Haworth there are 105. I should like him to address himself to this. He may say that a part of one of the major council estates in Haworth is in a conservation area. I am not sure—and I have no means of being sure—whether that would be protected under the terms of the Bill as it now reads.

These communities are fundamental to the continued existence of the village life which is a centre for rural life. Are they rural or are they urban? I know that the noble Lord cannot give a specific answer tonight, as he has indicated to his noble friend Lord Hylton. But I am sure that he will also appreciate that there is a great deal of concern for these pockets of village life that one can find all over the country—I am giving two specific instances—on which not just the village but also a large area of countryside around depends. They are drawing more and more people in. For their preservation they need essentially a solid core of publicly-rented accommodation for council workers, lorry drivers and a whole variety of agricultural workers and workers in a very wide area. This is the way in which our village life has made a vibrant contribution to our national heritage.

If in Haworth the Government are going to tell the council, "You have to sell or offer for sale your council houses" what is going to happen to them? Surely, it is obvious. Many of those houses will very quickly pass into the hands of the Americans. An American who wants to have a house in this country in an ancient, cultural locality, with all the glamour of living in Bronte land, will certainly look to a place like Haworth.

I will give another instance. Maybe the noble Lord has extended his travels in Yorkshire to the east of Leeds as well as to the west. Take the village of Robin Hood's Bay. It only has two council houses—admittedly they are divided into flats. A mile behind Robin Hood's Bay, in the village of Filingthorpe, there are 59 council houses. This is not a rural area as I can understand any definition of it. It is a collection of people living together in a small town. Surely it is obvious that the value of a House in Filingthorpe, a mile away from Robin Hood's Bay, will be of immense value once it is on the market. All I am asking the Minister is whether he can tell us or give us some indication, or will he come back to us on Report stage and tell us, how the Secretary of State is going to allocate those areas where there are going to be exemptions from the general rule of sale?

As I have already told him, I have little confidence in the 10-year rule but, given that rule, will the kind of places I have mentioned to him, especially in regard to his local knowledge, be designated as rural areas, or will they be excluded from the rural categorisation and deemed to be town areas? If the latter is the case, then this Bill is doing even more damage to rural village life, of which so many noble Lords have spoken with so much affection and which has played such a deep and profound role in the history of this country.

8.51 p.m.


The noble Baroness has made it clear that she considers that, where further rural areas are to be designated under Clause 18(1) of the Bill, it is the local authority which should have the power to make the designation. With a view perhaps to modifying her proposal in such a way as to make it acceptable to the Government, she has proposed that in making its orders the local authority should have the consent of the Secretary of State.

Clause 18 of the Bill was amended in another place so as to open the way to the application of the special safeguards on the sale of council houses in rural areas to be attached not only in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but also in additional areas to be so designated by the Secretary of State. When these provisions were being discussed in the Standing Committee which considered the Bill, my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction made it clear that he considered that the decision whether or not to impose the special conditions in cases where they were possible was for the landlord. I am sure that there will be unanimity on that point.

My honourable friend went further, however. He made it clear that it was quite open to local authorities to take the initiative in seeking designation of additional rural areas for the purposes of Clause 18. I am sure that there will be unanimity on that point also. After all, a local authority will know more than anyone else about local circumstances.

So the question boils down to the narrow one of whether the local authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State (as in the amendment) or the Secretary of State himself (as drafted in the Bill) should make the actual order. There are, in my view, three good reasons why it should be the Secretary of State himself. The first is that this is the only way of being sure that desirable consistency is maintained in the policy. Without it, the local authority might designate part of an area which fell within its boundaries while a neighbouring authority failed to designate its own part of the same area. That hardly seems to me to be a sensible state of affairs.

The second reason is one of administrative convenience—not, I hasten to emphasise, the convenience of the Secretary of State, who will have to make the necessary orders, but of those with an interest in this policy who will be able to see what areas have been designated simply by looking at the orders which may be made by the Secretary of State, rather than having to comb the country to find out. The third reason is constitutional. I would not make too much of it, but I do consider that it is right that orders of this kind should come under the scrutiny of Parliament. That will happen under the Bill as drafted, but it would not do so under the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness.

To come to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, I doubt that his remarks would really have endeared himself too much to the people of Leeds, but that is something he would have to explain to them if ever he gets there, because if Leeds is not inside Yorkshire, I do not know where it is! I must confess that I am not really familiar with either Oakworth or Haworth. I know where they are but I know little more than that about them. Your Lordships will see that I am very ready to concede my lack of knowledge and I readily do so as regards these two (as I am sure they are) splendid places. The noble Lord said it would be a great disaster if local communities were undermined and, of course, who would argue as to that? But I do not believe that there is anything in this Bill which is going to so undermine them. He said that the Bill would do even more damage to rural and village life. I am sure he does not expect me to agree with him on that; nor do I.

I do not think there is a lot more I can say on this. How wide will the designations go? That has yet to be decided. I fear that although I am trying to be helpful I really cannot speculate as to that because I just do not know as yet, and therefore I cannot be more helpful. If I am able to be more specific by the time we come to Report stage, I assure the noble Lord that I shall do what I can, but I cannot undertake that that will be the case. Nevertheless, the point will be well borne in mind and possibly the noble Baroness may feel able to withdraw the amendment.


I do not really think that the first argument put forward by the noble Lord the Minister is very satisfactory: I mean the one about the inconsistency of decisions. There are times on this Bill when I listen to the Conservative Front Bench and I really think I am listening to the Labour Party at its worst. They are always for centralism. They always appear to want to take away any decision from the local sphere. Of course, if you give decisions to the local sphere, contesting decisions may be inconsistent. There may be things one would not want and they will be different in different parts of the country. They may even be, as the noble Lord said, different in very narrow areas close by each other; but that is one of the prices to pay for popular democracy, and that is one of the few good things that I thought the Conservative Party was putting forward at the last election and in its present philosophy. As we go through this Bill, more, more and more it is becoming a centralist Bill and a centralist philosophy they are putting forward, and it really does not stand up.

8.58 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

At least the noble Lord did not say it was the Labour Party at its best, so we must be thankful for small mercies! We are all at our worst sometimes, and the Labour Party does have its bad moments. Of course, the noble Lord is right: the extraordinary thing running right through the Bill is this almost authoritarian line from the centre from a party which all the time has been arguing, certainly during the period of the Labour Government, about the autonomy of the local authority.

Turning to the specific terms of the amendment, the Minister said it was quite right, and had been discussed in another place, that local authorities should take the initiative on some occasions in this area of suggesting the designation of a rural area. But nowhere in the Bill at the moment or, as far as I can see, in the schedules, is there anything which gives any indication of the local authorities playing any part.

I should like to ask the Minister, before withdrawing the amendment, how this is going to come about. It is all very well for this to be said in Standing Committee F, but I should not think that the readership of the minutes of that committee would make any publisher wealthy if they were on the market. Similarly, in this House we are also a rather closed group and there must be millions of people outside who will not know that this is so. Could the Minister indicate how this knowledge is going to get abroad? Are the local authorities going to be advised as to what means to use and, even more importantly, are the people living in the areas going to know of the decisions which are to be taken and which will, after all, affect their lives and the places where they live? It is very important, particularly if you are in what might be considered a marginal area, to know whether or not you are in a designated rural area. You may or you may not want to be, but it is very useful to know how things are going, and to whom you apply in order to be in the area and designated as you want to be. There seems to be very little information on this. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us further about it.


I did say, did I not, at the end of my remarks that as it so happens—and I said it was right that it should be so—orders of this kind will come under the scrutiny of Parliament? I should have thought that that was about as good a way as any of ensuring that anything that was happening was brought to the notice of all concerned.

Baroness BIRK

I am sorry. We on this side of the Committee have been trying to keep the debate short, but this is a different point. It is important that it should come before Parliament, but this is an entirely different point from local involvement. I am asking the Minister how the local involvement is going to come about. I want to know how it is going to work in practice, not how theoretically the local authority can take the initiative. It is quite right that the local authorities should sometimes take the initiative. I am asking that. The one thing does not exclude the other. These are not mutually exclusive things.


I am not sure that I am quite following the point the noble Baroness is making. If an authority take an initiative there is little doubt that everyone within the area concerned will know that the initiative has been taken. It is not for me to tell the noble Baroness the various forms that the media use for that sort of purpose. These things are always very much a matter of local interest—more so these days than ever before, I should have thought. If, further, there is to be scrutiny by Parliament, that again widens it still further. I am not at all aware of any possible danger of anyone not knowing what is happening. If I am missing a point I will be glad to he corrected on it.

Baroness BIRK

I do not want to carry on the debate too long, Perhaps the Minister can write to me or come back and I will withdraw the amendment and wait for Report. I am asking at which point is the local authority brought in? The noble Lord said that the Secretary of State will make the order, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, took up the point about consistency. I want to know how far the involvement of the local authority will be, at which point. There is no good taking an initiative if nobody takes any notice of the initiative one is taking, or if one is not called in on it, or if it does not come out at the end of the day and one does not really come out as a sort of equal partner in it. This is what I want to know. If the Minister cannot take it any further this evening—I think we have gone on enough about it at the moment—perhaps he will come back on Report; or in the meantime, perhaps he will write to me and tell me exactly what the process is. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Evans, would be interested to know as well.


I really do try hard to he understanding and helpful. I cannot really see the point. The only thing I can suggest is that the noble Baroness might care to have a word with me afterwards, unless it is so late that neither of us is in the mood so to do. As soon as convenient I will try to ascertain for her that which she needs to know, if I am able so to do.


I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate our difficulty here. Am I right in thinking that the tenants in these rural areas still to be specified will have the same right as any other tenant, and that as soon as the Bill is passed they will have the right to make an application to purchase their house? The landlord is the local authority. It is in a rural area. Will they know by that time as to whether or not the Government are specifying this as a rural area?

The tenant wants to know because there is going to be a limitation placed upon his holding that is not there for anyone else. There may be a covenant limiting him to do certain things. He will want to know. The local authority will want to know. But the initiative rests with the Government, and I should have thought that if the Government are going to maintain the rights of the Bill for everyone they must produce, before this Bill becomes law, their list of rural areas. It is all right in respect of the national parks and these other things; they are determined by statute. But there is nothing in this clause that says anything about the rural area. That is for the Government to produce. It is only fair to the local authority. Certainly it is only fair to the would-be purchaser that he should know what position he is in.


I am very pleased to hear expressed the concern the noble Lord has for the would-be purchaser. I have nothing to add to what I have said. It is open to an authority who are sufficiently interested or who want to do so to take an initiative with a view to having their area designated in this way; that is up to them. But the criteria, if one likes, where there is uncertainty is something which I have already said has yet to be decided. The individual areas have not yet been decided and certainly I have no intention of speculating on that at the present time.


I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate this. The local authority, by statute, has got to reply to the would-be purchaser by a certain time. Can the Minister tell us how long it is to be? Suppose they accept this initiative and apply to the Government to declare a rural area. How long will it be before the Government, his department, replies and how much longer will it be before an order is passed through the House? Then the local authority will be in the dock because, according to statute, they have got to give a reply by a certain time. Is it two months?


The noble Lord is normally clear but he is less than clear and less than precise on this occasion. He said something rather strange a moment ago. As I understood him, he said it was up to the local authorities themselves to designate what is a rural area. If not, perhaps he would clarify that for the Committee. But if, indeed, it is up to the local authority, the housing authority, to designate what is a rural area within their district, what are the procedures to be? Would he be good enough to give the Committee guidance? What must they do? Are further orders to be produced? Are they to be affirmative or negative orders? Are they to come before Parliament? Before we go any further the noble Lord must give us a little more guidance as to exactly what he meant.


I do not recall saying that a local authority should themselves designate their area. If I did, I certainly did not mean to do so and I apologise for having said so. Only the record will show if I said that or not. What I thought I had said was that it would be up to an authority to take the initiative of applying to have their area so designated. I really do believe that that is what I said, but, if not, then of course I am sorry about that.

As to the other points that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, made, about who starts the thing going and when something takes place, I have already said a number of times that I cannot give the kind of detailed, specified information for which the noble Lord asks. The areas are yet to be decided. They will be decided, presumably, by the Secretary of State in conjunction with the authorities concerned, in one way or another. Whether the first initiative comes from the Secretary of State or from the authority in question is a matter which will evolve. I cannot give details, because I do not have them at the present time. But the tenants who are interested in buying in those areas—and that is really what the concern ought to be—will have every opportunity to get to where they want to be as regards buying, and as regards the information that they need.

But, conversely—and, surely, this is a point that has been made again and again today—the safeguard for the rural areas is equally vital. It will be clearly understood that it will be there. The people in those areas will, of course, have the right to buy, but they will be buying with the kind of pre-emptions, rights and so on that those in other areas will not have. Therefore, there is a case for saying that they will have the rights, but not to the same extent as others, and some may feel sympathy for them. I am sorry if that is not as clear as noble Lords might like, but however much I am pressed I cannot give more details, because it is not possible for me to do so at the present time.


Can the noble Lord tell us when he will be able to give us the information? We have already passed that part of the Bill which says that a tenant has the right, he makes his application and the local authority must reply in, I think, two months. It is certainly two months in the Scottish Bill. I am speaking here because I have a listening brief to see that there is no unfairness done in certain of the more civilised parts of these islands.

But I know Government departments. The person makes his application to the local authority and they think, "This ought to be an area of special beauty". So he applies to the Government and only the Government can decide that. I want to know how long it will take them to make up their mind and to pass an order through Parliament, because the tenant will have no idea what is holding up the local authority. The local authority will not know whether this will be one of these special houses in respect of which they have to put in a special covenant, and that, also, will take time. If the noble Lord looks at the argument we had in relation to hog-tying a local authority in respect of the time involved in all this, he will find that the Government are quite wrong.


May I combine my point with that of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, so that the Minister can answer both? I have one very simple point of clarification. The noble Lord said that he could not go any further. I think that he can go a step further in this respect, that he has been referring to a local authority possibly applying for its area to become a rural area. Presumably, he is not suggesting that the local authority either is a rural area or is not a rural area. The parts of an area that come under a local authority could be rural, while other parts were not rural.


Of course, you can get a variation, but what we are talking about is the designation of a rural area for the purposes of this Bill. That is really where we are parting company. It is no good the noble Lord, Lord Ross, persisting. I cannot make out whether he is concerned about the interests of the landlord, the local authority, the tenant, Scotland or anywhere else. I cannot tell that at all from what he says. What I have said all along, and I repeat it now, is that if there is uncertainty about this and noble Lords want to know more about it, then I will gladly undertake, as I always do, to write and tell them the position as we then see it. But, so far as an undertaking is concerned, I am in no position to give one, nor can I even attempt to do so.

Baroness BIRK

Hoping that in the meantime we shall get some light, and taking into account the various questions that have been asked by my noble friends since I last spoke, I shall for the time being beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.13 p.m.

Lord HYLTON moved Amendment No. 62:

Page 14, line 44, leave out ("as a rural area").

The noble Lord said: In proposing this amendment, I am trying to be as helpful to the Government as I possibly can, as is my usual wont. I am even going against my natural inclinations in suggesting a much greater discretion for the Secretary of State than he has already taken. The object of this amendment is to enable the Secretary of State to designate any area which needs Clause 18 protection, and not just the rural areas.

I am thinking in particular of the seaside urban areas where it seems to me that there is a great danger of existing council houses being sold off and then used for such purposes as bed and breakfast or self-catering flats, thus removing them completely from availability to the local population. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, gave some interesting examples from Yorkshire of semi-rural/semi-urban areas—borderline areas, areas which could be argued to be one thing or which could be argued to be another.

From my own knowledge of the County of Somerset, I think there will be similar problems. We have the Somerset coast on the Bristol Channel; we have the cathedral city of Wells; we have the caves of Cheddar which draw many thousands of tourists to see them every year. These seem to be some of the uncertain, problematical kinds of areas where it would perhaps be as well for the Secretary of State to have wider powers than he now has. I hope I have said enough to make clear the purpose of this amendment. I beg to move.


We have already seen a number of amendments which would run a coach and horses through the Government's policy for a countrywide right to buy. With that purpose in mind, amendments have already been put down to exclude entirely or to place heavy restrictions upon the sale of elderly people's dwellings, of houses in rural areas, of houses in areas where the local authority owns less than a certain percentage of the housing stock, of housing in inner city areas, of housing in housing action areas, of housing in housing stress areas, of dwellings with more than a certain number of bedrooms, and so on. These are two more such amendments.

Those opposed to the right to buy take the view that if they cannot have a wide range of exclusions then the right to buy should be fettered and qualified in as many circumstances as possible. We are now dealing with further amendments of this kind which have been tabled regardless of the fact that one of the major planks upon which the Government were elected was to give the benefits of home ownership to as many public sector tenants as possible.

The case for all these amendments is based on the belief that the sale of public sector dwellings will cause the supply of housing available for reletting to dry up. I say yet again, for the "nth" time, and doubtless not for the last, that for the reasons which I have already given on a number of occasions this is just not what will happen, nor what happens in practice.

By now everybody knows that the Government have a clear commitment to giving the right to buy to council tenants. There is a small range of exclusions to the right to buy which we concluded to be absolutely necessary. There are of course the special arrangements for rural areas about which we are speaking. The need for this limited number of special provisions has been made clear from the outset —since before the general election.

These amendments would widen considerably the limitations on the right to buy. The first would enable my right honourable friend to designate any area he so wished as an area in which the safeguards of Clause 18 would apply. The second would provide what at first sight would be a more limited power to designate housing stress areas as well as rural areas for the application of the Clause 18 provisions. These amendments are not acceptable.

In practice, my right honourable friend would not wish to exercise either of the powers which the amendments would give him. It is a basic point and one which your Lordships may tire of hearing me make today and for the rest of the time that we discuss this Bill in Committee. But the Government believe that the pressures to which housing in rural areas is subjected are unique. That, and that alone, is why Clause 18 is in the Bill and that is why we shall continue to resist attempts to apply its provisions in areas which are not subjected to the same pressures.


I think that the noble Lord is not being entirely logical in his approach, quite apart from the fact that, if it was the "nth" time he said it, it must by definition be the last time, because you cannot have anything after infinity. However, that is a purely lighthearted, after dinner debating point.

The fact is that all that the noble Lord is asking for in this amendment is that the Secretary of State should have these particular powers. Admittedly, the noble Lord on the Conservative Front Bench is looking forward to a period when, since we do not have proportional representation in this country, another party will no doubt be in power—and probably the party opposite. He does not very much like the idea that the Secretary of State might then make the wrong kind of judgment. Presumably he is not mistrusting his own Secretary of State. Whatever happens, we in this country have the convention that when an Opposition gets into power it can, and it frequently does—and much too often it does under our present system—change the law.

I do not think it is really an answer that he is not prepared to give Secretaries of State this freedom in dealing with a question which has real force. Here I get away from all party points and all debating points because what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said has not yet been answered. His question concerned what is a rural area and the fact that so much depends on its feeding from local market towns, which may be rather more than market towns; it is very difficult to draw the line between what is a real rural area and what is not. Are we going to say either that the Secretary of State has powers to designate as a rural area things which quite obviously are not rural areas, or that he is totally inhibited from making these orders in areas which, although not rural, would quite clearly have exactly the same effect as if they had been rural areas—they would affect the whole question of what goes on in a rural area? I think that is a serious question to which the noble Lord should give an answer, quite apart from the preliminary one, which also was serious, but this is the main question to which we have not yet received an answer.


One can stand here and try to define a rural area but the fact is that I do not know of any definition, and I doubt whether there is one. In the past people have said that it is an area with a population of less than this or that: that is a rural area, but clearly we know of places in the heart of urban spots which are authorities of their own and, whatever else they may or may not be, no one I know would call them rural areas. Of course, I cannot give the kind of specific definition which the noble Lord would wish to have. I think we can only come back to the point which I made before, namely, that at the end of the day there are to be designations on the initiatives of one side or the other and within that the effects of Clause 18 will apply. Beyond that I do not know that I can be of help to my noble friend, and I fear that I am not able to accept these amendments.


I am extremely grateful for the support I have had from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I see that I am up against the pure milk of party doctrine, and for that reason I must accept the situation as it is and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.23 p.m.

Lord HYLTON moved Amendment No. 63:

Page 14, line 44, after ("area") insert ("or a housing stress area",).

The noble Lord said: Here we move from rural areas to the heart of the biggest cities and perhaps most especially to the heart of London. I suspect that my noble friend the Minister, while being intimately acquainted with Leeds, perhaps does not really appreciate how extremely serious the London housing situation is, and has been ever since I had any experience of it back in the middle 'sixties.

Housing stress areas have been known about since 1965, since the famous report of the Milner-Holland Committee, which was a specifically London Committee. They have been mapped out, they have been plotted. We know the sort of problems winch arise within them, such as gross overcrowding, multiple occupation, bad physical conditions of houses, lack of amenities in the area surrounding the house or street, extreme need for repairs and sometimes also complete unfitness for occupation. It is to remedy such things that we so much need to have some local authority control. As the Milner-Holland Committee so forcefully argued, local authority control is required over what happens to a particular house and why we need to avoid complete loss of control by the local authority of a house which it used to own and which has been sold to the occupant.

I think I should perhaps also mention that newly rehabilitated houses—particularly those in housing action areas, which are normally small fractions of housing stress areas—which have been rehabilitated to a high standard, normally to a Parker-Morris standard, will become highly desirable places to buy. They will be prime targets I would say of the process that has come to be known by the rather ugly name of "gentrification". I do submit that we need not only control but also the maximum number of rented properties to be kept in five years' time, in ten years' time, in however long we need to keep them, and that is really why I am asking for this Section 18 protection, particularly the repurchase protection, and particularly for such things as have already been touched on earlier—for example, the decanting of people from one house to another while improvements take place. For these reasons I beg to move this amendment.


Unemployment is something that is worrying us very much and one does feel that mobility of labour is one of the key solutions, and not a partial solution only, to this problem. If we are not going to have council rented properties in sufficient numbers mobility of labour would I think be severely penalised.


The only point I would make is this: we do in this House have extremely flexible rules of order and procedure. My noble friend has two or three times, or even four times, urged upon our Front Bench that exceptions should be made in the case of housing stress areas, and I have no objection to him making the point once. But to make it under a clause the rubric of which is "Dwelling-houses in National Parks", and to start off by asserting that he is concerned with inner cities, is really stretching our rules too far.


I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandford for what he has just said. I seem to be going round and round the same arguments all the time. I recognise that what my noble friend Lord Hylton is seeking is, if not the whole of the cake, at least part of it; if he cannot get the total exclusion at least can he get it to some extent within the pre-emption rights. A halfway house I think is what he is seeking. I fully understand the point he is making, but I would have to answer him properly by going over all the arguments again and again. There is the one about the effect that a sale does or does not have on the availability of the pool of dwellings to rent; clearly we have a difference between us, and so be it.

Another argument is that in fact if you do sell dwellings in these housing stress areas you do not lower the standard, you do exactly the opposite, you raise the standard. Another is if one is concerned about selling in these areas why are we worrying about people who, it is said, will never want to buy them because the areas are of the standard they are. We are going round and round and over the same arguments once again. I fear that in the interests of brevity, certainly not of discourtesy—as my noble friend will, I hope, agree—I would have to say that no, we cannot accept that we can take these amendments on board. We do not see that it helps the situation at all for us to deviate from the basic policy that we have laid down, in which we believe very sincerely and which we feel will not only help to bring about the situation that we have said so often we want to see, because of what happens when people buy and own their own homes, but will add to and bring up those very areas of housing stress with which my noble friend is concerned in this amendment.


I think that I have said really all that I wanted to say in moving the amendment. I do not believe that there would be any purpose in dividing the Committee, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.32 p.m.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendment No. 64: Page 14, line 44, leave out from ("and") to ("the") in line 1 on page 15, and insert ("it is executed by a local authority (as defined in section 49 of this Act), a county council, The Development Board for Rural Wales or a housing association ("the landlord")").

The noble Lord said: These amendments appear rather a formidable collection, but they have two quite simple aims. The first is to remove the need for housing associations to obtain the consent of the local authority before attaching the so-called "locality covenant" to a right to buy sale in any of the areas with which Clause 18 is concerned. The "locality covenant" imposes the condition set out in subsection (3), that a future purchaser should have lived or worked in the locality for three years or more. On reflection we felt that housing associations should generally be free to make up their own minds as to the desirability of imposing this condition; though doubtless they will wish to take into account the views of the local authority concerned which will itself be making right to buy sales, and may be attaching this condition.

The second aim of these amendments is to enable housing associations and county councils to attach pre-emption rights to sales in these areas. A number of those concerned with housing associations, including especially my noble friend Lord Lonsdale, have put it to us that housing associations should be given the same powers as local authorities to attach pre-emption rights. We have accepted their view, and the amendments accordingly enable housing associations to attach 10-year pre-emption rights, pre-emption being at the current market value of the dwelling. We have also given the same powers to county councils who will, for these purposes, be exercising their reserve powers as local housing authorities.

Because of these two changes of substance the same powers will be given to all landlords whose tenants in rural areas will have the right to buy. We have therefore taken the opportunity to simplify the drafting of the clause by making some other amendments. I commend them all to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Viscount GAGE

I think that we should be grateful to the Government for allowing housing associations these rights. It is a fairly complicated formula. I doubt whether it will ever persuade new housing associations to form themselves with the object of providing new accommodation for rent. That is a question which I keep on asking. I cannot find anybody who is able to answer it. Who is to supply new accommodation to let in rural areas, and particularly in the areas of outstanding natural beauty?

I have said that we do not want our rural villages to remain museum pieces; there must be somebody to supply some new accommodation for rent. I suppose that my noble friend Lord Bellwin will say that the council is the answer. It is a nice idea but I doubt, in the circumstances, whether—in view of the restricted powers of local authorities to spend money—we shall get much done. I wish the Government would consider giving special rights to new housing associations without any complicated formula attached to them. The associations might then start to provide this accommodation.


I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Gage. I hope that it will not arise on this occasion, because we are taking into account what the housing associations want.

I was rather remiss in moving this amendment in that I failed to point out that what I had been speaking to also applies to Amendments Nos. 65, 66, 67, 69, 72, 73, 74 and 75. I apologise for not having mentioned that before. I hope that my noble friend Lord Gage will take on board the point that we are doing what we think is right for these areas at the request of the housing associations themselves.


With your Lordships' permission, I shall take the next three amendments together.

9.36 p.m.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendments Nos. 65, 66 and 67: Page 15, leave out lines 4 to 7. Page 15 line 9, leave out ("local authority, county council or Board") and insert ("landlord"). Page 15, line 12, leave out ("local authority, county council or Board") and insert ("landlord").

Lord HYLTON moved Amendment No. 68: Page 15, line 26, at end insert— ("or (c) is a person whom the local authority considers to have a local housing need").

The noble Lord said: We now return to rural areas and in subsection (3) of this clause we have laid down in paragraphs (a) and (b) the sort of people who will be entitled to purchase when there is a limitation on transfer imposed by the local authority which originally owned the house. By means of my amendment I seek to add one more category. I venture to believe that this is rather an important amendment. I am trying to cover people who need to live in a particular place for family reasons or for some other special reason. For instance, it may be that a person needs to move to be near his or her elderly parents in order to look after them in their old age; perhaps a person has to move in order to care for a disabled person. Therefore, there is a whole category of social reasons.

There is another category as important but quite different and that comprises key workers and people able to fulfil particular industrial and commercial functions. In the villages it also includes such people as district nurses, home helps, school teachers and school caretakers. I believe that the local authority is the suitable body to reach a conclusion on who should qualify within the kind of categories that I have already mentioned. I hope that it will be agreed that this amendment goes some way towards improving the Bill. I beg to move.


This amendment bears on one of the two safeguards which a landlord may impose when a tenant buys as of right in a national park, area of outstanding beauty or other designated rural area. Under the safeguard, where a purchaser or his successor in title wishes to resell he must obtain the consent of the landlord, but that consent is not to be withheld if the prospective purchaser had worked or lived in a local designated area for the preceding three years. The amendment would mean that the consent to sell should not be withheld, either, if the prospective purchaser is a person whom the local authority considers to have a local housing need. My noble friend instanced the case of a child wishing to live near his parents, or some such situation as that.

I think that on this occasion my noble friend will be pleased with what the Government are about to say. We do not think that amendment is necessary to bring about what my noble friend intends. The landlord may give his consent to resale of a house even if the prospective purchaser is not someone to whom the clause says he must consent. If the landlord judges that someone should be allowed to buy the house because he has a local housing need, even if he has not lived or worked locally, as the clause stands he can allow the purchase to go ahead. I trust that the noble Lord will agree that Clause 18 is already flexible enough in this respect and will therefore be able to withdraw his amendment.


I am extremely reassurred by what my noble friend has said. I am delighted to hear that my amendment is not necessary because the power exists already within the hands of the local authority. I am glad to see him nodding his head to that. With the leave of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Amendment No. 69. I must advise your Lordships that if this amendment is carried I shall not be able to put Amendment No. 70.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 15, leave out lines 27 and 28 and insert— ("(4) If the Secretary of State or, where the landlord is a housing association, the Housing Corporation, consents, the").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this with Amendment No. 64. I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

9.41 p.m.

Lord HYLTON moved Amendment No. 71: Page 15, line 31, leave out ("ten") and insert ("thirty").

The noble Lord said: I am glad to say that I think this is my final amendment on this clause. It concerns the period over which restrictions can be imposed. My submission is that 10 years, as is currently written into the Bill, is far too short a time. It is too short to give the opportunity for judging the effects of what will happen as a result of the restrictions and limitations laid down. I think I am right in saying that further legislation would be necessary in order to change that 10-year period, and that is why I suggest that from the start we should write into the Bill now a much longer period.

Let us look at what might happen in eight or nine years' time. If the Bill says 10 years is the period and after that there are no restrictions at all, it seems to me that there is a grave danger that a person who wants to sell will in fact hold on, and the sort of thing that they might do during the one or two years remaining of the restricted term is to let the house, for instance, as a holiday let or as a furnished let, or use it in some temporary way until they get clear of the restricted period. It is partly to avoid expedients of this kind that I propose a much longer period. I beg to move.


This amendment seeks to extend the pre-emption safeguard in rural areas from 10 to 30 years. But the condition is surely effective enough as it is. The ADC, who have lobbied most effectively on this matter of rural areas and safeguards for them, asked for a 10-year right of pre-emption, and that is what the clause gives. I cannot accept that what we have heard gives any new basis for extending this. The fact is that any pre-emption condition is a harsh imposition on the purchaser. Although the condition may not affect the purchase price the house may fetch, the purchaser does not have the home owner's usual freedom to sell to whom he pleases. He may wish very much to sell to a particular person.

One could go on about this but it is far too much, and I think that 10 years is surely long enough. Just think, for 10 years you have bought the house, with all that goes with that, but you may not dispose of it. I think that this is quite long enough, and I feel that we shall have to reject the amendment unless my noble friend feels able in the circumstances to withdraw it.


May I ask my noble friend the Minister what he envisages actually happening after the expiry of the 10-year period?


That is not the point. We are here talking about the Government's intention to give a right to buy, with all that flows from that and all we have discussed at length about what a right to buy means.

The tenant has bought his home in which he has lived for certainly not less than three years. For the next 10 whole years he cannot dispose of it other than to the local authority. He certainly cannot sell it on, and presumably he would not wish to do so; he has bought it presumably only because he and his family have lived there for a long time and wish to go on doing so. As to what will happen after 10 years, who can say? It would depend on the individual circumstances in each case. Remember, too, that we are talking about rural areas where, we have been told—I am sure this is right—people wish to live as communities. I accept that. And they want to go on living as communities. Why, therefore, should these same people, whom we are told wish to live as communities, want at the end of 10 years to break up that community atmosphere? I understand the point my noble friend is concerned about and I respect his view, but we could not possibly dream of moving beyond 10 years, least of all to 30 years.


It goes without saying that I find my noble friend's reply extremely disappointing. It seems to me that after the 10-year period there will be a free-for-all, and it will be at its most vicious within the national parks and areas of outstanding beauty. Having said that, I have no wish to press the amendment, faced with the resolute opposition I meet, and accordingly I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.47 p.m

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendments Nos. 72, 73, 74 and 75 en bloc: Page 15, line 35, leave out("local authority or Board") and insert ("landlord"). Page 15, line 41, leave out ("local authority or Board") and insert ("landlord"). Page 15,line 43, leave out from beginning to ("thinks") in line 44 and insert— ("(5) The consent of the Secretary of State or of the Housing Corporation under subsection (4) may be given subject to such conditions as he or, as the case may be, the Housing Corporation.").

Page 16, line 7, leave out ("local authority or Board") and insert ("landlord").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 64. I beg to move.

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 75A: Page 16, line 36, at end insert ("and for the purposes of this section the grant of an option enabling a person to call for a disposal falling within subsection (8) above shall be treated as such a disposal made to him and a consent to such a grant as a consent to a disposal made in pursuance of the option.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this with Amendment No. 28A. I beg to move.

On Question, Whether Clause 18, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


I am sure it will be the wish of all who have been or are involved in the voluntary housing movement to join with the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, in expressing to the Minister our appreciation of the confidence he has shown in the voluntary housing movement. That will be a tremendous fillip to those working in the movement, and I am sure we all wish to express our thanks.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord.

Clauses 19 to 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Secretary of State's power to intervene]:

9.49 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 76:

Page 18, line 1, after ("so") insert ("and of his reasons for doing so").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment deals with the core of the clause, which gives the Secretary of State unprecedented powers to interfere with local government. We believe it is only right that before he exercises those powers he should be obliged to give some sort of justification for their use. Surely that is in accordance with the ordinary principles of justice. Let us review the powers, which we consider are unacceptable, that the clause gives the Secretary of State. First, the Secretary of State can, after serving his notice, go beyond even the powers that Parliament is being asked to give in order to allow the right to buy. He can do that by virtue of subsection (7), under which he may require the taking of steps different from those the landlord would have been required to take.

The Secretary of State can then require the landlord to produce any document or supply any information, under subsection (5), and he can require officers of the council to do so even if they are not instructed to do so by their employers. He can take over on behalf of a council its mortgage payments and refuse to return the money he obtains to the council whose property was sold, except at his pleasure. That comes under subsection (4). By virtue of Clause 23 the Secretary of State can actually transfer to the tenant the ownership of property built and paid for in the main by local councils. Finally, the Secretary of State can charge the council such sums as he may determine for the cost of compulsorily seizing and selling its property over its head. That is under subsection (9).

What conditions are laid down for the exercise of such powers?—powers which any Conservative Government would condemn as monstrous if applied to private property rather than to that held in the public trust. The only condition is that the Secretary of State himself shall believe that the right to buy "may have difficulty" in being exercised "effectively and expeditiously".

Such a vaguely worded clause, with absolutely no checks on the decision of the Secretary of State, is a fundamental attack on the principle of local autonomy. In fact, it is another attack on the principle of local councils managing their own property, and I urge the Government to accept this modest and moderate amendment to what is a most objectionable clause. In other words, if such huge powers are taken by the Secretary of State, he should at least give his reasons. The amendment proposes the insertion of the words and of his reasons for doing so",

and I believe goes to the heart of the whole clause. I beg to move.

9.53 p.m.


I wish to follow my noble friend in supporting the amendment, which stands in my name, too, and to add a point about the importance of the arguments for giving reasons before central Government step in in the draconian way in which they can under the clause. I believe two principles are involved. There is the principle of natural justice, which dictates that wherever any person or body is to be subject to severe penalties, he or they should be entitled to know why that is happening, and should have the opportunity to make representations upon the reasons that are given and, if such are mistaken or erroneous, to be able to say so in good time. The second principle is the principle that the people of the area whose authority is being taken over in this way should have the right to know why that is happening.

My noble friend has spelled out the very considerable powers which are granted by the clause: the power to receive mortgage moneys; the power to give orders to local authority staff; and the power to exact the costs of the exercise, upon assumptions which are wholly undetermined and vague, thus putting a burden on the ratepayers. It would be possible to do all that in what I suggest would be the most indecent haste. There is no provision for consultation, nor for advance notice being given. The axe falls, as it were, within 72 hours of the notice being put in the post. The authority is given no opportunity to answer, nor to give its views, before the notice is imposed. One is forgiven for thinking that that shows an advance intention for central Government to act as a steamroller against those authorities which are thought likely to be obstructive to this Part of the Bill.

It is interesting to compare what is being done in this Bill with what was done by a Conservative Government in what I think was the last Housing Act that they passed, the Housing Finance Act 1972. That Act included a power to require councils to put up the rents, and it vested in central Government a power to impose its own authority in default, if any authority was recalcitrant. It gave rise to the Clay Cross affair, which caused considerable heat. But in that Act there was an advance provision (and I should like to read it, if I may) as follows: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, before making an order, to give notice in writing to the authority concerned that he is considering whether to make such order, and to have regard to any representations made to him by the authority within one month of the notification".

That, I would suggest, is the sort of way to go about it; and if the Minister indicates that some sort of advance consultation procedure will be considered by his department, then I am sure we shall not insist upon this amendment to give reasons. But, alternatively, the need to give reasons would serve much the same effect.


I do not make any apology for sounding once again like a Greek chorus in relation to these various amendments being moved concerning the erosion of the powers of local government, but this seems to me to be a very serious example of the cavalier way in which, in this Bill, the Government are treating local authorities. I feel very strongly that, as the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, the least that the Government should do is to consult local authorities when they are about to deprive them of part of their resources. It seems to me that the Government should remember that on the very self-same day on which they got their alleged mandate for this enormous Bill and the draconian measures that they have introduced, local council elections were being held in which people were elected as councillors on an entirely different mandate. They really should consider this very seriously, and should give very serious and long thought to what they may be doing to local government.

As I say, I make no apology for persistently complaining about that because I happen to have spent a quarter of a century in local government and I think that local government is extremely important to the health of this country, and that if we erode local government to a point we are well on the way to creating very much a centralised and undemocratic state. So, once again, I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to accepting this very reasonable and very democratic amendment.


Before I come to the points that have been raised by noble Lords opposite on this amendment, I want to repeat an important point which has rightly been stressed by the Government throughout the proceedings on this Bill in another place. It is that the powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 22 are reserve powers. The Government hope and believe that local authorities, even if they are out of sympathy with the aims of the Bill, will make every genuine effort to carry out responsibly and conscientiously the statutory duties which it will impose on them. If they do so, then occasions on which the Secretary of State's powers under this clause need to be used will rarely, if ever, arise. I hope that your Lordships will keep this fact in mind while this clause is under discussion.

The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, would require the Secretary of State to give, in any notice under subsection (1) of Clause 22, his reasons for using his powers under the clause. In fact, his justification for doing so would always be the same; and it is laid down in subsection (1) of the clause itself. A notice would he served because it appeared to the Secretary of State that the tenant or tenants in question had or might have difficulty in exercising the right to buy effectively and expeditiously. If your Lordships will bear with me, I shall explain why I believe that no landlord on whom a notice was served would be likely to be in doubt about the circumstances leading, to service in any particular case.

It would have been necessary for the case to have been raised with the Secretary of State as one where the use of his powers under the clause might be appropriate. Where the possibility was pursued, there would he contact between the department and the local authority concerned, either about the circumstances of the individual case or of the broader class of cases within which it fell. The authority would he aware at that stage, if not earlier, of the factors which had led to the reference of the case or cases to the Secretary of State.

My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction also undertook, when the clause was discussed in another place, that administrative steps would always be taken to forewarn the authority concerned where the service of a notice under Clause 22 was contemplated. By the time any notice came to be served, the local authority would have been made aware that such a step was contemplated, and why, and would have had an opportunity to tell the department of any relevant factors of which it felt the Secretary of State ought to be aware. Against this background, I cannot envisage that any authority will not know why the Secretary of State has served a notice.

To comment briefly on the observations made, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said that this was a cavalier way to behave and Lord Gifford said that there was no provision for consultation. What I have said ought in practice to convince them that the point is well covered. The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, referred to Clay Cross. The fact that it was entirely on its own, out of all that arose from that Act, was a good sign. The fact that it was what it was, with all that it led to, and the fact that it was deplored by almost everybody that I met in local government, on all sides, augurs very well. The fact is there had been so many noises made, so much insistence that the legislation would not be carried out. I am sure this is one of the factors that have led to this whole position being what it is.

The fact is that I have to come back to saying—and I ask the Committee to bear with me repeating it—that this is such a fundamental part of the Government's policy that, if there is to be any prospect of any authority not going along with it, really avoiding the statutory obligations, the Government will have to have the power to intervene. This whole discussion at the moment is about the extent to which they have to give reasons and notice. The points I made are valid. No authority will in practice find, out of the blue, that the Government have served a notice on them about something they know not of. If they have been pursuing a policy of not complying with the legislation, in the remote chance that that would happen, they would know what they were doing. They would know that they would be open to receive the kind of notice we are talking about. If they have been, to the best of their knowledge, conforming to what is required under the Act, they need not have fears or anxieties about that. I do not think this is an amendment we can accept. I do not think that the fears fairly expressed by noble Lords have any validity. In practical terms, the need to give the kind of reasons in the way suggested will not arise. Those involved will know what is happening.


What the noble Lord is saying is an argument for this amendment. He is saying that in any event his Government would wish to give some kind of notice and to make clear their reasons. I would ask the noble Lord this: will he look at the various other provisions existing on the statute book for central Government to intervene in local authority affairs? I am quite sure that he will find the sort of provision written into the law, such as I have quoted from the Housing Finance Act 1972, which makes it the normal thing to serve some kind of notice or to request consultation before coming down finally and imposing these sanctions. If that is the practice, as I believe it is, before such reserve powers are used, then it ought to be written into the Bill and not left to the goodwill of central Government to come in when they want. At the least, the people of the area ought to know in greater detail than the Act sets out why these powers are being used, so that they can judge whether central Government or local government are right in their actions.


I am not at all convinced; at the same time I recognise the point of view being put forward. I cannot accept the amendment. I do not agree with it and I do not think that it is necessary, but I am prepared to do the very thing that the noble Lord suggested and talk to my colleagues about it. Beyond that I cannot go. That I will undertake to do.

Baroness BIRK

As the Minister has said that, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Vesting Orders]:

10.5 p.m.

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendments Nos. 77 to 84 en bloc: Page 19, line 39, leave out subsection (2) and insert— ("(2) A vesting order shall have the like effect, except so far as it otherwise provides, as a conveyance or grant duly executed in pursuance of this Chapter, and, in particular, shall bind the landlord and the tenant and their successors in title to the same extent as if the covenants contained in it and expressed to be made on their behalf respectively had been entered into by them.")

Page 20, line 3, at end insert— ("(2A) If the dwelling-house in respect of which a vesting order is made is not registered land the vesting order shall contain a certificate stating that the freehold conveyed or grant made by it is subject only to such incumbrances, rights and interests as are stated elsewhere in the vesting order or summarised in the certificate.")

Page 20, line 7, at end insert (" and for the purpose of the registration the Chief Land Registrar shall accept any such certificate as is mentioned in subsection (2A) above as sufficient evidence of the facts stated in it.")

Page 20,line 10, after ("him") insert ("(on payment of the appropriate fee)")

Page 20, line 13, at end insert ("and shall (notwithstanding section 112 of the Land Registration Act 1925) allow any person authorised by the Secretary of State to inspect and make copies of and extracts from any register or document which is in the custody of the Chief Land Registrar and relates to the dwelling-house.")

Page 20, line 14, leave out ("by reason of the operation of a vesting order") and insert ("in consequence of a registration under this section")

Page 20, line 17, after ("1925") insert ("by the Chief Land Registrar")

Page 20, line 19, after ("shall") insert ("instead")

The noble Lord said: May I move Amendments Nos. 77 to 84 en bloc. Clause 23 provides the Secretary of State with a means of completing transactions in relation to which he has used his powers of intervention under Clause 22. He is to be able to do this by means of a document to be known as a vesting order containing such provisions as he may determine. A vesting order will take the place of the conveyance of a freehold or grant of a lease in a normal transaction, because the landlord will not he executing the document.

Amendments Nos. 77, 78 and 79 are technical amendments designed to ensure that the system of land registration works in the same way for vesting orders as it does for conveyances or grants duly executed under Chapter I of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 82 to 84 are consequential on these amendments and Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 are designed to remove any doubts there may be about the Chief Land Registrar's power to charge for office copies supplied to the Secretary of State for the purposes of the right to buy and concerning inspection by persons authorised by the Secretary of State of any register relating to any dwelling-house subject to the right to buy.

The new subsection (2A) which would be inserted by Amendment No. 78 is consequential on a new subsection (2). It would apply where the title to the dwelling-house which was the subject of a vesting order was not registered. In such cases, the vesting order is to contain a certificate stating that the freehold conveyed or grant made by it is subject only to such encumbrances, rights and interests as are stated in the order or summarised in the certificate.

This amendment achieves two things. First, it gives a basis for registration of title to the dwelling-house comparable to the basis provided by a conventional conveyance or grant of a lease. This is necessary now that the vesting order no longer in itself vests title in the purchaser. Amendment No. 79 provides that the Chief Land Registrar shall accept the certificate as sufficient evidence of the facts stated in it. Secondly, it ensures that the purchaser receives a good title on registration and that the purchaser only takes the property subject to the encumbrances, rights and interests in the certificate or order.

Amendment No. 79 provides that he shall accept a certificate included in a vesting order under subsection (2A) as sufficient evidence of the facts stated in it. Amendment No. 80 is a minor amendment which simply ensures that the Chief Land Registrar will be entitled to his usual fee where he supplies the Secretary of State with office copies of relevant documents under subsection (4).

Amendment No. 81 is also minor and technical. There is a basic restriction in the Land Registration Act 1925 on who is permitted in inspect and take copies of documents held by the Land Registry. Normally, a third party must be authorised to do so by the registered proprietor. This is clearly not appropriate when an intervention has taken place under Clause 22. Amendment No. 81 accordingly assures the right of the Secretary of State or a person authorised by him to inspect and make copies of the register or documents in the custody of the Land Registrar.

Amendments Nos. 82, 83 and 84 are minor amendments to the indemnity provisions in subsection (5). Amendment No. 82 is a straightforward consequential of Amendment No. 77. Amendments Nos. 83 and 84 simply underline that any indemnity paid under Clause 23 is to be paid by the Secretary of State and not by the Chief Land Registrar as it would in any other case. I beg to move.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 24 [Statutory Declarations]:

10.10 p.m.

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 20, line 21, leave out ("may if it") and insert ("or the Secretary of State may, if the landlord or Secretary of State")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this minor amendment. It is designed simply to place beyond any doubt the Secretary of State's ability to rely on a statutory declaration in the exercise of his powers under Clause 22, in the same way as a local authority is enabled to do by Clause 24 as it is drafted. I hope that it is a power which we will never need to invoke. I beg to move.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Interpretation of Chapter 1]:

On Question, Whether Clause 26 shall stand part of the Bill?

10.12 p.m.


This clause is the last clause in Chapter 1 of Part I. It is curious that whereas Chapter 2 of Part I and the rest of this Bill and most of most Bills have cross-headings above groups of sections, we find that Chapter 1 goes all the way through from the beginning of Clause 1 to the end of Clause 26 without a single italicised sub-heading. I know that italicised sub-headings are not part of the Bill but they are very helpful, and I should have thought that the draftsmen might have been able to assist readers by setting out these first 26 clauses in the customary way with some italicised cross-headings.


I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I am not quite sure as to what I can do to help, but I gladly undertake to take this away and see whether it would be helpful and possible to do this.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Tenancies which are not secure tenancies]:

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 86:

Page 100, line 8, at end insert— (",unless it is a shared ownership tenancy. (3) For the purposes of this paragraph a tenancy is a "shared ownership tenancy" if—

  1. (a) it is granted by a housing association which, at the time of the grant, is registered under section 13 of the 1974 Act;
  2. (b) it is granted at a premium which is calculated by reference to a percentage of the value of the dwelling-house or of the cost of providing it; and
  3. 153
  4. (c) at the time it is granted it complies with the requirements of the regulations then in force under section 132(4)(b) of this Act or, in the case of a tenancy granted before any such regulations have been brought into force, it complies with the first such regulations to be in force.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is another technical amendment to ensure that leasehold schemes for the elderly—a form of housing association shared ownership scheme—are not caught by the tenants' charter. It is not, of course, intended that shared ownership schemes, either housing association or local authority, should fall within the scope of the charter, and all but leaseholds for the elderly are already excluded either by virtue of being long leases and falling within exclusion No. 1 or as co-owner-ships. Leasehold for the elderly, however, takes the form of a life lease terminable by notice upon the leaseholder's death, when it reverts to the housing association which has granted the lease. The leaseholder's estate benefits from the value of the lease but the property itself, which is sheltered accommodation, is guaranteed for continued use by elderly people. Such leases are likely to fall within sub-paragraph (2)(b) of the exclusion for long leases and will thus come within the charter. Since this is clearly inappropriate, the amendment specifically excludes from the charter housing association shared ownership schemes, which would otherwise be caught by sub-paragraph (2)(b). I trust that your Lordships will be able to accept this amendment.

Viscount GAGE

I do not understand the amendment, but I am very grateful to my noble friend.

10.15 p.m.

Viscount CRAIGAVON moved Amendment No. 87: Page 100, line 19, at end insert ("except that in the case of a dwellinghouse held by a local authority other than under Part V of the Housing Act 1957 a tenancy is not a secure tenancy if the dwellinghouse was provided as a consequence of his contract of employment.").

The noble Viscount said: This amendment attempts to anticipate and forestall problems that could arise for local authorities under this Bill, as it now stands, in relation to security of tenure of residential staff within local authority institutions. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which supports this amendment, has received worried representations from many of its authorities of all political colours, among others from Islington, Hammersmith, Bexley, Hillingdon and Newcastle. My own borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the borough of Ealing are particularly affected.

The situation which they fear is that accommodation for staff which is now regarded as integral to an institution—by "an institution" I am talking about a children's home, an old people's home, or possibly a home for disturbed adolescents—could become filled with people who have nothing whatsoever to do with that institution. These people could be former employees who have decided to change jobs, their relatives or their immediate successors in the tenancy. These people would have no obligations or responsibilities to that institution and yet the law would have given them security of tenure within it. Not only is that an incongruous situation, but also that accommodation is then not available for benefit of social workers actually working in that institution. I cannot believe that anyone on any side of the Committee would desire that situation, nor that it is the conscious intention of the Government to allow it to arise.

Can I now justify why I say these problems will arise from the Bill as it now stands? The difficulty arises from the uncertainty of the wording in the Bill at page 100, line 19: …for the better performance of his duties".

When this is interpreted in the real world of local authority recruitment and practice a large grey area springs up related to the benefit of and necessity for residential accommodation for staff. Although I am giving examples in terms of the area of main concern—that is social work—this will also apply to other local authority employees such as park-keepers, cemetery attendants and so on, if they live in special housing related to their particular jobs. I should say that in my amendment I exclude what are normally referred to as council houses by mentioning Part V of the 1957 Housing Act.

To go back to the social workers and the grey area of interpretation, the difficult question is this. To what extent is it necessary or desirable for social workers to be residential within their institutions? In practice, local authorities have to be flexible in recruitment, and often offering accommodation is a considerable incentive. But also they are happy to accept a new recruit who lives nearby or who does not wish to be a resident in a very run-down area. Thus an original recruitment specification may leave open the necessity for residence. The authority are simply pleased to get a suitable candidate. If the eventually successful candidate does take up residence he will have very strong proof in the terms of his recruitment that the necessity for that residence is merely incidental and that his duties are in no significant way bettered by his residence.

There are many examples of such problems, but I should like to give just two more. I understand it is often the practice to frame the hours of work of a residential social worker in his contract of employment as ending at, say, 5 p.m., 5.30 p.m. or whatever. It is probably not a condition of service that he does anything after that time; technically he is off duty. But inevitably he will put in extra hours and also be available in times of illness, emergency or fire. But if he wanted to prove that his residence was incidental to his job he could point to his hours of work in his contract as being due to end at 5.30 p.m.

As a last example, there might be a modern children's home with, say, three self-contained staff flats. It would probably be agreed that the senior warden had to be in residence for the better performance of his duties. But the two resident junior wardens could, perhaps, point down the road to an older children's home of similar size which had only one staff residence, but two equivalent junior wardens living out, and they could claim that the fact of their own residence was thus incidental.

In all these examples and many more, staff who left the employment of the local authority would seem to have a strong case under the Bill as it now stands for establishing security of tenure in the middle of institutions. I say "in the middle of institutions", but uncertainty would be increased if the staff accommodation was adjacent to or in the same grounds as a main building. Sometimes, what I have referred to as an institution would simply be a large house with everyone living in close proximity.

In all these examples, it would seem totally inappropriate for a complete stranger to have security of tenure in the midst of what are often sensitive and difficult circumstances. This would also deprive the old, the young and often the disturbed and handicapped of vital residential staff. It would seem to me even more inappropriate if the right to buy obtained in such circumstances. Additionally, recruiting of replacement social workers would be hindered by the inability to offer residential accommodation. This ability to offer staff accommodation is vital in high-rent areas, particularly London.

This amendment seeks to cure the problems that I have outlined. It effectively substitutes, for the uncertain words "for the better performance of his duties" the clearer criterion of the residence being in "consequence of his contract of employment." This would give a local authority a modest degree of certainty that its institutional social services would not be hindered by chance secure tenancies arising randomly, in quite inappropriate circumstances. Local authorities would, nevertheless, be under a prima facie duty to rehouse any families and their children in the normal way, thus leaving residential accommodation within institutions for the proper and beneficial use for which it was intended.

Finally, I should say that I have concentrated on the problems of local authorities. I should think that similar problems occur in organisations mentioned in paragraph 2(1)(b) to (e) of Schedule 3. I hope, if the Government were able to take on board the general principle of my amendment, that they would be able to extend it to those other organisations. I also hope that the Government will accept that this part of the Bill, as it now stands, is in danger of placing even more strain on our hard-pressed local authorities, and that this small amendment to the Bill now will avoid considerable difficulties in the future. I beg to move.

10.23 p.m.


Very briefly, I hope to add my support to the amendment moved by the noble Viscount. It is of very vital importance indeed that this lacuna in the wording of the schedule should be filled. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, must have been very impressed by the ground put forward by the noble Viscount, which is one supported by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of which the noble Lord has no doubt had long and personal experience. I should have thought that this was a very important lacuna to be filled. It does not affect housing revenue account houses; it merely affects Part V houses. There could be some very embarrassing unintentional results if this amendment is not accepted, and I hope that it will be.


I should like to add my support to the noble Viscount's amendment, and to confirm that this amendment and the one that follows it are supported not only by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the London Borough Authorities, but the Association of District Councils. So it has the support of all three sets of housing authorities. That being so, I hope my noble friend will indicate that it has his sympathy and that he will, at least, consider it, if he cannot accept it straight away.


It seems, from everything that has been said, that the noble Viscount has raised an extremely important point. I just wonder whether he should have drawn his amendment even wider to include voluntary bodies which employ residential social workers. I am thinking of bodies like Doctor Barnardo's Homes or the Church of England Children's Society. If my noble friend the Minister can reassure us that the voluntary bodies do not need the same protection as the statutory ones, that will be fine.

10.25 p.m.


The very last point touched upon by my noble friend Lord Hylton gives the clue to the reason why the Government cannot accept these amendments. When one starts to bring in one group of people, then one wants to bring in another and another and another, and the basic objectives of the Bill become undermined.

The amendment seeks to widen one of the exclusions from security of tenure which have been carefully drawn so that no tenant is deprived of his security and other charter rights unnecessarily. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 excludes from security tenancies in dwellings occupied under a contract of employment which requires a tenant to live in that particular dwelling for the better performance of his duties. This is a deliberately tight test. It should cover employees such as caretakers of blocks of flats or wardens of sheltered housing schemes. In such cases, which fall within this exclusion, it is clearly important for the landlord to be able to get possession of the dwelling for the use of the next person to take the job.

If an employee genuinely needs to be resident, then this exclusion is, in our view, perfectly adequate for management's needs. If, however, there is no cause for a particular dwelling to be occupied, because of the demands of the job, by a person doing a certain job, then I can see no sufficient reason why the dwelling should not be available for letting under a secure tenancy. It is up to the employer to make up his mind about the particular job.

I realise that there are some dwellings situated within special establishments, such as old people's homes, where from time to time the deputy warden's flat, for example, may be let to somebody else working in the home because the deputy lives around the corner. I realise that it could be awkward if it came to be occupied on a secure tenancy by an employee who later ends his connection with the establishment or even with his landlord. In those circumstances, it must be up to the authority to consider carefully the terms on which they let the dwelling in the first place. Particular conditions as to noise and behaviour might, for example, be called for in a dwelling within an old person's home. They will also want carefully to consider whether such an employee's contract of employment should have something to say about the tenancy in case it really is necessary for the better performance of his duties. If it is not necessary but they are intent upon not leaving the fiat empty and on being able to gain repossession later, they might find it safer to let to somebody in one of the excluded categories of tenant, such as somebody moving into the area for job reasons—which might include another social worker. I am assuming that they cannot use it to accommodate a resident of the home itself.

I understand that problems may sometimes arise but I do not think that they are beyond the scope of intelligent management to deal with, and I do not think they justify a further substantial exclusion from security. In other words, what I am seeking to demonstrate is that there is considerable room for manoeuvre left for them by the Bill as it is drafted.

I turn now to the broader point touched upon by the noble Viscount: that dwellings are sometimes offered as an incentive to attract scarce staff in circumstances where their residence in a particular dwelling could not by any means be said to be essential to the job. It seems to me that in those cases, even more so, security of tenure ought not normally to be denied. Often such lettings are in Part V accommodation, so the amendment would not bite on them in any case, but if it did I should be obliged to oppose it, especially since the right to buy would then also be in question.

I hope that the noble Viscount will appreciate that we have gone very carefully into the sort of difficulties he foresees. We do not want to remove from security any more people than is really necessary. I hope that he will now accept that there is adequate provision in the Bill for the exclusion of tenants in genuine tied accommodation. There is a balance of advantage to be struck here between the management needs of local authorities as employers and the advantages to the tenant and his family of security of tenure and the other important rights of tenants. We believe that the right distinction to make is between those dwellings which are really inseparably linked with the job and the rest.

It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said, that I had an association in the past with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. Indeed 13 months ago I was vice-chairman of the association and I am cognisant of their many concerns and fears, not necessarily about this Bill but indeed about all legislation which Governments have tried to bring in over the years. I think it right that they should bring forth that which concerns them, in the same way as does my noble friend Lord Sandford on behalf of the ADC, but in this case we have really tried to consider the kind of problems which have been worrying them. I think that in fact the Bill gives adequate provision for them to be able to cover those aspects which worry them, and, with that in mind, I hope the noble Viscount may feel able not to pursue his amendment.

Baroness BIRK

The Minister will be surprised to hear that I consider the Government have got it right this time. It follows very much the lines of the Rent (Agriculture) Act, which, although it gave rise to misgivings in advance, in the end worked out very well. I think that it should be left as it is and I hope the noble Viscount will withdraw his amendment.


I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has said. He said that he was striking a balance of advantage. I am wondering whether he realised what is in one of the balances. As I said earlier, this is a grey area, and he seems to rely on the fact that everyone will behave sensibly and will be perfectly reasonable. One would hope that would be so, but I have given three examples which would produce extremely awkward situations. I should have thought they were examples of the sort of difficulties which would face local authorities, and it seems to me that the noble Lord also relies on the courts interpreting in a common sense way the words "for the better performance of his duties".

If that were so we should all be all right, but what I think will happen is that the courts will be compelled to develop some sort of standard in which a lot of the cases, examples of which I have given, will slip through and there will be anomalies of these institutions being populated by complete strangers and outsiders, although admittedly that will take some time. That is a situation which I do not find acceptable, but I should like to read the noble Lord's words to see what comfort I can draw out of them, and possibly come back at the next stage if I do not feel satisfied. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.34 p.m.

Baroness FAITHFULL moved Amendment No. 88: Page 100, line 28, at end insert— (" (2) A tenancy is not a secure tenancy if the dwelling-house has been acquired for rehabilitation and the dwelling-house is used by the landlord, pending rehabilitation, as temporary housing accommodation.")

The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment which concerns two different but interrelated issues. The first issue concerns certain categories of people who do not qualify under this Bill for insecure tenancies, that is short-term tenancies. The second issue concerns short-life properties acquired ultimately not for development but for rehabilitation, and used temporarily for those in the certain categories.

The categories of people who do not qualify for insecure tenancies to which I refer are, for instance, single people, many of them young secretaries, teachers, shop assistants, bank clerks. Then there are the young married couples whose names are on the local authority waiting list but who may have to wait one, two or perhaps even three years. There are the young, or even older, people transferred by their firms to another place, who require simply short-term accommodation. Finally perhaps, as another example, there is the single woman who has been looking after her parents or parent, and who, when they die, then has to move out of her home; she needs time to look for permanent accommodation and in the meantime needs temporary accommodation.

These categories, particularly the young working people at the beginning of their career, cannot immediately afford the accommodation at present offered either on the open market or as lodgers with council houses. These are the people who are assisted by the housing associations as well as by local authorities in short-life, often substandard, property. If they are not allowed to qualify as insecure tenants under this Bill, then a housing association or a local authority is not going to be able to offer them short-life, substandard accommodation as there will be an obligation to rehouse them when the time comes to rehabilitate the house. The London and Quadrant Housing Trust yielded 2,500 lettings in five years; the Patchwork Housing Trust have 1,000 such lettings. I have heard from the Fairhaven Trust and I am informed by the National Federation of Housing Associations of the very serious needs of these categories of people.

I am particularly concerned that, through lack of local authority and government financial support, hostels offering accommodation to the young working person are closing down. My noble friend Lady Vickers is particularly worried over this, as I know that three of her London hostels have just lately had to close down. These outstanding and sometimes small housing trusts running as voluntary organisations do much to help this category of person with their short-life, substandard property.

My second point concerns property which is short-life, often substandard property which the housing trusts have made minimally habitable, as the tenants are short-term. Under Schedule 3, paragraph 3, the definition of property acquired for development relates to Section 22 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, but—and this is the rub—does not include property scheduled to be improved and rehabilitated. The housing trusts and indeed local authorities have much property which is to be improved when finances allow. The Bill does not allow houses scheduled to be rehabilitated to be used for insecure tenants.

I know that the contention of the Minister's right honourable friend in another place was, during the debate in the other place, that the use of such properties for the categories stated would or might contravene the principle of the sale of council property, because the short-term insecure tenant might turn into a long-term insecure tenant, and the local authority or the housing trust might not seek to sell that property. This, I think, would not be the case, as both housing trusts and local authorities will ultimately seek to rehabilitate such properties for sale in order to bring in more money.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, has congratulated housing trusts and housing associations. He has asked me to say that he had to leave to catch a train, but he supports this amendment. I beg to move.


In passing, I should like to say that I think this Committee should look at the amendment. I shall not make a long speech. However, with all due respect, planners seem to have gone mad in the city centres. If we take the industrial complex from the Mersey down to the Wash and then down to London, we can see that there are thousands and thousands of substandard houses that have been ploughed down and dumps are put upon the areas that are left. But with a little sense, many young people would be glad to go into those houses for a transitional period and be able to afford to pay a rent. Buying is a completely different issue. However, I think that this point should be noted. There is no need for me to expand on this matter because the entire Committee knows the nub of my argument.


I should like to give the strongest possible support to every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has said. If these houses that have been acquired for rehabilitation are made secure tenancies, they will not be used at all—they will be boarded-up. The boarding-up will be broken down because people can always break it down. Those houses will be vandalised and occupied by squatters. However, if the amendment is carried they will be used, as the noble Baroness has explained, for short-term lettings and as soon as the authorities can get round to it financially, and their plans are approved, they will rehabilitate these houses instead of tearing them down. If they are vandalised and vandalised over months, they will have to be torn down because they will be finished. We do not want all of our old houses torn down—they are part of our communities. I hope that your Lordships will very strongly support the amendment.

10.42 p.m.


I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Faithfull for having given me notice of the points that she intended to raise. The amendment is on a theme which has been much worked over during the past few weeks in the course of proceedings on the Bill in another place. Its purpose is to exclude from security of tenure, and hence the right to buy, housing which has been acquired by the local authority, housing associations or other public sector landlords, and is being let temporarily by the landlord until they are ready to start works of rehabilitation. The amendment thus goes wider than exclusion 3, as at present drafted, since that requires the property to have been acquired for development as defined by Section 22 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1972.

I should perhaps make it clear that a considerable amount of acquired property designated by its owners for rehabilitation could be subject to the existing development exclusion. Where the rehabilitation will involve work which materially affects the external appearance of the building or converts, say, one dwelling to two, then that is likely to be development within the meaning of the planning Act, hence the exclusion. It is not necessary for planning permission to be expressly obtained in such circumstances.

If the work concerned comes within the scope of permitted development under the general development order, then the exclusion still applies. We cannot accept, however, that tenants of any acquired property due for rehabilitation, however minor that work, should be deprived of security of tenure and the right to buy perhaps for several years. That is why a tight and testable definition has been incorporated in paragraph 3.

Who knows what could be understood from the term "rehabilitation". There would surely be room for evasion here and I could not be as optimistic as my noble friend that this would not be so. If a lesser degree of rehabilitation is required, which does not constitute development, hut cannot be done without the dwelling being vacated, then a ground for possession is available to the landlord. It is a mandatory ground, but suitable alternative accommodation must be provided for the secure tenant who is displaced. That seems the best and most proper way to deal with such a case.

To turn to the points my noble friend has raised about categories of people who will not qualify for security of tenure because of the provisions of this schedule, I should like to explain to your Lordships that some of those mentioned could in fact be accommodated in tenancies without security. Paragraph 5 of this schedule covers workers who have to move to a new area. Tenancies granted to them while they seek a permanent home will remain insecure for a period of a year. Other groups who will he outside security are students given a letting to enable them to attend their course, and the homeless.

I should also like to make it quite clear, as there seems to have been confusion over the position in some quarters, that housing associations can benefit from the exclusion in paragraph 4 of this schedule. They can continue the schemes which, as I am sure my noble friend is aware, some housing associations run for the benefit of homeless people. They use short-life property that they have leased from a local authority, and thus give homeless people a better and more economical alternative to bed and breakfast accommodation while the appropriate inquiries are made.

The exclusion in paragraph 4 will cover lettings under such schemes even though the letting for the tenant is from the association and not from the local authority. It runs for a period of a year from the time when a person given accommodation pending investigations is notified of the local authority's decision on permanent rehousing liability. It would, of course, he possible, as an additional safeguard, for the local authority concerned to undertake to the association, at the time of leasing the properties to them, to deal with any permanent rehousing liability arising from its obligations under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act or from tenants becoming secure by the passage of time.

Another category of letting, which will not be secure and which offers scope for using short-life property, are lettings to a corporate body, such as a health authority. Only individuals can be secure tenants. A health authority could, in turn, let to nurses.

I am most grateful to my noble friend for having put down this amendment and thereby giving me the opportunity to clarify some of the points which perhaps have been misunderstood or which have required further explanation. In turn, I should like to assure her that we shall take away and read very carefully what she has said in case it may be that, despite what I have just said, we have missed some areas. I think that it is right that we should do so. I gladly undertake to do that, perhaps in the hope that my noble friend may feel able to withdraw the amendment.


I really had hoped that this amendment was one that my noble friend the Minister could have accepted. I acknowledge that he has said that there are some categories of rehabilitation and some categories of temporary short-life tenant who will he able to continue to be temporarily housed, as they are at present. But it is very disappointing that it is not 100 per cent. For far too long there has been an extreme scandal of hoarded-up and bricked-up houses unable to be used during the long transitional periods which the complexity of rehabilitation necessarily, or apparently necessarily, involves. I hope that my noble friend Lady Faithfull will continue to press this point with the utmost vigour.


I thank the Minister for his reply. I have to say to him how deeply concerned I am about the young people who cannot find accommodation, who I think I am right in saying do not necessarily rank as homeless persons under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, and who very often drift to accommodation which is quite unsuitable for them and into bad ways. I shall not elaborate further. On the other hand, the Minister has given the assurance that he will look at this again and, therefore, I am grateful to him for that because I am sure that in conversation we shall find areas of agreement. Therefore, with his assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, with leave to bring it forward again at the Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.50 p.m.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 89: Page 101, line 49, at end insert (" and is of an approved hall of residence")

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment may I also ask that we might consider Amendment No. 90 at the same time. I come here in a rather unexpected guise, speaking in this particular case for the National Union of Students. I know about the close connection of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, with the AMA; I do not know how close his connection is with the National Union of Students, except that his party seems to he doing fairly well among undergraduates at the moment, and therefore he may listen with sympathy to what I have to say.

I am here seeking to define the kind of accommodation which is excluded from security of tenure in the schedule's student accommodation. In an effort to do this, to the words on page 101 at line 49, are added, and is of an approved hall of residence".

That may sound ungrammatical, but it is correct if you consider it in relation to the rest of the subsection.

At page 102 again the definition is described as, a dwellinghouse which is let or normally let only to persons attending the educational establishment specified in the landlord's notice".

The idea here is that where students occupy accommodation in a hall of residence—and that is why it is defined—obviously and clearly they should not have the protection of security of tenure. But the National Union of Students is concerned that in some cases research students, or people of quite long-term connection with a university or other further education establishment, or using local authority public sector accommodation because of the fact that they are working in a university town or in a town where there is a college, would be excluded as the schedule now stands from any security of tenure at all.

What this amendment seeks to do in, I am afraid, a rather complex way is to define a hall of residence, and that therefore if someone is in a hall of residence they are not secure, and by that means to take outside Schedule 3 normal public sector accommodation which is not a hall of residence but happens to be occupied by, let us say, a mature student or a research student, or whatever, who is there as a tenant of the public authority and should therefore have the benefit of security of tenure. I beg to move.


It may be helpful if I explained the reason for the exclusion covering students. They are a group of people whose need for housing in a particular place is by its very nature temporary. The purpose behind the exclusion is therefore to give a certain degree of flexibility to landlords, and at the same time to help students by encouraging public sector landlords to let to them houses or flats from their normal stock which may be temporarily available or, for example, not suitable for families. I am thinking here of short-life property awaiting rehabilitation, or dwellings on high-rise estates which are difficult to let to other applicants. The Bill was amended in another place to allow lettings to be made under this exclusion before commencement. (This provision now appears as paragraph 68 of Schedule 23). If students are allowed to stay on after the end of their course, they will become secure tenants six months later. And the procedure for prior notification that the tenancy is excluded means they are sure of their status.

I hope your Lordships will agree that we cannot, against this background, accept the amendment; it would destroy the point of what I believe is a useful provision in the Bill, by restricting it to halls of residence, which in many cases would not be secure accommodation anyway, and to only those houses in the ordinary stock normally let to students at the establishment concerned. I am not sure whether this is what the noble Lord intends. If not, he may feel able to withdraw the amendment. I listened with interest and with sympathy to the points he made. He may not feel as I always do, but perhaps he will take my assurance on this point. In any event, I fear I cannot help him further.


I understand, even at this comparatively early hour—I was going to say "late hour"—what the Minister is saying, although it seems he has certain double standards because he was giving a quite different answer on the previous amendment to the noble Baroness, Lady Faith-full, about temporary housing accommodation in areas pending rehabilitation. Apparently he is not prepared to look in the same way in relation to student accommodation. I was seeking to define more tightly what a hall of residence or student accommodation was. I shall read at leisure what the noble Lord said to see if I understood it and, perhaps more important, to see whether brighter minds than mine, including the National Union of Students, understood. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 92: Page 102, line 38, at end insert—

("Rural Housing

l3. A tenancy is not a secure tenancy if the dwelling house is situated in a National Park, or an area designated under Section 87 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Acts 1949 as an area of outstanding natural beauty, or an area designated by order of the Secretary of State as a rural area, and the landlord is a local authority (as defined in Section 49 of this Act), a County Council or the Development Board for Rural Wales or a registered housing association.").

The noble Lord said: Having taken to heart some remarks made by noble Lords earlier, I think I should—to use a rather inelegant phrase—be flogging a dead horse were I to proceed with this amendment, so I will not do so.

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

10.57 p.m.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 93: Page 102, line 38, at end insert—

("Housing for Key Workers

13. A tenancy is not a secure tenancy if the dwelling house is provided by a registered housing association the objects of which include the provision of accommodation for persons engaged in specified employment and (a) it was granted to a person in connection with such employment; and (b) the landlord notified the tenant at the time the tenancy was granted that the accommodation was granted for employment reasons; (c) the property is situated in a Development Area or Special Development Area.").

The noble Lord said: I move this amendment with a little more optimism than I did some of my earlier ones, especially after the many speeches from noble Lords, and particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, who said how important he regarded the question of the mobility of labour. From my experience of local government, we have always, in the local authorities of which I have been and still am a member, set aside housing for key workers, particularly since the local authority of which I am a member is in a special development area. In such areas you want to be sure that if a new factory is being built, a new enterprise is being started or a new computer set-up is being established, you can, if you do not have the skilled labour in your own area—and that is one of the great tragedies of some special development areas—tell the builders or whoever may be developing the scheme that they can have a guarantee for key workers who will be there, by the nature of their employment, on a temporary basis until that particular job is finished. I should have thought this proposal would be one of the best ways of ensuring and enshrining the importance of the mobility of labour, namely by excepting key workers from the provisions, and that is why I say I move this amendment with more optimism than was the case with some of my previous amendments.


Despite the hour, I do not feel like a dead horse. I appreciate the noble Lord's intention in seeking to exclude from the tenants' charter tenancies granted by industrial key workers housing associations who are providing housing as a means of encouraging employment in assisted areas, which is indeed a very valuable function. However, I believe that the fifth exclusion in Schedule 3—namely, temporary accommodation for persons seeking employment—already caters for such cases. Under that exclusion, people moving to an area for job reasons and needing somewhere to live in the short-term while looking for a permanent house will be excluded from the tenants' charter for one year. If they are still in occupation at the end of that year, they will obtain security under the provisions of the Bill. I believe that that is right, since it will allow landlords flexibility in providing short-term accommodation for newcomers moving for job reasons, without creating a second class of tenant who will be permanently without security of tenure.

I am afraid that I cannot accept the wider exclusion proposed in the amendment, although I appreciate that it is restricted to certain geographical areas and to certain types of landlord. I do not think that we have any reason to deny tenants, who are in all other respects ordinary permanent housing association tenants, the tenants' charter rights simply because of their landlord's constitution and the area in which they happen to live.


I am not as sanguine as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, about paragraph 5 on page 100, though I am somewhat reassured by it. I only hope that in fact it works in the way that he suggests, because I feel very strongly that we must do all we can to ensure that in regard to key workers, particularly in development or special development areas, there is mobility of labour. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, made quite a point about this. I am willing to have another look at paragraph 5 and, with some reluctance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 28 to 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Grounds and orders for possession]:

11.2 p.m.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 94: Page 25, line 18, leave out ("but the grounds so specified may be altered or added to with the leave of the court.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to limit the basis of the local authority's rights in altering a summons for possession of rented property. Any members of your Lordships' Committee who have spent time as advocates in the courts will appreciate that when a tenant receives a notice to quit, followed by a summons, it is in the first instance, at least for any normal tenant who is not totally feckless, a fairly shocking and frightening experience. In addition, if possession is sought for a particular reason, presumably that reason is stated on the summons, so that the tenant can then remedy the particular breach of the tenancy agreement.

The notice may, for instance, be in respect of arrears of rent, which the tenant then puts right. Having paid the arrears, the tenant goes to court confident that he has remedied the breach to which the local authority, his landlord, is referring. The clause provides that the local authority can then change the grounds for seeking possession, after service of the notice. The tenant, who may not be as familiar as are lawyers with court procedures, and who may not be represented, finds, having remedied what he thinks to be the breach in relation to which possession is sought, that the landlord (the local authority) then substitutes an entirely new ground for seeking possession.

Even members of your Lordships' Committee would be caught unawares if such a thing were imposed upon them. One might be prepared to defend proceedings brought in connection with arrears of rent on the basis that the situation had been remedied. One might think that one had the complete answer, only to find that, without warning, the landlord had changed the grounds after service of the notice.

I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, may say that we can leave this to the discretion of the court, and I am sure that in most cases we could. But it is not good enough to have to rely upon the discretion of the court. The county court judge may be having an off day. He may have missed the point. The tenant may be so worried that he is unable to express himself.

Only in very exceptional circumstances, if at all, should a local authority which is in the position of having a considerable number of well-qualified officials, be permitted to impose upon a tenant, who is in a very disadvantageous position, an entirely new set of grounds for possession after the summons has been served on him. I think it is totally contrary to natural justice, totally contrary to the basic principles of British justice, and is something which your Lordships should seek to exclude by means of the amendment I now beg to move.


Your Lordships have referred to the discussion of this amendment in another place. I have listened to what has been said, but I am afraid I can only agree with what my honourable friend said on that occasion. He said that this provision is a sensible one. It allows a landlord, with the leave of the court (yes, indeed, I did pick up the point, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, suggested I might)—and I stress the words "with the leave of the court"—to add to or alter the ground for possession specified in the notice which a landlord seeking possession will have to serve on the tenant under Clause 32. If this were not possible, the landlord would have to go through the process of serving a notice seeking possession a second time, thus adding to his workload and risking a delay of the court hearing, even when it was clearly right that the court should consider the new circumstances with those already mentioned in the notice seeking possession.

The sort of situation where this provision might be used is where a tenant has been given a notice stating that possession is being sought under Ground 1 of Schedule 4 because he is in rent arrears. His conduct may then change so as to become a nuisance to neighbours, giving the landlord additional reason for seeking possession, under Ground 2 in Schedule 4. Clearly it would be right in such a case that these two issues should be considered together by the court. The provision that a new ground can be added or substituted only with the leave of the court protects the rights of the tenant. For example, the court could extend its protection by adjourning or postponing a case to give the tenant time to prepare his defence where a new factor has been introduced. This procedure will result in less delay and confusion than would an obligation for a landlord to serve a completely new notice whenever circumstances change.

I think, therefore, it would be wrong to remove this possibility from the Bill. There are perfectly adequate safeguards for the tenant; and although, this time, I undertake to read carefully what the noble Lord has said in case we are missing something here, I would ask him whether he feels able to withdraw the amendment.


Does the Minister not agree that, in the way that the clause is drafted, it is almost an invitation to the court to allow alteration? Because it is phrased in the affirmative: the grounds so specified may be altered … with the leave of the court".

Suppose it was put the other way, and read: and the grounds so specified may not be altered without the leave of the court",

would that not put it into the court's mind that an alteration would have to be a much more unusual state of affairs and would not be readily granted by the court? If the clause were phrased in that way, would that not better meet the intention of Parliament?


I am not sure whether that is the case. I suspect the noble Lord may well have a point there, and that is why I felt, based on what the noble Lord, Lord Evans, had said before, that we should read what he said very carefully. I shall now add to that what the noble Lord opposite has just said.


I am grateful for the consideration given. My basic concern is that bureaucratic convenience is coming before the basic rights of tenants. It seems to me that, if you are being "done" (as they would say) for arrears of rent, you may suddenly find, because, perhaps, you have set up a disorderly house in order to pay the rent, that you are being got at on an entirely different ground of nuisance, which is perhaps what is in the noble Lord's mind. I should have thought that it would have been fairer to have worded it in the way that my noble friend suggests, but, in view of the fact that the noble Lord has said that he will consider this—because I think there are real points about the liberty of the individual and the liberty and rights of the disadvantaged small man against the big authorities, to which I hope he will give some serious consideration—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord GIFFORD moved Amendment No. 95: Page 25, line 25, leave out ("13") and insert ("14").

The noble Lord said: I wish to move Amendment No. 95 and to consider with it Amendment No. 97, as the two go together. The general purpose of these amendments is to introduce a new ground to the Bill upon which a court can order possession of a secure tenancy in circumstances where there has been a family break-up and it is desired to use the accommodation to accommodate the family and the children of the partnership and not the tenant who may be left on his own, but to allow him to be provided with other accommodation.

It would he as well to consider the existing practice of local authorities. Again and again, when there has been a family break-up, the situation arises that the woman and the children have to leave the home. It may be that they are driven out by actual violence; it may be that they leave because the situation within the home has become intolerable; and in the women's refuges which do such valuable work up and down the country they find a shelter. But where a council tenancy is involved, what happens is that the local authority frequently will transfer the tenancy if, for instance, it is in the name of the man, as is often the case, into the name of the woman so that she can go back into the tenancy with her family and the man can be provided with separate accommodation.

The effect of the Bill is that that flexibility which the local authorities have is taken away, because the Bill makes the tenant a secure tenant—and, in principle, of course, I support that fully—but that means, if it is a man (and I say a man, because that is generally the case, although it would work the other way), that there would be power in the divorce court when the matter finally gets there to make an order transferring the secure tenancy from the man to the woman. But that comes very late on, often after months of litigation, with the family accommodated in very bad conditions. Often, in the meantime, the local authority will have been under a duty in any case to find accommodation for the mother and the children who will be homeless within the meaning of the Homeless Persons Act. So the authority will be housing both units in a family-size accommodation and, when it comes to the divorce, possibly there will not be any point in transferring the tenancy from one to the other.

In the situation where the parties are not married, the law gives even less protection. There is the limited protection of the Domestic Violence Act when there has been actual violence, where the spouse who has been abused can be put back for a temporary period within the home; but there is no provision in the law for a tenancy to be transferred from one partner to a relationship to the other if they are not married. Therefore, the father (if it is the father) will have the secure tenancy and the right to buy of accommodation, which in many cases will in any event be too large.

The purpose of this amendment is to restore the flexibility which local authorities now possess. It envisages two situations: first, where the local authority, or the landlord authority, needs to rehouse the partner who is out of occupation and her children back in the matrimonial home; secondly, where the local authority already has rehoused the partner and the children who were out of occupation to take back the matrimonial home to be used for a family. We know how scarce family accommodation is in many local authorities. The spouse or partner against whom the order of possession would be made would, under this amendment, be given suitable alternative accommodation and there would be the proviso that it was reasonable to make the order.

This amendment has the support of a spectrum of women's organisations: the National Women's Aid Federation; the Women and Housing Organisation; and the Rights of Women Organisation. I make no apology for stressing the wide support that this amendment has among those organisations because it is those organisations who have to deal with the agonies and hardships which take place when families break up and there is no accommodation, and particularly when women and children have to be housed in emergency accommodation.

We need the present flexibility which allows local authorities to restore the unity of a home which is broken up, to restore the children of the family (who suffer greatly in these situations) speedily to the home which they have had to leave. I beg to move.


I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has said in principle. I have experienced the terrible situation of a woman leaving a home on a constructive desertion clause and I, as director of social services, have had to find her accommodation when I have felt she had every right to the house that she had left.

What I am not clear about is what would happen if every local authority does as, for instance, my own authority does, which is to grant the tenancy jointly to the married couple or the two people living together. My difficulties always were that the man had the tenancy of the house, and because of that the woman and children had to leave. I seek help on this. Would the situation be altered if the tenancy was offered jointly to both husband and wife so it was not always the wife and children who had to leave in the case of constructive desertion?

11.18 p.m.


The principle behind this amendment is that, on the break-up of a family, public sector landlords should be able to evict the tenant partner in order to reinstate the other, or because the other partner has been rehoused elsewhere. I recognise that there is widespread support for the idea that the spouse of a partner with responsibility for dependants should generally be the one to be given preference if occupation of the family home is in dispute. However, there is a considerable objection to the notion (as embodied in this amendment) that the landlord should be able to make a decision about this before questions of custody and property have been considered by the appropriate court at the time of divorce or legal separation. We have legislation in this country governing the matter of rights to the matrimonial home on divorce, and this is extended to secure tenancies by the Bill itself. I can see no case for giving either local authorities or other public sector landlords the opportunity to make a prior judgment about this in the context of managing their housing stock.

I am of course aware that a similar ground has been included in the Scottish Bill. That is because there is as yet no equivalent to our matrimonial homes legislation in Scotland. It is also the case that in England and Wales the matrimonial homes legislation, other than certain provisions of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act, does not apply to people who are cohabiting. That argues against, in our view, amendments which would treat cohabitees in the same way as a separated spouse for the purposes of this particular provision.

If a landlord chose to use the ground for possession proposed in the amendment, and I am sure it would sometimes be put under considerable pressure to do so, it would also be under an obligation to provide suitable alternative accommodation for the displaced partner. Again, we do not accept that this further duty is appropriate. If the landlord and the parties concerned can agree voluntarily to settle the matter in this way, and the accommodation is available, then of course that is up to them; but I do not believe it should be a further obligation on the landlord.

Finally, it has also been suggested that the proposed ground would simply enable landlords to do in future what they are perfectly entitled to do already. That is true, but it is only because public sector landlords and their tenants have not so far been subject to any statutory rules about the tenant's security. It is a very different matter, when such rules exist, to incorporate in them what amounts to a specific power to decide between competing claims which ought to be settled elsewhere. I do not think these landlords on the whole want that responsibility; nor does it properly belong with them. I therefore feel we are not able to accept this amendment.


May I first take up the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, made. The position is better when the spouses or partners are joint tenants because then, at least, they have rights at law and can go to a court to get some kind of order which determines who should be able to occupy the home; and it is principally the cases where the tenancy is only in the name of one partner, who still in many authorities is the breadwinner, or the man, and the woman has a number of rights in equity but very few at law.

I found the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, very unsatisfactory indeed. There is a kind of madness you get into if you pursue the logic of a good idea too far. Local authorities at the moment make a number of very sound, compassionate decisions, about which I have heard very little dispute or quarrel, when, in the early days of a separation, they have to try to help to restore a family and children to the matrimonial home by the use of the power they now have to transfer the tenancy.

With the new Bill, however, there are two kinds of very common situation which simply are not made by the legislation to which the noble Lord referred. He mentioned the Matrimonial Causes Act, where property can be transferred and custody of the children awarded; but if a husband resolutely wishes to stay in the matrimonial home, perhaps because it is becoming a valuable asset and he wants to have the right to buy, then it may take a year or two before the question of custody is decided. True, if there is violence there are the emergency provisions, as it were, under the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act; but if there is no violence the wife and children will be homeless and will be a charge on the local authority and will have to be re-housed. So the local authority will have two family-sized units of accommodation to house both parties to one marriage for a long period, at the end of which there probably will be no point in transferring the old tenancy.

Secondly, where cohabitees who are not married are concerned, that will inevitably be the situation because no court has the power to make a transfer of property order where there is not a marriage. I do not intend to press this amendment tonight, but I am not satisfied and would wish, having considered the Minister's reply and consulted with the organisations I have referred to, to raise this matter again on Report. With that, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave. withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 33 shall stand part of the Bill?


The noble Lord has raised a very important point on his last amendment. I would just like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether there was any consultation with local authorities before the Bill was put in its present form.


There has been so much consultation down the line that I cannot tell my noble friend if every single aspect was covered in this way. I should be very surprised if it was not, but I cannot tell my noble friend precisely that it was. I should be surprised if it was not.

Clause 33 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Grounds for possession of dwelling-houses let under secure tenancies]:

11.26 p.m.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 96: Page 105, leave out lines 6 to 15.

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to remove Ground 13 for obtaining possession. I understand very fully, from many years' involvement in the housing problems of a fairly inner urban area, how exasperating it is when one has the situation that this ground envisages of a family where probably there have been quite a large number of children, one of the spouses has died and usually the widow is left, perhaps in a three-bedroomed house, and the local authority seek to re-house her into more appropriate accommodation. It may be a widower but it is usually a widow. The tenant concerned, because of sentiment, family reasons, memories, all kinds of intangible but very important sentimental reasons, does not wish to leave the house. This, again, is bureaucratically inconvenient, but the fact of the matter is that I personally would not wish to be associated with legislation which could force people under those circumstances to give up their house.

I am all in favour of the local authority using all kinds of reasonable persuasion, but quite frankly I would be utterly appalled—I say that in a measured way—however many protections there are for the tenant concerned, as set out in Ground 13, if we were to use the authority of the courts to remove a person from a house where they had lived most of their married life, had brought up their children and presumably now have already suffered enough through the loss of their partner. I believe in persuasion; I do not believe in compulsion and that is why I move this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

Very briefly, because it is very late, I want to support the noble Lord, Lord Evans, in his amendment, because I also feel very strongly about this matter for the reasons he has explained. I feel that by all means one should try to persuade, to make available attractive alternative accommodation, but if at the end of the day the person—I do not think there can be very many such persons—says, "No, I want to remain where I am", then I think it really becomes very inhuman and uncompassionate if one does not accede to their wish.


None of us would want to see an elderly person moved from their life-long home against their wishes, solely because of under-occupation. That is why we have not included in the Bill a general ground for possession based on under-occupation. To have done so would have been inconsistent with our general aim to give public sector tenants security in the dwelling which is their home.

But here, as in other parts of the Bill, we have had to balance tenants' reasonable expectations against management needs. We noticed from the response to our consultation document that local authorities were particularly concerned about potential under-occupation by single successors in family dwellings. We felt it right to make a limited concession in the circumstances outlined in the Bill. Ground 13 cannot be used against the spouse of a deceased tenant who succeeds to the tenancy. Widows and widowers will not be subject to being moved against their will, because of under-occupation. It can only he used between six and 12 months after the previous tenant's death. This avoids both the possibility of distress being caused in the period immediately following a bereavement, and the risk of constant worry to a tenant that this ground might be used against him at such future date.

If the tenant is not the spouse of a former tenant and the landlord takes action at the appropriate time, there is the additional safeguard that the court might not make an order for possession unless it considers it reasonable to do so. Clause 33 specifies this. Clause 33 also requires that suitable alternative accommodation must be provided. This will be judged against the criteria in Part II of Schedule 4. I believe that in very many cases a successor tenant would be willing to move voluntarily to smaller accommodation, if this is sensible as a matter of housing management. However, we need to give landlords freedom to make the best possible use of their stock where a much-needed family house is occupied by, say, a young, single person. There are safeguards when this ground is used, and widows and widowers are not exposed to it at all.

I think that the provision is a useful part of the Bill and we cannot accept the amendment, or the attempt thereby to remove it; having said which, the point which was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was an interesting one. She said that she wondered how much of a matter this really was in practice. I do not know. From my own experience going back some years, I should think that, surprisingly, it is probably a much larger problem than may be realised. I certainly cannot accept the amendment, but what I should like to do for my own interest, all else apart, is to try to see whether there are any statistics or information as regards the likely extent of this. If it should prove that the noble Baroness is more right than I think may be the case, then I will speak to my colleagues about it. That is probably the most I can do tonight.


I accept the position that the noble Lord takes. I feel extremely strongly and very deeply about this problem. However, in the circumstances, I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but with the proviso that unless I can be very much more satisfied than I am now, I shall certainly raise it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 97 not moved.]

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Subletting and lodgers]:

11.34 p.m.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 98: Page 25, line 37, leave out ("persons who are members of his family") and insert ("any persons").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment perhaps I may also include Amendments Nos. 99 and 102 in my introduction. Quite simply, the Government have said that in the tenants' charter they want to simplify things—to reduce bureaucracy, to make things easier generally for tenants and, in every way possible, to make the life of a local authority tenant an easier and less bureaucratically controlled one—a sentiment with which we on these Benches would totally agree. Therefore, it seems to us that tenants should have the absolute right, within the limits set by legislation about overcrowding, which obviously would apply, to take in lodgers without having to get the consent of the landlord.

I cannot see any reason at all, because there is adequate protection under the legislation about overcrowding, why limits should be set on tenants' freedom to take in lodgers. They are not protected, they are not secure tenants; so, if the Government are really concerned about expanding freedom in the public sector, why not give some real freedom and allow tenants to take in lodgers at will, within the provisions of the overcrowding legislation? That is the reason why I move this amendment. I beg to move.

11.35 p.m.


I am not entirely sure that the Government spokesman on these amendments, and on the amendments which we are now coming to, will be able to shed very much light compared with his colleagues on the Government Bench. But at least this spokesman can spread a little happiness because I have great pleasure in accepting the amendment moved by the noble Lord.


I am rendered completely speechless. I hope the noble Lord will address us more often. I thank him.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 99: Page 25, line 43, leave out from ("house") to end of line 45.

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35 [Provisions as to consents required by section 34]:

Baroness VICKERS moved Amendment No. 100: Page 26, line 11, after ("of") insert ("Part IV of").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name. At the same time, perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 101.

This amendment will not cost any money or involve any extra staff. The statutory overcrowding standard enforceable by local authorities is virtually unchanged since the Housing Act, 1935. All rooms used normally as living rooms or bedrooms are included in calculating the "permitted number" in any dwelling-house. Children under 10 are counted as half a unit, and those under one are omitted from the calculations. This standard therefore implies that a house is properly occupied if the family needs can be met by using every available space, except a bathroom, water closet or the kitchen, as bedroom accommodation. Only when occupation exceeds this level can a local authority take steps to abate overcrowding by legal action. I should mention that the lowest amount of space that they are allowed is 50 square feet plus—nothing below that figure.

I suggest that this standard is obviously too low and bears too little relationship to current problems. Modern houses are very often designed on an open plan and with through rooms. The assessment of overcrowding should be on a bedroom standard, and all children, regardless of age, should be counted as one unit. I understand that this will have little overall effect on the housing situation, because the problem is comparatively small. It is, however, critical to those people affected who are living in these overcrowded conditions.

Therefore I suggest that each property should be looked at as a whole, having regard to the bedroom standard and the minimum space available for cooking, dining and living. Therefore, Table 1 of the annex to Schedule 6 to the Housing Act 1957 should be amended as follows:

"Annex Table 1 Where a house consists of—

(a) One room 2 persons,
(b) two rooms 3,
(c) three rooms 4,
(d) four rooms 6,
(e) five rooms 8, with an additional 2 in respect of each room in excess of five".

May I say to my noble friend who is to answer that the situation cannot be rectified unless this amendment is accepted, which I hope he will be kind enough to do, so that he does not have to use that horrible word "resist". I beg to move.


I entirely understand, from the clear explanation which my noble friend has given, the intentions which lie behind her two amendments. However, my noble friend mentioned that the date upon which the housing standards had been set down was now many years ago. I do not think that just for that reason they are necessarily out of date.

I should like to remind the Committee that the existing standards are deliberately basic. If they are contravened, the results are drastic. The landlord is guilty of an offence. The excess residents lose their security of tenure and homelessness may well result. We should need to consult widely and consider carefully before concluding that a change is desirable.

I hope that my noble friend will not think that I am not agreeing with the amendment because of a mere technicality when I say that I remain to be convinced that it would be right to alter overcrowding standards which are of general application to both public and private sector tenants in this clause, which is of limited application only to consents for subletting by public sector tenants.

There is just one other matter which I should like to put to my noble friend. Although the noble Baroness has explained her amendments very clearly, in fact they have not been written down on the Marshalled List. What I mean by that is that my noble friend has really tabled what in effect are two paving amendments, but has not actually put down the new standards which she would like to see. I seriously say that if a major step of this sort were to be taken the Committee would want to see in print the new standards which my noble friend seeks to secure. On these grounds I ask my noble friend to withdraw this amendment. I do not think this is the right place for such a new provision to be written into legislation, and at any rate I hope my noble friend will not mind my saying that what my final words add up to is that the amendments are defective.

Baroness VICKERS

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. I should like to think about this to see whether I can produce some better figures for him and bring something forward at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

11.42 p.m.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 102: Page 26, line 16, leave out ("lodger or").

The noble Lord said: I think all I need to do is to move this amendment formally because it fits in with the other two amendments. I beg to move.

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Reimbursement of cost of tenant's improvements]:

On Question, Whether Clause 37 shall stand part of the Bill?

The Earl of KINNOULL

I am afraid I have given no notice to my noble friend on this point but I think it is important; it concerns reimbursement for improvements done by tenants to their houses. Under subsection (1)(c) the reimbursement would only occur where the improvement was begun not earlier than the commencement of this part of the Act. In the past that has often led to problems and I think it would do so here because there might be a perfectly sensible improvement for which the council had given their written approval; it might have been started a day before and therefore would not qualify because this Part of the Act had not come into force. I wonder whether my noble friend could look at this point to see whether it would be possible to alleviate the problem.


Speaking without notice, I know that the Department of the Environment will look closely at what my noble friend has said, but as I think he will know better than I do, with his knowledge of legislation, there has to be some point at which legislation comes into effect and this particular point has been held to be the right point so far as this legislation is concerned. Unless one chooses a different point at which this particular clause comes into effect (and, if my noble friend will not mind my saying so, I am not persuaded of the need for that), or unless there was some graduated way in which one could make the clause come into effect—and certainly I am not persuaded that that is possible then I do not think that what my noble friend is asking for would be possible. I simply say that now to prevent unnecessary communication between my noble friend and the department. If what I have said is correct I think probably there will be no further communication with my noble friend, who may like to consider whether to table an amendment at Report stage. lf, on the other hand, what I said is wrong, I will undertake that a letter will come to my noble friend.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clauses 38 to 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Meaning of "landlord authority "and" housing management"]:

11.45 p.m.

Baroness FAITHFULL moved Amendment No. 103:

Page 30, line 43, at end insert— ("(6) Local authority housing authorities shall compile a list of unoccupied Council property; such list shall be laid before the Housing Committee once a quarter; and the Housing Committee shall have an obligation to consider the use of such property.").

The noble Baroness said: I have very little expectation that this amendment will be accepted and perhaps I understand that. Nevertheless the situation in the country is so serious that I think it warrants that this matter should be brought before your Lordships. I move this amendment on two counts: first, from my own personal experience some years ago, when I toured the city where I worked and made a list of all the empty properties not being used. I then conferred with the housing manager, and the housing manager and I approached our council. All the houses standing empty awaiting either rehabilitation or redevelopment were put into use, even minimal use, and we cut down the expenditure we spent on homeless families in putting them into bed and breakfast, which in any case is highly unsatisfactory; secondly, we were able to house a number of people as licensees for a time, until they could find permanent accommodation.

Secondly, having looked at the figures of the number of estimated properties standing empty, I am given to understand, although I have not counted them myself, that in the inner London boroughs there are 23,450 dwellings standing empty. This position obtains not only in London. I have, for instance, the figures for Corby, 1,077; Naseby, 2,247; Birmingham, 4,862. These are considerable figures when one considers the numbers of homeless in this country. Therefore, it has struck me, and I have wondered, whether it would not be better if the local authorities adopted what is, I believe, the procedure in Bristol and other local authorities, whereby a list of empty properties should be submitted to the housing committee on a quarterly basis and the housing committee has an obligation to consider the use of such property. If this phrase were incorporated in the Bill, any local authority not using or considering property could perhaps be taken to court for not doing so. This seems a hard measure, but I think it is perhaps an indictment of our country that with so many homeless people we have so many properties in our housing stock standing empty. I beg to move.

The Earl of KINNOULL

I should like briefly to support my noble friend very strongly. I do not think this would be laying too great a hardship on the housing management of any local council. I do not think any housing committee should be without this information anyway, and the inhabitants of any area should feel that the committee has this information available. I do not think it is too arduous a job. I believe my noble friend is absolutely correct in saying there is severe hardship, and I would welcome this duty being laid on councils.


Having asked a number of questions about the use of bed and breakfast accommodation to house homeless families and having raised this matter in debates, I should very much like to support my noble friend in her amendment. I am very glad she mentioned Bristol because it is to the city's credit that it was the first in the whole of Great Britain to start to resist the slave trade, and much more recently it is to the credit of Bristol that it was one of the first publicly to publish its points scheme for housing allocations. I am delighted that it was also in the van on the matter of empty properties. I should like to support the amendment as strongly as I possibly can.


I am not surprised that two of my noble friends have joined with my noble friend Lady Faithfull in speaking to this amendment, because in listening to previous amendments this evening I realised that the matter of empty properties is something which has exercised the concern of members of the Committee. I should like to say, first, that I would hope that local authorities will review systematically and regularly their vacancy levels and take appropriate action. I should like to reply to my noble friend by indicating briefly what, as the Government see it, is actually being done to try to encourage local authorities to undertake reviews.

Local authorities are encouraged to undertake reviews by the inclusion in housing investment programme returns of a series of questions about vacant properties. Authorities have to tell the Department of the Environment each year how many vacant properties are to be found in the private and public sectors; and to specify for the public sector how long those properties have been vacant and whether they are available for letting or undergoing renovation. At national level we hope that the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys will be publishing next month a report on their vacant property survey. My colleagues at the Department of the Environment will be considering in the light of that report what further Government action might be appropriate.

I would not like to give the impression to the Committee this evening that the Department of the Environment has not given advice about all this. The Department of the Environment Circular 76 of 1977 entitled Better use of Vacant and Under-occupied Housing contains a number of detailed practical suggestions about ways in which vacancy rates might be reduced. For example, local authorities are asked to consider the possibilities for licensing short-life properties to housing associations and other responsible voluntary bodies.

As your Lordships may know, the Department of the Environment has a Housing Services Advisory Unit whose object is to promote good practice in the public sector housing. They invite themselves to local authority areas. They have visited about a third of the housing areas already and one of the very first questions which this unit always asks when it pays a visit is about the empty housing in the area.

I should like to conclude what I wish to say by referring to what my noble friend Lord Kinnoull said. He put it to the Committee that it would not be onerous to accept the amendment. Indeed, I do not think that it would be, but if I may say so I think that it would get the statute book into difficulties because, instead of proceeding by advice and by agreement, one would be laying a statutory duty upon authorities concerning unoccupied properties, and as soon as one does that one runs into problems. I shall mention one, and one only.

The last part of this amendment—the requirement that local authorities consider the use of vacant properties—would, in fact, one finds when one looks at it closely, add nothing to existing legislation. Section 91 of the Housing Act 1957, already imposes a duty on local authorities to consider housing conditions in their district and the needs of the district with respect to the provision of further housing accommodation. For a local authority to assess the need for more accommodation in its area it would clearly need to assess the adequacy and the use of its existing stock.

We are left, therefore, with the requirement in the amendment to compile lists and to lay these, at quarterly intervals, before the housing committee. That is a very much narrower objective than the objective which my noble friend Lady Faithful, started with when moving her amendment. Therefore, on grounds that I think that it is difficult—at least difficult in the wording of the amendment which my noble friend has put forward—to achieve what she is seeking to achieve; and on the grounds that I would very much prefer, particularly in the light of what I have said to the Committee this evening, to continue to try to progress by agreement and by persuasion between local and central Government, I hope that my noble friend will not feel the need to press the amendment.


Having listened to all that, I wonder why there is a single empty property in this country. If all this enormous procedure is going forward and if the Department of the Environment is informed, how come that there are many houses in many streets—and the figures that I have given tonight bear this out—boarded up? There must be something wrong with every house so that it cannot be used. However, I understand the difficulties, having been in local government myself, and, feeling better as a result of having aired this terrible problem, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 41 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 104 not moved.]

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Provision of information about housing allocation]:

11.55 p.m.

Lord DIGBY moved Amendment No. 105: Page 32, line 23, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment to find out from the Government exactly what councils have to make available to an applicant. On the face of it, this subsection appears to say that one must tell an applicant tomorrow what he said today. I know that your Lordships need Hansard to tell you that, but I should not have thought it was necessary in the case of an applicant. I am wondering whether it is, in fact, the completed application form which must be shown to the applicant, and what worries me is that perhaps this would have to include such things as doctors' reports, which are provided on a confidential basis. If doctors think that their confidential reports are being reported back to the applicant, they might not co-operate so well in the future. I should be grateful if the Government could tell me what has to be provided to the applicant.


I think that I can satisfy my noble friend in replying in this way. The only particulars of which details must be supplied by this subsection of the Bill are those which the applicant himself has provided. It would not be right for applicants to have the right to see reports supplied by doctors, which were mentioned by my noble friend, social workers or others which may have been given on a confidential basis to the housing authority. Authorities have pointed out during the consultation process on this Bill that such reports would cease if confidentiality were not assured. I think that if the Committee looks at the wording of this part of the Bill, it will see that my noble friend's apprehensions in this respect are groundless.

I should like to add one point. I cannot remember the exact words that my noble friend used, but in effect he was asking: would the file have to be produced and put under the nose of the person who was asking the question? The answer to that question is also "No". The wording of this clause requires a landlord to provide "details of the particulars". That does not mean that the actual file must be produced. Information would have to be extracted in order to answer a question being asked, but the answer which was given would not have to go further than that. I entirely understand the reasons why my noble friend has asked these questions, and I hope that the answers I have sought to give will provide him with satisfaction.


I am most grateful to my noble friend for that very satisfactory answer. I think that it is worth getting it on the record, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Contributions towards the cost of transfers and exchanges]:

11.58 p.m.

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 33, line 17, at end insert— ("(3) The Secretary of State may by order place a duty on groups of local authorities to participate in any arrangements facilitating moves of the kind outlined in subsection (1) above that have been agreed by the appropriate local authority association or local authority associations. (4) The Secretary of State may only exercise the power provided by subsection (3) above following a request made by the local authority association or local authority associations concerned that he should exercise the power.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is about mobility, which has been mentioned several times in the Committee today. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is not here to support me as I move this amendment. I think that it is generally agreed that it is a good thing for council tenants in one area to be able to move to another without surrendering their tenancy. This idea is supported by tenants' rights organisations such as Shelter, Age Concern, and by the CBI, which wrote to the Minister on the need for legislation. I should have thought this perhaps a reason for the Government to give their support.

The local authority associations are co-operating in drawing up a voluntary scheme. This work started to head off the Labour Government proposal to legislate on this and on residence qualifications. The fact that the associations agree on a scheme does not mean that all local authorities will operate it. Each housing authority will decide whether or not to join.

Two precedents can be quoted. The first is the inter-borough nomination scheme drawn up by the LBA and introduced in April 1978 to provide for mobility within London. Three boroughs—Barking, Hillingdon and Redbridge—still refuse to join. More significantly, no authority has made lettings to people from other boroughs on the agreed scale. Lettings have been running at about 1,300 a year instead of the target of 4,000.

Secondly, there is the Homeless Persons Act referral system for people with no local connection to be referred back to an area with which they have a connection. Although the disputes procedure for this has statutory backing, several authorities sought to reject the scheme drawn up by the local authority associations. There is the special London dimension. London has two mobility arrangements: the IBNS —the inter-borough nomination scheme—and the scheme for stock transferred from the GLC to the London boroughs. The latter is statutorily backed; a statutory order laid by the DoE on submission by the parties. Everyone agrees on the desirability of a merger, but the LBA has accepted that this can only be achieved by giving the joint scheme statutory backing.

The amendment allows for schemes to be drawn up by the local authority associations both nationally and on a regional basis. The schemes could be introduced voluntarily, but given statutory force if this became necessary. That statutory backing would arise only if the local authorities themselves requested it; that is, the local authority associations for the national scheme, or the majority of the authorities in the area for regional schemes.

This amendment seeks to reinforce the effectiveness of the voluntary arrangements the Secretary of State is discussing and developing with the local authority associations, rather than to introduce an inflexible statutory scheme based on particular types of move; that is, essential workers and the elderly, or a fixed percentage of lettings, which is what I think my noble friend Lady Denington is trying to do in her amendment. I hope she might look favourably on this one. This is an important matter, and I hope it will have a friendly reception from the Government. I beg to move.


I shall speak to this amendment and then not move my own amendment. The matter we are discussing is of great importance to the nation. Industrial inability is vital. We are all concerned about the condition of industry in this country. If it cannot get its workers it cannot thrive. What we need to do is to get much more mobility. I have no doubt that we have all read of, and know of, workers who have come down from the North to the South because it is in the South that there are vacancies for skilled people that cannot be filled locally. They move down from the North. They get a job. They leave their families behind. They cannot get housed. In the end it is a tragedy. They move North again and go back on the dole. This is a dreadful thing for the family, for their standard of living and self-respect. It is cruel beyond words. It is bad nationally, and costly to the nation.

We know of elderly people. I myself have had over the years many cases like this, where the younger people—often the daughters—want to move near to elderly parents but cannot do so. I have known them travel three hours each way each day to look after an elderly parent. In such circumstances they cannot move to be near that elderly parent, and the old person is unable to move near their daughter or whatever other relative is willing to look after them. It is a crazy situation, because in the end the old person goes at great public expense into an old persons' home or into sheltered accommodation, but the latter is so scarce that usually they cannot get in. I therefore consider this to be a matter of considerable importance.

It is sometimes said that more private enterprise housing or more council tenants buying, and therefore having a house to sell, would enable people to move. That sounds reasonable, but it does not work cut that way. First of all, no worker who goes to a new area will consider buying straight away; he wants to know, first, if the job will suit him and if he will settle in the area. Until you feel sure you will put roots down you do not buy, at least for a year or two. There is also the gap between the price at which you can sell a house in the North of England and what you have to pay if you move to the South. The steep difference is another inhibitor against looking on house purchase, however it is done, as a solution. It works occasionally, but by and large not.

I have heard it suggested that the shortholds may help. They may, but nobody knows; indeed, nobody knows what will result from shortholds, and there are many Government supporters who are doubtful about what shortholds will achieve. So I do not think we should put too much trust in those from a national point of view. In the end, therefore, only the local authorities can help achieve the mobility that is essential. Why, then, do local authorities not do more? That is a very easy question to answer for those of us who have been in local government and in politics.

The South, where the jobs are, contains areas of great housing pressure with long waiting lists, and housing allocations are being cut. The waiting lists will therefore increase next year and beyond. Politically, councillors are not able to agree to house people coming into their areas from elsewhere, for they are under enormous political pressure because of the length of housing waiting lists. People resent others coming in, and at political surgeries and public meetings councillors would be under attack and be told, "You are letting strangers in. You are not looking after your own people". It is perfectly understandable, therefore, why councils do not co-operate with such a scheme.

That is why my amendment suggested that the Government should have the courage to say there must be a scheme, and then agree with authorities that a reasonable percentage—it could start as a small percentage—should be set aside for the purpose. I do not blame councils in this respect. It is not lack of goodwill on their part. It is due to the political pressures on them. We need the Government to have the courage to tell them, "This is the law. There must be national mobility. We shall see that mobility exists in the interests of the nation as a whole, so we are legislating accordingly and a small percentage will be available for that purpose". That is why I am asking for compulsion, as it were, which is against the general tenor of everything that has been said in this Chamber over the hours, but I do so arising out of my own experience and because I believe that it is needed.

12.10 a.m.


There is no doubt that the local authority associations do not like these two amendments leading to statutory mobility schemes, and the one that they like the least is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, for the reasons that she has made quite clear. That makes all the more welcome the fact that she has swung her support behind the preceding amendment, which is much milder, and the provisions of which would not come into operation except at the request of the local authority associations. Despite what the local authority associations say, I think that this is the scheme to which the Government should give their greatest consideration.


I should like to give general support to the intention behind both amendments, Nos. 106 and 107, without commenting on the merits of one against the other. I was very encouraged to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, mention the gap in house prices as between the North of England and the South of England. This has acted as an obstacle to mobility for quite a long time, and may well continue to do so for many more years.

I was also delighted to note that at the end of Amendment No. 107 people of pensionable age are particularly singled out as frequently needing to move for social reasons. I should like to add another category of person who needs to move for social reasons. I have previously mentioned this point in your Lordships' Chamber, and I make no apology for returning to it. I refer to parents in one-parent families. I am thinking of widowed, divorced, and separated people, and their children. Often they need to move from an area because they have lost the support of their partner. They are very easily exposed to loneliness and often they need to go to another part of the country where they have relatives or friends upon whom they can depend. I hope that the Government will very seriously take this point into consideration and will be able to give us a rather positive reply on either of the amendments, or both.


The noble Baroness, Lady David, in moving her amendment (Amendment No. 106) asked whether the Government would give a friendly reply. That amendment, and the succeeding amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, give me the opportunity to explain very briefly what the Government are doing by way of response to the objectives of both amendments.

In another place on 6th March my honourable friend the Minister for Housing, Mr. Stanley, announced the voluntary national mobility scheme, which has been worked out between his department and local authority associations. Briefly, the scheme provides, first, that each housing authority will make available a number of lettings annually for people who need to move into its area from within the same county area. The number of these lettings will be such as to balance in relation to people moving out to other areas within the same county.

Secondly, each district council, the London boroughs—which I stress in particular, in view of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady David, about the inner London boroughs scheme—and the GLC will make 1 per cent. of their lettings available for people moving into their area from another area. This will be in addition to their existing arrangements.

Thirdly, my honourable friend said that he hoped to extend the scheme to housing associations and to the new towns. Finally, he said (in Committee in another place) that the provisions of Clause 45 will be available to assist the operation of the scheme. The details of that, I know, are still being worked out (and I have to use that expression in replying to these amendments) but is it not worth while giving this scheme a chance to get going? It has the advantage, I understand, of being unanimously approved by the AMA, the London Boroughs Association and the Association of District Councils. It is a scheme which was welcomed by Mr. Kaufman, for the Opposition, in Committee in another place, as being what he called "a jolly good pudding". He welcomed it wholeheartedly and unreservedly.

Incidentally, there are just two more quick points which I would make. Whereas I think there is so much which is good in the scheme put forward in the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, one of the things which, if I may say so, her amendment does not provide for, I think, is what happens to the person who simply wants to move because it is essential for him or her, or for their families, but that person cannot necessarily be said to be an essential worker? Under the scheme of my honourable friend the Minister for Housing, people of that kind will fall within the scope of the scheme.

In addition to that, although the idea, I understand, is for my honourable friend's scheme to start on a manual basis—in other words, not on a computerised basis— of course the idea is that the scheme will be put on to a computer as soon as possible; and in the jargon words of which I often have a suspicion but which in this particular case all your Lordships, who have got much more experience of local government than I have, will be the first to tell me, this is absolutely crucial. If somebody wants to move from one part of the country to another and the scheme is computerised, they really will he able to know whether there is a house in Aberystwyth, or anywhere else, if they happen to live on Teesside. So, in view of the information which I have attempted to give your Lordships, I ask that perhaps both noble Baronesses might rethink their amendments and as to whether they would want to press them, because there is this voluntary scheme and I believe that it can add very much to the mobility of labour which we all so much desire.

Baroness DAVID

I think that in fact I knew quite a lot of what the noble Lord the Minister has been kind enough to tell us. I cannot say that I have all that faith in a voluntary scheme. I think that if we wait to see whether it will work, it will he too late to get some statutory underpinning into this Bill, which is what I think we should aim at ensuring. I will read very carefully what the Minister has said, but I think I shall very likely come back on Report because I should like to get this statutory backing to the scheme. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 107 not moved.]

Clause 45 agreed to.

12.18 a.m.

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 108: After Clause 45, insert the following new clause:

"Restriction on residential requirements

( .—(1) In considering whether an applicant for local authority housing is entitled to be admitted to a housing list, a council shall take no account of the age of the applicant provided that he is over the age of 18 years.

(2) In the allocation of local authority housing, a council shall take no account of the length of time for which an applicant has resided in its area nor of the age of the applicant provided that he is over the age of 18 years, nor of the income of the applicant and his family.

(3) Where an applicant—

  1. (a) is employed in the area of the local authority; or
  2. (b) has been offered employment in the area of the local authority; or
  3. (c) wishes to move into the area of the local authority and the local authority is satisfied that his purpose in doing so is to seek employment; or
  4. (d) is over 60 years of age and wishes to move into the area of the local authority to be near a younger relative; or
  5. (e) has special social or medical reasons for requiring to be housed within the area of the local authority,
admission to a housing list shall not depend on the fact that the applicant is resident in the area.

(4) Where a local authority has rules which give priority to applicants on its housing list it shall apply those rules to an applicant to whom subsection (3) above applies no less favourably than it applies them to a tenant of the local authority whose housing needs are similar to those of the applicant and who is seeking a transfer to another dwelling-house belonging to the local authority.

(5) In the allocation of local authority housing, a council shall not impose a requirement that an application must have remained in force for a minimum period before the applicant is eligible for the allocation of housing.

(6) In considering an application for admission to a housing list and in the allocation of local authority housing, a council shall take no account of any outstanding liability (for payment of rent or otherwise) attributable to the tenancy of any dwelling-house of which the applicant is not, and was not when the liability accrued, a tenant.

(7) In this section "housing list" means a list of applicants for local authority housing which is kept by a council in connection with allocation of housing").

The noble Baroness said: The aim of this amendment is to abolish residential requirements, and it really goes very closely with the previous amendment that I moved, the one on mobility. As I said before, it is widely recognised that there is a greater need for mobility and access to the council housing sector. Successive Government reports have argued for a reduction in residence requirements, most noticeably the Cullingworth Report, a very well known report on council housing, published in 1969, which said: We hold it to be fundamental that no one should be precluded from applying for, or being considered for, a council tenancy on any grounds whatsoever".

There are two basic reasons for this stance: first, that only by open lists can an accurate assessment of relative needs be made; secondly, there is now a clear need in the public sector for greater mobility between councils. A Centre for Environmental Studies article, CES Review No. 4, has shown that council tenants have only half the chance of an owner-occupier of moving between authorities. As most long-distance mobility is job mobility—this is according to the general household survey—it is understandable why both the CBI and the Economist support it. An editorial in the Economist of 20th October 1979 said: No single measure of Government policy is more important or requires more toughening than Mr. Heseltine's Housing Bill. Longevity should no longer determine status on council waiting lists. The sale of some desirable council houses is not the answer".

The LBA, Conservative-controlled, has also recommended to its members that they abolish residential requirements. This is because their mobility scheme is considerably weakened if different periods of eligibility apply to different areas. The same point applies to the national mobility scheme. Restrictive qualifications will remain for single people or owner-occupiers and those groups will be ineligible for the mobility scheme, for the national mobility scheme with its 1 per cent. quota of lettings will provide only some 2,000 a year.

Far more mobility could be created by eliminating residence requirements which arc still in force for one-third of all councils. On neither eligibility nor mobility is there any evidence that the Government's reliance on voluntary persuasion will be effective with that minority of more parochial councils. Previous Governments have tried the same approach and failed. Ten years after the Culling-worth Report recommended the abolition of residential requirements another Government report, Allocation of Council Housing, by the Housing Services Advisory Unit, made the same recommendation and admitted that little progress had been made—a point which was confirmed by a Shelter survey which showed that exactly the same proportion of councils, one-third, still had restrictive residence requirements in 1978 as they had in 1968. One-fifth also refused to register single people under retirement age despite the fact that today over half the households in the country are made up of just one or two people. Subsection (6) of the new clause concerns not considering arrears when allocating housing. That particularly applies when there has been a marriage break-up. I think my noble friend Lord Gifford will speak about that, so I shall not do so.

The Minister could learn from his colleagues in Scotland, where Ministers have introduced measures to end residence requirements for eligibility of single people as well. If he were to do this, he would have the accolade of his friends in the Confederation of British Industry who recently wrote to the Minister expressing their concern that the measures in the Scottish Bill to encourage job mobility by opening waiting lists have not appeared in the English Bill. He would also earn the gratitude of many young, single or mobile people in England who are eager to learn why the Minister believes that they should have a chance of a council tenancy in Scotland but not in England. I shall be interested to hear why this identical clause has been accepted in the Scottish Bill. I hope very much that it will be accepted here. We know that Scotsmen like to come to England but I still feel that we should have this enlightened and rather advanced clause in our Bill. I beg to move.


May I add a quick word about a particular part of the proposed amendment; that is, the proposed new subsection (6), which introduces a different point from that raised by my noble friend Lady David and could, if the main burden of what she said is not accepted—although I hope it will be—be the subject of an amendment of its own. That particular subsection proposes that the local authority, in granting a council tenancy or putting someone on the list, cannot take account of a liability for previous arrears of rent which is not the applicant's responsibility. This is a very real problem in cases where there has been a marriage break-up and where we are again in the situation where there is a single tenant liable for the arrears—again normally the man—who leaves owing arrears, perhaps without the knowledge of the wife, who believes that they are being paid. When the question comes up, "Will you grant me a tenancy of the same dwelling?" the local authority—and many local authorities do this—says, "Yes, if you will take over responsibility for the arrears which your husband has mounted up". That is quite unfair. If a local authority wants to apportion a joint responsibility for the payment of rent to two spouses or two partners, then a joint tenancy can be created and the two spouses know where the legal liability is. If it is on one only, it should not be held as an in terrorem threat over a woman who has no option but to accept it to saddle her with a debt which is not of her making at a time when she is least able to bear it.

12.26 a.m.


I hope that the noble Baroness will not think I am being discourteous if in answer to quite a long and detailed amendment, which has a lot of meat in it, I reply fairly briefly. I do so in the context of the new mobility housing scheme which I sought to explain on the previous amendment. This scheme would for instance cover the cases which are set out in subsection (3) of this amendment.

Secondly, may I say in reply to the amendment that this new clause would remove a great deal of the freedom which local authorities enjoy at the moment to give a reasonable degree of preference to local people in the allocation of their housing. It would oblige them to take on their lists people from outside their area who meet criteria which would cause a great deal of debate if they were to be put into statute. For instance, I am thinking of the criterion of someone wishing to move to seek employment. Another criterion I see in the amendment is for special social or medical reasons.

The noble Baroness asked: "Why can you do this in Scotland but not in England?" The answer is simple: one is not comparing like with like. For instance, there is an infinitely higher proportion of public housing stock in Scotland—nearly double—compared with England and Wales. Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, have put forward the point which is encapsulated in subsection (6) of the amendment. I do not dissent from the seriousness of the point which the noble Lord explained. But this is a matter, I am advised, that in two instances the local Ombudsman has considered and about which he reached strongly critical conclusions. Apart from that, there is the direct local response that these critical reports have invoked. There have been two documents issued by the Department of the Environment: a circular on the housing of one-parent families and a report from the Housing Services Advisory Group explaining why arrears should not be treated as disqualification for housing in the sad circumstances of the break-up of a family.

With that weight of advice which is being given, if one wanted to legislate one would want further and compelling evidence. Although the noble Lord has given his strong views to the Committee, I do not think there has been a great weight of statistics on this point in support of the amendment. Therefore I do not disagree with the general case which the noble Lord has been putting forward on this point, but I hesitate—and I know my honourable friend the Minister of Housing hesitates—before actually legislating on the matter.

May I come hack on this amendment to my original point in answer to the noble Baroness? It would be exceedingly difficult to enforce most of the provisions to be found in this amendment. I beg the Committee to consider the desirability of trying to proceed in these matters by agreement and by consent. It is with that objective that my honourable friend's national mobility scheme is being worked out.


I must say I am somewhat disappointed to hear the reply of my noble friend on the Front Bench, in that he was not able to be a little more forth-coming at least towards the spirit behind this amendment. Local authorities have been saying for many, many years that it is quite impossible to abolish residential qualifications. I should like to quote the example of one which has done so and succeeded: that is the London Borough of Hammersmith. You would think that was a very difficult place in which to get away with it, owing to housing stress and everything else; but it was done, and the housing manager in question has written an article about it in the journal of the Institute of Housing, describing how it went through. I hope the Government will study that article and that others will take courage from it, so that we shall get some progress. It is high time.

Baroness DAVID

Again, I am not very happy with the reply I have received from the Minister. I am sorry they have not taken a more advanced and imaginative approach to this. I think voluntary co-operation is fine if you can get it, but there are always bound to he some councils who do not co-operate and that spoils the whole scheme. Certain parts of the amendment have been criticised more than others, so I should like to withdraw it for the time being and probably bring back the amendment in a slightly different form, perhaps with some cuts, and hope that it might be better received on Report. So I would ask leave to withdraw it.


Before my noble friend sits down and the amendment is withdrawn, may I add just a word on what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said about the problem of arrears being foisted on to a spouse. He did, in a sense, throw out a challenge that if further and compelling evidence were provided he would—I hope I take his meaning—consider it and consider whether that threw up the need to embody what we agree to be a desirable idea in legislation. I believe the evidence to he there. There have been submitted to me a number of cases, but at this hour of night I do not intend to weary the Committee with them. However, I pro- pose to try to marshal the evidence that is available and submit it to him. I hope I take the spirit of his reply in this way: that the department will look at such evidence and be prepared to reconsider the matter if the evidence is forthcoming and is powerful.


I am quite sure that my noble friend's department would do exactly what the noble Lord is asking, but it would be of course, as the noble Lord would he the first to understand, in the context of legislation which exists already to deal with rights in the matrimonial home—the Matrimonial Homes Act 1967, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976—all of which the noble Lord has referred to during the Committee proceedings this evening. These Acts give substantial protection to spouses in cases of family break-up and, of course, anything the noble Lord put forward would have to he looked at in the context of that existing legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.34 a.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 109: After Clause 45, insert the following new clause:

"Distress for rent

( .—(1) No distress for the rent of any dwelling house let under a secure tenancy shall be levied except with the leave of the county court.

(2) Subsection (1) above does not apply to distress levied under section 137 of the County Courts Act 1959.").

The noble Baroness said: It is very late and perhaps it is right that we should be dealing with a distress clause. I intend to be very brief, mainly because my Chief Whip has appeared on the scene. Perhaps I might say quickly that to find that distress is still used, when it is really a feudal power, is quite amazing. The most important element of the feudal nature of distress is that tenants' goods can be seized without any prior warning or remedy for any amount of rent arrears. It is, in fact, the only kind of debt for which such draconian powers exist, and it is only council tenants against whom distress can be operated in this form.

Since 1920 the rent Acts have always included a limitation on the use of dis- tress. The legal profession itself has recognised how archaic this matter is. In 1966 the Law Commission's interim report on distress for rents recommended that distress without leave of court should be abolished. In 1969 the Payne Commission on the enforcement of judgment debt went even further and stated that only an accident of history entitles the landlord to exercise this right without first having to transfer his claim into a judgment debt.

For these reasons we conclude that distress in this connection should be abolished. In fact, the Government themselves recognised the incompatibility of having a tenants' charter giving security of tenure when distress was left untouched. The present Minister for Housing, speaking at a Shelter conference on 28th July 1979, said: I also intend to require that the leave of the court shall be sought before distress is levied on council tenants, thereby extending to them the same protection as in the private sector. I do not suggest that many local authorities have abused the use of bailiffs in any way, but there is a principle at stake here and I think it right that the public sector tenants also should have the protection of a court procedure before bailiffs appear on the doorstep".

That having been said, the Bill has appeared without any change in the law on distress. According to a recent survey, only one-third of local councils use distraint. Distraint can make the problem of rent arrears worse, because if a family's goods are sold at auction and they yield far less than their market value, then the family is left without any goods with which to furnish their flat or house and also without money for arrears.

This is such an anachronistic measure to retain in 1980 that I hope I do not have to press the Government very hard for them to say that they will deal with it in this Bill. I do not expect a complete answer tonight. I should like the Minister, at this late hour, to say—unless he says right away that this is what he intends to do, which would be fine and then we could finish with it—that he will certainly take this back and look at it, particularly in view of what the Minister for Housing said a year ago. I beg to move.


This is an enormously important amendment and I am afraid I do not apologise for prolonging the debate in speaking to it. We could alleviate a great deal of misery if we were to persuade the Government to accept this amendment tonight. To give an example of the human distress and suffering which this form of debt collection brings, may I take an example which is quoted in an excellent pamphlet produced by Shelter, called In Distress Over Rent? It quotes the case of a couple who were some £200 in arrears in rent and who had these goods seized: a three-piece suite; carpets; a fireside chair; four dining chairs; a dining table; a coffee table; a washing machine; a Hoover and a sewing machine. That raised c38.14. The bailiffs had to be paid, because private bailiffs are brought in with no sense of compassion at all. They were paid £20.63. So the whole exercise of stripping this family's home took £18 off the rent arrears. It really is quite horrific.

The fact that one-third of local authorities in the survey Shelter made were found to use this remedy is significant in two ways. First, this kind of sudden incursion into people's homes, which does not need any notice, is going on in an enormous number of local authority areas; but, secondly, the majority of local authorities do not find it necessary. Indeed, given the tenants' charter, there will be ample powers for the court to supervise the payment of arrears by suspended possession orders and outright possession orders, when the case is outrageous. There is no reason for not accepting this amendment and I look forward to its acceptance. I wonder what other answer there can be.


There is every reason not to accept this amendment. The reason is that rent arrears stand, at the moment, at the scandalous total of £70 million. That is what is owed to local authority exchequers. On this ground alone, I should not have the slightest intention of accepting what I consider to he a totally ill-conceived amendment. In moving the amendment, the noble Baroness was good enough to say that she did not want too long an answer, and having perhaps been a little brusque in my first response, may I say that the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The present Government have changed their minds on this matter—I admit it openly.

We had intended to reproduce the clause which was in the Labour Government's Bill, which was, in essence, the same as this amendment, but we changed our minds for these reasons: first, because of the resistance of the local authorities; secondly, for the reason that I have given of the enormous amount of rent arrears which, taken over the last two years, appears to be a rising trend; and, thirdly, because of the grievance of those people who do pay their rent on a regular and faithful basis and the effect on them if an amendment of this kind was accepted. However, we do not intend to leave this difficult matter of rent arrears there, and my honourable friend the Minister for Housing gave an undertaking in another place that he would be continuing to look at other methods of recovering rent arrears, to see whether anything can be done to improve the position.

May I just end by registering what I believe is a note of agreement. Certainly, from my reading of what went on in another place, there was agreement on this point, that rent arrears cases need to be looked at case by case. Sometimes there has been just scandalous nonpayment, but sometimes there has been very great hardship. Sometimes it is clearly possible to recover the arrears, but sometimes it is not, for compassionate and human reasons, possible to get the money back. But the people who have to decide these things are the people at local level, the local authorities, and it is they who have brought the strongest pressure to bear in very strongly advising the Government that this amendment is misconceived. It really is for that final reason, more than any other, that I resist this amendment.


I have listened to the debate and have not intervened, but I cannot refrain from intervening any more. I am very sorry to hear the answer the Government have given on this amendment. There is no reason why a local authority cannot go to court and get an order. All that is being asked for is that, instead of proceeding high-handedly and seizing goods—and local authorities are the only people who can do it—there is no reason why they cannot go to court like everybody else. I cannot see any reason why there should be any excuse given for local authorities insisting that they should have the right to be so high-handed.


The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, lies in this extremely high figure which I quoted at the beginning—


That is not relevant.


But this is the way that local authorities see it. What they say to the Government is that, if this amendment were accepted, then the proceedings would be more protracted and the amount of rent arrears which would need to be recovered would be even greater than it is if there can be distraint immediately. That is the case which is put by the local authorities, and as they are the people who have to weigh up this very difficult matter at local level, I have to say to the noble Lord that the Government have to take very serious account of what is being said at local authority level.


I shall not delay the Committee much longer, but did the Government take seriously the account which the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has just given? People's goods—a large amount—were levied in order to pay a rent of £200, a process which in the end produced £18.

Baroness BIRK

I am not taking this to a vote tonight; it would be ridiculous at this hour. But I am not going to negative it, otherwise I cannot bring it back on Report. However, I really am desperately disappointed that the Government should follow this line. The argument put forward by the noble Lord—that it would upset other tenants who pay their rent—could be taken in aid of all sorts of savage punishments for all sorts of things because other people do not commit the same crimes. I do not think that is the approach which we should adopt. We have heard, and I have also said, that fewer than one third of local authorities use this particularly savage and, I think, quite barbarian measure.

I do not think any of the replies were satisfactory, and what my noble friends have said all adds up to the same point. The Minister agreed with me that the Government have changed their mind. At least they will have the chance to change their mind back again before Report and before we have the chance to put down further amendments.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)

The noble Baroness wishes to withdraw the amendment?

Baroness BIRK


Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 46 agreed to.

Clause 47 agreed to.

Clause 48 [Exclusion of certain housing associations from Chapter II]:

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 110:

Page 34, leave out from beginning of line 7 to end of line 17 and insert— ("(4) If a housing association which is a registered society has been a registered association but at any time after the commencement of this Part of this Act has ceased to be such an association it shall notify those of its tenants who thereby become secure tenants").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 110, and, if I may, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 111. Under the clause as it stands at present, security of tenure will apply only to the tenants of such unregistered housing associations six months after the commencement of the Bill. This was intended to allow co-ownerships time to register with the Housing Corporation. However, the Government believe, now that co-ownerships are being given the power to sell, that we must have effective safeguards to protect tenants who do not choose to buy. Therefore this amendment removes the sixth-month period of grace before security of tenure applies, with the effect that tenants of unregistered co-ownerships, like other secure tenants, will receive protection from the commencement of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 111: Page 34, line 21, leave out ("the end of the period of 6 months or, as the case may be,").

Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.