HL Deb 17 December 1981 vol 426 cc322-9

2 p.m.

Lord Lyell rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper today. I seek your Lordships' approval for this order. It transfers ownership of the land specified from the Glasgow District Council to the Scottish Special Housing Association. This is being done to give the tenants of the 9,000 houses built on the land the right to buy their homes—the same right that is enjoyed by all other tenants of Glasgow District Council and the Scottish Special Housing Association who qualify for the right to buy under the terms of the Tenants' Rights Act 1980.

This order is made under Section 1A of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act, a section which was added to that Act by the Local Government Act 1981, when it was learned that certain houses had been built by the SSHA on land which it did not own but instead leased from Glasgow and Dundee District Councils. As the SSHA as landlord does not own the land, it cannot sell the houses, and consequently these tenants cannot exercise their right to purchase under the 1980 Act. This produces the anomalous situation whereby one public sector housing authority is leasing land from another public sector housing authority and the tenants of the houses on the leased land do not have the right to buy their homes, even though all the other tenants of both authorities would be able to do so. Therefore an amendment was made to the 1980 Act allowing the Secretary of State, if necessary, to transfer ownership of land to allow tenants to exercise their right to buy. It is important to understand that this power is only to be exercised by the Secretary of State to give the tenants the right to buy and both the parties involved must be public sector housing authorities whose tenants can qualify to purchase their houses under the Act.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been at great pains to try and resolve this matter without recourse to making an order and indeed the legislation requires him to assure himself that an order is absolutely necessary. To this end both Glasgow and Dundee District Councils were informed in August of this year of our wish to see the tenants concerned given the right to purchase, and they were told that, if necessary, an order transferring ownership would be made. Happily, after consideration Dundee District Council consented to sell their land to the association, but Glasgow refused; and it should be noted that, in refusing, the district council cited no special detailed considerations about the land in question, but simply stated in correspondence with the Scottish Office and the Government that they were opposed to the right to buy and the sale of public housing to sitting tenants at a discount. The district council will, of course, be fully compensated by the association for the land. The exact amount has yet to be determined by the district valuer. This will be a figure which he will have to apply in view of his own special knowledge.

The sale of council houses to sitting tenants has been one of the most important policies of this Government; and indeed we lost no time when taking office in May 1979 in allowing local authorities to sell, if they wished. The 1980 Act gave the right to buy to tenants for the first time and it seems to us quite unacceptable that certain tenants should be denied this right simply because their houses are situated on leased land. No one, even those who oppose our policy, can suggest it is right that these particular tenants should be discriminated against and therefore I seek your Lordships' approval to this order this afternoon.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

2.5 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, the standards of Celtic revolt were very nearly raised on the last issue that came before us. I feel very much like raising the standard of Scottish revolt on this one. It is only my very considerable respect for the traditions of this House and the superiority of another House, which has already passed this order, that makes me hesitate.

The noble Lord said that there was here at stake simply a matter of a tenant, who was in a house where the owner of the house did not own the land, being frustrated in his right to purchase his house, that these tenants should not be put in this position and that the land which belongs to the other public sector owners should be compulsorily taken away from them. He said that there was no option but for the Secretary of State to do this.

I too have been reading the statute, and the statute is something that they discovered belatedly in the Scottish Office. They have been slipping up of late. It was not in the Tenants' Rights Act and then somebody spotted the fact. Then a year later they put it into the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act. Section 35 says this: The Secretary of State may by order"— not shall by order". If he makes an order then it shall only be made where—and certain things follow—the circumstances that have been narrated here, the separation of the ownership of the house and the ownership of the land, are concerned. I am prepared to argue—and I am no lawyer—that this is not mandatory on the Secretary of State; but he has decided to do it and once again set aside the ideas of the local authority concerned who own the land and the rights of the community which they are justifiably putting forward. Once again we see the blatent obsession of so-called tenants' rights.

There is not in Glasgow a single tenant of a private occupied house who has any right to purchase. The number is limited, and those are in local authority houses in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland. The number of public sector houses in Scotland is a great deal higher than those who are racing to get hold of them. There are 185,000 public sector houses in Glasgow—a fair number—and the number who have sought to purchase them since 1980 is, I think, 3,400. That is a very small percentage indeed, and we were given the impression that everyone was racing to buy their house.

It was said: "Just pass this Act; forget that the Government have no mandate in Scotland". On the latest opinion polls they never were less popular: they have in the elected House only half the number of Conservatives as there are Labour men. So, I suggest that I share the anger of the district of the City of Glasgow in respect of this blatant interference by the Government in what they consider to be their civic right, carried out over a large number of years, in providing houses for one of the worst-housed cities in the whole of Europe. The policy of the Government is socially divisive and is destructive of the long-term planning that has gone on in respect of it. But I leave aside that point of principle, which has been decided, and come down to the particular point about these houses.

The ground for most of these houses was leased by the City of Glasgow to the SSHA. Why did they lease this land? The usual way of land holding in Scotland is on feudal tenure. You grant people a feu. You put into the feu the conditions. There used to be a feu duty, but I am glad to say that when I was Secretary of State we managed to wipe that out; and so that part of it has gone. The system gave the land superior a continuing interest in the land and a right in respect of that land. Leasing was more in evidence in Scotland than many people thought. Many people thought people did not lease land in Scotland.

I remember that some time around 1950 I was a member of the Long Leases Committee under Lord Guthrie. We discovered a considerable number of leases in Scotland, and long leases at that, instead of feus. When we tracked it down originally there was a certain element of doubt as to the eligibility of people who held the land, to own it. With dissolution and the changes in the Church in Scotland at the Reformation, certain people jumped in very quickly and took possession of land to which they had no real title. Rather than feu the land, which would have meant a certain amount of recording, they leased the land. We found one case, I believe somewhere in Ayrshire, where the land had been leased by the Eglinton Estates and the Earl thereof for 9,999 years: there is an element of perpetuity in that.

Generally speaking, one of the reasons for leasing—and it was mainly in England and there is nobody more knowledgeable about that than your Lordships' House—was that the only way to break an entail which barred you from selling the land was to lease the land. So you got long leases in England; they were more popular in Wales; and there were very few in Scotland. But we did find them in Scotland.

We sought to deal with the problem by a formula which allowed people to translate their long lease. There were some weavers in Lanarkshire who had built their own cottages but did not own the land. The leases were falling in—and when a lease falls in and is not renewed the land and all that is on it goes to the owner of the land. We did something about that.

Why, then, did Glasgow lease land? I think that one of the members of that Guthrie Committee was a Mr. Pinkerton, who was a very knowledgeable public servant employed by the City of Glasgow. I remember asking that question and he said, "Well, Glasgow preferred to lease land because of their experience", and their experience was that, so often, they sold land to somebody and then, 20 or 30 years later, they had to try to buy it back. I was speaking to my noble friend Lord Galpern about this yesterday, and he gave me examples of occasions when they had to do that, and it cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy back a small piece of land which they had let slip for little or nothing. So as a matter of principle, Glasgow leased land, rather than sold it outright, or even feued it. There is a lot of history in this order, and a long-term plan by Glasgow is completely set aside by this phoney call of tenants' rights, when so many other tenants do not have rights.

Let us have a look at the pieces of land which the noble Lord thinks it is right should be compulsorily taken from Glasgow—admittedly, with compensation paid. I think that for the whole 14 pieces of land that are designated with a title, the SSHA pay to the City of Glasgow between £23,000 and £24,000 a year, and the suggestion is that the total compensation will be £1 million.

Let us look at the first piece of land at Anderston Cross, Glasgow. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, knows Anderston Cross very well. She remembers what Anderston Cross was. Originally, it was not part of Glasgow at all. Then it was built up and, latterly, Glasgow took it over. But it was the hub of the shipping of Glasgow and we can appreciate what happened during the industrial revolution. Over the years, the Corporation of Glasgow had a tremendous task of clearing the whole area. Anyone who remembers the historic Anderston Cross and looked at it today, would not recognise it. Whoever would have thought that one of the best hotels in Glasgow would be in that area, and whoever would have thought that on this site in Anderston there would be a great expanse of office building?

I wonder whether the noble Lord knows where the headquarters of the Scottish Special Housing Association is. It is in Anderston, at the Anderston development. So the noble Lord will appreciate the value of the ground in that area. They will be delighted to be able to get this piece of ground where the houses are at knock-down prices in relation to the development value later. What Glasgow is concerned about, or should be concerned about, and what I am concerned about is that the foresight of the city fathers of Glasgow should be frustrated. Here is an area that has changed in relation to its value. The Holiday Inn is, at the moment, building a big new hotel right beside the Anderston centre, where the SSHA have their head-quarters and are probably, losing their valuable car park. This is an area which Glasgow deliberately leased, so that in future they could control the development and not have to pay back through the nose for anything that they wanted.

Houses do not last for ever, and it may well be that these houses will be finished and will have to come down by the end of this century. It could be earlier than that. Here we are getting the very fragmentation of ownership that created the difficulties when we tried to clear the slums from Anderston. It took us years and years of work to get the ownership into one hand, and to be able to deal with all the problems of Anderston, and here we are repeating it by this kind of action. So the community interest is being set aside in the phoney interest which the Minister of State and the Government speak about.

I could speak about Balornock in Glasgow, and about the lovely Swedish houses that were put up by the SSHA. Even though made of wood, they were probably the warmest houses in Glasgow in the past bad weeks. We have to clear everything out of the path that will prevent them from being sold and passing out of the public sector at knock-down prices.

I turn to the next one: Broomhill, Cadder Road, Carron Street, Collina Street, Fortrose Street. These are the most desirable houses in Glasgow. There is no doubt that there will be a bigger rush for purchases there than for purchases in many of the other Glasgow schemes. The rule of the SSHA is that they must take their tenants from the Glasgow housing list. Many people now in local authority houses are longing for the day when they can move into these very houses which are to be taken out of the public housing stock. They are going to be sold.

I turn now to the land at Hutcheston Town, Gorbals. There is history for anybody! The first Labour Member of Parliament came from there in the 1906 election. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is not here because he was very much involved. The Tory candidate was Bonar Law. Lord Shinwell was thrown out of a cinema in the area for interrupting Bonar Law. One can hardly imagine anybody nowadays daring to throw Lord Shinwell out of anywhere! This is where I started my teaching career. The school has gone. The church where Buchan's father was Minister is there. The Gorbals Terriers in Buchan's novels came from that area. All that has gone. In its place we have got the SSHA. It will hold valuable houses, valuable land. It has become more valuable as the city has developed. That land is now going to pass out of public ownership not for the sake of the tenants but for the sake of future development. That is what will happen when these houses are taken down in the future, as happened to the old tenements in this particular area. When you look at Hutcheston Town, Gorbals, the words, "The county of the barony and regality of Glasgow", take you back into history, to the time when this area was a barony and a borough of regality. At one time Gorbals itself was a countryside village. It then became part of Glasgow.

I should like to ask the Minister of State how long the lands we are speaking about in Gorbals and the other areas I have mentioned have been in the possession of the City of Glasgow. In some cases the land has been in the possession of Glasgow for centuries. Now it is being compulsorily taken and given to the SSHA. It has not even been decided what they are going to pay for it yet, but I will come to that later.

I turn next to Langlands Road—17½ acres—and North Kelvin. There is no mention of a lease in relation to North Kelvin, which is a very desirable area. How did Glasgow come to own this land in North Kelvin? I will pass over Rosshall and Toryglen! These are very desirable houses. And the land is very desirable from the point of view of eventual development by the local authority.

Then we come to the land at Wyndford and the houses there. If I mentioned Maryhill Barracks, anybody who was in the HLI, as I was, would know exactly what part of Glasgow I was talking about. At Wyndford there are certain exceptions: six acres of ground delineated in green on Plan F. I will bet that one of them is the old guardhouse of the barracks, where you could only pass if you kept a bundle of papers under your arm and walked very smartly. That is just off Maryhill Road and stretches right back to the Kelvin. I opened that housing scheme. I think it was the 100,000th house that the SSHA built. It was on the site of the old garage and just near the mess where we took Hess in as a prisoner during the war and where Lance Corporal Ross had to march around at night to protect that valuable catch of the soldiery.

That is going too—a very fine scheme and very important land. Why was it necessary to do this and to destroy what was to my mind a very important piece of forward planning by the city fathers of Glasgow ('74, 1952, 1947—all these were done then) for this particular purpose? There are about 9,000 houses on all these plots of land, I understand, and so far the number of approaches to the SSHA in respect of prospective purchasers is about 500. That does not mean to say that they will all come to the actual point of sale. Indeed, with the amount of unemployment there is in Glasgow, it is very doubtful that many of the people who have been thinking about purchasing their house will be able to go through with it, bearing in mind the interest rates and everything else which is the result of this Government's activities on the economic front.

How is the compensation—and this is an important point—to be done? One threads one's way through these Acts. There is the Town and County Planning Act 1972, and then one has to look at the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1963. How is it all going to be done? What if there is disagreement between the local authority and the SSHA? I believe there is a procedure by which someone is brought in whose decision is final: am I correct in thinking that, or is there a right of appeal? This is one of the worst pieces of consequential legislation from a vile Act.

The Act itself was bad and this is even worse, because it shows exactly the effect this legislation has. When a local authority decides to plan properly not just its housing but also its land it now has to be faced, probably in 20, 30 or 40 years, with exactly the same problem that it was facing in Anderston Cross and the East End, of buying back land that it sold. This time it is not land that it has sold but land that it has been compelled to sell, and by a Government with no mandate in Scotland to do so. I started by saying that the standard of Celtic revolt had been nearly raised in respect of the last order, and I can say that, on this one I should very much have liked to raise it today.

2.29 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will have been very interested to hear the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. With his tremendous experience of Scotland and in view of his previous incarnation in charge of all things Scottish, certainly your Lordships will not have been surprised to hear the noble Lord rattling claymores or making threats of raising the Celtic standard of revolt. He made a very forceful and powerful speech, and it is only to be expected of the noble Lord.

If I could try to reply to one or two of the points he raised, first of all he mentioned that we were concerned about 9,000 houses out of 185,000 houses in Glasgow. I think the noble Lord mentioned the figure of 3,400 houses which either had been bought or tenants had applied to buy, that would be out of the entire stock of houses in Glasgow. The latest figures we have in Scotland are that 46,000 tenants have either applied to buy their houses or have bought them. As to the tenor of the noble Lord's remarks, if he wished to extend them outside the boundaries of the district—but perhaps we had better not go into the historical application of the burghs in the Barony and Regality of Glasgow. However, nobody could think from what the noble Lord has said that tenants would be wanting to buy their houses; yet we have seen that 46,000 have applied to buy them or have bought them. That is in just over two years since this Government gave tenants the right to buy.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, would the noble Lord make it clear that that is 46,000 out of over 1 million.

Lord Lyell

Fair enough, my Lords; but I think 3,400 out of 185,000 is certainly a lower proportion than 46,000 out of one million. The noble Lord would know the precise figure, no doubt, up to the time when the noble Lord gave up the reins of his great office.

The noble Lord mentioned in the course of his opening volleys the ground of most of these houses. I presume he means the 9,000 we are discussing today; I hope he means all these houses. The information I have is that there are no exceptions in the 9,000 houses, and that all of them are the subject of the land which is being sold in the parcels under the order. The noble Lord went on to suggest that the total compensation which would have to be paid by the Scottish Special Housing Association to the City of Glasgow was in the region of £1 million. I would not confirm or deny, nor would I say anything further about any prospective compensation. This is entirely a figure to be fixed by the district valuer as part of his duties.

The noble Lord mentioned the headquarters of the Scottish Special Housing Association being in Anderston. I hope I am the right side of St. George's Chapel. I understood the headquarters of the Scottish Special Housing Association were in Palmerston Place, Edinburgh. The precise definition of what buildings did or did not lie in Anderston we can leave until this land is actually sold or transferred.

The noble Lord mentioned the problem of the various individual areas of land; indeed he went through the individual areas in considerable detail. I am sure he would be aware, and indeed your Lordships would be interested to know, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State consulted the district council about the possibility of making this order. From all the correspondence we have, and indeed in discussions with my right honourable friend, the council raised no points whatsoever about any of the individual areas of land. I think this would suggest that they did not consider any of the particular matters about any individual areas relevant, certainly not to the order we have before us today.

The noble Lord made considerable play of the prospective sales at what he called "knock-down prices". I am sure that he will be aware that subparagraph (4) of Section 1A under which this order is made states: Compensation shall be assessed by reference to values current on the date the order under this section comes into force". Of course the noble Lord, and I am sure your Lordships, will agree that the district valuer will be the arbiter between the two public sector housing authorities. That is how the Government believe the matter should be settled.

The noble Lord gave us a fascinating insight into the areas of Glasgow mentioned in the order. I was fascinated by his description of the old Guard House at the Maryhill Barracks. I regret that I never served there myself. I am reasonably familiar with the large cracks in the Maryhill Road. I am very sad that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is not here possibly to add his comments to what the noble Lord had to say. Of course 1906 was a most interesting year, probably, even more interesting than the Bill which dealt with the first matter I moved this morning. Obviously the problem of dogs was as great then as it is now.

The noble Lord made, as we have come to expect, a very powerful and robust defence of his views. But I am sure he will accept that in his very opening statement he said that, first, he had respect for the traditions of your Lordships' House and, secondly, he said that he very much respected the view which had been taken by another place. It is for that reason that I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

On Question, Motion agreed to.