HL Deb 28 April 1983 vol 441 cc1052-63

3.37 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Lord Bellwin

Before the House moves onto the amendments, perhaps it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if I were to say that, with regard to Clause 2, which was debated at such length on Tuesday last, the Government would like it to be known that they do not intend to replace Clause 2 in the Bill either in your Lordships' House or in another place. I felt that I should say that at the first opportunity so to do.

The Earl of Selkirk

I thank the noble Lord most warmly for making that statement this early on. I am sure that the whole House is grateful to him for doing so. I know that there were some genuine and sincere differences of opinion on this. I should like to express the hope that, whatever the future may be, the decision of this House will be shown to be wise and that it will be a success. I am confident that the Government will do their utmost to see that it is a success.

Baroness Birk

May I from these Benches thank the Minister very much for the statement he has made. I think that on this occasion the Government are absolutely right. The feeling in the House was clear. It is a great help and advantage to us all to know the Government's intentions at this stage.

Lord Evans of Claughton

From these Benches we should like to be associated with what has been said, and to thank the Minister for the generous statement that he has made.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 25: After Clause 21, insert the following new clause:

("New ground for possession

. In Schedule 4 to the Housing Act 1980 after Ground 13, the following new Ground for possession shall be inserted—

"Ground 14

The dwelling-house has been occupied by spouses or former spouses or by a man and a woman living together as husband and wife and:

  1. (a) either the spouses or the former spouses, or the man and the woman has ceased to live together as husband and wife, or either of the spouses or of the former spouses or the man or the woman has notified the landlord in the prescribed 1053 form that he or she no longer wishes to live with the other as husband and wife; and
  2. (b) either the landlord requires possession of the dwelling-house in order to grant a secure tenancy of it to either of the spouses, former spouses, or the man or the woman or the landlord has provided or caused to be provided suitable alternative accommodation (the suitability of which is defined in Part II below) to either of the spouses, former spouses or the man or the woman.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment has been made necessary because since the Housing Act 1980 a problem has arisen relating to the powerlessness of local authorities to deal with a joint tenancy granted to two people who do not wish, or cannot continue, to live together. The amendment would enable local authorities to take possession proceedings where a relationship has broken down. It would allow local authorities to transfer tenancies to one of the parties or, if there was violence, to rehouse the woman elsewhere for her own protection. It would also protect the rights of both married and cohabiting couples, and ensure that neither party was left homeless as a result of relationship breakdown.

Our amendment would, to a great extent, put the situation for couples who no longer wish to live together back to what it was before the Housing Act 1980. As we are well aware, before the Act a local authority could take back a council tenancy in a situation where a couple did not want to live together, and offer alternative accommodation to the partner who they decided was in greatest need. Alternatively, the local authority could, if she wished to remain in the home, transfer the tenancy into the woman's name solely and the man then no longer had the right to live there. But since the Act, which gave security of tenure to council tenants, local authorities no longer have the power to transfer tenancies, and therefore have no power to help sort out the housing problems of couples who can no longer live together.

These problems vary, depending on the couples' marital status. Married couples can, through matrimonial legislation, seek a permanent solution to the problem of who is to have the matrimonial home. The court can transfer a tenancy into the woman's name as part of the divorce proceedings. But that is not of any help to couples who may have religious objections to divorce, or who have not been married long enough to apply for a divorce, or who in the circumstances do not wish to apply for a divorce at the time. Also, in circumstances where there has been violence, when the woman cannot live in the home during divorce proceedings, she could be forced to live in temporary accommodation, or a refuge, and that could be for up to as long as two years.

So far as cohabitees are concerned, there is now no avenue through which cohabiting couples can seek a solution to the problem of a dispute over the tenancy. Since there is an increase in the numbers of couples who are cohabiting, but who are not married, this has become a growing problem. The local authority cannot transfer the tenancy to one of the parties because it interferes with security of tenure, and there is no legislation similar to matrimonial law for cohabitees to use. If the tenancy is in one name only, the sole way in which it can be transferred to the other partner is if the tenant assigns it voluntarily and therefore makes himself, or herself, homeless. That is not very likely. If the cohabiting couple are joint tenants, one can transfer the tenancy to the other voluntarily, but there is no legislation which can force him or her to do so.

The effects of the problem on attempts by women to be rehoused are very worrying, and I hasten to add that in many cases this also applies to men. If there has been violence and the woman is forced to leave home, she will probably apply to the local authority for rehousing. That is a natural, immediate thing for her to do. She may be refused if she already has a joint tenancy with her husband, or cohabitee, as the case may be, but she has no way of getting the tenancy for herself if she is not married. Alternatively, if she is rehoused, that will leave her cohabitee living alone in family-sized accommodation.

We feel that the decision over what happens to a tenancy when a marriage or a cohabitating relationship breaks down—and this is what we intend to achieve by the amendment—should be left to the court. But at the moment the court is powerless to make such a decision. It cannot deal with unmarried couples; nor can it do anything for anyone else, except those who are able to ask the divorce court to intervene. Divorce proceedings can be very lengthy if contested, and so the housing decision could take a long time. This may mean that the local authority will have to keep families in temporary accommodation for years while they wait for the resolution of the divorce. The cost to the local authority is enormous, and the cost to the family in stress and hardship is immeasurable.

The amendment would enable the local authority to take the problem to the court, and the court would then make a ruling. Until now when this question has been raised—and it has been raised in another place, too—it has been said by the Lord Cancellor's Department that it is a housing matter, while, I understand, the Department of the Environment has said that it is a matrimonial matter. It is generally felt by people and bodies concerned that it is more of a housing matter. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the London Boroughs Association, the National Council for One-Parent Families, the National Consumer Council, the Women's Aid Federation, Shelter and the GLC also support the amendment. All these bodies are very concerned about the inadequacy of the present law to deal with this kind of housing problem in the public sector when there is a relationship breakdown. I beg to move.

Baroness Denington

I have very great pleasure in supporting the amendment. I shall not go over the ground which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has laid out. The situation is very plain. It involves unfortunate and sad human circumstances, often surrounded by much emotion, and sometimes, regrettably, fraught with bitterness. If by legislation we can do anything to alleviate what is an unpleasant and distressing situation, it is our duty to do so. I hope that the Government will look kindly at the proposed new clause or, if they wish to alter the wording, at some other legislation to deal with this particular problem.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, the situation also presents a problem for the housing authorities. When there is a breakdown of this kind, people who might want a transfer from a smaller house, or who are on the housing waiting list, learn via the bush telegraph that a house may become available. They immediately go to the housing officers and start asking for the house before anything at all has been done about it, and so the housing officers, too, are harassed.

It would seem that the general opinion is that the proposed new clause would be an excellent way to deal with what is a human, as well as an administrative, problem: anything that can be done about it should be done. I would add that today I had lunch with a former general manager of the Sutton Housing Trust, which I mentioned in the Chamber the other day. I asked him his view of the amendment, and he said, "It is utterly desirable. Do please try to get their Lordships to agree to it".

Baroness Seear

I hope that the Government will feel able to accept the amendment. The fact is that over very recent years social custon and practice in this respect have changed rapidly, and as a result there has been created a situation with which current legislation does not adequately cope. The amendment is an attempt to bring legislation into line with the needs of today.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

With respect to those who have spoken in support of the amendment, I would say that I wish to oppose it for the following reason. I wholly accept that, if one regards the problem as more of a housing problem than a matrimonial problem, everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said is assuredly right. It is a question of approach. Unfortunately, I find that I am unable to approach it in that way. I approach it, perhaps because of the defects of my training, more from the matrimonial aspect. It is for that reason that I would oppose the amendment. Giving the power to a local authority to transfer to one party of a marriage or extra marital relationship property that could be the most important part of what was their property seems to be wrong.

Lord Skelmersdale

The Government fully appreciate the intention behind the new clause. As my noble friend has said, the attempt to resolve difficult and emotional family situations is readily understandable. But the issues are complex and cannot simply be thought of within the context of public sector housing management. After all, public sector housing management is what Schedule 4 of the 1980 Act is all about.

The clause proposes to give public sector landlords a power or a duty—it is not clear, but this does not detract from my argument—to serve possession orders on secure tenants who may or may not be the innocent party in a breakdown of a marriage or cohabiting relationship. These tenants may, as a result, depending on whether the court is required to determine the reasonableness of the order—again, it is not clear—find themselves not only losing their security of tenure and their right to buy but also becoming homeless. These are extremely serious consequences which cannot be equated with those that existed before the 1980 Housing Act when security of tenure and right to buy from councils did not exist for tenants.

The proposed ground would sit uncomfortably in Schedule 4. It cannot be claimed that it falls into the class of grounds where the tenant has failed in his conduct as a tenant, for example, by breaking the terms of the tenancy or by causing a nuisance. Nor can it be claimed to fall into the other areas of housing management grounds such as over-occupation. As far as the landlord is concerned, he, in his role as landlord, has no need to get possession of the dwelling. This fact alone underlines that what the amendment is trying to resolve is a matrimonial or quasi-matrimonial matter and has little to do with housing management, which is what the 1980 Housing Act deals with.

In this connection, it may interest the Committee to know that this problem is dealt with in Scotland by the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981. My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has undertaken in another place to continue considering the matter with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. But we have to recognise that this is a complex issue which encompasses matrimonial law, cohabiting relationships and family conciliation services. In our considered view, it would be wrong to take action on one aspect without having regard to the wider issues. I fully appreciate the concern on this whole point that has been evidenced by the Committee this afternoon.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

This is indeed a complex problem. One difficulty is that dealing with the matter under the jurisdiction of the divorce division, as a matrimonial issue, would not really help cohabitees, who would not be saved by the situation. Noble Lords have shown a generous approach towards trying to give as much protection, if that is the right word, to cohabitees as is tolerable. Am I to understand from the intervention of the noble Lord that this matter is under continuing consideration? I appreciate its complexity. If the noble Lord is willing to indicate that it is still under consideration, it is possible that my noble friend will be content to wait upon a further response following that further consideration.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes. I can confirm that this matter is under constant consideration between officials of my department and the department of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor.

Baroness Birk

I am grateful to everyone who has spoken. I appreciate that it is an extremely complex matter. In view of the undertaking, I shall certainly not press the amendment at this stage. If possible, I should like to feel, along with all those who are concerned about the matter, that the Minister will be in touch with us before Report stage to enable us to know that something will happen. I am certain that the noble Lord appreciates that to have a ping-pong situation between the matrimonial side and the housing side may have a great deal of merit so far as the law is concerned but it is no comfort to the people concerned. Nothing that has been suggested covers the problem of the cohabitees. In the hope of further reassurance I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 [Assignments and other disposals of secure tenancies]:

3.56 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 26: Page 22, line 14, leave out from ("to") to end of line 15 and insert ("the assignment of secure tenancies").

The noble Lord said: This amendment makes a small but important change to Clause 22, which replaces Section 37 of the 1980 Act. Section 37 of the 1980 Act provides that where a secure tenancy is assigned, it generally ceases to be a secure tenancy. As a result, the person who takes the tenancy on an assignment cannot enjoy the right to buy.

Norwich City Council has used this provision as a means of effectively denying the right to buy. It has said to its tenants: if you wish to exchange your home with another council tenant, you must do it by mutual assignment. As a result, both tenants lose their security of tenure and lose their right to buy. A number of Norwich tenants have found themselves in this position.

Your Lordships will understand that we could not possibly accept that tenants should lose important rights as a consequence of such a device. My honourable friend the Minister for Housing therefore announced in another place in July 1981 that we would stop this loophole, which has come to be known as the Norwich loophole, as soon as the legislative opportunity arose. He promised that the legislation would be effective as from the date of his announcement—28th July 1981.

That is the effect of Clause 22, already in the Bill. For technical reasons it is necessary to recast the whole of the former Section 37 in order to deal with this particular point. But the only substantive change is that necessary to block the Norwich loophole. The clause achieves this by restoring security of tenure to those who have lost it as a result of assignment since 28th July 1981. It also prevents any further use of the device by providing that secure tenancies shall not in general be capable of assignment. The clause was drafted in this way after consultations with the local authority associations.

I apologise for that long preamble, but we now come to the amendment to Clause 22, which is on the Marshalled List. Since the Bill was published, it has come to our notice that a small number of tenants lost their security of tenure, and their right to buy, as a result of assignments which took place before my honourable friend's announcement on 28th July 1981. It would clearly be quite inequitable if security was not restored to those tenants as well. We are therefore providing that any tenant who lost security of tenure following assignment at any time after the commencement of the 1980 Act will have it restored.

Clause 22 is a complicated and technical provision. I hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships of the need for this amendment. If further explanation of the other provisions in Clause 22 is required, I will gladly give it, but, as I have said, it is, except as regards the Norwich loophole, effectively a repetition of Section 37 of the 1980 Act. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 23 [Other rights of secure tenants]:

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 27: Page 22, line 27, leave out ("entitling secure tenants") and insert ("enabling secure tenants to agree with their landlords").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 27, I shall speak, at the same time, with the leave of the Committee, to Amendments Nos. 29, 31 and 33. These are all concerned with tenants' repairs. The amendments seek to modify the tenant's right to repairs as at the moment contained in the Bill. The intention is to modify the right to one that only operates by agreement in situations where the landlord has defaulted on his repairing obligations. The amendments also seek to ensure that the Secretary of State consults with local authorities before introducing or, even more importantly, modifying the arrangements.

At present the scheme is a general right which suspends the landlord's repairing obligations—that is how it appears in the Bill at present. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities is opposed to these provisions as drafted in the Bill. The London tenants' organisation and the national tenants' organisations are also opposed to these proposals.

The scheme could in some respects be better described as "a right not to repair". What it does is to remove the tenant's right to repair by suspending the landlord's general repairing obligations as set out in Section 32 of the Housing Act 1961 and subsequent legislation. It is a money-saving exercise arising from the recent Department of the Environment report commended by the Minister of Housing and Construction entitled, Tenant Participation in the Repair and Maintenance of Council Houses. That report suggests that for every £1,000 million spent on repairs at present, up to £250 million might be saved if tenants were to undertake a proportion of their own repairs in lieu of their landlords.

Let me hastily add that we do not have any objection to, or want to discourage tenants from, any do-it-yourself scheme or from undertaking some of their own repairs. That is obviously all to the good, both for the tenants and for the local authorities. But the problem is that, except in very minor details, it could be attractive only to the better-off tenants who already undertake a proportion of their own repairs and improvements, not necessarily by their own efforts but by getting in other builders. Tenants who are elderly or unemployed are unlikely to be in a position to afford the initial outlay to participate in the scheme. They will have to continue to rely on the local authority arrangements. Thus it seems to us that it is a selective rather than a universal scheme. Furthermore, the scheme could be used by some unscrupulous local authorities to avoid their repairing obligations and expense. For instance, housing applicants could be persuaded to agree to the scheme if they thought that by agreeing they could obtain an offer of a tenancy more quickly. Homeless households would be in a very difficult position should they be asked directly to participate in arrangements of this type.

One of our great worries is that there could be a great deterioration and run-down in the repair of the housing stock. We have enough problems with the state of the housing stock at the moment without introducing any more legislation that could be used in this way, although obviously that is not the intention of the Government. However, it would mean that there would be far greater disrepair.

The administrative work in relation to the proposals is likely to be considerable and could be quite out of scale with the small benefit derived from it. It is clear that one London borough which has devised a modest scheme of this type; namely, Havering—of which I am sure the Minister is well aware—has had to devise completely new administrative arrangements and its pre-inspection and post-inspection work has had to increase in order to safeguard public money. Difficulties of that type would be exacerbated in rural areas where, in order to agree a repair for payment under the scheme, a local authority officer would have to visit the dwelling concerned. If the scheme was of a minor nature, the costs of inspection may very much exceed any potential savings which appear possible. If major works are proposed—which the clause would, in fact, allow—then the local authority would have to keep fairly close supervision to ensure that the house was repaired properly and the work completed to a satisfactory standard in order that payment or other financial arrangements could be sanctioned. Where the local authority and the tenants can agree the scheme (as under Amendment No. 27) this could work very well. But we feel very strongly that it should be on the face of the Bill.

We must accept also that the scheme can create extra costs for local authorities. It is unlikely to be self-financing unless the amount that is offered to tenants as repayment for the work they have done is below the true value of that work. As direct labour organisations are forced more and more into competition, the margins on individual jobs will be further reduced and the amount which is actually paid to tenants after taking off the costs of administration will be well below the true value.

The principles have already been set out in the clause and we are seeking modifications in the following areas. First, we wish to see the tenant's right to repair re-introduced when the suspension of the landlord's repairing covenant under the scheme is removed. Secondly, we want the scheme to operate by agreement, but not by compulsion, and through the proper tenants' charter consultation procedures of the Housing Act 1980. Thirdly, we would wish to see the scheme modified to operate in default of the landlord carrying out repairs. This is very important because, as I said on Second Reading, where the landlord is in default it is quite unfair to expect tenants to wait an unconscionable long time in order to have their repairs undertaken. Fourthly, the scheme and any future modifications should be subject to consultation. We feel that consultation should be statutory with the local authority associations.

This again is another complicated matter and there is a great deal more that could be said about it. However, I hope that I have outlined the main points of what we are proposing in the amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Claughton

The concept behind the clause is a very good one. All of us who have been engaged in local government can think of some absurd situations where tenants sit around waiting for weeks for a washer to be replaced or something of that nature. The principle is an excellent one. I am concerned, like the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, with the taking away of the landlord's residual obligation to repair. That is my main concern. Even with the present landlord's responsibility to repair, one knows of authorities where the repairs are just not carried out and where notices under the Public Health Acts have to be served on local authorities because of their failure even where there is this obligation to repair. So I would not want to see the obligation removed although I would very much welcome the opportunity for tenants to carry out their own repairs either where the landlord fails to do so or where there is an agreement freely entered into between the landlord and the tenant.

Therefore, broadly speaking, while supporting the concept of the new clause, in my view some of the amendments at least would probably improve it and make it easier and fairer in its daily application.

Lord Gisborough

I should like briefly to add my support and ask one question relating to the quality of repairs. Is it not possible for a tenant to make a repair which is totally unacceptable to the landlord? In such circumstances to what extent would he then be able to claim back unwarranted repair costs?

The Earl of Selkirk

I should like to add a few words before the noble Lord replies. There is a slight danger here of making the relations between landlord and tenant worse than they are at present. This is a delicate matter which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, explained to us just now. We want to watch that aspect. The words in the Bill are rather too wide. Let us face it: if a tenant repairs his house and it does not fall within the amount allocated by the local authority, what would happen is that the rents would have to go up, and the local authority would be perfectly justified in putting up the rents of all the houses in order to meet the requirements of some of the secure tenants.

I must admit that I hesitate to say what the correct wording should be. It is a very delicate matter to get right. But one thing is right: the tenants should certainly consult the local authority before acting. That is definite. There may be some difficulty as to the exact decision to be taken. In any case, I should like my noble friend to take this away and think about it because I think that the words are too wide open and that some tenants will take wild advantage of them, which will be to nobody's benefit.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

Briefly, I should like to support everything that has been said by my noble friend Lord Selkirk in the hope that, knowing there is a real problem here, my noble friend the Minister will take the matter away and think about it.

Lord Skelmersdale

I shall most certainly take it away and think about it, but I think it is only right that I should give my preliminary views on this block of amendments. If these amendments are accepted, the very real and positive right to repair, which the Government propose, would be an illusion. That is because the word "agree" is introduced by the first amendment. If the landlord does not agree, there is no right. I am not quite sure what this amendment is designed to do, but I have the feeling that it could effectively prevent tenants from carrying out their own repairs or arranging to have them carried out even when the tenants, who of course have the major interest in getting the repairs done, could have carried out the repair more quickly themselves.

There is, I believe, general agreement that, on the whole, tenants do not get a satisfactory repairs service from their landlords. There are of course exceptions, and the noble Baroness mentioned one. But to propose that tenants should only be able to carry out their repairs after agreement with their landlords, and perhaps after wasting a very considerable time, is totally inadequate. The proposers of this amendment claim to promote tenants' rights, but, with respect, the amendment falls a long way short of anything that the Government could consider meaningful.

My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has already undertaken to have full and detailed consultation with all the representatives of the landlords, not only of the local authorities. He has already begun consultation by meeting the various chairmen of the landlord associations, and has received preliminary views. One of the matters which these consultations are about is the possibility of providing for certain grounds upon which the landlord may refuse consent to tenants, and the transfer of obligations from landlords to tenants while the right is being exercised.

In view of these discussions—and I fully appreciate the points which have been brought out in the short debate in the Committee this afternoon—I think it would be inappropriate at this stage to have amendments of this sort in the Bill.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I think we were pleased to hear what the Minister has just said—that they are having discussions with tenants' associations. This, of course, was part of the 1980 Act—that before any changes of management were contemplated, the views of tenants and of tenants' associations would be called for. If I heard the Minister aright, I think he said that that is now taking place.

Lord Skelmersdale

No; I said that consultations are taking place with the representatives of the landlords, not with the representatives of the tenants.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Then I do not welcome it quite as much as I would have done. I welcome the discussions that the Minister is having with the landlords—in other words, the local authorities—which one would expect him to have. But I thought that under the 1980 Act (and I stand to be corrected) the landlord has a duty to inform his tenants if any changes in management are to take place. One would hope that in discussing the matter with the landlords the Minister would take into consideration the wishes of the tenants' associations as well, in the same way as in many instances the trade unions are consulted as well as the CBI.

I should like to emphasise what my noble friend Lady Birk said. We on these Benches are not in any way against the tenant's right to repair, but we say that it must be based upon the default of the landlord in not carrying out essential works. That is where we differ from the Government's clause, and why we have tabled these amendments. It is interesting that those noble Lords who have spoken have spoken quite sincerely about tenants' rights and how they are enforceable in the county court. With the Bill as it now stands, one wonders whether those rights will be forthcoming in the future. Therefore, the discussions on this issue must take that into consideration when we are talking about the right to repair.

The right to repair is part and parcel of tenants' rights, which they can put through the courts. But the point we must consider when we are asking for the right to carry out repairs is, of course, that the council will have to approve the repair. We cannot have tenants just deciding that something needs doing, because some people will find a repair every day of the week and will want the jobs paid for. Obviously, that would be beneficial to you if you intended to purchase the dwelling, because you could get all the repairs done before you started to make the purchase.

Therefore, one presumes that the council will have to approve the repair, and one also presumes that the Government intend that the tenant should choose somebody to do the repair. A tenant may do it himself, through DIY, or he may pick up the Yellow Pages and find someone who can do it. But most likely what will happen is that some unscrupulous people—I shall not use the word "cowboys"—will stick notices through council house doors saying that they can do repairs very cheaply, and then, two or three days later, you will never see them in the area again but, instead, you will have all the problems that will ensue after they have left behind them bad repairs.

If the Government are not willing to accept our amendments or even to take them back and consider them, the local authorities will have to decide on the maximum amount that can be allowed for repairs for tenants, because all local authorities will have allocated a percentage of their rent income to go towards the cost of all dwellings. Therefore, it will not be in the best interests of those not so forthcoming in asking for repairs if their allocation is used up by what one could call the more vocal people who will be demanding repairs.

My noble friend Lady Birk also drew attention to the fact that in many cases local authorities have taken up what the Government have said—that they must privatise their repairs. Large estates sent out contracts so that direct labour departments had to compete with private contractors to do all the repairs on a given site. It would be most unfortunate if people were allowed to pull out of those contracting arrangements. As my noble friend said, it will not be beneficial for the direct labour departments, because obviously their costs will rise if they do not do so many repairs. But nor will it be a happy situation for the private contractor who has moved on to the estate on the understanding that he would do all the repairs on that estate. Therefore, taking into account what my noble friend has said in support of our amendments, I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to our observations.

Lord Skelmersdale

I have already said that I will consider this whole matter, so of course I will.

Baroness Birk

I thank the Minister for his reply, and also everyone else who has spoken in the debate. It is quite clear that throughout the Committee there is a sense of unease about the clause as it stands. It is rather a pity that the discussions which we now understand are to take place did not take place before this clause was put in the Bill. The time for discussions was when the principles of the scheme, as it affects both tenants and landlords, were worked out, because it is a crucial and very complicated matter. Sensible and workable arrangements could be worked out, but, with respect, they should have been worked out before the Bill was brought before us or, in fact, even printed. However, in view of the Minister's reply and, as I understand it, his reply to my noble friend that it is accepted that the position is unsatisfactory as it stands at the moment, at this stage I shall withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Trefgarne

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.