§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 1 [Calculation of discount and period of occupation]:
Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 8, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the Bill that confers new rights on secure tenants in Scotland, and indeed in paragraph (a) it grants to secure tenants who have been in a house for two years the right to purchase their house and to get a discount of 32 per cent. Paragraph (b) extends the discount for people who qualify, as having been for over 20 years secure tenants for a discount up to 60 per cent. So far as I can see, when we were at Committee stage concern was expressed, not just from this side of the House, over the generosity of the Government in compelling a local authority to give away its property—and it really amounts to giving away property—unwillingly to tenants who may have had as short a stay in a house as two years. There can be no justification for conferring a right on someone who has been two years in a house automatically to get the right to purchase that house and automatically to get the right to a discount of 32 per cent. of its value.1083
§ We had quite a debate yesterday about local democracy and local authority, and the Government were proclaiming their belief in the freedom of local authority but here they are telling the local authority: "You will sell that house and you will give a discount of anything from 32 per cent. to 60 per cent." What right have the Government to do this? All my political life I have listened to Conservatives talking about people in subsidised houses not paying rents that were high enough. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will remember that from the debates that we had in another place over many years. He will remember his colleagues that I spoke about earlier talking about "shiftless council tenants"—second-class citizens, because they accepted council houses and got subsidised rents. But suddenly they become not shiftless council tenants but hard-working, rent-paying tenants, and the Secretary of State says: "Well done, thou good and faithfull secure tenant; you have paid your rent for all these years now and you can buy you house with a discount of 60 per cent., paying only 40 per cent. of the value."
§ I want to know why they are doing it. They are so anxious to get rid of local authority houses. They are a liability to the local authority, according to the Secretary of State, and they are a liability to the state if they have to pay continued grants in respect of each local authority house. It was bad enough when it was three years and 33 per cent. discount, with the maximum discount at 50 per cent. after 20 years. I think it is going beyond all reason. Why are the Government doing it? I think they are doing it because they have not been successful in Scotland in respect of the sale of council houses. There is every indication that there is now a lag. The people who rushed in to buy have been mainly—this is proved by a survey which has been done in Scotland—those who are entitled to the highest subsidy. They are not going to feel very happy if they know that if they had waited just a couple of years or so they might have got 60 per cent.
§ The raising of the discount at one end of the scale and a lowering of the qualifying period to two years at the other end is an illustration of the anxiety of the Government to have these houses sold—just telling a local authority to do it. There is a bit of tyranny and a bit of dictatorship about that. Remember, my Lords, that the houses belong to the local authority: they put them up and incurred the debts in respect of that. The local authority have had to maintain them, and the Government's contribution has not been all that much. As a matter of fact, figures have been produced time after time that it is the rent contribution from the tenants and the rate contribution from the local authorities that have been the mainstay of the building and maintenance of these houses.
§ It is because I think it is unreasonable and unfair, not purely from the point of view of how you deal with property and how you sell and handle property, but also in respect of the people who are in the houses and waiting for better houses. It is the better houses that are being sold: that is an actual fact. I am worried about it from the point of view of older people who are in houses that are too big for them and who had hoped to be able, within a short time of retiring, to get hold of 1084 a smaller local authority house. The more of these other houses are sold, the less chance there is going to be for that. But that comes in another amendment.
§ I am offended by the principle of a government telling a local authority, first, "You will have to sell"; and, secondly, the same government denying the local authority the free bargain with the tenants and telling them the extent of the discount they will have to give. It is unfair to local authorities and is certainly not consistent with claims to be concerned with local government and the freedom of local authorities. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment, as I have supported similar efforts to make the Government see sense before. The noble Lord was kind enough to write to me when I asked how many more houses would have to be sold to make up the same money, I think the reply was that another 740 houses would make up the difference in cash caused by the bigger discounts. I think, quite frankly, for purely practical reasons that the Government will not get their other 740 houses. The people who will buy their houses are the better off, the more sensible, the more saving and the more longheaded of the tenants, and if they will not buy at 50 per cent. nothing will make them buy at 60 per cent.
This is a ludicrous, panic measure, and one which indicates a lack of any business sense, which one would not normally find lacking in the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, if he were acting in a private capacity instead of as a Government Minister. It is a very mistaken measure. It seems quite wrong that legislation should be so ill thought-out that it must be changed for a bigger bribe only a couple of years later. It is not logical, it is not businesslike, and this amendment puts once more to the Government the sense of what we have been saying all along, through all the stages of the Bill. The Government should be sensible and accept it, because they will not sell a single more house with their extra 10 per cent. of discount than they have sold in the past. Anyone who will buy at 50 per cent. will certainly not need 60 per cent.
As for the argument that it is right and proper for a good tenant to get it, we had a long session on what was a good tenant and what was a bad tenant. Eventually, the Government were forced to admit that the bad tenant would get the concession in exactly the same way. It is a fact that for years and years rents in Scotland were far too low, and the Government said so. I agree with them, not about the bad tenants but about the foolishness of charging too little for houses in Scotland. But I do not know why the Government should use the argument that, because of that, they should give the houses away at exaggerated discounts. I do not regard this as a sensible measure, and, for once, I agree with the Labour Party that if this amendment were agreed to it would be a very much better Bill.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, for setting out so clearly his view on this matter. I note also the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and I am surprised to some extent that he is in such full 1085 agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, on this occasion. I had not realised that his party were quite so adamant about their dislike of selling council houses to the benefit of the tenant, as he has made clear tonight—
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I am all for selling council houses. I am not for selling them at less than could be obtained.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I take the noble Lord's comment, but it still does not change my view that he is saying quite clearly, however much he may try to disguise it, that he is opposed to the additional discount which is being offered to council tenants, who—as I hope I shall be able to convince the House in due course—have a very reasonable right to expect that they will be given such terms.
The noble Lord has explained that the amendment would delete from the Bill the provisions in Clause 1 which are designed to reduce the qualifying period for the right to buy from three years' tenancy to two years' tenancy, and to increase the maximum discount from 50 per cent. after 20 years' tenancy to 60 per cent. after 30 or more years' tenancy. As such, the amendment is similar in effect to amendments which were debated during the Committee stage of the Bill. On that occasion your Lordships rejected the amendments, and I do not think that the noble Lord has said anything today which would justify the Government in taking a different view now.
Having said that, I should like to deal first with the proposal to reduce the qualifying period from three years to two years. I should like to remind your Lordships that the right to buy applies only to secure tenants. Secure tenants are people who have been granted the tenancy of a house on a long-term basis. They will be entitled to remain in that house for the rest of their lives, if they so desire, and in some circumstances the tenancy will pass on to their successors. When a dwelling is let on a secure tenancy, therefore, the landlord authority must expect, and accept, that the tenant to whom the tenancy is being granted may be there for a very long time indeed. It is only that category that has the right to buy. And if such a tenant chooses to exercise that right, all that happens is that instead of occupying his home as a tenant, he occupies it as the owner, and that is surely a desirable state of affairs.
When the right to buy was introduced in 1980, the three-year qualifying period was not fixed as a result of some magic formula; it was a more or less arbitrary figure designed solely to establish that the right to buy applied only in cases of bona fide tenants. The noble Lord has asked why we have decided to reduce the qualifying period to two years now. The answer is simple. We think that three years is too long. What is the practical effect of our proposals? We estimate that the change to two years will be of immediate benefit to some 30,000 tenants who will be entitled to buy at the new basic discount of 32 per cent. I do not believe that to be at all a bad thing. The noble Lord has not explained why he believes those tenants should be required to hang on for another year. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that they should have this advantage.
1086 I turn now to the proposal to increase the maximum discount from 50 per cent. after 20 years' tenancy to 60 per cent. after 30 years. This proposal stems, as I indicated at Committee stage, from our belief that the existing discount scale does not adequately recognise the position of one particular group of tenants; namely, tenants whose period of tenancy stretches over more than 30 years. At present, they get no discount in respect of their period of tenancy in excess of 20 years, even although such tenants will generally be well on in their working lives—often approaching retirement, if not indeed already retired—and the amount of their discount entitlement may be crucial to their decision whether or not to buy. We have therefore decided that, in order to enable more tenants of long-standing to buy at a price which takes fair account of their tenancy record, and of the resources likely to be available to them, the maximum discount should be increased from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent.
As I indicated at Committee stage, we estimate that between 350,000 and 400,000 tenants will benefit from the increased discount if they choose to buy. It is, of course, not possible to predict accurately the number of tenants who will be encouraged to buy by the increased discounts who would not otherwise have done so. In broad terms, however, we expect the effect on the capital receipts accruing to authorities to be neutral, since any reduction in receipts from those sales which would have taken place in any case—as a result of the increase in average discount—will be offset by additional receipts from sales which would not have taken place had the discount not been increased to 60 per cent. Indeed, as I indicated, and as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, confirmed when I wrote to him following our deliberations in Committee we estimate that authorities will require to increase the number of houses which they sell in a year by only about 5 per cent. to recoup the effects of the additional discount.
In other words, we believe that the increased discounts will enable more tenants to satisfy their desire to become home owners, while at the same time not reducing the net receipts which accrue to authorities from sales, and hence the amount of resources available to authorities under the net capital allocations system for expenditure on the modernisation and improvement of the rest of their housing stock.
In conclusion, I should like to stress that the changes which the Government are proposing in the qualifying period and in the discount scale are fully in line with the main aim of our housing policy, which is to extend freedom of choice in housing. There is a substantial demand for home ownership in Scotland and we are anxious that people should be able to realise their aspirations. Over one-half of Scottish households at present rent their homes from a public authority. Only one in three is an owner-occupier. For Great Britain as a whole, this pattern is broadly reversed. Your Lordships' House has recently approved similar changes in the right to buy rules in England and Wales in the context of the current Housing and Building Control Bill. While I would not wish to suggest that something should be done in Scotland simply because it has been done in England and Wales, I believe your Lordships would agree that on a matter such as this it 1087 would be wrong to treat Scottish tenants in any disadvantageous way. With that explanation, I trust that noble Lords might be prepared to withdraw their amendment.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, we went through all this in Committee. The Minister has spoken about freedom of choice. I must come back to the point that for many thousands of people in Scotland freedom of choice does not exist because the Government have starved local authorities of capital for building local authority housing. By this measure the Government are encouraging people to take houses out of the housing stock of local authorities. Therefore, they are making the possibility of the homeless obtaining housing even more difficult than it is at present.
The noble Lord spoke about the difference between Scotland and England in terms of the number of houses which are in owner occupation. This matter was discussed at great length in Committee. There are many historic reasons for this situation. It has got nothing to do with lack of gumption of the Scots over buying their own homes. The noble Lord did not answer the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who referred to the increase in the discount and explained what this would mean in terms of the extra number of people buying their houses. The Minister said that 30,000 houses would be sold, but he did not make clear to me whether that meant that an additional 30,000 houses would be sold as a result of the increase in the discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent.
The Minister said that there is unwillingness on the part of local authorities to sell council houses and suggested that the Labour Party is opposed to the sale of council houses. In an earlier debate I made it clear that we have no doctrinaire objection to the sale of council houses but that we do object to local authorities having no choice, when organising their housing stock, over whether to sell or not to sell. The tenant has the right to buy his house and can demand that he be allowed to buy it from the local authority. The benefits to the local authority are much less the greater the reduction in the housing stock because of sales to tenants.
The noble Lord spoke at some length about those people who have the right to buy. He said that anybody who had been in a local authority house for two years became a secure tenant. This is a very wide category. Such tenants have hardly settled themselves into their homes before they are able to buy them. The noble Lord made great play of the fact that the 60 per cent. rebate of the cost price valuation would apply only to those who had been in their homes for a very long time and that therefore there would be little chance, anyway, of those houses coming back into the general housing stock. But this is not the case. A local authority will normally pass a house on, once it is rented by a family, to a member of the family who is still living in the house. Thereafter that house will normally go to somebody who is on the waiting list.
We are trying to make it still possible for those who are on the waiting list for houses, particularly in the more desirable areas, to obtain such housing. All that 1088 the increase in the rebate to 60 per cent. does is to make it slightly less likely that those who have been waiting patiently for a very long time will ever be given the opportunity to live in a house in an area which they consider to be better. Therefore, the answers which the noble Lord has given provide very little comfort for many people who are living in parts of Scotland from which they would very much like to move. If he does not accept these amendments, the noble Lord, by taking flexibility away from local authorities, will make the lot of those who are unable, unwilling or for some other reason unlikely to be houseowners that much more difficult.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend a question which has been puzzling me for quite a time. What is the future of these arrangements expected to be? If a person has been a secure tenant for two years, he will be able to buy his house and will obtain the benefit of the reductions specified in paragraph (b) of subsection (1). Will the position remain exactly the same in the foreseeable future, or will there be a time limit within which this choice can be exercised? How do the Government envisage the situation developing over the years? What is the level of house purchase likely to be? At what level will it be running in five years' time or 10 years' time? Do the Government have in mind a figure which, in their view, would provide a proper balance between council houses and owner-occupied houses which had previously been council houses?
This question may perhaps be irrelevant, but mention has been made of the fact that in Scotland there are three times as many council houses as houses in owner-occupation. What is the correct balance which the Government will seek? To a large extent circumstances will obviously dictate this balance, but the Government must have in mind what they regard as not only the likely but the favoured outcome of this legislation. Could the Minister deal with this point? It would help me to understand how the Government foresee future developments.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, by leave of the House, I shall try to deal with some of the points which have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, said that there is some difficulty over understanding exactly what is meant regarding the figure I mentioned of 30,000 tenants. I said that we estimated that the change to two years from three years will be of immediate benefit to some 30,000 tenants who will be entitled to buy at the new basic discount of 32 per cent. I went on to say later that, as I had indicated at Committee stage, we estimate that between 350,000 and 400,000 tenants will benefit from the overall increased discount, if they choose to buy.
The noble Lord also suggested that the fact that council houses would be sold at a high discount would in some way have a disadvantageous effect on those who are seeking houses. He suggested that because of the Government's control of local authority spending there were not the number of houses being built, and that by selling off houses we were therefore further reducing the housing stock. I would point out to him that by selling off houses to sitting tenants we are selling off houses which would not have become 1089 available for a considerable length of time, anyway. The selling of council houses to sitting tenants does not in any way affect the housing stock in the short term or in the longer term—in the very long term perhaps, but not in the short term or the medium term.
My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn asked what I thought we might expect in the future. Let me say to him that the Government's anticipation is that the desire of council tenants in Scotland to own their own homes will continue. As I mentioned earlier, at the present time only one person in three in Scotland owns his own home. That situation is one about which we as a country should be saddened. We are doing everything that we possibly can to encourage people to become the owners of their own homes. This applies very largely to council tenants. At present, some 46,000 council houses have been bought by tenants in Scotland. This is a small number compared with the vast number of council houses which exist in Scotland, but in the short period in which we have been exercising this policy, it represents a very encouraging start.
I hope that, with the attractive discounts which are being offered, this trend will continue but obviously it will take some time to build up. I do not believe that we can look forward to major developments in the short term but that it will be a gradual process. It is one that we shall do all we can to encourage.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether my memory is correct in recalling that the Government's supposition was that another 740 houses a year would be sold because of the extra discount?
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I should have mentioned this point in connection with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, because he asked at what discount the 740 additional houses are to be sold to cover costs. The authorities would require to sell an additional 740 houses at the average discounted selling price. That is the answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is correct in respect of his figure of 740 houses.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, we have it clearly: "Attractive discounts—come and buy". No choice, because you can only buy the house you are in, if you are a secure tenant. There is not very much choice about that. Let us forget the flannel and ask: by what right have the Government adopted this new principle under which they can sell other people's property? These houses do not belong to the Government; they belong to the local authority. The responsibility for these houses is that of the local authority. It is a travesty of justice and democracy that central government can tell a local authority to sell its property whether it likes it or not, and then further, to sell that property at what the Minister of State has called "attractive discounts".
The Minister should know, statistically, how many of the 45,000 houses which have been sold would have fallen to the local authority for rehousing. That is quite an easy statistical exercise to accomplish; to work out how many local authority houses are available for 1090 reletting in any one year. The fact that houses are no longer available for reletting means that there is a reduction in the housing stock.
We already know from the surveys that it is the best houses which are being sold. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, can testify, somebody complimented me the other day on how proficient Aberdeen County Council has been in developing small groups of council houses in rural areas. Whoever planned those houses fitted them well into the local background. That kind of house is very' appealing at the "attractive discounts" which are being offered. But that is the very kind of house to which people who are retiring in a rural area hope to move but which will be denied to them—short term or long term. It may be the dashing of someone's hopes in the short term but of a great many people's hopes in the long term.
In the minds of noble Lords opposite, and in the minds of some honourable Members of another place, there has always been a distaste—in some cases, something even stronger than that—for local authority housing. That distaste is still there—they want rid of it. I am concerned about what the people of Scotland need and about the housing conditions there. If one takes the figures which have been given to us by Shelter, I believe that 153 houses are still needed. They are not going to be newly-built. People will be denied the kind of house they want out of the existing stock because that housing stock is not only being depleted in quantity but is being depleted in qualitative terms as well.
The noble Lord got into a bit of a fankle last time about tenants, and all the rest of it, in trying to justify his generous discounts. I do not think they can be justified. The simple fact is that it does not matter how long one is going to live; if one is a secure tenant, one is a secure tenant from the day one gets the tenancy. What is a nonsense is that suddenly the Government discover that after two years a person is entitled to a discount of 32 per cent.
There is no person sitting on the other side of this House who would tackle their own business on that basis or offer a discount on that basis. Why do the Government not bring in a Bill to force private landlords to sell their tenanted property in exactly the same way and lay down also the discounts for such a scheme? The noble Lord would never do so because it would not be fair—so why does he do it in respect of local authority housing? The explanation has been so bad that I am afraid that we must resolve this matter in a Division.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 58; Not-Contents, 89.1091
|Attlee, E.||Boston of Faversham, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Bottomley, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Bruce of Donington, L.|
|Birk, B.||Caradon, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Collison, L.|
|David, B. [Teller]||Molloy, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Monson, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Stone, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Taylor, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|McCluskey, L.||White, B.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Loudoun, C.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller]|
|Avon, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Mar, C.|
|Belstead, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Avon, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Morris, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Munster, E.|
|Crathorne, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Crawford and Balcarres, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Daventry, V.||Portland, D.|
|Davidson, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Renton, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Dundee, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Faithfull, B.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Sandys, L.|
|Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Gisborough, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Glanusk, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Spens, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal,|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Henley, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Teynham, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Trumpington, B.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Long, V. [Teller]||Whitelaw, V.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 2 [Additional classes of persons providing dwelling-houses tenancy of which counts in determining the qualifying period for right to purchase and calculation of discount]:1092
§ 6.37 p.m.
Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 9, at end insert—
("( ) In subsection (1) of section 3A which was added to the 1980 Act by the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Act 1980—
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in this amendment I seek to amend the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Act 1980. This again deals with the vexed question of houses for elderly people. The effect of the amendment may not be immediately apparent, so I shall read it. At present the section concerned reads:
This section applies to a dwelling-house which has facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house and which has been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly person".
I seek to change that to read:
This section applies to a dwelling-house which has facilities which are not substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house but which has been designed and adapted for occupation by an elderly person".
§ The present definition by the Government limits very considerably, to minuscule proportions, the number of houses which are allocated to elderly persons. The target for sheltered housing in Scotland is 50 per 1,000 people; that is to say, 95 per cent. of elderly people are not catered for by sheltered housing. What has happened in Scotland over the years, and much more in recent years, is the realisation that we needed one-apartment ana two-apartment houses to be specially built for elderly people. They are not special houses, because not all elderly people require special houses, but they do require small houses. They might require them in particular areas that are sheltered and quiet. They might require accommo-dation on the ground floor. However, because the houses are not "substantially different" from ordinary dwelling-houses the local authority has got to sell them at the behest of a secure tenant.
§ The actual facts are—I think the figures have been given—that between 1971 and 1981 there has been an 8 per cent. increase in the number of elderly persons in Scotland: I repeat, 8 per cent. That amounts to about 850,000. The figures have been given by the Minister of State. About half the households in Scotland are in local authority housing. The biggest proportion of the people in that local authority housing are the elderly; that is true. Many of them are not in the most suitable houses. They have brought up their families in these houses, and are still there. I spoke to a couple just last week. The husband will retire in two years' time. They do not want to stay in the house in which they brought up their family of three. They hope that they will get a smaller house, more suitable for elderly people. They will not go into sheltered accommodation, because there is none. Very few local authorities in Scotland have met even the minimum target, and some have none at all.
§ The Scottish Office has been responsible for this. After the war we decided that we did not want to build one-apartment and two-apartment houses because these houses would become overcrowded in no time. Young people wanted houses, and they would have 1093 families. One of the curses in Scotland was overcrowding. We built bigger houses. Many local authority houses occupied at the moment by elderly people are too big for them. Latterly, in the 1960s and 1970s, we realised that there was a need for housing for single persons, some elderly and others not, and for elderly couples, so we again resorted to one-apartment and two-apartment houses to meet that need. It was a change in population statistics.
§ The houses that we are talking about are not specially designed. They are just dwelling-houses, but dwelling-houses suitable for elderly people. We do not want to see them being sold off. If they are sold off, two things will happen. Young people may move into them, and before many years pass they will be overcrowded. Secondly, they will be denied to the people who, like the couple I spoke about, are looking forward to moving out of bigger houses. I gather that at the moment in places like Ayr, which I know reasonably well, before we started indiscriminately selling houses it was a matter of three to four years before a person could move into such a house. That is all wrong from the point of view of properly planning for and meeting housing needs. I have therefore made this suggestion: that the exemption from sale should be applied to houses which are not substantially different from ordinary houses but which have been used for elderly people. It is as simple as that. Most people who know something about the population statistics of Scotland and about the people who occupy and are likely to occupy local authority houses, I think, would accept this amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving his amendment so succinctly. We have been round this course once already and have heard most of the arguments. He rightly briefly refreshed our memories with the leading arguments that he has developed in the past. I agree with him regarding the different types of housing. There is sheltered housing in Scotland, and the basic feature of such housing is that it is provided with an alarm and a warden service. Sheltered housing may be built in a complex, although that is not always the case. I agree that there are not nearly enough sheltered housing complexes in Scotland. But sheltered housing has been excluded from the proposals from the outset. It has never been the Government's intention to sell sheltered housing.
In addition, there are many elderly people, who while they do not require an alarm or a warden service, need special housing consideration. Local authorities will have a stock of houses which, while they are not sheltered houses, have been specially built or adapted to meet the needs of these elderly people. Typically, they will be one-apartment or two-apartment houses built on a single level, and will be provided with special features which may include grab rails, special bathroom fittings and sometimes whole house heating. Such housing is known by local authorities as amenity housing. Clearly local authorities need to maintain a stock of such houses sufficient to meet the needs of elderly people in their areas. It is not so clear that such houses should never be sold; for example, the sale of such a house is not going to undermine the viability of 1094 other houses in a group. Essentially, the decision on whether there is a continuing need to retain a particu-lar house is one for the local authority.
In these circumstances, local authorities have a choice under the Scottish legislation. They can agree to a sale but impose a pre-emption condition under Section 4(4) of the 1980 Act, so that the local authority must be given first option to purchase in the event of the re-sale of the house. This was the point raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, in our earlier Committee discussion. Alternatively, if a local authority does exercise an option to re-purchase, then the price will be decided by the district valuer, as an independent third party, based on the current market value, less some or all of the discount given on the original sale, if the re-purchase takes place within five years.
I turn now to the noble Lord's amendment. I have explained that a local authority which does not wish to go down the route of imposing a buy-back condition may alternatively apply to my right honourable friend for consent to refuse to sell the house, provided it has facilities which are substantially different from those of an ordinary dwelling-house and that it has been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly person. This description is sufficient to cover amenity housing for elderly people, as local authorities understand the term. The noble Lord's amendment provides that an authority might apply for consent to refuse to sell where a house has features which are not substantially different from those of an ordinary house but which has been designed or adapted for elderly people. With respect, I do not think that this amendment wholly makes sense. If a house has been specially designed or adapted for elderly people, then it does have features which are substantially different from an ordinary house. I have described some of those features; for example, the provision of special bathroom fittings or of grab rails. They may not be expensive to provide, but they are sufficient to distinguish the house as one which is intended for elderly people. This distinction is well understood by local authorities, and I believe that the description in Section 3A, as it stands, is perfectly adequate.
I have spent some time on this amendment because I was genuinely anxious to clear up what I believe may have been a misunderstanding. I sympathise with the view that local authorities should be empowered to retain a stock of dwellings for elderly people. I have explained that the Scottish legislation was in the past more widely drawn in regard to local authorities' powers to retain such houses than the comparable English legislation; indeed, the changes which your Lordships have made to the English Bill will now bring the English legislation exactly into line with what has always been the position in Scotland. The Scottish legislation gives local authorities certain choices when faced with the sale of an elderly person's dwelling. I believe that its provisions are working satisfactorily, and there has been no suggestion from the local authorities themselves that they require to be changed. In the light of this explanation and of the assurances that I have given, I trust that the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, may consider withdrawing their amendment.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, may I say that I have been very impressed by the reply that the noble Lord has given in one respect: he has given a clear indication that regarding the smaller houses the one or two-bedroomed houses, if they have fittings in the bathroom, such as grab rails and so on that are meant for elderly people, then they are clearly designated as houses for a special purpose for old people. This is an extremely valuable tip or hint to the local authorities, and I think it is a very valuable concession for the Government to make.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord opposite, and I think that my noble friend is to be complimented on a very satisfactory answer; but it inevitably does not answer all the questions. In fact, it does not answer the particular examples, as I understand it, that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, gave.
All I can say on that is that you cannot do everything at once. It would probably be desirable to see how this works out and then to extend it to meet the sort of cases that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, had in mind. Going back to the time when I was in the Commons, I remember time and again explaining that often older people with large and fairly highly-rated houses were anxious to get out of them. However, if there was no particular market for those at the time, and if they took the advice that they were given and moved into a small council house, then they would be saddled with the rates as well; or if they moved into a small private house they would be saddled with the rates as well; and this was probably more than they could manage. This problem has always existed there, and as circumstances change we want to deal with them to make certain that people in that position release the larger houses. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross, quite rightly said, obviously the houses that secure tenants will go for will be the best houses from the point of view of purchase.
But there ought to be a means of enabling people who cannot or will not or do not want to buy their houses because they are too big, maybe too costly and too inconvenient to run, to get out of them and to go into appropriate accommodation. We cannot perhaps do that in this Bill at the present time, as it probably adds a complication which, as the legislative programme stands at the present time, might be very difficult to overcome. But I would ask the Government to keep this particular consideration fairly closely under review because it is not one that arises purely out of this Bill, it is a continuing process. It is a human process. Many of your Lordships will have met this position as far as housing is concerned, as I have. When your family have gone away you may find your house is much too big for you, and therefore you move into a smaller one. But it is not so easy for people who have no funds, no savings, to be able to spend to enable them to get into suitable accommodation. They might not be able to furnish accommodation if suitable accommodation such as we have been talking about was let to them by the local authority.
I hope that the Government will continue to study this matter because in my experience it is a need which I identified many years ago, and then it came round to 1096 me and so it goes on in the cycle of life. So that I hope my noble friend will bear that in mind.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I think that it is very disappointing that the noble Lord should get up and read the brief that he read, probably not quite so well, the last time we were round. As I say, we have discussed this very often. He is practising. We have another stage to go so he had better put in a little more practice during the recess.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, practice does not always make perfect, but he can get fairly near to it. However, would not it be very much easier to ease his mind of all this practice in front of him just by accepting the amendment? He forgets the history of the section that I am amending. It was not in the original Act of 1980. Noble Lords who have come more recently to this place will remember the flap that there was in another place when, on an English Tenants' Rights Bill—I think it was just about the last day of the Session—we passed an amendment which completely altered the attitude of the English authorities to the sale of houses for old people. There was a tremendous furore that went on in another place. Discussions were held between not so much the usual channels as the respective housing and shadow housing Ministers, and they eventually came up with a solution and promised that something would be done in Scotland as well. In the same year as they passed the original Act they passed the Amendment Act. So we had an extension from the exemption for sheltered housing to this one.
When the Minister of State reads this he will see that there is this right to refuse to sell in respect of a dwelling-house which has facilities which are substan-tially different from those of an ordinary house. That is not the kind of house that I propose should be covered. I put in the words: "are not substantially different". But it goes on:and which has been designed or adapted for occupation by an elderly person whose special needs requireit. So there are two hurdles, first, the special facilities substantially different; and, secondly, the design, and the rest of it. I have knocked out one of the hurdles, and by knocking out only one of the hurdles it means that you widen the number of elderly persons' houses which come into this right of refusal to sell to the local authority. The noble Lord the Minister did less than justice to the simple ingenuity of my amendment when I changed the word "and" to "but" so that I kept that second hurdle.
I have not been asking for a great, sweeping change but I think it was one that was in accord with the feelings of this House when we made that original change in the Tenants' Rights Act of 1980 in respect of England and Wales. It was at the last minute, and it was forced by this House and we got this amendment. The time is right now for a move ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, rightly says. These things change and our attitudes change. I have noticed the attitude of this House change. I have noticed the attitude change in respect of these over-generous discounts. I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, 1097 might have been putting down an amendment to reduce the 32 per cent. discount to about 15 per cent. or something like that. But he probably could not even justify that and decided to leave the matter alone. I toyed with that idea. There has been a change of mood in this House in respect of that aspect, and I am sorry that the Government have not measured up to what I see as the change. I do not think I will take this amendment to a Division, but I think that we really ought to have it recorded that we shouted against it rather than just withdrawing the amendment.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne)
Is it your Lordships' pleasure this amendment be withdrawn?
§ The Deputy Speaker
The Question is that this amendment be agreed to. As many as are content will say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content. "I think the Not-Contents have it.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ 7 p.m.
Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 34, at end insert—
("(10A) In respect of dwelling-houses purchased by secure tenants who claim discount by virtue of this section, that portion of the discount attributable to such occupancy shall be repaid to the landlord by the Secretary of State".").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is prompted by the further generosity of the Government in extending the number of people who can qualify for these over-generous discounts. The Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act gave a list of the people who could count qualifying service, and now in this Bill we have another list of them. The amendment proposes:
Page 2, line 34, at end insert—
("(10A) In respect of dwelling-houses purchased by secure tenants who claim discount by virtue of this section, that portion of the discount attributable to such occupancy shall be repaid to the landlord by the Secretary of State".")
In other words, it is the Secretary of State who is laying down the conditions for sale. It is the Secretary of State who is laying down the discount. We have a new, extended list of people who can count their occupancy towards the aggregation of their discount. The list includes people covered by the Mental Health (Scotland) Act, and there is reference to,
any hospital provided under corresponding legislation in England and Wales".
The list then refers to,
the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses"—
I do not think that any local authority really has a responsibility for that. Then it mentions,
the Trinity House"—
That has nothing to do with Scotland, anyway; but certainly a local authority in Scotland should not accept the financial liability in respect of that. Following that, the list refers to,
the Secretary of State, where the dwelling-house was at the material time used for the purposes of Her Majesty's Coastguard".
What has, say, the local authority in Glasgow got to do with that, so that it should provide generous discounts?
The list then refers to,
the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority".
Can it not make its own provision for its own people? Next comes,
the Secretary of State, where the dwelling-house was at the material time used for the purposes of any function transferred to him under"—
the Defence Act 1964.
§ If these people are to be given the right to buy and with it generous discount terms, then why not make the Secretary of State, who is giving them the right and who is laying down the generous discounts, repay to the landlords the discounts for which at present they must foot the bill?
Then, under paragraph (u), the Bill states,
such other person as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe".
Who on earth does he have in mind? This is the second go he has had at this long list. Who else is to come? We do not know. We are never going to see, we are never going to know. But it is certainly not someone for whom the local authority has a responsibility or a liability. If the Governmment are going to be so generous, let them foot the bill. That is the simple reason for the amendment. It is a matter of simple justice that the local authority should not be asked to foot the bill; it should be the Government, who so decree that these people should have the right and that the generous terms, ranging from 32 to 60 per cent. discount, shall be theirs as a result of occupancy.
§ Another thing worries me about this matter. It is said that if a person has retired from the Coastguard service, having been freed from a type of tied house, he should surely have a right to a local authority house. But if such a person took with him into a local authority house an occupancy period of, say, 20 years, that may take him to a discount of 50 per cent. or over. Remember, the local authority is under no obligation to give such a person a house, and so the likelihood is that the authority will say, "No; we will take someone from our own housing list, who at least has some residential qualification that can justify it".
§ It may well be that to include these people in the list of those who may carry over their period of occupancy of another type of house into this free-for-all, sale of the century at the new emporium of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, will harm the prospects of these people obtaining a secure tenancy from a local authority, which would be bringing this liability upon itself. It is for those reasons that I think it would be far better to make it quite clear that a local authority would be glad to give these people a house which they want and to grant them a secure tenancy which would carry benefits, if the discounts that would accrue were paid by the Secretary of State. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I must say that this is an absolutely splendid amendment. I wish that I had thought of it myself because it really puts the onus purely on the Secretary of State. If all that we have heard from the noble Lord the Minister is correct—about how it would be so much better for people to own their own houses, how good it would be for the country, how much money it would save, and how much more pride people would have—then he 1099 could not do better than accept the amendment. Certainly every council would then be the most splendid agents for the Government in trying to sell houses. We could then put the money to really good use by supporting housing associations in all kinds of noble and proper works, and I feel that the Government must look upon this as a most acceptable amendment. It is promoting their policy, it is bringing the councils on to their side, and it is advancing a great social step forward. I must say that I look forward to the noble Lord's reply to this most ingenious and, I believe, excellent amendment.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, before my noble friend replies, I should like to ask who exactly is covered by the provision and what liabilities remain. There is a reference to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. Have they not always had houses for those people they employ? Do they in fact have a duty to provide retirement houses for those people they have employed, and is it not the same with the other cases mentioned? What is the justification for allowing those who, for the purposes of their work, are in tied houses to occupy them indefinitely? This problem exists in so many walks of life, not least, for example, in the Church.
I am doubtful whether it is right to place for ever a liability on those departments and other bodies which have to provide houses for those who are employed by them, simply by allowing the houses to be purchased by the employees sitting there at the present time. But if that is to be done, surely some provision must be made in the form of a payment for a house to be provided for the next person who is to be employed in the particular task in succession to the secure tenant, who is allowed to purchase the house at a large discount.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I cannot accept this amendment. I have not been persuaded by what the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said. But I do congratulate the noble Lord on the ingenuity of the argument which he has advanced in support of his amendment. I shall try to explain why I cannot accept the amendment, and I hope that I may be able to convince the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, says that he wishes that he had thought of this amendment himself. By the time that I have finished explaining why I cannot accept the amendment, I hope he will feel relieved that he did not think of it himself. I shall pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn a little later on, but I say to him at this stage that local authorities are under the same obligation to house ex-tied tenants as any other applicant on their waiting list. Local authorities must, of course, publish their allocation policies. There is no evidence at present that local authorities are reluctant to house people because they have been tenants of other bodies and there are already many on the waiting list.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was arguing that, since an element of the discount relates to the tenancy record of the purchaser, it is in some way unfair to the local authority to require them to grant 1100 discount in relation to the purchaser's occupacy of another house. To avoid this the noble Lord suggests that the Secretary of State should be required to reimburse the portion of the discount attributable to such occupancy.
There are a number of objections to this line of reasoning and to the precise terms of the amendment tabled by noble Lords opposite. In the first place, the noble Lord's amendment goes further than I think he really intends. Section 1(5)(b) of the 1980 Act provides that a tenant who is exercising the right to buy is entitled to an additional 1 per cent. discount in excess of the basic amount for each year of occupation of a house or a succession of houses provided by any of the bodies mentioned in Section 1(10). The list in Section 1(10) therefore covers all bodies the occupation of whose houses counts towards discount, including the three "right to buy" landlords—and this relates to the question that was asked by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn—that is, the district and islands councils, new towns and the Scottish Special Housing Association, and not only non "right-to-buy" landlords such as the Ministry of Defence and the Lighthouse Commissioners. The noble Lord's amendment would therefore require my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to reimburse all discount granted on right to buy sales, since all discount granted under the right to buy is attributable to occupancy of houses provided by bodies mentioned in Section 1(10).
It may be that the noble Lord would regard this as an acceptable outcome, But the Government certainly would not do so. Even with high discounts, the balance of financial advantage to the authority lies firmly with selling rather than with retention of the house for renting. Where an authority retain a house, they continue to have all responsibility for management and maintenance—and, as noble Lords are aware, the costs of housing authorities are not fully covered by rents.
Nor do I think that the more limited reimbursement intended by the noble Lord would be appropriate. The right to buy gives tenants of public housing authorities the right to purchase their homes—homes which have been provided with public funds—and we consider that such a tenant's entitlement to discount should be based on the whole of his previous tenancy of houses provided with public funds, and not simply on his length of tenancy in houses provided by the authority, from which he is purchasing his present house. Thus when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State sells a house which he owns—for example, a prison service house—to the sitting tenant, he grants discount in respect of periods which the tenant has spent as a tenant of another public body, such as a district council. He does not expect—and indeed would not consider it appropriate—the district council to repay to him the discount given in respect of occupation of one of their houses; and he would similarly consider it inappropriate for district councils, new towns and the Scottish Special Housing Association to receive reimbursement of discount given in respect of occupation of a house provided by another public sector body. I hope that, in the light of these comments, the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, the noble Lord the Minister has given a long explanation. He did not, however, cover the very important point that was made by my noble friend; namely, the question of whether local authorities would be likely to look favourably upon someone coming from one of the occupations detailed in Clause 2(1), paragraphs (o) to (U). It may very well be, as the Minster suggested earlier, that local authorities do not receive full reimbursement of their expenses, including maintenance, from rents. That is something about which we could argue. But many local authorities will feel that they have a big social responsibility primarily to their own people—to the people living in their particular area.
As was said by my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock, the likelihood is that local authorities will be very reluctant to give up particularly good houses. No one coming from a house owned by the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses or the UKAEA will take just any local authority house; they will almost certainly want one of the better houses. They will probably have been used to a fairly good standard in their old tied house, and they will almost certainly want something fairly good when they move to the local authority house. Thinking of the areas that I know, it is unlikely that a local authority would be willing to give such a property to someone who has suddenly come in from another part of the country and to whom they feel no basic obligation to rehouse.
So there is a very strong possibility that, as my noble friend said when moving the amendment, by including this right we may be doing a grave disservice to some people who in other circumstances may have been able to get a local authority house. I believe that many local authorities will feel that they have a social reponsibility to their own waiting list. They will also have councillors who will be watching very carefully. The Minister knows very well, having had experience of this, that there is a great deal of jealousy when it comes to someone getting a highly desirable house. There is a great deal of legitimate anxiety as to whether there was any irregularity, because by the nature of things there are frequently several people on the waiting list who are on the verge of being rehoused and if one gets rehoused before the other additional tension is created in the community, and the local councils are very much aware of this fact. So I can certainly envisage local councillors and councils as a whole shying clear of giving away some of their best stock to people who are coming into the area. I am sorry that the Minister did not deal anything like as fully with that point as I would have liked, because in my view it is extremely important and valid. Perhaps even now he may be able to give us a further explanation?
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships' House, I should like to say that I did touch on that point, but the noble Lord may have missed it because I dealt with it along with a number of other matters. Local authorities are under the same obligation to house ex-tied tenants as any other applicant on their waiting list. Local authorities must publish their allocation policies, and as far as we can see at present there is no particular reluctance on the part of the local authorities to house people because 1102 they have been tenants of one of these bodies. I can give as an example ex-servicemen or people from the armed forces who have been in Ministry of Defence houses, or indeed people from any of the other groups that we have mentioned. So far as that matter is concerned, the local authorities have an obligation and they seem prepared to live up to it. I am sorry if I had not made that quite clear at the outset. I hope that now the noble Lord might be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I should like to make one comment. I still fail to understand the logic of giving large discounts to people who have in one way or another been provided with houses by the Government. The Minister has said that in fact the rent does not cover, and never has covered, both the capital and running costs, and therefore the balance of advantage lies in the council selling a house at whatever price. It seems to me to be illogical. I repeat: I cannot understand the logic of allowing large discounts to people who for years have been causing the Government to let houses at a loss.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, as I understand it, the Minister of State's first objection to my amendment was that it seemed to cover many more people than I had originally thought. I thank him very much for that, because I believe that all the financial responsibility for this should rest with the Secretary of State. It is not the local authorities which asked for this to be done, be it in respect of their own tenants or tenants of other houses elsewhere—whether it be,in England, Ireland or anywhere else—who return to Scotland, get on a housing list and obtain a secure tenancy. They are given the right by the Government. It is the Government who say to the local authority, "You shall sell"; and it is the Government who say to the local authority, "You shall sell at such a discount".
Therefore, if, inadvertently, in my simple-minded way, I said "Section 10" instead of "subsection (10)", or, in my shorthand, I failed to list paragraphs (a) to (u), as I had once thought of doing, and thought I would do very quickly, which was very unwise—I slipped into the business of covering the whole of subsection (10), though I did not really cover the whole of subsection (10) because I used the word "section" when it should have been "subsection"; but suppose I had been able to correct that to "subsection"—I do not think I would have worried very much because I believe that the financial obligations should rest upon the Government. It is they who determine who shall have the right to buy, and it is they who determine just exactly what the discount shall be.
This high-handed way of dealing with someone else's property never ceases to amaze me. The Government think that no one should question it. What right have the Government to sell local authority property, or to order it to be sold? Originally all they provided was a subsidy towards the building, and that subsidy was automatic, on the demand that the local authorities provided at least a quarter.
Then, come 1970, despite the fact that local authorities had borrowed money to pay off the cost of these houses for, in the first instance, over 40 years and later 60 years, the Government reneged on their 1103 bargain and did not pay the 60-year subsidy. They changed the system altogether. But these houses were built by the local authority and the obligation for payment of debts on them rested on the local authority. We talk of them as local authority houses because they were. By what right have the Government to say to a local authority, "Sell that house; sell it to that man, and sell it at this price"?
That is not democracy as I know it, or as I have been brought up to know it. Therefore, by this amendment, if I strayed into the paths of further widening the responsibilities of the Government for actually meeting the bill of discounts, then I am very glad of it. I have not been convinced by anything that the Minister of State has said. He has not convinced me as to why the local authority should meet commitments in respect of the Northern Lighthouses, Trinity House or anybody else, and this crowd of people about whom we know nothing—such other person as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe".There is no end to this man's generosity. The Boy George is giving money away to tenants, but not his money—local authority money. It is just not good enough. I think that I shall test the opinion of the House.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ Clause 4 [Secretary of State's power to authorise refusal to sell certain dwelling-houses required for educational purposes]:
§ 7.26 p.m.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 3, line 25, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("sheriff").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move Amendment No. 4 and, with it, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 5 to 9.
Amendment No. 5: Page 3, line 27, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("sheriff").
Amendment No. 6: Page 3, line 32, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("sheriff").
Amendment No. 7: Page 3, line 45, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("sheriff").
Amendment No. 8: Page 4, line 1, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("sheriff").
Amendment No. 9: Page 4, line 9, leave out ("Secretary of State's") and insert ("sheriff's").
This is a small amendment, and it concerns dwelling-houses of the Western Isles and the island authorities which were originally designated for educational purposes. The Bill says that if a local authority is served notice by a tenant that he wishes to buy the house, the local authority must be able to have exemption from the Secretary of State to refuse to sell the dwelling-house if it has been built for or used for educational purposes.
§ At an earlier stage of the Bill we suggested a way out of this. To say that the Secretary of State should be the person who has the power to authorise refusal is taking the matter away from the local area. It is taking it to someone in St. Andrew's House, who possibly is not at all familiar with the real situation in the district.1104
§ Therefore, in the name of the Secretary of State, the person, in St. Andrew's House—who might have all sorts of other good qualities, but one of them would not be a close intimacy with, responsibility for or accountability to the actual area in which the house is situated—would have the power to make this decision to refuse to sell or, with the present mood of the Government, to agree to sell almost anything that came forward.
§ The amendment merely seeks to suggest that instead of the Secretary of State (which we all know would be delegated responsibility) it should be the sheriff, who will be familiar with the area, who will deal with people on a daily basis from some parts of that area and who will be able to find out at a different level from the Secretary of State whether or not refusal should be granted. I hope the Minister will realise that this is an advance on the much more cumbersome procedure of deciding that the only person who should have right of refusal should be the Secretary of State. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I should like to support this amendment. My noble friend Lord Grimond, who is extremely familiar with the affairs of the islands and who cannot be here due to a prior engagement, would also like to support it. The amendment would, indeed, short-circuit a great many troubles, and the sheriff with his local knowledge is obviously a sensible person to handle any appeals. The island councils certainly appear to be a little unhappy with an appeal to the Secretary of State, and would much rather it was dealt with by the sheriff. Common sense also appears to support this. I am sure that the Minister must look favourably on this series of amendments.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, the noble Lord has explained that these amendments would provide that an islands council which wishes to refuse a request from, for example, a teacher to buy his house in a remote area should have to apply to the sheriff for permission to refuse to sell rather than to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, as is proposed in the present Clause 4.
As I explained, when we debated the principle of this in Committee, to leave the islands councils sole judge in their own cause would have no precedent in the 1980 tenants' rights' legislation and the Government do not believe it would be fair to the tenant. What is needed however is an independent, but quick and simple judgment. We think this can best be achieved by settling the matter in dialogue between the local authority concerned and my right honourable friend, as has worked successfully elsewhere in the 1980 legislation. I do not think it is necessary or appropriate to set up an elaborate legal procedure, with all the attendant expense and inevitable delays, as this amendment proposes.
I have explained that the Government accept that there are houses which local authorities provide in connection with employment with the council and which those authorities need to retain. The 1980 tenants' rights' legislation contains a provision that where an employee is required to occupy a particular house as a part of his contract of employment, then that employee does not have the right to buy. This 1105 gives councils a substantial and adequate safeguard against having to sell houses which they need for operational purposes.
A particular problem arises with teachers' houses in the islands, however, because although the councils say these houses are let in connection with the tenants' employment as a teacher, it is nowhere in the teachers' contracts of employment that they must occupy that particular house. The Government initially took the view that the obvious course was to renegotiate the teachers' contracts of employment, to put them on the same basis as other council employees; under the 1980 legislation the teachers would not then have had the right to buy.
I am not saying that the islands councils would act unfairly in this matter; I accept that they are reasonable bodies. Nevertheless, they would be left in the position of judging their own case and the tenant would not have any voice in the matter. We did not think that this was acceptable from the tenant's point of view. On the other hand, the number of cases arising are likely to be few and it seemed both unnecessary and inappropriate to construct an elaborate and expensive machinery of court procedures and appeals. We wanted therefore to keep whatever procedure we devised as simple, speedy and inexpensive as possible.
I believe that we have gone a very considerable way to meet the islands councils' concerns. I make no bones of the fact that we would have preferred to find some other solution to their problem, which would have avoided the need for this legislation altogether. However, we have accepted their assurance that no other solution was possible. We are prepared to trust the islands councils to make reasonable use of the provisions in Clause 4 and only to submit applications where they have strong reasons for needing to retain a particular house. In return, I hope that the islands councils will trust that my right honourable friend will be sensible and fair in his decision as a result of those cases submitted to him. I think that the principal factor which has influenced us in not going for the sheriff as opposed to the Secretary of State is that we could inadvertently be creating considerable expense to those who are involved, and we believe that the Secretary of State is the appropriate person to do this. A Secretary of State of whatever political colour has regular dealings with the local authorities concerned, and we believe that he is the most suitable person to carry out this function. In view of that explanation, I wonder whether noble Lords opposite would consider withdrawing this group of amendments.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I get more than a feeling that the Secretary of State or those acting for him have never really understood the concern of the islands authorities. Time and again I have heard the Minister say that if he departed from this it would leave the islands authorities sole judge in their own cause. He keeps on saying this. The first amendment I produced last week was frankly an amendment supplied to me by the Western Islands authority. It gave the right of appeal to the Lands Tribunal.
As the noble Lord knows, in the original 1980 Act—I have it here; I do not want to weary the House with all it says—where a tenant was aggrieved it was the Lands Tribunal to whom he went, so it was natural 1106 to put in this right of appeal to a Lands Tribunal. But no, said the noble Lord the Minister, that would be creating a new, elaborate authority and another stage in the proceedings. What does he think is bringing in the Secretary of State? If you leave out the Secretary' of State and replace him by the Lands Tribunal, that is not another stage in the process. That is replacing one with another.
There is another thing the noble Lord said that shows to me that he does not understand what the Bill actually says. He used the phrase, "The tenant will have no voice". Will he look at his own clause? Will he tell me where the tenant has a voice there? I am asking the noble Lord a direct question—and the cavalry had better get ready to produce the answer. What voice has the tenant got in it? None. All it says here is,Where an application to purchase a dwelling-house is served on an islands council"—and so on—the landlord may, within one month of service of the application to purchase…instead of serving an offer to sell on the tenant, make an application to the Secretary of State for authority to serve a notice of refusal".It goes direct to the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State does not listen to anybody. The voice of the tenant is not there. Am I right? The noble Lord keeps talking about the voice of the tenant. I think it is the voice of the turtle that is being heard in the land, certainly not the voice of the tenant. That has nothing to do with it, because the question goes to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State makes a decision.
The whole concern of the islands council has been that they should make the decision, not the Secretary of State. It is not an appeal to the Secretary of State. It is the decision of a Secretary of State. He virtually makes the decision, not the islands council; not the education authority; not the housing authority, because in the islands they combine these functions. That is what the islands authority are concerned about.
Who is the Secretary of State to make a decision about this? What does he know about the remote island that may be concerned? Absolutely nothing. The body which should make the decision should be the islands authority. Having made that decision they are prepared to give the right of appeal. The suggestion was to the Lands Tribunal. They are not asking to be judge and jury in their own case. They are prepared to give this right of appeal. It was turned down by the Minister of State on the Committee stage. So far as the islands authority are concerned he certainly did not do justice to their cause.
When the noble Lord said that so far as he could see the islands were quite happy about it, they were not. They had written to the Secretary of State about it. They had discussed it with the local EIS and they had agreed with them. Although the noble Lord said that the teachers were quite happy with the position, the teachers too want the decision to be left to the islands authority. They are prepared—and it was in the original amendment—that it should be to the Lands Tribunal. This is just an alternative I put in of cutting out the Secretary of State and putting in the sheriff, but I am not happy about the sheriff making the decision. I think the decision should be made by the islands 1107 authority and an appeal against that should go to the aggrieved tenant. But even my amendment does not say that because I adopted the wording of the original Bill in which the voice of the tenant is not heard. The case would not arise if it did not come from the tenant, but the only thing we get from the tenant is an applica-tion to buy: simply that. I do not think that this is satisfactorily concluded yet. We are getting near the end of the discussion on the Bill and before we reach the Question, That the Bill do now pass, we should have another look at this matter. I should be grateful if the Minister would consider this again.
What they are concerned about is not the Secretary of State making the decision—that is quite wrong. The decision should be made by the local authority. They know all the facts. They know all the people, which is sometimes more important than other aspects, and they are satisfied that there ought to be an appeal. The appeal could be to the Lands Tribunal or to the sheriff, but to take something like this to the Secretary of State is nonsense.
I was Secretary of State for eight years and I was constantly astounded by reading in the papers of decisions that I had made that I had never heard of. They were made by a bureaucrat. Sometimes they told me—
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I have known times when even Under-Secretaries did not know about it. That can be confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who was an Under-Secretary at the Scottish Office. I remember him and the late Lord Brooke on a certain Town and Country Planning Act that was applied to Scotland because it was purely academic. He will remember the occasion in Committee Room No. 10 on that Bill.
It is nonsense that this kind of thing should go to the Secretary of State. As the Minister says, there will be a dialogue between the islands authority and the Secretary of State. He really must be joking. I know that kind of dialogue which is nonsense. The Secretary of State is not required to make a decision of this kind. It should be made locally. If someone wants to put in an appeal and the islands authority is prepared to have an appeal, the appeal should be to the Lands Tribunal as it already is in the tenants' rights Bill or, failing that, the sheriff. He is on the spot, knows the people and he probably knows their language as well, which I am sure that the Secretary of State will not know. I hope that the Minister will consider this again between now and the next stage of the Bill. It is not all that important or shattering that the Government could change their minds about this and give way. It would be common sense.
I believe that published today there is the report of a committee of inquiry under Sir David Montgomery into the functions of the islands' authorities. I wonder what his attitude would be to this, whether these local authorities can be trusted to make a simple decision such as this and have it subject to appeal, as they are prepared to do. I do not think that the Government are 1108 being very sensible about this, and the Minister of State is not being fair to himself when he is so obdurate on this matter.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, may I explain briefly how I venture to view this problem. Here we have a right given to purchase a house: a qualified right, qualified by the public need. If in the opinion of the local authority there is a need for the house to remain in public ownership so that it may be occupied by a school teacher, or whatever, that is a qualification on the main right. The problem then becomes the difference between the rights of the individual and the rights of the public, of the community which needs a teacher.
It does not seem to me that that is a matter of no importance at all. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, referred to the fact that I was in charge under the Secretary of State for Education in Scotland for a time. At that time we had the business of having to close some schools, but the protection to the schools was great and the Secretary of State always gave his assent to the closure of a school. That generally meant that as Under-Secretary I had to discuss it with him and he agreed or disagreed as the case may be. But that is a real protection for both sides. I do not see any objection to this power of the Secretary of State to agree to a refusal to sell.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, the noble Lord will of course see this as important; but that protection was taken away by the present Secretary of State two years ago. It is only available now, not to ordinary non-denominational schools, but to Catholic schools. The local authority can close any school it likes and there is no reference or appeal to the Secretary of State. There is only an appeal to the Secretary of State when he proposes to do that for Catholic schools. If they can trust the local authority with that—in fact the decision is final—why not trust them with this simple matter of a house with an appeal to another body, be it the Lands Tribunal or the sheriff?
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, I must concede that that is a plausible argument, but the fact remains that there is a difference of interest here to be solved by a third party; why not the Secretary of State?
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, in that case it should have been solved in respect of non-denominational schools, but that has been taken away.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ [Amendments Nos. 5 to 9 not moved.]1109
§ Clause 7 [Right to carry out repairs]:
§ 7.48 p.m.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 5, line 4, leave out ("may be regulations") and insert ("shall").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 10 is a paving amendment which makes way for the remaining amendments on the Marshalled List.
Amendment No. 11: Page 5, line 13, leave out from ("sums") to ("as") in line 15.
Amendment No. 12: Page 5, line 16, at end insert—
(" (1A) A scheme under this section shall be made by regulations contained in a statutory instrument which shall not come into force until approved by both Houses of Parliament.").
Amendment No. 13: Page 5, line 25, after ("for") insert ("the manner of determination of").
Amendment No. 14: Page 5, line 26, leave out from ("scheme") to ("and") in line 27.
This is laying on the Secretary of State a duty to,
make a scheme entitling a tenant under a secure tenancy, subject to and in accordance with"—
the conditions below. The scheme shall be such that the tenant will have the right of repairs and to recover from the landlord the amount of these repairs.
If the Minister will look at the number of amendments that have been put down he will see that Amendment No. 11 attempts to leave out from the word "sums", the words,
(not exceeding the costs that would have been incurred by the landlord in carrying out the repairs)".
§ The amendment seeks to exclude these words because a much clearer definition or explanation is required as to why the costs should not exceed the costs that would have been incurred by the landlord in carrying out the repairs. For instance, who will determine what a fair price would be? The landlord may say that he could have done the repairs much more cheaply and therefore will pay only 50 per cent. of the cost. We do not know how the landlord may have carried the repairs out, in what condition he may have left the property after he had carried out the repairs, who he would have got to carry out the repairs or whether he would have done them himself. Therefore, the idea of merely putting in "not exceeding the costs which would have been incurred by the landlord in carrying out the repairs" is begging a great many questions and makes it difficult for the tenant to know exactly where he stands if he has the repairs carried out himself.
A very important thing is that, as Amendment No. 12 suggests:
A scheme under this section shall be made by regulations contained in a statutory instrument which shall not come into force until approved by both Houses of Parliament".
§ This is a very old argument that we frequently have in this House, but it is something that is so important that there should be a positive resolution of the House before the scheme is completed and before the scheme is made. I hope that in the first instance the Minister will deal with this group of amendments particularly explaining where he can help the tenant by defining more closely the costs which would have been incurred by the landlord if he had carried out the repairs, and what possibility the tenant has to question this cost. I beg to move.1110
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, perhaps I could clear up a point with the noble Lord, He referred to Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12. Are we discussing these together? Is that acceptable to the noble Lord?
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I did not want to embark upon another amendment if we were not in fact talking about it at the same time. Amendment No. 10 provides that the Secretary of State shall make a scheme giving a secure tenant a right to carry out repairs and to be reimbursed. It seeks to make the requirement to set up a scheme mandatory. The present provision in the Bill is, by contrast, an enabling power, and it quite properly provides therefore that the Secretary of State may make a scheme by regulations. We believe that tenants should have this right, as we made clear in our manifesto at the general election last June, and we are at present consulting on the details of how such a scheme would operate. But until we have worked out the details of the scheme, it seems right that the power should be an enabling one.
Amendment No. 12 provides that regulations setting up a right-to-repair scheme would be subject to affirmative resolution rather than negative resolution, as at present proposed in the Bill. We discussed this matter in Committee also, and since then I have considered it further; and I have listened very carefully to the arguments which the noble Lord has put forward today. I accept that the regulations, when we bring them forward, should be subject to scrutiny and debate, but I suggest to the House that this is best done before the regulations are formally laid before your Lordships' House so that the Government have an opportunity to listen to the comments of interested parties and to amend the draft regulations, if this seems desirable, before they are brought before your Lordships. I would remind your Lordships that when the regulations are formally laid, whether the procedure is negative or affirmative, there is no further opportunity to amend the proposals; they must be either approved or rejected in their entirety.
I have to say that, on careful reflection, I still do not believe that it would be appropriate to make the regulations setting up the right to repair subject to affirmative resolution. Affirmative resolution procedure is, by convention, restricted to cases where the powers are concerned with the alteration or definition of the extent of a statute, or with the levying, application or management of public money. None of this holds in the present case. Of course, I appreciate that this is only a convention, and obviously there can be exceptions. Negative resolution procedure is, however, the normal procedure for regulations of the present type. It means that the regulations will be laid formally and there will be a debate if, but only if, your Lordships pray against the regulations. Rather than having an automatic debate, therefore, it is a decision for your Lordships as to whether or not your Lordships' House debates the regulations. That is the only difference between the procedures. Under neither of the procedures can the regulations be amended.
With regard to Amendment No. 11, I appreciate that the purpose of this amendment is probing, and I hope to be able to answer the noble Lord fairly briefly.
1111 We have considered the possibility of amending the right-to-repair clause in the way suggested by the noble Lord; but we have concluded, in the light of the responses which we have received to our consultation paper, and in the light of the discussions which our officials have had with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, that it would not be appropriate to amend the clause in the way suggested. The consultation paper which we issued last year setting out our proposals for the scheme suggests that where a landlord fails to respond within the prescribed time limit to a tenant's application to carry out a repair, the tenant will be entitled to carry out the repair and to recover his own costs in full, provided that they fall within the cost limits of the scheme. The cost limits suggested in the consultation paper were a minimum of £20 and a maximum of £200 subject to a ceiling of 100 per cent. of what it would have cost the landlord to carry out the repair himself.
I am aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has brought forward an amendment to the English Bill similar to the present amendment which would enable a tenant, where a landlord fails to respond to his application, to go ahead with the repair and to claim his costs in full, provided that it otherwise comes within the scope of the scheme—even if these costs are in excess of what it would have cost the landlord to do the repair himself. Following consultations with the local authorities and others, we are proposing a slightly different approach in Scotland. We are suggesting that in similar circumstances a Scottish tenant should be able to claim his costs in full provided that they do not exceed what the landlord considers he would have had to spend in carrying out the repair himself. In practice, I expect the number of cases where a landlord totally fails to respond to an application and the tenant goes ahead on his own initiative to be very few. In view of the explanation which I have given, I hope that the noble Lord might be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, my noble friend has been very generous in trying to take all these matters together. I would have been happier if we had talked first of all simply about the scheme. We keep hearing about the scheme that we will be discussing with the local authorities. One group of people who do not know anything about the scheme are the legislators. Is it not about time that we knew about the scheme? We occasionally get little bits of information about what would be the likely minimum and what the maximum; but we simply have not had a clear explanation of what the scheme is or is likely to be, or the stage of negotiation. This is what I should like to have absolutely clear.
I have seen the original paper, of course, but I have no idea of what is going to happen. It is very complicated. Noble Lords have never heard the Government arguing as to what it means or what it does not mean. Then I think of the possibilities for delay in this; of getting an application form. Who is going to provide the application form? Is it the Government? Is it the local authority? Have they to print the application forms and make them available? You will remember that there have been difficulties 1112 previously about application forms with unwilling local authorities, or with what the Government have said were unwilling authorities. Are the forms to be available in the post office, so that tenants will be able to use the facilities there in respect of them? I am sure that the Minister of State must be conversant with all that has gone on. He should be able to tell us this simple matter.
Then, of course, it goes to the local authority, who get replies within 21 days. Then there is another 21 days—I think it is 21—after he submits his bill. How many people in local authority houses are going to wait and do the work themselves, or have it done for them? How many people expect that the person they get to do it will wait for about 42 days at least before they can be paid?—because that is the time it will take before the money is reimbursed by the local authority, according to this scheme that we have not yet seen. I hope the noble Lord the Minister appreciates that we deserve to be treated with a certain measure of concern, and that we want to know what is happening.
On Second Reading I expressed my concern about this, and said I thought this will be a bureaucratic sort of scheme which people will not understand, and only the most persistent people and people with some money will be able to take advantage of it. We will not get what we all want, which is a far better scheme for providing necessary repairs for the local authority tenant. It is no good the noble Lord the Minister saying, "We will see". The first thing he says is that this was in their manifesto, but until we get the scheme it is only an enabling power. Why does not the noble Lord the Minister give us credit for believing what they want to do? Why does he not do with the new right of repair what was done with tenants' rights in respect of the right to buy?
Look at page 1—the word "shall"; look at page 2—the word "shall": the word "shall" goes right through. The Government are going to do it; now they only "may" do it. We have heard a new justification today. They cannot say "shall do it" until such time as they have finished all their consultations. They are going to do it, so why do they not change the wording to "shall"? Why does not the noble Lord the Minister come clean and between now and the next stage of the Bill give us a report in writing telling us what details are agreed with the local authorities, and the stage this scheme is likely to be at? What is the minimum? Is it between £20 and £200?
There are a lot of people in local authority houses who cannot afford to do repairs themselves for £20 but who, unless they do these repairs themselves, or get them done, are not going to get them done for a long, long time, so there might be objection to that. What does it cost to put in a pane of glass?—not far short of £20. I think many noble Lords here will have had experience of the kind of damage that is done if jobs like this are neglected. What about the justifiable excuses of the local authorities in the scheme for not doing the repairs? One excuse is, "It is not worth doing". Another is, "It does not need to be done" or, "The kind of repair suggested is not right". Also, "Well, we are going to do it later ourselves, and it would interfere with the priorities of planning of repairs over an area". We have heard nothing about that in this House.
1113 I am beginning to wonder if the word "may" is there because we may never have a scheme, because the Government will find it so complicated, so bureaucratic, that it is not worth while introducing it. This is what I want to discuss in respect of this scheme, and why I insist that we have the word "shall", because on this side of the House we want an effective repair scheme. If the tenant has to do it himself he will be reimbursed to 100 per cent. of his cost. If the local authority fairly and justly say, "Well, the job is done; the job had to be done and the job has been well done", it is unfair to leave it to the point where they come along and say, "Ah, but we could have done it cheaper".
The fact of the matter is that the opportunity is there to do it within 21 days, and they did not do it. It is quite wrong unfairly to take money from the tenant which he has expended in doing a particular job. There are all sorts of things worthy of discussion here. We have not had the opportunity of discussing them. Scottish Ministers get away with murder on that Bench. Look at the Bill we started the other night at half past eight, and look at us again tonight. Look at the hordes of English noble Lords around here—and an Irishman—
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
—saying, "I wish these Scots would hurry up". I wish this lot would hurry up and tell us what we want to know. I am very surprised at the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot today. There she is, sitting in patience. I cannot believe it; she has not said a word all day. Let it be so recorded. Scottish business, and she has not said a word. It will be different, I expect, on Thursday, when we come to even more important matters.
This is the point the Government should take us a little into their confidence as to where they are in relation to this particular scheme. I have covered the other point about the actual sum. There is no reason why there should not be special recompense for the tenant. I am glad to think that because the English have made some amendments, the Scots are thinking of making some amendments, too, but not exactly the same ones, although they will probably print it in Gaelic just to make it different.
Because time is pressing, they have been fortunate in that we have not been able to go into the whole question of tenants' rights as regards repairs. As a House we have not done justice to the importance of the subject. I do not think the needs of the tenants in respect of essential repairs will properly be met; and the fault will be ours because we did not take up the cause of the tenant.
In so far as statutory instruments are concerned. I have been dealing with such things for well nigh 40 years. The same thing applies to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. It is no good for him to come along and tell us it is only related to so-and-so, that we get these affirmative motions. It is not exactly true. I will find him two or three exceptions by tomorrow morning if he wishes.
The noble Lord said something about a draft that would be fully discussed. That is an entirely different 1114 procedure, but that is not the procedure which is in the Bill. Does the noble Lord the Minister really mean that? Does he really mean that there is going to be a procedure for producing a draft and laying it before Parliament? Did he mean that, or was it just a slip of the tongue? Did he ally two lines of his brief and get it wrong? Because it came along very strong on the basis that it will be negative procedure, which means we will never see it again in this House. It will be dealt with in another place, and once dealt with there, it will not be dealt with here. This is important.
The noble Lord the Minister is asking us to say, "Well, it is just enabling; we are busy with the local authorities. We have not had all the discussions yet, but trust us and maybe we will produce a scheme. If we do, you will never see it again to be able properly to discuss it". This is what this noble House will deserve if we are prepared to accept this kind of thing from this kind of Minister. No one will take us seriously.
I hope that the Government will think again about this and about this series of amendments. There is one other amendment which has not been mentioned. May I mention it, please. I hope our noble Deputy Speaker will not rule me out of order. I am referring to the last two. These are purely drafting, by the way. I can tell the noble Lord the Minister it is worthwhile accepting these because they make more sense than what has been provided in this particular clause.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I answered the noble Lord during the Committee stage on almost all the points he has raised again during the Report stage. He knows as well as I do what the procedure is. I explained it fully at that time, but just to refresh his memory I shall tell him that consultations are taking place and have been taking place. In due course drafting regulations will be compiled after account has been taken of the representations which are being made to the Government, rightly, by the various bodies which are being consulted.
At that time the noble Lord will certainly have the opportunity of seeing the draft regulations. There is no question of those draft regulations being the regulations which are actually submitted. Of course not: the draft regulations may be amended by the Government in due course after they have been commented upon by the various parties who will be consulted about them. Therefore, when we come to the question of negative resolution the noble Lord has suggested that, knowing negative resolutions, this House will never see them. It is entirely in the hands of this House whether your Lordships discuss a negative resolution or not; because, as the noble Lord knows only too well, if the negative resolution is prayed against there is the opportunity for it to be debated. So it really is hardly fair of the noble Lord to say that would be the end of it and this House would never see it again. It is entirely up to this House to decide whether it wants to see a negative resolution again or not.
But the consultation over the draft regulations is going on very well indeed, and in due course the noble Lord will have the opportunity to see the draft regulations when they are compiled.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, may we have the assurance that these regulations are going to be produced and printed as draft regulations? Is that so?
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, the noble Lord is very crafty. He is always trying to get me to put a rope round my neck, and I am not going to do that for the noble Lord.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, the noble Lord will have the opportunity of seeing the draft regulations; that assurance I can give him. The last two amendments which the noble Lord mentioned are those which he rightly says are drafting amendments. I have looked at those amendments and I am sorry to tell the noble Lord that I cannot accept them. We had thought that a drafting amendment to the Bill should be reasonably clear and easy to undertand—much more so than in the case of many other Bills we have to deal with—very complex Bills indeed.
Certainly my noble friend Lord Selkirk praised the drafting of the Bill during Second Reading when he indicated that he considered the Bill to be infinitely better drafted than the corresponding English Bill and suggested that one could—here I quote:read it very nearly with pleasure".That is significant. We are always ready to listen to suggestions, and particularly those from the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, who has such a wealth of experience so far as drafting legislation is concerned.
I am sure that not many of us here would like to have been a draftsman in the Scottish Office while the noble Lord was Secretary of State. I am sure it must have been quite a frightful experience to have the noble Lord, as Secretary of State, scrutinising every piece of legislation which one prepared. But on this occasion, with respect, I do not believe that the noble Lord's amendments would be an improvement. Although the noble Lord did not actually move his amendments, if he does move them, I regret that I shall not be able to accept them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 13 and 14 not moved.]