§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [THE LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 23 [Grounds and orders for possession]:
§ Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 43:
Page 24, line 9, at beginning insert—
(" () After subsection (3) of section 30 of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(4) It shall be the duty of the person or persons claiming to succeed the deceased tenant to notify the landlord within three months of the tenant's death.
and in the paragraph (c) of Ground 13 of Schedule 4 to that Act after the words "the date or there shall be inserted "notification of".")
§ The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lady Faithfull, I beg to move the amendment standing in her name on the Marshalled List. We come now, in this Bill, to the other rights of secure tenants and, in particular, to the grounds and orders for possession. This is only a probing amendment. As the Committee will recall, Section 30 of the Housing Act 1980 provides for succession to take place on the death of a secure tenant but does not provide for any requirement to notify the landlord. Ground 13 of Schedule 4 provides for recovery of possession in such cases where the dwelling is under-occupied as a consequence, subject to suitable alternative accommodation being offered.
§ However, such proceedings for recovery must be exercised within time limits. If the landlord is not notified of the tenant's death, the time limits might have expired before the landlord learns of it. This amendment provides for the successor to notify the death of the tenant to the landlord within three months and for Ground 13 to be exercisable within the existing time limits but counting from the date of such notification.
§ I hope that my noble friend will feel that a provision along these lines is reasonable in all the circumstances. I hope that he will indicate either that an amendment such as that proposed can be accepted or that the situation is provided for in some other way. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
As far as I am aware, this is the first time that there has been any call for such an amendment, and I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Sandford had to say. There are always questions that need to be considered closely, and I can see difficulties in this. Perhaps I may explain. Let me take, first, the question of succession. For good reason, there is no provision in Section 30 for any minimum or maximum time in which to decide who shall succeed, and an alert landlord will quickly know when there has been a succession. In most cases, there will be no doubt about who is to succeed, but if a person is qualified to succeed and wishes the landlord to choose 147 between him and other people who are equally qualified it is obviously in his own interest to approach the landlord quickly.
I suggest that there is no need for a three-month limit. However, if, for example, the purpose of the amendment is that the deceased's spouse, who is qualified to succeed, has to notify the landlord of the succession, that is another matter. Provided the conditions in Section 30 are met, the provision gives spouses and other family members a right to succeed. The wording of Section 30 is:the tenancy vests by virtue of this Section".There is no question of a successor claiming the tenancy or of the landlord having power of veto. We therefore have to be very careful that making notification a statutory requirement would serve a useful purpose. I must admit to being concerned about whether there should be sanctions, and, if so, about how sanctions which are workable and acceptable could be devised against successors who failed simply to notify their landlords within the statutory period.
I turn to the second limb of the proposed amendment. At present when a secure tenant has died and been succeeded by a member of the family other than the spouse, and the dwelling-house is under-occupied, the landlord can seek repossession. The landlord can do so in the period more than six months but less than 12 months after the date of the previous tenant's death. This six-month period was carefully chosen. It gives a new tenant six months to get over the death and allows the landlord to seek repossession before the new tenant gets too settled.
However, this proposal would effectively extend the period during which the landlord could seek possession by up to three months, so that notice could be served on the tenant up to 15 months after the former tenant's death, instead of 12 months or possibly even longer, where the tenant had failed to make notification within the specified time. If a landlord intends to seek repossession, surely there is time enough at present to make this decision. Fifteen months after death would keep the successor tenant cruelly in suspense. I think that this would be a retrograde step.
However, I am prepared to take a closer look at the question, though I cannot assure my noble friend that we shall end up with an amendment that he will like. But, on the assurance that I am willing to look at it, perhaps he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Birk
Before the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, replies, may I just make one brief comment? I thought that the Minister's explanation was extremely clear. He made out a well-balanced case, but it seems to me that there is one practical point about this. There could be a certain amount of doubt or argument about the date of notification. The authority may correctly have down one date; the person concerned may have made a mistake and believe that it is another date. The date of death is definite. When the Minister is considering this matter, perhaps he ought to take that into consideration.
§ Lord Sandford
I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister particularly for saying that he is 148 willing to look at the matter again. If I may say so, I think that that would be as well. Although I was grateful to my noble friend for what he said in the main part of his reply, I do not, if I may say so, think it bore exactly on the point that I was making. At the beginning he said that the housing authority would quickly get to know about the death of a tenant. I suppose that in the great majority of cases that would undoubtedly be true, but it might not be true. In so far as time limits are set in the Housing Act 1980 for the operation of the procedures to which this amendment relates, it is important that the housing authority should be certain of being made aware of the tenant's death for the reasons that I gave in moving the amendment. Regarding a fixed moment, I entirely take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, about the definitive date on which death occurs.
However, I am more than content with my noble friend's agreement to look at the matter again, and I shall read carefully what he has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 44:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1267.]
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment was taken together with Amendment No. 42. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 45:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1267.]
§ The noble Lord said: This, too, was taken with Amendment No. 42. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 3.14 p.m.
Baroness Fisher of Rednal moved Amendment No. 46:
Page 24, line 30, leave out from ("words") to end of line 31 and insert (" "grounds 1 to 6" there shall be substituted the words "grounds 1 to 6 and 9A" ")
§ The noble Baroness said: I move this amendment because I am concerned that certain problems may arise in the case of ILEA. The position is similar to that which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, mentioned in connection with other categories of possession.
§ Lord Bellwin
In speaking to Amendment No. 46, is the noble Baroness speaking also to Amendments Nos. 70, 71 and 143?
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I apologise to the House, and I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister. I should have said that originally.
§ Amendment No. 70: Clause 29, Page 30, line 27, leave out ("paragraph 3 shall be omitted and")
Amendment No. 71: Clause 29, Page 30, line 42, at end insert—
("2C. A tenancy is not a secure tenancy if the tenant or his predecessor in title was in the employment of the landlord and
§ Amendment No. 143: Schedule 11, Page 90, leave out line 55.149
§ We are trying to envisage the problem that will arise, particularly in ILEA. It is a point similar to that which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, raised. In pursuit of educational needs and functions under the Education Act 1944, ILEA has certain problems regarding tenants. It is important for the running of the educational establishments that on an employee's retiring or otherwise leaving, ILEA should be able once again to take control of the property. So far as I can see—and I would wish the noble Lord to correct me if I am wrong—paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Housing Act 1980 safeguarded that position. The person employed was never a secure tenant because the tenancy related to the employment. In this Bill there seems to be some doubt about that.
§ Our chief concern is that in such cases eviction procedures might have to be taken to remove the people from the properties. That is not something which we should relish. The amendment takes a wider view of the issue. ILEA is in the same category as a county council, which is not a housing authority, and it may be placed in great difficulties. The educational establishments would be in the various boroughs, and that would affect the evictions. The amendments would extend the safeguards that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, was asking for to these clauses, I ask the Minister to give us the same consideration. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, has tabled four amendments which variously modify the proposed provisions governing dwellings let to employees which are within the curtilage of educational buildings. In fact the amendments would affect educational authorities as a whole, but I note that the noble Baroness has specifically referred to ILEA. The department is in touch with the authority about certain aspects of what she has said. It might be helpful if I explained the situation in more detail and perhaps picked up the points that the four amendments raise. I believe that similar arguments underlie each of them. I should make it clear straight away that I accept that there is a point of substance here which I feel must be considered further.
The noble Baroness referred to paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the 1980 Act. It is not correct to say that under that paragraph the tenancy was never secure. In fact it provides that a tenancy is not a secure tenancy if, first, the dwelling forms part of or is within the curtilage of a building held for education or social service purposes; and, secondly, it has been let to an employee on terms which provide for the tenancy to terminate on cessation of his employment.
Clause 29(2) proposes the repeal of paragraph 3 of Schedule 3. It is to be replaced by a new provision excluding paragraph 3-type dwellings from the right to buy (but not, incidentally, from security of tenure) but going wider than paragraph 3 in that, first, it covers dwellings within the curtilage of all operational buildings; and, second, it covers all relevant dwellings let to an employee in consequence of his employment, regardless of the precise terms of his tenancy. This provision is in Clause 2 of the Bill.
150 There is also to be a corresponding new ground for possession, enabling landlords to obtain possession of such dwellings where they are required for letting to a new employee. That is Clause 23. Amendments Nos. 46, 70 and 71 modify these proposed provisions in slightly different ways. Amendment No. 71 provides that there should be a new additional exclusion to security of tenure, relating only to dwellings within the curtilage of educational buildings, but going wider than paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 in that it will apply to any such dwelling let to an employee in consequence of his employment. The Government would not be happy with this amendment—partly because there seems to us little logic for a provision which relates exclusively to educational buildings and partly because it would, in effect, deprive some existing tenants of the statutory security of tenure conferred on them by the 1980 Act.
Amendments Nos. 70 and 143 provide simply for the retention of paragraph 3 of Schedule 3. If the Committee want to press the case for that, I should certainly be happy to reconsider. But my feeling at the moment is that what the Government are proposing, coupled with the additional provision to which I will refer in a moment, provide for a better and fairer balance between the rights of tenants and the operational needs of landlords. Under the Government's proposals, a landlord will be able to obtain possession of a building within the curtilage of an operational building if it is required for letting to a new employee, provided that the tenant (who will be a former employee or a successor to an employee) is offered suitable alternative accommodation, and this is what our proposal in Clause 23(1) amounts to.
The opposition Amendment No. 46 would modify this provision so that the landlord could obtain possession without ensuring that the existing tenant was provided with alternative accommodation. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, said that some bodies to which this provision will apply are not housing authorities and may therefore be in some difficulty in ensuring that suitable alternative accommodation is available. Such authorities will need to co-operate with the housing authority, or with another local landlord, in ensuring that alternative accommodation is available. Surely it would not be right to provide that a former employee tenant should be evicted without any provision to ensure that he has a new home to which to go.
However, having said that, I accept that the noble Baroness has raised one point of real concern: there will be cases—I hope very exceptional ones—in which a teacher or other employee is dismissed from employment as a result of behaviour which may put at risk the safety of children or indeed of other clients which an establishment is intending to serve. In such circumstances, it will be important that the dismissed employee does not continue to reside within the curtilage of the school or other operational buildings. In my view we may well need an initial ground for possession, perhaps tailor-made to apply in these circumstances. We are in touch with the local authority associations on the point and I hope to bring forward a relevant amendment at Report. I hope that in view of that, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
I thank the noble Lord for a very full answer to us and for the thought that he has given to it. The noble Lord has spelt out quite clearly that the 1944 Education Act is a very wide Act regarding employment of all kinds of people. I did not go into it; but as the noble Lord said, it is not just school caretakers, it is all kinds of people that very often have to be removed from their jobs because of difficulties of employment in education and, as the noble Lord said, of providing suitable accommodation. It is true that in most local authorities they are housing authorities; but I think it is the same principle that is arising in the shire counties, where they are not housing authorities; and the ILEA find themselves in difficulties. In view of what the noble Lord has said, I hope that the deliberations that he has with the associations will be fruitful and will bear out what we are trying to achieve and I think what the noble Lord is aware are the difficulties.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 47:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1267.]
§ The noble Lord said: This was taken with Amendment No. 42. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 48:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1267.]
§ The noble Lord said: This was taken with Amendment No. 42. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 49:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1267.]
§ The noble Lord said: This was taken with Amendment No. 42. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 50:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1183.]
§ The noble Lord said: This was taken with Amendment No. 5. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 51:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1183.]
§ The noble Lord said: This was taken with Amendment No. 5. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 52:
§ After Clause 23, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Additional ground for court order for possession.
(a) In section 34—
(i) after subsection (2)(c) shall be inserted—
(d) on ground 14 unless conditions 3(a) and (c) are satisfied";
(ii) after subsection (3)(b) shall be inserted—
(c) that the court is satisfied that suitable accommodation will be available for both partners when the order takes effect"; and
(iii) in subsection (4) for the words "for a tenant" there shall be substituted the words "and, for the purposes of ground 14 only, includes a sole tenancy of the dwelling house which is the subject of the proceedings.".
(b) In Schedule 4, after ground 13 shall be inserted—
§ "Ground 14
§ The dwelling house has been occupied by partners and one of the partners has notified the landlord in writing that either—
- (a) she or he no longer wishes to live with the other partner as husband and wife; or
- (b) the partners have ceased to live together as husband and wife.
§ For the purpose of this ground, partners means spouses or former spouses of a man and a woman living together as husband and wife,".
(c) In Schedule 4. paragraph 2, after paragraph (f) shall be inserted—
(g) the location of the accommodation if one of the partners (as defined for the purposes of Schedule 4 ground 14) or a member or members of his or her family has suffered violence or threats of violence from his or her partner or a member of his or her partner's family.".").
§ The noble Lord said: We have just listened in the earlier debate to a series of circumstances which quite clearly are not happy and very often are exceptional. I am very pleased indeed that the Minister—and I believe it was no surprise to the Committee—recognises and sympathises with the circumstances, and was prepared to see whether anything can be done. I stand at the Box to ask him about, if not a comparable set of circumstances, a situation in which there are some unhappy people born out of housing situations that I believe are well known to many people in this place, but also I think even more to those who have served in another place and at constituencies and who have had surgeries where they have had to face up to the realities.
§ At the end of the day, the Minister will be able to tell the Committee that this amendment has had a good run for its money, not once but twice—and not twice but sometimes three times in the other place by the time one looks at Report stage as well. So it may be that for the benefit of the Committee I do not need to say a great deal except in essence. What we are faced with in many circumstances is the break-up of a marriage or a partnership (these days in housing we have to look at the circumstances whereby two people who are living together invariably are married but not always so, they are cohabiting). For one reason or another—and the prime circumstance that has been drawn to my attention is that of violence by one partner to the other—quite frankly, they are unable to live together. The Minister and Members of your Lordships' House will have noted the crux in paragraph (ii)(c) where in effect we are suggesting an amendment to the Bill that both partners will be provided with accommodation when the order takes effect.
§ In simple terms, we are faced with the situation of two people who are unable to live together in one unit and the solution to their problem could very well be to have two units, so that they can live separately. No one on this side of the Chamber, nor I believe on any side, will take lightly any interference with priorities and needs when it comes to housing people. More often than not it is asked, "How is it possible to begin to 153 justify the case of two people with one unit of council accommodation requiring two units when there are many families who have no units at all?" Certainly, I am not wanting to make the case here on the grounds of priority or necessity.
In a debate in another place at the Report stage, on 21st December, as reported at col. 504 of the Official Report, the Under-Secretary of State said—I consider quite fairly—
Instead of the couple occupying one dwelling house the new clause would require the landlord to find two dwelling houses. Many people would simply regard that as queue-jumping".
That may very well be the view of many people.
§ This amendment is born out of the experience of a number of bodies which, on behalf of the community and, I would suggest with all temerity, on behalf of your Lordships' House, have to deal with these unhappy circumstances and try to resolve the problem. The amendment is supported by the National Consumer Council, the National Council for One Parent Families, Shelter, the National Housing Aid Trust, the Women's Aid Federation, and the London Tenants' Organisation.
§ What we are attempting to secure is a method whereby the very painful circumstances of the breakup of a partnership are resolved in a way in which the innocent party is not deprived of accommodation. Members of your Lordships' Committee may feel that that is not possible if, as happens at present, the issue is referred to the courts which then determine it. However, there are circumstances in which a couple may not be prepared to be the subject of either a divorce or a judicial separation, but where it is quite impossible for the partnership to continue. The clause that we are suggesting would create an additional ground for possession by local authorities of council accommodation and would allow them to transfer the tenancy at the request of one of the joint tenants or tenants living together. That would enable the authorities to take possession proceedings when a relationship breaks down, allow them to transfer the tenancy to one of the parties, and, if there is violence, to rehouse the woman elsewhere for her protection. The new clause seeks to protect the rights of both married and cohabiting couples and to ensure that neither party is left homeless as a result.
§ Many people, whether they are married or cohabiting, joint or sole tenants, with or without children, victims of domestic violence or not, face legal difficulties and long delays in obtaining separate accommodation when their relationship breaks down. The resultant emotional stress does not need to be spelt out. I am sure that, like me, the Minister will have seen well documented cases, in regard to which we would not demur, concerning the emotional circumstances in which one of the two partners has to wait for an extraordinarily long period for a legal ruling, and because of violence is very often faced with no alternative but to leave the home or unit, thereby depriving herself or himself of any rights she or he may have.
§ I raise the matter without in any way saying that one would call this a high priority case, bearing in mind the kind of dreadful circumstances which your Lordships recently considered when debating housing. But I should be very grateful if, first of all, the Minister 154 would express sympathy and understanding regarding the circumstances. If he is unable to accept the amendment, I wonder whether he could include the point behind it on a list of matters which clearly call for consultation from time to time with the local authorities and which require joint attention.
§ This is not a new circumstance; it has existed for some time. No doubt during his local government experience the noble Lord the Minister came across such a problem, attempted to solve it. and was beaten by it, as has happend to many of us on both sides of the Committee over the years. So the Minister is no stranger to the problem. Quite frankly, I do not really expect him to be able to concede the principle of what we are asking for in the amendment, but this is a good case and I shall withhold further comment until I have heard what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
The noble Lord makes his point extremely well, if I may say so, and very persuasively. I say at once that I am not without sympathy for what he says. Yes, I know of the type of situation that he describes. But as he very fairly says, there are problems about what the new clause proposes. It is concerned with a couple who either have parted or wish to part, and one of them notifies the landlord of this. The landlord can then go to court and accommodate both partners separately. So far, so good. But what happens in practice is that it will not be the tenant who notifies the landlord. If the tenant no longer wishes to live in the family home, he or she can simply surrender the tenancy and there would then be no need for any new ground for possession. Alternatively, he or she may be able to assign the tenancy to the other partner.
In simple language the new clause deals with the situation where, though the tenant may want to stay in the family home, a man or a woman, a joint tenant or a non-tenant, wants the tenant to be evicted. Why? The victim may very well have done nothing wrong as a tenant. None of the 13 grounds for possession in Schedule 4 to the Act may apply. It is clear from the new clause that it is envisaged that the couple may no longer be living together when one of them notifies the landlord, and therefore the new clause could simply be a way to provide a means of getting a tenant out, with the consequent loss of the right to buy the dwelling. What happens then? Instead of the couple occupying one dwelling-house, as the noble Lord fairly said, the landlord (presumably the local authority) then has to find two dwelling-houses for them.
I shall not talk about queue-jumping. I think that this matter is perhaps serious in another way. It would lead to certain situations which would be difficult for the landlord authority. I prefer to consider the matter strictly on humanitarian grounds on its own merits. I am sure the noble Lord would agree that even if the landlord felt sympathetic there would be a problem with other people who were on the waiting list who would object if what is being proposed were done. I should have thought that there would be a great difference between the landlord authority statutorily, obligatorily and compulsorily being required to accommodate both partners separately and a situation where the authority may voluntarily want to do so if accommodation is available.
155 As the noble Lord fairly said, the objections to the proposal (which have been voiced several times in the past) remain unaltered. They are that an innocent secure tenant can be ousted from the family home by his or her partner, and that the issues at stake are not ones of housing management and are best dealt with not by housing legislation but by matrimonial legislation in the courts, where the question can be settled as part of the whole division of property on divorce. I see the noble Lord shaking his head because obviously that argument has previously been put to him and I suppose he is not too surprised that I put it forward.
Of course I realise that matrimonial legislation has very little effect on cohabiting couples. But that legislation is essentially the responsibility of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and I hope that the noble Lord is aware that it is being reviewed by a committee chaired by Mrs. Justice Booth. I am not sure whether the noble Lord knew that. If he did not know, I hope that he will be encouraged by it.
I am always willing, however, to consult the Law Commission on this matter, and I think we must make quite sure that we have an input into those considerations now. I assure the noble Lord that I will make sure this is put in. As I said, I know this is not an easy matter. He knows this is something you cannot solve just like that. That does not mean to say we can all turn away as if it will not happen any more. With those assurances, perhaps the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I was going to voice a slight word of demur. Although the noble Lord who moved this amendment has identified a very real problem, on the whole when it comes to evicting one spouse, the matter is very much better left to a court which is seized of the human and the property problem. As the noble Lord the Minister said, the Booth Committee is at the very moment seized of this difficulty.
The other thing that I felt was relevant in my experience was that the local authority frequently looks to the court for guidance in these matters. It is difficult for a local authority—as the noble Lord put it—to allow someone to jump the queue; but if they have a lead from the court (even an initial informal inquiry through the court welfare officer) it is often very much easier. As the noble Lord the Minister is considering this problem further, he would perhaps bear these points in mind.
§ Baroness Birk
There is one brief point that I wish to make. I am sure the Minister will remember we considered this ground last year and I think his noble friend Lord Skelmersdale replied then. At the Report stage in another place the Minister said that this was of course under consideration. I take very much what the noble and learned Lord has said, but this does seem to have been going on a tremendous amount of time and the examples of hardship have, unfortunately, increased rather than diminished. We and those 156 bodies who are particularly concerned with this problem would like to hear whether there will be some time limit to this and whether there can be some speed about it because it is a growing problem and the considerations seem to be taking an awful lot of time.
§ Lord Bellwin
At the moment I do not have any information on that but I will try to ascertain the current situation of the Booth Committee and will notify the noble Lord. Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Graham, accordingly.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I do appreciate the manner in which the Minister has responded. I certainly understand that he is unable to say more than he has done bearing in mind the complex situation. It is a matter which could either he resolved by the courts or by a housing department if in actual fact there were no other constraints. If there were ease of supply of housing and one was able simply to make two unhappy people less unhappy by providing an alternative, I am sure there would not be a problem. But the noble Lord the Minister and the noble Lord. Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I think, touched upon another aspect: that very often it is the innocent person, the secure tenant. But if the innocent person is the subject of violence and they have children, they literally cannot stop and insist upon their rights to their secure tenancy; they have got to get out of the place because the man or woman (whoever is the agressor) makes it physically impossible within the constraints of not getting himself or herself into too much trouble and drives the other person out. That person has then made himself either homeless or has given up his rights.
I do take from the Minister that there is, if not some hope, some deep consideration going on in another place. Certainly, I was unaware personally of the initiative that the Minister has drawn to the attention of your Lordships' Committee that there is a committee sitting under Mrs. Justice Booth. As far as I am concerned, I take the Minister's point that he will feed into that the experience of his department and himself in an unhappy situation. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 53:
§ After Clause 23, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Other rights of secure tenants.
§ . In subsection (1) of section 35 of the 1980 Act (subletting and lodgers) at the beginning there shall be inserted the words "Subject to subsection (1A) hereof"; and after subsection (1) there shall be inserted the following—
§ "(1A) In every secure tenancy of a dwelling-house of the type described in paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 hereto it is by virtue of this subsection a term that the tenant shall not allow any persons to reside as lodgers in the dwelling-house without the written consent of the landlord." ").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 53 standing in the Marshalled List in the name of my noble friend Lady Faithfull. This is another probing amendment which deals with the question of the tenants of sheltered accommodation taking in lodgers and waiting to get their landlord's permission before doing so.157
§ Section 35 of the Housing Act of 1980 gives freedom to secure tenants to accommodate lodgers in their dwellings without any reference to their landlords. This includes the secure tenants of sheltered accommodation. I put it to the Committee that in such cases difficulties could arise from the use or abuse of special accommodation and facilities provided specially for the elderly by people other than those for whom that accommodation was originally and specially provided. I think the Committee would also agree that there could be problems relating to succession on the death of such a tenant: for instance, where the lodger was an elderly person from another district, he or she, on the death of the secure tenant, might gain a secure tenancy of sheltered accommodation over the heads of elderly people on the waiting list of the landlord and gain priority over other elderly people with equal or greater need. It is for reasons such as these that it is considered it would be reasonable to require tenants of sheltered accommodation—only sheltered accommodation—to seek the landlord's approval before admitting lodgers. That is the purpose of this amendment and I would be glad to hear—and I think the Committee would be glad to hear—my noble friend's reaction to it.
§ Lord Bellwin
Secure tenants have had the right to take in lodgers without needing their landlord's consent since 1980, and so far as I know this is the first rumbling of discontent—if I can put it that way—with this provision. I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Sandford had to say. The tenants charter gives a range of rights to council tenants' and others and enables them to have a greater say in housing matters concerning their homes. The right to take in lodgers is one such right where a tenant is judged to know best whether to take advantage of the opportunity. The lodger might be a relative or a friend and would doubtless contribute or perhaps contribute towards the rent. In addition, tenants who take in lodgers can be helping to solve another person's accommodation problem. Lodgers present no problems for landlords since the secure tenant is not parting with possession of any part of his home. There seems to be no good reason why tenants in sheltered accommodation should have their rights limited while they are actually living in the dwelling even if they should not be given the right to buy. If, as a result, a dwelling were to become overcrowded within the meaning of the 1957 Act, the landlord might in the last resort decide to have recourse to Ground 7 of Schedule 5 to the Act (the overcrowding ground) to seek repossession.
My noble friend referred to problems related to succession of sheltered accommodation, but I wonder if this is a real issue. Only close family members who have lived with the tenant for the preceding 12 months can succeed whether or not they are lodgers, and if successors do not have the special needs for sheltered accommodation the landlord can seek possession of the dwelling under Ground 12 of Schedule 4 to the 1980 Act provided the court considers it reasonable and provided suitable alternative accommodation is available. I think that I understand my noble friend's arguments in this area, especially in view of the fact—if my noble friend will allow me to say so—that the amendment also appears in the name of my noble 158 friend Lady Faithfull whose knowledge in this whole area is such that one has to give great consideration when she raises points of this kind.
So it is not lightly that I say that, at the moment, I am not convinced by the argument for treating secure tenants in sheltered housing differently in this respect from other secure tenants. It may be that I am missing something here, in which case of course I shall want to read carefully what my noble friend has said. But at the moment I think that that is the attitude that the Government will take on the matter.
§ Baroness Birk
Before the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, responds to the Minister's comments, I should like to point out that we find ourselves at one with the Minister as regards this particular amendment. There is another point to bear in mind. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was concerned about the question of overcrowding or what was happening to sheltered accommodation. However, paragraph 4 says that sheltered accommodation is somewhere where there are social services or special facilities provided in close proximity to a group of dwelling-houses. Therefore, I should have thought that what goes on in sheltered housing, and the number of people living there, can be far more easily found out than similar information relating to almost any other type of housing.
§ Lord Sandford
I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. It is of course the case that this amendment stems to some extent from the housing authorities, one association of which I have the honour to represent as president. But it also, as my noble friend indicated, stems from the experience of my noble friend Lady Faithfull with a lifetime's background in the social services of the county councils. If the fact is that my noble friend would find it easier to see the force of this argument if he were able to study a few case histories, then I will see what can be done in the way of providing them. But I am grateful to him for what he has said, and for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 24 [Assignments and other disposals of secure tenancies]:
§ 3.52 p.m.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 25, line 32, after ("is") insert ("made").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 54 and I should also like to refer to Amendment No. 59 which arises after Clause 24.
Amendment No. 59: After Clause 24, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Rent not to increase on account of certain improvements
. In section 39 of the 1980 Act (rent not to be increased on account of tenant's improvements) for paragraph (b) there shall be substituted the following paragraphs—
(b) if he has died and on his death the tenancy vested under section 30 above, at any time whilst the person in whom the tenancy so vested is a secure tenant of that dwelling-house; or
(c) if he has assigned the tenancy and the assignment was made as mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of section 37(1) above, at any time whilst the assignee is a secure tenant of that dwelling-house; or
(d) if the tenancy has been transferred to his spouse or former spouse by an order under paragraph 2 of Schedule I to the Matrimonial Homes Act 1983, at any time whilst the transferee is a secure tenant of that dwelling-house".").
§ This amendment fulfils an undertaking when the Bill was earlier discussed in another place. The Government accepted in principle the argument that the benefit of Section 39 of the Housing Act 1980, whereby a landlord must disregard improvements carried out by a secure tenant in determining any increase in rent, should not be confined to the tenant and, on his death, to his successor spouse. This amendment, therefore, extends the benefit of Section 39 to members of the family of the tenant who carried out the improvement, so that when one of them becomes a secure tenant on succession or on assignment he will have the right to enjoy the former tenant's improvements without a consequent increase in rent. The amendment also provides that the benefit can be enjoyed by the spouse or former spouse of a tenant who carries out the improvements to whom the secure tenancy has been transferred on divorce in pursuance of an order under paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the Matrimonial Homes Act 1983.
§ The reasoning behind the amendment is that as the landlord did not pay for the improvement, he should not be entitled to an increase in rent attributable to it so long as the tenant and his family are enjoying the benefit of the improvement. The minor amendment to Clause 24 is consequential. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ Baroness Birk
We on these Benches welcome this amendment and think that it is an improvement on what has been the rather loosely worded Section 39 of the 1980 Act. It makes the situation clear and it is also much more equitable.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 55:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1267.]
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment was taken with Amendment No. 42. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 56, 57 and 58:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1267.]
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 59:
§ [Printed earlier.]
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment was taken with Amendment No. 54. I beg to move.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
So far as we are concerned on this side of the Committee, we support the amendment.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
160 Clause 25 [Right to carry out repairs]:
Baroness Denington moved Amendment No. 60:
Page 27, line 12, after ("a") insert ("model")
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 60 and to speak also to Amendments Nos. 62 and 63.
Amendment No. 62: Page 27. line 24, at end insert—
("Provided that the right of a secure tenant to carry out repairs shall not arise unless the landlord has failed to carry out repairs within such reasonable periods of time as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State.").
Amendment No. 63: Page 27, line 28, at end insert—
("() The model scheme made by the Secretary of State may be varied by agreement between landlords and secure tenants.").
§ We are now dealing with the rights of secure tenants to do their own repairs, as regards which the Government issued preliminary proposals in the autumn for discussion. I must say that I greatly welcomed the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, on Second Reading, when he said that the Government's ideas were not yet absolutely firmly fixed and there was still room to listen to other people's ideas on the subject. Those comments were exceedingly welcome to me because originally some of the authorities were not too happy about what was being proposed. However, I beg the Minister and his friends to be patient, because with a little flexibility there can be reconciliation and everybody can be behind the basic proposals that the Government are putting forward and with which we have no quarrel. I repeat: we have no quarrel with the basic proposals at all. We are in agreement with the Government that some tenants have suffered abominably from lack of repairs and dilatoriness as regards repairs and that is what the Government are trying to cure. So, with a little patience and just a weeny bit of flexibility, everybody can be happy, and that surely is what we all want—we want it to work properly and well.
§ I have spoken about "flexibility" and that is the reason why I have proposed the insertion of the word "model" in the clause. We might be able to arrive at not a scheme hard and fast in every single detail, but a model from which in certain respects there could be slight deviations. After all, the authorities who will have to work this scheme are very varied. They vary in size and responsibility. What is good for one authority is not always good for another. I can think of a small housing association that may have less than 20 dwellings. That is a very small association and it ought perhaps to be able to have some modified, very simple scheme as regards the detail. I am talking about detail, but I am not going to suggest the detail. However, that was what was in my mind when I put forward the word "model".
§ I am speaking also to Amendments Nos. 62 and 63. Amendment No. 62 really states the principle that the repairs are the landlord's responsibility. I notice that the Government are not departing from that at all and surely cannot, because, as I understand it. tenants pay in their fair rent a sum towards the maintenance of their dwellings. That sum, for the tenant of a new dwelling, is £170 a year and for a "rehab"—which needs a lot of maintenance—£330 a year. That must clearly establish that it is the landlord's responsibility: he is receiving that money in the rent to carry out the repairs. So that principle ought to go in.161
§ First, we should like all the repairs to be done by the landlord speedily and efficiently, but, failing that, the tenant must have the right to come in and do them himself. That is where the flexibility argument arises. I should like to propose that if a tenant is a DIY enthusiast, and he does things about the house as a hobby and gets satisfaction from it, he should be able to go to the landlord without having to wait the appropriate period of time in which the landlord may do the repair, and say "I love doing this kind of job, I am absolutely competent, you can come and see other things that I have done, but please let me have a go at it". That is what I mean by flexibility. Perhaps I may describe it as "statutory schemes that are human".
§ In circumstances where the landlord fails to carry out the repair and the tenant wants to do it and the landlord agrees that he can, the landlord should have an approved list of contractors so that he can tell the tenant to go to one of the contractors on the list because he is known, trusted and has done many routine jobs and the landlord knows roughly what it will cost. This will speed up the whole operation and the landlord will be satisfied and so will the tenant because they know that the contractor is reliable.
§ Of course, in such proposals there is always the possibility of cowboy operators. This is what worries some of my friends in local authorities. We want to keep out the man who knocks at the door, offers to do a job and asks for payment in cash, because this would encourage the black economy, and surely we cannot have any legislation that encourages or helps the black economy in any way. That is why I put forward the suggestion that local authorities should have a list of approved contractors so that the cowboys are kept out.
§ I should like to raise one other point which is not referred to in my amendments, but which arises in Clause 25. It says there that if any query arises on the scheme between the authority and the tenants, the matter should be referred to the county court. I wonder whether it is possible to think of some alternative to the county court, which will involve everybody in waiting time and in costs. Perhaps there could be an arbitrator. I do not find it easy to make suggestions because I do not know exactly what to suggest, but there must be an alternative to the county court which could be more useful.
§ I put these three amendments forward in a spirit which I hope is helpful to the Government and which might also be helpful to tenants and local authorities who have to work the new scheme. I beg to move.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
Briefly, I warmly support the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, has moved. As she said, we agree with the principle that the Government want to establish, that tenants can carry out their own repairs and not have to wait for the cumbersome machinery of the local government housing repairs section. We can all think of cases where people have waited not months but literally years for very important repairs to be carried out. The system which the noble Baroness seeks to amend is cumbersome, can be very expensive and, with all the inspection procedures involved, would probably cost more than the small amounts referred to in the Bill.
162 I hope that the Government will give very serious consideration to the amendments which the noble Baroness has put forward, which are supported by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and by the Institute of Housing. I hope and believe that the Government will take them seriously because at the end of the day I believe that they will do what the Government want done in a more efficient and more humane way.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Briefly, I should like to support the spirit of the amendment and express the sympathy which I certainly feel for everything which the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, has mentioned. But surely it is questionable whether these amendments are appropriate or, indeed, necessary. I say that because, after all, Clause 25 as it stands is a hare affirmation of principle, leaving implementation to regulations to be made by the Secretary of State. There are many details to be dealt with in those regulations. The noble Baroness has, indeed, referred to some which require a very great degree of flexibility.
For example, in the case of a local authority, the cost to the landlord will he less than the tender cost of builder to tenant and greater than the cost of materials plus do-it-yourself—a point very well taken, if I may say so with respect. Secondly, an application under the scheme would in many cases require a specification of works and an estimate of costs, and in other cases it would not. The local authority must surely be entitled to consider whether the repairs are needed, and there must be safeguards as to standards of work and fair compliance with standards to the reasonable satisfaction of the local authority before payment is made. Again we come to the problem of the cowboys.
All this machinery has to be worked out, and these are only some aspects of this implementation machinery. But surely one has said enough fairly to suggest that the county court is the appropriate forum for the resolution of the type of dispute that one could envisage might arise. We are all agreed that this type of implementation machinery should never encumber a statute but should find its place in regulations.
Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister to help a little on the following point. The regulation is to be made under the proposed new Section 41A(2) of the Housing Act 1980. Is this to be laid before either House of Parliament or both Houses of Parliament for approval? If so, is it to be subject to affirmative or negative resolution, or is this just to constitute some delegated exercise of ministerial discretion which is not subject to challenge either in Parliament or in the courts? I merely seek clarification, for I truly do not know. For if Parliament is afforded the opportunity to debate the form and content of any proposed legislation, the veto could, of course, be exercised and, if that be the case, it is not understood why a model scheme, or the proposals in the amendment, would carry the matter any further or secure any preferable result.
I support the broad structure of the clause which, as I think we are all agreed, is wholly in accordance with the policy in the Bill. However, the question of delegation of exercise of permissive ministerial power, which after all is the crux of, the implementation machinery, would surely require your Lordships' 163 attention before finally disposing of the point of principle.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, has obviously read and understood the Government's proposals. However, if only to clear my own mind, I think it would be appropriate to run through them briefly to put this series of amendments in context. I must, however, in doing so, make it clear that today we are discussing not the regulations that may subsequently be made—they will be laid before Parliament and be subject to negative resolution, to answer my noble friend Lord Campbell—but Clause 25 itself.
At the outset, I can confirm as my noble friend remarked on Second Reading, that the answer to the question whether the Government's ideas are fixed in this respect is, of course, "No". We are still consulting. I undertake to include any debates that we subsequently have on this clause in our consultation process. It is important to bear in mind that the right to repair will be entirely optional for tenants. The Government are not seeking to shift any additional responsibility on to tenants. The right to repair scheme would simply provide an additional resource for the carrying out of repairs that are the landlord's responsibility.
Under our proposals the scheme will be limited by an application of cost thresholds to promote cost-effectiveness and practicability. Repairs which would cost the landlord less than £20 or more than £200 to carry out would he excluded. Repairs to the structure of blocks of flats and maisonettes and to the exterior of such buildings will also be excluded. Landlords will have a prescribed time—we suggest three weeks—in which to respond to a tenant's notification of the works he proposes to carry out. They may grant consent either unconditionally or possibly subject to certain reasonable conditions as to the nature and quality of the work to be done.
In any consent the landlord must specify the amount that he will pay the tenant. The amount to be paid must, under our initial proposals, be at least 75 per cent. of what it would have cost the landlord to do the work himself. A larger proportion could, of course, be paid at the landlord's discretion. Landlords will be able to withhold consent only on specific grounds to be set out in the regulations. Disputes about a landlord's refusal, or the amount the landlord was prepared to pay, could be referred to a county court for determination.
I took very strongly the point made by the noble Baroness in introducing this amendment, and I shall have to look at it carefully, but my initial reaction is to think in terms of arbitration. I recall, at the back of my mind—I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, could confirm whether I am right or wrong—that legal aid is payable only in courts of law and not in courts of arbitration. Therefore, I would have to think a little further along the lines that the noble Baroness proposes.
The proposed scheme, anyway, contains two default provisions. First, if a landlord were to withhold consent because he intended to do the work himself 164 but then failed to do it, the tenant would be entitled to carry out the repair himself, provided that it was otherwise within the scheme and to recover 100 per cent. of what would have been the cost of the landlord's doing it. Secondly, if a landlord failed to respond to a tenant's repair notice within the prescribed period, or failed to specify the cost to himself of carrying out the repair, then the tenant might also carry out the work himself. In this case, he would be entitled to recover 100 per cent. of his own costs provided that they were otherwise within the scheme's cost limits. I think that the flexibility that the noble Baroness was asking for is included in the scheme that we are currently consulting about.
Now let me turn to the amendments themselves. If the intention is that the model scheme will be binding on no one, it certainly does not require legislation, either primary or secondary. The Secretary of State could issue a model scheme if he wanted to, but there would be no onus on landlords to introduce schemes in their areas if they decided not to give tenants these rights. If, on the other hand, the intention is that the model scheme should be binding unless it is varied by agreement, this would still seriously weaken the right of tenants and could produce undesirable differences between one area and another.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. I felt, however, that the noble Baroness was talking about an ideal world. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, certainly knows, and the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, probably knows, and I think I know, that, in the relationship between the public sector landlord and public sector tenant, there is not an ideal world. In some cases, the relationship works very well; in others, it works appallingly.
Frankly, I have been led to the view that there is general agreement that, on the whole, tenants do not get a satisfactory repair service from their landlords (although there are notable exceptions, as I have just said) and that tenants do need stronger rights in this field. We may and probably will differ on how such rights should he translated into practice, but I submit that these amendments could seriously limit tenants' rights, and seem to be somewhat retrograde.
The third of the amendments raises a different issue. The Committee has the benefit of having had an opportunity to see the Government's initial proposals. Among others, a tenant will be able, subject to certain limitations, to claim his right to repair at the same time as notifying his landlord of the defect, and a landlord will be able to refuse consent on certain grounds. One of the options proposed was that landlords should be able to refuse consent when they intended to carry our repairs themselves within 28 days.
Superficially, that proposal would not appear very different from the amendment, but the right to repair will not arise until some time, as prescribed, has elapsed. I have to tell your Lordships that there are fundamental differences which, if the amendment were adopted, would work against the tenants' interests. The amendment provides scope for unwelcome procrastination on the part of landlords. I am sure that the Committee will agree with me when I say that it is not sufficient for tenants to have to wait 165 a length of time, as prescribed by the Secretary of State, before they can start the process of claiming their right to carry out the repairs themselves.
In many cases, tenants will be able to carry out repairs more quickly and more cheaply than the landlord, and this amendment would simply add delay and expense. We should never forget that it is the tenant who has the major interest in getting the repair attended to. We have already had more than enough complaints of repair delays sent to the department. I submit that the amendments would produce many more. Speedy repair is what the Government's proposal is all about. For the good of tenants, and the relationship between landlord and tenant to the advantage of both, I ask the Committee to reject these amendments.
§ Baroness Denington
I am absolutely astonished by what I have just heard. These amendments were never meant to work against the tenant. They were meant to establish a flexibility between the landlord and the tenant that could help the tenant and the landlord, and help the whole process. I shall not pursue the amendments now. I shall withdraw them, but I would be glad if the noble Lord would agree that we could perhaps have some conversation. I may have worded the amendments badly, but, obviously, their intention is not understood at all. I think that there is nothing much between the Government and ourselves. We want a little flexibility rather than a hard-and-fast scheme in every single detail. It is not beyond the Government to bring that in, without hurting anybody, either the landlord or the tenant, and it could make things easier.
With regard to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, there are, of course, repairs and repairs. I dare say that a good deal of what I was thinking about related to those repairs where costs are so astronomical these days that £20 does not go anywhere. But where there are repairs that cost a little more than £20 and you know, for instance, that the builder will do the work for £25 or £30, it is simple. Anything more complicated, however, introduces the need for a specification and is of another order altogether. I do not think there is room for flexibility there. We are in agreement. I shall withdraw the amendment and hope, however, that we can understand one another.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
Before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, I most certainly undertake to have conversations with her whenever and wherever she desires. As to whether the amendments were meant to have the effect that I have identified, I am prepared to believe the noble Baroness, of course, that they were not meant to have this effect but I am advised that that is the effect they in fact have. This is the point.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
Before my noble friend asks leave to withdraw, perhaps I may say that I was a little disappointed in the noble Lord's reply. As my noble friend clearly spelt out, she is aware, as well as anybody sitting in this Chamber, of the problems about repairs in public housing. We are all aware of these, especially those of us who have served on local authorities. We know that there are problems with 166 repairs. As one noble Lord said, there are some repairs and some other kinds of repairs. Some repairs on council property are delayed for lengthy times because they do not know how to solve the problems. With much industrialised building it is difficult to find the source of the problem when the roof is leaking on a flat-roofed dwelling. How do they find where to cure the problem? All this kind of thing causes excessive delays.
What is worrying me about the clause is that it does not place a limit on a tenant's ability to call on the right to repair in a financial year. Can he call upon it two, three or four times? Will a limit be placed and the local authority have to tell a tenant that he has had as much as he can from the pool of repairs allocations? With the right to repair for a tenant there must also be the right to repair for those who will not be able to afford to start the repair in the first place. Their interests must be safeguarded.
It amazes me that the Minister uses a facial expression which I find difficult to understand. We find that 60 per cent. of tenants in public housing receive housing benefits. Where will they get the money from initially to start to do the repair, then asking the local authority to reimburse them? The majority of tenants will not be able to benefit from the clause anyway. What concerns us particularly is that such tenants should not be neglected. We must ensure that those people who can afford to do the repairs will not be taking more than their fair share out of the housing pool to do the repairs. The noble Lord has not really satisfied us on that point, which was what my noble friend was trying to bring out.
There are categories of tenants who will benefit over and above others. It is important that we are fair to them. It is important for the Government to recognise that adequate financial provision must be made. My noble friend Lady Jeger has just sat beside me. Only last week she was speaking on housing benefits. It is no good our having a housing Bill when we need a much more comprehensive housing scheme than we have. It is all bits and pieces. The Government are making it even more so.
My noble friend Lady Denington raised a particular point about cowboys. All of us are well aware of the cowboys. The West Midlands county trading standards officers have just issued a new pamphlet relating to property repairs which tells tenants to beware of the man who says that their roofs need mending and to beware of the man who calls to say that their electricity is not up to standard. Everybody is aware of these people who will move in. The good local authorities have tried their best as to repairs with the limited amount of finance they are able to spend. They have set up district teams on housing estates, trying to keep repairs under control. That is not always satisfactory, I agree, but those maintenance teams employed by local authorities can easily be ousted to the detriment of those people who will not be able to afford to pay for the repairs in the first place.
We are afraid that this will be another form of privatisation where the maintenance teams employed by local authorities will gradually lose more and more work to the 40 per cent. who can afford to carry out repairs, to the detriment of the 60 per cent. of people on housing estates who cannot afford it. We are 167 concerned about the privatisation aspect, which will mean that the maintenance teams might easily disappear in the future.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.28 p.m.
Baroness Vickers moved Amendment No. 60A:
Page 27, line 12, after ("tenants") insert ("who have obtained a report on the condition of the dwelling-house from an environmental health officer").
§ The noble Baroness said: I realise that the Government attach importance to the tenants' charter for the public sector because they believe that secure tenants should have the same privileges as exist in private accommodation, consistent with the landlords' responsibilities. However, I should like to suggest that the Bill is an extremely complicated way of doing it.
§ I understand that a number of local housing authorities are already operating schemes which allow tenants to carry out a certain amount of repair work, and they can be reimbursed or have the work done if the landlord has not carried out the repairs within a specified time. However, I know that many people have no knowledge of how to bring their needs to the notice of the local authority. For this reason, I have put down this amendment to give secure tenants the same rights as private tenants. I realise that there are agencies that can give advice, such as Shelter and the National Housing Aid Trust. However, the environmental health officer is the expert readily available to all tenants. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, said: that he has knowledge of the contractors and can advise who are not cowboys and who would do a good job. I should like tenants to be able to contact the environmental health officer to get the necessary form and advice on how to fill it in.
§ Many of us who have been in the other place and who have had surgeries know how difficult people find filling in forms of any kind, and a great deal of time is spent trying to give them advice. The environmental health officer can visit the person applying and see that the real interests of the tenant are met. I hope that they will receive the list that I have seen of nine reasons why tenants can be refused action. The list also explains how the applicant is to know whether the cost will be under £2 or over £200 when making the application.
§ I understand that the view of the Department of the Environment is that the administration costs should be included. Are they to go on to the administrative cost of repairs or will it be money allocated by the local authority? It is also difficult to relate the grant given for improvements and the money given for this scheme. Many people will not know the correct one to apply for. This is another reason why the environmental health officer can help. I understand that, in claiming, the tenants themselves serve a notice on the local authority and on the landlord with particulars which will include an indication by the tenant of how best it is proposed to remedy the disrepair. It will be difficult for them, unless they happen to have special knowledge, to know exactly how a defect is going to be remedied. And then they have only 21 days for the 168 refusal. I think that it takes far longer to go through these applications than a period of 21 days. There are so many details in this complicated scheme and there are also 15 works which the tenant may elect to carry out. This information was given to me by the Institute of Housing.
§ Therefore, I should like to suggest that the local authority takes full advantage of the environmental health officer's ability to arrive at expert and full advice on the defects which, if they exist, the council may see for themselves. Also this will help them to prepare the necessary repair work if they wish. I think that the amendment that I have put down will be a real help to the tenants and also to the local authority. I beg to move.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I am well aware that my noble friend Lady Vickers has had consultation and correspondence with the environmental health officers on this matter. I should like to say at the outset how well those particular council officers do their job but I should like to point out to my noble friend that they are of course council officers and it may well not be appropriate for one particular group of council officers, with their particular expertise, to do this job. In many cases, what you actually need is an administrator rather than a specialist. I think that we are still in danger of misunderstanding the kinds of repairs to which the proposed scheme is addressed. The right to repair, which this amendment again would seriously affect, is designed to enable tenants to carry out their own repairs and to receive payment from their landlords when they have done so. As I have said earlier, the details have yet to be finally worked out, but when they are worked out draft regulations will be issued for further comment.
However, the main purpose of this right is for tenants to be able to get relatively small repairs done quickly and economically. At present, it is clear that tenants often suffer delays in having necessary, simple and straightforward repairs done. Environmental health officers do not need to inspect homes and produce reports when all that is at issue is, say, a cracked window pane or a leaking hand basin or a damaged door frame; nor, I suspect, would they want to. Environmental health officers would, in my view, rightly regard their involvement here as a waste of time. But without their involvement tenants would, under this amendment, not be able to exercise their right to repair.
Indeed, the sort of repairs to defects which might be relevant, to environmental health officers would be those which would probably be excluded from the scheme anyway, because they would cost more than the £200 to which I referred earlier. I am well aware that the Institution of Environmental Health Officers has recommended that central government should consider giving tenants the right to obtain reports from them on the condition of their homes, and this would apply whether the right to buy was in prospect or not or, indeed, whether the right to repair was in prospect or not. I can only say that my current view is that that recommendation is misdirected. If the institution feels that action along those lines is justified, the environmental health officers themselves should first persuade their employers to make it available to their tenants. There is nothing to stop them preparing reports on the 169 condition of homes if they want to. It only needs the tenant to set off the process with an approach to the council and for the council to be sympathetic. To give tenants a right constrained by this amendment would, I fear, be gravely detrimental to the right to repair scheme.
My noble friend brought up the very serious point of the understanding of forms. This is something which I must confess I have not yet considered in detail and, certainly, fully intend to take on board. Normally, advice is available on the filling in of forms from such organisations as the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, but it may well be that some form of advice should be provided by the council. However, as I said at the outset, I do not feel that an environmental health officer would be the right person to choose for this job.
I should like to thank my noble friend for that reply but I am not at all satisfied with it because I do not think that it will help the tenant in any way. I think that we are all worried in this Committee about the tenants themselves, what advice they will get and how they will get the most out of this Bill. They need something that will make them feel reassured that they are not being done out of something that they think will now become their right. There is an alternative that could be thought of: and that is to have a legal duty upon the local authority and the environmental health officers to investigate complaints from council tenants and to submit reports to the responsible council committee, charging them to ensure that remedial works are carried out. That might be a safeguard.
On the other hand, I really cannot understand why my noble friend the Minister said that these officers cannot go round the houses and that they need an administrator. What type of administrator are we going to have? What is the problem going to be for the local authorities? I should have thought that where you have these able, highly-trained and qualified people, it will be much better to use their advice and their interest in and knowledge of the neighbourhood, rather than bring in an administrator. I should be very glad to know what he meant by "administrator".
§ Lord Skelmersdale
What I meant by an administrator is someone who is not a highly-trained specialist such as the environmental health officer to whom the amendment refers. It is somebody who is adept, if this is the problem, in interpreting the forms for the applicants to use.
I thank my noble friend for his reply, which I do not think is a very satisfactory one. I will now withdraw my amendment and hope to discuss it in the future.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 61:
Page 27, line 20, leave out from ("sums") to ("as") in line 23.
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment removes the upper limitation on the amount which landlords may reimburse tenants satisfactorily to carry out repairs under the proposed right-to-repair scheme. Clause 25, as drafted, would entitle tenants to recover from their landlords any such sums as may be determined under 170 the scheme, subject to their not being greater than the costs that would have been incurred by their landlords in carrying out the repairs. This amendment removes that proviso. The Government recognise that there could be circumstances under which it would be quite proper for tenants to receive payment for carrying out a repair which was higher than the landlord would have incurred in carrying out the repair.
§ The department's consultation documents recognise the need for such provision in cases where the landlord defaulted under the proposed scheme. The circumstances envisaged were where a landlord had failed to respond within the prescribed time to a tenant's application to carry out a repair and had failed—that is, the landlord had—to specify the cost to him of carrying out that repair. If the tenant went ahead with the repair in ignorance of the amount that he would he reimbursed, he could be out of pocket even to the extent that his own costs could exceed the landlord's. He should be entitled to recover them in full provided that they were otherwise within the terms of the scheme.
§ Ministers in another place undertook last November to come forward with a suitable amendment in the light of the responses to the consultation. Undertakings have already been given elsewhere—and I am glad to repeat them today—that the draft regulations will be put out for further comment before they are laid before the House. I commend this amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 not moved.]
§ Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 26 agreed to.
§ 4.41 p.m.
Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 64:
After Clause 26, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Tenants' participation in management.
. After section 41B of the Housing Act 1980 there shall be inserted the following section—
41C.—(1) Secure tenants shall be entitled to direct, manage, participate in and supervise together with those other secure tenants who are likely to be substantially affected, any scheme of improvement, maintenance, modernisation or rehabilitation costing in excess of £10,000 per house or dwelling-houses in which the tenant is a secure tenant, which the landlords propose or intend to carry out.
(2) Regulations under this section may make such procedural, incidental, supplementary and transitional provision as may appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient." ").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 64, which seeks to add another clause to the Bill dealing with rights of tenants to be consulted about major improvement schemes and with their participation in the management of the housing estates in which they live. An increasing proportion of money that is at present spent by local authorities is being directed towards improvement schemes rather than new building, and that is a trend which we would all support. Much of this is going towards the renewal of properties built since the war which, sadly, have proved very unsatisfactory, unsightly and unpopular with tenants. In almost every part of the country, 171 particularly in urban areas, we can think of such unsatisfactory, unsightly and unpleasant buildings.
§ The money was spent unwisely when these places were built. Architects were allowed to put forward designs which suited their imaginations as they were at that time but which had no bearing on the reality of what tenants seemed to want. I can remember very clearly in the area that I used to represent as a councillor a block of flats known as Oak and Eldon Gardens in Birkenhead, which has since become notorious. That was put up during the late 1950s and early 1960s and it was greeted as the most wonderful example of mass housing of that period.
§ Right up to the time when they were in course of demolition, those flats were still being used by the architects who designed them and the builders as an example of the ideal form of local authority municipal housing. That was at the point when they were being demolished at a cost of millions of pounds. So it is not unfair to say that much of the building that was done in the period after the war was, apparently, done at the best levels of architectural design at the time, but without any concern for what the people wanted.
§ It is probably facile to suggest—as a lot of people do—that local authorities have since learned their lesson. Many lessons have been learned, but money is still being spent on improvement schemes which are out of line with tenants' wishes. Public money is being wasted, in a fashion, because local authorities still tend to rely solely on the views of professional architects and fail to consult the people who will live in the properties. This amendment is aimed at preventing that waste and at giving tenants the right to be consulted about how improvements are to be carried out, which will mean that they subsequently have an interest in protecting the work to which they have subscribed.
§ There are those—I hope not in your Lordships' House—who take the view that ordinary people cannot have any useful ideas which will assist in the improvement and design of dwelling houses, and they cannot see how ordinary people can work with professional architects. But this approach is refuted by the architectural profession itself and in their own magazine, the Architects Journal, the experience of architects working with council tenants to design entirely new houses, quite apart from improving existing houses, is widely praised. I could quote many examples from the architectural journals of the truth of this view, which has emerged over recent years.
§ If tenants can work with architects to design new houses—and very superior ones at that—they can certainly work with them to modernise existing properties. A good example of where this has worked is Hackney Council. Tenants there have worked very successfully with the architects in modernising a tower block of flats, in which, understandably, they then have a much greater interest and pride than they would have had if they had not been consulted. There can also be long-term financial advantages from such arrangements.
§ But we on these Benches believe that even more important than the financial advantages is the fact that tenants are put in a position where they have some 172 control over the surroundings in which they live and where, by encouraging them, we can look to a greater sense of belonging, of involvement and of responsibility among tenants towards their homes. I genuinely believe, too, that there will be a reduction in the volume of vandalism and a strengthening of the social bonds in cities, where life can be very grim, and is very grim, in the absence of any sense of community.
§ I very firmly believe that a greater involvement of tenants in the design, in the improvements and in the alterations of their houses would give them that interest, which they often lack at the moment, and understandably lack, because very often they are still warehoused and not housed. If the Government could accept the terms of the amendment, to involve tenants in this way more than they are at present, it would have benefits not only financial but of a very important social kind. I beg to move.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
May I from the Labour Front Bench support the principles and the philosophy behind this new clause? Those of us who have had experience in local government are well aware of the syndrome of the estate which, at one time, was a matter of pride to the people who lived there. I am thinking of pre-war council estates which were given little attention, because of a shortage of money which the council finds from some source, primarily central Government.
But then, after years and years, the council decides that there will be a major improvement scheme. People who had been living there for many years were put off by the reason that the council were not going to waste money this year or next year, but that in two or three years' time the whole job would be done. Then the council announces that it has the right scheme and will install central heating, add extensions, fit new window frames, and so on. Certainly in my experience in Edmonton there were schemes costing on average £10,000 or more, and they would be covered by this amendment.
Then, for the next 18 months, all hell is let loose, because of the carrying out of the scheme—because of the manner of it. the order of it, the totality of it or the execution of it. The tenants then realise that although a lot of money is being spent, it is very often wasted. They would have liked a chance to intervene with some muscle—not merely to make suggestions. I am not certain whether, even if a council had the patience of Job and took a long time to consult the tenants, that they would be any better off by the time the job was finished. That is because there are always those who will be churlish and will refuse, even if they are consulted, and who will wait until something has gone wrong. However, the principle underlying the amendment is very sound.
I should like to draw attention to some of the words which the Minister will need to look at, if he agrees to take back the amendment. We cannot cavil at the word "participate". However, we need to be very careful about the words,to direct, manage, participate in and supervise together with those other secure tenants who are likely to be substantially affected".As I read these words, it is perfectly possible for council officials not to be very greatly involved. 173 Although I am a passionate believer in co-operatives and tenant co-operation, it could be that very large sums of money which need to be spent upon major improvements would be handled by people who know what they want but who would nevertheless make technical mistakes in managing, supervising and directing the carrying out of the work. We agree with the movers of the amendment about improvement, maintenance, modernisation and rehabilitation.
So far as subsection (2) of the new clause is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has provided that:Regulations under this section may make such procedural, incidental, supplementary and transitional provision as may appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient".His proposed new subsection ought, I believe, to be strengthened along the lines I have suggested.
This is an amendment with a very serious purport. We are trying to stem the tide of dissatisfaction and disillusionment. The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, was perfectly fair not to mention the Government. He simply said that, over many years, dissatisfaction had manifested itself because of the manner in which councils and governments had carried out developments and improvements about which there had not been full consultation. The Minister may say that there is no need for the amendment in order to carry out its purport. If the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, is prepared to withdraw the amendment, I hope that the Minister will try to strengthen it.
The Minister realises that primary legislation of this kind is seldom passed and that we seldom have the opportunity to write words into Bills which we wish them to contain, words which confer very real powers. If the Minister agrees with the sense of the amendment and is prepared, even if the words are suspect from the point of view of good, sound, strong legislation, to take it back, we shall be grateful. If, however, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, feels sufficiently strongly about his amendment, we shall be prepared to listen carefully to his arguments as to why the views of the Committee should be tested.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
While I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Evans of Claughton, about the mass municipal schemes to which he referred when moving his amendment, schemes which were erected in the 1950s and 1960s for the conditions which were thought to be in existence at that time, I have to say to him that the country has moved on since then. As a result of current knowledge and experience, we now know that those schemes were misconceived. None the less, it is easy to be wise after the event. I am the first to accept that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has the germ of a good idea which I should be willing to talk to him about. However, as the noble Lord will appreciate, there are problems about consulting in advance of the original letting, because we do not know which members of the housing list will be put into the scheme that has been built. With that proviso, if the noble Lord is speaking about a scheme which is currently occupied and which will be changed for one reason or another, I should be very interested to talk to him about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, hit the 174 nail somewhat obliquely on the head, and I shall explain why. The Government, like everybody in the Committee, are in favour of the involvement of tenants in proposals to upgrade their homes. The tenants' charter already places a duty on landlords to consult those of their secure tenants who would be substantially affected by any housing management proposals, including plans for maintenance and improvement works. We have also had direct and repeated experience of consultation in practice in our priority estates project, which we have recently extended for a further three years. However, this may not be enough, and I shall be interested in the ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton. The noble Lord has gone a little far, though, and I am not persuaded that this far-reaching proposal is a helpful way of promoting such involvement.
The essence of such a scheme lies in co-operation and communication between all the interests concerned, not in setting one interest against the other. Before the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, leaps to his feet, perhaps I ought to say that I suspect that this is not the intention of the amendment, but I am advised that it is the practical effect. If tenants are unhappy about the manner in which they are consulted or about the extent to which their views seem to be taken into account, they should take up the matter with their landlords or, if they are council tenants, with their elected representatives. It is quite another matter to say that they should be entitled to take control of expensive and complex projects. This was, I believe, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Apart from the contractual and legal difficulties of management work of this kind, it is rash to assume that tenants will have the collective will to resolve their own inevitably diverse views and to provide effective and co-ordinated arrangements for managing the work. I am not happy with the amendment in this form, but, in the near future, I should enjoy talking to the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, about it.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
When one has reached my girth, one does not leap to one's feet. Nor did I feel like doing so. While the Minister's head may be in the wrong place, his heart is probably in the right place. I am not suggesting that this wording has come down on tablets of stone from Mount Sinai. I am willing to concede, with the reputation that we on these Benches have for radicalism, that possibly some of the words should be slightly tempered. I have in mind in particular the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, about the words in the first subsection. The difference between us is that we believe—I hope the Goverment will concede this point—that we in this country have moved on from the 1920s and 1930s, and even from the 1940s and 1950s, when local councils, architects, or the government believed that they always knew best. There is a growing feeling in the country' that people, whether they be council tenants, residents of housing estates, or people affected by trunk roads, should have the right to express an opinion. Sometimes those opinions are expressed in too robust a way. The spirit of the country today is that tenants, or groups of tenants, should be consulted about the conditions in which they live.
I took the liberty of mentioning—because it was 175 such a good example—a block of flats of which I have close and intimate knowledge in the area I represented on the local council; namely, Oak and Eldon Gardens. I concede, that, when the flats were built and opened by the then Labour Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, they were welcomed as a kind of new Jerusalem and that, whatever party we represented, we all said "Hallelujah". Everybody at that time thought that they provided the best housing conditions anybody could ever hope for, and compared them with the luxury blocks of skyscraper flats in which the rich lived. Subsequently, we discovered that under-floor electric heating was of a kind which the average tenant could not afford. The tenants were not consulted about this, or about the general management of the flats. Gradually, therefore, a block in which everybody living there felt great pride deteriorated into a place which was hard to let.
Eventually, it became almost impossible to let. That was partly because the views of the tenants, although they were very well-organised, were ignored by the local council. The experience in Hackney which I mentioned shows how much better it is to say, "We have here a block of flats which is not satisfactory. What do you suggest could be done to improve it? Should there be a caretaker sited at the entrance, or should there be an improvement in the heating system?" Attention to matters of that kind would give people a pride in the property because they will think, "I have some stake in the management of the estate".
I accept what was said by both the noble Lords the Minister and Lord Graham of Edmonton, that there are some people for whom one cannot do anything. We are all aware that some tenants' associations are taken over by extremists and become highly politically-motivated—but that should not put us off the general principle that 'the more responsibility one gives people, the more likely they are to be responsible.
Although I understand why the Minister cannot approve of the proposed clause as it is drawn—and I would not suggest that it is the ultimate in perfection in terms of draftsmanship—I will willingly take up the Minister's offer to discuss this matter. He was not quite so effusive with me as he was with the noble Baroness, Lady Denington; he said that he would meet her any place, any time! Still, I assume that he is well-intentioned and I accept his invitation. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
Before the amendment is withdrawn, may we look forward to those conversations taking place before Report stage? If there is need at Report stage to take further action, then we shall of course feel free to take such action.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 65:
§ After Clause 26, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Tenants' co-operatives.
. After section 41C of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following section—
41D.—(1) Thirty or more secure tenants who have
registered as a co-operative society in accordance with section 1(2)(A) of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965 shall be entitled to apply to the landlord for an agreement within the provisions of section 139 of the Housing Act 1980, and it may not be refused without good reason.
(2) Regulations under this section may make such procedural, incidental, supplementary and transitional provision as may appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient." ")
§ The noble Lord said: I apologise to your Lordships for moving three proposed new clauses on the trot. The Committee can be fairly sure that I will be comparatively silent for the rest of the day, having got these amendments off my chest. This amendment concerns the rights of tenants—along the same theme as the previous amendment but going a little further—to take over the management of the block of flats or the housing area in which they live. We on these Benches recognise that housing—and this is something of a cliche—is not just a matter of bricks and mortar. It is not even entirely a matter of ownership. It is fundamentally a matter of those who control the housing in which they live or in which other people live.
§ The Labour Party has been the greatest advocate of central control of housing in the past—be it by the state or by the local authority. It is widely recognised that many problems in the large cities are caused by the existence of enormous municipal housing estates over which, until now, the tenants have had no control whatever and which are managed in some cases in a manner that is remote, insensitive, unaccountable, unhelpful and little concerned with the average resident. I regret to say that the Labour Party in some parts of the country still persist in arguing that all that is needed is to spend more money to right the problems. I will not spend the rest of my speech insulting the Labour Party because I am obviously going to look for their help and support.
§ I concede that more money does need to be spent on public sector housing, but the tenants should have, in so far as it is possible, a greater say in how that money is spent. Alongside more expenditure on housing there should be a radical change in the way in which rented homes are controlled. In other words, the way in which money is spent and control is organised needs to be determined at the lowest possible level and not at the highest and most central level.
Those of your Lordships who were up late last night will be aware that we had a debate about the problems of the City of Liverpool. I do not wish to re-open any of those particular wounds today. All the accusations and counter-accusations which have been flying about in respect of that whole unhappy area have tended to obscure the very much brighter aspects of much that goes on in the City of Liverpool. For instance, it has the largest and most flourishing housing co-operative movement in the whole of the country. Between 1980 and 1983 more than 18 new housing co-operatives were established in Liverpool—all by existing council tenants for the purpose of building new estates of rented homes. These co-operatives were formed by local people and were given the full support of the administration which then ran the City. I leave your Lordships to guess of which party that administration was, and which provided the money to build those new houses. Those co-operatives have proved a dramatic
success and have been described in one professional journal as:
Public sector housing Mark II".
It is a system where the tenants are firmly in charge. Were it not for the present council's unhappy total opposition to the co-operatives they would be expanding still. I hope that in the months to come a change of heart or a change of control will be seen so that the co-operative system can continue to expand.
§ I do not believe that Co-operatives can be created by politicians. As noble Lords commented earlier, the people who live in the houses must want them and must he a party to them. The politicians' role is to create the climate in which such initiatives will flourish. The Government recognised this and the potential of self-help when they drew up the Housing Act 1980. Sadly, there are many councils up and down the country which would seek to prevent tenants from taking control of estates in the way envisaged in the 1980 Act. Liverpool is one example of what is occurring in many areas, where the local authorities will not recognise the advantages to be gained by encouraging tenants to run their own affairs. It may be that there is a genuine fear that tenants will make a mess of the job and that the local authority will be left to clear up for them. It may be that they are just frightened of the unknown. Nevertheless, I hope that your Lordships will give every encouragement by supporting this amendment to the Housing Act 1980 philosophy of encouraging greater co-operative management by tenants.
§ Allowing tenants, properly and legally organised, to take charge, will ensure that public money is spent in the most effective way. It will ensure that caretaking is performed properly, that repairs are carried out efficiently, that rent is paid on time, and that ordinary residents will feel a strong sense of responsibility towards their homes and towards their neighbourhood. The Conservative Party locally and the Government nationally have consistently supported the concept of co-operatives. They did so under the 1980 Act and at local authority level—for instance, in Liverpool. The principle I am propounding is already enshrined in the Act. I hope that principle can be further advanced today by seeking your Lordships' support for my amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
We on these Benches fully support the sense of every word which appears in the amendment on the Marshalled List. We are grateful that this initiative is before us and for the opportunity of debating it this evening.
Goodness knows that the Government have enough on their plate not to want suggested further opportunities; but here they have a special opportunity to review the way in which the whole milieu of housing in this country is changing. The right-to-buy legislation and the initiatives which flow from that are certainly traumatic in the field of public housing. One cannot cavil at that, but it so happens that because there is a ferment relating to the tenancy and management of public housing—even to the extent of taking public sector housing out of public management when people buy—new opportunities do occur.
178 Together with some of the Members of your Lordships' House, and other places, last week I attended a co-operative trade fair not very far away from here. We saw what I call the new emerging cooperative movement, as compared to the old. I am very proud on this and other occasions to acknowledge my close identity with what one could call the traditional existing consumer co-operative movement. The past 20 years have seen successive governments, by the creation of the housing co-operatives, by the establishment of the Co-operative Development Agency and by other initiatives at a local level—I am thinking of the Greater London Enterprise Board and many others throughout the country—respond to what are genuinely heartfelt needs of ordinary people to play just a bigger part in their own affairs. We are talking here about what are called management cooperatives, where the people have a greater say in actually managing.
Very wisely, the mover of the amendment has subsection (2) in his new clause which takes account of a great many other matters that need to be dealt with and provides the Government with the opportunity of recognising that this is a proper aim and that one can take it on board. It still then leaves, when looking at subsection (2), a range of matters which they can take time to work out. Alternatively, they can say to the mover of the amendment. "We have some sympathy and some problems but, even if not on Report, we are prepared to see how far we can go".
One important action the Government can take is to lay very heavily upon people who believe that it is a simple process to move from being a tenant to being an owner or to being a tenant of a management cooperative, and that there is something simple about it; that all one needs to do is to form a committee. We know that there is far more to it than that. One needs to understand the responsibilities and the philosophies. One needs to understand the penalties that sometimes arise from it. There is an enormous educational job to be done. That is where the Cooperative Development Agency, which has been in existence for 4 to 5 years (its terms were renewed only recently) has a great contribution to make in providing advice and guidance and also opportunities for people to attend courses and to become better co-operators, better managers and better citizens—and certainly better neighbours to the co-operative.
Whether the proposed figure of 30 is right, or whether it is too much or too little, and whether or not other words would be better, the philosophy behind this amendment is absolutely sound and modern. I believe the amendment will be welcomed by a great many councils who will be looking for variations from the straightforward proposition that one either wholly publicly owns all the housing or one sees it taken away through the right-to-buy provisions. There may be some other way in which the council can retain, tenuously, some control with the management of the co-operatives, and which will allow the council opportunities of nomination into the co-operative as vacancies occur. Therefore, I hope that the Government will show some sympathy to what I believe is a very well drawn and much needed amendment.
§ Baroness Denington
I, too, give the warmest possible support to this amendment. Until recently I have been a member of a secondary housing cooperative which was originally financed by the GLC, and also by the boroughs. Its object has been to start up co-operatives in conjunction with London boroughs. In one instance it was new housing—a very large GLC development in Islington—part of which was half built. The other half was still being built and we were invited by the GLC to see whether we could "co-operatise"—if one may use that horrid word—the part that was not yet built. This was very large, consisting of over 100 houses. We managed to split that down. We could not alter the plans but were able to split it into four different and separate co-operatives which are still there and flourishing.
We worked with the Wandsworth borough council which had estates on which it wanted to form co-operatives. We did the educational work. I support what my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton said. It is not easy. People have a lot to learn when they intend running their own affairs. We had to teach them, for instance, how to conduct committees. One must start from the very beginning and long before the co-operatives get going one must do almost 12 months tutorial work to get them established; otherwise, they do not know their responsibilities, as my noble friend said. We did work at Hillingdon, and all over London.
I refer now to tower blocks, of which we have far too many in London. Each one of those would be an excellent unit to he turned into a co-operative. They could run their own affairs. They could be responsible for matters such as their own entry phones. The co-operatives that my organisation was sponsoring were allowed by the borough councils to be responsible for choosing their own tenants provided they came from the council housing list. I have to say that they were very responsible about it. They did not merely choose the best, well-off tenants. They chose a proportion of coloured tenants. There was a whole mixture. They were quite remarkable and earned my great admiration.
Therefore, I give this amendment my warmest possible support. I should like to see the Government, when they have got some of their present problems off their chest, turning their mind to perhaps trying to run a conference and encouraging authorities throughout the country to have more co-operatives in their public housing.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I have listened with interest to the previous speakers to this amendment. I do not want to give the impression that I am speaking against the amendment because I am not. But if someone can tell me that it is a simple exercise even to establish co-operatives within the present housing structure in this country, I can only say that they have never dealt with the situation. First, if "X" number of houses, or tenants and their families, in those houses decide to become a co-operative, where does the extra funding come from for the improvements that they may decide they want? Will they try to implement the separate rent structure from the total pool of housing in their city? I suggest that people are interested in housing co-operatives because they want to cast their sights a little higher than their existing facilities.
180 I know, as an ex-chairman of a local housing authority and I am sure other noble Lords know, that it is very difficult to start apportioning where the areas of priority lie. It can be a very successful operation to start apportioning priorities in terms of spending and it can also he a disaster area. I saw a recent example of a very successful operation and I have no doubt the Minister is aware of it. It took place in Leeds where, because last year the Government made "X" millions of pounds available, suddenly there was a problem in the constituency I represented where some rationalised, or semi-industrialised houses, which had been built about 15 years ago needed totally re-roofing. I believe the cost was about £10,000 for each house. I think the noble Minister knows the area I am talking about. It is an estate in West Leeds.
The local authority handled this situation well by holding tenants' meetings because it was a crash programme. Anyone who is involved in local authority housing will know that when one starts on an improvement scheme of any dimension, whether re-wiring re-plumbing or a total refurbishing of the house to bring it up to modern standards, it is the most difficult exercise in which any local authority can become involved.
If it is a major operation you first have to consider whether the people will be prepared to put up with the terrible conditions they would need to endure while the operation is carried out or whether to adopt a policy of decanting. A group of tenants who have set themselves up as a co-operative housing association may be in houses in the public sector which are 30, 35 or even 40 years old. They may want total inside renewal or improvement at perhaps £10,000, £15,000 or even £20,000 per house. Where will the occupiers be moved to? A large local authority will probably already be short of housing stock and will not even be able to accommodate the waiting list. That is where one difficulty will come in in this type of exercise.
Quite a number of local authorities have a housing stock of about 100,000. A local authority may feel that it has done a good job on paper and 10,000 of its tenants have formed themselves into co-operatives of varying sizes. The associations will have various schemes to which they aspire. With a severely restricted housing investment programme, which prevents it even in summary cases from carrying out an adequate basic maintenance programme, how is a local authority to deal with the priorities? Who will the people in the co-operatives blame when they cannot get the money they ask for? We are talking about a lot of money—perhaps £10,000 or £15,000 per house. The local authority will have to say, "We have let you set up the co-operative. We think it is an excellent idea. But if you take that course, there is no way that we can find from our housing investment programme the finance to make your pipe-dream come true". That is where the difficulty will appear.
I do not want to speak against housing co-operatives. In principle, I am in favour of them. But anyone who thinks that by putting through this measure all the kinks will be ironed out, people will be queuing up to form co-operatives, and in five, six or seven years time all the problems will be dealt with is living in cloud cuckoo land.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
Some 20 minutes ago the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, was at it again—not jumping to his feet but being too radical. I welcome the importance given in the amendment to tenants' management co-operatives, but the entitlement that it proposes cuts across the voluntary principle on which they simply must be established. In any eventuality, I cannot support coercion.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, spoke about running co-operatives. I have never run a housing co-operative, but my first post-graduate job was to run a vegetable growing co-operative in Zambia. That threw up problems which were widely outside my experience and I suspect rather outside the noble Lord's, too, even with the experience to which he has admitted. I very much take the point that co-operatives are difficult things to handle. Nonetheless, as I said, I welcome the importance that has been given to them by this amendment.
As the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, said, these agreements under Section 139 and Schedule 20 of the Housing Act 1980 are intended as a means of facilitating arrangements entered into voluntarily by both parties. The terms of the agreement could not be imposed by one party on another. I take for an example the suggestion that it would not he right to allow 30 tenants on an estate to choose procedures for collecting rent arrears, whereas it might well be very pertinent for them to examine and have discussions with the landlords on other things.
The other day I had the opportunity to go round a large Haringey estate of 1,000 units of flats, including two tower blocks, housing some 5,000 people. I went there not so much because of the condition of the units—because I was not able to go inside one of them—hut to see exactly what was going on in the tenants' association. I do not know whether this was a co-operative association within the meaning of the noble Lord's amendment, but I was incredibly impressed. I would go even further than that: I was actually thrilled to see what this tenants' association had been able to do in the way of a youth common room, sporting facilities and a complaints procedure which could be used by all the tenants on the estate, irrespective of whether they belonged to the tenants' association.
There is nothing between us on the principle, but the amendment, as written, has certain practical defects. It would apply only to local authority and new town tenants. Furthermore, it is normally necessary that a housing co-operative should represent all the tenants on the estate. As I understand the amendment, it would apply only to some, albeit a minimum of 30. What occurs to me is what happens if it is a very small estate with only 20 tenants. The condition that a certain minimum number of tenants should have this entitlement is, therefore, I suggest, misconceived. While I agree with the principle behind the amendment, I really cannot support the idea of coercion, and that is why I cannot support the amendment.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
I think that coercion is probably rather too strong a word. In my opinion it is preferable that every possible encouragement should 182 be given to further concepts and ideas of co-operative management of housing. As so many authorities have not taken advantage of the 1980 Act, my proposal would give them the boost, or the kick in the pants, to encourage them to give their tenants every opportunity to do this kind of thing.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, that if there is no money not an awful lot can be done and there will be a great deal of disappointment. But if there is no money, whether it is a tenant co-operative or the management is done in some other way, it still will not be done. Local authorities may make the money available for re-roofing or major repairs—which are examples that the noble Lord gave—as they have done in Liverpool and elsewhere. It is not a question of co-operative ownership but of the co-operative managing the use of the money where it is available, rather than a solution being imposed on them by the housing department and the architects that it employs. In a sense it follows on from the previous amendment which I withdrew in order to have discussions with the noble Lord the Minister.
The point that I am trying to establish is that if we really are looking to a change in the drab and unhappy aspect of many of our municipal housing estates, we must encourage this kind of development much more robustly than has heretofore taken place. The system has worked exceptionally well in pockets. I do not want to see the development only in pockets; I want to see it spread all over the country. I agree that I may not be as radical as the noble Lord the Minister. Thirty may be too high a figure; perhaps it should be less. Those advising me picked 30 as a reasonable figure in order for that kind of organisation to take off.
I very much follow the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, about the learning and training process. This is terribly important not only in order to be part of a co-operative but to lead a fuller and more active life, to be more involved in the community and to get your feelings and ideas over to other members. I think that possibly training in committee work is one of the most important aspects of the whole idea. I am conscious of the fact that I am holding up your Lordships. On this point I feel sufficiently strongly, and sufficiently discouraged by the noble Lord's attitude, to test the feeling of the House.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 65) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 114; Not-Contents, 130.184
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Blyton, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Boston of Faversham, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Bottomley, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Briginshaw, L.|
|Banks, L.||Brockway, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Brooks of Tremorfa, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Burton of Coventry, B.|
|Bishopston, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Blease, L.||Chitnis, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Collison, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||McNair, L.|
|David, B.||Mar, C.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Denington, B.||Milford, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Monson, L.|
|Donnet of Balgay, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Ezra, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Oram, L.|
|Foot, L.||Peart, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|George-Brown, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Roberthall, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Ross of Mamock, L.|
|Grey, E.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Seear, B.|
|Hall, V.||Serota, B.|
|Hampton, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Shinwell, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Hunt, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Jacobson, L.||Stone, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Kirkwood, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||White, B.|
|Listowel, E.||Wigoder, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Allerton, L.||Elton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Enniskillen, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Faithfull, B.|
|Avon, E.||Fanshawe of Richmond, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Geoffrey-Lloyd. L.|
|Belstead, L.||Glanusk, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Glenkinglas, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Gormanston, V.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Gray, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Camegy of Lour, B.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Cockfield, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Harvington, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Hayter, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Henley, L.|
|Croft, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Ilchester, E.|
|Dilhome, V.||Inglewood, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Ingrow, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Portland, D.|
|Kimberley, E.||Quinton, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Kinnard, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Renton, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Lewin, L,||Romney, E.|
|Long, V.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Luke, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Lyell, L.||Sandford, L.|
|McAlpine of West Green, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|McFadzean, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Soames, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Marley, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L,|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Sudeley, L.|
|Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Middleton, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Molson, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Morris, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Norfolk, D.||Tryon, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Orkney, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Pender, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.39 p.m.
Lord Evans of Claughton moved Amendment No. 66:
After Clause 26, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Tenant's access to landlord's files.
. After section 41D of the 1980 Act there shall be inserted the following section—
41E. At the request of any person who is a secure tenant, the landlord shall permit him access at all reasonable times and without charge to any file kept in connection with his tenancy or the construction, financing or repair of his dwelling house." ")
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper, to insert the new clause to give tenants access to landlord's files. In another place today my right honourable friend the Leader of the Liberal Party introduced a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule to provide more general freedom of information. I am not moving this amendment in order to curry favour with him, but merely because I think that it is a good way to start down this very important path of rights of access to information—and what information is more important to an individual than information about the house in which he lives?
§ The amendment seeks to allow secure tenants the same rights to information about their homes as is available to an owner-occupier. The noble Lord the Minister's honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has already declared in another place that he agrees in principle with the amendment and that in his view the matter could be best introduced by way of guidelines. To us on these Benches that is not good enough. We believe that the rights of tenants to know about the details of their 185 tenancy, the history, structure, rehabilitation, and state of repair of their homes is not a matter for guidelines, but is a fundamental entitlement in our society, and should be legislated for.
§ In some cases tenants who have bought homes under the terms of the Housing Act 1980 have been denied complete access to the relevant files on the property only to find out too late that it suffers from some structural fault which is not immediately apparent on a survey. The forthcoming data protection legislation, which your Lordships have been dealing with, will, as I understand it, mean that access will be available to information stored on computer files of whatever kind. It will then be the case that a tenant in a computerised district—that sounds rather ghastly, very Nineteen-Eighty Four—or a district which has computerised its processes, will have the right of access to information, while a tenant in a less progressive, or more old-fashioned, authority will still be denied the right to see the records stored on paper, because the Data Protection Bill, when it becomes an Act, will not apply to that kind of information.
§ As I have said, the Government have supported the concept in principle in terms of guidelines, which we think does not go far enough. In previous discussions on earlier legislation the Labour Party has supported an amendment couched in these precise terms. So with my usual optimism I look forward to wholehearted support from all sides of the Chamber for what I very seriously believe would be an important extension of the freedom of secure tenants to enjoy the knowledge that they are entitled to have about the whole history of the house in which they live. I beg to move.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I rise from the Labour Front Bench to support the amendment. I am sure that this comes as no surprise, in particular since those noble Lords astute enough to read further ahead on the Marshalled List will have seen Amendment No. 88A, which relates to the provision of a manual. I would hope that the Minister finds unexceptionable most of the amendment that we are now debating; that is the part of the amendment which relates to the file on "construction, financing or repair". By and large those points would be covered by our Amendment No. 88A, in which we talk in terms of the purchaser or the tenant of a house having the right to a manual, which from the very beginning will reveal precisely how the building was built, whether there were any structural problems, what one can anticipate, what one can be fearful of, and so on.
I appreciate that the nub of the reservation which we might hear will relate to a tenant having the right to look at a file on his tenancy. The response may very well be that these are very sensitive documents and that they are used in order to record all kinds of information. If it were said that that information was highly confidential or was strictly confidential to the members of a sub-committee, I would acknowledge that that has been the past practice.
However, I think the Minister must be aware that there is a wind of change and a mood for more information to be made available. At the same time this of course places a great onus of responsibility on 186 those who actually enter the items of information on the file. If before a person who is to enter details on a file puts pen to paper he realises that upon request the file may be opened, that would not be a bad thing. I am not arguing that the file would be less colourful or less useful or that it would be doctored. But I believe that in the context of the 1980s, and bearing in mind the Ten-Minute Bill in the other place this afternoon (to which the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has referred), there is a general desire to ensure that this kind of information should be available. The information can affect all kinds of matters including credit ratings and a person's standing in the community. A person ought at least to be aware of the information and ought to be in a position to challenge its authenticity and to verify its veracity.
We are aware of the great argument that is going on regarding school files and records and of what I would simply call the movement that there is for people to know more about what has hitherto been kept in secret by banks and various bodies and organisations. Here is an opportunity for the Government to show some sympathy for the matter. If there is to be a blanket refusal from the Government, it is likely that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, will repeat the performance of a minute or two ago. But if the Minister is able to show some sympathy with the point and, as he did on the previous amendment, can indicate that conversations, if they would not resolve the matter, could well go some way towards producing a formula that is acceptable, then we on this side of the Committee would certainly not wish to support the pressing of the matter to a vote. But if the noble Lord, Lord Evans, does not feel satisfied, we on these Benches would certainly support him in a Division.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
The noble Lord, Lord Evans, has referred to the discussion in another place on giving tenants access to files about themselves and their homes. The Government then undertook to see how secure tenants could be given the information they want, and I of course understand the noble Lord's anxiety to find out what progress has been made.
Equally, I am sure that the noble Lord recognises that the proposal that he has put to the Committee is complex. It is not simply a matter of tenants having access to files about themselves but also about their property and the financing of it. That, I suggest, is the difference between the issue that we are now discussing and the similar issue which has been raised, and is continually raised, on the Data Protection Bill. There would be many questions to be answered about what would be reasonable information to which tenants should have access.
Even so, I am hound to tell your Lordships' Committee that the Government do not accept that there is a strong enough case for tenants to have a right of access to files which would leave the landlord with no discretion whatever as to whether to withhold information—information that could harm either the landlord or the tenant. The Government take the view that the burden that would be placed on landlords would be out of all proportion to the benefits which might accrue.
187 The noble Lord, Lord Evans, referred to the reply of my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and so I think that I must repeat what he said; namely, that the Government's inclination in this matter is to proceed not by legislation, but by guidance or circular. These questions need the fullest consultation with interested bodies. Even if at the end of the day we were to consider primary legislation for this matter, there would need to be very thorough consultation indeed. We are already considering the issues carefully, but it would be wrong to rush this question.
I can assure the noble Lord that we support the principle of tenants having greater access to information, but I have to recommend the Committee to reject the proposal before it for a wide-ranging, statutory right on which much thinking still has, very rightly, to be done. So I am afraid that I cannot accept the amendment.
§ 5.50 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
I quite like the thoughts behind this amendment but I really did think it was put over in a way which would frighten everybody in any aspect of having a secure tenant.
If one approaches a landlord or his agent in a reasonable way and says: "Could you give me the background history to this? What are the structural conditions underground or in the building? What repairs have been done in the last 20 years?" the agent for the landlord or the landlord himself will in a great majority of cases provide that information and it is quite right that the tenant should be given the opportunity to get that.
What this amendment does is to take into account the wretched word "financing", which opens up a whole new ambit of personal relationships between the landlord and financiers because it does not specify what aspect of finance the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, wants available—and I think this would create enormous difficulty from the point of view of running an agency and looking after landlords who have got secure tenants. To have this provision imposed upon us would probably mean considerable extra time and staff, because one can imagine the number of tenants queueing outside, whereas this could easily be done by negotiation in a letter form giving the information which the noble Lord, Lord Evans, seeks without any of the hassle of having it in the Bill.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
I am afraid I do not share the noble Earl's feeling of optimism about the information the landlords would provide. In a large number of cases landlords are helpful; in a small minority of cases they are grotesquely unhelpful, and the noble Earl is probably aware of it as I am. It is the whole point of information which enables people to control their affairs much more than living in an atmosphere where they know very little about what is going on with the property they occupy.
I am a little surprised—and I should have thought there might be some objection from noble Lords on all sides of the Committee—about the concept of information regarding people's personal records. I 188 have often thought to myself that when I come to write a reference I might be a little less frank if I thought the referee was going to see what I had written. But in the case of a house it is either falling into a coalmine or it is not; it is either constructed in a certain way or it is not. I concede the point which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made about the financing side of it. I agree that is a slightly more controversial point, but I really cannot see why a secure tenant should not know the whole history of his house in the same way as an owner-occupier can learn the history of his house through its records and through the history of its title and all those kinds of things.
You see, I am trying my best to see that the Government has a good side to it, but I am afraid I am failing. Quite frankly, I would have thought that in these days and in the atmosphere in which we live—as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said—there is a continuous movement towards people having the maximum information to assist them in living their lives more fully, to know what is going on around them and to have the power to control their own destinies to that extent. I think the days of confidentiality about this kind of thing, people knowing very little and only as much as is good for them—as we used to say when I was a child—have changed, and I think the whole ethos of our society today is moving towards greater knowledge and greater information about people's lives. I think this is true particularly about houses in which people live.
It is with great regret that I feel the reply given by the noble Lord the Minister is not satisfactory, although I hope that at some point this discussion will help him to persuade his colleagues to introduce primary legislation. At this stage I think it would be useful to test the feeling of the Committee on this subject, which to me is of very great importance.
The Earl of Caithness
Before the noble Lord sits down, he has acknowledged the point that the word "financing" is going to cause problems. My noble friend the Minister did say he was in sympathy with the proposal. I have said I am in sympathy with some of it. I apologise to my noble friend: he is not sympathetic to all of it. Why does not the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, withdraw this amendment, go to the landlords and say, "What information can we produce?" It is not going to be done in four lines; it is going to be a schedule relating to various aspects. This is surely the wrong way to approach it. I do ask him to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister can help the Committee by indicating the precise stage the consultations, which I believe he referred to as taking place, have reached and the extent of the detail. I appreciate the problem of the noble Lord the Minister in being able to respond straightaway. The fact is that I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, is anxious to press matters to a vote if he is able to make progress on the principle. We recognise that we are not going to change legislation overnight. What we want is satisfaction from the noble Lord the Minister that there is a process going on, and quite clearly not only property owners (that is, landlords) but local authorities—and there may be other bodies—can 189 make a useful input. If the Minister were to indicate that—and I am not talking about coming back on Report or anything of that kind—and we can be satisfied that there is genuine progress along those lines towards the principle, I am prepared to accept the good faith of the Minster. But, in the light of his earlier reply, which was somewhat bleak, I can fully understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Before the noble Lord sits down, very briefly is not one of the crucial problems this business of what is in the file? I ask the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, to consider that if we could devise the feeding of information on two sections of the file, one which related to the house—and I take his point about what is structural—and the other which related to personal matters (whether the tenant has too many parties at two o'clock in the morning and so on and so forth, which are personal matters and matters of conduct) one could perhaps then make a hit of progress. On this side of the Committee we are faced with a situation where—speaking only for myself—if you could separate the files, I could open my mind, but, with the system we have got, I cannot.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I am grateful to both my noble friends. I think the key to all this is in what the noble Lord. Lord Evans of Claughton, said. He said something to the effect that it was his desire to give the maximum opportunity to people to learn about the things which affect them. We have now heard six different speeches on six different points, which is why I suggest to the Committee that consultation is a very real and necessary thing in all this.
To answer the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, directly, consultations have already begun this afternoon in your Lordships' House—consultations which it was suggested to me I should tell the Committee were at a very early stage; so early in fact, that they are beginning soon! If the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has done nothing else, he has prompted some very serious consultations, and I have been as honest with the Committee as I possibly can be.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
I hope I have done one or two other things besides that, but that in itself is a major feather in my cap and I shall remember this for the rest of my life.
In the light of the fact that the noble Lord the Minister has said that consultations are beginning and there is the possibility, I gather, of primary legislation being considered in the future, and in the light of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and to show how flexible we are and how reasonable we shall be when shortly we form the Government, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Clause 27 [Housing Association grant]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 27 shall stand part of the Bill?190
§ Lord Bellwin
May I take the unusual step of begging to move that Clause 27 shall not stand part of the Bill and, in saying that, to speak to Amendments Nos. 67 and 72, in which it will be found that there is a new clause which is a division of technical provisions in Clause 27, which it replaces?
§ Amendment No. 67: after Clause 28, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Housing association grant.
§ .—(1) The Secretary of State may pay housing association grant under section 29 of the Housing Act 1974 (in this Part of this Act referred to as "the 1974 Act") to an association registered under section 13 of that Act in cases where, after a tenant has exercised or has claimed to exercise the right to buy or the right to be granted a shared ownership lease, the association carries out to the dwelling-house or to the building in which it is situated works of repair or improvement.
§ (2) Where in a case falling within subsection (1) above a housing association grant is made after the tenant has exercised the right to buy or the right to be granted a shared ownership lease, the Secretary of State may reduce the amount of the grant.").
§ The new clause deals with housing association grant payment powers in cases where the right to buy is claimed or exercised while major repairs or improvement projects are under way and the association might make a loss on the sale if HAG is not paid in respect of those repairs. The new clause provides a limited extension of the powers to pay grant so that it may be paid on repairs or improvements where a tenant has already claimed or exercised the right to buy or the right to a shared ownershp lease. That appears in subsection (1). The new clause also provides for grant to be reduced to take account of the proceeds of sales which are completed before grant is paid over. That appears in subsection (2).
§ The new clause will enable the Secretary of State to ensure that there need be no loss and also that no undue profit is made by housing associations as a result of these transactions, and I commend it to your Lordships.
§ It might be convenient also if I speak to the amendment to Clause 31 which is a minor and consequential amendment to ensure that references to the Housing Act 1974 are correctly interpreted. The first reference to the 1974 Act is made in this new clause. I beg to move.
§ Clause 27 disagreed to.
§ Clause 28 agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 67:
§ [Printed above.]
§ The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to Amendment No. 67. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 68:
After Clause 28, insert the following new clause:—
§ ("Repayment of housing association grant.
.—(1) In section 30(3) of the 1974 Act (repayment etc. of housing association grant in certain circumstances), after paragraph (a) there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
"(aa) there has been paid to the association in respect of any land to which the grant relates an amount payable in pursuance of—
§ (2) If, after a housing association grant has been made under section 29 of the 1974 Act to an association registered under section 13 of that Act—
- (a) there is such a disposal as is mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of section 30 of that Act; or
- (b) there is made such a payment as is mentioned in paragraph (aa) of that subsection,
§ (3) Where a housing association grant has been so made, the Chief Land Registrar may furnish the Secretary of State with such particulars and information as he may reasonably require for the purpose of determining—
- (a) whether there has been such a disposal as is mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of section 30 of the 1974 Act; or
- (b) whether there has been made such a payment as is mentioned in paragraph (aa) of that subsection.")
§ The noble Lord said: This clause will bring the Secretary of State's powers to recover grant in respect of HAG-funded projects into line with the full range of circumstances which may now arise in respect of payments associated with the disposal of housing association dwellings, either outright or on shared ownership terms.
§ This does not represent a change in the general policy on the recovery of housing association grant. Section 30(3)(a) of the Housing Act 1974 allows recovery for a reduction of grant where any land to which the grant relates is disposed of, up to the historic level of that grant. Where dwelling-houses are sold at a discount or only a share in the dwelling is acquired, either under the right to buy or under the voluntary scheme, the capital receipt may occasionally be insufficient to meet a repayment of all the grant attributable to the dwelling. In such circumstances the Secretary of State will abate the recovery of grant to avoid the association making a loss.
§ A tenant may, however, decide to sell the house he has bought under the right to buy within the statutory period which requires him to repay a proportion of the discount. Or if he has a shared-ownership lease he may purchase an additional share or the whole of the rented portion of the dwelling. In either event there will be a further capital receipt for the housing association. There is currently no power to recover any outstanding balance of housing association grant in these circumstances. The new clause will provide it. I beg to move.
§ 6.5 p.m.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 69:
After Clause 28, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Provisions as respects certain tenants of charitable housing associations etc.)
§ .—(1) This section applies to any tenant of a publicly funded dwelling-house who, but for subsection (1) or (2)(a) of section 2 of the 1980 Act (exception for cases where landlord is a charitable housing association etc.), would have the right to buy; and a dwelling-house is publicly funded for the purposes of this section if housing association grant has been paid under section 29 of the 1974 Act in respect of a project which included— 192
- (a) the acquisition of the dwelling-house;
- (b) the acquisition of a building and the provision of the dwelling-house by means of the conversion of that building; or
- (c) the acquisition of land and the construction of the dwelling-house on that land.
§ (2) The Secretary of State may pay housing association grant under section 29 of the 1974 Act to an association registered under section 13 of that Act in cases where the association first acquires a dwelling-house and then disposes of it at a discount to a tenant to whom this section applies.
§ (3) Where an association registered under section 13 of the 1974 Act contracts for the acquisition of a dwelling-house and, by way of sub-sale, disposes of its interest to a tenant to whom this section applies, subsection (2) above and the following provisions, namely—
- (a) section 122 of the 1980 Act and sections 104B(2) to (9) and 104C of the 1957 Act as applied by that section (disposals by housing associations);
- (b) section 2 of the 1974 Act (consent of Housing Corporation to disposals); and
- (c) section 9(2) of that Act (loans by Housing Corporation), shall have effect as if the association first acquired the dwelling-house and then disposed of it to that tenant.
§ (4) A housing association which is a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965 may have among its objects that of effecting the transactions falling within sub-section (2) above without preventing the association being or, as the case may be, remaining registered under section 13 of the 1974 Act.
§ (5) In this section "dwelling-house" includes a house within the meaning of the 1957 Act.")
§ The noble Lord said: This new clause provides the machinery to give effect to the new home ownership scheme for tenants of charitable housing associations which the Minister for Housing and Construction announced in outline on 21st December 1983 in another place. These are enabling powers and I will not dwell long on their detail. Their purpose is to enable the Secretary of State to pay housing association grant so that tenants of publicly-funded dwelling-houses, excluded from the right to buy because of the charitable status of their landlord, may purchase a house, or a share of a house, on the open market, on similar terms to the right to buy. This will also free the publicly-funded charitable dwellings for re-letting to people with families with the type of housing need the charity was established to meet.
§ The outline of the scheme is familiar to your Lordships from the announcement made by my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction on 21st December in another place. I should like first to say something about the people whom the scheme is designed to help and how it will operate to help them. For myself, I have to say that I am disappointed that your Lordships' House was not prepared to give this category of tenant the right to buy as the Government proposed in the original Housing and Building Control Bill. But the Government accept that these properties should be retained in the ownership of the charitable housing associations and, as I made clear at Second Reading, we have no proposals in this Bill to give the right to buy to the tenants of charitable housing associations.
§ However, the arguments put forward against the right to buy for charitable housing associations were mainly concerned with the effects on the housing associations, the landlords. But I do not believe that anyone has argued that it would be wrong to help the people, the tenants of those properties, who would like to buy a home of their own. Why should they be 193 denied help to become home owners? Even if the charitable properties they live in are to remain permanently in the rented sector, it does not follow that the tenants should be forced to remain permanently as tenants and denied in perpetuity an opportunity similar to the right to buy which applied to tenants of other public sector properties. The Government have always recognised the overwhelming case to deal fairly with these people and to help those who want to take on and who can afford to take on—and I accept that they may not be very many in number—the benefit and responsibilities of home ownership. That is why we have come forward with this scheme.
§ I should like to stress that the powers in the Bill are only enabling powers. The details of the scheme will be administrative and not legislative, but there are a number of matters of concern that have been expressed about the scheme which I would like to explain, and I hope that this will reassure the Committee that we have already taken account of the type of points that were worrying your Lordships at Second Reading. Of course, we shall consider any further points that your Lordships make in working out the details of the scheme.
§ It might be helpful to the Committee if I outline the circumstances in which we would expect the scheme actually to operate. I do intend to go into some detail, because I hope that in so doing, if your Lordships will bear with me, I shall be able to assuage all the concerns which have been expressed. I know that your Lordships will take careful note of what I say, especially those noble Lords who may have doubts about the scheme.
§ First, grant would normally be reserved to cases where the charitable landlord had refused to sell to the tenant the house in which he was living on terms equivalent to those that would be available under the right to buy. Secondly, the home selected by the tenant would be expected to fall within the value limits operated under the, "Do it yourself shared ownership" scheme. Those limits are £40,000 in Greater London, £35,000 in the home counties, and £30,000 elsewhere. Grant would be available on outright purchases, or on shared-ownership leases, but in the case of shared-ownership the minimum share that the tenant purchased would need to be 50 per cent. Shared ownership will normally be available only to those tenants who cannot obtain a sufficient mortgage to cover outright purchase, subject to the usual requirements associated with income and the security of the property being purchased.
§ My noble friend Lord Selkirk made the point on Second Reading that it is important for people not to be tempted by discount alone (particularly as regards shared ownership) into committing themselves beyond their ability or willingness to take on the responsibilities associated with home ownership. The same points and the same safeguards as regards the security of the property and the income of the tenant purchaser apply to the new scheme.
§ Another point that has caused concern is the way in which the discount is to be calculated. I should like to explain this in great detail because it is most important. The basis for determining the discount 194 entitlement eligible for grant purposes is intended to be broadly similar to the right to buy. It will depend on length of tenancy in the public sector and the value and cost of provision of the existing charitable dwelling. In the case of a purchase at or above the value of the rented dwelling, the discount under the scheme will be the actual amount of the discount the tenant would have received if he had bought his rented dwelling. If he buys a house with a lower value than his rented dwelling, he would get a percentage discount on the value of the purchase. The percentage would be the same percentage discount he would have received under the right to buy.
§ These proposals will meet the concern that people will be able to use the discount—and many people have referred to the £25,000 discount, which is the maximum under this scheme and the right to buy—to buy a house outright without having to contribute anything themselves. The method that we are proposing to use for working out the discount entitlement will not enable this to happen. I repeat, this will not happen. I think that I can best illustrate this by giving one or two examples.
§ Let us consider the case of a tenant with 20 years of public sector tenancy who is entitled to a 50 per cent. discount. The rented dwelling in which he lives is valued at £20,000. The actual discount on the open market purchase may depend not only on the value of his existing dwelling, but also of the house he purchases. If the market value of the house the tenant chooses is £20,000, the discount would be £10,000, exactly as it would have been for the right to buy were he able to buy his present home. If the market value of the house he chooses is more than the value of the existing dwelling, but I stress still within the price limit of the scheme, the discount will still be £10,000. The critical point is that he is not entitled to more discount than he would get if he could buy his existing dwelling. When the tenant chooses to buy a dwelling worth less that his existing rented dwelling his discount entitlement will reduce in consequence. In those cases the percentage discount, not the actual sum, will be applied. The tenant will not be able to obtain a larger percentage discount than he would have obtained if he was to buy his existing dwelling under the right to buy. I shall refer again to the same example of an entitlement to 50 per cent. discount on a rented dwelling worth £20,000. If the house or flat the tenant chooses is worth £15,000 then the discount will be 50 per cent., that is £7,500, not £10,000.
§ The cost floor will also apply, so the maximum discount will depend on the cost of provision. The effect of the cost floor will also be carried through if the tenant buys a cheaper dwelling than the value of his present rented dwelling.
§ Finally, there is the question of discount on the acquisition of initial and additional shares under shared-ownership leases. For the purchase of the initial share it is intended that the discount entitlements I have just described will be applied pro rata to the size of the share being purchased. So a discount entitlement of £10,000 on a house chosen by the tenant that is worth £30,000 will give rise to a discount of 33.3 per cent. on the value of the share he is purchasing. A discount entitlement of 50 per cent. a house, chosen by the tenant, worth £15,000 will give 195 rise to a discount of 50 per cent. of the share he is purchasing, and so on. It is also intended that for the purchase of additional shares, the leases should enable discounts to increase in the ordinary way by 1 per cent. for each year of occupation under the lease from the base provided by the discount on the initial share up to a maximum of 60 per cent. So if a tenant bought an initial share with an effective discount of 33 per cent., three years later he could buy an additional share at a discount of 36 per cent.
§ I realise that that takes some taking in just listening to it—I might add that it takes some taking in preparing it. But nevertheless with careful thought, if nothing else, it illustrates the fact that it is carefully thought through; it is not there to give an undue advantage, it is not silly, it is not giving anything away. It is exactly in line with the proposals under the existing right to buy for other public sector dwellings.
§ It is understandable that there has been some concern about the resources to fund the scheme and the effect on the rest of the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Progrmme. I commented at an earlier stage in the Committee's proceedings on the far-fetched suggestion that the scheme could cost £600 million. We gave our own estimate of £10 million. There is somewhat of a difference. I understand that the National Federation of Housing Associations has suggested a slightly higher average annual figure over five years of £l4 million. I do not either dissent or agree with that figure. The actual figure will depend upon the take-up by people who were in necessitous circumstances when they took up their tenancies and many of whom may well wish not to move. However, I think the fact that the National Federation of Housing Associations' estimate is £14 million and that our estimate is £10 million shows that the estimate of £600 million is, let us say, slightly ludicrous.
§ As I said on Second Reading, the resources for the scheme are to come from the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme. Allowance has been made for it within the gross programme of £687 million and the cash limit of £617 million for 1984–85. We shall also take account of the resources required for this scheme in future years. I recognise the concern that housing associations' other projects should not suffer from the operation of the scheme. As your Lordships know, the programme is set from year to year and no decisions have therefore been taken for future years, but the corporation will continue to consult the NFHA in the normal way before discussions with Ministers, and there will be ample opportunity for the movement to make its views on the shape and size of the programme known to the corporation and the Government, precisely as it always does and in the most helpful and valuable way.
§ There is one other concern about the scheme that I should like to mention. This is that some sort of market in the qualifying dwellings may emerge and that this will be encouraged by the right to exchange that we are introducing. I do not think this is likely to happen in practice. The major safeguard lies in the charitable rules under which charitable housing associations operate. They are able to let within those rules only to tenants whose housing needs accord with their objects. The proposals for the right to exchange will not override this requirement.196
§ We are also proposing to include a further safeguard in the rules of the scheme which will prevent the successive movement of existing tenants to a particular dwelling to enable them to take advantage of the scheme. What we are proposing is that for tenancies which begin after the start of the scheme, the tenant should be required to have lived in the house for a reasonable period before participating in the scheme. The period we have in mind is one of about two years. There is of course no requirement under the right to buy for a tenant to have lived in a particular dwelling before he buys it, provided he has already sufficient public sector tenancy to qualify for the right to buy. But I think that such a requirement is appropriate for this scheme to ensure that tenants are not allocated to a particular dwelling just because it will give rise to a discount that will enable the tenant to buy a house with the help of this scheme. A requirement for tenants to have lived in the dwelling for at least two years before participating in the scheme should prevent tenants moving or being moved to particular dwellings at frequent intervals to take advantage of higher discounts.
§ I have given an outline of the way in which we intend the scheme to operate. We are however still considering the details of its operation. I assure your Lordships that we shall be prepared to take account of any points that are made in the debate on the clause today in finalising the scheme. I hope that I have said enough to convince your Lordships that this scheme is a valuable way of helping this category of tenants to become home owners.
§ Before I sit down, I think that I ought properly to refer to the article published in today's edition of The Times (and if I do not, your Lordships will) urging your Lordships to vote against this proposal. I hope that I can demonstrate that the arguments in the article are quite misconceived. Let me just pick a few out. The main argument that the article uses is that charitable landlords have a special legal status and that this is more important than the need to treat public tenants consistently. But surely your Lordships will accept that we have done a great deal to recognise the special legal status of charitable housing associations, and that is why we have not reintroduced the old Clause 2 which would have conferred the right to buy on tenants of charitable housing associations whose dwellings were provided with public funds.
§ This new scheme is designed to help the tenants of charitable housing associations who would have received the right to buy under the old Clause 2. I see no reason why this group of tenants, whose homes were provided with public funds in just the same way as the houses of council tenants of non-charitable housing associations, should be denied the sort of help to move into home ownership that is provided under the right to buy.
§ Indeed, many of these tenants would have been housed by a charitable housing association under nomination rights by the local authority. In other words, it would have been a matter of pure chance that they were housed by a housing association rather than by a local authority. So I ask, can it really be right that such a matter of chance should permanently deny them the opportunity to become home owners? 197 Surely, it is not wrong, as The Times suggests, to want to treat all tenants whose dwellings have been provided with public funds as consistently as possible?
§ It was also argued in The Times that the fact that many tenants may not be able to afford to take advantage of the scheme makes the plan worse. I must say that this seems to be trying to have one's cake and eat it. Only just over a week ago the same newspaper was claiming that all eligible tenants would take advantage of the scheme, and that it would therefore be prohibitively expensive. Now that that argument has been shown to be totally groundless, it claims that the fact that not many tenants will be able to afford to take advantage of the scheme makes it worse. What possible basis can there be for such an argument? No one ever suggested that all council tenants would take advantage of the right to buy. So far, about 11 per cent. of public sector stock in England and Wales has been sold to tenants since 1979. Does the fact that this is a relatively small percentage prove that the right to buy is a bad scheme? I think not. Nor, I suspect, do the hundreds of thousands of ex-tenants and their families who have bought under the right to buy.
§ The other main point that The Times leader today totally ignores—it is surely the point I should make to my noble friends who. I know, have been so concerned about the position of the charitable housing associations and the dwellings which they manage and let—is that every time a tenant buys a house on the open market with the aid of a discount under this scheme, a house or flat is freed for the association to allocate to someone else in acute housing need. This is something that has been noted, and I think welcomed, by the National Federation of Housing Associations. It is a crucial element of the scheme that is totally ignored by The Times article. Even if the average discount works out at £6,000, the figure quoted by The Times on 25th February, I would hope that your Lordships would recognise that this is a much cheaper way of making rented accommodation available for the charities to let than new provision.
§ I hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships that the criticisms in The Times are not justified. My view is that this scheme represents a useful, if modest, means of helping this group of tenants to achieve home ownership. As I have repeatedly made clear in this Committee and in your Lordships' House, I cannot stress too much the importance I attach to treating these people fairly by giving them, if they wish—and only if they wish and are able to take it—the chance to have a home of their own.
§ This is nothing more than an attempt to recognise the concern of the charitable housing association movement to retain the ownership and letting facility of its dwellings and, at the same time, to meet the aspirations of such of their existing tenants as wish to, and can afford to, buy their own homes. It disadvantages no one. It is a truly worthy objective, and I hope that your Lordships will accept it. I beg to move.
§ [Amendment No. 69A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 69, not moved.]
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
The Minister has given us a great deal of information, but he has not by any means 198 answered all the questions. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if a large part of what I offer this evening is in the form of questions, because there are still a fair number to be dealt with. We seem to have come a long way from the beginning of this exercise, which was to allow people to buy their homes—the homes in which they lived, where they had perhaps brought up their families, and certainly, where they intended to stay.
There seemed to me quite a strong argument in favour of doing this. Indeed, there were a great number of people up and down the country of all political persuasions who felt that this was the right thing to do, although they questioned in some ways the way that it was done. However, we are now saying that, in order to pursue this dogma through to its end, we are going to give the people, excluded last week by your Lordships from the right to buy, a hand-out so that they can go into the open market and buy the house of their choice, or at least persuade their association to do it on their behalf. I shall return to that in a moment.
The great injustice achieved by this, to which the noble Lord the Minister referred, althogh he does not seem to think it very important, was the harm done to other young couples who are trying to gather together enough money to buy their own homes. Most of them are having to do so in conditions of great discomfort. They are having to work very hard, to scrimp and to save, to get a deposit to put down on a house, usually a modest house to begin with—the sort of house most likely to be available to the tenants of charitable housing associations.
The result of what is being proposed is bound to be inflationary. Even if there was no feeling of injustice, which there undoubtedly will be among these young people, the effect, when people have a good deposit ready to put down without any argument, is bound to be to increase the demand for the houses and therefore the price. This is an injustice, and it is one which we should not consider supporting in this Committee.
The Minister refers to this as enabling legislation. Does he mean that the charitable housing associations may not take part in it if they do not want to? Is this what he means by "enabling"? There is nothing in Amendment No. 69 to say that they must do so. If they have to do so, are they to bear the whole cost of the exercise? Forgive me if I have this wrong, but your Lordships must admit that the information given to us is rather slight to begin with. If the tenant expresses a wish to buy a particular house in the open market having first registered his wish to buy his own and been refused, as I understand it, the housing association will then be required to go and buy this house and resell it to the tenant. Who bears the cost of that exercise? We all know how expensive it can be.
The questions about discount on the property purchased have been answered. There was quite a lot in the reply and I shall need to study the Minister's statements carefully before I come back on that. The time spent as local authority tenants will, I understand, also count towards discount. This puts an entirely different complexion on the exercise, which, again, one will need to look at carefully. Will the tenant be able to use the money to buy in another area? If someone is moving from town A to town B, can he buy a house in another area and require his association to 199 pay for it for him? This is something that does not apply under council tenancies, and therefore it is a new question to be answered. If he can, will there be a distance limit or can he move north, south, east or west as he chooses?
The article in The Times was dealt with to a certain extent by the Minister; but it raised a number of points which strike a chord in the hearts of many people here. I draw your Lordships' attention to the beginning of it. I am sure most of those present will have read it, as it was freely available in the Library today. It says: "Whatif a minister of the Crown were today to rise from the front benches and promise a cash gift of thousands of pounds to each of a group of citizens, 100,000 strong, whose location and circumstances he would be at pains to describe and whose individual merit had not entered his calculations?That is exactly what he has done and nothing that he has said, either before today or during his discussion here this evening, has persuaded me that this is the correct line for him to take. I propose to read carefully what he has said, to listen to the rest of the discussion and to return to it at a later stage.
§ Lord Moyne
Before the noble Baroness sits down, might I ask her whether the young couple she envisaged not being able to find a house because houses were being bought under this clause would not more easily he able to afford to move into one of the charitable trust houses set free by the moving out?
§ Baroness Nicol
Yes, indeed, that would he possible if there were enough of these dwellings. But there are enormous waiting lists for them, as the Minister is well aware. We are talking about a possible turnover of only a percentage of those dwellings. The feeling of injustice that this provision will arouse is not to be lightly taken. It may outstrip the size of what happens, but it will create a feeling of injustice.
§ Viscount Hanworth
If I have understood it correctly, the Minister's case is largely based on the fact that it is a matter of chance whether somebody seeking accommodation finds it with a housing association or with the council. He is therefore trying to he fair to see that people who find it with a housing association are not prejudiced. That is all very well in its way, but we also have to consider that the possibility of housing with a housing association is small because there are enormous waiting lists. Whereas he is trying to ameliorate one problem, there are those who have to find their accommodation outside—which is the vast number—who will receive nothing of this and can be even more upset by it. If one is faced with a situation such as that. I think one is entitled to look at the financial costs, bearing in mind that we can never afford what we would all like to do. What I fear will happen is that the Treasury will not honour the cost of doing what is down in the Bill, and where will the money come from?
The money will come from the housing grants. There will be fewer houses. I find it extraordinary that the Government should be so concerned with this little problem when unfairness, I fear, is far greater in the wider field.
§ Lord Moyne
As one of those who spoke against 200 giving the right to buy their own dwelling to tenants of charitable trusts—declaring my interest as a trustee of one of them—I should like to support the principle underlying the proposed new clause. It fulfils the Government's promise not to reintroduce the old proposal which would have been so hard on the trusts. I understand that it ingeniously gives an equivalent subsidised opportunity for publicly-funded trust tenants to buy on the open market. I say "ingeniously" because of the point which has not been mentioned but comes out of what is in the clause, because of the mechanism devised of using a non-charitable association to channel housing association grants subvention to do a job outside the scope of charitable trusts. The Minister may like to say a word about this presently.
Trustees must welcome the advantage for their tenants, particularly the fact that vacancies will be created to he filled from their long waiting lists. But they must have anxiety about the long term effect on HAG funds available for future building development. The Minister has made up the funds to take account of the expected purchases and it is to be hoped that he will keep an eye on this aspect as time goes on.
I am bound to say that I find the drafting of the clause far from crystal clear. It says nothing, except by reference to previous Acts of Parliament, of the trust tenants' opportunity to secure financial support from HAG funds in purchasing an outside house, only that the Secretary of State is permitted to pay housing association grant to a non-charitable housing association which buys and re-sells a house to a trust tenant. The clause reads almost as if the housing association might have to go out to do the house-hunting, but surely the intention must be for the housing charity to tell the tenant how much would be forthcoming in discount towards his proposed purchase, so that he could find a house that suited him and which, with the discount, he could afford. As I understand it, the discount would be calculated by the charitable housing association, but the transaction would be seen through by the non-charitable association.
I wonder whether it should not be made clear beyond peradventure that charitable tenants on acquiring outside houses should have to vacate their existing dwellings. Assuming that the complicated wording of the clause is necessary to set in motion the financial mechanics of the purchase on the open market, would not the Minister consider inserting on Report something that tenants could more easily understand? Could not the clause begin by describing the opportunities to be given to publicly-funded tenants of charitable housing associations for HAG-supported purchases on condition of their moving out when their new dwellings became available for occupation? While finding the present drafting of the clause a little obscure, I very much welcome the principle which lies behind it.
§ Baroness Denington
I should like to answer the point raised a few minutes ago about whether the young couples who are struggling to raise the deposit on their first house could not go into the charitable houses left vacant by the people able to move out of those. I can only speak from my knowledge of my 201 membership for a number of years of the Sutton housing trust, which is a charitable trust. The Sutton housing trust has a rule which it holds to rigidly that it may only take into its dwellings people who are really poor, who are very poorly paid and who are among the lower and more unfortunate members of our society. The trustees hold to that; but they also regularly review the position because about every two years a new trustee may ask about the people in the dwellings who have got on well in life and who now have money. The trustees consider whether we ought to turn them out of our charitable dwellings. The trustees regularly consider the matter deeply and decide that they cannot really turn them out.
These are the people who, if this is passed, will take up the Minister's offer. They will buy in the open market. But the point I am trying to correct—and one or two of your Lordships were rather carried away by the thought that the dwelling would be empty for someone else to come into—is that the dwelling will only be empty for someone very poor to come into. It will not help the young couples who are in a position to be gathering their mortgage. It will, of course, help somebody lower down but not the young couples.
The Earl of Enniskillen
Before the noble Baroness sits down, is that not the precise point that we are trying to get to?
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Molson
In view of the fact that I voted on each occasion against the Government on the last occasion, I think that perhaps I ought to say a few words to explain my position this afternoon. I did not think that the Government were wise in introducing this provision in another place after having accepted the decision of your Lordships' House that the right to buy should not apply to the tenants of charitable housing trusts. I largely agree with the views expressed in the article in The Times today. I do not think that there is justice in making these contributions, these charitable gifts, to a selected number of tenants. On the other hand, I have listened with close attention to the speech of my noble friend the Minister.
I said in reply to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, last Tuesday that, in drafting our amendments, the noble Lords associated with me and I myself were not influenced by considerations about the discount. We were solely concerned about trying to preserve housing which was specially suitable for disadvantaged classes in the community. I want to stand entirely by that statement that I made on behalf of the noble Lords, some on the other side of the Committee and some independent Cross-Benchers and myself.
Without changing my view that the Government were unwise in introducing this special machinery to enable the tenants of charitable trusts to go out into the open market and use money paid for the by the taxpayer in order to acquire houses in the general market, I feel that my noble friend the Minister has drawn a very clear distinction between the preservation of the houses for disadvantaged people and the provision of money in order that the disadvantaged people occupying those particular houses should be able to find alternative accommodation. I am also very much influenced by a very careful study that I have 202 made of the indications made by my noble friend in his various speeches of the willingness of the Government to look sympathetically at the amendments which we moved. I would point out to him that these concessions, these hints at concessions, were made only towards the end of his speeches when it was impossible for one to consider to what extent he had gone to meet the points of substance which we had put forward in or our speeches.
I am waiting anxiously to know how far the Government are prepared to go in order to meet points which he was good enough to say he regarded as substantial. I feel that if the Government are prepared to go a considerable distance in order to meet the point which we sought to establish by our amendments, then perhaps I ought to go as far as I can in supporting a new clause with which I am not entirely in agreement, but to do so in the general interest of trying to arrive at an agreed settlement upon this matter.
The noble Lord has mentioned on two occasions that he has not been convinced of the wisdom or justice with which your Lordships rejected the proposal that there should be a right to buy in the case of tenants of charitable trusts. At the same time, while saying that he does not accept the justice of that, he has responded and the Government have responded to the decision of this House by not seeking to reintroduce and have promised not to try elsewhere to reintroduce a provison of that kind.
Naturally, I speak only for myself and not for anybody else, but while saying that I do not approve of the new clause which is being moved, as the Government have indicated that they are prepared to go a considerable distance, although we do not know how far, in order to meet the points of substance which we have made in seeking to preserve the dwellings of disadvantaged people—and, I would also add, in treating specially the charitable trusts—just as they were prepared to meet us over the question of houses occupied by tenants from charitable trusts, I hope they will also be prepared to carry this principle of special treatment of charities as far as we asked for in the amendment which was moved by my noble friend Lord Selkirk and which was carried by such a large majority in your Lordships' House. I hang in the balance as to where honour rooted in dishonour stands and as to whether I should abstain; but, on the whole, and in the hope of a generous response from the Government to our amendments which were carried last week, I am prepared on this occasion, against (shall I say?) my own prejudices, to go into the Lobby in support of the Government.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
The noble Lord the Minister said when he moved this clause that it was a very detailed one and one which would require some understanding. I must pay my respects to him in saying that I think he tried to explain it in detail, but he must not be surprised if the whole exercise is viewed with cynicism by some people involved. This is the second time that this piece of legislation has been before another place and this Chamber, and it seemed strange in another place when, after a substantial number of hours had been taken on this Bill in Committee, this new measure—which is an implementation of the existing policy, but by another 203 method—was introduced at the eleventh hour, when there was no time at all to debate the very complex problems which the Minister has explained today.
While there may he some justification for saying that nobody will be hurt in the process, it seems odd that under this system people can go into this type of house and, after two years' tenancy, pick up £6,000 for having been a tenant in a house which has been provided mainly by public funds. It seems an odd set of priorities, when we have youngsters—and I have youngsters of my own as, I have no doubt, have other noble Lords—who are struggling to get money together for a down payment on their first, perhaps very modest purchase, to have a measure like this being brought in at the end of protracted discussions on the Bill.
One point which I should like to put to the Minister is the question of finance. I think I heard the Minister say that finance will come from the Housing Corporation's allocation. May I ask him whether the Housing Corporation was consulted about the fact that its annual global sum would be diminished by the money required to finance this scheme, or was it just told about the measure? Lastly, can the Minister give an undertaking that further deliberations in this Chamber may take place in order to look into a very complex financial problem?
§ Lord Monson
Despite the many reassurances given by the Minister this afternoon, particularly on such matters as the discounts applicable when a cheaper house than that which he or she already lives in is bought on behalf of the tenant under the scheme, and which marginally improve the amendment in relation to how it originally appeared to a layman, I am afraid that I still think that The Times got it more or less right today.
The noble Lord. Lord Bellwin, said on 28th February at cols. 1230–31 of the Official Report in reply to the noble Lord. Lord Molson, that he thought that, in practice, grants would be more like £10 million than £600 million. There are two points to be made here. First, would the Minister not agree that, in theory, the £600 million figure could be reached? Statute law must surely cater for what might happen in consequence of legislation, as well as for what is expected at this particular moment to happen. Secondly, if the Government are right about the £10 million, then mathematical calculations lead one to suppose that only a lucky 1½ per cent. of charitable housing association tenants—that is, the richest 1½ percent.—will be able to benefit from this largesse; largesse which is bestowed, indirectly, by the taxpayer.
Very well; but is it right that this 1½ per cent. of tenants in England and Wales—because, for some reason, the scheme does not apply to Scotland—should be placed in such an advantageous position, not only vis-á-vis their poorer neighbours in charitable housing association accommodation, but also vis-á-vis aspiring owner-occupiers, particularly young couples and first-time buyers who are struggling to save for a deposit, and visa-á-vis council tenants and tenants of non-charitable housing associations, 204 who cannot enjoy the triple benefit of a cash bonus together with both choice of property and choice of location?
At a time when the Government are so hard up, evidently, that postmen are now being required to pay tax and national insurance on non-existent Christmas boxes, would it not save public money, and be altogether fairer, if the cash sum to which certain tenants would be entitled under this amendment were to be reduced by, say, 20 per cent., so that the maximum would reduce from £25,000 to £20,000? They would still be getting a very good bargain, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Would the Minister consider withdrawing this amendment this afternoon and resubmitting it at Report stage in a modified form, to make it more acceptable to the House and to the public at large?
§ Lord Broxbourne
May I start what will be a mercifully brief intervention by expressing my apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Monson? I hope that he will acquit me of any apparent discourtesy in not giving way to him more promptly and will attribute it, as is the fact, merely to my ignorance of the practice of this place. I hope not to make that particular error again. I was glad that I did not challenge the noble Lord because of the excellence of his speech in addition to the question of the practice of this House.
Like my noble friend Lord Molson, but with much less hesitation, I certainly intend to support this new clause. But I should like to ask one question of my noble friend in the context of one of the main criticisms to which this proposal has been subjected. The short point about the article in The Times to which so much reference has been made, if I interpret aright its stately and sonorous language—if it is possible for stately and sonorous language to have a short point—is that there are two related criticisms here; first, the looseness and complexity of the drafting and, secondly, the vulnerability of the public purse. It is in regard to that second matter that I wish to raise a question with my noble friend the Minister.
The question of the safeguarding of the public purse seemed to be in the mind of Parliament when they enacted the principal statute, the Housing Act 1974, in the machinery which Section 29 prescribes for the determination of grants. By Section 29(5), there is, as my noble friend so well knows, a power of ministerial determination of maximum grants and more than that cannot be paid. That provides an inbuilt statutory protection for the public purse which even The Times, I think, would recognise.
I am not heeding the exhortation in The Times of the House of Lords to smoke out Lord Bellwin; I should not dream of embarking on so unnecessary and disrespectful an exercise. I think the Committee will recognise that he has done a very considerable self-fumigatory exercise in his notable speech, and in the detailed and helpful explanations this afternoon, for which I am sure we are all most grateful; I certainly am, and I will study them more closely in print. But a determination made under Section 29(5) becomes part of the statute law and is binding. I am wondering therefore whether the Minister has considered in this case making a determination, because determinations can, as he knows, be either general or particular in 205 their content. The Minister may consider that it is unnecessary or that it will not fit the mechanism of this particular case. Because of his much greater knowledge of the matter, I certainly accept his judgment on that point, but he may think that there would be advantage, particularly in view of the criticism which has been expressed by The Times and others, in at least exploring the possibility of a determination. As the Minister knows, a determination requires, under the Housing Act 1974, prior consultation with bodies which appear to be representative of the housing associations—in this case, I would assume, the federation. That itself, I should have thought, would have certain advantages in the context of this matter. I apologise for having put my question at some length, but at least I have asked only one in contradistinction to the noble Baroness opposite with her quiverful of questions.
§ Lord Northfield
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, recognises that there is a certain illogicality about part of what he has said to the Committee this afternoon. He said that he accepted the sensitivities of the charitable housing associations and recognised to some extent their anxiety about keeping their stock at its present level and not having to reduce it, so that they can continue to cater for the particular classes of people whom they house. The noble Lord said that because he recognised the sensitivities and the needs of the charitable housing associations he had found some extra money.
The noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches has not noted what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said at Second Reading. He said that he would offer extra money to the housing corporations, which he would provide through the mechanism of this clause, in order to solve their problem. They will not have to sell their houses in the way that they fear and their stock will therefore be kept intact. This is precisely the case I put to the noble Lord last week about old persons' dwellings. I said to him that if he would only offer to ensure that money was provided in some form in order to prevent the stock of old persons' dwellings being reduced we should all be very happy to go into the Lobby with him. I said that the Minister ought to say that as fast as houses are sold he would make sure there is a really energetic programme for housing elderly people through the public sector, where housing is needed, and that he would find the extra money with which to keep up the stock.
I freely admit that the noble Lord did not reply to that, but in ignoring what I said—I am not charging the noble Lord with anything, as I am sure he will accept—I suspect that he was dismissing my argument. I have to put it to the noble Lord that, if he had made that offer last week, he would not, I believe, have lost the Division. If he had said that he fully understood the need to keep up the stock of old persons' dwellings, everybody in the Committee would have been happy to let his original proposals go through.
§ Lord Northfield
No, perhaps not everybody, but most people would have been happy. I get some support from my noble friend on one side, if not from 206 everybody. All I am saying is that there is a certain illogicality in the position adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and I hope he will respond to this point.
Nevertheless, let us look at the prime point which the noble Lord is making in this amendment. It is worth stating again that the noble Lord is saying that the Government's aim is not to disadvantage people who have, in effect, got their money through the Government. This is public sector provision of housing in another form. The Government do not want to discriminate against somebody who has obtained his money through a housing association and who would have had the right to buy if, by accident, he had instead been the tenant of a council dwelling. That is an overwhelming argument. In other words, it follows through the logicality of saying that where public money is involved the Government need to complete the totality of their policy by giving these people the right to buy. That, so far as I am concerned, overwhelms all the other arguments and for that reason my sympathies are with the Government.
§ Lord Hylton
The noble Lord the Minister and the Committee know that I have very considerable reservations of principle both about the 1980 Act and about this Bill. I shall mention only one reservation. The 1980 Act took away from local authorities and non-charitable housing associations all discretion whatsoever over the right to buy. The Government now propose to take away all discretion from charitable associations. However, that is not the main point I want to make tonight. Instead I wish to look at the detail of the amendment. My concern is that it is going to place a considerable administrative burden and extra costs upon the charitable associations, which may, I fear, divert them from their main purposes. The larger associations employ paid staff. They are very capable and qualified people, but on the whole they are under extreme pressure and already are very highly stretched. The smaller associations, on the other hand, rely to some extent—and some of them to a great extent—on voluntary staff. They will have to face even greater problems.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, mentioned legal fees. There will be two sets of legal fees: one on the purchase, the other on the resale. Who will hear those fees, I wonder? The distance from the original dwelling of the qualifying tenant has also been mentioned tonight. The further away he is encouraged or allowed to buy the greater will be the administrative problems that follow. It would be very much better if, instead of the amendment as drafted, there were an amendment which put the whole onus upon the tenant, first to find the property and secondly to arrange to finance it, and only then would he receive the benefit of the discount money, which could be paid to his solicitor after exchange of contracts.
I should also like to follow up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, about whether or not housing trusts are covered by subsection (4) of the amendment as well as industrial and provident societies, which are mentioned in the text.
The Earl of Selkirk
I am grateful to the Government for not trying to put back the clause which we took out last time. I do not deny that it is a rather clumsy way of getting round it. The essence of 207 the problem was expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. She asked: what are we doing here? We are putting out of charitable housing associations those who can afford them. That is right. It is right because charitable associations deal directly with the homeless—those who demand most from us and who deserve most attention from us. They put out those who can afford this housing. Not very many of them can. There are some, like single parents, who marry well. This does happen. They can go out, and it is right that they should go out; they should not remain in these associations. That is not what they are there for. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will support the amendment. Whether or not we make amendments to it I do not know. I do not believe that this will happen very frequently. I do not know what the figures are. However, I guess that the number of those who take advantage of this amendment will be comparatively small. Nevertheless, this is a genuine effort to meet what we had in mind, and on this occasion I hope the Committee will support the Government.
§ Lord Bellwin
The problem always is how to respond in a reasonable period of time to the many points which have been made. In doing so, one always disappoints some of those who have made contributions. I am grateful to everybody who has spoken. The debate has been of a particularly high order. I ask in advance to be excused if I do not cover all the points which have been made. If I miss any important points I shall write to noble Lords and carry the debate further outside the Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said that this was a great injustice and would do harm to others who were trying to get money to buy their own homes. She spoke about the effect on house prices and said that it would lead to inflation. What are we talking about? We are talking about some 100,000 eligible tenants and the likelihood, as my noble friend Lord Selkirk has just said, of perhaps 2,000, 3,000 4,000 or 5,000 of them buying. Is it seriously proposed that even 5,000 purchases will create inflation over the whole of the country in the housing market? I do not believe that at all.
The noble Baroness asked a number of questions which would take me some time to answer. I will pick up on one or two of them but will answer the others in writing. There will not be a geographical limitation on the movement of tenants to other areas, and they will have to find their own homes. This was a point raised by several noble Lords. As to the rest of the detail, if the noble Baroness will bear with me, I will pick up her points in writing.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said that the Treasury will not honour the arrangement, and he asked where the money is to come from. The noble Viscount was not listening. The noble Viscount is not in his place, but he cannot have been listening to what I was saying. I was at great pains to explain exactly where the money was to come from, and I will return to that point in a moment.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Moyne and thank him for his support. I know how deeply he felt, together with other noble Lords, when we discussed Clause 2 of the old Bill. I am especially 208 grateful to him and to my noble friend Lord Selkirk for saying what they did about what is now proposed. I take the point which he and my noble friend Lord Broxbourne made about the drafting of the clause. The clause as drafted provides no more than an enabling power primarily concerned with the Secretary of State's grant-paying process. It does not set out to show how the scheme will work. That will be done administratively. I hope that I explained in my opening remarks how I expect that to operate.
My noble friend Lord Moyne absolutely picked up the point made by several noble Lords and by the noble Baronesses opposite. He made for me the point that is fundamental to this whole argument. While protecting the housing associations' accommodation, we are seeking at the same time to give those tenants who are disadvantaged because we would not go forward with Clause 2 an opportunity to buy. That is what it is all about, and no more. I take my noble friend's point about making this clearer on Report. I shall try through conversation and correspondence with him to clear up that aspect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, spoke about the people who are poorly paid and asked about those who have got on; she asked about turning them out. She said that the dwelling will only be empty for someone who is very poor. But that is the whole essence of charitable housing accommodation. If it is not for people who are very poor and who have difficulty in finding other accommodation, then who is it for? If that is not the definition, then it is nothing. I respect the views of the noble Baroness on this subject, even if I do not agree with her, but I believe that her argument falls on that point.
I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Molson. I know of his reservations about certain matters that we discussed on the first day of Committee. I try to raise points which are raised in Committee and I will go on trying to do so as best I can. The Committee knows I try to do so with all the legislation I take through. I am grateful to my noble friend for his support, despite the reservations I know he may have.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, said that there had not been enough time to discuss this aspect in another place. I cannot take the responsibility for that, as I am sure he knows. As the noble Lord put a question, I should like to answer it and make this point clear to all noble Lords. The £10 million is additional money. When the discussions were taking place with the Housing Corporation, it was made quite clear that this would be additional money. I give the noble Lord that assurance. If the wants to pursue this point with me in detail after, I shall be pleased to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, still persists with his figure of £600 million. I wish that I were a betting man because I could make a pretty penny by working out some shade of odds there. The noble Lord says £600 million and I say £10 million. The federation says that it will be £14 million. I will split the figure with the noble Lord at £20 million. Let us be serious. The noble Lord said that this was largesse for the richest of the tenants. By definition, if one is a tenant of a charitable housing association how can one be described as "rich"? Have we lost all sense of proportion? These people are not rich; they are people who aspire to have 209 something and to use part of what they have towards a home of their own. That is all they are, and I see nothing wrong in that.
My noble friend Lord Broxbourne questioned the looseness of the drafting. I hope he will feel that what I said to my noble friend Lord Moyne to some extent answers his point, too. He asked specifically about the maximum discount. I followed exactly what he was saying. We intend to tie the maximum discount to that available under the right to buy. We propose that the maximum grant shall be £25,000. We do not propose to make a specific further determination under Section 29(5) of the 1974 Act but we are prepared to consider this point. If my noble friend would like to pursue it later, then I should be very glad to do so with him.
The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, picked up a point made in debate last week. Was it last week?—it seems a long time ago to me. The noble Lord said that if only we would give extra money for the old persons' dwellings he and his noble friends would have gone through the Lobbies with us. I have to say that I doubt it. I see from the nodding of heads opposite that I am more right than is the noble Lord. Let us acknowledge the fact that there is a clear division of thinking about the right to buy. Let us not be ashamed of saying what it is. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said the other week that we are obsessed with our determination to further the right to buy. The noble Baroness is right. Just as noble Lords opposite are equally obsessed with denying the right to buy. That is the real issue and that is what we are really talking about.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the onus will he placed on the tenant to find the property, and that is what we intend as a result of what is in the Bill. The noble Lord said this will place an extra administrative burden on housing associations. I can only say that this is one of the purposes to which they will put some of the extra money they will be getting for this purpose.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Selkirk because I know that, like my noble friend Lord Molson, he, too, has reservations. But this whole argument is about the principle of the right to buy. Noble Lords opposite do not like what we are proposing. They do not want us to give the elderly the right to buy. I do not know where that is going to end up. They did not want us to give the disabled the right to buy. They do not want us to give the tenants of non-charitable housing associations the right to buy. The top and bottom is that they do not want people to have the right to buy. I respect that point of view even if I disagree with them. I hope that noble Lords will support the Government's proposals. I believe that they are merited in all justice and in all equity.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
May I first apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lady Birk, who has to be elsewhere. If she had been here, I believe my noble friend would have shared in the views of the Minister when he said that this had been a fine debate. But I do not believe the Minister would be sensing the mood aright if he were to say that there was certainty and complete unanimity even on his own side over this issue. What in fact emerged, even from the remarks of his noble friends, was perhaps grudging acknowl- 210 edgement that somehow or other he had escaped from the decisions on charitable housing that had been taken earlier.
Words such as "astute", "clever" and "he managed to find a way to look after these tenants" have been used. As far as we are concerned on this side of the Committee, we are far from satisfied that what the Minister proposes in this new clause is right, just or equitable. The Minister seems to be besotted by the fact that there is a class of person in our community entitled to preferential treatment. That class of person consists of the tenants of public housing. If one is a tenant of a council house, ipso facto one is entitled not only to the right to buy but to pay half the price of that which you want to buy. If one is a tenant of a charitable housing association, not only is one entitled to buy, and entitled to buy at half price but one is also entitled to buy the house of one's choice—
§ Lord Mottistone
Is it right for a noble Lord, from whatever Bench, to speak after the Minister who is moving the amendment has made his final speech? It seems to me to be most unusual.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I certainly bow to any noble Lord in this Committee who clearly has longer service than I have—and that includes almost everyone. However, I have been an assiduous watcher of procedure in this place since coming here and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that my observation is different to his recollection of how these things proceed. I get the sense of the Committee that I am doing nothing wrong even though there will be some dubiety about what I am going to say.
We, on this side of the Committee, fail to see why tenants of charitable housing are to be given what has been described more than once as a free handout—£4,000, £5,000, or £6,000—and then be able to go on to the open market. The Minister and his supporters may believe that this will be a mere ripple and that it will not disturb the market at all. I can tell him that that will not be the case. Whenever there is a house for sale for, say, £30,000 which a young couple who are after the house, are struggling to pay, along will come the tenant of a charitable housing trust able to say. "Yes, that is the house I want. I know it costs £30,000 but I am well able to afford it. Didn't you know, I have a grant of £4,000, £5,000 or £6,000 towards it?" Does the Minister believe that, once the detail has emerged and the reality is established—with a special class of house-hunter on the market containing those who have been fortunate enough to be tenants of charitable housing for 10 or 20 years, who have had good landlords because their landlords have been charities and who, in addition, have in their pocket a cheque potentially worth £5,000 or £6,000—it will not have any effect? If the Minister believes that this will not disturb the social equilibrium, then his justice and his view of what will happen is different to mine.
As far as this side of the Committee, is concerned, we are not prepared to support, as many of his noble friends are, the words which appear on the face of the amendment. When my noble friend Lady Nicol spoke, she indicated that there was a range of details which the House had not heard; general principles, yes, but a range of details that had yet to be placed before us. 211 Although there are people who have heard them and agree with them, we on this side of the Committee have a great many questions that remain to be answered. What action we take on Report and the amendments that we move at that stage is another story. As far as we are concerned, we are not prepared to vote for this amendment.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I hope that the Committee will consider this an appropriate moment to break for supper and to go on to other business. I see the Opposition Chief Whip looking at me and I suggest that we do not return to this current business until twenty minutes past eight o'clock, if that is convenient to the Committee.
I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.