HL Deb 26 April 1983 vol 441 cc890-913

9 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 3 [Further periods to count for qualification and discount]:

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 11:

Page, line 20, at end insert— ("(1A) In subsection (1) of section 7 of the 1980 Act (discounts) for the words "50 per cent.") there shall be substituted the words "60 per cent.".")

The noble Lord said: In speaking to this amendment, I also want to speak to Amendments Nos. 11, 13, 14 and 15. As your Lordships will know, tenants who buy their homes under the right to buy are entitled to a discount off the open market valuation. The discount is 33 per cent. for those with the basic three-year qualification entitling them to buy; it rises by increments of 1 per cent. for each year of tenancy in excess of three, to a maximum of 50 per cent. in respect of 20 or more years' tenancy. We have concluded that this discount scheme does not adequately recognise the position of one particular group of tenants. These are tenants whose period of tenancy stretches over more than 20 years. At present they get no discount in respect of their periods of tenancy over and above the 20–year mark.

In the nature of the case, we are talking here about tenants who will generally be well on in their working lives—often approaching retirement, if not indeed already retired. For such tenants, the amount of their discount entitlement may be crucial to their decision whether to buy. Tenants in this position are, of course, entitled to a mortgage under the right to buy provision. But the amount of their entitlement is related to their income; and the multiplier which is applied for this purpose reduces for tenants over the age of 60. This reflects normal building society practice. Consequently, tenants in this age bracket may well not be able to raise a mortgage for the full amount of the purchase price, even with a 50 per cent. discount.

We have concluded that the discount scale should be extended to make the right to buy more of a reality for tenants in this position. The amendment will extend the discount scale from a maximum of 50 per cent. after 20 years' to a maximum of 60 per cent. after 30 years' tenancy. Parliament has already accepted the principle of discount increasing by 1 per cent. a year between three and 20 years' tenancy. There is no reason in equity or logic why years 20 to 30 as a tenant should not be treated in exactly the same way for discount purposes as years three to 20.

Discounts will still be subject to the restrictions which apply at present. The most important of these is the "cost floor" rule, which provides, in broad terms, that discount cannot reduce the selling price below costs of construction, improvement or repair incurred since 1st April 1974. This rule will ensure that the extension of the discount scale to 60 per cent. will not require authorities to sell houses at prices below the historic cost of provision.

The new discount scale, if approved, will apply to fresh right to buy applications made after the Bill comes into force, and to current applications where the tenant has not yet, at the time the Bill comes into force, received his "offer notice" under Section 10 of the 1980 Act. That is the effect of the second, third and fourth of this group of amendments.

Tenants of more than 20 years' standing, who are currently buying their homes and who receive a Section 10 offer notice before the new provision comes into force, may wish at that time to consider whether to withdraw their present applications and reapply, in order to qualify for the increased discount. However, they will need to bear in mind that, if they do so, their homes will be revalued as at the date of their fresh application; and their mortgage entitlement may be affected if their personal circumstances have changed; for instance, as a result of retirement.

I believe this extension of the right to buy discount scheme to be entirely justifiable. Tenants who have been tenants for more than 20 years, and have been paying rent over such a period, have already made a very substantial contribution to their housing costs: in some cases, they will actually have paid more than it cost to provide their homes. Their counterparts in the private sector, who have been making mortgage repayments over a similar period, will now have paid off the mortgage and will be able to look forward to reduced housing costs as their income perhaps declines in later life. This amendment will enable more tenants of long standing to buy at a price which takes fair account of their tenancy record and of the resources likely to be available to them. I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

9.5 p.m.

Baroness Birk

Words almost fail me on this amendment. I suppose the next step will be that the Government will be giving houses away with a pound of tea or coffee. It is quite amazing! When the 1980 Act was going through this House, we had a tremendous battle over the discounts, and over the figure of 33 per cent. going up to 50 per cent. Then, suddenly, this Bill is produced, there is no talk in the Bill itself of any increase in the discount and, after going through the Commons, it comes here and on Wednesday of last week an amendment was tabled by the Government, which increased the discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent.

If I wanted to be mischievous—and I really do not—my mind might wander to the local elections next week and the possibility of a general election in June. But, no, let us forget that. It cannot possibly have anything to do with that. Nevertheless, here we are with an increase which will, again, reduce the stock and the value of the assets of local authorities. It must also result in a certain amount of inequity. What happens to the person who has already paid a deposit on a house, who will now get a 60 per cent. discount, whereas before this Bill he or his neighbours had 50 per cent? The whole thing is so wrong, from the point of view not only of the tenants who will be treated differently, but also of the landlords who are the local authorities.

One would have thought that a 50 per cent., discount after 20 years was enough and could stay for the rest of people's working lives, although the Minister gave us a sob story about people being entitled to more after 30 years. If the Government think that, why did they not think of it before? Nothing else has changed. I do not suppose that we shall get a complete answer, but it would be intriguing to know why, between 24th March and 20th April, there has been an increase of 10 per cent. in the discount.

We opposed the whole principle of the discount when we debated the 1980 Act. To increase the discount is quite outrageous. It means that local authorities will be getting less and less back with which to replenish stock. It is a form of asset stripping which affects the housing stock of local authorities. The Minister might prefer to use a different phrase, but that is exactly what is happening. Instead of receiving what the property is worth, one takes the market price and then gives an enormous discount of 60 per cent. It is absolutely outrageous and quite unacceptable. That is all I need to say at this stage about the amendment. I resist it completely.

Lord Hylton

The noble Lord the Minister and the Committee may recall that in 1980 I thought that the size of the discounts being offered was too large. In those days I sat on the Government Benches. Today I sit on other Benches. I think so even more strongly today. This is a kind of give-away of public assets. What is more, it is not even a fair, or an equal, or a proportional give-away. It is what I would describe as a lottery. Let me take the position of somebody who has been the tenant of a private landlord, or even an owner-occupier, who at some point along the line becomes the tenant of a local authority. All his time as a private tenant does not count, or all his time as an owner-occupier does not count for the purposes of discount. This is pure speculation, favouring those who have been the longest tenants of local authorities or even housing associations. To have this from a Government which proclaim their faith in Victorian values seems to me to be absolutely astounding. I hope the Committtee will resist the amendment.

Lord Bellwin

Clearly there is a wide gulf between us. Just as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, feel that they must resist the amendment, I feel just as passionately that it ought to be accepted. Nobody cares tuppence about the people who occupy these homes.

Several noble Lords


Lord Bellwin

Noble Lords always protest whenever I say this, but the fact is that we have been fought every inch of the way. The noble Baroness will go on fighting every inch of the way against the right to buy. The fact is that over half a million people have now exercised their right to buy. People have paid rent for up to 30 years and have nothing at all. We are suggesting that we should give them the right to buy. Again the gulf is wider than ever.

Baroness Birk

The noble Lord said that they have nothing. However, we are discussing an amendment which increases the discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. It is quite ridiculous for the Minister to say that they have nothing. They will have the 50 per cent. discount, anyhow. What we are discussing and arguing about at the moment is that the 50 per cent. should be increased to 60 per cent. That can only be for purely political reasons. Otherwise, let the Minister tell me why this was not in the Bill originally and explained at Second Reading.

Lord Bellwin

The last thing which the noble Baroness should do is to talk about political reasons. Her political theology is totally against the right to buy—all the way down the line. We are 100 miles apart on this. It is a matter of opinion about helping another batch of people, about whom the noble Lords and Baronesses opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, simply do not want to know. I agree with the noble Baroness about one thing: that there is not much point in saying any more about it.

The Earl of Perth

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, can say why he has chosen 60 per cent? Why not 100 per cent?

Lord Bellwin

In order to continue exactly the same ratio of 1 per cent. per year, following on from the 20 to the 30 as goes from the 3 to the 20 at the moment.

The Earl of Perth

If you live for 40 years or more in your home will you get an 80 per cent. discount?

Lord Bellwin

I hear what the noble Earl says.

Lord Evans of Claughton

Although I was out of the Chamber when the discussion started, I want to underline from these Benches that we and, I understand, others are not against the concept of the right to buy. We are concerned about the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, rightly suggested, that the granting of discounts is going far too far. It is the level at which the noble Lord is suggesting that discounts should be taken, and the particular time at which this proposal is being made, which we find unacceptable.

9.13 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 44.

Airey Of Abingdon, B. Cockfield, L.
Auckland, L. Constantine of Stanmore, L.
Avon, E. Cork and Orrery, E.
Bathurst, E. Craigavon, V.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Crathorne, L.
Bellwin, L. Crawshaw, L.
Beloff, L. Davidson, V.
Belstead, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Boardman, L. Dormer, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Eccles, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Elton, L.
Cathcart, E. Faithfull, B.
Ferrier, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Fortescue, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Mersey, V.
Gisborough, L. Minto, E.
Glanusk, L. Molson, L.
Glenarthur, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Grantchester, L. Norfolk, D.
Gridley, L. Radnor, E.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Rochdale, V.
Haig, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Sandford, L.
Lauderdale, E. Sharples, B.
Lawrence, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Long, V. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Lyell, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
McFadzean, L. Trefgarne, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Mansfield, E. Wise, L.
Margadale, L, Young, B.
Balogh, L. John-Mackay, L.
Birk, B. Kirkhill, L.
Bishopston, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Blease, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Brockway, L. Melchett, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Chitnis, L. Perth, E.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Collison, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Denington, B.
Eldon, E. Prys-Davies, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Raglan, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Shackleton, L.
Hanworth, V. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stone, L.
Hirshfield, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Hylton, L. Tordoff, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Underhill, L.
Jeger, B. White, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

9.21 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 3, line 20, at end insert— ("(1B) In subsection (2) of that section after the words "31st March 974" there shall be inserted the words "(or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State)".").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to give the Secretary of State the power to substitute for 31st March 1974 a later date as the cut-off date for the cost floor. The cost floor is a limit on a purchaser's discount entitlement under the right to buy. It is imposed by Section 7(2) of the 1980 Act, which provides that a tenant should not receive discount to which he would otherwise be entitled if that discount would reduce the purchase price below the costs incurred in relation to the dwellinghouse which the Secretary of State has determined as relevant for this purpose. The current determination includes the relevant historic cost of acquiring, constructing or improving the dwellinghouse. Only costs incurred after 31st March 1974 count towards the cost floor, and this cut-off date of 31st March 1974 is written into Section 7(2). Primary legislation would be required to change it. This amendment will give the Secretary of State the power to change the cut-off date by order to such later date as he may specify.

The cost floor provision was included in the Act in order to protect the public purse and to ensure that, in selling, a landlord was not obliged to incur an immediate capital loss as a result of the discount provisions. The cut-off date of 31st March 1974 was chosen for two reasons: first, to help local authorities by removing the need to search records pre-dating local government reorganisation; and, secondly, because movements in costs and prices since that date made it unlikely that costs incurred before then would bite on a tenant's discount entitlement in 1980. In principle, therefore, there is a case for bringing the cut-off date forward from time to time, to reflect continuing movements in costs and prices, thus saving unnecessary work for local authorities in calculating cost floors which will not affect the purchase price.

This amendment will not itself change the cost floor cut-off date; my right honourable friend has not yet reached a decision on the matter. It will merely give him the power to do so by order. This will introduce greater flexibility into the provision, and avoid the delays which might occur if a change of date had to await primary legislation. I therefore ask your Lordships to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I listened to what the noble Lord said, and, with all due respect to the noble Lord, I think that if one did not know anything about housing at all one would still not know anything when he sat down. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that, previously, housing authorities would not sell off their properties at any discount lower than the cost of building them. In listening to the noble Lord I was not entirely sure whether that is the fundamental change; that they will be able to sell properties at less than it cost to build them. I am not sure what is meant by the "cost floor date". That is a new one to me. If the noble Lord could help me on that, I would be grateful.

In talking about the help that it will give to local authorities, I am not sure that the noble Lord understands that there will be a difficulty if we keep on changing the rules as we go along. I know from past experience that what upsets tenants in council properties is if someone next door pays a lower rent than they do. That is always a source of conflict in council properties. If we are reaching the stage where someone is having a different kind of discount or help, it will not only cause discontent among people who are purchasing properties but also make it difficult for the local authorities who will constantly have to charge what one might call their sales technique to their clients. I am not sugggesting that local authorities do not want to do their best to sell properties. Most local authorities are now already in full swing selling as many houses as they can. But they are confronted with all manner of difficulties when they have potential buyers who are grumbling about the constant changes.

It might be that because I do not understand about the cost floor date the noble Lord will explain and tell me I am completely wrong. However, as so many local authorities are now spending their housing money and considerably increasing their plans for building more and more houses to let, does it therefore mean these houses that are being built at the higher price will come down to the average discount of what was 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. or will they go into the 60 per cent. range as well? The noble Lord has brought out all sorts of problems and the way he explained the amendment was, in a way, to let us know that it was something simple, but I read between the lines that it is very much more sinister than he says.

Lord Bellwin

Not in the slightest. It is quite straightforward. The point about the percentage discount has nothing whatever to do with it. It is another matter entirely. As I said before, the purpose and effect of the amendment is to give the Secretary of State the power to change the cut-off date to any later date that he may specify without having to change the primary legislation. It may be right that the cut-off date should be changed from time to time to reflect the impact of inflation. As I said earlier, it will save unnecessary work for local authorities in determining cost floors, which will not often bite on discounts. We are currently considering the arguments for such a change.

The amendment will not change the cut-off date but merely give the Secretary of State the power to do so. As the noble Baroness knows, I too am not without a little experience of housing. I do not think that what appears to concern the noble Baroness is a fact. The noble Baroness will need to study carefully what has been said and she knows that if she wishes to raise any questions with me verbally, or in writing, I shall be glad to give greater clarification. But I can assure her that there is nothing sinister in this amendment.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Can the noble Lord tell us what he means by the cost floor date? That is a completely new one to me. I have tried to follow what the noble Lord said. I think that I understand what he means by the cut-off date. I am not quite sure whether what I think is what he thinks, but I shall not argue on that. But I am not sure what he means by the cost floor date.

Lord Bellwin

The cost floor date is the date on which the calculation is made as to what is the cost floor. Clearly I shall be happy to write a detailed explanatory note showing how the calculation is arrived at and anything else that I think would help the noble Baroness.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 13: Page 3, line 21, leave out from first ("of") to ("there") in line 22 and insert ("that section").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 14: Page 3, line 36, leave out from ("apply") to ("for") in line 37 and insert ("(a)").

On Question, amendment agreed to,

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 15: Page 3, line 41, leave out from ("(b)") to ("for") in line 42.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Schedule inserted after Schedule 1 to 1980 Act]:

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 6 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 17: After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:


.—(1) For section 21 of the 1980 Act (costs) there shall be substituted the following section— Costs. 21.—(1) Any agreement between—

  1. (a) a tenant claiming to exercise the right to buy and the landlord; or
  2. (b) a tenant claiming to exercise the right to a mortgage and the landlord or, as the case may be, the Housing Corporation,
shall be void in so far as it purports to oblige the tenant to bear any part of the costs incurred by the landlord or Housing Corporation in connection with the tenant's exercise of that right. (2) Where a tenant exercises the right to a mortgage, the landlord or, as the case may be, the Housing Corporation may charge to him the costs incurred by it in connection with the tenant's exercise of that right, but only on the execution of the deed by which the mortgage is effected and to the extent that those costs do not exceed such amount as the Secretary of State may by order specify.

(2) In section 10(3), 11(6) and 13(2) of the 1980 Act for the word "exercising" there shall be substituted the words "claiming to exercise".").

The noble Lord said: The principal objective of this new clause is to clarify an existing provision in the 1980 Act, which applies where a tenant exercising his right to buy also exercises his right to a mortgage. Section 21(2) of the 1980 Act permits a landlord or the housing corporation, as the case may be, to charge to a tenant the costs incurred by the landlord in connection with the tenant's exercise of his right to a mortgage. This is subject to a maximum sum specified by order—which is currently £50 (prescribed by the Housing (Right to Buy) (Mortgage Costs) Order 1980. The Government have taken the view that Section 21(2) does not allow such costs to be charged where the mortgage is in the event not entered into. In policy terms I am sure this is right: tenants should not have to pay where—perhaps for reasons beyond their control—the mortgage transaction falls through. However, some landlords have interpreted Section 21(2) in such a manner as to allow costs to be charged even where the mortgage is not completed. The Government regard this as manifestly unfair. This is to correct that anomaly. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

I am not entirely clear about this. Is this a form of a further subsidy to the tenants? Putting further costs on to the local authority seems to be an additional burden on them. The end of the new subsection (2) states: to the extent that those costs do not exceed such amount as the Secretary of State may by order specify". I should like a further explanation of that. Does it mean that it all goes back to the Secretary of State each time? I wonder whether the noble Lord could clarify this a little more.

Lord Skelmersdale

At the moment, as I said just now, where the tenant exercises or seeks to exercise his right to a mortgage, he pays a fee of £50. Where the mortgage agreement is subsequently entered into, that £50 of course counts as part of the mortgage, but this amendment applies to where it does not and ensures that the tenant has the mortgage option money refunded, which I think the noble Baroness will agree is the right course to pursue.

Baroness Birk

It is getting a little late, and we have all been dealing with the Bill for some hours. I should like to reserve our position on this particular amendment and read, when I am probably clearer-headed, what the noble Lord has said. If necessary, I shall return to the matter on Report.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

9.35 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 18: After Clause 9, insert the following new clause:

(Costs of intervention.

. In subsection (9) of section 23 of the 1980 Act (Secretary of State's power to intervene) for the words from "on demand" onwards there shall be substituted the words "on a date specified in the certificate, together with interest from that date at a rate so specified".").

The noble Lord said: This is a very minor amendment to overcome an administrative difficulty, and I hope that it need not concern your Lordships for long. Section 23 of the 1980 Act gives the Secretary of State the power to intervene and take over the sale of council houses where it appears to him that tenants have, or may have, difficulty in exercising their right to buy "effectively and expeditiously"—and that is a quote from the Act. Where that power is used—and it has been used on two occasions—Section 23(9) enables the Secretary of State to recover from the landlord any costs incurred as a result of his intervention. He has to certify what those costs are. The difficulty which has arisen is that as soon as these costs are certified, interest is payable by the landlord as from the date of certification. Unless special arrangements are made, this will almost certainly be before the landlord gets his bill. This is absurd.

The purpose of the new clause is to ovecome these difficulties by amending Section 23(9) of the 1980 Act, so that the costs are payable by the authority on, and the interest will run from, such date as may be specified in the certificate, rather than from the date of the certificate, as at present. That will enable the Secretary of State to specify in advance the date on which the payment should be made, thus avoiding the complication of having to calculate interest from the date of certification itself.

The new clause will make the whole procedure much simpler to operate from an administrative point of view for both the department and the local authority, and I hope that your Lordships will agree to it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10 [Secretary of State's power to give directions as to covenants and conditions]:

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 19: Page 9, line 5, leave out lines 5 to 14.

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to remove the power of the Secretary of State in the new Section 24B(1) to change retrospectively covenants and conditions of sale for dwellings which have already been sold under the right to buy. The AMA, in particular, and individual local authorities, have had protracted discussions with the Government over the types of conditions and requirements which can be included when the house is sold. The argument, which has been pursued on an all-party basis—I repeat that it has been on an all-party basis—is that conditions attached to sales in the public sector should be no more nor less than those which can be applied in the private sector. Therefore, representations have been made that it is reasonable to require purchasers to remain connected to district heating schemes where removal would affect the viability of such schemes. In order to help the case, evidence was provided of similar requirements in the private sector. First of all, the Government would not accept these arguments and threatened to intervene under the right to buy, but after meetings with Ministers it was agreed that the conditions would be reasonable in many circumstances.

Similarly, in the view of the AMA it is reasonable to include estate-based services, such as grass-cutting and maintenance of private estate roads, for purchasing households who enjoy these benefits, and once again evidence was made available to the Government of similar charges in the private sector. It is true to say that in the end many of these requirements were acceded to.

The existing powers in the 1980 Act already allow for either action in the county court or intervention by the Secretary of State should the conditions be considered unreasonable. In our view the whole of Clause 10 is quite unnecessary, since existing powers are more than adequate. It gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to set conditions for sale considerably more favourable to a purchaser of a property in the public sector than would be the case in the private sector. No such powers of redress exist for private sector purchasers who must use the courts.

What is particularly unsatisfactory is the retrospective power in Section 24B(1), which allows for changes to be made in the conditions of sale for properties already sold. At minimum, this power should be removed. If people who have bought their dwellings under the right to buy are dissatisfied with the conditions of sale, they should pursue their difficulties either with the landlord or through the courts in the same way as the private sector purchaser. Solicitors acting under the right to buy would in any case have advised them of the conditions and reasonableness of any lease or covenant. I beg to move.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

As the noble baroness has explained, the effect of the amendment would be to remove the first subsection of the proposed Section 24B and hence to disapply the Secretary of State's proposed power of direction in so far as it may be applied to modify the terms of completed sales. The proposed Section 24B is in the Government's view an important and necessary part of the provision. I hope that your Lordships will reject the amendment. Indeed, I hope that the noble Baroness, after I have sought to explain our position, may feel able to withdraw it.

The purpose of Section 24B is to restore to former tenants their right to buy on the terms laid down by Parliament. I should emphasise first that the proposed power of direction is in fact only narrowly drawn. Under Section 24A the Secretary of State will be in a position to direct that certain covenants are not included in right to buy conveyances or leases only if it appears to him that conveyances or leases containing such covenants would not conform with the requirements in Schedule 2 of the 1980 Act. The Secretary of State will thus be in a position to make directions only in respect of covenants and conditions that are not in conformity with the 1980 Act.

In these circumstances, we believe that it is important that any changes imposed in connection with future sales should be capable of being applied also in connection with sales already completed. If a completed conveyance or lease includes covenants or conditions that do not conform with the requirements of the 1980 Act, it is in our view clearly right that the relevant covenants or conditions should be removed or modified appropriately. In our view, this is in no way to modify existing rights. It is simply to give proper effect to existing rights. I hope that your Lordships will share that view and that the noble Baroness will feel able, as I have said, to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Birk

Is it not true that when this comes into effect it could result in higher rates? Is it not the case that financially this could be one of the results?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

That situation could only arise if the existing rates are low by reason of provisions that should not have been put in the covenants or leases in question. This is giving to the tenants who have acquired their properties what they were entitled to under the 1980 Act. It is an effctive means of doing that.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I think that my noble friend mentioned district heating schemes. Is it not the case that, if half a dozen of the 18 pulled out of the district heating scheme, the cost of the scheme would have to be covered by those people still left in it? Who pays for that? The total installation is there and the cost of running it will be there. If there are 24 people participating and six of them buy, this means that 18 are left to pay. Who will cover that cost? Bearing in mind that of the 18, more often than not, 50 per cent. will be on housing benefit and social security schemes, who will cover that amount? Will it have to come out of the housing revenue account? That would be most unfortunate, as it would come out of rented property. Or will an extra Government grant be given? The cost has to be found somewhere if people are allowed to withdraw from a district heating scheme as mentioned by my noble friend.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Of course, precisely what the appropriate covenants or terms of conveyances should be is a matter of circumstances. But all that the Government's proposal does is to give the people who bought what the 1980 Act entitled them to get. Therefore, anything that the noble Baroness is saying about the impact of these matters is not a complaint against these powers; it is a comment upon what Parliament laid down in 1980. All that this is intended to do is to give effect to what Parliament then provided.

Baroness Birk

I think that I shall have to read what the Minister has said. This is a complicated matter. I am not satisfied either with the reply to myself or with the reply to my noble friend Lady Fisher. But I will have the opportunity possibly of coming back on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed to.

9.47 p.m.

Clause 11 [Secretary of State's power to obtain information etc.]:

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 20: Page 10, line 26, leave out ("without instructions from the landlord").

The noble Baroness said: This whole clause is extremely worrying. It extends the Secretary of State's power which is embodied in Section 23 of the main 1980 Act and thrusts it that much more forward, which we find dangerous. I was in two minds at first to try and delete the whole of the clause, but I thought that that might be unacceptable to the Government. So for the moment we have tabled an amendment to leave out the words: without instructions from the landlord".

Under the powers proposed it means that the Secretary of State can at any time he thinks it necessary or expedient instruct local authorities to produce any document or copy of a document related to the right to buy. To exercise the existing powers in the 1980 Act, the Secretary of State must first be satisfied that delays are being experienced or that tenants are having difficulty in exercising the right to buy. Clause 11 is, therefore, much wider in its powers for the Secretary of State. I want to make it quite clear that the Secretary of State has already taken unto himself under the 1980 Act extremely wide powers which he has in some cases already used.

Under this clause, which I find very unpleasant, the local authority officers must comply with this provision regardless of instructions received from their employing elected members. In other words, they have an almost schizophrenic situation with their employers—on the one hand, the local authority which is their direct employer; and on the other hand, the Secretary of State who has taken unto himself in this Bill the right to intervene or interfere. This means that the Secretary of State can instruct any officer designated by the local authority as having control of the documents sought.

If one does not delete the clause which, as I have said, is one's first instinct, then we feel that the clause simply must be modified. What it does—and this must be wrong—is set local authority officers against their employers. By saying, without instructions from the landlord it means that the officers involved—and they need not be the chief officers—are responsible to their employers, the council, and are generally charged with carrying out their wishes and instructions. Should they receive notice under Clause 11, they may be required to act in a manner directly contrary to instructions received from their own employers. This may well affect their career prospects and certainly will not make for good relations between employer and employee. Local authority officers should not be made party to disputes on the right to buy in this matter. It really is very unfortunate, and in some ways quite monstrous, to ask people without instructions from the landlord, which as I understand it from the way in which this clause is drafted, means that the Secretary of State goes over the head of the local authority, which is the employer of these people, and demands a document or information. What kind of industrial relations is that? It is quite wrong both in philosophy and in practice and, in any event, the Secretary of State already has ample powers, which he has used. We are also well aware of the figures, which have gone up considerably, of the sale of council houses. At the moment there does not seem to be very much wrong with the numbers which are being sold. I beg to move.

Lord Prys-Davies

This particular clause has also given me some difficulty. As I understand it, by virtue of the 1980 Act the Secretary of State already enjoys the power to intervene when he considers that a tenant is having difficulty in exercising his right to buy effectively and expeditiously. Those are considerable powers, and I can assure your Lordships that many owners of leasehold dwellinghouses, who are qualified to purchase the freehold reversions of their homes under the 1967 Act, would wish that the Secretary of State had a similar power to intervene on their behalf when they are having difficulty in purchasing the freehold reversion expeditiously and effectively.

I could quote from South Wales and give instances of tenants who are finding it extremely difficult to proceed expeditiously with the purchase of their freehold reversion. So if the Secretary of State is concerned about the rights of tenants, why does he not in the first instant extend the right which he already enjoys, so that it is available to the lessees of dwellinghouses? That is point number one.

As I understand the 1980 Act—and the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—the Secretary of State also enjoys the power to demand that officers produce documents and information without the landlord's instructions. He already enjoys that right. I am very much against extending that right. He has that right if he wants to intervene, but it seems to me that he now requires this right in order to decide whether or not he will intervene. I should have thought that we should regard the right which he has been given in the 1980 Act to demand the production of documents and information as being exceptional. It should not be extended. If it is to be extended, then the onus is on the Secretary of State to show that he requires this additional power.

My Leader has made it quite clear why we are opposed to the extension of this right.

Lord Murton of Lindisfarne

Who is your Leader?

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My noble friend meant to say his noble friend.

Lord Prys-Davies

Yes, my noble friend. We consider it an unreasonable demand. The position of the staff will be intolerable if they are bound to comply with the notice from the Secretary of State in breach of their instructions from their employers. Therefore, we have a real conflict between their loyalty to their employers whom they serve and their loyalty to the requirements of the State and it would be unreasonable to put officers in such a position. We are also concerned about the electorate and their elected representatives who seem to be having their job taken from them. Therefore, the tendency enshrined in this proviso drives a wedge between officers and councils and could be damaging for democracy. It is for the Secretary of State to make out a case for the extension of the right given to him in 1980 to the present circumstances.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has explained that the purpose of this amendment to Clause 11 is to avoid a situation in which a local government officer would be presented with conflicting obligations between the wishes of his employer—the local authority—and the wishes of the Secretary of State. Before speaking to the amendment itself, however, perhaps it would be useful if I sought to clarify the purpose of Clause 11 as a whole. That clause builds upon a provision already contained in the 1980 Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has correctly said, giving the Secretary of State a power to require landlords to supply information.

Section 23 of the 1980 Act provides the Secretary of State with the power to intervene where it appears to him that a tenant or tenants of a particular landlord are experiencing difficulty in exercising their right to buy effectively and expeditiously. Where the Secretary of State has intervened he may use his powers under Section 23(5) to require a landlord to provide him with documents or information when he considers it necessary or expedient for the exercise of his powers of intervention. Section 23(5) already provides that any officer of the landlord shall without instructions from the landlord take all reasonable steps to supply the information requested; so the basic phrase is already in the Act of 1980.

The provisions of Section 23(5) do not give the Secretary of State express power to require the landlord to supply information prior to intervention. One purpose of Clause 11 is to put beyond doubt the Secretary of State's power to require information in the right-to-buy context prior to intervention. It gives the Secretrary of State a power to serve a notice on landlords—not just local authorities—requiring them to furnish him with any information he may need to decide whether tenants are having difficulty in exercising their statutory right to buy their homes, and whether he should exercise his powers of intervention.

Clause 10 of the Bill provides the Secretary of State with the power to give directions as to covenants and conditions contained in conveyances or leases by inserting two new sections, 24A and 24B into the 1980 Act. It is essential that the Secretary of State should also be able to obtain from landlords full information concerning any such covenants and conditions, in order to decide both whether or not to exercise his power to give directions and also how it should operate; this is the second purpose of this clause. The purpose of the clause is to enable the Secretary of State to obtain information so that he can decide whether or not these powers, which are essentially reserve powers, are exercisable. It is a power which is essential to enable the Secretary of State to ensure that tenants are able to exercise their statutory rights without hindrance or penalty.

I come now to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. It seeks to remove the words "without instructions from the landlord" from the new section. The purpose is to prevent the local government officer being presented with conflicting obligations or becoming, in the words of the noble Baroness, schizophrenic. If landlord authorities are prepared to place obstacles in the way of tenants seeking to exercise their statutory rights then I ask your Lordships, who is responsible? To my mind there is only one obligation for both employer and employee alike. That is, to accept the decision of Parliament. No criticism should be attached to this provision of Clause 11. Any criticism should be directed at the landlord authorities which make the provision necessary.

The purpose of the provision is to avoid the possibility of a landlord forcing a confrontation with the Secretary of State by directing staff not to comply with a notice served under this section. The effect of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness would be to make such confrontations all the more likely. Removing the words "without instructions from the landlord" will do nothing to help the local government officer. In fact, arguably it would make his position rather worse. He would still be under the statutory obligation to take all reasonable steps that the notice is complied with. What, then, if his employers instruct him not to do so? His will be the invidious choice of deciding whether a court would consider it reasonable for him to disregard the instructions of his employers.

In my view the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is based on groundless fears. It is unnecessary and is a recipe for confrontation. It would disadvantage those whom it is claimed to help. I hope that in the light of that explanation the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment, and I hope that in any event your Lordships would not feel able to support it.

Lord Prys-Davies

I asked specifically that the Secretary of State should establish that he has a case to demand this additional power. The Minister has not replied to that question. As I understand from the comments of the Minister when he spoke to an earlier amendment, the Secretary of State has been asked to intervene on only two occasions. We have heard of thousands of houses which have been sold since 1980, but he has had to intervene on only two occasions. Are those the grounds upon which he requires the additional powers—because he has had to intervene on two occasions in the matter of the sales of some thousands of houses?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

I of course noticed the noble Lord's question, and I endeavoured to answer it. I said there were two grounds on which the Secretary of State considered it necessary to have this power. The first is that he requires express power to require information prior to intervention, in order that he may be able to decide on a better basis whether or not he should intervene. The second ground is in order to enable him to understand the position with regard to covenants and conditions which have been imposed in conveyances or leases, so that he may see whether these conform with the 1980 Act. That is the basis on which these powers are sought. With all respect to the noble Lord, I venture to think that I answered his question.

Baroness Birk

All my noble friend said is absolutely right, and I quite agree with him. What is now happening is that, as both he and I pointed out and the Minister agreed, we have in Section 23 of the 1980 Act more than ample powers—I seem to remember that we argued about that a great deal in the passage of that Bill—for the Secretary of State to intervene. It is quite insidious and creeping, this power of the Secretary of State. If it were not such a thin Committee as it is at the moment, there would have been many noble Lords concerned with local government who would have said something and remonstrated about this.

It appears that it is never enough. We get the very interventionary section in the 1980 Act, and now, again, in this Bill we have even more. I do not know whether the Secretary of State wants to emulate what the management appears to have been doing recently at BL. This way of conducting what I can only call industrial relations seems most extraordinary and damaging all round—to say that you can go over the authority's head to the employees! If the object is to do away with local government entirely and have everything run by the Secretary of State, and just have a puppet force there locally, this is one way of doing it. It is both undignified and unfair to the elected members. It also puts the people who are asked to produce the documents and information, at whatever levels they are working within the authority, at a difficult disadvantage.

This is late at night. As we can see there are very few of us in the Committee, and it is obviously not the moment to divide on this; but it is totally unsatisfactory. For the moment I shall withdraw the amendment and take an opportunity to read what the Minister has said. I cannot think that it will alter my mind. It was clear; there was nothing wrong with the clarity of his explanation. It was just completely unacceptable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

10.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Skelmersdale

I think that it would be useful if we could now consider Amendments Nos. 24, 34, 35, 36 and 80. It will then become clear why the Government wish to delete the existing Clause 13. The first new clause, in Amendment No. 34, provides a limited but useful extension of the powers of local authorities and the housing corporations to guarantee repayment of mortgage loans. The present powers in Section 111 of the 1980 Act permit these authorities to idemnify only building societies. Since that provision was enacted, a greater share of mortgage lending has been provided by other financial bodies, particularly the banks.

There have been representations from both local authorities and financial institutions for an extension of the indemnity arrangements to other major mortgage lenders which will enable them to support the local authorities' home ownership initiatives at the lower end of the market, particularly in the inner cities, in shared ownership and council house sales. We agree that an extension of the provision will be helpful and this present opportunity is being used to extend the availability of indemnities as far as is possible within what is relevant to the Bill.

The second new clause (Amendment No. 35) to be inserted after Clause 23 essentially replaces the existing Clause 13. It has been redrafted for consistency with the first new clause which I have explained. The purpose of the second clause is to enable authorities to assist tenants with costs incurred in obtaining a private sector mortgage. Where a council tenant exercises the right to buy, he has a right to a mortgage from the local authority. Where he exercises that right, the local authority may charge him the costs incurred by them in granting a mortgage up to a maximum amount prescribed by the Secretary of State.

As I told your Lordships a little earlier, this limit is currently set at £50. Where the tenant seeks a mortgage from the private sector source, there is no limit on the transaction costs which he may be liable to pay; and often those costs can be rather higher than the maximum £50 payable in the right to buy a mortgage. The difference is generally small but we have had representations from a number of authorities that this extra charge is enough to deter some tenants who could obtain a private sector mortgage from doing so, with the consequent loss to the local authority of the capital receipt that they might otherwise have obtained from the property.

This new clause provides the local authority with express power to contribute towards mortgage costs. It covers both the case where the tenant seeks a private sector mortgage in initially exercising his right to buy and also the case where the tenant initially exercises his right to a mortgage from the local authority but subsequently agrees to pay that off and obtain a private mortgage instead. In both situations the authority will be able to assist with one of the incidental costs of survey fees, administration charges, and so on, as it thinks fit. It will be for the local authority to decide in what circumstances such contributions are justified.

The clause enables my right honourable friend to prescribe a maximum contribution by order. The precise sum is still for consideration but, obviously, it will be related to the typical charges which a householder may face in taking out a mortgage. This is a useful and sensible clarification of local authorities' discretion which will be of benefit both to the authorities and to the tenant purchasers concerned.

The remaining three amendments in this group are purely technical and consequential amendments to those I have already described.

Clause 13 disagreed to.

Lord Swinfen

I do not know whether it is in order for me to say so, but my noble friend Lady Parkes was trying to speak before the Question was put. I do not know what the position is. The Question has now been put; but she appeared to be trying to make a point on the amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I was interested in Amendment No. 35.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am not sure whether I am in order, but I shall of course respond to any questions on Amendment No. 35 when we get to it. I shall move it formally and my noble friend will have an opportunity to question me at that point, if she so wishes.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 21: After Clause 13, insert the following new clause:

(Elderly Persons Accommodation.

. In Schedule Ito the 1980 Act (Exceptions to right to buy) leave out paragraph 5 and insert— 5. The dwelling-house is designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age, and which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age.".").

The noble Baroness said: Because of the lateness of the hour, I shall be quite brief. This is an extremely important amendment and I am quite sure that we shall probably have to come back to it. Noble Lords—and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin—will remember that during the passage of the 1980 Act we had a lot of debates about the exclusion of elderly persons' accommodation from the right to buy. At that time, an amendment which I moved in this House was accepted. The amendment stated: The accommodation is designed or specially adapted to make it suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age, and which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age.". It was passed with a considerable majority and with the support of a number of noble Lords from the Minister's own Benches, as well as from all around the House.

When the other place considered the Lords' amendments, it was, unfortunately—and very unfortunately, as it has turned out—modified to give the Secretary of State the final say in decisions to exclude elderly persons' accommodation from sale. That is in Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act, under which appeals go to the Secretary of State. This exclusion has worked out in a very one-sided way. The latest figures show that over 90 per cent. of applications from authorities of all political persuasions have been rejected by the Secretary of State.

Without wearying the House with an analysis of figures, I understand that the majority of appeals have come from Conservative authorities, which have been trying to operate the right to buy provisions as well as they can, and have been very concerned about the lack of rented accommodation for elderly people. This is particularly true in rural areas. It is our view that the exclusion of elderly persons' accommodation needs to be more tightly defined, in order that properties which are designed or specially adapted for the elderly are properly excluded from the right to buy arrangement.

This amendment is exactly the same as the one of 1980, but if there was some help and co-operation from the Government I should be quite prepared to change the drafting, if necessary, so that it could be discussed at the next stage. Without going into more detail—and I assure noble Lords that I have pages of detail—that is the nub of the case. There is no doubt that the intention and the spirit of the amendment which was passed in this House have worked out completely differently in practice, and this is causing a great many problems, anxiety and heartache. This is the first opportunity in this Bill to try to get it right again, and I hope that we shall be able to do so. My noble friend Lady Denington, who supported the amendment to the 1980 Act, has her name down to this amendment and we hope that something will come of it. I beg to move.

Baroness Denington

There is great disquiet about this matter. My noble friend Lady Birk has told your Lordships why we shall have to come back to it. In view of the hour I shall say no more, other than that I shall say what has to be said on the next occasion.

Lord Bellwin

That, if I may say so, is a pretty bit of shadow boxing. I, too, have copious notes on the matter. It is a question of how far one deals with it now. All I would say is that the main effect of the amendment would be to transfer from the Secretary of State to the landlord the responsibility for deciding whether to exclude elderly persons' dwellings from the right to buy. Its effect would be to withdraw the right to buy from some tenants who have it already, as agreed by Parliament. In the Government's view, it would be quite unacceptable to withdraw important and valuable legal rights from those who have them already. The fact is that the provision of what is now paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 to the 1980 Act represents a carefully balanced compromise, worked out, after much debate in both Houses, in 1980.

Although I do not wish at this late hour to inject an unduly contentious note into the proceedings, since we have had a good share of that today, I am sorry that yet again the Labour Party are reopening these issues and are trying to discriminate against elderly people who wish to buy their homes. I am not going to go into all that has happened in practice. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is right when she says that it does no harm to bring out what has been the experience. The noble Baroness referred to the 90 per cent. of rejections. A careful analysis of these is very revealing and makes the Government's case for not proceeding, rather than the noble Baroness's case. However, I gather that the debate is not for tonight. Therefore, at this stage I shall do no more than restate the Government's general attitude.

Baroness Denington

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for making his position quite clear. Now we know that we have to do battle with him.

Lord Bellwin

Not for the first time.

Baroness Birk

I agree that it is shadow boxing. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, agrees with me that there is not much point at this stage in prolonging the debate. He intends to bring forward examples. I, too, have examples which seem to me to be rather unfair. Parliament decided quite specifically, by a considerable majority in this House, that the dwellinghouse should be suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age and which it is the practice of the landlord to let for occupation by persons of pensionable age". Therefore, it defines the age group and the practice of the authority. This is the narrowing down which many people wanted. I am quite sure that the noble Lord would not welcome it now, but I could read out to him everything that was said to him in the debate on that amendment. I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 [Right to be granted a shared ownership lease]:

10.20 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 22: Page 13, line 42, leave out ("landlord") and insert ("landlord's agent").

The noble Lord said: This is purely a probing amendment to find out what is the position with any interest earned on the deposit of £100, bearing in mind that completion, after a notice to complete, must be within a reasonable period but not less than 56 days under Clause 19(3), which can be further delayed, as I understand the Bill, under the provisions of Clause 19(6) and (7) for another 56 days. If I am right, it can be delayed under the terms of Section 16(3)(c) of the 1980 Act for up to two years. So with interest at, say, 10 per cent., some 20 per cent. of the total deposit could be earned within that period. I should be interested to learn from my noble friend what the position will be. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

Clause 14(2)(c) repeats the provisions of Section 16(4)(c) of the 1980 Act. This requires a tenant, when he exercises his right to defer completion, to pay a deposit of £100 to the landlord. This deferment of completion is, of course, the necessary preliminary to the exercise of the right to shared ownership, which we are introducing in Clauses 14 to 21.

However, deferred completion is not itself new. Since the 1980 Act was introduced, over 2½ years ago, some 8,700 tenants have exercised the right to defer completion, and have duly paid the deposit of £100 to their landlord. I know of not a single case in which the present arrangements have given rise to any difficulty. Nor can I see that any difficulties are likely to arise from the fact that we are in this Bill extending the right to buy to certain new types of property.

My noble friend may have in mind the normal arrangement in the private sector, where someone who intends to buy a house will pay a deposit to an estate agent or solicitor acting as stakeholder, rather than direct to the vendor. However, in the case of the right to defer completion this is unnecessary, since the legislation specifically states what is to happen to the £100. If the tenant decides not to proceed with purchase, the £100 is to be returned to him; if he decides to proceed, either with outright purchase or with purchase on shared ownership terms, the £100 is to be counted towards the purchase price. This is all clearly laid down in Section 16 of the 1980 Act and Clause 19(2) of the Bill.

This amendment could not stand alone. If it were accepted, other amendments would be necessary to Section 16 and Clause 19. I do not think there are any considerations here which justify another batch of amendments, and as my noble friend said that this was in the nature of a probing amendment I wonder whether he feels that he has the information he requires and will withdraw. I hardly need say that if my noble friend would like further information or detail, I shall be glad to make this available to him.

Lord Swinfen

With the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Bellwin, he has not answered my question as to what might be the position in regard to interest. He has told me what would happen to the deposit, and that I understand. But, surely, with a deposit being held by a landlord, in some instances for a considerable length of time, it can earn interest; and should not this interest go towards the purchase price? If the sale does not proceed and the deposit is returned, should it not be returned together with the interest?

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the common practice in Australia in these circumstances. If the purchase proceeds to completion, the benefit of the interest is given to the purchaser. If, however, the purchaser withdraws from his wish to buy, then the interest is given to the person who has lost the sale. If this matter is to be considered, perhaps an arrangement of that kind might be appropriate.

Lord Prys-Davies

I should like to support this probing amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. It seems to me that we need an explanation as to whether the landlord is holding the deposit as a stakeholder and whether, if the transaction does not proceed, the deposit plus the interest will be repayable to the tenant; or, if the transfer is completed, whether the interest which would have been earned over two years will be applied in part reduction of the purchase price. That is the question that has been put, and I shall be interested to hear the answer.

Lord Bellwin

The position currently is that there is no provision for interest. It is an interesting point that my noble friend makes. We will certainly think about this. I believe the one point my noble friend would concede is that of great moment this matter is not. However, we shall certainly think about this, and I will drop a note to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies.

Lord Swinfen

I think it is important to think of it at any time of year. If my noble friend had put a deposit on a property he would expect some benefit from the interest. I do not see why the tenant of a local authority should not have the same benefit from the interest one way or the other. But, under the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 15 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Clauses 16 to 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Application of certain provisions of 1980 Act]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 24: Page 19, leave out lines 32 and 33.

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Birk

I am sorry, but I have become confused. When did the noble Lord the Minister speak to this? On what amendment was it?

Lord Skelmersdale

It was with the long and rather complicated speech on the Question to leave out Clause 13.

Baroness Birk

Is not that tied up with Amendment No. 35?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, it is.

Baroness Birk

I am sorry, but I do not follow. Would the noble Lord mind explaining how lines 32 and 33, being left out, fit in with the other amendments? I am sorry if he has to say it again. I would be grateful if I could be clear about this point.

Lord Skelmersdale

The lines we are leaving out apply to the revamping of Clause 13 under Amendment No. 35. Those lines become unnecessary.

Baroness Birk

Are they unnecessary because they are incorporated in the other amendment? The power of local authorities to contribute towards certain mortgage costs goes out, and it has been placed with the other amendment regarding the tenants. Is that so?

Lord Skelmersdale

That is correct.

Baroness Birk

What about the statutory declarations? Does that provision disappear entirely?

Lord Skelmersdale

The noble Baroness has got me totally at sea. Perhaps I could have a word with her afterwards, if that is agreeable to the Committee.

Baroness Birk

I think the noble Lord the Minister probably has the answer to it in his notes. This is leaving out statutory declarations. Is that included somewhere else in Amendment No. 35, or does it disappear altogether? We have the answer to the first point, the power of local authorities to contribute towards certain mortgage costs. It is now the statutory declarations. If we could get that out of the way, I think it would help us to go faster.

Lord Skelmersdale

I understand that it is also covered by Amendment No. 35.

Baroness Birk

I thank the noble Lord very much.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Denham

I think this is probably as far as we can reasonable go tonight. I therefore beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes before eleven o'clock.