§ Further considered on Report.
§ Clause 7 [Terms of conveyance or grant]:
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 10, line 3, leave out ("paragraph") and insert ("paragraphs 16 and").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with Amendment No. 23 I should like to speak to Amendment No. 24.
Amendment No. 24: Page 10, line 4, leave out ("paragraph") and insert ("paragraphs—
16. A provision is not void by virtue of paragraph 15 above in so far as it requires the tenant to bear a reasonable part of—
§ I hope these amendments need not detain us long. They are being brought forward by the Government following representations made at Commons Committee stage by one of the Opposition spokesmen, the honourable Member for Norwood, which the Government undertook to consider further. A landlord may include in the right-to-buy lease a covenant requiring the purchaser to contribute towards the cost of insurance of the building. It was suggested that a right-to-buy purchaser seeking a private sector mortgage might have to insure the property twice if the landlord/freeholder refused to produce his insurance policy to satisfy the building society that the property was properly insured.
§ The purpose of these amendments is therefore to provide that a right-to-buy purchaser may only be required to contribute towards the insurance costs incurred by the landlord if the lease provides an express right for the purchaser, and his successors in title, to inspect the insurance policy. We think this is a sensible move. A right-to-buy purchaser should know what he is being required to pay for, and also the extent of his insurance cover. There may be cases, for example, where he would consider the cover to be inadequate and wish to take out additional protection. I hope your Lordships will agree that these amendments are sensible and that they should be made. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1435
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 24:
§ [Printed above.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this was taken with Amendment No. 23, and I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Dwelling-houses suitable for occupation by persons of pensionable age]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 25 to 29:
§ [Printed earlier: cols. 1413–1414.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, if I may, I should like to move Amendments Nos. 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29 en bloc. They were taken with Amendment No. 10.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 30:
Leave out Clause 8.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment to leave out Clause 8 arose from what happened in Committee when an amendment was carried to Clause 2, defining the houses for the elderly that should be exempt from the right to buy. It really makes rather a nonsense of the Bill to have these two things in side by side. It is quite inconsistent with the elderly persons' exclusion and it would create a tremendous amount of confusion. If this remained in the Bill there would now be three definitions of housing for the elderly. There would be the exclusion and definition in Clause 2(4), the sheltered definition and exclusion in Clause 2(3), and the pre-emption clause and separate definition in Clause 8.
§ This can only cause tremendous trouble and concern and it would have to be sorted out quite unnecessarily by the courts. There are these inconsistencies. Those of us who were seeking to change the Bill did so—and noble Lords will remember that Members from all parts of the House voted on the amendment to Clause 2 to remove the provision from the Bill. I am sure the Minister will recall that it came up late that night on Committee and we all decided not to go into it then because not only was it late—it is late now—but I think that everybody was pretty tired by that time and it did not seem possible to consider the matter really thoroughly.
§ In doing this, we realised, as I have no doubt the Minister will point out, that a number of houses which might otherwise have been subject to the pre-emption clause could now be sold. This is because the definition of "elderly persons' accommodation" is wider in Clause 8 than that which was accepted during the Committee stage and incorporated in Clause 2(4). Nevertheless, in moving this deletion we are seeking consistency, and also—I believe the Minister should appreciate this and find the amendment almost irresistible—we are allowing a considerable number of properties to enter the area of the right to buy.
§ We also believe that Clause 8 should be removed from the Bill. Apart from its legal and definition inconsistencies, bringing in pre-emption on the side, it really is unworkable. As we know, there are a number of problems with pre-emption and if we go back again to the 1980 Act, which is always with us—as we have been very often reminded, quite rightly, by the noble 1436 and learned Lord, Lord Simon—we spend our time fingering through that Act, which is always described as "this Act". So we are aware of that.
§ Also, when the original amendment was voted on here and was altered in another place, the alternative of a pre-emption clause was turned down. That was the judgment of the majority of your Lordships in this House, and it was recognised because of the number of problems with pre-emption. A house can be lost for ever to elderly people because it need never be put up for sale within the 21 years, and in most cases it would take very much longer for the house to come back to the local authority. It could be let or otherwise occupied, and that would lead to all sorts of difficulties. And then local authorities, and particularly the smaller ones in rural areas, may not be able to offer repurchase.
§ If the house is not sold within the 21-year preemption period, the right of pre-emption is lost for ever. The house could be sold without the local authority's knowledge because the elderly preemption does not contain a requirement to register as a local land charge. If this happens there is no redress. It is possible to bring in more legislation to deal with this, but one would have thought, when the whole thing is unnecessary and inconsistent, that that is the last thing one would want to do.
§ Further, certain sales would not be subject to preemption—for example, if the house is disposed of through a will or through a decision of a matrimonial court—and pre-emption would not apply to any land sold with the house. That is covered by this Bill. Under the pre-emption arrangements, the house would remain in the hands of the purchasing tenant, or his or her successors or relatives, until it was put up for sale, which could go on for 21 years. If the house was in the ownership of a local authority, it would become available for letting as soon as it was vacated by either a disabled person, who comes within the terms of the other amendment which was passed, or an elderly person. In many cases, any successor might be offered a management transfer by the local authority if the house was needed. Therefore, the house or flat would be reserved for the elderly. This means that the timescale could be very much shorter and the demand for accommodation for the elderly or disabled could be met.
§ But once sold, subject to any mortgage restrictions if it was not sold outright, the elderly occupant or, much more likely, his or her successors in title would be able to let the house on a commercial basis as a holiday let, to students or for any other purpose. This may well prove attractive to relatives who succeed, particularly if the house is in a rural or seaside location, which may make letting attractive. It was this that caused so much concern to many noble Lords who live in and know rural areas very well. They were very concerned about what would happen to the housing there, and took the view—because the pre-emption clause was already in the Bill, so it was already on offer—that this was not a solution, which was the reason why the other amendment proved successful. This would make it extremely difficult for this to be done successfully.
§ The removal of this clause is entirely logical. It is completely illogical to have this clause in the Bill side by side with the amendment in Clause 2, which is no 1437 longer an amendment but is now a substantive part of the Bill. While I suspect that the Minister will resist this attempt to take it out of the Bill, I would say that there is one way in which, if he wishes to retain Clause 8 with all its inconsistencies and with the legal problems which can be attached to it, he can do so. He should give an assurance that the Government, in keeping Clause 8 in the Bill, will at the same time make no attempt to remove or modify the exemption in Clause 2(4), which was won during the Committee stage. Secondly, he should say that all steps will be taken to ensure that the exemption in Clause 2(4) has priority in the legal sense over Clause 8, and that Clause 8 will apply only to those additional dwellings that are not exempted through Clause 2(4).
§ If the Government are prepared to do that and will accept that, though there may be inconsistency or confusion, they are prepared to work it out—but do not touch the amendment that was won in Committee—then it would be fair enough to leave it to the Government to deal with it, if they want both in the Bill. I do not think it makes a great deal of sense, but that is one of the alternatives.
§ When we discussed this matter the last itme on this Bill, and certainly in 1980, there were clear alternatives—the exemption from the right to buy and also, at the same time, the pre-emption clauses—and on both occasions the House came down in favour of the exemption from the right to buy for elderly people. So what I am putting forward in this amendment is that Clause 8 should be left out of the Bill because it is now completely otiose and unnecessary, and will create great confusion. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, if the intention of the noble Baroness is simply to tidy up the Bill and to remove the apparent conflict between Clause 2(4) and Clause 8, then I have to say that the amendment is ill-conceived. There are a number of consequential amendments—for example, in Clause 20 and Schedule 11—that would need to be made if Clause 8 were removed and which are obviously not taken into account by this amendment. The noble Baroness knows as well as I do that it is usual and less messy to take all such matters together in one tidying-up operation, and I can therefore only conclude that, in proposing the amendment, what she really seeks to do, not unreasonably, is to try to draw out a statement of the Government's intention.
I have no objection at all to making the Government's position clear. We recognise that something must be done to clarify the position with regard to Clause 2(4) and Clause 8, and we are considering the possibility of bringing forward proposals to achieve this. We have, of course, been looking again at the whole issue following the rejection of our original proposals in Committee on 28th February. Perhaps I could remind your Lordships of other undertakings I gave on that occasion. I mentioned during that debate that we would be prepared to look at the possibility of strengthening our proposals in Clause 8, so that local authority landlords would have the opportunity to buy back where a dwelling would otherwise pass to a relative or another heir who was not actually living in the dwelling. I also said that we would be willing to examine to what 1438 extent we could provide additional safeguards for authorities in rural areas. These points are still being considered, and I hope your Lordships will agree that it would serve no useful purpose, certainly not tonight, to go over the ground once again in the absence of any firm new proposals.
The fact that this amendment does not achieve its technical objective is one thing. More important is that the Government have to reconsider their position in these matters, and that they are doing at the present time. In the meantime, I shall have to resist the amendment.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, it seems to me that your Lordships are in an extraordinarily difficult position. The noble Baroness must be right that there are anomalies as the Bill stands, and they have to be reconciled, if only to make sure which is dominant, Clause 2(4) or Clause 8. That is a comparatively simple drafting technique, but it involves a major political decision.
The difficulty, as I see it, is this. I spoke in favour of the amendment which is now in Clause 2(4), although I did not support the noble Baroness in the Lobby because I felt that the Minister was making noises as if he was coming in our direction, and I thought we ought to give him an opportunity to show what he could produce. But the difficulty now is that there are both provisions in the Bill, and, as the noble Baroness has proved abundantly, they are irreconcilable; or, at any rate, it must be indicated which is dominant. Therefore we want to know what the Government propose to do.
The difficulty, however, is that that is not necessarily what the House of Commons wants to do. I cannot see how we can proceed until we know what decision is going to be made not only by the Government but also in another place. Perhaps the Minister, by leave of the House, could speak again and indicate how that political problem might be teased out. Presumably we shall have to consider the Commons amendments, if they amend either of the two provisions in question. One hopes that they will indicate clearly not only, as the noble Baroness has said, which of the provisions contained in the Bill will be overriding but also the consequential provisions to which the noble Lord the Minister referred.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Lord Molson
My Lords, as one who was associated with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in the amendments which were carried against the Government at the Committee stage, I would appeal to her not to press this amendment at the Report stage. It was not easy for any of us to take in exactly what the Minister is prepared to do, as this appeared only towards the end of his speech. I make no criticism of that. It arose naturally out of the fact that the Minister was stating the Government's case. At the end of his speech the Minister indicated that the Government were prepared to take back these matters and look at them. I am sure that the Government will do so in a generous spirit. It may not be possible for the Government now to state their exact intentions. These are very difficult, complicated and technical matters. 1439 The Government will have to take into account the opinion of another place.
However, after having reread with care what was said by my noble friend the Minister towards the end of his speeches on these various amendments, I have no doubt that the Government will be prepared to go some way towards meeting what he said were the points of substance which we had raised. Therefore it would be premature and undesirable for us to delete this clause until it is possible for the Government to indicate to us what they are prepared to do in order to meet those points of substance, towards which they have indicated that in some degree they are not unsympathetic.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I accept fully the intention of the Government. If, however, at the end of the proceedings in another place we are disappointed because the Government do not say what we hope they will say, and consequently there is conflict between us, we shall then have to reconsider the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, has indicated that we should be prepared to wait. We are prepared to wait. However, when it comes to controlling what will happen, we are in a different situation. Therefore the dilemma with which we are faced is the irreconcilability of leaving Clause 8 in the Bill until we know precisely what the Government intend to do. I wonder whether the Minister can help us on that point.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, not for the first time today the noble and learned Lord is right. All of us accept that. I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Molson for stating exactly the Government's position. The Government made certain proposals. Unfortunately the House decided to divide upon them before we were given the opportunity to say exactly what they were. It is because of the absence of that explanation that we are in this position today. Clearly I am not in a position to give the details of our proposals. However, I have no reason to doubt that if it is decided to make any change, which has yet to be decided, and because certain things have got to be done in any case, they, too, will have to be decided once the Government have come to their own conclusion.
As the noble Lord knows, there is always the opportunity for this House to make a decision on what, if anything, comes out of our consideration. It will then be for the House to decide. This is not without precedent. During the last few years I have had that experience on a number of occasions. I am sorry not to be able to be more forthcoming, although I should have very much liked to be. In those circumstances, nothing will be lost by the House not pressing the amendment. Even if the noble Baroness tried to press the amendment, it would not alter anything which might yet take place. Nothing is to be gained by it. We have to be patient and see what comes out of the discussions. The House will then have to decide its verdict, if anything at all comes out of those discussions. If it does not, we shall have to do something else, bearing in mind what has been decided.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for expressing a view on this extremely difficult subject. As my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton has just said, we are concerned that what has been decided quite clearly in this House should not be entirely overridden by another place. On a different occasion and upon a different Bill the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, said that what we in this House thought was right we should do, irrespective of what will happen in another place. Therefore I feel very strongly that it would be very unfortunate if, by standing back from it, anything we did here helped to slide away what we have achieved.
I must also point out that I do not believe that the Minister was unable to explain this only at the last moment. There is nothing personal in this. It relates to Government policy. However, as the Minister knows, this matter has been under discussion and representations have been made upon it for a considerable period of time. At no time until the end of the Minister's statement was any of this brought forward. We have been round all this before. As I have already pointed out, we went round it in 1980 and we have been round it since then. We were able to go round it again when the Bill fell in 1983. The distinction between pre-emption and exemption from the right to buy is very clearly known and understood. When the Minister set out the likely propositions, it seemed to me that we had been round all this before and it seemed to me to be quite unsatisfactory compared with the simple and precise exemption from the right to buy of a definite category which has been tightly drawn up. In fact, it has been drawn up more tightly than Clause 8. It was drawn up in that way in order to deal with the criticisms which the Government had been making about the way the situation has worked out since the passing of the 1980 Act.
When I say we were particularly concerned about this, I am speaking not only on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches but also on behalf of a number of other people from all parts of the House belonging to different parties or sitting on the Cross-Benches. They all feel very strongly that there should be exemption as regards the right to buy for elderly people in places designed and adapted for elderly people. That is why this provision was passed, despite what the Minister said. As he knows very well, even some of his own supporters supported the amendment because they felt it was a better way of dealing with the problem.
I believe that the Minister accepts that confusion could arise. We are aware of the rather different situation in another place compared with your Lordships' House. We have a bit of a thin Chamber at the moment, but I believe that the general feeling is that we do not want what we achieved on the first day of Committee stage to slip away. I do not consider that there is anything to be gained by pressing the amendment at this point. Another reason is that I do not think we would win—and that is a very good reason for not pressing the amendment. However, points have been made which express what many of us feel about this subject and it is to be hoped that that line will be held when this goes before another place.
1441 I should like to offer one word of advice—I shall not say warning—to the Minister. He referred to rural housing. At the end of Committee stage he threw in the idea of trying to exempt rural housing. I am quite sure that he is aware of the tremendous problem that arises in trying to define the term "rural" without reaching the situation where only the very largest conurbations are exempt. One can end up with places other than Leeds, London and Liverpool all deemed to be "rural". There is a difficulty with the definition. Even some of the definitions the noble Lord mentioned tonight sounded very complicated to me compared with the simple exemption for a clearly-defined category of people.
When we have an opportunity to introduce some simplicity into the complexity of the legislation we are now considering, we should welcome that opportunity and grasp it to our bosoms—and not proceed along more difficult roads to the complications which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has been bringing to our attention throughout the progress of this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 9 [Dwelling-houses in National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty etc.]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 31 to 35:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1414.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 31 to 35 en bloc. These amendments were all taken with Amendment No. 10.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 12 [Secretary of State's power to give assistance]:
Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 36 and 37:
Page 16, line 33, leave out ("or expenses").
Page 16, line 39, leave out ("or expenses").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, these are purely technical amendments to subsection (4) of the proposed new Section 24D. This defines that the Secretary of State shall have a first charge against any costs or expenses payable to a tenant purchaser who has been assisted under this provision. Expenses are the Scottish equivalent to costs in the sense of sums payable to a successful party as a result of a court action. As this provision will not appply to Scotland, the reference to "expenses" in this context is unnecessary. These amendments will serve to delete the references in question. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 38:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1373.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 38 was taken with Amendment No. 1A. I beg to move.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I rather thought that we had stopped short of Amendment No. 38, on the ground that the noble Baroness wanted to speak to that amendment, as did I. What causes me 1442 some hesitation—to mention a small point first—is that the proposed new clause states in effect that a dwelling-house which might be subject to the right to buy (and the noble Lord will correct me if I have this wrong) shall not be otherwise disposed of. The side note on the Marshalled List seems to be a little misleading, in that it refers to, "voluntary disposals". The side notes are not subject to parliamentary control, but perhaps the Minister will ask the draftsman to consider this point in the context of what I have said.
Subsection (4) states:Any such consent may be given subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State sees fit to impose".That seems to me to be an extraordinarily wide blanket provision. I have grave doubts as to its constitutional propriety. I can see its attraction for the Secretary of State, but that is not identical to its attraction for anybody other than the Secretary of State.
Subsection (7) also caused me to hesitate, and I shall be grateful to hear the Minister's opinion on it. It seems to render void a disposal by a local authority arising in the circumstances of the new provision which has not received the Secretary of State's consent. The noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, is in his place and he knows much more about this subject than I do, but I should have thought that it is almost unprecedented that a bona fide purchaser for value without notice of the invalidity of the conveyance on the part of the vendor should be stripped of his rights. That seeems to me to be the effect of the proposed subsection (7). When the Minister replies, perhaps he will deal with those two points.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, is absolutely right: the point I was going to raise was on subsection (4). Subsection (7) is far too esoteric for me. I did not come to grips with it at all. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister would reply on it.
The noble and learned Lord has made the case on subsection (4) so very well that I need say only a few words in support of him. There is this worry that we now have so much legislation nowadays, particularly in this field, where matters are always left to the discretion, the decision or the judgment of the Secretary of State. In this case we go even more way out. The new clause states:Any such consent…subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State sees fit to impose".That is far too wide. I was delighted to hear that the noble and learned Lord takes the same view as we do about that.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, could my noble friend tell us whether this new clause is necessary at all? I do not quite understand the philosophy behind it. If anyone wants to buy a house surely he would inevitably take advantage of Section 1 of Part I of the 1980 Act. I do not see what would induce him not to do so. In any case, if he did do so, what is wrong with that? He will be making a mistake, no doubt, but I do not see why it should be so circumscribed. There may 1443 be some good reason, but I am sorry, I have not yet grasped it.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, first of all, I am glad that the noble and learned Lord drew our attention to the need to speak on this. I had intended to do so, but we were rushing through all the first part and we missed this out. Certainly it was not my intention so to do.
Section 104 of the Housing Act 1957 provides that local authorities may not dispose of dwellings held under Part V of that Act without the consent of the Secretary of State. Consent is not required for a disposal under the right to buy or to the grant of a secure tenancy. There is at present no comparable control over the voluntary disposal of non-Part V housing whether it is held by district or county councils. This means that councils who are so minded may be in a position to frustrate a tenant's application to exercise his right to buy by disposing of their interest in his home to a third party.
That is clearly not acceptable. Amendment No. 38—and, indeed, Amendment No. 149—therefore proposes a new control over the voluntary disposal of certain non-Part V property comparable to that applying to the disposal of Part V property. I emphasise that this will apply only to non-Part V dwellings which are let on a secure tenancy or on a long lease granted under the right to buy, and not to other dwellings over which there is presently no control. There will be circumstances in which it makes sense for an authority to dispose of its interest in a property let on a secure tenancy, and it will be able to do so, albeit with the Secretary of State's consent. Perhaps I may come back to that in a moment.
In granting consent the Secretary of State will be concerned to ensure that arrangements are made so that the secure tenant is no worse off than he would have been had his home remained in the ownership of his present landlord. This is the approach that is currently adopted to applications for the voluntary disposal of Part V property.
The noble and learned Lord asked if the draftsman would consider points on subsection (7). May I say, in trying to be helpful, that subsection (7) of the clause is precedented in Section 137(1) of the Housing Act 1980. Subsection (4) is precedented in Section 104A of the 1957 Housing Act, as amended by Section 92 of the 1980 Act. I have to say at once that in view of what has been said I will want to look at this more carefully again. I shall want to consider it with the draftsman and take up the points that have been made to see whether we have this right. As I said earlier, in the main these particular amendments have been worked out in conjunction with the associations and others to try to reach an agreed basis. However, I must take this away and look at it. Clearly it needs to be done, and I will do that. In that sense, perhaps we can proceed as we did with the earlier amendments.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Renton)
My Lords, does the noble Lord therefore move Amendment No. 38? The Question is, That Amendment No. 38 be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, Content? To the contrary, Not-Content? The Contents have it—
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I understood the Minister was going to take the whole clause back and look at it, not to move the amendment. That was our understanding.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, with the leave of the House, we had points of this kind made earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, suggesting that certain alterations need to be made. I accepted that without question and said I would need to consult the draftsman. That we will do. It does not basically alter the intention underlying the amendment. As I said a moment ago—and this is something your Lordships may recall I said when I introduced these particular amendments—I was informed that they were not controversial at all and that they were agreed as far as the principle was concerned. If we have it wrong in the drafting—despite what I said about subsection (7)—in view of what my noble friend Lord Selkirk said, and especially in view of what was said by the noble and learned Lord, I shall want to look at it again. It is merely a question of how we do it. We can withdraw the amendment now and reinstate it, or pass it now with my undertaking that I will look at it again—and your Lordships know that I do not give an undertaking if I do not mean it. It is a question of the simplest way of dealing with this matter.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, this is a very real problem which the noble and learned Lord has drawn to our attention. That is why I think we have got off to a slightly bad start. We have this very difficult grouping of amendments, which are so complicated. As I pointed out, they are very difficult for us who are not lawyers and who have no department to help us with them. There are two very important subsections in the new clause; and there is the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on the necessity for the whole clause. If, as the Minister said, he is quite willing to accept either method of handling this problem, my noble friends and myself would be happier if, at this stage, he withdrew the amendment.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will permit me to address the House again on this matter. I merely desire to say that whether the clause goes in with the undertaking which the Minister has given—and which, of course, we take unreservedly—that he will look at the points again, or whether the amendment is now withdrawn and reintroduced at a later stage, seems to me to be marginal. However, in view of what the noble Earl said concerning his doubts as to the value of this clause at all, I should have thought that the balance was slightly on the side of withdrawal.
May I add that my own objection was not to the drafting at all: it was to the constitutional implications of the two matters to which I have referred. The Minister said that there were precedents. Any lawyer loves a precedent, but a precedent is not always a good precedent.
§ 8.59 p.m.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend one question? If he is to look at this matter, will he consider who will bear the expense of a disposal 1445 which is void? There will be expenses and they may be quite considerable. Will they fall on the local authority, or on the buyer? My feeling is that they should certainly fall on the local authority. It must know the rules, which the buyer probably does not know. I wonder whether it is now necessary that we have Part I of the 1980 Act. It may have been necessary previously, but I question a little whether it is really necessary at the present time. I am trying to think of circumstances where the Secretary of State would regard it as a bad disposal. I should have thought there would be very few, if any.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I want to be helpful here. I shall certainly take up the point that my noble friend raises about who pays. I think the answer is the one that he gave. That would be my thinking, but clearly I should want to check that out. My only reservation about withdrawing this is that I do not really think that that is what we ought to be doing. If we do that, I think it implies something else. I am not sure whether I agree with my noble friend Lord Selkirk on the underlying desirability of having this provision in at all. I fear that if we withdraw it, the implication is something else, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will not hesitate to draw, it to our attention when it eventually comes back in what ever state it re-emerges.
I have indicated my genuine willingness to make sure we have this right in the light of all that has been said. It is not an undertaking that I ever give lightly, and I have never gone back on such a thing. I hope therefore that your Lordships will feel that in this case we should leave it at that. It will have to come back, and there will be an opportunity for your Lordships to decide what to do about whatever form it then takes. I think that in these circumstances it is not unreasonable for me to ask that the provision stays in at the moment, bearing in mind my very firm undertakings.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 24 [Grounds and orders for possession]:
§ Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 39 to 43:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1373.]
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 44:
§ 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) Twenty 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: My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour and the fact that I hope the noble Lord the Minister will have another look at my new amendment, I propose not to move this amendment at this stage.
§ [Amendment No. 44 not moved.]1446
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Clause 27 [Right to carry out repairs]:
§ Baroness Denington moved Amendments Nos. 45 and 46:
§ Page 30, line 28, after ("a") insert ("model").
Page 30, line 37, 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 our repairs within such reasonable period of time as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should like to move Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 together. I must start by reminding your Lordships that a very large number of properties owned by public landlords are in a deplorable state of repair. It is in an endeavour to make some progress towards a better repair service for public authority tenants that I again move the same two amendments which I moved before. Your Lordships may remember that when I previously moved the amendments I asked whether I could have a talk with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. We had a talk, and I was most grateful to him for arranging it. I found it very helpful. I think perhaps that afterwards we understood one another better. I hope he understood me better; I feel sure that he did.
§ We come to these two amendments. I am assured that they have the support of not only all local authorities, but also the National Tenants' Organisation, the London Tenants, SHAG, and Shelter; that is, all local authorities and all tenants. In my experience that is something which is almost unique and which should carry considerable weight. I hope that it will. The tenants say that universally they want the responsibility for repairs to rest with their landlords, they want repairs dealt with promptly and efficiently and, if that does not happen, they want recourse outside to see that they are dealt with.
§ Amendment No. 45 would insert the word, "model". I should like to make perhaps more clear than I did before exactly what I mean by that word. I shall refer to the scheme of repairs run by a housing association of which I happen to be deputy chairman. It has over 13,000 properties. The scheme has been running successfully for three years. I call it a model scheme. It is divided into four groups. It covers emergency repairs, which include blocked drains, dangerous structures, total loss of electric power, and so on. All those things have to be dealt with in 24 hours. Urgent repairs have to be completed within seven days of notification, and non-urgent repairs within 28 days of notification. Other repairs which are more serious come under the heading of programmed repairs; for instance, when the landlord is to do all the outsides of the houses, or this, that and the other.
§ That scheme has been running for three years. It works. There are no complaints. It is only perhaps when a spare part cannot be obtained in a hurry that it fails, but the number of failures could be counted on my hands. That is what I call a model scheme. That is the kind of thing—perhaps not quite as tight, though I should like to see it as tight—that local authorities should be asked to accept. It should be worked out with them. That is what I mean by a model scheme. I 1447 think that we should then get repairs done and have happy tenants. If it failed, the tenants would have the right to go outside, bring in the builder, and get the repairs done. It is a default clause. I would urge your Lordships very seriously to consider that approach.
The proposals that are before us I do not find really are going to produce anything except a mouse, if I can put it that way. The procedures are, first of all, far too lengthy, particularly if you compare them with the schedule that I have just read out. For instance, when I come to look at the Minister's own document it talks about claiming the right to repair. Paragraph 3 reads:
It is proposed that a tenant wishing to exercise the right to repair should serve a notice (in a form to be prescribed) on the landlord"—
et cetera. Paragraph 4 is the landlord's response:
Landlords would be required to respond within 21 days with a counter-notice either withholding consent … or granting it",
et cetera. Twenty-one days, my Lords. Under my model scheme, which I have told your Lordships really works, that repair would have been done and forgotten in that time. Where do we get with this scheme of the Ministry's? Then, there is a £200 limit. In these days when things are so expensive there is not an awful lot that is going to come within the £200 limit.
§ Then—and I think this is an overwhelming point to make—it is only those tenants who can afford to pay the money out and then wait for the local authority to repay them—and sometimes it is a very long wait—who will be able to take advantage of this scheme that the Government have embodied in this clause that is in front of us. We have to remember that unfortunately, and very sadly, 60 per cent. of tenants in local authority dwellings are now on supplementary benefit: they have not got any money they can spare at all and, by and large, the tenants in local authority dwellings, or those who were in local authority dwellings, who could have afforded to pay out have now bought their houses or are about to buy their houses. So the numbers who can find the money and bring in the builder is very limited.
§ In the model scheme that would have to be met by a proper procedure by which the bills went direct to the local authority, the local authority having agreed a schedule with the builder and knowing exactly what it is going to cost. I think that by following that road we would get some progress. We would not only get happy tenants; we would also get the nation's stock of dwellings preserved. I myself think that that is a matter of very great importance.
§ The poor tenant is caught in a trap. Even I myself did not realise this when I first started looking into this matter. He has no ability at all to force the landlord to do anything. I find this most terribly serious. The tenant with money can go and call the builder in, but the poor tenant cannot look now, as he used to be able to look, to the public health officer to come and force the local authority to do a repair. It used to be so. I am sure that when I was on a borough council it was so. I think when I was on the LCC it was so. But I am told that there was a case, called the Cardiff case, in 1982, which pointed out that the public health officer is employed by the local authority and the local authority is also the landlord, and you cannot have a decision when one arm of the local authority is suing 1448 the other arm of the local authority. So the poor tenant has absolutely no leverage at all to get his repairs done. I think that is a position that ought not to be allowed to go on.
§ I must explain that my amendments do not exactly, immediately help this point that I am raising. I tried to find an amendment that would do it attached to this clause we have in front of us. Such advisers as I can look to, and the local authority advisers, could not come up with one that did not really create chaos when put as an amendment to what the Minister has down. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was very kind. I spoke to him about my difficulty and he consulted with his advisers in the Ministry and they could not come up with an amendment, either. So it was no good putting something down that would create chaos.
§ What I am really trying to do is to get—"persuade is the word, because I really want to persuade—the Government to accept these amendments in order to move the whole problem forward. I think it should be done because, as I have pointed out, all the local authorities and tenants are behind the wording of the amendment. I realise that the noble Lords, Lord Bellwin and Skelmersdale, must know perfectly well that if I were to say that the local authorities and tenants do not warm to the proposals in the paper I should be putting it very mildly: they certainly do not really like them at all. Since they are all behind the wording of the amendment, could the noble Lord the Minister not accept the amendment and then come closer together with the local authorities? Having made a start with the repairs, could we not get them to continue on together happily with the noble Lord the Minister in the direction I have indicated? That is what I mean by trying to move the whole situation forward in order to help everybody.
§ I will not say any more because it is just in that spirit that I am moving these amendments. I really beg the noble Lord the Minister to see if he cannot accept them. I think it would be very helpful to millions of people—I think I am talking of four and a quarter million tenants.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I find these amendments rather strange, and I really hope that the noble Lord the Minister thinks very seriously before he accepts them. I appreciate absolutely the intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, and I am sure her motives are good, but I am not really happy with the wording here.
For example, I think the insertion of the word "model" is going to create a totally illusory document which would not mean anything. I should like to know much more about these people who are doing the repairs in the 24 hours that she speaks about. I am certainly not finding privately that I can get anyone along at that sort of speed, and certainly no local authority with which I have been involved can get anyone along at that sort of speed. This is one of the regular complaints: that the tenant has to stay in day after day in the hope that someone will turn up to do the repairs. Is the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, speaking of some place which has a direct labour force which does the work? Is she speaking of someone who has a group of private contractors? It is not at all clear how the work could be done at the speed to which she 1449 refers. At a time when the building industry is in a rather sad state perhaps we have a bit of hope of getting work done quickly, but the moment there is work in the building industry and it "overheats" (I think that is the expression) you cannot get anyone to do anything at all. I think the word "model" would mean nothing more than a document which could not really be made workable.
With regard to the second amendment, I do not agree that all tenants would like this. I think many tenants want to have the right to call someone in not only because they want to have the work done, but because they want to have it done at a time when they can be there without losing time away from work. Many people cannot really afford to leave work to be at home and sit and wait for the hours it takes if the person coming to do the repairs is being arranged by a local authority.
I think the motives behind the amendments are good but I am not really happy with the wording which is there. I hope if the Minister is inclined to accept this he will look very carefully at the wording and be sure it really does mean what the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, wishes it to mean.
§ Lord Evans of Claughton
My Lords, this is a problem whichever way one looks at it, including from the point of view of a tenant getting a contractor to do the repairs. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, will accept that in my practice as a solicitor I find tenants complain fairly bitterly about the landlord and local authority not turning up to do repairs for months and, as she says, they stay in all day long. I do assure you they find also that they do not get very much better service from private contractors, who either do not turn up or run out of money when they are half way through doing the repairs, or who, very often, are cowboys. I fear that the Budget proposal to add VAT to the cost of improvements to houses will he more of an encouragement to the kind of contractor who appears, takes the cash and disappears. There is a problem whichever way you look at it. What the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, was saying, I think, was that her scheme is not perfect but that it is a basis for a reconsideration of the problem.
It seems to me that many of the tenants who have not taken advantage of the right-to-buy legislation are almost by definition people who do not have ready cash available. The private contractor, envisaged by the clause as the person who would do the work, will not start work generally unless he has money in advance. That is an incontrovertible fact. I would have thought that some compromise could be agreed along the lines suggested in the amendment whereby the landlord, in the shape of the local authority, should have the opportunity of carrying out the repairs initially and, if the local authority fails, the tenant should have the right to go to a private contractor. I am afraid that we are in a jungle in this area. The victim is almost invariably the tenant.
I would like to hear the Government say that they are willing to go back and look at this matter again, taking into account the remarks of both noble Baronesses, to see whether they can come up with some scheme that would give more protection and 1450 help to the tenant than either of the present proposals. I accept that I am not saying anything very helpful or constructive and that I have not produced an alternative. All that I am saying is that there is a serious problem here for tenants whichever way you look at it.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Evans, because I agree very much with what he says. We are talking here about housing repairs mainly in the public sector. This is, of course, one of the most difficult areas of housing to deal with. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, was a little wide of the mark when she spoke as if there would be some compulsion over tenants using the sort of facility suggested in the amendment. My experience in local authority housing has taught me that all the tenant wants is to get the repair done as quickly as possible. I do not think that the tenant is over-worried about whether it is done by direct labour or by the private sector. There is no question therefore of the proposal of my noble friend Lady Denington, if the Government were kind enough to accept it, being in any way compulsory on the tenant.
Normally, maintenance departments in local authority housing sections, whether under the control of housing or a direct labour department, perform reasonably well. I say "reasonably" because experience differs sometimes between one authority and another. Much depends on the resources that are available. It is a sad fact of life that successive Governments—I am not referring only to this Government or to the Government from 1979 until the last general election—have progressively cut pro rata the money available for maintenance of our housing stock. It is true, I believe, as my noble friend Lady Denington said, that 50 per cent., or even 60 per cent., of council house tenants now receive housing benefit, sometimes a substantial amount, towards their rent. There is no possible way that those tenants would ever trigger off default powers. They would not be in any position to go outside the local authority when that is their housing authority and order a repair to be done on the basis that they could pay for it. They would not have the cash. Then we have to ask ourselves about the 40, 50 or 60 per cent. of tenants—I know that some authorities may have more than 60 per cent.—who receive assistance. What happens when they have paid out the money to have a repair done? How does the local authority refund it? From what does it refund it?
I am speaking in support of the spirit of the amendment, knowing the minefield of local authority housing repairs. I should like to highlight the difficulties, because I suspect that the money could only come from the housing revenue account. Certainly it would be a very brave local authority that levied an increase in rate poundage in order to carry out repairs or default work that had been reported to them by their own tenants.
I should like to give some dimension to the present problem. I address my plea to the Minister not in any sense of acrimony. We are old friends and foes in a way, and we have debated these things over the years without any acrimony. However, I should like to give some indication of the dimension of the problem that 1451 is facing local authorities with large housing stocks. I should like to quote from last night's Yorkshire Evening Post which is the local newspaper in Leeds. It is headed, "Homes cash blow for city", and it says:Leeds City Council has failed in its bid to get £6.4m. from the Government to spend on house repairs—instead the Government has offered £1,125,000".for its repairs account. So that means that Leeds, according to its calculations, is £5,275,000 short on what it would have liked to have.
If we were dealing with a situation where one would expect normal repairs to be needed, that, in itself, would be a serious situation. But we are not dealing with that situation at all: we are dealing with a calamity that is befalling us—and it has been quoted in another Chamber and in this Chamber—of monolithic housing repair accounts that will have to be instituted and financed to deal with the rapidly deteriorating properties, some of which have been in existence for less than 15 years.
There have been two successive reports from the Association of Municipal Authorities. While in a political sense or in a non-political sense one could look at the two reports and quibble about the figures, what is beyond dispute is that a minimum sum of £5 billion is required—that is just a loose assessment but no one has challenged it and no one has said it is wrong—to correct, restore or repair some of the industrialised systems and semi-industrialised systems that were built under successive governments. I am not trying to make any political capital because a Government of my own colour are as much to blame as anybody. A very expensive experiment was tried but it seems odd that it was only tried in the public sector and out of the public purse.
So the situation is that there are between 900,000 and one million of these properties which are seeing nothing like the normal span of life before major repairs are required. So where does the money come from or what does the tenant in such a property do when this becomes law? I am not arguing about the principle of giving the tenant the right; I am arguing about the funding. Leeds—and, as I have said, I think that the noble Lord is aware of this—has about 3,000 what it calls Airey homes, which were the first industrialised or semi-industrialised houses which showed major defects. Different amounts have been quoted, but nobody quotes a figure of less than £10,000 to bring each house up to standard. In some cases it is £15,000. If that is the tip of the iceberg that has surfaced, it is only a small tip, because there are hundreds of thousands of these houses coming on stream requiring major repairs and in some cases almost structural rejuvenation to keep them in the housing stock.
So what is the situation? Here I have to be a little critical, because the Government have so far chosen only to have regard to tenants in these houses who have bought them under the Government's private right-to-buy scheme. Generous grants are being made, and are to be made, I understand, under a Bill that is to be introduced in another place in the near future that will include other types of houses. But so far as I know it will follow the same pattern, and only include former council house tenants who have bought their 1452 council houses and are now saddled with something that is an unsaleable commodity, because even after being put right nobody will want to buy it on the market. This is the dimension of the problem before us.
I have questioned why a council house tenant is being victimised in this way. Even if the Government acted with the utmost generosity and accepted this amendment in the spirit in which it has been moved by the noble Baroness, it still would not alter the fact that we have moved into a two-structured society in what one would call the public housing sector.
I do not know whether hybridity is ever discussed in your Lordships' Chamber, but I would question whether any government had the right to act in a manner which is completely adverse to the interests of possibly nearly 100,000 tenants or families in this type of property. I would say to the Minister—and as I have said we are in a sense old friends and old foes—that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is in spirit and principle correct. But unless we have, as a nation, a higher regard towards providing the funds to do these repairs this, and any housing policy the Government have, will be hopeless. I should like to think that the Minister may be able to respond in a sympathetic manner to the amendment so well moved by the noble Baroness.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale will be responding to the amendment and I certainly do not wish to make a Second Reading speech on the whole underlying theology of housing repairs. I shall not say "tempted as I am to do so-, but it is a vast subject, as the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, rightly points out. However, I feel that I must take one minute of your Lordships' time because the noble Lord specifically mentioned Leeds, with which I am familiar having been the chairman of housing there for several years.
I can tell your Lordships that 20 years ago the most critical problem of all that we were faced with in housing was housing repairs. This is nothing new. It has gone on for years and years, which is not to say that one should leave it alone. However, I am bound to say—and I am really going to cut it very short—that when the authority says that it is short of X million pounds to do all that it would like to do, I would then have to direct its attention to the opportunities it has to do things a darned sight better than it is currently doing them, that could make available to it several million pounds if it so chose.
I would also want to say that this is a matter of priorities. A local authority itself decides what its priorities should be. The grants, and so on, which it receives are unhypothecated monies and it can decide what to do. There is the additional opportunity of capital receipts, which was not available in the early days that I am talking about many years ago, which offers great scope. While I do not want to imply that that is the whole of the answer—it is not—much of what the noble Lord says is right.
The problem of defective housing is a great one, and it is all over the country, as he rightly says. The Government are looking closely at this because it is a 1453 national problem. I thank your Lordships for hearing with me on the observations made about my city and its housing, which I would claim to know better than most. There are opportunities, if the authority wishes to tackle them, that are open to them.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, perhaps I might now he allowed to return to the amendments on the Marshalled List.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, we debated these identical amendments in Committee. I was, therefore, frankly surprised to see them reappearing on the Marshalled List. I can only assume that I was unclear then, so I shall try again.
I was impressed then, as I was today, by the sympathetic manner in which the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, put her arguments. I am glad that we are at one on the importance of tenants having the right to repair, which sentiment has been echoed all round the house, and quite rightly. Your Lordships may recall that in Committee I undertook to discuss this question with the noble Baroness. During the meeting which ensued we were able to clear any misunderstandings which may have arisen between us about the effects the amendments would have had. At least I hope so, but I now rather doubt it.
There is little point in giving tenants a right to repair which, in practice, landlords could slip out of if they were to be given discretion. The effect of Amendment No. 45—I must in all fairness say it again, and obviously for about the third time—would be to weaken the very real and positive right to repair which the Government propose.
At that meeting, and in her speech to your Lordships this evening, the noble Baroness was concerned about the difficulties which some tenants might have in financing repairs under the scheme before they obtained payment themselves from the landlords. This is a matter for the regulations which will give effect to the scheme rather than for the primary legislation which we are debating today. I assure the noble Baroness that her point is well taken and will be considered most carefully before we issue draft regulations for comment. I will return to that point in a minute.
The first of the two amendments of the noble Baroness revolves around the meaning of the word "model". Meanings are rather difficult things, and although she did not actually say it I understood the noble Baroness to mean that the model scheme shall, in fact, provide a statutory framework within which landlords will have a limited discretion to vary minor details to take account of local circumstances.
In principle the Government would hope to avoid putting this into the regulations. It is the essential framework which we shall he dealing with. That is exactly what Clause 27, as it now stands, provides. What is not in the regulations will be for landlords themselves to decide. There will be many questions for local decision. I cannot see any purpose in specifying in regulations what those matters should be, only to then say that landlords can vary them. I would 1454 contend, therefore, that Amendment No. 45 is not necessary.
Amendment No. 46 raises a different issue. I can only repeat what I said in Committee. Your Lordships have had an opportunity to see the Government's initial proposals contained in their consultation letter issued by the Department of the Environment last October. Among other proposals, a tenant would 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 would be able to refuse consent on certain grounds. One of the options proposed was that landlords might be able to refuse consent when they intend to carry out the repair themselves within 28 days.
That proposal positively encourages prompt attention to repairs—a concept to which I now understand we all subscribe. On the other hand, Amendment No. 46 would work against tenants' interests. It would provide scope for unwelcome procrastination on the part of landlords. It is not sufficient for tenants to have to wait a length of time—as prescribed by the Secretary of State—before they can then start the process of claiming their right to carry out the repair themselves. In many cases, tenants will be able to carry out repairs more quickly and more cheaply than the landlord. This amendment would simply add delay, confusion and expense. We should never forget that it is the tenant who has the major interest in getting the repair attended to.
But I see a way forward in what has been described as this intractable problem. I can see the force in principle behind the arguments which have been made this evening, but I am not yet altogether convinced that the difficulties which have been described will seriously inconvenience tenants in practice. I would expect responsible contractors doing right-to-repair work to recognise that, before payment is made, it is reasonable for both tenants and landlords to be able to satisfy themselves that the work has been properly done. For contractors, the sums involved are, by definition, under the Government proposals, not large. I would expect them to be prepared to wait for payment for the short time which we have in mind to prescribe for matters to be settled up.
Tenants who are doing the work themselves will be responsible only for buying the materials to do the work. As noble Lords will be aware, materials usually represent a relatively small part of the cost of getting repair jobs done. Nonetheless, as I have already said, I am very well seized of the argument which the noble Baroness has advanced and will therefore consider most carefully whether to insert this in the draft regulations which we will be issuing to give effect to the scheme.
§ Baroness Denington
My Lords, I rose slowly because I was not quite sure of the meaning of the word "this" in the expression used by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, when he said that he would consider inserting "this" in the final regulations. Can I be helped to understand what the "this" is?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
Yes, my Lords, the possibility of delaying payment—which is what I have been referring to in the last couple of minutes of my speech.
§ Baroness Denington
For that, my Lords, I am grateful. Otherwise I am disappointed. The noble Baroness said that the the timescale of the model scheme indicated was not workable. My Lords, it works! It has worked for 13,000 tenants for three years and I give you my assurance that it works. I will ask the British Housing Association, which works this scheme, to send the noble Baroness all the details about it. I give the House an absolute assurance that it works.
We do not have a direct labour organisation. We build all over the country, up and down England, down to the South Coast and actually in Scotland. The scheme works by inviting builders where we have our estates to tender on rates schedules. It is exceedingly efficient. It may be noted that when I was moving the amendment I said that it was a very tight schedule. Indeed, it is exceedingly tight. Things are dealt with within 28 days, four weeks. I said that it might be necessary for a model scheme for the Government to discuss with the local authority having the time a little stretched out. This is because a lot of local authorities use direct labour. I am not saying that direct labour cannot be efficient. Direct labour can be exceedingly efficient. The trouble is that in their procedures local authorities tend to lay down too much bureaucracy. They can be tightened up. They should be tightened up. I might say it should all be done, instead of in four weeks, in six weeks.
I am pleading for the Government and the authorities to get together. That is the basis of this whole thing. Unless they get together, the tenants will go on suffering. That is why I wanted some kind of model scheme got out in co-operation between the Government and the tenants. It would be so speedy. If it did not work, then far more tenants than are to be covered by this little mouse of a Bill would be going off to private builders to get it done. Of course they would be, and that would be a good lesson for those who are dilatory. I would not want to protect them at all.
I think we shall need to have another talk with the noble Lord. Lord Skelmersdale, if he will, because there is still a great deal of misunderstanding between us. But I shall press this because I think it would be quite wrong if we on this side of the Chamber did not press it, when all the authorities have come together, the tenants have come together and they can offer co-operation to the Government. As I see it, the Government, in turning this amendment down, are throwing it back in their faces. I do not think that is good enough: it is quite heart-breaking and I still wish the Government would think again.
Let them come together. Do have a heart about the tenants and let us try to solve this almost intractable problem of repairs. It is now in a terrible state. Really there must be progress and there cannot be progress unless the Government, the local authorities and the tenants can come together and can co-operate and understand one another. That is what I am pleading for.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 45) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 22; Not-Contents, 45.1456
|Airedale, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Birk, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Bishopston, L. [Teller.]||Molloy, L.|
|David, B.||Mulley, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Denington, B.||Rea, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Stone, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Avon, E.||Margadale, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Marley, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon- Avon, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Molson, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Morris, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Moyne, L.|
|Elton, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Enniskillen, E.||Norfolk, D.|
|Faithfull, B.||Pender, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Renton, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Hives, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Kemsley, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Long, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Vickers, B.|
|McAlpine of West Green, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 46A:
§ After Clause 28, insert the following new clause:
For section 43(1) of the Housing Act 1980 there shall be substituted the following subsection—
(1) Every Landlord Authority shall make and maintain arrangements to enable those of its secure tenants who are likely to be substantially affected by a housing management matter or an increase in rent—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, very briefly, in view of the lateness of the hour—some of us have been here throughout the sitting—may I explain that the philosophy behind this new clause is to extend the rights of consultation for tenants. The Government are entitled to tell us that they have done a great deal in extending the rights of tenants over a range of issues. But, as the Minister has seen, we are especially concerned about rights when rent increases take place, and we also want to see that consultation takes place with tenants individually as well as with their organisations, whether they are borough-wide or 1457 estate-wide. We shall be grateful to have the observations of the Minister on the amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, the noble Lord has made another brief, yet rather valiant, attempt to add rents to the consultation process. Carefully though I listened to the argument, I have to say that I am still not persuaded that the proposal is justified. We considered it most carefully when we received many representations following our consultation paper, and during the passage of the Housing Bill in 1980. I am convinced that local authorities would be as totally opposed to any requirement to consult over rent levels as they were when the proposal was first made in 1980. The amendment is effectively concerned not only with rent increases as a whole, but with individual rents. The proposed extra duty would be extremely onerous on local authorities and would add substantially to their administrative costs. It would, in short, achieve little or nothing, and would discredit the consultation process.
Broadly similar considerations apply to the other main strand of the amendment. This seeks to remove a landlord authority's discretion to make such arrangements as it considers necessary in the light of local circumstances to enable secure tenants to be consulted over matters of housing management. It would be replaced by a duty on landlords to notify every tenant individually and, moreover, to consult them through representative associations. I do not think that effective consultation can usefully be carried out by rigid legislation of this type. Consultation is a two-way process to be undertaken willingly by participants. It is something which this Government very much wish to encourage, but I am not convinced of the need to tie a landlord authority's hands in the way proposed which would add considerably to administrative costs and achieve little or nothing. Therefore I ask the House to reject the proposal.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the Minister does not need to ask for rejection of this amendment because I intend to withdraw it. I am disappointed. I appreciate that this is not the first time round the course for this proposal. I am interested in the Minister's statement that this would be the unanimous view of the landlord authorities. I should need to find out whether that is the case. There will be other opportunities to raise the issue. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 47 and 48:
§ [Printed earlier: col. 1374.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 en bloc. They are consequential.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can explain to me what is meant by the words in Amendment No. 48 which read: 1458and this Part of this Act, the dwelling-house shall be deemed to be freed from any trust arising solely by virtue of its being land held in trust".How far do the words,freed from any trust arising solely by virtue of its being land held in trustgo? Do they mean freed from any aspect of the trust? Who decides what aspects of the trust it is freed from? Can the Minister give us a slightly better explanation of what is intended here?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend, who has taken me by surprise. If he would allow me to do so, I should prefer to write to him rather than to respond now to his question.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, I shall have to be content with that answer, though I should have liked to be sure that when this matter is put before a court the words are reasonably comprehensible. I personally find it extremely difficult to understand how far they go—but I readily accept what my noble friend has said.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I, too, had underlined those same words, so I shall be very grateful if the noble Lord the Minister will send to me a copy of the letter he sends to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 32 [Provisions as respects certain tenants of charitable housing associations etc]:
§ Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 49:
Page 35, line 8, at end insert—
("()Part II of Schedule 1A to the 1980 Act (qualification and discount):").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential upon Amendment No. 4.1 beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at one minute past ten o'clock.