§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Consideration of amendments on Third Reading resumed.
Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No.21:
After Clause 29, insert the following new clause:
(". After section 41B of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following section—
§ "Tenants' Co-operatives.
41C.—(1) A group of secure tenants who have registered as a co-operative society in accordance with section l(2)(a) of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1975 and under section 13 of the Housing Act 1974 shall be entitled to apply to the landlord for an agreement within the provisions of section 139 of the Housing Act 1980, and it may not be refused without good reason.
(2) Regulations under this section may make such procedural, incidental, supplementary and transitional provision as may appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient.".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, those of your Lordships who attended the Committee stage of the Bill will recall that I moved a clause not dissimilar to this, which was criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, as being authoritarian. I have tried to cure that most illiberal quality in the new clause which I am submitting to your Lordships this afternoon. I do not apologise for bringing it once again to the attention of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that one should apologise for seeking to increase the rights of tenants, formed into voluntary associations, in their dealings with local authorities. In our earlier discussions there was widespread agreement that although the Government had reservations about some of the wording the principles behind my new clause were correct. I have taken into account the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and also the useful subsequent discussion which we had in his office with the noble Lord and members of his staff. Therefore I hope that this revised version of the clause will find support throughout your Lordships' House.
§ I do not understand how anybody can disagree with the concept that tenants should be allowed to have more control over the management of their homes, if that is their wish. About a year ago a study was made of the views of 1,854 tenants in the London Borough of Camden. They were local authority tenants, tenants of housing associations and members of three housing co-operative schemes. On nearly every count the co-operative members expressed their complete satisfaction with the repairs service, the caretaking and the way in which the old and the disabled were treated in the co-operatives. I regret to say that this was not the case when the housing association and local authority tenants were interviewed. Any one of us who has been engaged in local government and involved with housing associations and who has seen how, with the best will in the world, housing managers of those kinds of bodies try to work, knows that they can never provide the same quality of interested service as can be given by people looking after their own houses, their own tenancies and their own colleagues. When we last 824 discussed this matter the Government said that they did not wish to introduce an element of compulsion.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
Yes, coercion. We agree with the view that we do not wish to appear to coerce. If you think about it for two seconds, how can you coerce people into taking control of the management of their own homes? By their very nature, co-operatives are voluntary bodies. Their members volunteer to join them. There is no element of coercion of the members of co-operatives. The question is whether local authorities of the old-fashioned kind should have the right to obstruct people who wish to co-operate in this way, just because they believe in centralism and in the 1930s concept of housing socialism, or just because some of them may wish, as a kind of virility symbol, to keep control over people in sprawling municipal estates, which they see as a way of exercising political power. As the Government know, there are authorities which, unfortunately, take that view and which want to retain, as far as they can, the old-fashioned municipal control of housing.
When the Housing Act 1980 was drawn up the Government quite rightly gave to councils the authority to make management agreements with housing co-operatives. Presumably, they took the view that everybody would sit around the table and that everything would be sorted out agreeably by all parties. This well-intentioned view took no account of the fact that some local councils—I do not say all—might wish to prevent voluntary groups of tenants from having a say in their own affairs. This is in fact what has happened. There are all sorts of small-time dictators—some of them councillors, some of them housing managers—who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. The last thing that that kind of person wants is tenants to demonstrate that they can get together voluntarily, form legal bodies voluntarily, manage their housing estates and carry out repairs in a better, more competent and more caring and concerned way than can local councils.
Therefore the amendment seeks to strengthen the rights of responsible voluntary organisations. It improves, in my submission, upon the powers which the Government embodied in the 1980 Act and encourages the growth of alternatives to the drab municipal housing estates which over the years so many of us have seen spring up in all parts of the country. The concept has received the backing of many local authorities—from Conservative groups, Labour groups and Social Democrat and Liberal groups. On this occasion I hope that it meets with the approval of your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, we are grateful for the noble Lord's persistence. I have looked carefully at the reasons why the previous amendment was not acceptable to the Government. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, read with care the words of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who said that he agreed with the principle behind the amendment. If we can get a little more than agreement with that principle we shall, I believe, make some progress. The Government have quite fairly pointed 825 out the various ways in which they have sought to give hope to disparate groups of tenants. The overwhelming majority of tenants who have benefited have been those who have been enabled to buy their property. This afternoon we shall be considering tenants of charitable housing, who will receive anything up to £25,000 per tenant. We are dealing with people who, in the main, will not want to move from where they have been living for years. They may not wish to buy the houses they occupy. They may be living in tower blocks or maisonettes.
There are large groups of people whom the Government appear to put way down their priority list. Nevertheless, those groups of people require attention, sustenance and, I believe, encouragement. I am more concerned with the opportunity for small groups of people to learn the harsh realities of life in respect of management. For a long time there were many people who thought that the soft option was a co-operative. The more people realise that co-operatives represent not just an opportunity but also a responsibility to be met with limited resources—and that they will have to settle squabbles and not leave them to the housing manager, council or landlord—the more painful the process might be. I must declare a small interest as a member of a housing co-operative committee. I can tell your Lordships that it is heartache all the time with different groups of people. The concept is right, but problems come up all the time.
In this amendment, which I hope the Minister will accept, we are concerned with the fact that despite all the Government believe they have done for people over the last five years, there are still those who are left out of a meaningful share of the choice in which the Government say they believe. Where a group of people want to spend their time—and it is more a matter of their time than their money—in looking after their own affairs and making their own mistakes, we believe that the co-operative concept—properly managed, legally formed, and overseen by the council in a benevolent and encouraging way—is a very good method of making sure that people who have nothing else to which they may look forward other than a benevolent landlord will, perhaps, get themselves into the action in what one might say are the new housing circumstances of the 1980s and 1990s.
We on this side of the House very much hope that the Minister was serious when he said that he agreed with the principle. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, because he has produced an amendment which I believe the Minister should be able to accept. We certainly support it.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, I would like to support the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton. I do not believe that any of us can say exactly what form this action should take, but it would gather together tenants, landowners or house owners in a certain area with a common interest in the welfare of that particular development. We know that there are estates which have gone downhill to some extent—inevitably, because the tenants have no common interest in their equal well-being. To my mind, the proposed new clause would lead the way to developments which might be of considerable importance.
826 My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said that he liked the principle; yes, I know—but principles are no good unless they are put into some kind of operation. I do not believe that this clause can possibly do any harm to anything that the Government want to do. The control would be entirely in our hands. The Government would make the regulations and could see what happens. It is something that should be the subject of an experiment, to see how far it can be carried.
I have a particular recollection of housing estates which have gone downhill because the tenants have had no common interest. Building a common interest would give them all a sense of working together in the well-being and establishment of the amenities on their own land. I hope that the Government will give this point very careful consideration.
Perhaps I may mention one further point. The Government have made some 200 amendments to this Bill, and I am not aware that they have accepted voluntarily a single amendment in this House from any other area. I do not know of one single amendment that has been accepted. It is rather hard work talking about amendments if one never has an amendment accepted by the Government.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has made clear, this amendment is similar to that which he tabled, and divided the House on, at Committee stage. Since then, I have studied with care the points that were made by those noble Lords who spoke. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, has also written to me about his amendment, expressing concern about the reluctance of a few local authorities to enter into management agreements with their tenants. I am most grateful to him for writing to me in that way, and for coming to see me.
I also appreciate that this new amendment removes the limit on the number of tenants and is intended to take account of the arguments I put forward on those occasions. The difference between this and the previous amendment is that the co-operatives will already have been formed before any approach is made to the landlord. 1 cannot but agree with my noble friend Lord Selkirk that this is the right approach. In the Government's view, however, it still cuts across the voluntary principle without which these agreements are doomed to failure. Even in its modified form, I do not regard this amendment as acceptable, despite the further arguments which noble Lords have now put forward in its favour.
I will also deal with one further difficulty which arises from the restriction of the amendment to tenant management co-operatives registered with the Housing Corporation under Section 13 of the Housing Act 1980. I would like to assure the House first of all, and most emphatically, that the Government attach great importance to the good management of public sector housing estates, especially those owned by local authorities. We are also in favour of the participation of tenants in arrangements for the management of such estates. We therefore share the enthusiasm of noble Lords about the role that can be played by tenant management co-operatives and applaud any 827 reasonable attempt to increase their numbers, though as yet there are very few.
I welcome the principle behind this amendment— today, as on a previous occasion—in so far as it recognises that the making of tenant management agreements should be encouraged. However, encouragement is the word. I cannot accept that local authorities or other public sector landlords, to which this amendment would apply, should be obliged by a group of their tenants to enter into a tenant management—and this is exactly what the amendment would do. This will only lead to friction between tenant and landlord and is not the way to achieve workable arrangements for such essential functions as the collection of rent, the selection of tenants and the general maintenance of the whole estate. It is precisely this friction which the noble Lord and I wish to avoid.
Several references were made in Committee to the tasks of educating and training tenants for management responsibility and to the need to explain generally what is involved in the transfer of functions from a local authority to its tenants. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred to the "enormous educational job to be done". It is just because we recognise that encouragement and education rather than compulsion will provide the way forward, that my department has been engaged in research on tenant management co-operatives and has published two reports which set out the experience of several successful co-operatives for the guidance of others. I warmly commend these publications to the House and to those concerned with housing management. They are entitled Management Co-operatives: the Early Stages and Management Co-operatives: Tenant Responsibility in Practice. Both are published by the department and are available in the Library of the House. They show how the job should be done through practical examples—exactly this kind of advice is what is needed.
As well as issuing these reports, which are particularly helpful to tenants, the department has issued guidelines for local authorities on the scope of management agreements and their relationship with the statutory responsibilities of the tenants' charter and other requirements under the Housing Act 1980, and has drawn attention to an agreement made with the Wellington Mills Co-operative that can be regarded as a model. We shall see what more can be done, but I urge your Lordships not to suppose that progress can be made by further legislation and regulations. We must maintain the voluntary principle and help tenants and landlords to make full use of the existing provisions. I do not think that it is right to give tenants the ability to force such an arrangement on their landlord. The whole essence of tenant management agreements must depend on arrangements willingly entered into by both landlord and tenant—as the name implies.
I would also like to draw attention to one other difficulty I see with this amendment. It is now restricted to those tenant management co-operatives which are registered with the Housing Corporation under Section 13 of the Housing Act 1974. The noble Lord has suggested that this will give the Housing 828 Corporation the opportunity to veto these co-operatives before any group approaches its local authority. At present, about six of the co-operatives with agreements approved under the 1980 Act have registered with the corporation in order to be eligible to receive grants under Section 93 of the Finance Act 1965 for relief from corporation tax.
Because the Housing Corporation's experience of such co-operatives is understandably limited, it relies on the advice of the local authority concerned on the day-to-day performance and activities of a co-operative. Also, it does not register any tenant management co-operative which does not have an agreement with its local authority approved by the Secretary of State under Schedule 20 to the Housing Act 1980. This is, I believe, a responsible approach. Registration with the Housing Corporation is a secondary consideration for tenant management co-operatives. As I have made clear, good workable arrangements with the local authority are the prerequisite for successful tenant management co-operatives. To give the Housing Corporation the power to veto such agreements would, I suggest, be putting the cart before the horse, and require them to do something they could not reasonably do without consulting the local authority.
I therefore hope that the House will accept that the Government have demonstrated they are anxious to promote the principle of tenant management co-operatives—but through encouragement and co-operation. Such a new clause as this would, in my view, be inappropriate—and, as in Committee, I urge the House not to pursue it.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for their support. It will hardly surprise your Lordships that I am bitterly disappointed in what I regard as the blinkered response of the noble Lord the Minster to the amendment. The amendment does not give carte blanche to groups of tenants to force a proposal on a reluctant authority. It can be refused with good reason. The power to make regulations under subsection (2) of my proposed new clause would, I should have thought, enable the clause to escape the charge of coercion or compulsion.
I cannot get through to the Government that there are, fairly obviously, authorities in various parts of the country and under different kinds of political control who do not like the idea of voluntary co-operatives, which they regard as interfering with their God-given right to manage the housing estates in the way that they choose to manage them. There are municipal tin-pot dictators about who will backslide as long as they can. The Minister has given me every assistance short of help in this particular problem that I am placing before your Lordships.
This being the Third Reading of the Bill, I have no further opportunity of trying to persuade the noble Lord the Minister of the strength of my case. I think I have done everything that I possibly can with entreaties and begging requests—but no threats so far—so I can only use the ultimate deterrent and ask to test the opinion of the House by dividing on this amendment.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 21) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 103.830
|Airedale, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Annan, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Birk, B.||Listowel, E.|
|Bishopston, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Longford, E.|
|Brockway, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Caccia, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Mayhew, L.|
|David, B.||Mishcon, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Monson, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn,||Morris of Grasmere, L.|
|Denington, B.||Munster, E.|
|Diamond, L.||Oram, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Rochester, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Seear, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Serota, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Simon, V.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Somers, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hale, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Stone, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Henniker, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham,|
|Jacques, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Alport, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Avon, E.||De La Warr, E.|
|Bathurst, E.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Ebbisham, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Belstead, L.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Elton, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Enroll of Hale, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Forester, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Cockfield, L.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Glasgow, E.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Pender, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Pennock, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Marylebone, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone,|
|Hood, V.||Portland, D.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Reigate, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Renton, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Rodney, L.|
|Long, V.||Romney, E.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Lyell, L.||Sandford, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Savile, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Spens, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Marley, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal,|
|Maude of Stratford-upon-||L.|
|Avon, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Melville, V.||Suffield, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Middleton, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Molson, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Newall, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Northchurch, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Vickers, B.|
|O'Brien of Lothbury, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Windlesham, L.|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 22: [Printed earlier: col. 802. ]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment on Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.
§ Clause 35 [Provisions as respects certain tenants of charitable housing associations etc.]:
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 38, line 3, leave out ("housing association grant under section 29 of the 1974 Act") and insert ("grant out of money provided by Parliament").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is concerned with the housing association grant which is now to be paid out to tenants of housing associations who wish to purchase a house of their choice in an area of their choice which they are unable to do under what is now Clause 33 and which, on Report, we attempted to get deleted from the Bill and were within five votes of doing so.
§ The scheme as it is in the Bill is to be paid for from the existing cash limited national housing programme. As we are all aware, the Chancellor announced a £500 million reduction in this programme for 1984–85 through his Autumn Budget Statement. For the 1985–86 programme and beyond, the finance is set at increasingly low levels according to the latest public expenditure White Paper. The money for this new vehicle of the right to buy will come from the Housing Corporation budget and it is part of that programme, which is cash limited at £617 million for 1984–85.831
§ The corporation announced prior to the scheme which is now in the Bill that the cash available was insufficient to meet the level of commitments for 1984–85. In a news release it announced that if it completed the 1983–84 programme in full it would have no ability to fund new projects for next year. Accordingly the programme of fair rent provision was reduced by 6,000 units and the value of tenders for the remainder of 1983–84 was reduced by £94 million.
§ The Government have stated that before 1984–85 the money for the charitable scheme will be found from the corporation's cash limited budget. As we heard in the debate on this clause at the Report and Committee stages, estimates are between £10 million and £20 million. Those amounts were accepted and recognised on both sides, but very much higher totals have been put forward by the National Housing and Town Planning Council, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and other bodies. Be that as it may, the Minister agreed that it was impossible to forecast the exact sum, but it will be a considerable sum and will probably increase in future years. For next year further cuts will have to be made in the corporation's budget to pay for this proposal.
§ In addition, when a local authority house or non-charitable housing association dwelling is sold, the capital receipt is added in one way or another to the national housing programme to boost spending. As we have been informed, council house sales alone have added £1,700 million to the spending programme for 1983–84. Quite naturally the Minister often prays that in aid as being a boost for the housing investment programme. Hence there is a capital spending gain through the ordinary right-to-buy sales but there is no such gain from the charitable proposals. Indeed, there is a direct loss, as the payments to tenants come from the national housing programme. In other words, as more and more tenants buy houses or flats through this scheme, they will be taking more and more from the total resources available for housing generally.
§ It is for that reason that I move the amendment in order to make it clear that the grant should come out of money provided by Parliament and should not be money leaked from the national housing programme which is in itself already too small for the needs and demands put upon it. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, this amendment is a last attempt to make the Government realise what they are doing and to come to terms with the overall picture. At the Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, talked about the old guns firing against the target of the right to buy. As one who for many years sat on the Cross-Benches, I assure him that that is not the case. I think that at the Report stage the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, covered all the things that worry us. At this stage I select only two.
First, the Government are selecting a small minority of persons who occupy charitable housing for very special preferential treatment and then among those persons not those in houses built before 1974. The proposal really is not very fair, even if you take what the Government are doing only in that area. But it ignores the vast majority of people occupying private leased accommodation who will rightly feel far more 832 aggrieved than the small number of those in charitable accommodation who might not, apart from this Bill, be able to buy their houses. I should think that the terms offered to these favoured people are absolutely without precedent and unjustified.
Secondly, the provisions of this Bill for a grant to purchase a house in the private market mean, as has already been said, less rented accommodation for those who desperately need it, because the Government cannot afford more funds. I ask the Minister to direct his sympathy and attention to this simple fact and to think of those people for whom rented accommodation provides the only possibility of housing.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I too should like to support the amendment. If the costs of the scheme set out in Clause 35 were guaranteed to be no more than £10 million in the first year and approximately £20 million in the next couple of years, as the Government claim, the amendment might not be quite so essential. But governments generally, irrespective of their political composition, do not have a good track record on financial estimates. They almost invariably under-estimate costs. One thinks, for example, of Concorde; and nor was it a one-off miscalculation. Although the over-shoot does not now look as if it will be so great— let us certainly hope not—we have the current example of Trident. I do not think that that is a misplaced parallel: governments tend to be excessively optimistic, not purely over defence expenditure.
If the Government turn out to be right in their forecasts of expenditure, they have nothing to fear from this amendment. But I believe that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the National Housing and Town Planning Council have it more or less right and the cost is more likely to rise from £19 million in the first year to between £35 million and £40 million in the second and third years. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, that will mean severe cuts in the Housing Corporation's budget if the amendment is not passed. I therefore hope that your Lordships will support it.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, this amendment derives from our discussions at an earlier stage about the costs of the new scheme and its implications for the rest of the Housing Corporation's programme. There is no persuasive reason for treating resource allocation for this modest, low-cost home ownership initiative—for that is what it is—separately from the other elements of the Housing Corporation's programme which have similar objectives. I see no reason for that on cost grounds, nor is there any case in terms of administrative efficiency. In fact, the arguments are all in favour of the way we have chosen to provide for the scheme through the Housing Corporation's approved development programme. This programme is the right place to accommodate the expenditure. There is a grant mechanism—housing association grant—which is readily available, and which already meets other calls for publicly-funded housing association capital expenditure.
To set up a separate system, with a separate cash limit, is surely unnecessary and inflexible. It would 833 prevent the possibility of virement between expenditure heads, which is important to the Housing Corporation in helping it to manage its programme. I understand very well the concern that has been expressed about the resource implications, and I have done my best to explain that these can, and should, be dealt with within the normal arrangements for projects financed through the Housing Corporation's approved development programme. That is what we have done this year, and that is what we propose to do in future years.
I cannot accept that it makes sense to ask the corporation to manage a complex programme of nearly £700 million, and then to exclude from it, and to manage quite separately, a modest scheme of what I am saying would cost about £10 million annually, closely related to other fair rent and low-cost home ownership programmes. Surely it seems only sensible that the new home ownership scheme for tenants of charitable housing associations should be managed as part of the existing Housing Corporation programme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, broadened the discussion considerably. She talked about the effects on resources and the addition or diminution which would result from the right to buy. She referred to £1,700 million of extra money as being available. She is quite right; I have often referred to this as now being in the coffers of local government. She said—though I did not quite follow her—that as people buy they will be taking funds from housing generally. I did not quite see how she was able to tie up those two statements.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, took us into yet another sphere, that of private accommodation. He is quite right about that, in that often the tenants in private accommodation are in greater need of assistance in one way or another than are those in any other sector. I do not at all quarrel with him about that. All I would say to him is that the private rented sector is not provided with public money. Therefore what we do in regard to housing associations, council houses, and so on is one thing, but we cannot do it with money that is not put out by the public. But let the noble Viscount not have any doubts that I do not have other than enormous sympathy with the underlying theme of what he is saying about private tenants, and I hope that one of these days the Government will come up with something that could help that situation. I tell him that it is no secret that this is a matter of considerable thought.
I was pleased when the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that he would be satisfied if the figure was only about £10 million. We earlier crossed swords, and I hope he will no mind if I say that I am glad that he is now down from £60 million to £19 million, when he started off with a figure of £600 million. It is almost a case of, "Do I hear £8 million? Do I hear £6 million?" At least we are getting closer to one another. I think that the noble Lord should have the same confidence as I have. If our estimate of £10 million is wrong, it will still be within the figure of £14 million put forward by other reputable, independent bodies; that is their estimate—between £10 million and £14 million. The noble Lord said that it was not misplaced to draw an analogy with Concorde or Trident. Well, maybe it is not misplaced, but I am sure that he would not expect me to go along with that.
834 We cannot accept the amendment. Although when discussing previous amendments we said that we had great sympathy with the points made, I must say that we do not have the same sympathy with this amendment, because we must think in practical terms, and in any case it is not a starter; and that is why we cannot accept it.
§ Baroness Denington
My Lords, I think that none of us sitting here will be surprised that the amendment has been rejected. Indeed, as has been said, it is the Government's policy not to accept any amendments, however wise or non-party political they may be. But with regard to this amendment, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will for a minute consider the following suggestion. I remember him saying—I think I am right—that in the allocation to the Housing Corporation for this year a sum of £10 million was specified to meet this particular need. We do not know what will be the response from this field; it is an unknown. If it comes within £10 million, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, can quite rightly say, "We have catered for it". But if it is more than £10 million, the situation will be very serious for the Housing Corporation and for all the housing associations dependent on Housing Corporation money. They will already have their programmes set and geared to the money that is available, minus the £10 million. With all his experience of housing, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, knows as well as any of us in the Chamber that when a contract is about to be let it is exceedingly distressing if programmes are upset due to a claw-back; there are already always enough checks all along the line.
In my experience of housing, at the end of the 12-month period that has been catered for financially, taking the housing programme as a whole, involving the local authorities and everybody else, there is always a little money left over. People fall by the wayside, or something that was planned does not happen, and, as I say, there is always some money left over. Could not the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, go so far as to say that if the programme exceeds £10 million, when it comes to the end of the year, or near to the end of the year—because one can see the position two or three months in advance—he will look at the total housing financial allocation to see whether in the overall budget there is some spare money that could then be channelled to the Housing Corporation? The Housing Corporation could then say to the associations which are entirely dependent upon it, "OK, some more money has come—go ahead, don't hold back". Is that not a reasonable proposition, and could it not possibly be looked at?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would say that what the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, very fairly describes is a situation that is not at all unreasonable, and of course no one is saying that £10 million is the exact figure, because we do not know. We are saying that it is a likely figure as we see the situation. I think that it is a very reasonable one to put forward; otherwise I would not have made the case as I have done. But having said that, I shall certainly undertake to bring to the notice of colleagues what the noble Baroness has said. She knows how the system 835 works—there is slippage in one area or another, and there are programmes to be drawn up next time round. I feel that what she said was very fair, and I promise that I shall certainly talk to colleagues about it.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for what he has just said. One point on this matter is that the grant to the Housing Corporation was fixed and then this proposal was put in afterwards. So this is a new obligation on the corporation which was not taken into consideration when the housing grant was fixed; I have forgotten exactly when that was, but it was some time towards the end of last year. I suggest that in future there should be a distinction between what is to be paid under the clause and the general duties of the Housing Corporation; each should be shown separately. In other words, special consideration should be given for this additional obligation that has in fact been thrown onto the Housing Corporation. It is really quite separate and in point of fact does not really have anything to do with the main work of the Housing Corporation. We do not know what will be the obligation in future years. Some people say more; some people say less. However, by the end of next year we should have some idea and separate consideration should be given when the grant to the Housing Corporation is fixed.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, perhaps once more, with the leave of the House, I can intervene. Yes, I am sure, first of all. that the amount of money involved must be separately identified. It has to be identified. I am sure that it is our intention to do so. As to whether it should actually be presented in some other way, I shall talk to my colleagues and see if this can be done.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, put his finger right on the point that I had been making, like other noble Lords, throughout the discussion. It is not so much that the money comes out of the Housing Corporation funds, althought that is an important matter, the corporation has itself said that it cannot meet future obligations. However, even if more is put into the Housing Corporation funds, it will still have to come out of housing funds generally where there has been a reduction. There is no projected increase in the public expenditure figures for housing.
When the Minister talks about low-cost housing projects, the Federation of Housing Associations has estimated in excess of £10 million and somewhere betweeen £14 million and £15 million. The amount is not known. When the noble Lord, Lord Monson, took the figure of £10 million, I thought that it was, frankly, unfair of the Minister to congratulate him for reducing his target and agreeing with him. What the noble Lord was saying, if I understood his remarks correctly, was that even if it was at that minimum figure, there are extra demands and it will increase.
There will not be a tremendous number of forms and different methods of control. All that the amendment says is that there should be a grant out of 836 money provided by Parliament. It does not restrict the method of its deployment. It will be funded through the Housing Corporation anyhow. This is not leaning on the Housing Corporation's funds at a time when the corporation finds itself stretched. It will be extra for an entirely new project.
Even if extra funds are given to the Housing Corporation, I come back to the basic point. The money would have to come out of housing expenditure generally. I am afraid that the Minister's reply, although not unexpected, was most unsatisfactory, and I intend to test the opinion of the House.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 23) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 76; Not-Contents, 101.837
|Airedale, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Beswick, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Birk, B.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Longford, E.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Lovell-Davies, L.|
|Brockway, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Collison, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|David. B. [Teller]||Monson, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Morris of Grasmere, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Mulley, L.|
|Denington, B.||Oram, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Rochester, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Seear, B.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Serota, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Simon, V.|
|Gallacher, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stone, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Tordoff, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Jacobson, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Jacques, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Alport, L.||Cathcart, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Coleraine, L.|
|Avon, E.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Bathurst, E.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Craigavon, V.|
|Bellwin, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Daventry, V.|
|Belstead, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Bethell, L.||De La Warr, E.|
|Boothby, L.||Denham, L. [Teller]|
|Broxbourne, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Eccles, V.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Northchurch, B.|
|Elton, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Forester, L.||Pennock, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmarnock, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone,|
|Gormanston, V.||Portland, D.|
|Gridley, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint||Reigate, L.|
|Marylebone, L.||Renton, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Hawke, L.||Romney, E.|
|Hood, V.||Sandford, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Savile, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Kimberley, E.||Shannon, E.|
|Kitchener, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Spens, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Strathcona and|
|Long, V.||Mount Royal, L.|
|Lothian, M.||Strathspey, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller]|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Teynham, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Marley, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Maude of Stratford-upon-||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Avon, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Melville, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Windlesham, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 24 not moved.]
Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 38, line 7, at end insert ("Provided that the maximum discount granted to such a tenant shall not exceed £10,000.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to reduce the maximum amount payable in respect of any one property sold under the rather special and unusual provision of Clause 35 from £25,000 to £10,000.
§ The defeat of the last amendment makes this amendment even more necessary, so as to reduce the potential drain on the housing corporation budget. My amendment is partly inspired by the very constructive suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne—who I am sorry to see is no longer in his place—from the Government Benches at the Committee stage, in which he suggested as a compromise (because he was not entirely happy about the new clause) that the Government might be prepared to use the powers contained in Section 29(5) of the 1974 Act to limit the amount to be paid out under this scheme.
§ We have been told that the average amount payable under the scheme will be in the region of £6,000, from which one can deduce that relatively few people will be expected to receive more than £10,000 in any event.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said on Report at col. 14 in the Official Report on 26th March:
we are talking here of tenants who are generally elderly or poor".
§ This amendment would not in any way act to the detriment of tenants who are poor as, by definition, the poorer tenants could never afford the type of house to which the contribution—or subsidy if one prefers—of £15,000, £20,000 or £25,000 would apply, as such tenants could never afford the mortgage repayments.
But of course there are other tenants in a different category. The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, speaking at col. 16 on the same day, pointed out that:
Those moving out will obviously be the better off tenants";
§ and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, spoke of people who had unexpectedly come into money, possibly by marriage or inheritance. Of course, one is delighted when people unexpectedly come into money and can in consequence move to a superior house. But do they really deserve to receive, in addition, a grant of up to £25,000 for so doing at the expense either of those who may wish to rent their houses and who cannot find rented accommodation or, alternatively, at the expense of the taxpayer at large? Surely £10,000 is reasonable and adequate in such circumstances?
§ The other potential beneficiaries of the larger sums—that is to say those in excess of £10,000—are the children of elderly parents living in charitable housing association property who have been successful in life (by which I mean financially successful) and who decide to persuade their elderly parents to leave their comfortable homes—by definition they must be comfortable because only those living in houses or flats built since 1974 are eligible under Clause 35—and to move to an expensive and yet highly subsidised house or flat with the promise that they, that is to say the children—or the other relations—will meet their parents' mortgage repayments with a view to being able to inherit a valuable property acquired at a bargain price, in net terms, in due course.
§ I am not suggesting anything remotely sinister, improper, underhand or Machiavellian. The children in question will doubtless in every case genuinely believe that they are doing the best for their parents—as much as for themselves—and in many cases, if not most cases, this may well be so. It is simply that those of us who have put our names to this amendment see no reason for either the taxpayer or the housing budget to subsidise such profitable, albeit no doubt sensible, family arrangements to the tune of £25,000. In my view, £10,000 would seem to be more than adquate. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, from these Benches I should just like to support the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in his amendment. He stated it very clearly and made out an extremely good case. I think that many people on both sides of the House would feel much happier about the whole scheme if the Government felt that they could accept the amendment.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, the problem is that there is a clear failure to appreciate the significance of this £25,000. Let me try to explain the position. Basically the Government cannot accept that these tenants—these particular tenants—should be viewed any differently from tenants who happen to live in council dwellings. They are exactly the same and should be given neither more nor less. They should not 839 be at a greater advantage or disadvantage. The aim has been to give these tenants treatment that is as nearly equivalent as possible to what is available under the right to buy. The fact is that the maximum discount available under the right to buy is £25,000 and that is why £25,000 is the maximum under this scheme. It may very well be—in fact I suspect that it is likely—that the occasions on which discounts will be above £10,000 will be very rare. I think that the combination of the cost floor and the scaling down of discounts when tenants move to a cheaper property is likely to mean that such large discounts are rare. But if a tenant living in an expensive area and with a substantial number of years of tenancy would be entitled to a discount of more than £10,000 under the right to buy, I do not see why he should not get the same discount under this scheme.
As I explained during the Committee stage, the tenant will never be able to get a higher cash discount or a higher percentage discount than he would be entitled to under the right to buy. One of the concerns of your Lordships when this scheme was first announced was that it would enable tenants to receive large discounts based on the value of their rented property, which we were told would meet almost the entire cost of a house that they might buy in a cheaper area. We have dealt with that situation by relating the discount to the value of the house a tenant buys when he moves to a cheaper house. I think that that is fairer than a cut-off of £10,000 which is so much less than the maximum available under the right to buy. It might prevent some tenants from buying houses in the very area in which they have lived for many years.
There is just one further point that I should make about this amendment. It would make the 10 per cent. maximum a statutory maximum on the face of the Act so that it could be changed only by primary legislation. That is not the case with the £25,000 maximum, which is contained in a statutory instrument made under Section 7(4) of the 1980 Act, and which could be changed without the need for new primary legislation. I believe that it is right that for the right-to-buy scheme and for this scheme, which I hope will remain on the statute book for many years, it should be possible to amend the financial limits without the need for new primary legislation.
Therefore, we cannot accept the amendment which would provide significantly lower benefits than are available under the right-to-buy scheme. We have proposed a fair substitute and certainly not a half measure. When this matter was first debated at the Committee stage of this Bill there was much concern expressed about the fact that handouts might be given and the sum sounded so large, but when we went into it in depth—which I did at the next stage because I thought it was quite proper that I should try to assuage the concerns of the House on this—it was realised that these tenants would not be at a great advantage. Far from it, it was thought more likely that they would be at some disadvantage. We wanted to keep the disadvantage as small as possible, which is what we do in this legislation.
Once we accept that we do not seek to give any advantage, but seek to keep the matter on an even footing as regards council tenants, then it becomes 840 understandable. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who has stayed with this matter throughout the stages of the Bill, will have to agree that there would be inequity in doing anything else. That is why we cannot accept the amendment.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her support. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for setting out his case. He says that the Government's intention is not to favour beneficiaries under this particular clause: that it is not to give them any more advantage or subject them to any greater disadvantage than applies under the right-to-buy legislation generally. But for reasons which we went into quite exhaustively at earlier stages, many of us believe that those who exercise their right to buy under Clause 35 will be better off, because of the right of choice.
We must not forget that monies disbursed under the provisions of this clause will come out of the housing market altogether as opposed to monies disbursed under the ordinary right-to-buy scheme, where they will be ploughed back into housing.
There was obviously considerable unease about this new Clause 35—which, as we know, was never discussed in another place—right across the party spectrum at earlier stages. Your Lordships will remember than an amendment to delete this clause was defeated by a mere five votes at the Report stage. The amendment, which I suggest is a very modest one, is a genuine attempt to make this clause a little less far-reaching and rather more acceptable to parliamentary and public opinion. Therefore, I invite your Lordships to support this amendment in the Division Lobby.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 72; Not-Contents, 103.841
|Airedale, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Galpern, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Grimond, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Birk, B.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Jacobson, L.|
|Collison, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Jeger, B.|
|David, B.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Denington, B.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Ennals, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Longford, E.|
|Ezra, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Mishcon, L.|
|Monson, L. [Teller.]||Stedman, B.|
|Mulley, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Oram, L.||Stone, L.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Seear, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Serota, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham,|
|Simon, V.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Stallard, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Long, V.|
|Alport, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Avon, E.||McFadzean, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Bellwin, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Marley, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-|
|Birdwood, L.||Avon, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Molson, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Morris, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Newall, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Plummer of St. Marylebone,|
|De La Warr, E.||L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Portland, D.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Reigate, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Renton, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rodney, L.|
|Elton, L.||Romney, E.|
|Erroll, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Savile, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Glanusk, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Somers, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint||Suffield, L.|
|Marylebone, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller]|
|Hives, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Hood, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Trenchard, V.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Kimberley, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Westburv, L.|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 6.1 p.m.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 38, line 10, leave out ("by way of sub-sale") and insert ("without taking the conveyance, grant or assignment")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor drafting amendment of a technical nature, and I beg to move.842
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 27 to 54: [Printed earlier: cols. 802–805.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to move Amendments Nos. 27 to 54 en bloc.
§ Schedule 11 [Minor and consequential amendments]:
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 96, line 8, at end insert—
("6A. At the end of section 6 of that Act (purchase price) there shall be added the following subsection—
(6) Where the secure tenant's tenancy has at any time been assigned by virtue of section 37A of this Act, the persons specified in subsection (5) above shall not include any person who under that tenancy was a secure tenant before the assignment.".")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I also speak to Amendments Nos. 58 and 59.
Amendment No. 58: Page 97, line 4, leave out ("In section 13(2)") and insert ("(1) In subsection (1) of section 13")
Amendment No. 59: Page 97, line 5, after ("buy)") insert ("for the words from "becomes the secure tenant" to the end of paragraph (b) there shall be subsitituted the following paragraphs—
(2) In subsection (2) of that section")
§ This group of amendments are all consequential to the introduction of the right to exchange. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 56 to 66:
§ [Printed earlier: cols. 803 and above.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with permission, I should like to move Amendments Nos. 56 to 66 en bloc. They are all consequential.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I should like at the outset to thank your Lordships for the careful consideration which has been given to this Bill. It is a Bill with a somewhat chequered history. We had almost reached this stage last May when the general election was called and Parliament was dissolved and the Bill was lost. That, of course, some would say, was a small price to pay for the result that then followed; but perhaps not everyone would agree with that. Nevertheless, I regret that many tenants who were pinning their hopes on new provisions in the Bill have had to wait another year. I think I can safely say that the same fate will not befall the present Bill and their waiting will soon be at an end.
The delay has had some benefits as well as disadvantages. It has enabled us to add important new provisions, for instance, to extend the right to buy to certain tenants of county councils and to give other tenants the right to exchange their homes. Moreover, this is a complex Bill and a second chance to scrutinise it has certainly not been a waste of effort; far from it. It has enabled us to consider some issues in much greater detail than we did the first time round.
843 I cannot resist pointing out that the leasehold provisions in Clause 1, which gave rise to so much interest at Committee stage six weeks ago, in fact passed through your Lordships' House last Session with hardly a ripple of interest shown in them. Perhaps all Bills should have to run through the gauntlet twice. Heaven forbid! But I am sure that your Lordships will take the point I am making. It is certainly as well for governments, and even more so for this Minister, that they should not have to do so.
As always on these occasions, it is invidious to make any selective acknowledgments of the valuable contributions which your Lordships have made. However, I should like to record my respect for the ability with which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk—not for the first time; she and I have crossed swords many times in handling Bills in your Lordships' House—has handled this Bill. I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for the way they have presented the Opposition case. The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, always makes notable contributions when we discuss housing. It is a shame that we rarely agree, but I have a suspicion that underlying that we have a deep, fundamental agreement on what we would like to see. There is not much doubt about that. We have disagreed on many points, but I say again that I have every respect for the way in which the arguments were presented.
On my own side, I should like particularly to thank in her absence today my noble friend Lady Faithfull for her support, and to express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Broxbourne for his many knowledgeable and illuminating contributions, particularly on the selective building control. May I also thank my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Molson for their input into this. They brought an expertise and knowledge which was perhaps not always comfortable for those of us on the Government Front Bench, but at least it was never less than respected, and it certainly has helped us to make a better Bill.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk was concerned earlier today that so few amendments had been accepted. May I say to him that there have been quite a number of alterations made to the Bill at the instigation of himself—and I shall refer in a moment to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon—and others, and in fact we have brought things back in another form. While it is not always the same as a straight acceptance of an amendment, nevertheless especially in a Bill as complex as this in which parts have involved matters of great technicality on the building control side, and so on, clearly it would have been wrong not to take the notice that I assure my noble friend we have taken.
May I finally give a special word of acknowledgment and thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. He has applied himself both to the substance of the Bill and to the details of its drafting, and has most certainly enabled us to improve it in an important number of respects. This is the first time it has been my privilege to listen to the noble and learned Lord discussing the detail, wording and drafting of a Bill, and it has been a lesson in itself which I have 844 taken in all humility. I hope that those who draft our Bills in the future will bear in mind that the noble and learned Lord might well be reading them. I think it will help to make all our legislation better legislation.
As your Lordships know, there are one or two outstanding issues still being considered following the implication of amendments which were passed against the Government in Committee. It may be that those particular issues will have to come before your Lordships' House again. I do not know. I can say no more than that at present. But subject to that, I hope your Lordships will agree that we have now completed our task of revising and improving this particular Bill, and I beg to move that it do now pass.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, may I first thank the Minister for his courtesy, also for his kind references to my colleagues on the Front Bench and to myself, and also to my noble friend Lady Denington. I cannot thank him for his support for any of the amendments which we were trying to get passed. I feel rather sad for him because of his notable lack of enthusiasm, and I felt there was unease even from his own Benches.
I do not think this is a Bill which anybody loves very much at all except perhaps the Government generally. Here again, I like to feel that in relation to this Bill the Minister's hands have been rather firmly tied. It may be a fantastic theory, but I also like to think that he would have liked to be more flexible than he has been.
I think there is a great deal of substance in the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that no substantial amendments have been accepted at all. Apart from those put forward by the Government, the only three amendments which have been passed were those on which the Government were defeated in this House: the one on Clause 1 dealing with the charitable housing trust, and the amendments dealing with the elderly and disabled. They all had extremely good and respectable majorities. Unfortunately, the one dealing with the housing associations was pipped at the post by five votes. I think the Government should be aware that there is, to put it at its mildest, a lot of unease about this provision. Despite what the Minister has said, it does give preferential treatment to certain people and I think, as has been pointed out, it is inequitable.
Three amendments were won in this House, not just by the Opposition but with the support of all parties and the Cross-Benches. I beg—I feel this must be felt very strongly by all your Lordships—that when those amendments go to another place the Government will leave them alone. They are now simple and easy to administer. I fear that if the Government start trying to tamper with them and try to dilute them, not only will the result be less beneficial to the elderly, disabled and those who are concerned with charitable trusts, but it will also make a tremendous amount of bureaucratic change; there will be greater complications than would apply to the fairly simple amendments which have been passed in this House.
This House is a revising Chamber. We have always been considered to act as a brake on another place. 845 whether the Government is a Conservative or Labour Government. When the Government sitting in another place have the sort of majority which the present Government have, the responsibility of this House is very great indeed. It is essential that notice should be taken of what is done in this House which, after all, is done with great consideration: it is not done frivolously; it is done with very careful work and people listen hard to the arguments. This is really not only a part of good government but an essential ingredient in our democracy.
With that last word, I beg the Government to leave well alone and be thankful for large mercies, in that they were not defeated more often.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Evans of Claughton has had to leave for his northern fastness, and I stand here as a shadow of his former self! In saying that, I must add that one of the things which has brought joy to our hearts on these Benches is the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, obviously back in good form from his recent illness. I am very grateful for expressions which have come from all parts of the House on that issue.
I have not taken a great part up front in this Bill, but I have been watching, as it were, from the Deputy Whip's seat. It seems to me that the House has been at its best on occasions in the Committee and Report stages of this Bill. I urge the Government to listen to what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, on the question of the amendments relating to the elderly, disabled and charitable housing associations. I think it would be a mistake for the Government in absolute terms if they tried to dilute those amendments, and it would be a mistake in constitutional terms if they tried at this stage to make any serious changes to them.
Having said that, I thank the Minister for his usual courtesy, and those others from all parts of your Lordships' House who have given this Bill tremendous attention. Although it is not a Bill which I think we rejoice over, it is now a better Bill than when it came to us.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, inevitably at this stage of any Bill there is a slight feeling of nostalgia: the Minister, having virtually got his Bill, says it was a famous victory; and the Opposition Front Bench, having carried three substantial amendments against the Government, also says it was a famous victory. Then, perhaps, comes the voice of little Peterkin—perhaps from the Cross-Benches— asking what it was all about, and both Front Benches say in unison, "We truly do not know, but 'twas a famous victory."
That is not at all the picture I get from the discussion on this Bill. Both Front Benches have a worthy cause, which they know very well, and they have vindicated those causes with great cogency. The Government believe that they are achieving something of great social good: namely, that humble fellow citizens of ours are enabled to make the great leap forward from proletarian to property owner, and that money spent on that is money well spent. On the other hand, the Opposition are conscious—and I think this is 846 conceded—that the great bulk of those who want to rent property must look for the foreseeable future to local authorities. They are afraid that the stock of such housing is being attenuated by what the Government are seeking to do. Indeed, they feel that the money spent would be better spent on replenishing the housing stock.
As always, where you get two causes which are worthwhile, the question is: where shall the line be drawn? The only hesitation I have in my admiration for the conduct of this Bill by the noble Lord the Minister is that perhaps he tried too much to carry everything to its logical conclusion: the right to buy shall be carried into every corner of the housing market. It was my objection to that in relation to old people's housing which first brought me into your Lordships' deliberations.
I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. that it would be a great pity now if the decision of your Lordships' House were to be disturbed: not only on constitutional grounds, but I think we would get immensely complicated legislation if that suggested by the noble Lord the Minister were now sought to be imposed; namely, the abrogation of exemption from the claw-back of discount in the case of a disposal by vesting on testacy or intestacy; secondly, by trying to hive off the rural areas. So far as the latter is concerned, I do not believe it has worked at all successfully so far as the 1980 Act is concerned and will lead to great anomalies. It will not help an area like Scarborough, which asked me to intervene: a popular seaside resort with a rural hinterland and with 25 per cent. of the population of pensionable age. There must be dozens of similar places.
As for the other specific, I think the Government will get into great trouble in the case of a contract to leave property by will or by intestacy against which consideration has been advanced by the children or other members of the family. The Minister, with his great punctilio, whenever I have written about this, has replied that the Government had no evidence of any such thing having happened under the 1980 Act. It was pointed out to me, I think rightly, that that is not surprising as the information is not collected centrally. On the other hand, the local authority has information where such contracts have been made. Legislation to try to disentangle any such contract will be immensely complicated and will produce substantial injustice. That is all I want to say about the substance of the Bill.
I should like, again, to say something about the Bill's style. It has not really been controverted that this Bill and the way it has been produced make a mockery of two fundamental considerations in your Lordships' constitution: your Lordships' privilege and duty to advise on and consent to legislation. That cannot be done if the legislation is incomprehensible to other than a handful of your Lordships with exceptional background knowledge, with exceptional powers of industry, prepared to spend many laborious hours sorting out what this means measured against the Act which it amends, and with exceptional acumen. As I have said, no one has really endeavoured to controvert that. On this occasion, the last stages of the Bill, I wish to examine, I hope constructively, how that can be avoided in the future.
847 Before I do that I should like to be associated with the compliments which each Front Bench paid to the other. The Minister has been a model of courtesy and patience. However indignant he might have felt at what we were trying to do to his Bill, he never allowed any impatience to show for a moment and he has been admirably seconded by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. As for the noble Baroness, it is the second Session in succession where I have seen her lead for the Opposition. I can only say that I echo entirely the compliment that was paid by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin.
It seems to me that a special compliment ought to be paid to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, not only because he obviously brings to your Lordships' House very great parliamentary gifts, but because the burden of the third day in Committee (when the noble Baroness was unfortunately indisposed) fell on him and he carried out his task admirably. In saying that, I realise that it might seem an impertinence, but I can only invoke my age and my position on the Cross-Benches. I think your Lordships have been exceptionally fortunate in the expertise which, not for the first time, your Lordships bring to bear on a very complicated measure.
The second thing I want to say before I turn to what can be done to prevent a Bill such as this coming up again is that it would be churlish not to recognise how far the Government have come to meet criticism on this matter. At first we were offered not consolidation but the Statutes in Force after an interval of four months; but by Report stage that had come down to two months, which would be the time that the Bill in any case—or Part I which is the part in question—comes into operation. I wish to say that no one for a moment doubts the good faith of the noble Lord the Minister, but to some extent we are in the hands of the Government. The undertaking was that the Statutes in Force would publish what would, in effect, be an unlegislative, unstatutory Keeling schedule. That would be within two months of their receiving the Queen's Printers' copy of the Bill. I hope that whoever replies to this debate will be able to assure your Lordships that there will be no delay, first in obtaining the Queen's Printers' copy and, secondly, in seeing that it gets into the hands of the editor of the Statutes in Force. If that is done, many of the misgivings that have been expressed will have been met, although by no means all. The other thing that we now have is a date on which the comprehensive consolidation may be expected; in other words, early next year. If so, it can go forward into the 1985 consolidation programme.
What I wanted to say about the way to avoid what has happened in this Bill falls under two headings: first, style; and. secondly, machinery. The last word on style was said by the Renton Committee. All we need to do is to get back to the Renton Report. What is desirable is that statutory language should be as near as possible to popular speech as is consistent with precision. Obviously that has not been done in this Bill.
The second point—this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, at the end of the Committee stage—is that the language should be attuned, its 848 linguistic register should be appropriate, to the audience which is addressed. It will be entirely different if it is an audience of chartered accountants and tax consultants. But this is an audience of perfectly ordinary, humble, fellow-citizens of ours, advised by the citizens advice bureaux.
My Lords, the second thing on style is that the Renton Committee quoted with approval a notable memorandum by my noble and learned friends the Lord Justice General and the Lord Justice Clerk, in which they pleaded for legislation in broad general terms, laying down general rules and leaving it to the courts to work them out, the intention of Parliament being made quite plain. Again, obviously, this Bill is drafted like other Bills. It is drafted with quite a different technique. So much for the style. Then for the machinery. It seems to me that things begin to go wrong fairly far back in the Government machine, probably as early as the Future Legislation Committee. They should, I suggest to your Lordships, be much more critical when they get the heads of instructions to the draftsmen on a Bill such as this, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, pointed out earlier, in effect is two different Bills.
If, to the query, "Well, will this not be controversial?" the answer is given, "No, we will draft it in such way as to limit discussion merely to the amendment which this measure makes to the principal Act"—the immediate question asked by the Future Legislation Committee should be, "Have you made timely arrangements to consolidate?" If that question had been asked in 1982 and action taken on it. none of the difficulties that were referred to by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor would have been relevant. The Act could have been ready for consolidation this very Session and none of the objections which has been rightly urged against Part I would have arisen.
My Lords, so much for the Future Legislation Committee. Then there is the Legislation Committee, which examines the Bill shortly before its introduction. I presume that it has examined this Bill twice—last Session and this. If so, I can only say that it has simply not done its job. The legislation committee is not a policy committee. It examines a legislative instrument purely with a view to its drafting. If it had done that properly in this case it would immediately have seen that the Bill was not in the least perspicuous. But that means also that a Bill has to come before the legislation committee not in the week before it is introduced into Parliament but in ample time for it to be referred back to the draftsmen if necessary. I desire only to make this further suggestion about the legislation committee. It being a technical committee, I suggest that it ought always to be chaired by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and. consistently with the duties of the Solicitor-General for Scotland, all four Law Officers ought to be members. It would then be very much more effective.
My Lords, the last matter of machinery that I wish to mention is, I think, the most important. The draftsman's office is now obviously and unfortunately committed to a style of drafting in total disregard of what was recommended by the Renton Committee. They are great experts and. like anybody who has an 849 esoteric art, they are wedded to the pursuit of that art irrespective of any utility. In my time, the draftsman's office came under the Treasury, which, of course, exercised no control except over manning. Today, it comes under the Prime Minister's office, which is obviously too busy to see that the draftsmen do the job that has been repeatedly indicated to them by Parliament. I suggest that that might be considered.
My Lords, if a lesson has been learned by the indignation that has been aroused by the way this Bill has been presented stylistically to oour Lordships, then it seems to me that not only will it have served a social purpose but will have formed a valuable statutory warning.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Irving of Dartford
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the tributes paid to noble Lords of both Front Benches for the way that they have conducted themselves in handling this Bill. I think it is important, however, that we take one last look at the Bill—a Bill which has taken a great deal of parliamentary time—and review what has happened in the five years which has been its gestation period. The first thing that I should like to say, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is that this is really two Bills, and I think that it would have been much wiser if they had been handled separately. It would have been much more coherent. I cannot speak on the consolidation issue. The first of these two measures was the disposal of public sector dwelling houses and the rights of secure tenants; and the second was the supervision of building work other than by local authorities, and miscellaneous amendments relating to building work.
It is the second of these to which I wish to address myself. The Secretary of State, Mr Michael Heseltine, said in 1979:We want national standards nationally enforced".But this measure will have the opposite effect as it fragments an existing service which is staffed by well-trained local authority control officers who are independent, and it makes the operation of high standards consistently applied much more difficult. It establishes alongside the local government control system, a second system through approved inspectors.
There was no evidence that there was any widespread demand for such a change, and at no stage in the five years has it been shown that there was. On the contrary, there was considerable opposition. Out of over 120 professional organisations who were canvassed, only eight supported it. I think it true that a number of these organisations want a change. They wanted a revision of building regulations but not necessarily the approved inspectors schemes. Among those who opposed were some distinguished organisations—for example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Federation of Master Builders, and the Incorporated Association of Architects—which were vitally affected. The main supporter of the change was the National House Building Council. I have great regard for the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, who is the distinguished president of this organisation but the attempt by the National House Building Council to take over this 850 service rivals, in my view, the takeover by commercial television in the 1950s which Anthony Sampson, in his Anatomy of Britain, says was achieved without any great demand for it in the country and with half the Cabinet against it, including the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said at the Committee stage that he agreed with my statement that local government control officers were well trained; but, as to their working well, how did I know? I should have thought that these two usually go together. But I would say to the noble Lord that, unlike him, I have been able to watch this service at first hand during my 32 years as a member of a local authority, and especially from the time of reorganisation when, with the increased size of the units, the service has become more and more efficient. It is in my view a most efficient and dedicated service. The noble Lord brought no evidence to show that it had not worked well. I submit that in making changes of this kind the onus is on the Government to show that the change is justified and is needed, and that the new system is likely to be efficient.
It was only after I wrote this that I saw the beautiful picture in The Times of the Prime Minister and the present Secretatry of State who is quoted as saying at the Tory Party Conference in 1983:I am a Tory: 1 have been brought up as a Tory. I believe that the burden of proof is upon the man who advocates change. If he does not satisfy the burden of proof then the change should not be made.That was Mr. Patrick Jenkin.
The Government have signally failed to prove either of the propositions: that it is needed or that it is likely to be efficient. There is no clear idea of how the designation system will work. The consultative process has shown an unwillingness on the part of a number of prominent professional organisations to take part, particularly the RIBA, which believes that not every person qualified as an architect has necessarily the experience to be an approved inspector, and yet does not want to discriminate between its own members. Nor is there any consensus on the qualifications needed for an approved inspector; so it is extremely doubtful whether the plan for designating authorities is going to work.
The new system makes no provision for the training of inspectors in the future, and so it will not be able to take advantage of the local knowledge which exists in the local government system, where there is a fund of accumulated knowledge in each authority about local conditions which is of the greatest value to control officers. The new system is based on the fallacy put forward by some builders that one house is the same as any other, whereas land varies considerably and even on one site there can be great variations in the subsoil from rock to chalk or even peat, to say nothing of land which over a period has been subject to flooding. All this is passed from inspector to inspector in a local authority. Not only is there no corporate memory in the new system but there will be no opportunity for the approved inspector to take part in discussions on control problems on new materials, which have been a feature of the local government control system, as the Society of Chief Building Control Officers, the Institute of Building Control Officers and the local authority associations, through their regional and 851 national bodies, have always had continuous and valuable discussions with manufacturers about these problems. These discussions have been valuable to control officers and manufacturers, and of course to people purchasing homes.
Then there is the question of cost. At the moment any professional fee is likely to be higher than the local government fee. The Minister has said that he will undertake to fix a fee for local government. I hope that he will not put the local government service at a disadvantage to prove that builders prefer the approved inspector. But one of the main weaknesses of this new system is that it will be much more difficult to achieve constant and consistent standards; and in this context may I say that any decline in standards will be damaging. I hope that when the Government come to consider the building regulations and the guidance in the approved documents they will not permit any relaxation in such matters as non-combustibility and remember that on such occasions when building standards have been relaxed or building regulations have not been applied, as is the case in certain fields, it has often led to disaster—as, for example, at Summerland in the Isle of Man.
The result is that some builders will shop around for an approved inspector whose interpretation is much more to their liking. At best, there will be variations in interpretation and, at worst, circumstances which could encourage corruption. So the choice the Government claim to be presenting is not such an attractive proposition at all. The most extraordinary thing is that, having made a great thing about this Bill for England and Wales, after consulting much the same professional bodies in Scotland, the Government concluded that there was not enough support for the scheme for approved inspectors and preferred not to implement the scheme there but to have an advisory group of professional people to look at the building regulations. What prevented the Government from applying this common-sense solution to England and Wales? The Government have not provided a credible answer to that question.
However, the greatest weakness of the scheme is undoubtedly that it shifts the emphasis from prevention to insurance. Each approved inspector will need an insurance certificate before he can issue an initial certificate to the local authority; and no one has the slightest idea of how this can be achieved. The insurance industry has made it crystal clear that they see no market for such a provision, covering in some cases considerable sums over a period of up to 15 years, which also needs to be inflation-proofed—an almost impossible calculation to make—or at least requiring premiums that no approved inspector will be able to afford.
It is said that it works well with the NHBC. But of course they are concerned only with low-rise dwellings: no extension or high-rise building or mixed development. The subscriptions of their members constitute the insurance fund. There can be no such fund for the much larger programme which will now be involved. In any case, the NHBC have only 250 inspectors working from home whereas there are at the moment some 4,000 local government control posts. 852 There are other problems about insurance: no insurance company pays out without full proof of liability and there will undoubtedly be challenges and delays—and this to people who are in difficulty, having had the house fall down or having suffered some other defect. So far there is no provision for, or even talk of, arbitration.
So we have in this Bill a measure which, in the name of choice, fragments and weakens the existing system of control which has worked well and which, even in the Government's view, is adequate for Scotland. It creates redundancy and job losses in the public service and could be an expensive alternative which cannot be relied upon to be as independent as the local government system, with inadequate guarantees of integrity built into the system. Instead, with the system of approved inspectors it will be difficult to maintain consistent standards and it is one which the insurance industry has said will not work.
It will be a long time before this Bill, in respect of Part II, becomes operative, if ever. It has taken up to five years of parliamentary time which, when the country has been facing so many problems, seems like an extravagant indulgence for what the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, called "doctrinal reasons", and I believe it is doomed to fail.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Molson
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for very long, but before we let this Bill pass I should like to draw attention to the fact that this is an almost classical example of what the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth described as being,the valuable function of a Second Chamber".In his book, Government and Parliament, which ought to be compulsory reading for any new legislator, he says this:From radical days there has always been the school of thought that says 'End 'em, don't mend 'em'.That is referring to us. He goes on:Some of my friends in the Labour Party still advance that slogan of earlier days. However, my own experience as Leader of the House of Commons in organising a large legislative programme convinced me that it was better to limit the powers of the House of Lords … rather than to establish single-chamber government. My principal reasons for this are severely practical, though wider constitutional considerations would arise.The single-chamber man may object, however, that as two Houses and not one have to examine legislation, the legislative output must be slowed down. Even this argument, in my experience, is not only untrue but more probably the reverse of the truth. When the House of Lords is examining a Bill which has come from the House of Commons it is not using up the time of the House of Commons. Usually it is improving the work of the House of Commons, often—indeed probably in the case of most amendments—at the request of the Government itself, whether the Government be Labour or Conservative.If that work of revision were not done in the Lords, it is reasonably certain that at least one additional stage would have to be invented in the Commons in order that the work of revision could be continued. As a consequence, the work of the House of Commons would become more congested and slowed down.This is a classical example of what the late Lord Morrison was referring to. The Commons did their work on this Bill very throughly, with six hours on Second Reading and 27 sittings over 17 days in Standing Committee. As a result of their examination of this Bill, when it came to this House the Government themselves put down 27 amendments for 853 the Committee stage and 19 more amendments for the Report stage.
If there were no Second Chamber, what would have been the alternative? There would have been an extra stage in the House of Commons where there would have been opportunity for filibuster and, certainly, repetition of arguments. Revision in this House does not consume the Commons' time. Many amendments are not controversial and some were promised by the Government in the Commons. When I happened to meet the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, the other day, I mentioned to him that, largely as a result of his invention of life peerages, the Government here has sustained three defeats, to which he made the typical reply "Ah, yes, the old complaint about an inbred Conservative bloc now applies not to the Lords but to the Commons".
Still on a lighter note, the late Lord Salisbury, when the Government wanted to introduce some controversial measure, indicated his doubts as to whether it would get through the Lords. One of his colleagues from the Commons asked, "But couldn't you issue a three-line Whip and bring in the backwoodsmen?" to which Lord Salisbury is said to have replied, "If you are referring to those Peers who, owing to residence far from Westminster, are not regular in their attendance, I suppose we could issue a special Whip, but neither the Chief Whip nor I know how they would vote when they got here". Another Conservative ex-leader of this House who, happily, is still with us, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, in his autobiography makes the remark that whereas Whipping in the Commons is a science, in the Lords it is an art. That indicates that always this House has exercised its revising functions with a sense of responsibility, and that has certainly been the case with this Bill.
Saying that does not preclude me from echoing the regrets that have been expressed because the Government have not seen fit to accept any of the amendments that were put forward, but had to sustain a defeat. But I recognise what my noble friend the Minister said, that the arguments put forward have influenced the amendments that have been put down. The smooth working of this Chamber is very dependent upon the co-operation of the Opposition. I should like to express admiration for the way in which they have taken a constuctive, or a destructive, part in this Bill—all the more because they neither have the assistance of civil servants, nor do most of them obtain any remuneration at all. The fact that there are so many life Peers, as a result of legislation by the Government of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, has also enabled the revision to be of a very impartial and detached kind.
If the argument of Lord Morrison appears to be amunition for the Conservative Party in seeking to preserve a second Chamber, I think it is also an argument that can be used by those responsible members of the Opposition who are not in favour of single chamber government. I conclude by saying once more that all this was foreseen by the late Lord Morrison, who was the most skilful Leader of the House of Commons under whom, in any sense, I served in the course of 25 years there.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord Wilberforce
My Lords, I should like to say one word, if I may, to underline very strongly what has been so well said about Part II of this Bill. I shall not elaborate on the arguments, because they have been very well put in Committee and at Report stage, as well as by the noble Lord who has just spoken. But I personally have very great concern lest we may in this Part II of the Bill, with the approved inspector system supported by an undefined and unworked out system of insurance, be launching upon the public a regime of liability which will lead to considerable disappointment, frustration and injustice. All this will be in place of the existing system of liability at common law of building inspectors, which has been worked out with great care by the courts and which, with one exception—namely, that of latent damage, which is under examination—is working perfectly well and has not called for any substitution. I feel very great concern that we shall be parting with that Part of the Bill without having given it and the proposed insurance scheme very careful parliamentary scrutiny. I regret very much that that has happened.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with the amendments.